Four Client-Repelling Mistakes, & What I Learned to Do Instead (Guest Post)

Great guest post from Matt Seidholz, a freelance healthcare content writer in Omaha, Nebraska. Hats off to Matt for having the courage to admit some of these classics, but I’m certain each of us have our own “Really??” stories from our early days that we’re not too proud of. But, we learn, correct and move on. Thanks, Matt!

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When I started commercial freelancing, I was so desperate to leave my day-job. I hated it, and thought copywriting could be my way out. Can you relate?

That desperation was wonderful fuel for my fire. It’s what got me on the phone, every day, trying to drum up commercial-writing clients.

But it also pushed me to do some very, very dumb things—things that pushed away potential clients, and hampered my copywriting business for months. I still cringe at the memory.

Here are the four dumb things in all their client-repelling glory, and what I wish I’d done instead.


1. Over-Eagerness
This one started with a cold-call to a marketing manager for a large medical manufacturer. Big fish for a new guy!

Imagine my delight when he said he might—just might—need some help. “Check back on the first of the month,” he said.

Oh, I wouldn’t miss it.

The first came around, and I called. No answer. Waited an hour. Called again. Voice mail. 15 minutes later, tried again. Nothing.

So I called again. And again. And again. And again. All told, I called this guy thirteen times in one day.

Clearly, I’d put way too much stock in this guy’s “maybe.” Of course, he never called back.

LESSON: Show restraint, not desperation, when selling yourself!


2) “Look at how smart I am!”

Another textbook foul-up.

I was browsing a company’s sales brochures, trying to get a feel for their work. Good idea, right?

But as I read their material, all I could think was: “I can do so much better!” I attacked their brochures with a red pen, hacking, slashing, underlining away. Then I wrote a new one, with “improved” copy.

Unsolicited, I mailed the edited version and my new work—with business card—to the company’s marketing manager. I was so proud of myself.

Cringing yet?

A week later, the manager emailed me himself, saying, essentially, Thanks for your edits on my copy. But we’re happy with what we’ve got.

Oof. Only then did it dawn on me how insulting I’d been.

LESSON: Check your ego, and offer help, not insults.


3) It’s a Man’s World – Isn’t It?

Yet another unforced error.

On another cold-call, a marketing associate at a hospital asked me to send her my information. “That way I can send it up to the VP of Marketing.”

Should have been an easy win, but I blew it.

I wrote back: “Thanks for the connection. Please relay my info to your boss. If he likes what he sees, we should chat on the phone!”

A subtle, but obvious mistake. The associate sure caught it, and less than half an hour later, emailed me back: “Our marketing VP is a she.”

That’s it. No signature, no “call us back,” no nothing. And I never heard from them again.

LESSON: No matter your gender, race, creed – stay professional, and be careful about the biases you communicate.


4) Jumping the Gun

This mistake actually happened after I landed a gig. Or, at least, after I thought I had.

I was speaking with a marketing director at a surgical center. She mentioned that she wanted to publish an article about a new device.

Oh boy, did I jump at that.

This was at the very beginning of my writing career. I was trying to build up my portfolio. Our conversation went like this:

“No problem, I’ll do it for free!”

“Uh, are you sure? It’s a lot of work.”

“Absolutely. I’ll turn it around for you in two weeks.”

“Alright…I guess.”

Elated, I was in a hurry to hang up and start writing.

Notice: No intelligent questions from me, and zero enthusiasm from her. I took her tentative yes for a “full-speed ahead.” Bad move.

I took to the project with rabid intensity. I read up on lymph-node biopsies, found technical manuals for the machine, and was just so darned excited to use words like “pneumothorax” and “endobrachial ultrasound.”

I liked what I wrote, and I was expecting effusive praise when I delivered it.

Instead, I got this: “This wasn’t what I had in mind. Please don’t spend any more of your time on this.”

Ouch.

LESSONS (two of them):

1) Never write for someone that doesn’t want you. Incredibly obvious, right? Sure, but a desperate novice will try anything for a quick win. Don’t. Get an enthusiastic “Yes!” before you ever pick up your pen.

2) Make sure you understand the job at hand. I dove into this project without knowing what this manager wanted to achieve. So how was I supposed to help her? Ask questions, so you can deliver something your clients can actually use.

3) (PB Addition): Don’t work for free! I understand pro bono work to build a portfolio, but if you’re going that route, keep your time commitment reasonable, and, of course, make sure you’re following Matt’s first two lessons above (including making sure the client knows you’re doing it to build your portfolio).


Wrapping Up

Yes, these were stupid, embarrassing mistakes. But things turned out okay for me.

These days I’m writing and thriving—plenty of money coming in, more business than I can handle, with new clients cold-calling me all the time.

My secret? Persistence. I chose to see my screw-ups as growing pains, and I got savvier with time.

It happened for me, and it can happen for you. After all, you can’t possibly screw up worse than I did!


(If you’re willing to admit it), what’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done in dealing with a commercial writing client?

How’d you recover? Did you try to pursue these clients again?

What do you think is the worst mistake a rookie can make when they’re starting out as a commercial freelancer?


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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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.