There are only a few qualified professional native-English copywriters in Asia. And they’re not easy to find.
Copywriting is a skill. Just like fixing a car or painting a house.
Good copywriters are trained in the art of writing words that create action. To do this, they understand the product, reader, and cultural context.
Good copywriters get paid well and they are always busy. This is because they make money for their clients.
Finding a good native-English copywriter in Japan, South Korea, and most of Asia is especially hard because English isn’t the first language.
Most English copywriting in Asia is bad. It fails at its objectives: (1) it doesn’t communicate, (2) it doesn’t inspire action, and (3) it doesn’t sell.
Language is tricky.
It’s hard to know what’s good or bad, and even harder if you’re not a native speaker.
Smart companies know copywriting is as important as a logo, brand name, or price point. So they try to hire professional copywriters. But even then, where can they find one? And how will they know who’s good and who’s not?
Because of this, Japanese companies use unqualified people to write their copy. Like translators, English teachers, and anyone who understands English.
If they have a bigger budget, they hire an agency. But guess what? Even an agency may not write good copy!
This is because individuals write copy, and because copywriting is not a mechanical process. It needs both method and style.
The best copywriters are individuals. These talented people may be in a company or agency. They may work privately. You can find them. Here’s how.
1) Know the difference between an English copywriter and other English-related jobs
A copywriter is a person who writes text that creates action. For example, in web copywriting, that action is usually:
- Click a link
- Download information
- Contact a company
- Schedule an appointment
- Buy something
This ad from KFC is copywriting:
So is this signup form from the Hustle:
And this product that showed up in my Facebook feed:
What do all of those do? They send a message. They create a feeling. They make you take action. That’s copywriting.
Some people are naturally good at writing. In the same way, some people are naturally good at sports, music, and dancing.
No one became a professional at any of these skills without experience, training, and loads of practice. A good copywriter is a skilled professional at writing copy for marketing, sales, and specific audiences. That’s what we do. We have practiced, trained, and become skilled.
In Asia, most English copywriting is written by non-copywriters. I see this every day. I live in Japan and I’ve traveled and worked all over Asia. There aren’t many professional English copywriters in Asia. And copywriters in the US, UK, and other countries don’t usually understand Asian companies and the global marketplace.
Understand the following:
Someone with a good English vocabulary is not a copywriter.
*Copywriting is writing at a level that a wide audience can understand. Big words, long sentences, and literature-style writing is bad copywriting. Good copywriting is short, sharp, and creates emotion. This is just as true in B2B copywriting as in B2C copywriting.
An English teacher is not a copywriter.
*In most Asian countries anyone who can speak English can be an English teacher. There are many excellent English teachers in Japan. Teachers aren’t copywriters unless they learned that skill. They’re teachers. I was teacher. I wasn’t very good, because I wasn’t a trained professional.
A university professor is not a copywriter.
*University professors have a lot of knowledge in a specific academic subject. They are very intelligent people. I edited academic manuscripts for many years, and I spent many years in graduate school getting my MBA, MS, and another degree. When I write and edit for academia, I use more formal wording, more speciality language, and I am not selling anything. Being very good at biology, medicine, or even English literature is unrelated to copywriting skill. It’s totally different.
A translator is not a copywriter.
*Professional translators learn to accurately transfer one language to another. Accuracy is the #1 skill in translation. Very good translators also “localize” the language so it’s in an appropriate tone and context for readers. A very few are also capable copywriters; maybe 1 in 500. However, copywriters can work with translators. That’s a powerfully good combination when you’re starting with a Japanese website and making an English website.
Also not an English copywriter: 99+% of the freelancers on cheap freelance sites, 99+% of the freelancers on low-priced “content mill” sites, any non-native-level speaker of English, your friend, a salesperson, a taxi driver, a dentist, and a neurosurgeon.
So, who is a copywriter? Easy: a copywriter is a copywriter.
2) Learn about the writer, not the company/agency
A company is a group of individuals. One person or a small group of individuals will do your writing and other marketing work.
