In this category, you will learn how to get copywriting clients, Well Fed Writer style.

Four Client-Repelling Mistakes, & What I Learned to Do Instead (Guest Post)

Great guest post from Matt Seidholz, a freelance healthcare content writer in Omaha, Nebraska. Hats off to Matt for having the courage to admit some of these classics, but I’m certain each of us have our own “Really??” stories from our early days that we’re not too proud of. But, we learn, correct and move on. Thanks, Matt!

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When I started commercial freelancing, I was so desperate to leave my day-job. I hated it, and thought copywriting could be my way out. Can you relate?

That desperation was wonderful fuel for my fire. It’s what got me on the phone, every day, trying to drum up commercial-writing clients.

But it also pushed me to do some very, very dumb things—things that pushed away potential clients, and hampered my copywriting business for months. I still cringe at the memory.

Here are the four dumb things in all their client-repelling glory, and what I wish I’d done instead.


1. Over-Eagerness
This one started with a cold-call to a marketing manager for a large medical manufacturer. Big fish for a new guy!

Imagine my delight when he said he might—just might—need some help. “Check back on the first of the month,” he said.

Oh, I wouldn’t miss it.

The first came around, and I called. No answer. Waited an hour. Called again. Voice mail. 15 minutes later, tried again. Nothing.

So I called again. And again. And again. And again. All told, I called this guy thirteen times in one day.

Clearly, I’d put way too much stock in this guy’s “maybe.” Of course, he never called back.

LESSON: Show restraint, not desperation, when selling yourself!


2) “Look at how smart I am!”

Another textbook foul-up.

I was browsing a company’s sales brochures, trying to get a feel for their work. Good idea, right?

But as I read their material, all I could think was: “I can do so much better!” I attacked their brochures with a red pen, hacking, slashing, underlining away. Then I wrote a new one, with “improved” copy.

Unsolicited, I mailed the edited version and my new work—with business card—to the company’s marketing manager. I was so proud of myself.

Cringing yet?

A week later, the manager emailed me himself, saying, essentially, Thanks for your edits on my copy. But we’re happy with what we’ve got.

Oof. Only then did it dawn on me how insulting I’d been.

LESSON: Check your ego, and offer help, not insults.


3) It’s a Man’s World – Isn’t It?

Yet another unforced error.

On another cold-call, a marketing associate at a hospital asked me to send her my information. “That way I can send it up to the VP of Marketing.”

Should have been an easy win, but I blew it.

I wrote back: “Thanks for the connection. Please relay my info to your boss. If he likes what he sees, we should chat on the phone!”

A subtle, but obvious mistake. The associate sure caught it, and less than half an hour later, emailed me back: “Our marketing VP is a she.”

That’s it. No signature, no “call us back,” no nothing. And I never heard from them again.

LESSON: No matter your gender, race, creed – stay professional, and be careful about the biases you communicate.


4) Jumping the Gun

This mistake actually happened after I landed a gig. Or, at least, after I thought I had.

I was speaking with a marketing director at a surgical center. She mentioned that she wanted to publish an article about a new device.

Oh boy, did I jump at that.

This was at the very beginning of my writing career. I was trying to build up my portfolio. Our conversation went like this:

“No problem, I’ll do it for free!”

“Uh, are you sure? It’s a lot of work.”

“Absolutely. I’ll turn it around for you in two weeks.”

“Alright…I guess.”

Elated, I was in a hurry to hang up and start writing.

Notice: No intelligent questions from me, and zero enthusiasm from her. I took her tentative yes for a “full-speed ahead.” Bad move.

I took to the project with rabid intensity. I read up on lymph-node biopsies, found technical manuals for the machine, and was just so darned excited to use words like “pneumothorax” and “endobrachial ultrasound.”

I liked what I wrote, and I was expecting effusive praise when I delivered it.

Instead, I got this: “This wasn’t what I had in mind. Please don’t spend any more of your time on this.”

