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

Good Copywriters Don’t Let Clients Insult Their Customers’ Intelligence…

So, I use this web-based service to manage book sales, ebook downloads and other jobs on the publishing side of my business (I’m being vague here so as to not name names, though, given the circumstances, I’m not exactly sure why…).

In any case, I pay this company $1000 a year for this service. Not an insubstantial sum of money. And for ponying up a grand, annually, I feel entitled to pick up the phone when I have the occasional technical question, call their toll-free support line and get an answer. Seems pretty fair.

So, I call in the other day with a question, and I’m informed that, as of that day, 10/1, the only way I can get no-charge technical support by phone from now on is if I ante up another 379 bucks a year. Almost 40% of the price of the package I have (their most expensive one).

I give the guy an earful. Which I suspect is about the 50th time that day (being changeover day and all…) he’s been yelled at. He invokes a ridiculous apple-to-oranges analogy of how Microsoft charges for support, until I point out that most people have MS software bundled with their computer when they buy it, so Microsoft isn’t making a ton of money off that sale, making it a bit more logical that they’d charge for support.

He magnanimously allows me to ask my question that day, letting me know that the next time I call I’ll have to pay up. All in all, pretty outrageous, and we could rail on and on about the death of customer service, Companies Behaving Badly, etc. But, the main point of this post is what happened next.

A short time later, I get an email from the company (which they’d apparently sent before 10/1 but I’d missed it) outlining the new service.

Now. Not like I’m right or anything, but my gut tells me that when you’re going to implement a major change to your existing support offering – one that will undoubtedly make a lot of people very unhappy – you don’t compound the inevitable backlash by insulting their intelligence in how you present it…

Here’s how it looked…

1SCScrnCpture

Now, tell me. Do you see ANY acknowledgment whatsoever in this email of the hard reality? Specifically, that, “From this day forward, Valued Customer (who gives us $1000 a year, and has been enjoying no-charge phone support as part of that handsome fee), you’ll no longer get it unless you fork over nearly 400 additional clams.”

Nope. Instead, they blow smoke: “…important extension to our support services…. Ultimate Unlimited Support…extra level of support…blah, blah, blah.” Yeah, they hint around with, “…to continue taking advantage of these personalized services” but nowhere is an honest admission of any kind, something like: “We apologize for this change, but due to rising manpower costs, and overuse of our phone support…etc, etc. etc.” Something, ANYTHING that sounds sincere.

No question, I still wouldn’t have been happy but at least I’d respect them for not insulting my intelligence.

I’ve seen this over and over. Why do companies shun honest communication and opt instead for painfully obvious and laughably ineffective subterfuge? I know, common sense is all too uncommon in Corporate America, but that’s the pat answer. I’m digging for more here.

Don’t they know that we as consumers respond better to honesty? Who was advising them here? All I know, is that if I were hired by a company to write something like this, I’d be sounding the alarm loud and clear that they were making a mistake.

Why DO companies do this?

Can you share any similar examples?

Am I wrong here?

Am I overreacting?

Kickbutt Writing Skills Still One of the Most Effective Marketing Strategies…

Was updating the customer testimonials on my commercial writing site the other day, and came across this one (excerpted):

“Not only does Peter intuitively grasp where we need to go with a project, but his writing truly inspires my design. Bottom line, Peter’s spoiled me with his talent and he’s always my first choice.”

Now, I don’t include this to preen, but simply to underscore what happens when you’re a good writer (and you’re not the only one who thinks so…) – one who, in this case, enhances the quality of a graphic designer’s work. When that happens, they’ll go out of their way to bring you in on projects whenever possible. And why wouldn’t they? You make their portfolio stronger and their clients happier, and both lead to repeat business and referrals – for BOTH of you.

Which makes solid writing skills, arguably, one of the most potent marketing strategies commercial freelancers have going for them. Good commercial copywriters who craft effective copy make their clients’ lives easier and their businesses more profitable. Do that consistently, and you’ll get invited back again and again, and steered to other work.

And unlike other marketing strategies (i.e., cold calling, direct mail, email marketing, networking, social media, etc.), being a good writer “markets” you without you having to do much other than what you do naturally.

