Stories Like This Prove Big Companies Don’t Always Have Their Act Together…

So, I went out for a lunch the other day to my local Jason’s Deli. Pretty big chain – good, thick Dagwood-style sandwiches, great salad bar, etc. And no, I’m not getting free coupons for plugging them here. Just giving credit where it’s due, since I’m about to do the opposite as well…

Anyway, so while they have all these specialty sandwiches listed on their boards and in their printed menus, at the heart of their offering is a “build-your-own-sandwich” feature. You pick your meat (~ a dozen) and your bread (ditto) and then choose from a bunch of trimmings and condiments.

That’s what I want, so I grab a menu to review my options. Just as I have done successfully every other time I’ve come here for a sandwich. I open the menu, and look, and look and look some more. I see all the specialty sandwiches, paninis, subs, salads, desserts, etc. I see the section for the Build Your Own Sandwich, which reads:

BUILD YOUR OWN SANDWICH
Served with: Chips or baked chips with a pickle.
Substitute fresh fruit for chips & pickle. 1.59
Pick your meat, name your bread, select your spreads and dress it up.
You also decide the size. whole/5.99 • half/4.99 • *slim/4.99
.60 extra: hot corned beef hot pastrami natural, grilled chicken breast
*slim = half-portion meat between two whole slices of bread

That’s it. Where’s the list of the meats and breads and trimmings and condiments you get to choose from? AWOL. They were always there before, but I don’t see them now. Am I missing something? They’ve even included the three meats that cost extra, but not the 12 that are offered as part of the regular sandwich price. What gives?

So, I walk up to the counter, menu in hand, and ask the guy, “Where’s the list of meats I can choose from? And breads? And trimmings and condiments?” And just so you know, they don’t have a big menu board mounted that provides all that info.

“They’re not in there?” he asks? Nope. “Let me take a look,” he says, and here’s the clincher: “These are brand-new menus we just got in.” He looks. And looks and looks some more. “Hunh. That’s strange.” Yeah, tell me about it.

So, get the big picture here. Here’s a national sandwich shop chain – 225 stores strong. Ranked #1 in annual sales in QSR Magazine’s Top Ten list of restaurant groups with under 300 locations. Just named “Best Restaurant in America” by Parents magazine.

And as an experienced commercial writer, I know how projects like these unfold and get produced, and know this menu revamp probably went through at least a ten sets of eyes (conservatively). Yet, somehow, some way, almost inconceivably, the menu got printed, minus, arguably, THE core, central menu information – one of their signature features.

And each location no doubt got a few hundred copies of the new menu, which means close to 50,000 printed in all. Truly amazing.

And until it’s replaced with a corrected one, it’s going to make the counter staff’s job a LOT more complicated. Not to mention far longer wait times at lunch time, as everyone who wants a custom sandwich is going to have to ask for all the choices, listen and try to remember all they heard, and THEN decide. As opposed to knowing exactly what they want by the time they get up to the counter (i.e., like it should work). A freakin’ nightmare. This is the proverbial Menu Designed by Committee.

Oh, and get this: the SAME meatless/breadless menu was loaded up on their web site, to boot! So, until they fix it (and I haven’t checked it since), when people call to order takeout, they’ll be putting the counter staff through the same ordeal! Or if they’re trying to order online, they’ll likely just say, the heck with it and go somewhere else.

Now, obviously, Jason’s has done a lot of things right or they wouldn’t be as successful as they are. And while this screw-up won’t really hurt them in the long run, it’s just one more example – and they’re all around us – of BIG companies who don’t have their act together. Now, don’t get the idea that all companies are full of morons – obviously not the case. And this screw-up doesn’t prove that Jason’s is a bush-league operation. Again, not so. But this stuff happens more than you might imagine.

So, as you build your freelance copywriting business, don’t canonize these corporate entities as all-knowing, all-intelligent, all-savvy, all-buttoned-up entities. Ain’t necessarily so…

So, how do you think stuff like this happens?

Can you share some similar stories of major screw-ups in a big company’s literature?

Or similar snafus that show the Big Boys aren’t so smart, and maybe human, just like the rest of us?

Have you made the mistake of thinking you don’t have what it takes to make a difference for a business, since, “they’re SO much smarter than me”?