Ouch.

LESSONS (two of them):

1) Never write for someone that doesn’t want you. Incredibly obvious, right? Sure, but a desperate novice will try anything for a quick win. Don’t. Get an enthusiastic “Yes!” before you ever pick up your pen.

2) Make sure you understand the job at hand. I dove into this project without knowing what this manager wanted to achieve. So how was I supposed to help her? Ask questions, so you can deliver something your clients can actually use.

3) (PB Addition): Don’t work for free! I understand pro bono work to build a portfolio, but if you’re going that route, keep your time commitment reasonable, and, of course, make sure you’re following Matt’s first two lessons above (including making sure the client knows you’re doing it to build your portfolio).


Wrapping Up

Yes, these were stupid, embarrassing mistakes. But things turned out okay for me.

These days I’m writing and thriving—plenty of money coming in, more business than I can handle, with new clients cold-calling me all the time.

My secret? Persistence. I chose to see my screw-ups as growing pains, and I got savvier with time.

It happened for me, and it can happen for you. After all, you can’t possibly screw up worse than I did!


(If you’re willing to admit it), what’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done in dealing with a commercial writing client?

How’d you recover? Did you try to pursue these clients again?

What do you think is the worst mistake a rookie can make when they’re starting out as a commercial freelancer?


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

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Your Portfolio: Stop Making it So Hard (Guest Post)

PB Note: A provocative post from Indianapolis-based commercial freelancer Andrea Emerson. I don’t agree with all her points in all situations, but it’s a solid and well-reasoned piece. And to me, it just underscores, yet again, that there’s no “One Right Way” to run your copywriting business. Takes a healthy level of confidence to take this stance right out of the gate, but her “read” on clients, and what they don’t like, is solid. Thanks, Andrea!

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An alternate headline for this post could’ve been “Why Most Freelance Writer Portfolios Suck.” Because they do.

Take a gander at freelance writer forums and you’ll notice a lot of advice about how to put together a writing portfolio. Often, that involves a physical binder showcasing printed copies of your work.

Don’t do that.

I never have, never will. As you can guess, I have pretty strong feelings about it.

Let me take you to a meeting I had a few months ago with Daniel, the owner of a local marketing firm. I contacted Daniel via LinkedIn, pointing out we shared a few mutual acquaintances, and making myself available for freelance commercial work. He didn’t have a need for a new copywriter at the moment, but invited me to stop by his office for a chat since, you know, all marketing agencies have an insatiable need for content.

I came to the meeting with a notepad and a pen. Nothing else. We talked about the needs of his agency and how those needs aligned with my forté and background. At the end of our time together, Daniel said:

“Hey, send me a work sample or two. Just the stuff you’re most proud of.”

Then, he added:

“I hate it when writers send me a bunch of writing samples. I don’t have time for that.”

I chuckled because, (1) I’d heard this before, and (2) I could SO relate.

Years earlier, while working in the corporate world, I occasionally interviewed candidates for marketing communications jobs. I hated — HATED — when someone walked in with a fat binder and insisted on walking me through every page.

First of all, it’s impossible to mentally digest and make judgments on so much content during a job discussion. The best I could do was to jump around the material, gazing at headlines and sentences in a random fashion, then zone out the rest. My eyes glazed over in a hurry.

So what’s the alternative?

Here’s how I’ve approached it. I did link to work samples on my website, but never shared those links with prospects until they asked for it.

You see, the purpose of your first or second interaction with prospects is just to tease them — to create interest and start a conversation. Don’t expect to close the sale with your first email or phone call. (In fact, don’t even try. It may happen, but it’s a huge turnoff if you push for it.)

If interested, the prospect would naturally talk about his/her needs, then ask me for samples. Armed with what I’ve learned about them, I’d email just 3-5 select samples that were relevant to what they were looking for.

