Successful Copywriters (Or ANY Craftspeople) Don’t Focus on Success; They Focus on This…

The “APPETIZER” Series: The original version of this piece first appeared as an Appetizer course in The Well-Fed E-PUB in February 2017, and was one I wanted to run as a blog post (with minor alterations) in order to get input from many voices.

A friend of mine recently sent around a pithy quote (source unknown) to a larger group of our friends. It struck me as a truism that gets at the heart of what we as commercial writers should aspire to, but don’t always. It said…

“The goal is not to be successful. The goal is to be valuable. Once you’re valuable, you don’t chase success, you attract it.”

I love its clarity. If you say, “I want to be successful,” not only is success an exceptionally nebulous concept that means different things to different people, but, just as importantly, how you get there isn’t at all clear.

It’s this vague state of being, akin, in many ways, to saying, “I want to be happy”—also a vague state, with vague path to completion. But say, “I want to be valuable,” and well, that’s a LOT clearer, no?

And if you know you want to be valuable as a commercial freelancer, then it’s just a matter of figuring out which skills and expertise you need to gather and develop in order to be valuable—to be someone that high-caliber, well-paying clients want and need to hire.

Once you’ve developed those skills—skills that make you more valuable than the average writer—assuming you do a decent job of letting the world know about you and your above-average abilities, you’ll indeed attract success.

Again, it’s like happiness. Trying to figure out what you should do in order to “be happy” can be a frustrating and circular process.

Come to think of it, becoming a useful, and yes, a valuable person—in many arenas of life—might just have you attracting happiness as well as success.

I can tell you this from plenty of firsthand experience: Being valuable is a LOT more fun than fighting it out with a bunch of other writers, when all of you have equal (low) value.

Forgive an Editorial Aside…
I think this little saying is particularly form-fitted to our times: With all the talk today of finding one’s passion and “finding one’s self” (especially for young people starting out), it’s good to be reminded that none of us is owed a life of passion or fulfillment.

We get there by working our butts off for a long time and for little money or recognition, until we eventually develop a skill or talent for something we enjoy and for which others will gladly pay.

If your copywriting practice is going well, what skills did you develop to make yourself valuable to your clients?

If your practice isn’t where you want it to be (or you’ve struggled in the past), was it because you focused on being “successful”?

Have you found that focusing on being valuable has, by any chance, boosted your happiness along the way? 😉

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Becoming valuable to my clients has been about a lot of things, but mostly, it’s been about honing my marketing-writing chops across a broad array of commercial writing projects so I can step into virtually any copywriting situation, and quickly know what to and how to do it.

If that sounds like the kind of “valuable” you’d like to offer your clients, I invite you to check out Well-Fed Craft, my new, self-paced course that delivers just that. Click the course name above for full details, testimonials AND a free 10-minute sample.

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Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.

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Share Your “Here’s-How-I-Wowed-My-Client” Story…

The “APPETIZER” Series: The original version of this piece first appeared as an Appetizer course in The Well-Fed E-PUB in December 2015, and was one I wanted to run as a blog post (with minor alterations) in order to get input from many voices.

So I’m on the phone a few weeks back with one of my long-time commercial writing clients (a husband/wife graphic design team). We’re reviewing feedback from their client on the first draft of copy I’d turned in a few weeks earlier.

One of the items their client wanted clarification on was a claim I was making about the impact of a particular resource (an online encyclopedia the client sponsors) on both teacher and student performance in the classroom.

They wanted to know what I was basing that assertion on. That’s easy, I said: In the annual report I had done for this same client the prior year, we did a small feature/success story on this particular resource, and the classroom teacher I interviewed for the story shared its impact, and that revelation made it into the story.

In working on this new project (a rebranding initiative for the client), I needed to refer to this resource and why it was important. As such, in order to refresh my memory about it, I dug up the earlier project, and found the reference.

Given that part of the rebranding process entailed gathering information on the difference that this client’s organization made, I felt it fitting to reiterate what the teacher had said.

Once I explained to my copywriting clients where it had come from, there was a silence on the other end of the line, and one of them said something in a soft voice. I missed it, so I asked if he could repeat it, and he said, “No writer does that.”

I laughed, and asked what he meant, and he replied, “I’ve just never had a writer go that extra mile to add color to a new project.”

Naturally, we writers live to hear stuff like that, but at the same time, I thought to myself, “It’s really no big deal.” And it wasn’t. But, the fact is, it’s not very common, either.

In truth, I did it, first and foremost, to refresh my memory about the resource in question. But, once I got there, I saw the possibility of spicing up the current project with some interesting tidbits from the earlier one.

