Here, I will offer tips on writing copy like a FLCW should…Well Fed Writer style.

Should You Be Worried About This? I’m Not…

Got this email from a reader in Canada a few weeks back:

Writers in my market are noticing a trend towards clients hiring low-cost writers, mostly journalism students from the local college. Journalism has been pretty much wiped out here so there’s been a huge increase in these writers. We’ve also noticed several big clients are now offering minimum wage for copywriting positions. So there’s pressure.

A few of us “senior” writers have been talking about collaborating on some sort of marketing strategy based on selling a higher-quality writing service. The general idea is not to compete directly against the will-write-for-food crowd, but to become the go-to writers for clients by offering a consistent, professional and accountable service.

I’ve partnered with another writer to offer this service to a client whose reputation may have suffered some by hiring cheap writers. What we’re seeing with these cases are things like websites with glaring typos, businesses with poor Google results, etc. Are the clients noticing this? Maybe. Is it damaging their reputation in the marketplace? Probably.

While this idea of ours looks positive, the question is this: Do you know of anyone else who has tried this strategy, and have you seen what works and what doesn’t?

At first blush, a little disturbing, but I’m not at all sure we’re comparing apples to apples. Here’s my thinking on this…

I haven’t been seeing this trend personally, but I’m sure it’s happening. The key question: What sorts of copywriting projects are these writers being asked to do?

I ask this because a journalism student from a local college will, in no way shape or form, know their way around good, effective marketing copywriting.

And hiring cheap writers will reliably yield the unreliability he mentions. I can certainly see cheaper freelancers being able to write passable-looking “content” like white papers, case studies, blog posts, etc.—given their more “article” nature.

Commercial Writers Do It Better
Needless to say, a copywriting pro would render those content projects far better, while their versions of ads, direct mail, brochures, landing pages, etc., will be infinitely better, more effective, and far more likely to pay for themselves many times over, than anything a cheaper writer might deliver.

It’d be interesting to get into the heads of these writing buyers. Maybe they know they’ll be trading off some quality for the lower wages paid. But they’d only do that if they truly believed that what these bargain-basement scribes deliver is all they really need.

Don’t Know Good Writing (or Writers)
After all, these clients have already proven they don’t understand the value professional writers bring, so they’re just as unlikely to be able to recognize good writing when they see it, and be happier with inferior stuff.

In the long run, I suspect those same clients, if they start seeing that they’re losing out to companies who are investing more money in writers better equipped to deliver effective content—and general marketing copywriting—may end up doing the same themselves.

In answer to his specific question, I wrote:

If you feel you and your compadres ARE stronger marketing copywriters, that’s probably your best pitch. Yes, I’d also play the reliability, accountability and detailed-oriented (i.e., clean, error-free copy) cards, but I wouldn’t lead with those: Even though they’re exceptionally important, they sound a bit thin, compared to the effective marketing-copy angle.

That should have them thinking that they’re potentially losing far more money in sales, than they’re saving by hiring cheaper writers. And heck, why not make that part of your pitch?

Back to School?
Bottom line, If your prospecting hasn’t turned up enough “good” clients (i.e., those who understand the value people like us bring, and are willing to pay well for it)—and they’re certainly out there—you might need to do more educating of those clients who think, “Anyone can write.”

In many cases, clients don’t even realize there are writers like us (i.e., marketing copywriters). They just need a writer, and if they don’t have success with lower-budget ones, they’ll find a “better writer”—i.e., a more experienced journalist-type writer.

Let ‘Em Know Our Kind Exists
So, the marketing we do for our practices not only lets the world know that we—in particular—are out there, but just as importantly, that marketing copywriters like us, very different from the typical “freelance writer”—are out there.


Have you noticed this trend in your market?

In your experience, do clients realize there are marketing copywriters out there, not just journalist-style “freelance writers”?

In your experience, do the prospects and clients you cross paths with know the difference a good marketing copywriter, and know what quality marketing writing looks like?

Ever had a client who just didn’t get what a good writer could offer, and your amazing copy rocked their world, and gave them a new appreciation for folks like us?

How are your marketing-writing chops? Not sure? If you’re ready to BE sure, and truly separate yourself from the writing masses, check out my (rapidly-filling) Well-Fed Group Coaching series focused on “craft” and starting October 18. Full details and testimonials 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.

Ever Been Asked to Do This? If So, How’d That Work Out for You? ;)

I got an email from a reader recently, spurred by one of my newsletter pieces (the “Appetizer” course of THIS issue). It’s a subject a bit different from the usual commercial freelancing fare on the blog, but thought it was worth running, given that it’s something any reasonably experienced commercial writer has no doubt encountered—whether a scenario like hers or one like mine.

She wrote:

Several years ago, a writing conference director sent an email inviting all to view the new conference website and let him know what we thought. I followed the link, and immediately saw a word had been left out of the first sentence. A few sentences below, the wrong verb tense had been used.

