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?
So, I’m working on a project with this agency and they start hinting at this other gig. Seems they’ve been writing the copy for this consumer products line for seven years, and while the client is fine with the design work they’ve been doing, they’re just not thrilled with the copywriting. They wanted me to take a look at the latest round of copy and see if I had any ideas. But, before I did, they gave me the deal on the situation. Get this…
They can only use a pre-approved list of words – no deviating. The middle management layers of approval have their own biases AND their own need to justify their existences by making changes or otherwise showing their disapproval. And after those managers are done, they’ve culled down the three concepts that the firm gives them to ONE, which is the one they have the agency creatively execute and then present to the top boss. ONE concept.
And gee, big surprise, he often isn’t nuts about it. Give someone ONE idea to choose from, and that’s a whole lot of pressure to like it. Give someone three to choose from, and even if you know which one you want them to choose, by having a few others there as “filler,”? you make it easier for the client to like yours. Of course, clients are notorious for turning that particular piece of logic on its head and loving one of the filler concepts. But hey, if they’re happy and we get paid, life could be a lot worse.
It was clear to me right from the get-go that the issue wasn’t the copy – it was fine. It was the process that was the issue – a process structured in such a way to make it nearly impossible for the agency to succeed.
And heck, for all we know, this account is one of those that likes to keep their vendors in a constant state of anxiety about their worth to the company. Praise ‘em too much and they might just start asking for more money. Keep convincing them that “you’re just not quite hitting the mark, but I guess we’ll go ahead and use your lame copy anyway…”? But seven years into the process, they’re still working for them, so maybe they don’t suck that badly after all…
As many of you know, this craziness is more common in Corporate America than most people would ever imagine. Well, needless to say, I said, “Pass.”? NOT interested in working under those circumstances. Feels good to say no sometimes.
What sorts of client/project situations do you run from?
Last year, I leased a postage meter from the company that shares my initials. Their introductory special offer became more understandable after seeing the bloated prices they charged for supplies. Some time back, I started getting regular “Low Ink!” warnings on the meter. Their cost to replace the slightly-bigger-than-a-pack-of-Tic-Tacs-sized cartridge? $47 + $8.50 shipping (UPS Ground). 56 bucks. On a whim, I called my neighborhood Cartridge World (www.cartridgeworld.com), a low-cost, high-service, friendly cartridge refiller franchise (from Down Under, incidentally…). $28 refilled, drive-out price. But it gets better.
When I handed it over to the guy at CW, he started walking to the back of the store, then stopped, hefted it gently, and said, “This doesn’t feel empty.”? He knew exactly what it should weigh both full and empty, and a few moments later, he comes back: “It’s still about one-third to one-half full.” Nice. Thanks, guys.
Oh, and up yours, PB (them, PB, not me, PB), for hoping I’d just do as I was told and toss roughly $20-25 worth of ink and pony up another 56 clams. I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall at THAT meeting: “I know, we’ll set the machines to give premature low-ink warnings so we’ll increase ink sales by 37.56%! Wow, what a genius! Give him a raise!” Guess it never occurred to them that they’ve got competition on supplies, and even worse, honest folks who can bust them SO easily. Not smart. And now I’m writing about it. So they lose my supplies business along with that of probably a bunch of others, too.
P.S. I finally returned for a replacement cartridge nearly four months later.
P.P.S. When it came time to order mailing strips, THEY wanted over $80 for two boxes of double strips – delivered. Got the same thing from a competitor for $22 – to my door.
How do you make sure your copywriting clients keep coming back to you instead of going to the competition?