So, I’m hanging out with family for a few days in that dead zone at the end of the year, feeling like I need to be a little introspective….meaningful… significant… Y’know, that “let’s-reflect-on-2009” backwards glance (I know, many of you would just as soon not) “and-look-forward-to-2010” optimism (better).
Actually, all I really want to do is veg out, sleep late, eat too many holiday treats, and be monumentally unproductive. And so far, for the most part, mission accomplished.
If that’s you, too, let’s rouse ourselves up for a few moments of lucidity, brush the cookie crumbs off our ratty sweats, switch off the TV (fret not; it’ll still be there when we’re done, ready to once again serve up all manner of inanity), pensively grasp our chins in hand, and ponder what’s been and what’s coming for us commercial freelancers. A few stream-of-consciousness musings…
The world has changed for most Americans this year. But if unemployment stands at 10 percent, that means…
Employment stands at 90 percent.
The overwhelming majority of companies still open their doors and answer their phones every Monday. They still have to market (even more so now), still have to sell, and still have to communicate with employees. And that means a lot of writing. Yes, some have pulled those tasks in-house, reducing many a freelancer’s rates and pipeline volumes, but at the same time, consider that…
Many companies have dropped pricey agencies or design firms, or jettisoned creative/communications staffs, but still need to get the work done.
Think they’d be receptive to a smart, creative, strategic commercial writer/designer team? I’d bet on it. Now’s the time to forge those alliances so you’re prepared to offer prospects end-to-end solutions, not writing services. In that vein…
Stop thinking of yourselves as freelance writers (that’s about us: features). We’re problem-solvers (that’s about them: benefits), and speaking to clients in those terms will resonate.
Many smaller companies have folded and many more will disappear before the pendulum swings back. But, chances are, the ones hanging tough are smart and savvy – just the kind to understand the value of good copywriting. Because, after all…
Writing is the engine of commerce, and don’t you ever forget it.
No product or service gets explained, promoted, marketed, publicized or purchased, and no one gets informed, educated, pitched or sold…without writing. And none of the preceding gets done well without good writing. Writing is the alpha and the omega of all business and is present at every stage of every business strategy, process, campaign and transaction. Nothing happens without words. So, what’s your writing gift?
Figure out what writing value you offer.
You won’t get hired by any company unless you deliver something of real value they can’t do themselves. If you’re able to deliver great copy AND dispense sage marketing advice to companies going through a rough patch, you’ll be in demand (of course, many who’ve shared with me of late how well things are going already know that).
Maybe you’re able to transform complex subjects into accessible copy. Perhaps you’re an expert on X subject or Y project type. Whatever it is…
Make sure your web site clearly showcases what you do, is easy to get around and assumes that prospects have no time whatsoever to hunt (the truth).
If even just writing well is your strong suit, remember:
Bad writing is everywhere. It’s epidemic.
There are plenty of firms that would hugely benefit from nothing more than clear, coherent marketing materials and web content. Regardless of your gift, how to find them? Well, if your usual watering holes have dried up, consider that…
It’s a numbers game, and the Law of Averages is ironclad.
Landing business may have become an uncertain proposition, but one absolute constant is the Law of Averages. Knock on enough doors and you’ll find the work. Guaranteed. So, dust off your phone prospecting skills. I know, yuck. But it works. Every time. And that’s powerful stuff.
These days, me-too pessimism is the easy path, so let’s be contrarian and upbeat, shall we? No glibness intended. No question, the tough times are real. AND, last I checked, we’re still the gatekeeper of our thoughts. Even if you don’t feel like it, play along anyway, and after you’re done, there are a few holiday cookies, the remote and a nap waiting for you.
Why are you bullish about 2010?
What are you going to do more of in 2010? Less of?
What negative habit are you going to jettison in 2010?
What trends do you think bode well for commercial freelancers?
In the June 2009 issue of The Well-Fed E-PUB, I ran a piece summarizing copywriting guru Marcia Yudkin’s take on direct mail marketing vs. email marketing. Marcia came down on the side of using direct mail marketing to promote a commercial freelancing business, and for these reasons:
1) If you irritate a client with your email, or they change providers without notifying you, or just try to reduce their volume, you’ve lost them forever. Mail? As she points out: “Way fewer people request no postal mailings.”?
2) Many folks filter and file incoming email without looking at it. Mail? “Hardly anyone discards a postcard, though, without at least glancing at both sides.”?
3) Finally, and perhaps most compelling, she observes: Email volume is rising while postal volume is dropping. Guess which medium it’s easier to stand out in”?