I emailed and suggested he might want to correct the mistakes. His reply? A glib comment about being in a hurry and no one else would catch the mistakes. Really? I had served on faculty for this conference a number of years so it wasn’t like I was unknown to the director. The next year, I was not asked back to teach at the conference and the director no longer speaks to me.

I had a similar experience with someone who was starting an editing service. He invited comments about his new website. In the first sentence on the site, he used the wrong verb tense. Another error, a wrong/mistaken use of a noun, was in the next paragraph. I emailed him, mentioning the errors.

His response: “Yeah, I asked my wife, and she said it supposed to be that way so I’m going with what she said.” Really? A startup editor is going with grammar errors on his editing site to please the wife? Needless to say, his editing business never got off the ground! He became the owner of a small press instead, which consistently publishes books with grammatical errors. No surprise there. And he ignores me when we happen to be at the same writing conferences.

What I’ve learned: Even when people invite critique, they really don’t want critique. They want validation for what they’ve done, whether correct or not, and view anything else as personal criticism. Folks are interesting!

In response, I shared a story of my own:

Reminds me of a lovely woman for whom I wrote a column many years ago, for her local monthly rag. A few years after I stopped writing for her, but while we still considered each other friends, she asked me to critique a novel she was working on. I said I would be happy to take a look, though quickly realized what a bind I had put myself in.

It wasn’t just bad, it was really, really bad. Incredibly clichéd, poorly written, poor character development, uninteresting, and most of it no better than a seventh grader’s essay. After getting her assurance that she really did want me to be honest, I was. I wasn’t brutal, but I made it clear I thought it needed a lot of work to get it to a viable stage.

She thanked me profusely for being honest, going on and on about how much she appreciated the input and feedback, and…I never heard from her ever again. Remember, we were far better than acquaintances, though perhaps less than good buddies, and we talked pretty regularly. But after that, we never talked again. So I hear you!

Ever been asked for feedback from a writer or friend?

How did you handle it?

If the writing wasn’t very good, and you were honest, how did they receive your feedback?

Any suggestions for dealing with situations like this?

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

Got Some Examples of Clever Wordplay Like This?

Okay, a lighter subject, given that it’s still summer—for a few more weeks anyway—and I’m not feeling so serious today… :)

And that’s probably because I just back from vacation not long ago. Escaped to the blessed cool of New England for a few weeks—a nice respite from Atlanta’s “95’s” dog days (i.e., both the average high temps and humidity—yuck).

Anyway, one day, I found myself one day wandering around Vermont’s cool and compact capitol of Montpelier, and for an afternoon pick-me-up, wandered into this funky coffee shop called Capitol Grounds.

I looked up at their chalked menu board of energy-lifting libations, read it, read it again, and smiled big. While obviously, their store name played on their location in the shadow of the capitol building, the wordplay didn’t stop there.

Check out this picture of their menu board, and note the names up top, of their four different sizes of coffees.


I LOVE it. And if you’re a true word person, I’m guessing it’ll tickle you, too. When was the last time you saw a quadruple double-entrendre?

I’m sure you’ve got some of your own. Pictures are cool, but not necessary if you don’t have them. So, share your examples of the fruits of clever wordsmiths far and wide. Yes, a lighter post, but stuff like this gets our creative wells primed and pumping. It’s all about ideas.

Seen some cool wordplay like this, or on billboards or signage?

Seen a smart, snappy piece of commercial writing—ad, direct mail piece, web site, etc.?


Are Your Skills As Good As They Can Be?
Speaking of clever writing, and improving writing skills in general… Solid writing skills—far more than marketing ability—is the strongest predictor of long-term success as a commercial freelancer. With that in mind, the next Well-Fed Group Coaching series (my first in 18 months!) kicks off on September 15.

It’s new and improved, with a shorter format (just 9 days from start to finish), and a new focus on developing stronger commercial-writing chops. Just 4 of 15 available slots remain. If you’re looking to build enduring success into your practice, you want to check this out. Details, testimonials, and registration instructions 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.


Here’s the image that went with Cathy Miller’s comment below. I can’t figure out how to insert an image into a comment, so I’m just going to add it to the end of my post here…


Why Commercial Writers Earn More Than Regular “Freelance Writers”

When I first wrote the original piece noted below, it struck me as a subject on which I’d love to get some feedback from you guys. Look for other such posts (I know, recycling content, but all for a good cause…;)

In the November 2013 Well-Fed E-PUB, my Appetizer course shared a recent client experience that underscored for me why good commercial freelancers generally make a lot more money than regular “freelance writers.” Here’s that piece (adapted and slightly edited)…

Got an email from a client of mine a few weeks back, needing a little editing work on a project her designer was working on for her (i.e., combo brochure/direct mail piece she’d be giving away at trade shows as well as mailing out to prospects).

While I can’t make blanket statements, I’d wager good money that had she simply contacted a “freelance writer”—someone charging quite a bit less than I do—with the same request, she’d have likely gotten just what she’d asked for: edited copy.

