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

Has “Busyness” Become an Excuse for a Lack of Professional Courtesy?

A commercial-writing coaching client of mine recently sent me this missive about the outcome of a quote she’d given a prospect for a freelance copywriting project.

I quoted, then called/left a voicemail, then emailed (waiting a few days to a week between each). The company never wrote me back. It’s frustrating because it’s so rude on their part. It’s one thing if someone asks, “How much for a blog post?” and I respond with a number, and then I never hear back, since that takes so little time.

But we exchanged several emails and had a phone call to get the project details. I may follow up again with them in a few weeks, in case something more pressing came up and they just haven’t had time. But damn! How long does it take to write back, “We decided to handle it in-house,” or something like that?

The silver lining is that, 1) I have another ballpark figure added to my internal fee schedule, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time, and, 2) it reminds me not to get my hopes up until a bid letter is signed. Trying not to be bitter 🙂

I felt for her… We’ve all been there. By way of commiseration, I wrote back with a story of my own…

Sorry to hear that, but afraid to say, it happens to all of us. And I agree, it’s tacky and unprofessional.

A year or so ago, met a guy at a networking function (he and I were connected, in person, by the guy whose space the event was in, and who’s a big fan of mine; my book got him started way back when, though he’d since evolved into a big creative agency).

He knew his guest (a client of his) was planning on doing a book and thought I’d be the perfect ghostwriter.

The prospect and I clicked, talked at length that night, and he definitely wanted to pursue it. We spoke by phone the following week for 30-45 minutes, and found even more common ground. We had lunch together the next week, hammered out parameters, and agreed I’d get him an estimate the next week for the first part.

I did just that, didn’t hear back for 10 days, emailed him to make sure he’d gotten it, he said he had, and that he’d get back to me soon.

And that was the last time I ever heard from him.

Two more emails and two more voicemails went unanswered. Sort of blew me away. Like you said, if it was one contact, no big deal. But that much invested? They OWE you a response.

FYI, next time I spoke to the guy who’d connected us (we were talking about something completely unrelated), I mentioned what’d happened. He was flabbergasted. Said he didn’t even know how to react.

Obviously, he was torn, embarrassed to have steered someone he thought highly of (me) to his client, only to have me treated pretty disrespectfully. To him as well, it was completely unprofessional.

So, yes, unfortunately, that’s how it turns out occasionally. It’s like “busyness” has become an excuse to dispense with common courtesy. It says, “My time is infinitely more valuable than yours.” Perhaps I’m just old-fashioned, and expect more. I can’t say for sure if it’s a younger/older thing, but maybe?

Ever had a prospect vanish without a trace after multiple calls/discussions about a project that had gotten to the quoting stage?

Did you do anything?

What did you take away from the experience for the next time?

Have you ever reacted in a more in-your-face fashion after such an incident (figuring you had nothing to lose at that point)?

Do you see it happening more with younger than older prospects, or is it universal?

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

Commercial-Writing Clients with Money vs. Ones Without: Like Night and Day…

I got an email from a recent Well-Fed Group Coaching participant that made me smile for a few reasons. She wrote:

This is all becoming less and less theoretical and more real. Which is eerie. It seems I’m beginning to live in your make-believe world!

Too funny. I swear, it’s as if, until people experience these things for themselves, they imagine I’m making all this stuff up about how the commercial copywriting business-building process unfolds. I promise, it’s far easier to share my real-world commercial freelancing experiences than to fabricate a bunch of them out of whole cloth.

But it was what she said after that that had my “Blog-Topic-Alert” meter going off. She wrote:

I’m also beginning to see how differently potential clients with money vs. those with little, behave. They’re like different species.

One simple statement with so many ramifications. For starters, it’s so true. The difference in the respective experiences of working with clients who have little money vs. those with plenty is so vast as to be almost vertiginous.

In a great blog post I recently commented on (and in which I was mentioned – yay!), freelancer Kathy Shaidle says:

The cheaper the client, the more demanding they are. My $75/hour clients tend to approve the very first version of everything I send them, thank me profusely, pay me immediately, and hire me again. Clients I’ve taken on for far less (because I’ve felt desperate — or sorry for them) ALWAYS want more changes, more words, more pages, more of my time on the phone, more everything. Eventually, I (politely) fire clients like that. Inevitably, they are replaced almost immediately by more professional ones with larger budgets (and brains).

And in our world, $75 an hour isn’t even that much; but her point is sound.

If you spend your time hanging out with low-ball writing clients, and in turn, being run ragged by them, it will very likely have you question your career decision.

But find the good clients, and your sense of the overall viability of freelancing will undergo nothing less than a radical transformation. It becomes a whole different word. Less hassle, more creative fulfillment, and, of course, more money.

