Got the following note from Twin Cities, MN commercial freelancer Megan Tsai (www.RedWagonWriting.com), who thought it might make a good blog post. At first, I didn’t think so, as it wasn’t about commercial writing, but the idea grew on me, and I starting seeing the potential for a good discussion. She wrote:
I sometimes take on assignments for a low-paying national magazine with high production value because I enjoy the work and the clips look great in my portfolio. Typically I take the photos myself or allow the publisher to select stock photos, but because I know the value of these clips and have no use for national photo credits myself, I thought I’d offer the opportunity to a local freelance photographer. As you discuss in your book, many freelancers get their start by doing non-paying work.
I posted a quick ad on Craigslist, explaining this would not be a paid assignment, but would result in some high-quality clips for a freelancer just getting started. I asked that anyone interested shoot me an email with a link to their portfolio. Within minutes, my post had been flagged and removed, and several angry responses posted (the site is self-policing, so it was the freelancers who had it removed, not Craigslist itself). At the same time, I received three emails from interested photographers and dozens of hits on my Web site. So the question becomes, is it fair to deprive fellow freelancers of the opportunity to complete non-paying work, or should this decision be left to the individual?
My take? Megan, you’re right. They’re wrong. I’m a libertarian at heart, believing that people should be free to take or not take work, and no one should dictate the conditions under which that happens. You offered a “free market transaction”: people were free to respond or not, and for others to attack you and move to remove your post note, was wrong.
Those applauding the freelancers’ decision to silence you think they’re “standing up for the rights of creative practitioners to be paid what they’re worth” as if you were forcing them to work for nothing. Instead, as you pointed out, what they were doing was indeed depriving freelancers who wanted to exercise their right to do non-paying work (to build their book and reputation) to do so. And in this case, even more so, because it wasn’t as if the publication was going to pay a photographer “market” rates for the gig.
That decision should be no one’s to make but a given freelancer. Yes, I understand the philosophy that says, “If you encourage the idea of working for free, you cheapen the value of what any practitioner in that field does.” Arguably true, but still not your decision to make for someone else. And not compelling enough in my books to make that decision “for the good of the industry” under the guise of protecting rights. Obviously, those people who responded positively to your ad didn’t feel they needed anyone else’s protection.
As I see it, is there any substantive difference between what they did and, say, removing an ad for a TV you had offered for $50 that they thought should have been worth $200? For those who’d say, “That’s different,” I’d ask “How so?” Whether a TV or someone’s time, you’re still deciding for someone else what the value of that thing is, and that’s not your decision to make. And, yes, the same would go for commercial freelancers willing to work for free or for far less than their competitors. I don’t like to see it, but it’s their right to decide, not mine. And until this economy improves, we’re likely to see more and more of this.
Granted, for most established commercial writing practitioners, we’re not likely to find too many newbies beating us out on sophisticated commercial writing projects (e.g., brochures, ad copy, direct mail, case studies, etc.) by working for free or for $25 an hour (they’re more likely to operate on online writing job sites and in the online article writing realm), but I’m still interested in hearing people’s take on this.
Your thoughts on this subject?
Have you had any similar experience of being on either side of a situation like this?
Where do you draw the line between individual’s rights and the “greater good of the industry”?
There’s no doubt, it’s been a tough year for most businesses.
The economy sucks, and many business owners are feeling the pain at the register.
That’s precisely why it’s been a good year for me, because I know that businesses need my copywriting services now more than ever. Now, I’m a direct response marketing copywriter, so my writing has much to do with the success or failure of marketing campaigns.
With my role being so critical in a business’ success, I market my services to that point exactly.
But this post isn’t about me. It’s about you, and the opportunities you must recognize in this “state of the economy.” Here’s the key:
When I started to notice that the “reason why” clients were hiring me started to change, I simply needed to change my “reason why” to match that of my potential clients.
It’s called message-to-market matching, and it’s a skill you must master for the long, tough economy ahead or suffer the consequences.
So, how do you match how you’re marketing your copywriting services to your potential market?
You ask them. It really is that simple.