However, I took a look at it, and gave her my thoughts: she didn’t need the thing edited. She needed to trash what she had, and start all over again both with the copy and design (and, while she was at it, replace her newbie, “moonlighting-college-student” designer with one of my trusted design partners).

While the existing design was quite creative—a main panel with all sorts of other panels that folded in on it—I looked at it through a far different lens. I listened to what she said she was going to do with it. I looked at what she was selling—a service that needed to have a “case built” for it, and in a logical, sequential fashion.

Her existing copy didn’t begin to build that case (and given the design, the requested editing wouldn’t have allowed me to expand it to do so), nor did the existing design framework even remotely facilitate the proper persuasive unfolding of that “story.”

Doing good copywriting work for her for years has her trust that I know what I’m doing. So when I suggested a totally different layout (still quite creative), new designer, expanded copy and a far higher fee than originally envisioned, she quickly gave the green light.

She’s the ideal client: someone who understands that the ultimate effectiveness of a marketing piece always trumps cost (within reason, of course). So, I’m being paid far more, largely because I’m providing a level of expertise that straight “freelance writers” wouldn’t.

If you know how to write, and even tell a good story, you’ll only be able to command a certain fee (given how many other writers have those same skills), but if you can, indeed, “build that case” for a product/service in a logical, creative way, and can think strategically about copy, and—when necessary, about physical layouts that facilitate that “case-building”—watch your writing income rise.

On this piece, I averaged roughly $120 an hour, not as much as I’d like, but not bad for fun work. And I made more than a regular “freelancer” because I know both how to write AND organize what I write to fit a certain layout (which in this case, I suggested, further increasing my value).

My goal with this post (and hopefully, the ensuing comments) is NOT to discourage non-commercial writers from our business. Anyone can learn, through experience and practice, the craft of good marketing copywriting and the strategic planning side of it. But, I did want to highlight that it IS a different set of skills, and for a businessperson, they’re worth more, and hence worth learning.

And, in all fairness, we commercial copywriters get paid a lot more than regular freelancers, in large part, because the business arena in which we’re operating pays higher rates than say, magazines, newspapers, or content mills.

So, it’s the setting as well as the good skills, but being in the “high-rent” district will only get you so far without the skills.

What do you feel good commercial freelancers bring to the party that regular writers don’t?

Can you share a specific moment/project when you realized you truly had far more marketable skills than the average writer?

Can you share a moment where a business client had an epiphany, as they realized how much more you were able to do for them than a regular writer did/could?

Can you share a moment when your ability to think strategically about copy or layout, set you apart from other writers?

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

Do You React Like This When You See Something You Wrote Years Ago?

So, a few weeks back, I get an email from one of my favorite graphic-design partners*, asking for a favor. This is how we roll, by the way. We trade out services: she designs my book related business cards, flyers, and even some of my sites, and I do copy for her sites and promo materials. It’s worked out wonderfully.

Anyway, she was putting together a proposal to a prospect, and wanted me to tailor a cover letter I’d written for her some years back to accompany an earlier proposal. The letter outlined her capabilities, strengths and background, and how all of that translated to benefits to the client.

She sends the letter, I read it, and I’m shocked (shocked, I say). Seriously, I’m asking myself (out loud, if memory serves), “Did I really write this?” Apparently so.

Because, wow. It was wordy, verbose (see, there I go again!), uber-flowery, etc. All this grandiose copy that was, frankly, far more than necessary for this proposal, the earlier proposal—heck, any proposal.

So, I took out my razor-sharp, double-edged editing pen, and went to work. When I was done, it was probably half its original length, far more succinct (by definition, I suppose), but still covered the same ground. Whew.

So, it got me thinking. Clearly my writing skills had evolved in the past 3-4 years, and for the better. And from when I started in 1994? Suffice to say, every now and then, I pick through pieces of commercial copywriting I wrote way back when. While a lot of it is perfectly serviceable, it’s often unpolished (and sometimes just laughably mediocre). Every bit of it, I’d put through another pass or two.

But, I don’t beat myself up much. Fact is, at some point that pile of copy served its purpose (that original letter, was, in fact, part of a successful proposal; she got the gig, and told me she regularly pulls pieces from it for ultimately successful proposals).

A lot of what I’ve written over the years (brochures, newsletters, case studies, web content, even some ads) doesn’t lend itself to clear “conversion” metrics like, say, direct mail would. But, bottom line, my clients were happy, so it got the job done. And you can always get better.

Have you had a similar “Aha!” like mine above?

Have you seen your writing improve over time, and if so, in what ways?

Put another way, what bad writing habits have you managed to break yourself of over time?

Ever had a long-time client comment that they’d noticed your writing had evolved or improved over time?

DesignerIconMinusText(*Speaking of designers, “Profitable – By Design!,” my popular ebook for commercial freelancers looking to create lucrative partnerships with designers, is on sale through the end of October for 25% off. Details.)

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