Since my goal, when doing any project, is always to make it as interesting as possible, and to increase the odds that that piece I’m creating—whatever it is—will get read, it was a no-brainer to include it.

Bottom line, I walked away from the exchange with yet another “shareable” clue as to how you can easily set yourself apart from the herd, and build gratitude, respect, and—most importantly—loyalty, with your clients.

Have a similar story of standing out in a client’s mind?

Did you think it was all that big a deal, or just what you consider baseline professionalism?

How hard do you think it is to go that extra mile?

If you have that “extra-mile” mentality, how did you develop it?

Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.

Why Good Marketing Writers Are a Little Like Good Dentists

Apologies for the long hiatus from the blog. As many of you know, I went on an adventure for the first three months of this year (see the photo albums linked from the Appetizer course in the March issue of The Well-Fed E-PUB), and slowly getting back into the swing of things. Thanks for coming back!

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So, I’m in the home stretch (the good news) of a dental implant procedure (the bad news). Thankfully, I feel like I’m in incredibly good hands with my dentist. She is so competent and knowledgeable, and does such a great job of explaining what she’s doing, making me comfortable during the process, and following up by phone after every step.

It’s a roughly 4+-month process, that began with an extraction of a tooth followed by the insertion of a titanium post screwed into the jawline. Actual powdered bone material is packed into the opening, and over the next four months, it assimilates into the jawbone, and further anchors the post. Finally, a prosthetic tooth attached to another screw, similarly, is screwed into the post.

(NOTE: As grisly and wince-inducing as the above description no doubt sounds, the whole process is basically a lot of sound and water, but no pain—except, of course, when it comes time to pay).

Consider the skill and expertise required to do the job at all, much less the masterful job she does. She is so good at what she does, and this process demands such a high level of expertise, that I’ve shelled out her non-trivial fee unhesitatingly, never considering for a second trying to get it done on the cheap. Just not worth it.

On the continuum of professional services—with those services you might consider “cheaping out” on, or even doing yourself, on one end; and those you’d never consider getting done by anyone but the best practitioner one can find, on the other—her services are obviously ensconced in the latter category.

Then, there are services that companies and individuals routinely put in the former category (i.e., those you might consider doing yourself), but don’t belong there in any way shape or form. And of course, professional copywriting services are one of them.

It’s Easy to Write, Right?
No mystery why this happens. After all, to the untrained eye, what’s so difficult about writing? It’s just stringing words together to form sentences that convey a certain message, right? Any educated, reasonably literate person can do it, yes? What’s so hard about it? Oh my, let us count the ways…

And because of the pervasiveness of this tragically misguided perception about the craft of marketing writing, it has the strange effect of actually convincing many writers of its veracity.

How else to explain why so many exceptionally good copywriters are insecure about their skills (not getting how so few can do what they do well), and lack the confidence to insist upon a professional wage—equivalent to the fees earned by other “professionals”?

Bad Writing Helps No One
Of course, that widely held misconception (i.e., of how “easy” writing is) doesn’t lose much power when so many mediocre writers flock to the field and keep cranking out pretty convincing evidence—for crappy wages—that writing actually is pretty easy.

After all, say the clients who pay those crappy wages, it must be easy, given how little we had to pay for it. I could have done just as good a job, but I don’t have the time. And that makes it tougher for the truly talented commercial writers (a.k.a. marketing writers) to convince many clients to pay those professional wages.

(NOTE: I’m not talking here about simple article-writing skills. If that’s all a client needs, then any number of thousands of writers out there have the basic skills to do an adequate job, and for pretty cheaply. I’m referring here to the more challenging marketing-copywriting skills held by far fewer people.)

They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know
At the heart of that challenge is the fact that those same clients have no idea what really good marketing writing looks like. What they see from the bargain-basement writers becomes their baseline perception, not only of what “good writing” should cost, but more importantly, what “good writing” is.

Hence, it becomes our job to educate them as to the difference it can make. No, if we have access to enough prospects who already understand the value of good marketing writing, and are willing to pay well for it, we don’t need to waste our time educating the unconvinced. But if those “enlightened” clients are in short supply in our prospecting pool, then educating may be in order (or, expanding one’s pool…).

Fact is, solid marketing copywriting takes a LOT of skill and expertise. It’s not easy, and by no stretch of the imagination can just anyone do it (tell you something you don’t know, right?). And if you are one of The Good Ones, I daresay it’s not a stretch to compare the caliber of your skills, in their own way, to those of a good dentist.

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Have you wrestled with that typical writer insecurity that plagues so many of us?

Was there a moment (perhaps, a particular client/job) that had you realize you were delivering far more value to your client than just a “freelance writer” would?

