Where Do You Draw Your “Line in the Sand” with Copywriting Clients?

In the last post, erstwhile copywriter/now graphic designer, Mike Klassen, on whom I can always depend for wisdom, shared this comment:

When I started out, I hated the thought of losing any potential copywriting client. Now, I do little things to weed out the potential problem clients.

One thing I will no longer do is quote a price or a price range without talking to the prospect on the phone and asking questions. I lost all hope of landing a new client a few weeks ago when I got a short email out of the blue asking how much I charge for a certain project. Well, that type of project can have quite a range, so I suggested we schedule a get-to-know-each-other call so I could get some details.

Nope… no call… just wanted a range. When I said I don’t do that because all projects are different (I even have a blog post to point people to that explains things in more detail), he asked what I had charged for the pieces he saw as samples on my site. Had to say sorry, but what I charge other clients is between me and them. I again suggested a free call, or that he should swing by eLance to consider other options. Never heard back from him, and it didn’t make me sad.

If someone can’t be bothered to do a quick chat on the phone, they’re not the client for me. Those questions that PB mentions are crucial. I can’t accurately quote a project until I learn more about the project. But just as important is the personality of the person I’d be working for. You can learn a lot about them on a 15-minute call.

Good stuff, particularly the idea of how much you can pick up about someone on the phone. Not something we spend much time thinking about, but perhaps we should.

Few things top the satisfied feeling you get when you tell a commercial writing client that what they’re suggesting doesn’t work for you. Not in a thumb-your-nose kind of way. But rather, as part of the dawning realization that the client/provider relationship is a one of peers, not lord over servant. Sure, when starting out as a commercial freelancer, you need to be more accommodating, but the sooner you get to that point of realizing, “I have a say in how this goes,” the better.

I recently had a little “line-in-the-sand” moment of my own. I’d given a quote to a new client (a freelance designer for whom I’d done one small project) to brainstorm 3-4 brochure concepts for his not-for-profit client (yes, an unusual project). I offered a pretty reasonable price based on a phone meeting (vs. a face-to-face).

He emailed me to ask if I’d be open to doing a face-to-face instead. With no hesitation, and with supremely untroubled mind, I told him that it really wouldn’t work. All we have as freelancers is our time, and a face-to-face meeting (two hours minimum) would significantly reduce my hourly rate on an already mighty reasonable flat fee.

I think back to how I might have reacted many years back, how I’d have no doubt said, “Sure, of course, be happy to,” or how many writers, living out of “I’m just happy to be here,” would have also quickly signed on. Again, as noted, in the beginning, you DO have to go the extra mile—you do have to prove yourself and be accommodating. But as you get a sense of your value, it’s time to start saying, No.”

And get this: when I told, by phone, that I couldn’t do it, his immediate response was, “Absolutely no problem. I totally get it. I feel exactly the same way. I just wanted to feel out the situation with you.”

He went on to say that he’ll just tell the client that we’re trying to keep things as economical as possible for them, and as such, etc., etc. And it occurred to me, given his reaction, and his immediate understanding of, and commiseration with (after all, he’s a freelancer as well), that had I agreed to the in-person meeting, chances are excellent, I’d have lost some respect in his eyes.

Maybe not a lot, maybe not even consciously to him, but it would have sent the message that I was a bit of a doormat. So, realize that being “agreeable” doesn’t always equate to building credibility in someone’s eyes.

Yes (and as we discussed in an earlier post), you need to balance this new-found power with a generous spirit, but you’ll know which situation calls for which response.

Your drawing-your-line-in-the-sand stories?

How did they unfold, and how to did you feel about it when you stood up for yourself?

Ever not drawn that line when you should have, and regretted it?

Any other thoughts on the subject?

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

5 Reasons Why You Aren’t Where You Want To Be as a Commercial Freelancer (Guest Post)

If you listen to the news media, we’re living in “tough economic times” right now. But, if you keep listening to the same outlets, when aren’t we (according to them)?

You however, and of course your writing business, don’t have to suffer through the “tough times” the media prescribes. In fact, you should completely ignore this so-called “trend” for small businesses altogether.