So even if the company has many clients, the quality of the work will depend on the individual writer(s) working on your account.
This is true all over the world, not just in Japan, Korea, and other parts of Asia.
More than much of the world, Asian people love and trust brand names. They also hesitate to hire someone to whom they have no personal connections. Personal relationships and referrals are VERY important in Asia.
Please ask yourself:
- Who knows your business best?
- Who knows what you need?
- Who has to work with the copywriter (and marketer, and designer, and PR agency)?
YOU DO. It’s YOUR company. Only YOU know what you need and want.
Recommendations are good. Listen to them, consider them, but if you want to compete and win, decide for yourself.
To do this, you need to know your copywriter. An agency assigns you an account rep. The account rep then coordinates with the writer, or writers. Often the writer changes. The writer works on many accounts and has little time or reason to know your company well. They have to get their job done.
If you work with a small group or an individual, you can communicate with your writer. A good copywriter learns absolutely everything about your company. He or she is like an employee. Get to know him/her.
3) Check a copywriter’s knowledge of Asian culture and business
Does your copywriter live in Asia? Do they speak Japanese, or Korean, or Chinese? Do they know the difference between business styles in Japan, Korea, Singapore, Thailand? Do they know the budgets, interests, and communication styles of these countries?
Find out. Ask questions. Good copywriters have a foundation of knowledge, and they supplement it with research. This means a native English copywriter living in Tokyo probably knows Japan very well. He probably knows Korea a bit less, but can use research to learn what he doesn’t know.
He’ll also use native English. And he’s a trained copywriter.
However, a copywriter in the US is relying almost 100% on second-hand knowledge. And a copywriter raised in Singapore, Hong Kong, or India may have high-level English, but it will be unnatural. These countries also rely heavily on low-wage workers, who have little reason to care.
So check your writer’s background, what he knows, what his baseline of knowledge is.
4) Check the copywriter’s life and professional background
Has your copywriter worked in your industry? If not, has he studied something similar?
Where has your copywriter lived?
Where has s/he worked?
What kind of writing has s/he done?
Again, you don’t need a 100% perfect match, but you need some common baseline of knowledge.
For example, if you’re a startup, has your copywriter worked at a startup?
If you’re a medical device company, has your copywriter studied health sciences or worked in medicine?
If your main market is government agencies or universities, has your copywriter worked with government agencies or universities?
You’re going to be paying for this. So find out who you’re paying for.
5) Ask the copywriter for advice first, examples second, and listen to their own questions
Copywriting is a bit unique in that very good copywriters may not be total experts in their subject. Or you may need website copy but they have mainly done direct response emails. But that’s OK.
They have to fill some space, but they are able because they have a foundation to build on.
Good copywriters have a core of skills and knowledge. Many are strong at a certain type of copywriting (like web copywriting, email campaigns, or white papers), and on a certain type of topic (like medicine, software, or construction).
How a copywriter think and what a copywriter uses is more important than examples that specifically match what you want.
Tell them what you need. Tell them your problems. Then ask them what they’d do.
For example, you need website copy that clearly explains your new product and encourages the reader to sign up for an email list. Ask the writer what they would do. Ask them what they think of your current site and writing. If they have no opinion or you don’t they use lots of big words, find another copywriter.
Then see if they ask questions. If they say, “No problem, I can do this.” then they are not professional. Find another copywriter. A copywriter must always ask questions. Always. If they don’t, how will they know your product?
Finally, if they have a strategy and have used it successfully before, you should consider hiring them.
There are of course many other ways to find a good copywriter in Asia. These are just 5 common problems I see in companies in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and other Asian countries I work with.
So check my background, ask me questions, challenge me. Then make your decision. I’m a professional copywriter and editor. I’ve been doing this for 20+ years and I’ve lived in Asia for almost that long.
Please write to me and let’s start talking. If we’re not a match, you should hire someone else. If we are a match, I think you’ll be happy with the results.