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

Run Into This Promising (and Increasingly Common) Client Scenario Out There?

So, I was talking the other day with one of the graphic designers I’ve collaborated with in my commercial writing business for years. She’d recently picked up a new client – a big company selling something people have to have, and targeted to a specific demographic – one that’s been making money hand over fist the past few years.

While happy to get the new work, she’s been frustrated with them of late. They’ve been so busy growing they haven’t had time to sit down and discuss strategy, despite having a ton of projects (some of which will require copywriting) they need to get done. They just rented a huge booth at an industry trade show and told her they wanted her to redesign all their signage – along with direct mail and promo materials.

She wants to bring me in as soon as she can sit down with them and get a laundry list of projects (and accompanying commercial writing needs). Oh, and they’ve got plenty of money. Folks like these are dream clients for solo practitioners (i.e., commercial freelancers and designers). They’re out there and market realities are having them show up more and more on my radar and that of folks like my friend.

Prior to contacting my friend, the client had been working with a small ad agency going through meltdown. They couldn’t get ahold of people at the agency – which had laid off a bunch of folks – and the work wasn’t getting done. Now, if there was ever a situation where a talented freelance writer/designer team could save the day AND save them a bunch of money, time and aggravation, this was it.

This is becoming a more common tale in this economy. Even if an agency isn’t going under, just the fact that their high-overhead economics require them to charge far more than a copywriter/designer team would, is enough to have clients question those bills and try to find lower-priced alternatives. But, they have to feel they can get the same or better quality from a few solo operators in order to feel comfortable making the switch.

So, the opportunities exist. But they won’t drop in our laps and those we do find out there will require solid writing skills, strong marketing chops, buttoned-up presentations and absolute professionalism. But we have one BIG thing going for us: these clients WANT to believe we can solve their problems – they don’t want to hunt any longer and harder than they have to.

Have you run across any scenarios like these? New clients who’ve dropped sinking (or pricey) agencies to go with freelancers (you or someone else)?

If you have, how did it unfold?

What did it take to give them the requisite comfort level to move forward?

If you haven’t landed any new clients in this way, can you see some possibilities in your network?

Are you partnered with a graphic designer or two, and hence, positioned to capitalize on opportunities like these?

Simon Says: “People Don’t Buy What You Do; They Buy Why You Do It…”

A little intellectual gymnastics – with possible real-world application to the commercial freelancing business….

So, I was clicking through a few links I found on a writer friend’s web site the other day, and came across this guy, Simon Sinek (pronounced, unfortunately, “cynic,” though he’s anything but that…), whose site is “Start With Why.”

Very provocative stuff, methinks. Check out the video on the home page of Simon speaking (next to the words, “The Golden Circle”). It’s 18 minutes and change, but well worth it for the mind-buzz factor…

Simon’s philosophy can be summed up in this statement on his site:

All organizations and careers function on 3 levels. What you do, How you do it and Why you do it. The problem is, most don’t even know that Why exists.

True enough. And when you have a powerful “Why,” it drives the “How” (the actions taken to realize the “Why”), which in turn, yields the “What” (the tangible end results). Along around minute 11 of the video, he says the following (aggregated from several places in the video):

People don’t buy from you because you have what they want; they buy from you because they believe what you believe. People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And if you talk about what you believe, you’ll attract those who believe what you believe.

I like it. He cites Apple as a company with a core belief in innovation and being first, and predictably, appealing to similar “firsters” (i.e., the people who stood in line for hours to buy the first iPhones at $600 a pop – with bugs and all).

Now, this stuff goes beyond features and benefits. Though, let’s be clear. If you run your copywriting business focusing on benefits (i.e., those things that matter to your clients), NOT features (i.e., those things about you and your business), that’ll generally be enough to set yourself apart from most of the pack.

But, he’s going deeper here. Now, I’m not saying this is The New Answer for the commercial writing field. Rather, that there simply may be some cheese down this tunnel for folks like us. So, how is his philosophy relevant to us? Well, mapping it on to what we do…

Clients don’t buy what we do (i.e., writing services); they buy why we do it (i.e., ________??).