I’ve identified what I think are the 5 primary reasons you aren’t where you want to be as a freelance commercial writer (FLCW). Work to improve these and your writing business will improve right along with it.

The first couple are fairly obvious, and written about quite a bit on this blog, but the last three, well, from my experience teaching younger copywriters…not so much.

1. Inconsistent marketing (not marketing in the down times and the good times).
You know you need to be marketing your business whether you “need” clients or not. But most FLCW’s don’t. Why? Partly human nature (we get lazy), and partly due to our inherent need to make the task of marketing our business harder than it is.

Getting business as a FLCW boils down to getting consistent in making contact with the people who can assign you projects within an organization (see Chapter 5 of Peter’s book). It’s really that simple, but we tend to bog down the simple process of contacting people with complicated “what ifs” and self-imposed obstacles.

In short, we market when times are tough, when we “need” clients, but not when we should be marketing… when times are good.

2. Poor mindset (the economy is bad; no one is paying our rates, etc…)

This is a big one.

As noted above, the news media can be pretty influential. What makes headlines usually isn’t positive… and, cumulatively, it can affect how we think and act. This information enters our subconscious even if you claim you don’t “really” listen to it.

For example (and I’ve seen variations of this on this very blog in the comments):

“Magazines aren’t paying our rates/good rates.”

(I know this isn’t a FLCW’s main business, but the same principle can apply to our business)

To which I say… so what?

Subscribing to a trend completely out of your control shouldn’t even be a part of your mindset (yes, easier said than done). But let’s just say it’s true that magazines (or businesses, publishers, whatever…) weren’t paying the rates they used to.

Do you really want to tie the success and/or failure of your entire writing business to a trend completely out of your control? I’d rather adapt, learn new skills, change my marketing plan, etc., and try to make the best of the situation. If this means you stop writing magazine articles because the pay doesn’t match your business needs, then do that, and develop a different part of your writing business.

The bottom line is this: there is and will ALWAYS be a certain market for writing services that will pay premium rates, period (until Armageddon that is).

3. Lack of proper systems (such as a system for gathering referrals)

Most all successful businesses are systematized, and a freelance commercial writing business is no exception. You have to set up systems within your business, and adapt those systems as your business grows or changes.

One of them is a system for gathering referrals, which allows you to land new clients much more easily. Not to mention, it helps avoid the well-chronicled famous “feast/famine” scenario.

Keep this referral system simple.

For example, as part of my own referral system, I make referrals a condition of doing business (learned from Jay Abraham). I tell a potential client: only when they are more than satisfied with my work and results, I would like the opportunity to speak with three of their colleagues or friends about the possibility of working with them. At that time, and again, based on their satisfaction with my work, I will have them get their address book or contact manager out and provide those three referrals.

Sometimes, when the client was satisfied with my work and it came time to provide referrals, the client actually called the referred potential client themselves… and “pre-sold” them on working with me.

It’s not a perfect system, but it has worked very well and made it very easy for me to keep a steady flow of new clients coming into my business. This isn’t the only system I have set up in my writing business either… but I do think for all of us a solid system for referrals is a good one to implement.

4. Lack of good health (get out and walk/exercise for at least 45 minutes a day, this is a solitary business so network etc…)

This is one I didn’t follow fully myself until almost nine years into my business as a freelance commercial writer and consultant. I was a solid networker, but the health part, well, that didn’t happen fully until 2010 when I encountered some health issues.

But know this: both person-to-person relationships and your health are SO important to the success of your writing business.

This is a solitary business for the most part; there isn’t really a “water cooler” to hang out at offline where you can shoot the breeze with other writers.

So you have to devote an amount of time (even if it’s small at first) to connecting with your fellow writers and consultants and talking shop, developing friendships, and just hanging out sometimes. You’re NOT alone, you don’t have to do this alone, and you don’t want to.

On to your health… Don’t take it for granted. I did, and in 2010 found myself in a state of poorer health. Nothing drastic mind you (thankfully), but I had taken my health for granted.

In 2011, I decided to do something about it: a challenge was issued to me by my body, and I accepted.

