Does Service Like THIS Give You Any Ideas?

(Sorry for the delay in posting, but was in the process of upgrading the blog to a brand-new and far more stable WordPress theme. I know it looks very similar but that was one of the challenges. Hope you like!)

Okay, so this isn’t a commercial-writing customer service story, but as an impressive example of Unexpected Outstanding Service, it’s a great lesson for anyone running a business, including commercial freelancers like us.

A few months back, my car went temporarily kaput (ignition-coil issue). As an AAA member, I called for roadside assistance, but due to a roughly 24-hour outage in the automated roadside-assistance system (they weren’t having a good day, either…), members in the affected areas had to pay for their tows up front, and then submit the bill for reimbursement.

A bit of a hassle, but given AAA’s historically tight ship, I didn’t mind all that much. I had a check in hand in a few weeks. And I promptly forgot about. But they didn’t…

A few weeks later I got a letter in the mail from AAA. After explaining the unfortunate string of events on the day in question, here’s a screen shot of the operative paragraph:

AAAServiceLtrClip

Wow. As noted, I’d forgiven and forgotten, and the incident would have weighed on me not at all come renewal time. So, this mighty magnanimous gesture was quite the breath of fresh air. They didn’t have to do it, and I wouldn’t have held it against them. And that’s the point, and what made it so unexpected, and, by extension, so special.

You can guess what I did when I got the letter: Yup. I shared the story with several friends, and, needless to say, thought enough of their gesture to give them some additional publicity on this blog.

I have no idea how many AAA members were affected in those states during that period, but I have to imagine it wasn’t a trivial number. But they unhesitatingly took a likely sizable financial hit, in the interest of doing the right thing.

As freelance commercial writers, offering up a similarly impressive and unexpected act of service would likely cost us far less, while still buying us a more-than-healthy measure of goodwill and client loyalty.

Sure, we can’t give away free stuff all the time, but assuming were talking about a good commercial copywriting client—one that pays us well and keeps hiring us—a periodic affirmation of their decision to work with us is never a bad idea.

Have you ever delivered an unexpected bonus to your clients – either to make up for a mistake, or as simply a random act of kindness?

If so, what happened as a result?

Can you recall a time when you should’ve done so, but didn’t?

Does this story give you any ideas?

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

Are You Seeing this “Client Expectation” in Your Market?

Got this email from a budding commercial freelancer in New Jersey, who wrote:

I am in Central New Jersey, and I am seeing people who were previously “writers” now resurfacing as “marketing experts.” I’ve had a couple of them tell me that it’s not enough just to be a writer anymore, that you need to provide analytics and in-bound marketing plans through platforms like Hubspot. Are you seeing this in Atlanta or other markets?

My reply?

I’m definitely not seeing this. That said, being able to offer things like that can only help a given commercial writer’s marketability, but no, certainly isn’t something I’m noticing more and more of. Over time, you may choose to expand your offerings beyond just copywriting, but I wouldn’t feel the overwhelming need to do so right out of the gate.

I am seeing more and more, the important of SEO (Search-Engine Optimization) to an overall marketing plan, BUT that skill is coming from other people. While a commercial copywriter who has some of those skills can definitely be an asset to a client, in the projects I’m working on, no one expected me to have those skills, and it was just assumed that there’d be another person (i.e., someone who ONLY does that) handling that piece.

And that was being driven by the fact that Google keeps changing rules to the point where an SEO layman just isn’t going to be able to keep up.

Also, don’t get all caught up with “trends.” Sure, anything you can add to your services can potentially make you more marketable, but you only need a teeny bit of the business out there to make a good living, and you can get that in any number of ways. And, in my experience, plenty of clients JUST need writers.

Are you seeing this trend where you are?

Has your business suffered because you were “only a writer”?

Are you doing fine even though you ARE “only a writer”?

Are there certain services clients are expecting you to deliver that they didn’t used to?