Turning Kind Deeds to Writing Income: Helping Funeral Homes Minister to Families (Guest Post)

PB Note: Got this really intriguing guest post from Chicago-area commercial freelancer Melanie Jongsma – a great thought-starter to get your creative wheels turning. I invite you to view it not as one about someone doing “memorial folders,” but rather, as the story of someone who looked beyond the typical commercial writing box and found an income opportunity where most people wouldn’t. Ideally, it should make you go, “Hmmmm…what other arenas might I have overlooked that could be turned into a profitable copywriting direction?”

And no, projects like the ones described below won’t make you rich, but for the time expended, they’re great little “slot-ins” to keep your commercial freelancing plate full. And, again, what other even juicier untapped venues might be out there?

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My best friend’s mother died unexpectedly in 2006. I sat with her and her family as they sorted through photos and told stories through their tears. There’s not much you can do to help in a situation like that, but I did the one thing I could: I designed and wrote the funeral program.

Three years later, when my friend’s father died, I was able to help with his funeral program too. It turned out to be a keepsake that the whole family treasured.

In both of those situations, Funeral Director Mike Matthysse (of Matthysse Kuiper DeGraaf Funeral Homes) expressed appreciation for the work I had done. He recognized what a value this service would be to other grieving families, so we began to talk about how personalized memorial folders could become a service option for Matthysse Kuiper DeGraaf’s existing ministry.

A proposal that worked for both of us

Having learned a lot from Steve Slaunwhite about pricing, I sent Mike a carefully crafted proposal. Mike liked what I had to offer, and he wanted to hire me, but he couldn’t meet the price I had quoted. So I adjusted the quote to make it work for both of us—that is, I brought my price down, but I also decreased the time I would need to invest. For example, I reduced the number of revisions Mike could expect from me, eliminated stock photography options, and asked if there were parts of the work his staff could handle. In the end, we came up with an arrangement that looks like this:

  • The staff at Matthysse Kuiper DeGraaf gather photos and information from the family, scan everything, and email it to me all with the specifics of the funeral service.
  • Matthysse Kuiper DeGraaf also posts their clients’ obituaries on the MKD website, so I’m able to access that information if I need additional details.
  • I review all the info, clean up the photos, write a “life story,” and lay everything out in a format that Mike’s staff will be able to print in-house without having to worry about trimming.
  • Mike shows a proof to the family and then emails me any corrections that need to be made.
  • I email the final version of the PDF along with an invoice.

For the above, Mike pays me $250. At first, this amount did not represent $50/hour, but now that I have my systems and templates in place, the work goes faster, so I make about $75/hour per memorial folder.

A few things I’ve learned

I’ve done several of these customized memorial folders since arriving at an agreement with Mike, and here are a few things I’ve learned:

  • Good questions are important. Because I’m not present at the family interviews Mike and his staff conduct, it’s been a huge help that they are willing to include some additional questions from me. These help fill in the blanks, so I can add some color to the deceased’s life story.
  • Work like this requires quick turnaround. Mike wants to be able to show the family a proof within a day or two, so sometimes I’m working late to get it to him on time.
  • Mike and his team were already providing a valuable service before I came along. My role is simply to add to what they already do so well.
  • Families really do appreciate having this special keepsake. It requires some sensitivity, intuition, and empathy to get the writing right, but it really blesses the people who receive it. And that’s good for Mike’s reputation as well as mine.

I planned to pitch the idea to other funeral directors in my area, now that I have some well-received samples to show. But I’m hesitant because of the quick turnaround required. I wouldn’t want to put myself in a position where I need to produce two or three customized memorial folders in a day, in addition to other jobs I have!

A question for fellow writers

This income opportunity developed out of a desire to use my writing skills to help my friend and her family through a difficult time. It’s turned into a frequent (though unpredictable) paycheck with potential for expansion. That makes me wonder… Have there been other times my writing has helped someone, and I’ve overlooked a possible freelance market?

What kinds of writing “favors” have you done for friends that might represent business opportunities?

Have you stumbled on a profitable writing niche (that you’re willing to share) that you’d previously overlooked?

What other business or industries might offer hidden writing opportunities?

About the author

Melanie Jongsma loves helping people organize their thoughts and experiences into compelling personal stories, effective business collateral, and powerful ministry messaging. She blogs at LifeLines—helping you share your story. Readers of this post can download her newly-released checklist—7 Ways Professional Editors and Proofreaders Use Find-and-Replace—for just 99¢.

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