What might be that compelling “Why” for us to share with our clients and prospects? Sure, we could all have ones specific to our businesses, but nothing wrong with a little brainstorming. So, what would be a powerful belief on our part that would draw to us those who share that belief and do business with us as a result?

Would it be, “I believe in the power of words to dramatically influence buyer action”? Too superficial?

Maybe, “Writing has changed history, so it can certainly change minds.” Closer, but perhaps a bit obtuse?

How about, “Speak honestly and the world will listen to you.” Better, though a bit lofty. Thoughts?

Could this strategy be a way for commercial writers to set themselves apart from the pack?

Do you have such a core belief for your business?

If so, how do you share it? Is it outlined on your site? In marketing materials? Shared in meetings?

If not, what core belief or “Why” could you come up with for your business? Or for commercial writing businesses in general?

Ever Had to Sign a “Non-Compete” Agreement Like This One?

Got an interesting note from a commercial freelancer recently:

Recently (and perhaps because of the recession) I’ve been asked to sign non-compete agreements from agencies I work with. The first time I was asked, I said no—and lost the account. Now I’m being asked again, and it happens to be a fairly substantial client.

I have no problem signing a confidentiality agreement, but this non-compete states:

For two years after the date your relationship with (agency) ends, you may not solicit any contractor, independent contractor, or agent of (agency) to work for you or on behalf of any competing business; or solicit any client or customer of (agency) to purchase from you any product or service which competes with any product or service provided by (agency).

My client is obviously paranoid; I think he has been burned in the past. While my town is a reasonably major metro, we only have a handful of large household-name corporations. Essentially, if his clients are one or more of those big companies, then I wouldn’t be able to do any copywriting business with any department in those firms – even those the agency isn’t directly working with.

Some of these companies probably use six different agencies in town. If I sign this agreement, and get a call from one of those other agencies (quite possible), I’d have to turn down that work. Or, if one of the companies themselves wanted to hire me to write, say, internal communications (work outside the agency’s scope), I’d have to turn that down as well. Help!

PB: Maybe I’ve been lucky in my commercial writing career, but I’ve never been asked to sign anything so draconian as this, so in my experience, it’s not at all common. Non-competes are typically used for employees who leave a company and, understandably, that company is a bit hesitant to have them go to work for a competitor for at least a few years. But to require a contractor to not solicit work from their clients or even competing agencies that might work for those clients, for two years? That’s downright preposterous.

Now, I have encountered the wrath of a copywriting client who thought I was going around them to solicit work directly from the client – a BIG no-no, and I get that (talk about paranoid; they saw me swapping cards with an account exec from the client, and made the totally wild leap that I was soliciting work directly from them).

So, this is similar but exponentially more far-reaching, and in a much more locked-down form. I wouldn’t sign it unless you’re okay with being shut out from doing any commercial freelancing jobs for any of these other companies, which I kinda doubt you are. My first instinct is to tell them to go jump in the lake. After all, according to this agreement, you do one $250 job for them, after which they drop you, and you’re shut out from all this potential work for two years. That’s laughable.

But, there’s definitely something else going on here, and a little digging ought to unearth it. You need to craft some sort of win-win. Ferret out their real concern and get to some middle ground. In addition to the quite conceivable inanity of the “one-$250-job” scenario described above, explain that each of their clients might have dozens of people/departments who could potentially hire you, and to do work THEY (the agency) had zero interest in (like collateral, internal communications, etc).

As such, how fair is that they put this blanket rule on ALL business? That’s heavy-handed, greedy, and not at all acting in good faith (just an editorial aside; I probably wouldn’t say that to them, but then again, I just might…).

Why not say you’ll get permission from them before taking on any other work from any division of any of their clients? Or, as a last resort (and not a habit you should get in), if you really want to work with them, and feel the upside potential with them is great (a gamble, obviously), why not offer, say, a 10% “royalty” on any work gotten from within that company?