Eventually, I also deleted most of the samples on my website. I had started with 10-15 samples and one day I thought, “What prospect in his right mind is going to read 15 samples? Wouldn’t it be smarter if I limited their choices to just my favorite work?” So I shaved that list down to a handful and bulked up on testimonials instead.

Copywriter Steve Slaunwhite follows a similar rationale. After observing the same dynamic I described above (where hiring managers only read random lines of a portfolio and ignored the rest), Steve adopted what he calls a “Portfolio One Sheet.”

In that sheet, Steve describes the project, its goal, the extent of his role, and showcases just a couple of excerpts. (Naturally, the strongest parts.)

What if you’re brand-spanking new and don’t have writing samples yet?

Make some up. Seriously. You can write for an imaginary business, write for a family member, choose a worthy cause or local business and offer to rewrite their brochure, landing page, sales letter, email promo — whatever. You can also take something you’ve written at a past job or writing course, give it a nice edit and you’re good to go.

This isn’t shady, and it isn’t uncommon. It’s how you get started. The point is to prove you can write. No one cares if you got paid for it.

Pressure’s off. No excuses left.

With the approach I described above (which, by the way, never failed me once), you don’t need a lengthy, bulky portfolio. A couple of samples should be enough for someone to determine whether your writing lines up with their standards and needs.

If you’ve been stressing over a writing portfolio, don’t. We’ve just removed that excuse and the pressure that followed it. (You’re welcome.)

What’s worked for you in the past?

What portfolio challenges, dilemmas or hang-ups give you heart palpitations or hinder your interactions with prospects?

If applying any advice from this post, what will that be?

If not, why not?

AndreaEmersonPicAndrea Emerson is an Indianapolis-based copywriter & freelancing coach. She blogs about what it takes to build a profitable freelance business 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.

Want More Work? Get Out And Ask For It (Guest Post)

Cool guest post from Brett Stone, who sent me this last fall, when she was still a commercial freelancer (and commercial real-estate investor). She’s since moved into some new and exciting directions, leveraging her past experience and teaching women how to raise their wealth consciousness and create more of what they want in their lives. Find out more about it here.

Regardless, this is a great primer on getting out from behind our “boxes,” and drumming up business through face-to-face contact. I’ve always been a fan of more direct, personal approaches to building one’s business—especially as the world gets more and more impersonal and virtual. I subscribe to the belief—as echoed here by Brett—that business-building is about relationship-building. Enjoy!

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When it comes to digging up clients, most commercial writers would prefer to stay behind the computer and let words do the selling of their services. Yet one of the fastest and most satisfying ways I know to build up a client base comes from taking a deep breath, grabbing a handful of business cards, and getting out and networking face to face.

Truth is, with the glut of information out there today, most people would still rather hire someone they already know and like, than spend time sorting through a miasma of avatars on elance, or blindly respond to an unsolicited email.

It’s always interesting to discover just how many people, upon learning I’m a writer, will suddenly launch into telling me about a book they’ve written that needs editing, a direct mail campaign they’ve been considering doing, or that they need help getting some good quality content on their website. Often these people have had a desire for help for a long time, but they just really had no idea where to turn.

The best news about face-to-face networking, though, is that 99% of the time, you’ll be the only copywriter in the room. Yes, you’ll encounter bloggers and people who’ve published an ebook, but rarely is this their main source of income. Just by getting your services in front of someone who needs them and is dreading having to look for it, you’ve already helped them by saving them a big chunk of time. They’ll be so grateful to already know you that, chances are excellent, they’ll hire you.

So though it can be absolutely terror-inducing to stand up in front of a group of 60+ people and plug your business, I’d like to offer a few strategies that can turn face-to-face networking into something that’s not only a successful work-generating activity, but an awful lot of fun.

Finding Opportunities
The first thing you’ll need to do is identify where your clients are hanging out.
Unless you’re just looking for supportive friends to go and have coffee with, don’t go to events for writers. Instead, look for events that target the people who hire you. If you write for ecommerce, then go to events for ecommerce owners; if you write for the natural health industry, go to events for practitioners, etc. You get the idea.