Right after the issue ran, I heard a counterpoint from LA FLCW Andrew Hindes, “The In-House Writer,” who’s had some good success with email marketing for promoting his commercial writing business. They are both right, which just underscores that there’s no ONE right way to do things. Andrew wrote:
1) People tend to respond to email immediately. Sure, they may delete it, but they might also reply with, “We’ll keep you in mind,” “Can you send me some samples?” “What are your rates?” or “We never us outside writers.”? This is useful in determining whether a prospect is worth pursuing in the future. With a post card, unless the recipient needs help right away—or knows they will in the near future—they’re not likely to respond.
2) An email can link to your website. True, a postcard can include your site’s URL, but clicking on a link is a lot easier – and hence more likely – than typing the URL into a browser. Once a prospect visits your site, there are numerous ways you can further engage them, including newsletters, special offers, etc.
3) Emails can easily be forwarded. If your message doesn’t reach the correct contact at the company, the recipient can pass it on to the right person with a few keystrokes. Or they may forward it later to someone they know is looking for a writer. This has happened to me on numerous occasions.
4) It’s easier for the client to cut and paste your contact info from an email into Outlook or another address book program than to type it from a post card.
5) Unless your postcard is incredibly beautiful or compelling, an executive is not likely to keep it around for long. Most people go through their mail within tossing distance of the recycling bin (I know I do). And even if they do keep you card, it’s likely to be buried under a pile the next time they’re looking for a writer. On the other hand, most people are bad at deleting old emails unless they do it right away. So if your email is still in their inbox, they can pull it up using sort or search functions.
6) Email is cheaper. I usually hire a graphic designer and use custom printing in an effort to create cards I hope will really stand out. But even using the online service you mention at $300 for 1,000 post cards, once you add the 28 cents for postage you’re up to $580 total for the mailing (or 44 cents for an oversized card, for a $740 total mailing cost). 1,000 emails? Priceless (and costless!).
7) Because email messages are cheaper and you can easily create them yourself, it’s very convenient and cost-effective to test different copy and headlines. I typically create three or four different emails and try each one on 25 prospects. If one gets a significantly higher response rate, I use that one on the rest of my list – including those who didn’t respond to the previous message. After all, I’ve got nothing to lose – and it’s free.
What’s been your experience with both?
Has one worked better than the other, and if so, why do you think that’s so?
Have you used any other related strategy to good effect?
Okay, so I’m not on Twitter yet but, against the odds, I’ve become intrigued. And I’m intrigued because I’ve decided to look beyond the silly, pointless “sharing-of-random-neural-firings” use of it that you often hear first about it (i.e., all the stuff that no one with anything even resembling a life would give a rat’s heiney about).
But those things sort of miss the point. And the smart marketers realize that. Think about when the telephone was first invented. Imagine if the first publicized uses of were, say, as a doorstop or a paperweight. I know, stupid, but that’s a bit like the way Twitter felt when it first debuted. But that’s changing, and we’re only starting to REALLY see the potential of this baby.
In the past few weeks, I’ve come across some very interesting stories involving Twitter. I shared one in an email last week (in publicizing the Social Media Success Summit 2009) about a fellow writer who, because of her familiarity with Twitter, was likely to be chosen by a Fortune 100 giant rolling out a new product, to cover the event, including Twittering about it daily for three weeks.
What started out as a $5K “maybe” just gelled last week into a $15+K green-lighted project. I have to imagine a company this big isn’t dropping cash like that just to chase a fad. They know that the people they want to reach are on Twitter. And here’s an article about others…
Then, heard from another friend asking advice. Seems a prominent organization at whose high-tech conference he spoke welshed on a deal he had with them, in writing. When he confronted them, both in person and in subsequent emails, their responses – each one nastier and more entrenched than the last – essentially boiled down to “TS. Take a hike.”
Until the day he Twittered offhandedly to his colleagues that he was contemplating “naming names” publicly… Suddenly, they contacted him with a totally different tone. They’re now in negotiations. Love it.
Finally, read about a woman having problems with her DSL. She goes to Twitter (after reading that her ISP had 8 FT employees assigned solely to monitoring Twitter), posts a message, and in one minute flat, she gets a Tweet back from the ISP. They assign a tech to her, who tells her that complaints they get through Twitter go right to the top and that he’ll stay on it till it’s solved. And he does.
As I see it, with Twitter, the operative question is this:
What’s the power and potential of a tool that almost organically connects many thousands of people to a point where, ultimately, little can happen in one place without the whole eventually knowing about it?