Simply interview the type of client you want to serve. Ask them about their business, talk to them as “business owner to business owner” and they’ll start to reveal to you the very problems that you need to be solving with your marketing so you can skyrocket your freelance copywriting business.
It really boils down to starting a conversation, and just talking naturally to your potential client. Don’t sell anything, don’t “try to do” anything. Just talk to them about their favorite person: them.
That’s the secret, the very simple secret, that has my 2008 ending very well. I want yours to as well…so…
Do you use any methods that are working/not working to gain clients? Why/why not?
Have you followed this strategy and asked your clients to tell you about their businesses? If so, what came out of it?
Are there any obstacles that if you overcame them, you feel your business would skyrocket? (Think in terms of how you interact with people, what types of objections you’re facing etc.)
Joseph Ratliff is a Lacey, WA-based internet business growth specialist, direct response copywriter, and editor of The Profitable Business Edge 2 blog. He has been writing copy for over 7 years, and coaching online (and offline) business owners for the last 3 years to increase profits with their marketing. He uses a special marketing methodology when he works with each of his clients that is guaranteed not to fail, or Joe keeps working with you until it does, for no additional fees. For all the details (and to check out his blog), visit http://josephratliff.name and click on “Coaching Services.”
All networking was not created equal. While I’ve heard plenty of Chamber/association networking success stories over the years, it’s usually when people get actively involved in the organization and boost their visibility. But, by and large, the “cattle call” networking event never did much for me – empirically or spiritually. Such events always feel so mercenary, full of mutual “objectifying”: other attendees aren’t humans, just potential sales.
WA graphic designer Mike Klassen weighs in with this guest blog appearance on the subject, challenging FLCWs to rethink how they approach “networking” and offering up some smart alternatives. Thanks, Mike, for the great contribution!
One of the top recommendations to build a business is to… NETWORK.
Unfortunately, brand new freelancers don’t always appreciate that networking is more than just showing up at some Chamber networking event or striking up a conversation about your business in the grocery store.
After doing things the hard way as a beginner myself, I found that if I’m really going to be efficient about networking and landing the type of clients I need to meet my financial goals, I need to be more particular about where I put my networking efforts.
Let’s take the traditional Chamber of Commerce networking event. It’s typically promoted as a way to reach others with your products or services – in your case, writing. That’d be great if they promoted the event to everyone else as a way to hire you to write copy. But they’re not, are they?
Nope. It’s marketed as a way for everyone to sell what they have. For it to work, though, someone needs to be a buyer. But, buying something rarely enters anyone’s mind.
Plus, many of these events are attended by small business owners, most of whom can’t afford our rates. To them, copywriting is an expense, not an investment. As long as they have Word with spell-checking enabled, they’ll tackle their writing tasks on their own. Sure, there are success stories, but in my experience and that of many colleagues, large scale successes (i.e., landing writing jobs) at “come one, come all” events are the exception, not the rule. Here’s a better idea…
Look for networking events where those attending are likely to truly need you, already appreciate the value a writer brings, and can afford to pay you what you’re worth. Let me give you two examples of what I call “off-the-beaten-path” networking:
A writer/marketer colleague attended a networking event for Americans and Canadians involved in cross-border trade, where attendees discussed trade regulations, security issues, marketing techniques, and more. While I’m sure sales were made, that wasn’t the point of the event and it wasn’t marketed as such. Yet, arguably, everyone there placed a high value on writing skills in their efforts to promote and sell their products. My friend was the only one in the room providing that type of service. By the end of the evening, she had extremely high-quality leads to follow-up on.
A website design colleague attended a seminar on online marketing. Attendees either had a product ready to market, or were looking to develop one. Since it was an “online” marketing event, how many attendees do you think might have had need for a website designer? Like the other colleague I mentioned, this web designer left the event not only with lots of high-quality leads but also a handful of immediate jobs.
So, yes, networking can occur anywhere. But if you’re going to put your time into it, why not target networking events that increase your odds of success?
What sorts of networking events have been the most fruitful for you?
If you’ve been successful at the “cattle call” type of event described above, what was your strategy?
Any good networking success stories (complete with “Lesson Learned”) you care to share?