I also attend small B2B events. Even though the attendees there aren’t prospects for my commercial freelancing business, often they serve people who are (such as marketing professionals) and recommend my services to a client they’re already working with.

The Chamber of Commerce is good place to check out, but don’t stop there. If you live in a good-sized metropolis, Meetups.com is a fabulous resource. They have groups focused on all different sorts of interests and businesses. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, you can also start your own.

Many cities also have private companies that sponsor networking events you can attend for a small fee. If you have a little more money to invest, you might also consider attending conferences.

When talking with people, ask what other events they go to, and consider attending yourself. Also, keep your ears open for introductions to mastermind groups. These are little more difficult to sniff out, but a good mastermind group can get you in with highly successful entrepreneurs. These are people that pay good money to farm out writing tasks so they can keep their valuable time focused on growing their business.

Go In With A Plan
At the majority of events, you’ll be asked to stand up in front of the group and introduce yourself and your business. Yes, this is the scary part—public speaking is a greater fear than death for most people—but there are things you can do to allay any anxiety.

The first “must-do” is to prepare. Sit down and write out a script (you’re a writer, right?). In most cases, all you need are three to four lines you can deliver in a clear, friendly way.

Instead of talking about yourself, state your job and then briefly tell people, not what you do, but what you can do for them. I focus my pitch on how my copywriting can help people make more money. Don’t try to be funny unless you’re really skilled at it, and don’t try to engage with the audience unless you’re a seasoned public speaker.

Once you’ve created your lines, memorize them. Stand in the middle of your living room and rehearse, delivering them as if you were addressing a room full of people. As you speak, work towards sounding spontaneous, as if talking right off the top of your head. Be sure to practice standing and gesturing in a way that’s relaxed and natural.

Effective “Mingling”
While people are introducing themselves to the group, take note of those who are in positions to hire you or could possibly refer you to people who would. When the evening turns social, make a point of approaching each of these people and making a connection.
This is actually a very easy thing to do.

Simply go up, introduce yourself, hand them a business card, and then ask them to tell you about their business and their goals for it. Don’t talk about yourself unless they ask, and then only in a context that relates to ways you might help them. Don’t sell. Share a little and then show more interest in what they do. Often people will continue to pursue you to write for them without you having to promote yourself at all.

If the people you want to approach are already in conversation in a group, it’s perfectly acceptable to go up to them and join in. Just like you, people are there to make connections and they welcome the burden being off of them to initiate it.

Don’t Forget The Follow-up
The very next day (or later that same day), take ten minutes and send an email to every person you met who you think might become a client or a valuable relationship. In the letter you can comment about the event, tell them it was a pleasure to meet them, ask if they have any ideas how you might help them and refer them to your website.

I usually write one short, friendly letter that I personalize by changing the name and then send out as separate emails.

Often, that follow-up is just the little comfortable opening someone needs to take the next step towards hiring you. Several times I’ve had people write me back and tell me how they’ve been to many events, and I’m the first person who ever bothered to make contact with them afterwards.

The truth is, when it comes right down to it, whether you’re a commercial copywriter or a dog-food vendor, success grows out of forming relationships you nurture by putting yourself out there, and genuinely asking “How may I serve?”


Have you had any success with face to face networking?

What are your strategies for creating profitable relationships?

Do you have any events you regularly attend?

What sort of statements do you use to describe your business?

BrettStonepicBrett Renee Stone is a copywriter and investor who specializes in the areas of real estate and ecommerce. Over the years she’s helped her clients raise or generate millions of dollars. Currently, she’s shifting gears, teaching women the process of wealth creation to get more of what they want in their lives. Find out more 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.

What Do You Say to a Prospect Who Asks for This?