Assuming their main concern is that you might poach work from them that would be up their alley, if they KNOW they won’t be interested in X kind of work, under the royalty situation, they might actually be motivated to get you in those doors so they make their piece. Not an ideal situation, and if they don’t agree to either of those, I’d absolutely walk.

By the way, I got an update from the freelancer recently:

“My client has agreed to let me propose some changes to that part of the agreement. I have done that, and now I’m waiting for his reply. He is clearly fearful that I am going to solicit his clients, which I think is the result of some past experience he had that is totally unrelated to me. However, I think there is generally a growing paranoia as competition has escalated in the days since the recession hit. I’ll email you with a full update as soon as this is resolved.”

Have you ever run into this situation before?

How did you handle it?

What would you suggest she do?

If crazy-restrictive agreements like these are indeed becoming more common, why do you think that’s the case?

Ad Agency’s Solution to Client Pulling Work In-House Sounds Like the Freelancer Model…

It’s inevitable in an economic downturn. Clients using pricey creative agencies dump them and pull the work in-house. OR outsource it, as we’ve happily discussed in this forum (and elsewhere: check out the GREENS course at this link) to a more economical, low-overhead writer and designer team.

Well, thanks again to commercial freelancer Robin Halcomb (who steered me to a cool resource I included in a comment on my last post) for bringing a most intriguing article to my attention. Entitled “In-house and Outsourced Aren’t the Only Options for Your Clients,” and penned by Sharon Napier, the piece first appeared in Advertising Age on 11/2/09.

The premise was simple – and one with all sorts of positive implications for folks like us. Napier, an ad agency professional, established the challenge:

Losing business because a client takes its work in-house can be a very frustrating challenge for a shop that’s put its heart and soul into coming up with innovative ideas. But what agency folks sometimes forget is that a client’s decision to go in-house usually isn’t driven by creativity or quality of work, but instead by the need for a new operating model, lower costs or faster turnaround. We didn’t want to stand by and watch our clients take that work in-house, nor was it in their best interest for us to try to force-fit it into our standard agency model.

Now, read this next part about her proposed solution to this quandary, and tell me if it doesn’t have a familiar ring…

So, a few years ago, we created a second model, one we call the “in-house outsource,” or studio model. How does it work? Like a traditional model, the clients have a dedicated team to serve their business, one that’s steeped in the client’s brand guidelines, process and work flow. However, for the studio model, the process is streamlined.

There are no account executives or trafficking positions; clients work directly with a designer who is responsible for every aspect of the project, from the first request to the work getting out the door, much like having an on-staff designer. The studio team works as an agency within an agency — it has its own leader, its own process, its own job description and career path.

Sounds a whole lot like a simple freelance copywriter/graphic designer team, no? Napier describes a model that meets a client’s need for lower costs and faster turnaround – something many clients in our world have been getting from talented writer/designer teams for a long time.

So, these creative pros know what clients want and have started bending their business model to deliver just that. With us? No bending required. That’s already who we are. And this new evolution on the part of agencies just reaffirms – in case you had any doubts – the fundamental legitimacy of the freelance model.

Of course, Napier’s premise appears to cover several scenarios: 1) clients pulling in-house ALL the business they’re doing with an agency; or 2) clients pulling certain pieces that many agencies long ago deemed not worth pursuing.

As I’ve pointed out in The Well-Fed Writer, while we commercial writers are unlikely to pick up the high-profile branding work from Fortune 500 firms that’s been the domain of Big Advertising (mainly because, let’s face it, the typical writer/designer team can’t deliver everything a full-service ad agency can…), we can certainly cover the, 1) the “collateral” projects agencies don’t want or aren’t set up to handle; and 2) branding work for relatively smaller firms with the bucks to hire that agency, but which are now tightening their belts.

Of course, Napier’s unspoken message – one that can’t help but elicit a smile – is this: Given the client exodus many in our industry have experienced of late, we can’t afford to be as elitist as before. Translation: We need to figure out how to hang on to this business we previously turned up our noses at. And give them credit for adapting successfully, as Napier’s firm certainly has.

