Good Clients (Like this One) Understand a Good Writer’s Value (and Will Pay…)

I couldn’t have scripted it better myself. A little background….

Got a call from a prospect in early November. About 18 months earlier (May 2008), the local daily, The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, did a “Why I Love My Job” feature on yours truly in the Sunday paper. Following a few live seminars I’d done in March 2008 on commercial writing and self-publishing, I’d been approached by one of the attendees who turned out to be the writer of the popular weekly piece.

“You seem like someone who really enjoys what you do,” he said. “Would you be interested in being featured in WILMJ?” “Is this a trick question?” I asked. Uh, yeah. Course I would.

We got it done, the piece came out, and my new prospect, a successful local entrepreneur, saw it, tore it out and said to himself, “I may just need this guy some day.” Well that day came last month. In a nutshell, he was angling for a strategic partnership with another company and wanted a professional writer to work on the proposal. Long story short, I ended up putting in roughly 30 hours – including two back-to-back 10-hour days – over a five-day period at a most healthy hourly rate.

As we were wrapping up the thing on the second marathon day, he stopped, looked up and said (you’re going to love this…):

“It’s a amazing what a difference a professional writer makes. I think of all the times over the last 10 years (as long as he’s had his business) that I really could have used one, but tried to do it myself. It’s great to know I have a resource like this now.”

Seeing the impact a professional writer could make and seeing a proposal turn into an eloquent statement was nothing short of an epiphany for him. THIS is what we need to be communicating to people. No, not everyone will get it, so don’t waste your time beating your head against the wall trying to convince those who don’t. Just find the ones who do.

There will always be people who think writing is something anyone can do, and they’re not worth wasting your time on. But there are plenty of folks out there who, a) understand the value of a good writer, b) know they’re not one, and 3) realize good talent doesn’t come cheap.

True, it took my new client a long time to come to that realization, but I say it’s because he simply didn’t know how to go about finding one or that copywriters like us even existed. Meaning, that in 10 years, chances are excellent not one single commercial freelancer ever made contact with him.

The first time he was exposed to someone of that description, the idea resonated enough with him to have him cut out an article and set it aside. Remember, he didn’t hunt for just the right copywriter; he flagged the first and only one who’d crossed his path. But had he known HOW much a difference a good writer could make, I’d wager he wouldn’t have waited 18 months. And there are TONS of people like him out there.

Update #1: The proposal is moving along nicely, and he shared that his main contact person at the target company, someone, who according to him, is not the complimenting type, told him, “This is very well-written proposal.” Yes, I was part of a larger team, but we writers still love to hear stuff like that.

Update #2: He called me last week to jump on a crisis situation that had just cropped up in a completely different area, and in less than a week, I’d logged roughly 20 more hours. And there are three more projects on tap. With each project, I more firmly establish myself as a valued member of his team – not just a vendor.

None of this is said to toot my horn, but simply to share what’s out there and possible – even in a down economy. I’m telling you, I’m not doing anything more monumental than writing good persuasive copy for letters and proposals. That said, do I think that any $10-an-article, content-mill writer could do what I do for him? Absolutely not. But any good, strategic-minded commercial freelancer well schooled in marketing? I’d bet on it.

Have you had any similar situations?

What sorts of things have you had delighted clients say to you?

Based on these experiences, how would you describe what a good freelance copywriter brings to the right kind of client? What skills are most crucial?

How hard/easy do you feel it is to deliver those things?

Generalist or Specialist? (P.S. Seeking a Few Successful Generalists for Webinar…)

(Sorry it’s been so long since the last post. The book launch (and myriad technical issues) have kept me hopping of late. We’re back on track…)

Finishing up a round of work for one of my regular commercial freelancing clients recently, I once again paused to savor my original choice to be a commercial writing generalist. Yes, I tout my sales and marketing background as positioning me nicely to write effective copy in that arena, but within that broad category, I enjoy taking on projects types across the spectrum.

And frankly, I wouldn’t have landed this client as a specialist focused on one industry or writing project type. Over the past three or four months, she’s hired me to work on commercial writing projects spanning the gamut: marketing brochures, ads, direct mail, flyers, emails blasts, landing page copy and a lot more – for one of her clients.

I love the variety and she loves that she can get everything she needs from one person. She’s crazy-busy all the time, with little time to juggle writers; she needs and wants ONE reliable and multi-talented writing partner.

Others in our field (you?) love the specialist route. Folks like Michael Stelzner (white papers) and Casey Hibbard (case studies) spring to mind. Others zero in on one industry – usually the one they came out of. They love (or at least don’t mind) operating with a narrow focus, and are typically rewarded handsomely for doing so – often more than generalists.