I recently got an email from one of my sidecar-coaching clients—and a budding commercial writer. He’d made contact with an interested prospect who then sent him the following email:

I’d like to get a quote for a first project with you – to try you out. If the first one goes well, we feel there’d be ongoing work (multiple projects). As such, I’d like to get a quote for _______ as well as a________. Can you share your pricing terms, while understanding that we’d like to get an introductory price for these projects? And can you give me a price for the projects separately as well as together? Thanks!

He was asking me how he should respond to it. Obviously, it’d be easy-breezy for me to tell the guy, flat out, that I don’t offer “introductory pricing” (after all, I’m not at all desperate for work). But, if you’re a new commercial freelancer, you want to craft a way of doing business that sets your terms—in all senses of the word—without turning off a client.

My reply back to him :

Had to smile when I saw this. One of two client types. First, he’s the kind that thinks he’s being SO original in his pitch: “Hey, gotta lotta work coming up, so give me a really good price for the first one.” And maybe there’ll be more, and maybe there won’t be.

Or the second type: He’s honest about considering future work, but acting as if introductory pricing was a given. Would he ask for introductory pricing from an attorney? Doctor? Accountant? Folks like him need to get that we’re professional service providers, deserving of competitive market rates. And if you want the work because you’re starting out, then do it in a way that doesn’t seem subservient.

Anyway, all that said, while it’d be easy for me to reject such a pitch since I don’t need the work (or the aggravation of dealing with a client that thinks like that), it’s not my place to tell someone starting out what they should or shouldn’t do.

And that said, if you want to give it a shot, I might say something like, “I’d love to work with you, but I don’t really offer introductory pricing.” OR, “If there is indeed additional work coming—and I’d love to establish an ongoing relationship with your company—then how I work it when people approach me with such an offer is to charge my normal rate for the first one, and if you indeed hire me again, I’ll extend a discount to you on the second project.” Or some variation of that.

This can be a tricky call. On the one hand, by giving in to a prospect’s terms, you can set a precedent as being a doormat, and he might keep working you. By the same token, most commercial writing-buyers I’ve crossed paths with in my 21 years in the business aren’t connivers; overwhelmingly, they’re hard-working, honest people who just need to get their work done, and see the possibility of us helping them.

But, even good people can take advantage of you if you let them, so it’s still important to set and stick to your terms upfront—whatever they are—so clients don’t think they can get whatever they want, whenever they want.

Bottom line, he landed the gig (~$5K). He shared the email log with me, emphasizing to me the importance of continued follow-up when you’re negotiating. And indeed, there were several times in the process where he had to send a second email to get the client to reply. So, if you don’t hear something, email them again to keep things moving.

After he wrote me, he felt he needed to reply soon, so my reply came after he sent his initial response. He started out asking for 100% upfront payment and use of the final pieces in his portfolio (seems like a given, but clients sometimes refuse such requests just because they can; a good case for never asking in the first place) in return for an introductory price.

In the end, he settled for (and received) 25% upfront. While he wasn’t crazy about it, he wanted the gig, so he stayed flexible.

And that’s a key point here: It’s easy to suggest playing hard-ass, demanding this and that, but if you’re starting out and want to get some traction, you need to be flexible, and a little trusting.

Remember: As a rule, clients in the commercial copywriting field pay well and reliably. The last thing a growing company needs is a PR nightmare because they hosed their vendors and one of those “hosees” posted something on social media. We don’t have anywhere near the payment hassles experienced by many “freelance writers.”

How do you handle clients who ask for “introductory pricing” or some kind of special deal? How did you respond?

Have you given in to such requests in the past, only to regret it later (i.e., the client vanished after one discounted job, or was a pill to work with)?

Ever had a prospect try to “work” you, but who changed their tune and had new respect for you based on how you replied back to them?

If you’re more established and can afford to take a harder line towards prospects like these, what advice would you give to new writers who need to be more flexible as they get established?

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