Better-paying clients are almost always easier to work with than the low-ballers, as my coaching client above noticed. She observed:

The one who wants to get things moving knows the value of what a writer can offer. The one who said he was interested in having me work for him, but then took a long time getting information to me, and was antsy about pricing, didn’t seem to fully accept the cost of doing business. Or he just doesn’t have as much of a budget set aside for marketing. The folks who are hardest to negotiate with are the ones with the smallest budgets.

To her comments, I’d add that, for the kinds of clients we want to work with, money is never (within reason) the main issue. Rather, it’s a predictable superior outcome they’re seeking. And that motivation always trumps money.

But know this: if you’re in the early days of building your commercial writing business, lower-paying clients are the ones most likely to be willing to work with you when you have little to recommend you other than a few unimpressive samples and an abundance of enthusiasm.

As such, they serve a wonderful purpose: to help you build your confidence, as well as both your intangible “experience portfolio” and your real physical one.

But realize that you need to compartmentalize those early experiences with that class of client, as being a means to an end, not an end in themselves.

I say this because those coming from “writing ghettos” (i.e., the content mills, where $5 for a 500-word article is de rigeur) may feel that working with clients who actually pay $25 an hour (wow!), even if they are pains to deal with, is “died-and-gone-to-heaven” territory.

But if you indeed have writing skills far beyond the typical content-mill writer, and are eager and willing to plant and nurture those skills in greener writing pastures, then $25 an hour is only the beginning. No, it’s not easy to get to that $75-to-$125-an-hour copywriting level, and don’t believe anyone who says it is. But, it’s doable, and I hear daily from people who’ve done it.

And if you’re sadly still playing in that copywriting bargain basement, and complaining about the low-ballers who just won’t pay you what your skills are worth, then you don’t understand the dynamic at work there.

I think I did a decent job of attacking this victim mentality in a recent guest post I did (on Lori Widmer’s Words on the Page blog), entitled, “Why Writers Don’t ‘Deserve’ to Make More than $5 to $10 an Article.”

For most of you regular visitors to this blog, you “got” this a long time ago, but if you’re still wrestling with it, check it out. It all comes down to having copywriting skills not shared by thousands of others, and when you can stand out, you’ll start seeing firsthand, as discussed earlier, the HUGE difference between client classes.

What other differences have you seen/experienced between the clients with money and those without?

If you’re now operating in solid, higher-rate commercial writing territory, but didn’t used to, what/when was your “light bulb moment”?

And if you indeed went from low writing wages to the higher ones in our world, did you immediately notice the stark difference in client quality?

Have you moved out of the “$5-an-article” writing world, only to get stuck in the next (and still-low) level?

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

Speak Up and Grow Your Commercial Writing Business…

About a month and a half before my holiday trip to Ohio this past December to visit family, I Googled “Ohio Writers Groups,” and found one right in my kin’s neighborhood, Western Ohio Writers Association. Shot an email to the executive director of the group (Gery Deer, also a commercial freelancer), letting him know I’d be in the area for the holidays, and would he be interested in exploring the possibility of an event. Absolutely, he replied.

(Funny sidebar if you’ll allow me a vanity moment: In my initial email, per my custom, I didn’t assume he knew who I was, introducing myself as the author of The Well-Fed Writer, etc., etc. Apparently unnecessary. He wrote back saying his wife had recently bought him my book, and he’d been carrying it around with him like a bible since then. Okay. That saved some explaining time…;)

Anyway, in fits and starts, the thing came together. Gery even tapped his long-cultivated network of local contacts and got me five minutes on TV on Dayton’s News at Noon show (slow news week, apparently…). We had 30+ in seats come show time, and all went swimmingly. Sold a small pile of books, possible commercial writing coaching business down the line, and left some goodwill in my wake – always the goal.

Sure, it’s easier for an author of a book targeted to a specific audience to put on events like this (especially with such an involved local ally as I had in this case). But remember this: what we commercial writers do – help businesses boost their bottom line through more effective marketing and communications materials, amongst other things – is something every business potentially needs.

By extension, any business/civic organization made up of businesspeople would be a good target for a speaking offer (though don’t expect to be paid). Kiwanis, Rotary, local business associations, Chambers of Commerce, industry-specific associations, are all good candidates.

Once there, any number of topics could strike a compelling note with this crowd. Right off the top of my head (and depending, of course, on your areas of expertise…):

“The 7 Most Common Mistakes Companies Make with Their Marketing Materials…”

“Five Ways Social Media Can Boost Your Bottom Line (and a Few Ways It Won’t…)”

“The Powerfully Effective Marketing Tool You’re Probably Overlooking…” (about case studies, white papers, etc.)

“How to Do Your Own Writing for Your Business (and Why That May Not Be Wise…)”

I’m sure you could come up with a bunch of others with a little thought. All designed, of course, to showcase your knowledge of commercial writing, marketing communications, and marketing in general (and your readiness, willingness and ability to execute the aforementioned…).