But, while income potential is often higher for specialists, in my humble opinion, you should choose either route, first and foremost, because you truly enjoy that path, not because you think you’ll make more money. I mean, isn’t one of the key reasons for self-employment to do what you enjoy?

WANTED: A few successful generalists (like me!) to showcase in upcoming webinar. I’m looking for a few commercial writers who’ve gone the generalist route by choice and thrived (i.e., a six-figure writing income, ideally, or close to it…); big plus if you have a web site. If that sounds like you, email me.

Are you a generalist or a specialist, and why did you chose your path?

If you’re an ex-generalist/now-specialist, why did you make the change? Is your job satisfaction and/or income higher as a result?

Have you found that being one or the other has helped you weather a tough economy?

What do you see as the pros and cons of your path?

THIS Is What Clients Want. Are You Delivering It?

Just got off the phone with one of my regular commercial writing clients after a semi-lovefest of good feelings. The Background: She calls me late one Friday and tells me she needs a sales sheet (8 ½ x 11, front and back) for a new program they’re promoting. She apologized for waiting to the last minute (hey, that’s what clients do), but wondered if I could turn around a finished product by early Tuesday. Which meant, of course, that the first draft would have to be pretty much done by EOD Monday. I said I’d be happy to help them out, but that I’d have to charge a rush fee. NO problem at all. In fact, we never discussed money at all. I’ve done enough commercial projects with her that she knows I’ll be fair.

So she sends me all the background info, and there was a good bit. She wasn’t able to send the last (and arguably most important piece) till Monday am. Once I had it all, and had looked it over on Monday am, I had a few questions, left her a voice mail, but got to work. As it was, she wasn’t able to get back to me till around 5:00. By then, I’d proceeded with the project, assuming x, y, and z until I heard differently. She filled in a few blanks for me in that 5:00 call, but it was 95% done by that point.

I sent it off the following morning and we had a call set up for that afternoon to discuss. She says, “The copy is awesome. I really don’t see anything that needs to be changed.” Music to any copywriter’s ear, of course. She went on to say how big a burden I lifted off of her shoulders. I mentioned that the piece had pretty much been done by the time the time we spoke, and she said, “That’s why I love working with you. You ‘get it’ fast, work with virtually no supervision, and make my life really easy.”

Incidentally, one part of the project entailed creating bios on three distinct entities who were part of the service offering being promoted on the sales sheet. Typically, a copywriter might expect to get the source material for such a set of bios from the client, but I knew this client had no time, wanted me to take ownership of the project, and trusted me implicitly to get it done. So, I simply looked up each entity on the Web, and put together the bios myself. Remember: clients routinely look to us to decide how something’s going to unfold. Want to move into the top earning echelons of this craft? Then, become one of those copywriters that takes ownership of projects.

Now. The point of this post is not some self-canonization. It’s to underscore what it is that clients want from writers: receptive to ultra-tight deadlines, a quick study, excellent work, minimal time invested on their end beyond emailing you background/source material, fast turnaround, being easy to work with, yes, taking ownership, etc. And when you give them all this, within reason, money ceases to be an issue. And when that happens, this business gets really fun. You become an incredibly valuable strategic partner to them and they will pay handsomely for your services. All of which is one pretty good answer to the question of how you weather a tough economy. Become invaluable.

Have you had a similar experience lately? If so, care you share?

What value do you bring to your clients that makes money a non-issue?

What have you heard from clients about other writers who don’t deliver?

Why “Copywriting Success Summit 2008” Might Not Make Sense For You…

Okay, unless you’ve been in a cave or a coma for the past two weeks, you’ve heard plenty about the signature event for commercial copywriters: Copywriting Success Summit 2008, coming in October to a computer near you…

I know, we’re promoting the heck out of the thing, but hey, think about it:

1) It really IS the first event of its kind for our kind – those of us happily writing for businesses large and small (brochures, ads, newsletters, white papers, direct mail, web content, case studies, etc.) and for serious hourly rates reaching up to $125 and well beyond.

2) It features those people whose voices and advice you’ve been listening to, following and trusting for a long time: Bly, Slaunwhite, Stelzner, yours truly and others.

3) You’ll have the opportunity to connect with a whole community of other copywriters to share ideas and best practices, before, during and well after the Summit.

4) Every minute of all 12 sessions is accessible from your computer without ever leaving the house (and if you have to miss one, we’ve got you covered with recordings and transcripts).