Sure, you still need to do your own marketing campaigns to let the world know you exist, but all those outreach efforts end up turbo-charged when your skills are a few cuts above. Till eventually, you may not have to do much marketing at all anymore. It happens all the time to good writers. The world starts coming to them.

A good analogy? A really good book will have a long shelf life (literally) because it’ll benefit from strong reviews and powerful word-of-mouth advertising, while a mediocre one – with few or no “champions” – will struggle to find an audience, and will likely quickly sink into the nether regions of the bargain bin.

Obviously, however, not all commercial writers are created equal. I feel fortunate to have innate writing ability (though, yes, I still cringe at some of the copy I wrote in the early days of my business). Others’ skills may not be as strong or natural. And let’s face it. While the commercial writing field – like any – certainly rewards those with superior skills commensurately, it doesn’t exclude those with modest gifts. Given the staggering amount of gruesome writing in the business world, those who can simply provide solid (if unflashy), coherent copy can find their niche.

So, what makes someone one of the better writers? Well, for me, a very partial list would include, for starters, a lot of technical things: writing like you talk, telling stories in your writing, avoiding $50 words, making sure your writing has the right cadence, and more. It also means understanding marketing fundamentals like audience, features/benefits, and USP (Unique Selling Proposition); being a good listener so you give your clients what they want the first time; and being able to quickly visualize how copy for a particular project needs to be structured and flow in order to maximize its effectiveness.

And a ton of other things. But I want to hear from you (I’m doing a teleseminar in a few months on the subject and would love to use your comments and observations – with attribution, of course).

If you (and/or your clients) consider yourself an excellent writer, what skills, gifts or talents contribute to that reputation and have them coming back again and again?

How has being a top-notch writer made your marketing easier?

Have you always had natural ability, or have you honed initially-less-impressive skills over time?

If you’ve demonstrably improved your writing skills over the years, what books, resources or ideas made the difference for you?

Any other comments or insights?

Poorly Thought-Out Marketing Materials Are Everywhere (and with BIG Names on Them…)

So, I get my monthly cell phone bill from Verizon (yeah, I’m naming names; maybe someone will forward this to them and they’ll get their act together…). So, in it were a few of these slick little inserts. One of them had this headline: “Get Mobile Broadband on the Nation’s Largest 3G Network!”

The copy went on to explain how I could get “lightning-fast Internet access” which would allow me to check email virtually anywhere. Hmmmm. Interesting. Sounds like something worth having. Let me go check it out…

So, they give a web link: www.verizonwireless.com/upgrade (yes, feel free to follow along in this exercise in futility just so you know I’m not making it up). OK, so while I’m a good commercial copywriter, I don’t exactly consider myself some “Landing Page Copywriting Guru” by any stretch. But, I know this much:

If you provide a link on a mail piece, email blast, or ad that purports to offer more detail on Widget A described on said mail piece, email blast, or ad, then make sure the link provided indeed takes them directly to a landing page providing more detail on Widget A.

Is this complicated?

So, click on over to the above link, and see what happens. Not a word about “Mobile Broadband.” They make me log into my account (first chance for me to lose interest). But, I’ll play along. I log in, and at next screen? STILL nary a peep about “Mobile Broadband.” Now, they’re asking me irrelevant questions about upgrading my phone.

It’s clear to me at this point that if I want to find any more information on Mobile Broadband, I’m going to have to go searching their site, which I have no interest in doing.

But get this: even if I was sooooo interested I was willing to do a site search for “Mobile Broadband,” you still basically get nowhere. One link takes you to a more detailed description (finally), but still doesn’t tell you how much it costs, nor provide further links to find out that info.

Who in the world is minding the store over there, for crying out loud? Just because there’s a big name on the door doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing. Examples like this are everywhere. Corporate marketing communications departments are often good at the big picture and are great at cranking out pretty stuff, but they’re often under such pressure (and I’m sure more so now than ever before) that a lot of the crucial “execution” details fall through the cracks.

It just underscores two things: 1) don’t put big companies on a pedestal as having it all figured out; and 2) there are a vast number of opportunities out there for commercial freelancers like us to help them clean up their act.

Why do you think so many companies get this stuff wrong so much of the time?