Mike Klassen is a freelance designer and writer. His eBook, “I Still Can’t Draw Stick Figures” documents his journey from the corporate to freelance world, and the lessons learned along the way. He also shares his freelancing experiences on his blog. For more information, visit http://www.mikeklassen.com
Okay, need some input here. As you all know, the subtitle to The Well-Fed Writer is “Financial Self-Sufficiency As a Freelance Writer in Six Months or Less.” When TWFW came out in 2000, that subtitle was no hype. After all, I was paying all my bills through commercial freelancing less than four months after hanging out my shingle.
Given the upcoming release of the updated version of TWFW (1Q/09), I’m rethinking this. Can someone, starting from scratch, indeed create a financially stable income stream from this business in 180 days or less? And if not, what would be a fair number?
I can hear you: “Well, it depends.” Course it does. Everyone’s starting in a different place. For someone coming out of, say, a corporate marketing position, with a pile of samples from their old job, a bunch of contacts and perhaps a few clients who’ve already whispered, “Count on me if you go solo” in their ear, I’d say six months is mighty doable. Obviously, someone with little of any of that is going to take a whole lot longer.
I can count on the fingers of one hand, minus 2 or 3, the number of folks who’ve bitched at me in the past eight years because it took them longer than six months. So, I’m not terribly worried about a bunch of whiney “You promised!” emails. I just want to be straight with people. I say it was easier when I started way back when, but that could have been my imagination: you’re in a groove, all pumped, nothing’s going to stop you, maybe it just seems easier. Can’t be sure. Hence the question. And yes, Jon, I know, if I think it’s easy, I’m right. And if I think it’s hard, I’m also right… 😉
But if it is a bit harder, conventionally speaking (and by definition, being a book title, it has to speak to everyone), I’d like the title to reflect that. And it needs to reflect how long it would take that mythical average person starting out – sort of a generally-speaking number. I’m sorta leaning toward 12 months. Sounds realistic, but still has a bit ‘o the “wow” factor (more so, of course, if you never saw the first one…).
What magic number would you put in this title? Twelve months?
If you’ve been in the business for more than 5 years (and preferably at least 7-8), do you think it’s harder than when you started, and if so, how so?
So, there’s this commercial writing bloke in the UK named Jon McCulloch who first contacted me shortly after The Well-Fed Writer came out in 2000. We’ve kept in touch over the years and I’ve had a front-row seat to his at-times painful struggles through myriad challenges – personal and professional. But, those times are long in the past. To say this erstwhile technical writer has found his niche would an understatement of biblical proportions. We’ll get to that niche in a moment…
One of Jon’s key business-building tools is writing free articles for small local publications. After viewing one of his pieces (details below) and commenting on it to him, he pointed out, “Notice how in the article, I tell them what they need to do, but not how to do it.” By way of good, though somewhat elusive content, he’s a master at building the intrigue and curiosity about his services. And according to him, each column he writes brings him roughly a dozen leads.
Leads for what? His different lead-generation packages. But check this out; here’s how he works: His phone is answered by voice mail. His assistant will then set up a complimentary 15-minute chat with the prospective client, just to decide if HE wants to work with them. If that goes well, he’ll let them pay him $697 for a one-hour consultation to get the parameters of the project. If they both agree there’s a fit, he takes them on as a client.
While his different packages vary in their scope, these days, he’s more than likely to push AND land his full-featured direct mail campaign. Which, incidentally, sells for $37,997. No negotiation. No discounts. The components? A direct mail letter, postcards, lead-generation advertising in offline media, press releases, articles, email-responders, squeeze pages, and, he says, “all the advice they can eat… and anything else that really comes up.” It takes him roughly six weeks to execute.
He reportedly has people lined up to do business with him. Talk about building a mystique around what you do. He knows he’s a good writer, but is convinced that his success is as much, if not more, about mindset as it is about talent.
Click here for a blog post of his strategy. Later on in the piece, click on the link that reads: “here’s a copy of April’s column in the local paper I write for every month” to see one of those pieces.
Do you write free articles to generate business and if so, what have your results been?
What role does mindset – about your abilities and the fees you deserve – play in your success?