Fast forward to today. I’m walking 2.4 miles every day, drinking plenty of water, and moderating my plate size and portions. I’m also getting better sleep. The result? I lost 67 lbs. in 2011 (from Jan-Dec), and I feel like I can take on the world. My life has new, fresh perspective and I can do things I wouldn’t have thought possible two years ago.

Don’t get me wrong, it was hard work, and I went through hell developing the habits required to maintain my new lifestyle. But we’re only on this Earth an average of 75 or so trips around the Sun. How many do you want to have left?

But, there’s a good business reason to do all this…

When you’re healthy and social, it shows to your potential clients. You radiate confidence and discipline, and quite frankly, there’s a shortage of both in most business arenas (not just writing). Finally…

5. Lack of a money-management discipline.

If you’re making money, but you’re spending more than you make… you’ll be poor. If you make more than you spend, you COULD be rich.

Now, I’m not a financial advisor, and this is NOT financial advice, but you need to develop a money-management discipline of some sort (outside of “generate income, pay taxes, pay bills, have entertainment money,” etc…).

What do I mean? Talk to a financial person (someone who specializes in working with small business people or writers). Get a plan together, and follow it.

If you can’t afford it (I think you can’t afford not to), at least research and learn about the subject. A good book I can personally recommend: “The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed: The Only Personal Finance System for People with Not-So-Regular Job”

Can you think of any other reasons you aren’t achieving your goals as a FLCW?

Do you have a personal story that might benefit anyone who participates in this discussion (e.g. personal successes, failures, etc…)?

Any other books you might recommend for further reading?

Any stories about personal interaction with someone that changed your view of this business for the better?

Since 2001, Joseph Ratliff has been a direct response copywriter and marketing consultant for small businesses. He irregularly blogs at The Ratliff Report™. You can download some success-oriented articles and reports on the “free resources” page on his site. If you’re new to the writing business, you can check out his 17-page essay for new writers (titled “The Writer’s Lifestyle”) on the Essays section of his website.

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

How I Get Copywriting Clients Through SEO: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Guest Post)

I don’t quite remember when I stumbled upon commercial writing as a viable freelance profession, but as soon as I did I was sold. My background was in event marketing and sales, which I enjoyed but wasn’t necessarily passionate about.

I have always loved writing and I knew I wanted to do something using my business background, so combining the two was a natural fit. Although I didn’t have any professional training, I decided to make the leap to starting a freelance copywriting business in January 2010.

I did two things from the start that have been game changers for my business: first, I put up a website on WordPress, an incredible website content management system; second, I took the time to optimize my new site for the search engines (a.k.a. Search Engine Optimization or SEO), even though I really didn’t have any idea what I was doing at the time.

After getting my site up, I hit the pavement hard trying to land those first few clients. I networked like crazy, attending any free or low-cost event I could. I also spent a considerable amount of time reaching out to my network and getting involved on Twitter and LinkedIn. After a few short months, something interesting started happening. I started getting emails that looked like this:

Slowly but surely, SEO overtook networking as my #1 method of developing new business. Pretty soon I stopped going to networking events, slowed down my social media activity and stopped marketing almost entirely because I had so many projects lined up from clients who had found my website.

Now that 2 ½ years have passed since I started my freelance business, I’m astounded by how a small investment into learning and applying SEO has had such a profound effect on my business. Although most of my experience is positive, I do have some warnings about SEO, which I’ll share in a moment.

How I Optimized My Freelance Copywriting Website
I want to explain exactly how I used SEO effectively to drive traffic and prospects and ultimately convert web visitors into paying clients. I did the following six activities, which contributed to my current page-1 Google ranking:

1. Identified and selected my keywords using Google’s free keyword tool
2. Wrote keyword-rich title and description tags for my primary website pages
3. Blogged and kept blogging using my keywords a few times a month for the first two years
4. Promoted my blog posts on Twitter and LinkedIn
5. Learned to love Google Analytics as a way to see what keywords people used to find my site and other key metrics that helped me refine my strategy
6. Used WordPress to update my pages and keep my site fresh with new, timely content
7. Slowly started getting backlinks due to securing speaking gigs and workshops and through meeting other bloggers at networking events

The Effects SEO Has Had On My Business
While SEO has been incredible for my business, I’m the first to admit that it’s not for everyone. And despite its obvious benefits, I’ve allowed it to unfortunately limit my business. Here are my insights into the good, the bad and the downright ugly effects of SEO:

The Good:

• I rarely find myself in a bidding situation. For some reason, maybe because I’m on the first page of Google, when clients reach out to me they’re ready to do business immediately.