Have you come across similar examples like this? If so, can you share?

Have you been intimidated by big companies in the past, only to discover that they’re mighty flawed and human after all?

How Diversified Is YOUR Work “Portfolio”?

The economy is teetering. Huge financial institutions are crashing and burning. The government, afraid of the ripple effects of their demise, is debating a huge bailout. Unemployment is at its highest level in years. A lot of people struggling out there. And, through all this, happily, I’m busier than ever and enormously grateful I’m a freelancer. My feeling of “job security” is mighty high right about now. Why? Because I have income coming from many, many directions.

Good financial planners live by the mantra of “diversification.” Spread out your money across a broad array of investment vehicles, and you spread out your risk. Same with your work life. Put all your eggs in one work basket (i.e., a full-time job), and if tough times hit, you could lose all the eggs. Hence, the innate logic of the freelance model with its “multiple-clients” feature (and, yes, I know, freelancing is neither feasible nor a psychological fit for everyone, but I’m just sayin’…)

Those with income from a variety of avenues will simply weather economic storms better than most. Right now, I’ve got about 10 commercial writing clients I’m working with. Some big. Some small. But between all of them, they’ve kept me hopping. Love the variety. And I love even more the fact that each client doesn’t have to provide me a bunch of work for me to eat well. Add to that income from my book-related ventures – much of it of the blessed passive variety – and offshoot businesses: coaching, speaking, seminars, articles, etc., and life is good.

Yes, this has been a 15-year process – though the book side of things only the last eight – but it all starts somewhere. And I’m here to tell you: Life can be pretty cool, varied, interesting and lucrative when you’ve got lots of pots boiling on your professional stove.

Not surprisingly, it usually starts with having some specialized expertise or knowledge that’s valuable enough to enough other people to make it worth “monetizing” into books, ebooks, coaching, speaking, seminars, etc. Or simply a skill/talent that can command a healthy price on the market.

If you have multiple stream of writing-related income, what are they and how did they come about?

And if so, any suggestions/cautions/gushing reports to those considering it?

If you aren’t diversified as yet, but are pondering it, what possibilities have you considered?

So, What Commercial Writing Projects Are You Working on These Days?

In my case, too many, if my long absence from the blog is any indication…. 😉 But that’s a good thing (the “being-busy”? thing, not the “not-blogging”? thing) . And I’ve taken my own advice (from the 7/22/08 post below) and started asking for more money, and no one’s balking. I’m telling you, when it comes to raising your rates – you’re the hardest “sell,”? not the client.

Anyway, I got a note from a new reader of TWFW recently, asking, “Curious. Are you mostly doing web copy in this day and age, or are you pretty much in the same industry as you started?” I guess the thinking was that the web has taken over the world and that, as such, that’s all we’d be doing. He IS new to the business. Obviously, there’s plenty of the traditional marketing communications pieces still being done out there.

But, it got me thinking about what people are working on these days. I figure, by sharing what’s on our plates these days, and how we landed it, it can showcase the wide variety of projects that make up the commercial writing sphere, while also giving us ideas about some new directions to go in, suggest to clients, hunt down, etc. And give any newbie lurkers? some confidence that this gig truly IS for real (in case they’re wondering…)

Me? I’m working on a brochure for an online high school catering to home-schoolers. It’ll be used at trade shows or in other “leave-behind”? scenarios. That’ll be followed by a catalog for the school. A graphic designer found me somehow, asked if I knew a writer in his area (an hour away), nothing panned out, he steered his client to my site, she loved it, called me up, and we were in business.

I’m also working on a case study for a building materials company (my sixth project for them), originally landed through a speechwriter friend of mine (whom I thank with free lunches every few months for the many thousands it’s put in my pocket).

Also working on some copy for a menu insert for a well-known restaurant chain – pretty high-level demographics, psychographics, etc. Amazing how much agonizing goes into what people are thinking when they read a menu (personally, I think they could care less, as long as their meal is good, but hey, they want to pay me well to agonize, I’ll agonize).

Plus, some book titling and back-cover copywriting for three self-publishing authors through my coaching program. Fun stuff.

So, what are you working on these days?

How did you land it?

Noticing any uptick or downturn in certain kinds of projects?