When Samantha Quist worked at Google as a Product Marketing Manager, finding creative talent to complete seemingly any task was a piece of cake. When she left and rejoined the real world, she found the difference to be striking. Identifying, vetting, and engaging the right talent, often on a tight deadline and only for a limited term, became an enormous burden. On the other side of the equation, she found that consultants spend entirely too much time marketing themselves with often futile hope of filling their calendar. In both cases, it’s a less than ideal situation.
Today, Quist hopes to address these issues for the copywriting vertical via the public launch of Copywriter Central, a marketplace connecting companies and professional business writers. At launch, the platform currently lists 75 writers, including Pulitzer Prize winners and best-selling authors. Each has completed a detailed profile outlining their skills and interests for use in matching with the appropriate job.
Companies can choose to either browse writer profiles, 40 of which are are shared publicly, and choose those to hire directly. Or they can submit a project proposal and rely on Copywriter Central to handle the matching. Today all matching is completed manually, but the startup is in the process of developing algorithms which it hopes will soon automate parts of the process.
While in beta, Quist’s company worked with Dropbox and several other Y Combinator startups, as well as marketing agencies and traditional companies in healthcare and other industries.
In addition to matchmaking, another advantage that Copywriter Central offers both companies and writers is payment management. The company typically breaks each engagement into multiple quantifiable steps (for example, outline, first draft, second draft, final draft) and requires partial payment prior to each phase of the engagement. All payments are held in escrow and released to the contractor upon satisfactory completion of each unit of work. This process eliminates much of the risk of contractors not getting paid and of companies not receiving the work they’ve paid for.
Each individual contractor sets their own rate and payment terms, which most often takes the form of an hourly rate between $50 to $300 per hour, rather than a per word rate, according to the founder. Copywriter Central collects a “small percentage of each project fee,” in Quist’s words, although the founder declined to disclose the exact rate, saying that it is still subject to change.
Writing isn’t the only creative skill that could benefit from a marketplace like Copywriter Central, but it’s the one that Quist believes to be the biggest pain point for many companies. Intangible qualities like tone make it difficult for companies to successfully evaluate potential contractors, she says, making Copywriter Central’s services all the more valuable. In the future, if she’s able to find success in this vertical, Copywriter Central may grow to match other skills – whether it will need to change its name at that point is another matter.
Copywriter Central is not without competition. Writing on demand startup Scripted boasts some 80,000 freelance writers with a focus on the small business category. Elance offers a similar marketplace for a wide variety of freelance creative professionals, including writing, design, and development, among others. The Idealists offers brands and companies a members-only network of elite creative professionals and agencies and also provides matchmaking and curation services similar to Copywriter Central.
It’s unclear how Copywriter Central will differentiate from the above competitors and the dozens of others that offer similar services. A simple Google search for “hire freelance writers” brings up pages of options, with quality varying predictably throughout. The real challenge in this category then appears to be maintaining quality, both in terms of the writers invited onto the platform and the projects that companies submit. Unfortunately, this will forever compete with the company’s desire to achieve meaningful scale.
Copywriter Central has yet to raise outside financing, but it’s likely that it will need to going forward if the company is to adequately tackle this large and highly-competitive market. The company is a current resident of First Floor Labs, an invite only co-working and pseudo-accelerator (no cash or equity changes hands) community based in AOL’s Palo Alto headquarters. Quist is also a board member of First Floor Labs.
There’s no arguing that the freelance economy could benefit from additional transparency, organization, and even technology to facilitate matches between contractors and companies. Copywriter Central offers an attractive solutions, assuming it can overcome the anonymity inherent in any newly launched service. Quist’s Silicon Valley rolodex should be a big advantage in this regard, but it will only get her so far down the road.