Ponder that. Viewed through that lens, it’s actually a pretty fascinating phenomenon. In the short term, it’s shaping up as a wonderful tool to ensure transparency, to keep entities honest and ethical where they once could behave badly, and with impunity. And given the short-and-sweet 140-character nature of the medium, it’s also becoming a way for companies and individuals, if they can master the effective writing side of it (are your ears perking up?), to relatively quickly influence opinions, trends, buying habits and who knows what else?
What are your thoughts on this?
Stretching your imagination, what do you think Twitter’s impact could ultimately be?
Any good Twitter stories?
How can we, as commercial freelancers, capitalize on this intriguing tool?
By the way, check out the Social Media Success Summit 2009. Enrollment has topped 730 so far! And until May 25th, you’ll save $100 off the $497 price – pretty darn reasonable for 11 sessions of quality content, nearly $400 worth of bonuses, access to recording/transcripts of ALL sessions, and interactive forum before, during and after the event. Details here.
Good friend Michael Stelzner just released a killer report (and free, tool!) on social media, compiled from the input of some 900 folks. Entitled Social Media Marketing Industry Report: How Marketers Are Using Social Media to Grow Their Businesses, it’s available for download here.
Among the key findings?
Marketers are mostly new to social media: A significant 88% of marketers
surveyed are using social media to market their businesses, BUT 72% have only
been doing so for a few months or less.
How much time does this take? A significant 64% of marketers are using social
media for 5 hours or more each week and 39% for 10 or more hours weekly.
The top benefit of social media marketing: The number-one advantage is
generating exposure for the business, indicated 81% of all marketers, followed
by increasing traffic and building new business partnerships.
The top social media tools: Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn and Facebook were the top
four social media tools used by marketers, in that order.
Now, I haven’t made much of a secret out of the fact that I’m not big on social media right now for my commercial freelancing business. And judging from the first finding above, I’m not that far behind most folks. I’m guessing I’ll get on the bandwagon at some point, but it’s the second finding above that has me push back: The Timesuck.
I already spend enough time sitting in front of my computer; last thing I want to do is spend another hour+ a day (at the least) doing just that, and for what appears to be an as-yet undetermined payoff. My goal is to enjoy REAL life more, not just get better at the virtual one.
But, hey, I realize that’s possibly a short-sighted point of view, and there are no doubt ways for commercial copywriters like us to get maximum benefit from minimal effort (yup, guess that makes me a typical lazy card-carrying member of the human race). I figure I’ll wait till the rest of the world sorts it out rather than be part of the beta-test group.
I also realize that it IS working for many people, so I’d love to hear from you commercial freelancers about how you’re using it to build your businesses.
Are you active in social media (i.e., LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Plaxo)?
If so, which are you using, and what’s been your experience?
Most importantly, has it brought you more business in some specific, measurable ways? Or in less obvious, but still promising ways?
I do these group dinner gatherings to little ethnic holes-in-the-wall every month or so. Always fun. I put a menu together with the restaurant and anywhere from 15 to 50 people show up, pay a flat fee, and enjoy. Nice way to enjoy good food, community and conversation.
This one couple comes to most of them. At the last one I did a few weeks back, as they were leaving, he says, “Oh, make sure you tune into the news at 11 tonight. They’re doing a little piece on Judy!”
Ah yes, that would make sense. After all, Judy is an estate liquidator. If ever there was a recession-proof business, that would be it. And she knows it. The worse things get, the busier and more profitable she becomes. Got me thinking. Are there such things are recession-proof businesses that are good prospects for commercial freelancers? Businesses that are doing well right now because of the economy and as a result, have the money and the inclination to spend it on getting the word out about what they do?
I’m working with a commercial writing client right now who’s awfully close to fitting the bill. She’s a consultant to small colleges, helping them increase enrollment – whether in times of upheaval (internally or externally generated) or not. And she’s got such a great track record that she stays as busy as she wants to be. And some of these colleges are so small (300-400 students) that adding just 20-30 students a year is huge for their bottom line.
I started out doing marketing materials for her own business, but pretty soon, she realized that I wasn’t half-bad at this writing thing (and yes, I’m getting my rate), and she started introducing me to her clients. Sweet. I’ll be talking to her later today to go over a whole list of projects one client wants done over the next few months and to give her an estimate.
There will always be a market for her particular skills among schools looking to bump up their enrollment, and everyone wants that – in bad times and good. And as long as I keep doing good work for her and those clients, the prospects for continued referrals are pretty bright.
Have you worked with any clients in recession-proof businesses or industries?
What might be some recession-proof businesses commercial freelancers could pursue? I can think of funeral homes, the alcohol industry, pawn shops and yes, estate liquidation and other bankruptcy-related businesses. Some more promising than others for sure. Any other thoughts?