• I’ve met some incredible contacts through people finding my site: direct clients, referral partners (tons of website designers), marketing consultants, colleagues who recommended speaking gigs for me, fellow writers I’ve hired for overflow projects, and even an intern.

• Getting on the first page of Google happened very naturally for me by doing just the few simple, but consistent, activities I outlined above.

The Bad:

• SEO does not necessarily manifest the clients you want. Renowned copywriter Bob Bly has said that potential customers who find his website via SEO are never his best prospects; they require too much education, hand holding, and aren’t as willing to pay his fees as customers are who buy his information products or hear him speak at an event.

• SEO is not for everyone. Some copywriters might not need to spend time optimizing their site if they’re able to generate business through, for instance, books, speaking gigs, repeat clients, referrals, etc. Spending time optimizing their sites may not be the best investment if they’re staying busy thanks to other lead-generation efforts.

The Ugly:

• SEO has made me a very lazy business owner because I’m now used to prospects coming to me. It’s caused me to commit the cardinal sin of running a business: I have almost entirely stopped proactively marketing my business.

• SEO does not consistently bring me high paying prospects. It’s so easy to work with clients who approach me, I know I’m losing out on higher income clientele by not proactively pursuing those who might have more money or bigger projects. It’s rare that a corporate client will find me via SEO….most of the time my traffic is comprised of web designers with referrals, micro-business owners, service providers or solopreneurs.

• Ever since I landed in the top spot on the first page of Google, I have to work hard to maintain my ranking. It’s made me slightly obsessed with SEO since I have other business owners and freelancers constantly nipping at my heels for the top spot.

While SEO does have its downsides, the good has far outweighed the bad. Succeeding in SEO for my own site has led me to writing my first information product, garnered me a slew of speaking gigs, and might someday be a good niche for me, even though now I’m very much a generalist.

Weigh In On Your SEO Efforts…

What has held you back from getting started with SEO?

If you have taken the time to optimize your site, has your experience been similar to mine?

Any do’s and don’t’s you can share from your own experiences?

Jenny Munn is a passionate freelance copywriter in Atlanta who blogs about DIY SEO strategies for non-techies and small business owners. She’s the author of How to SEO Your Site: A DIY Guide for Small Business Owners, and offers a free keyword research report, 7 Simple Steps to Effective Keyword Research, at www.jennymunn.com.

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

Lessons I’ve learned from landing clients on first dates (Guest Post)

Call it “inadvertent self-promotion”…

Men With Pens recently ran a guest post about dating rules you can apply to client prospecting. Considering I’ve inadvertently won over a commercial writing client while on a first date, I found the post pretty funny.

This has actually happened to me not once, but twice.

Dating your clients?
To clear up any confusion, I don’t make it a habit to go on a date and pitch my freelance copywriting business as a solution to a host of marketing problems. Before we went out, I had no clue if this guy was a potential client. There are certainly more effective ways to find new clients than blurring the lines between business and pleasure.

So how did it happen? It started out like a typical dinner date. Inevitably we graduated from small talk to discussing what each of us does for a living.

People tend to assume I’m either a novelist or someone who helps file for copyright protection, so I’ve become accustomed to explaining what a copywriter does, and how businesses benefit from strong, persuasive copy. We discussed everything from what I write and why to what I hope to achieve by being in business for myself.

Two days after our date, he hired me to write a press release.

Passion is essential, in dating and in business.
I would have considered this a one-off until it happened a second time. Then I noticed the pattern – I was winning these guys over because I wasn’t in sales mode. I was simply talking about something I love doing. I obsess about finding the right words and expressing concepts clearly, and that shines through when I talk about my commercial freelancing business in a setting where there’s no pressure to land a sale.

Luckily for me, each of the guys I dated runs his own business and understands the value of good writing.