Have you had clients contrast their experience working with you, with one working with a freelancer with little marketing background?

OR, have you had a client been hesitant to hire you, thanks to a past “bad-writer” experience?

Any other comments or observations?

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Speaking of good writing, I’ll be re-launching Well-Fed Craft—my popular program on how to actually write the most common commercial writing projects—on June 26. For all the details, go here.

Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.

Should You Be Worried About This? I’m Not…

Got this email from a reader in Canada a few weeks back:

Writers in my market are noticing a trend towards clients hiring low-cost writers, mostly journalism students from the local college. Journalism has been pretty much wiped out here so there’s been a huge increase in these writers. We’ve also noticed several big clients are now offering minimum wage for copywriting positions. So there’s pressure.

A few of us “senior” writers have been talking about collaborating on some sort of marketing strategy based on selling a higher-quality writing service. The general idea is not to compete directly against the will-write-for-food crowd, but to become the go-to writers for clients by offering a consistent, professional and accountable service.

I’ve partnered with another writer to offer this service to a client whose reputation may have suffered some by hiring cheap writers. What we’re seeing with these cases are things like websites with glaring typos, businesses with poor Google results, etc. Are the clients noticing this? Maybe. Is it damaging their reputation in the marketplace? Probably.

While this idea of ours looks positive, the question is this: Do you know of anyone else who has tried this strategy, and have you seen what works and what doesn’t?

At first blush, a little disturbing, but I’m not at all sure we’re comparing apples to apples. Here’s my thinking on this…

I haven’t been seeing this trend personally, but I’m sure it’s happening. The key question: What sorts of copywriting projects are these writers being asked to do?

I ask this because a journalism student from a local college will, in no way shape or form, know their way around good, effective marketing copywriting.

And hiring cheap writers will reliably yield the unreliability he mentions. I can certainly see cheaper freelancers being able to write passable-looking “content” like white papers, case studies, blog posts, etc.—given their more “article” nature.

Commercial Writers Do It Better
Needless to say, a copywriting pro would render those content projects far better, while their versions of ads, direct mail, brochures, landing pages, etc., will be infinitely better, more effective, and far more likely to pay for themselves many times over, than anything a cheaper writer might deliver.

It’d be interesting to get into the heads of these writing buyers. Maybe they know they’ll be trading off some quality for the lower wages paid. But they’d only do that if they truly believed that what these bargain-basement scribes deliver is all they really need.

Don’t Know Good Writing (or Writers)
After all, these clients have already proven they don’t understand the value professional writers bring, so they’re just as unlikely to be able to recognize good writing when they see it, and be happier with inferior stuff.

In the long run, I suspect those same clients, if they start seeing that they’re losing out to companies who are investing more money in writers better equipped to deliver effective content—and general marketing copywriting—may end up doing the same themselves.

In answer to his specific question, I wrote:

If you feel you and your compadres ARE stronger marketing copywriters, that’s probably your best pitch. Yes, I’d also play the reliability, accountability and detailed-oriented (i.e., clean, error-free copy) cards, but I wouldn’t lead with those: Even though they’re exceptionally important, they sound a bit thin, compared to the effective marketing-copy angle.

That should have them thinking that they’re potentially losing far more money in sales, than they’re saving by hiring cheaper writers. And heck, why not make that part of your pitch?

Back to School?
Bottom line, If your prospecting hasn’t turned up enough “good” clients (i.e., those who understand the value people like us bring, and are willing to pay well for it)—and they’re certainly out there—you might need to do more educating of those clients who think, “Anyone can write.”

In many cases, clients don’t even realize there are writers like us (i.e., marketing copywriters). They just need a writer, and if they don’t have success with lower-budget ones, they’ll find a “better writer”—i.e., a more experienced journalist-type writer.

Let ‘Em Know Our Kind Exists
So, the marketing we do for our practices not only lets the world know that we—in particular—are out there, but just as importantly, that marketing copywriters like us, very different from the typical “freelance writer”—are out there.

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Have you noticed this trend in your market?

In your experience, do clients realize there are marketing copywriters out there, not just journalist-style “freelance writers”?

In your experience, do the prospects and clients you cross paths with know the difference a good marketing copywriter, and know what quality marketing writing looks like?

Ever had a client who just didn’t get what a good writer could offer, and your amazing copy rocked their world, and gave them a new appreciation for folks like us?

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How are your marketing-writing chops? Not sure? If you’re ready to BE sure, and truly separate yourself from the writing masses, check out my (rapidly-filling) Well-Fed Group Coaching series focused on “craft” and starting October 18. Full details and testimonials HERE.

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Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.