Your content writer doesn't need to be an expert on your industry.
A few months ago, a manufacturer of gardening equipment contacted me to ask for a quote for writing some web content. ‘Have you any experience in writing about wormeries?’, he asked.
‘Er, no.’, I replied. ‘But I’m sure it’s something I could research.’
‘Sorry’, he replied, ‘I’m afraid we’re looking with someone with an understanding of the product’.
I was tempted to suggest he tried asking the worms, but I just wished him luck with the project and left it at that. Some you lose.
This misapprehension that there’s a specialist writer in every discipline is a common one, but it’s just plain wrong. Because here’s the fact: your content writer doesn’t necessarily need experience of your industry or service.
For example, I’ve written about everything from whisky and financial products to vans, robotics and ladies’ jewellery. I didn’t know much about any of them before starting the jobs, yet every one of those pieces of writing was a success.
Don’t lose sight of why you’re hiring a writer.
Remember you’re not hiring an expert on your industry – that’s you, because nobody knows your business better than you. But that level of expertise often makes it hard to see things from the outside – from your audience’s point of view. And that’s where a content writer comes in. You’re hiring an expert in conveying information to a particular audience. Good writers are able to adjust the tone of voice they use to speak effectively to your audience. That means holding their interest while successfully putting across the points you need to make.
Research is part of a content writer’s job.
A lot of content writers – including me – come from backgrounds as advertising copywriters. And copywriters have been asking clients questions about their businesses for decades. In ‘Hey Whipple, Squeeze This’ (one of the best books you can get on advertising and copywriting), copywriter Luke Sullivan talks about walking around a dog food factory with a client, and discovering the difference between a ‘kibble’ and a ‘bit’. Most writers with agency experience are used to writing about subjects they have no prior knowledge of like this, as they’ve worked across a broad spectrum of different clients. We catch on quick.
Sometimes a brief is perfect, and contains everything the writer needs. That’s very rare though, and the best results usually come from some degree of further interaction with the client or agency, such as emails, a meeting or a phone call. It’s not because the brief is badly written either. It’s just that, most of the time, a writer will have more questions to ask.
Better your writer asks the questions than your audience.
A content writer won’t look at the job from an expert’s point of view – they’ll put themselves in your audience's shoes. It’s a bit like method acting; immersing yourself in a role to fully understand a person’s motivation. Because when everything’s written and your writing goes out into the wild to do its job, you won’t have the luxury of answering your audience’s questions. If there’s something they don’t understand they’ll just ignore it and move on to your competitors. So putting your non-specialist writer in that same position of curiosity is your opportunity to provide the answers to these questions so your audience doesn't need to ask them.
And that fact-finding helps your content work harder.
Before writing any copy, your writer will put together a content strategy. This is a plan to establish exactly who your audience is, what they need from you, and how you can help them. It’s an essential process, and even an expert in your subject would be at a disadvantage without it. The results make your content focussed and effective.
So you don’t need a specialist content writer, just a good one.
Content writers are experts on establishing the right information for your audience’s needs, and writing it in the most accessible and / or persuasive way. We’re not experts on grommets, blue cheese, boat manufacture, barrel-making or the history of the clog. Or wormeries. But we can find the facts and make them as clear and effective as possible. We could even unearth a few things about your audience you didn’t know too (worm pun unintentional).
Doug Nolan is a content writer and copywriter at The Word Department. He knows very little about wormeries.