Can you blame us for being pretty pumped?

But let me say this: I’ve seen and been an active part of the preparation for this event. I’ve been involved in the discussions about what subjects to cover to provide the most value to you, our colleagues in this business. I know the time and care I and the others have put into creating solid, valuable and relevant content designed with one overarching goal in mind: to help you make more money.

In addition, I was part of the crucial discussion about cost, and the importance of setting the price at a level where people felt they had some “skin in the game” but where it was still well within reach of most anyone. And yes, allowing us – the event’s producers – to profit as well. The definition of “win-win.”

Why would the Summit NOT be a fit for you? If you’re an experienced commercial copywriter, making a good writing income and been at it 5-10+ years, much of what we’ll discuss, frankly, may be familiar to you. Do I think you’d still benefit by attending? No question. Heck, given the cost of the thing, one new idea put to use would easily pay for the summit dozens of times over. But I know we all have priorities. Understood.

But, if you’re new to the business and trying to get established, OR been at it for a few years, making some progress, but definitely ready to ratchet things up to a new level of income and client caliber, well, you’re who we’re talking to here.

“Will it be worth it?”

Well, all we can do is provide the best and most topical training possible and the rest is up to you. Given the line-up of speakers and subjects and the sheer volume of training involved, I’m feeling pretty good about us holding up our end. So, the question simply becomes:

Are you ready to take action on some solid income-boosting marketing strategies?

If not, then the Summit could offer the greatest training known to man and it wouldn’t matter. If you are ready, then it would appear we’re both in the right place at the right time.

P.S. FYI, if you visit the link and our talking spokesperson starts getting a little irritating, just mouse over her and you’ll have options to shut her down/off/up.

Got any questions or concerns about the summit?

If you’ve signed up, want to share your circumstances and motivation for doing so? What do hope to get from it?

If it’s not for you, know anyone who should know about it? If so, can you forward on the information to them?

Repeat After Me: “I Will Ask for More Money Next Time…”

Money. More money. Lots more money. With any luck and a bunch of hard work, that’s the financial trajectory of the typically competent commercial freelancer’s career. I started out at $50 an hour in 1994, and over time that rose to $60, $75, $85, $95, $100, $110, and finally $125 (of course, when working on flat-fee projects for long-term clients, my familiarity with their world usually speeds up project time, nicely upping my THR – True Hourly Rate).

Most of the time, those increases happen gradually. You look around, realize you’re getting pretty good at this gig, bunch of happy clients, steady kudos, so hey, it’s time for raise. What’s fun to watch is when some outside catalyst provides an instant boost in someone’s perceived self-worth and drives fees up faster than they normally would. A few examples. Sometime back, got this note from a reader:

I recently did a direct mail postcard, as suggested in your book, after calling some leads. It resulted in a nice 100-hour contract. When putting the proposal together, I debated on the hourly rate. As I was working, I got your ezine and read about not being afraid to charge what you’re worth. So, I quoted $15 more than what I had been charging and I won the contract – a $1,500 increase!

Gotta love that. And a few weeks back, I got another one. In the June and July issues of the ezine, I’m running a two-part feature about Ed Gandia, Atlanta FLCW extraordinaire – who built a PT business ($3-4K/month) while holding down a FT job, and in his first full year as a FLCW, earned over $160K.

At his site (The Profitable Freelancer), he offers a free report, “7 Steps to Landing More (and Better-Paying!) Freelance Projects” when you sign up for his killer newsletter.

One of my subscribers scored the report, which offered up similar “don’t-be-afraid-to-shoot-high” advice, and within a day, sent Ed this note, forwarding it on to me:

You are going to love this. I went on a sales call today for a PR project. The last time I did a project of this general scope, I charged $2,500. Today, when the prospect asked what the fee would be, I calmly/casually said “$6,000.” He said OK. Ha! Thanks again for that report. I know it gave me a boost today. I was going to “ask for” $5,000 but I figured, eh, I’ll “tell them” 6.

SO much of the money conversation is between our own ears. I mean, think about it. In these cases, their clients, by unquestioning acceptance of their newly-higher rates, were essentially the ones to convince them of their own worth!

In this “tougher times” (talk about perception!), it’s probably tempting to adopt a conservative, take-what-you-can-get attitude, and shoot low. If you’re good and know it, try doing the opposite. You might just be the only one who’s surprised when it goes well.

Got any good “I-shot-higher-than-my-comfort-zone-and-they-said-yes” stories?

What was the catalyst for your courage?

What did you learn from it?

Any other comments/thoughts on the subject?