Are You Seeing this “Client Expectation” in Your Market?

Got this email from a budding commercial freelancer in New Jersey, who wrote:

I am in Central New Jersey, and I am seeing people who were previously “writers” now resurfacing as “marketing experts.” I’ve had a couple of them tell me that it’s not enough just to be a writer anymore, that you need to provide analytics and in-bound marketing plans through platforms like Hubspot. Are you seeing this in Atlanta or other markets?

My reply?

I’m definitely not seeing this. That said, being able to offer things like that can only help a given commercial writer’s marketability, but no, certainly isn’t something I’m noticing more and more of. Over time, you may choose to expand your offerings beyond just copywriting, but I wouldn’t feel the overwhelming need to do so right out of the gate.

I am seeing more and more, the important of SEO (Search-Engine Optimization) to an overall marketing plan, BUT that skill is coming from other people. While a commercial copywriter who has some of those skills can definitely be an asset to a client, in the projects I’m working on, no one expected me to have those skills, and it was just assumed that there’d be another person (i.e., someone who ONLY does that) handling that piece.

And that was being driven by the fact that Google keeps changing rules to the point where an SEO layman just isn’t going to be able to keep up.

Also, don’t get all caught up with “trends.” Sure, anything you can add to your services can potentially make you more marketable, but you only need a teeny bit of the business out there to make a good living, and you can get that in any number of ways. And, in my experience, plenty of clients JUST need writers.

Are you seeing this trend where you are?

Has your business suffered because you were “only a writer”?

Are you doing fine even though you ARE “only a writer”?

Are there certain services clients are expecting you to deliver that they didn’t used to?

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13 replies
  1. Cathy Miller
    Cathy Miller says:

    Peter, maybe I have not seen this trend as I always make it clear my services do not include marketing, improved page ranking, and the like. I have never had a prospect balk at those terms. I also primarily work with Marketing Department management (VPs/Directors). They assume they will handle, SEO, marketing, and analytics in-house. However, as a niche writer, I would say clients very much expect me to consult on industry-related experience.

    It could be this copywriter’s target market. I generally work with clients who actually HAVE a marketing department. 😉 If one person is handling that responsibility (or a small staff), I could see that possibly becoming an issue.

  2. Dennis Briskin
    Dennis Briskin says:

    Dear Peter and Community,

    “Just a writer” leads me to “What does a writer do?” Any piece I write has two major components: the conception and the execution. I want to be in on the conceptual stage to ask the strategic questions: Where are the eyeballs attached to the brains you want to influence? What response(s) do you want to elicit from your target audience(s)? What words and key terms stand the best chance of pushing their “hot buttons” to move those people as you want? One of my slogans is, “It doesn’t matter how well the archer shoots if he aims at the wrong target.”

    “Just a writer” may be blocked from asking about the fundamentals that precede composing text, but that seems short-sighted.

    Do clients just give you marching orders to do what they have decided? Or will they let you consult on what to do to achieve their goals?

  3. Jacqui Pulford
    Jacqui Pulford says:

    This is uplifting to hear. Not having marketing experience has really battered my confidence – to such an extent that it was one reason why I stopped running my business. I was once told by someone at a networking meeting that they would expect me to have a marketing background. I am now set to resume it and have been doing an online digital marketing course. Can’t wait to get going.

  4. David Whiteside
    David Whiteside says:

    Funny this came up. Last year when I read WELL FED WRITER for the first time, I went to the “example” writer web sites listed in the book. Several of these showed the above transition, others were simply defunct. It did get me thinking along those lines…but you can only do what you know how to do. There is an interesting take on SEO in particular, and web marketing in general, in the AWAI “Web Copywriting 2.0” course that can be accessed through Peter’s site…this helped me lose my fear of these subjects. I would probably have passed on AWAI if Peter wasn’t an affiliate. (Thank you Peter!)

  5. Karen Wormald
    Karen Wormald says:

    I have not run into this requirement, but find offering some marketing savvy frequently required. It goes along with Dennis’ comment about aiming at the wrong target. For instance, if a client wants a piece that’s all about what “we, we, we” do, sprinkled with buzzwords known only to them, and lacking any purpose beyond self-serving hype, I will suggest a more reader-friendly and compelling slant that has a better chance of attracting favorable attention and results. Usually, they go along with that.

    Maybe this passes for “marketing expertise,” but I call it simple common sense.

    What I see more often is people looking for a copywriter/graphic designer combo, but I’ve only met one freelancer in 14 years whom I’d consider fairly adept at both. I can’t draw a straight line myself.

  6. Lori
    Lori says:

    Trend? Not at all. I sure don’t see anyone asking me to be a marketing expert. It’s nonsense. These are people who are uninformed about what writers do. Maybe the “marketing experts” have found an additional niche, which is fine, but I don’t think their blanket statements are true or relevant to the freelance writing profession.

    Well, if I were “only a writer” I suppose my business would suffer. However, I am a professional writer (and editor and proofreader). That means I know my stuff, I apply it, and I put the client’s needs first. If I can’t do a project, I say so. If they want X and I handle just Y, I get them some recommendations for the X part. I’ve never lost a job as a result, nor do I expect to.

    I think it comes down to who the client is. If you aim higher up the food chain, you can avoid this sort of expectation of the one-size-fits-all writer. All of my current clients know I’m a writer and editor. None would ask me to handle marketing or design. In fact, I’ve actually had a client recently remind me that they’re hiring me “only for the writing” and not for design. Good thing — my design skills don’t advance beyond stick figures and rudimentary shapes.