Though you have to wonder whether Napier’s clients, once they get a taste of the lower-priced, streamlined business model on some of their work, don’t start wondering – however illogically, perhaps – why that same model can’t be applied to their other work. Something we commercial freelancers, given our cornerstone value proposition, will never have to wrestle with.

Have you run into a similar scenario with your business?

Have you benefited from a client’s belt-tightening to replace a more expensive creative resource?

Have you approached creative firms (e.g., ad agencies, marketing design firms, etc.), to pick up work they don’t want to deal with (and haven’t adapted to be able to handle)?

Is this giving you ideas you hadn’t previously considered?

Growth in Temps: Bad Sign for Employees, Good Sign for Freelancers

Saw an interesting bit in the Associated Press this morning entitled: “Use of temps may no longer signal permanent hiring” (link).

Here’s an excerpt:

When employers hire temporary staff after a recession, it’s long been seen as a sign they’ll soon hire permanent workers. Not these days. Companies have hired more temps for four straight months. Yet they remain reluctant to make permanent hires because of doubts about the recovery’s durability.

Even companies that are boosting production seem inclined to get by with their existing workers, plus temporary staff if necessary.

“I think temporary hiring is less useful a signal than it used to be,” says John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo. “Companies aren’t testing the waters by turning to temporary firms. They just want part-time workers.”

All of which bodes well for commercial freelancers like us. Now, don’t get me wrong. Certainly don’t want to get gleeful about an ominous economic sign – one that appears to argue against a speedier bounce-back to the economy than perhaps originally anticipated.

That said, I have little control over the speed of the economic recovery, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned through the business ups and down over the past few decades, it’s this: what’s a bad sign for those seeking full-time employment is often a good sign for temporary/contract workers like us.

Fact is, the economy taketh away and the economy giveth. As the above article highlights, if you’re a temporary worker these days, opportunities are rich. And bottom line, that’s exactly what we freelance copywriters are: temporary workers.

And temporary workers like us offer some sound bottom-line pluses to those who hire us:

1) Buy only what they need and only when they need it
2) No salaries, benefits and vacations to provide
3) Fresh “outsider” perspectives
4) Access to a wide range of talent

The rise in temporary worker hiring underscores the growing workload these companies have, but as the article points out, in an uncertain economy, workers like us represent a darn good solution. And companies know it. The clincher: this is nothing new.

Over the past few decades, when the economy hit rough patches, and downsizing was the order of the day, I and others noticed the increased use of copywriting folks like us by companies who’d shed full-time staff (or pricey creative agencies), but still needed to get work out the door. And sure, once things turned around, as the above article points out, many companies added back full-time staff where it just made sense to do so.

However, many small-to-medium-sized companies (say, 50-200 employees and $5-$50 million in revenue; i.e., the business “sweet spot” for commercial writers), having seen, firsthand, the real bottom line advantages of the freelancer model over the full-time employee model – never went back. And it’s happening again as companies realize a lot of the services they need can be delivered by contract workers. And simply put, it’s changing the face of the workplace forever. Note the line in the excerpt above:

Even companies that are boosting production seem inclined to get by with their existing workers, plus temporary staff if necessary.

And heck, companies aren’t the only ones falling in love the idea of independent workers. Freelancers themselves have been discovering the joys of working for themselves for years now. And these days, you can’t spit without hitting yet another article about the rising trend in self-employment.

Sure, for many, it wasn’t their first choice, and in many cases, they had no choice. But, I know plenty of folks who started out as reluctant freelancers out of necessity some years back, got bitten hard by the bug, and like the companies that hire them, they too will never go back. Not just because of the dramatically enhanced quality of life, but because they finally “get” what us long-termers realized a log time ago: there’s far more job security in self-employment than there’ll ever be in a J-O-B.

Have you seen this scenario play out in your business experiences?

Have you had clients contact you to fill the work gap left by departing full-timers (or the dropping of an expensive agency)?

Did you start out as a reluctant freelancer only to be converted forever?