Most importantly, make it Job #1 at any speaking gig to offer truly valuable content, NOT pick up business. Provide enough practical information that audience members could put your ideas in action without your help. And therein lies a seeming paradox: the more you give away, the more of your beans you spill, the more likely many will be to hire you.

By being generous, you accomplish three things – all good:

1) You showcase your expertise in implementing what you’re discussing

2) You get people thinking, “If he/she is willing to give away this much, they must know a whole lot more.” And…

3) You establish yourself as the “good guy” interested in making them more successful and profitable.

Get an okay in advance from your contact person to offer a brief “marketing minute” at the end of your talk, explaining what you do, letting people know you have business cards, and perhaps offering a free consultation, top-line business analysis, report, etc.

Truth, be known, while I’ve done a ton of speaking related to my books over the years, I’ve done very little of the business speaking described above. But a healthy number of commercial freelancers I know do, given its effectiveness as a lead-generation tool. If the idea calls to you, start with some of the ideas above – or brainstorm your own.

Put your storyteller hat on, breathing life into talks with anecdotes and success stories from your own experiences (or those of other writers – with attribution, of course). Or even made-up “picture-this” scenarios to get them thinking about their own businesses.

Just remember, as you put any talk together, always imagine yourself as a businessperson in that audience, and keep in mind what’s most important to them: profitability, competitive advantage, industry reputation, etc. Benefits, not features.

From what I’ve heard, neither the bar nor audience expectations in general are set particularly high for civic/business group luncheon speeches, so don’t imagine it’d take more than you’ve got to make your mark.

Shy? Introverted? Don’t let that stop you. I read a great piece of advice about public speaking once that went something like this: While having good nuts-‘n-bolts speaking techniques down is always a good thing, the two most important attributes of all good speakers is, 1) they’re experts on their subject, and 2) they love sharing it with others.

Some years back, I watched author Malcolm Gladwell (Blink, The Tipping Point, Outliers), speak at a local Borders about Blink. Obviously shy and egghead-ish – wild hair and all – you could tell speaking wasn’t something natural for him. But, because he knew his subject intimately (AND used lots of great anecdotes), and was obviously passionate about sharing it, he had the standing-room-only crowd captivated for well over an hour. Food for thought…

Have you done this kind of speaking, and if so, how did it turn out?

What approaches/strategies have worked for you in the speaking arena?

What types of groups have you found most receptive?

If you haven’t done this kind of speaking, are you getting any ideas from all 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.

Tried These “Under-the-Radar” Marketing Tactics for Your Writing Business? (Guest Post)

Got this great guest post from busy and talented commercial writer, Lori Widmer. As important as marketing is, it’s also something that so often gets turned into this big, gnarly, scary exercise that ends up reliably but unnecessarily freaking out commercial freelancers. NOT that it’s some piece ‘o cake, but, as Lori points out, it makes sense to examine – and adjust, if necessary – some of your common perceptions about marketing. Enjoy!

Marketing is not brain surgery.

There. I said it. Too many times we hear the word “marketing” and think of complicated, time-consuming plans that have to be worked to death in order to be effective. If that’s how you’re marketing, you’re probably doing it wrong.

That’s because I spend just a few hours a week marketing and I’m usually quite busy. My plan is jotted down, not charted out like an expedition map. The simpler the better, in my view. I market every day, busy or not. If you’re looking to simplify and get more impact from less work, try mixing a few of these ideas into your current strategy:

Use invoices as sales tools. Why just send an invoice when you can send an invoice that also announces sales, recent business successes, or newsletter sign-up information? These are clients who have already bought from you. Remind them why with short pieces (under 100 words) announcing your new product, your new sale, or your latest sales success.

Engage in stealth marketing. Some of my best marketing success has come from not marketing at all. It’s what I call stealth marketing, and it’s little more than showing up, befriending, helping, and maintaining the connection. In one case, a client told me I wasn’t very good at marketing. This was as she was revamping her business in order to fit my proposal into her current business model. She never realized it, but I had marketed to her without doing more than showing up, befriending, helping, and maintaining the relationship.

Close the circle. The sale isn’t over when the client buys. It’s over when you have a satisfied client. Go back to those clients who bought from you recently. Follow up on that sale by first asking if they’re satisfied. Then send the invoice. At invoice time, ask for feedback – how can you be of further assistance? Was the product to their satisfaction? Were they happy with the overall experience?

Get caught promoting clients. Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ are great places to promote clients when they’re not looking. Send out that press release link, give them a congratulatory shout-out, or Retweet their message with your own praise attached.

Promote a non-client. When was the last time you helped someone you knew would never be a client? It’s something so easy to do, and yet so few of us think it’s useful or even necessary. Refer someone to a non-client or former client when possible. I surprised a client I’d fired by sending customers his way. Why? Because I believed his business was a good fit for those customers. It didn’t matter that he and I couldn’t come to terms. What mattered was that I kept it business only – nothing personal.