    But it goes back to finding quality clients, doesn’t it? Plus, writers running a business have and should use the right to say no to anything that doesn’t fit. I wouldn’t expect my roofing company to handle plumbing issues simply because it’s all attached to the same house. That’s what this feels like to me. Okay, maybe it’s more applicable because we are in fact marketing our own businesses and it seems that writing (good or bad) has been somewhat connected to marketing departments. Still, the skill sets are too different to expect a writer to take on marketing analytics (or an analytics person to take on writing).

    Yes, clients have asked for extra services — now and then a client will ask if I can promote on social media or include keywords. But I don’t see it as being any sort of demand or requirement.

  7. Michael Scully
    Michael Scully says:

    Steve Slaunwhite told me that your prospects and clients should perceive you as “a strategist who writes.”

  8. Peter Bowerman
    Peter Bowerman says:

    Great comments, all!

    Sounds like there’s general agreement that clients that hire us still count on writing, first and foremost, from us. Which, of course, has been my experience as well. That said, as several of you pointed out, there is more to being a commercial writer then just being able to write.

    As Dennis points out, there’s always the strategizing part of the equation, and yes, clients sometimes need that and sometimes don’t. But, no question, if you are able to bring some of that thinking to the table, your career will thrive far better than that of someone who can only put sentences together.

    That’s not to say that all clients expect that. Some clients (especially those who don’t have a lot of experience hiring people like us) won’t necessarily assume that you would bring marketing savvy to the table. And if you didn’t, they’d figure out a concept on their own. But, if you are able to deliver that skill – when a client isn’t expecting it – you can’t help but endear yourself to them for the long term.

    Bottom line, and as I noted above, obviously, the more skills you can bring to the table, the better off you’re going to look to your clients.

    The one exception to that, which I discussed at length in the past, is design. I absolutely believe that commercial writers should not try to learn design, in the misguided notion that if they do, they’ll get so much more money from a client being able to do the whole project. Sure, you might make a little more, but you have to study the craft for a long time in order to be able to compete with those who’ve been at it for a decade or two. More importantly, by trying to do both writing and design, you miss out on the golden opportunity (as I’ve proven my entire career) of partnering with graphic designers, and getting a steady stream of business from them – business that requires little or no marketing outreach to land.

    But, back to the original premise, no, none of us are seeing a demand for marketing analytics or inbound marketing plans. When I hear stuff like that, I’m tempted to suspect that those claiming that are just having a really hard time getting established as a writer, talk to one or two people who mention things like that, and decide that “This Is the New Reality,” as a way of deciding that here’s the reason they can’t make it.

  9. Dennis Briskin
    Dennis Briskin says:

    Peter et al,
    Reason A-1 to work with designers is the client gets a better product. Design precedes text because visual precedes verbal because emotion precedes thinking. The viewer/reader uses in the text to support an unconscious decision made in the emotions. Therefore, the designer should be with me when I ask, “What are the key ideas/impressions about you your target reader must get?” The design must support them through “look and feel.” To see this, imagine an ad for a B&B compared with one for a chip fabrication machine. One says warm, welcoming, romantic, luxurious. The other says precise, to specifications, cost-effective, leading edge. The design should say it before the words. To see this, take any good print ad and turn it upside down so you cannot read the words. The shapes, colors, sizes and lines speak to your unconscious. I and the designer should be aiming at the same goal for enhanced effect.

  10. Star Lawrence
    Star Lawrence says:

    What I see more often is people looking for a copywriter/graphic designer combo, but I’ve only met one freelancer in 14 years whom I’d consider fairly adept at both.

    When this came up, I had designers to recommend. I would say, “Different sides of the brain.”

  11. Katherine Swarts
    Katherine Swarts says:

    Reminds me of a discussion point that has come up several times at “Will clients expect freelance business writers to have a journalism degree?” No one could name a single client who had even asked about education.

  12. Dennis Briskin
    Dennis Briskin says:

    I have a journalism degree of high reputation (M.A. cum laude, University of Missouri School of Journalism, the oldest and largest) and it never came up after my first, brief jobs in neighborhood news writing in the Chicago suburbs and publishing phonics textbooks in small-town Illinois.

    When people ask my background, I say I trained in newspaper and magazine journalism and applied the training to other kinds of writing, including creative non-fiction for adults. (I don’t document hardware and software nor write for children.)

    Honestly, on most jobs I simply apply the standards and practices I learned in News Reporting, Advertising 101, Copy Editing and Feature Writing.

    You cannot beat that kind of training for writing clear, direct, accurate and powerful prose. But you don’t have to have it to write for business or any other niche market. You just need to be smart enough to read and analyze the techniques of the best work and apply them as needed.

  13. Joe
    Joe says:

    It’s refreshing to hear that many businesses just want to pay for copywriting, and not focus on creating the whole inbound structure.
    But, I think the best case would be able to create & write someone’s entire sales funnel, and sell a huge gig.
    I think the danger is in working for very small businesses that don’t have a marketing dept. because if your copy bombs they’ll blame you. When in reality, they bought an ad in the wrong place aimed at the wrong prospects.
    So, when you are “just doing the writing” it would be best to know where your copy fits in the whole marketing structure, and be sure you can trust that savvy marketers did their best so that when a prospect gets to your words they convert.

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