After they expressed interest in my copywriting services, I tried to help out where I could. I offered to give their sites once-overs and suggested minor tweaks that could improve the language of their offerings. This showed my dates my value as a business writer and ultimately led to them hiring me.

Instead of trying to convert prospects into clients, I’m just telling people about something I love. In a nutshell, I’ve become more adept at marketing myself because I no longer see it as obnoxious self-promotion.

Be comfortable pitching, even off the clock.
The lesson in all this is NOT how to perfect the art of picking up clients on the dating scene. It’s in realizing how you talk about yourself to others in different situations.

I don’t consciously separate my business contacts from my personal contacts anymore. I’ve discovered that mindset forces you to mentally divide people into prospects and off-limits. Pre-emptively determining someone is off-limits could mean you miss out on an awesome client with a paying gig.

When you’re trying to impress someone enough to land a contract, any nervousness you might feel has a way of working its way into the conversation. However, when you talk about what you do with genuine passion and conviction, you’re providing true value, not being an obnoxious salesperson who’s just trying to win someone over.

Remember, you’re offering a legitimate service to people who need and WANT your help. Get comfortable talking about yourself and your commercial copywriting business no matter where you are – you never know when it will pay off.

Have you landed a client in an unexpected place?

Has the ‘share-don’t-sell’ approach worked for you as a way to close new clients?

Do you keep your eyes peeled for situations like this, or stick with more traditional methods?

Put another way, do you draw distinct lines between the professional and personal sides of your life?

Angie Colee is a freelance copywriter and branding expert. She loves good food, comedy shows, and the power of words. She is also considering trademarking her awesomely red hair. For more marketing and branding tips, please check out the blog at coleecreative.com. And if you’re ever in the San Francisco bay area, look her up. Coffee is her lifeblood.

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

Ever Landed Copywriting Gigs in Unusual Ways (Like These Folks Have)?

In the November E-PUB (here and adapted below), I wrote a piece about finding commercial writing jobs in unlikely places. Thought I’d make it blog post, in order to collect your stories about landing copywriting work in cool and unplanned ways.

I love it when work comes from unexpected directions. In The Well-Fed Writer, I talk about picking up a big marketing brochure after chatting up a guy over chips and dip at a party.

And a few years back, I landed a year’s worth of commercial freelancing work from a big charity (probably $10K, all told), after a serendipitous chat I had with a friend in another social setting. We knew each other, but not professionally, and once she discovered what I did, it was a few short steps (and yes, beating out the competition) to a pile of work.

Back in the June E-PUB, I ran a fun piece about a commercial writer making contact with a prospect while playing online Scrabble!

I recalled all this when I got a note from another freelance copywriter, who wrote:

On and off, I erroneously get phone calls meant for another local business. Today the sales/marketing person called me to see what could be done to resolve this. As we were talking, I asked him what their business does. They do tech stuff: web design, databases, maintenance, support, etc. I have a lot of tech writing experience, so I told him a bit about my freelance commercial writing business. He said they’re always looking for good writers, so I’ll be staying in touch.

You just never know when you might run across a potential lead, even in an unconventional way! It’s good to think outside the box and always be open to opportunities that might randomly come along. I was reminded today that potential business really is everywhere around us, and that when we just put the word out about what we do, the work somewhat easily comes our way (assuming we have good writing skills, of course…).

And while it hasn’t turned into work for her yet, to find, through a wrong number, a prospect who regularly uses copywriters? That’s not only a real long shot, but a golden lead as well, and one well worth following up on.

And she’s right. We often get so focused on prospecting only in the “right” places, that we overlook opportunities right under our noses. Doesn’t mean we should turn into obnoxious self-promoters, aggressively hitting up our friends at every turn. But keeping our radar up for opportunities in non-business settings, is never a bad idea.

Have you picked up work in unconventional ways? If so, can you share some stories?

Do you keep your radar up when you’re in non-prospecting settings?

Have you landed work from someone you’ve known a long time, but never in a professional capacity? (friend, relative, someone at the gym, a club you belong to, etc.)?

Any strategies you’ve used to keep you alert to hidden opportunities?

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