Ask for the referral. You’ve just finished a great project with your client. You’ve done follow up to ensure satisfaction. Now is the time to ask. “Do you know of anyone else who might need my services?” Tap into your client’s network to expand your own. By asking for a referral, you’re able to spread the word about your business by asking for an introduction from an already satisfied client. It’s word-of-mouth marketing kicked up a notch.

Rethink your view of marketing. Use marketing to meet people, not sell to people. If you must, view it as networking, but remember the result isn’t about selling. It’s about meeting and connecting. Don’t go into every conversation thinking you have to sell. You don’t. You should be building the relationship. Sales come later.

How often do you market?

Have you used any of the above, and if so, can you share a story?

What are some of your most effective marketing methods?

Which of your marketing approaches do clients respond to most?

What is the toughest part of marketing for you?

Lori Widmer veteran freelance writer and editor who specializes in business writing and marketing strategies for writers. She is co-founder and co-moderator of the About Writing Squared Five Buck Forum for writers, and author of the upcoming book, Marketing 365: Daily Strategies for Small Businesses. She blogs for writers every day at Words on the Page

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

Meet Someone Like This and Your Copywriting Business Will Soar…

At first blush, it didn’t seem like such a fortuitous meeting. It was 1994, my stumbling, halting first year as a commercial freelancer. On the side, I was writing columns for a local Atlanta rag. I’d been put in touch with the graphic designer who was laying out the publication I was writing for, to address a spacing issue for my piece. We connected, resolved the issue, end of story. Not. SO not.

That designer ended up getting me in the door of the design firm where she worked, which yielded many thousands of dollars in billings for copywriting jobs over the next 4-5 years. As as we worked together on a bunch of commercial projects, we developed a rapport, a collaborative working style and plenty of mutual respect.

When she launched her own one-person design studio in 1997 (the talented ones always do), I was her first call when the freelance gigs she landed required copy. And even when her clients didn’t think they needed a writer (but did), she’d lobby to get me involved. Why? Because she’d seen, over and over again, how my writing enhanced her design, her clients’ satisfaction, her overall value proposition and her repeat/referral business.

Which, incidentally, is one of the key answers to the question, “What does it take to become a designer’s ‘go-to’ writer?” And I’m telling you, if you’re writing commercially as even part of your writing mix, you owe it to yourself to forge some alliances with graphic artists.

This woman, a one-person shop, has been, without question, my #1 client in terms of billings in my 18-year career, putting many tens of thousands of dollars in my pocket in that time. Our partnership has truly been a golden goose for this boy’s career, and I know I’ve made a big contribution to hers. She’s gone as far as to say, in a testimonial on my copywriting site, “Our creative alliance has played a key role in sustaining MY successful freelance career for close to 15 years now.” And it gets better…

She took on a second designer for a while as her business really blossomed, and I clicked just as famously with her as I did with her boss. And when that second designer eventually went out on her own again (she was already a 20-year design veteran when she was working for my lead designer), I became her ‘go-to’ writer as well. And as these two creative pros built their own businesses, landing work for themselves, that often meant finding work for me as well, and with little or no effort on my part.

What about reciprocity? Didn’t they expect me to bring them just as much work as they brought me? Actually, no. Obviously, I’d always give one or the other the work when a commercial freelancing project I’d landed required design as well (usually smaller- to medium-sized companies, of 50-200+ employees; companies of this size don’t typically have the in-house creative resources to fully execute these projects, but generally have the money to contract those services).

But, it was never expected – just a nice bonus when it happened. In their estimation, what I was contributing to their projects was enough. As a result, far more work flowed to me from them than the other way around.

So, make those design connections. If you’re in any decent-sized major metro, you’ll find a bunch of them (just Google “Graphic Designers – (your city)” for starters. And even if you’re not, our wired world has pretty much made geography a non-issue. Visit their sites, make sure they’re established, with a good reputation and doing good work, and then contact them. And remember, being the right writer is as, if not more important than finding the right designer. Happy hunting!

I invite you check out my new ebook entitled, Profitable – By Design: Tapping the Writer/Designer Partnership Goldmine. In it, I lay out all the details of a strategy that’s absolutely been my bread-and-butter for close to two decades. Check out the skinny here.

And join me for a no-charge teleseminar this Wednesday, 6/15 at noon PST (3:00 p.m. EST), when I’ll be a guest on Carol Tice’s Freelance Free-for-All. But you need to register in advance (AND pose a question). Get all the details here. Hope you’ll join us…

Have you built any partnerships with designers?

If so, how did you go about putting them together initially?

And how have they worked out for you?

If they’ve been lucrative, what have you found to be the expectations from the designer?

Any other comments on your experience with this strategy?

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