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

Even After 22 Years as a Copywriter, I Still Wrestle with This One…

So, I’ve been dealing with several cases of “scope creep” of late: when a copywriting project goes beyond the agreed-upon (in writing) parameters. We’d like to think it’s pretty cut and dried: If the project scope goes beyond what you contracted, they pay more. Period.

And, sometimes it is easy, and the client “gets it,” and you get your extra money. But as I’ve discovered, it’s a heckuva lot easier to talk tough when you’re discussing the idea in the abstract vs. being in the middle of a real-world situation and about to have an uncomfortable conversation with a commercial writing client. Especially if it’s your first gig with them. You want to stand up for what you’re owed, but, sometimes, you have to give to get.

(NOTE: You see my “(in writing”) bit above? Do not even think of moving ahead with any commercial writing project without some sort of written agreement (even if it’s just the simple one-pager I discuss in TWFW). I can’t believe how many commercial freelancers have sent me “What do I do now?” emails over the years, because what they discussed (i.e., as opposed to put in writing) with their client as far as a scope has now expanded, and the client doesn’t want to pay them any more. And while I’m sorry they’re going through that, they only have themselves to blame. ‘Nuff said.)

So, I had one of those gray-area projects recently. I was working with a graphic design team on a commercial project for one of their clients. After meetings with the end client, we submitted a creative brief to the client, outlining our proposed direction. The client signed off on the direction, and I came up with a first draft.

My design client loved it, and felt it nailed what the client said they wanted. But, after we submitted it, the client said, “Now that I see this, I realize that that (i.e., the concept that the project was based around, and which they signed off on) just doesn’t really capture what we’re all about. We’re really about this.” Pretty straightforward, right? They changed direction, so we renegotiate, right? Well….

So, he wanted us to rework the copy with a new direction. And not having worked with a creative team before, he just doesn’t get that he can’t just change direction in mid-stream, and expect that there won’t be a change in fee. Plus, they’re a non-profit and with a tight budget. And, stickiest of all, he’s such a nice guy, and so sincere and earnest (and yes, clueless in his way), that it’s just really tough to say, “No can do.”

So, I discuss with my design clients, and while we both agree that it’s not right for the client to do this at no additional charge (and, this means more work for me, not them, since we’re not at the design stage yet), I make a decision. I say, “Listen, we’re right; they’re wrong. But, I’m happy to do another round if it makes them happy.”

And I arrived at that decision after a simple calculation, and after looking at the big picture: How much work this design firm has given me over the past 2-3 years, how they never haggle over my fees, how they look out for me, and how hard they work to make my job as hassle-free as possible.

Viewed through that lens, it’s a pretty easy decision. Sure, if I stood my ground, they’d have totally understood, but by taking the high road, I absolutely endear myself to them.

They’re delighted and relieved that I’m willing to “take one for the team,” and they agree with me unequivocally, that if the client pulls this again, they’re putting their foot down in no uncertain terms.

This commercial freelancing business of ours is so great largely because we get paid very well, and by clients, who, overwhelmingly, know how the world works, and don’t play games over fees. And for every deal like this, where you eat some hours, inevitably, there are those gigs where you quote $4K, the client says, “Let’s do it,” and the project takes, only, say, 21 hours.

So, it all evens out in the end. Not necessarily with the same client, but across your client base as a whole. As such, you’ll ensure your happy longevity in the business by taking that long view, and knowing that while you may have to give here, you’ll get it back over there. And if, in the process, you can make solid money, and enjoy your work on most days, and, on your lifestyle terms, life is pretty good.

What’s your philosophy on projects that go beyond scope?

Do you take them on a case-by-case basis or stick to a firm policy?

Have you had a similar situation to the above, and if so, how did you handle it?

Any other comments or insights to share?

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

Your Portfolio: Stop Making it So Hard (Guest Post)

PB Note: A provocative post from Indianapolis-based commercial freelancer Andrea Emerson. I don’t agree with all her points in all situations, but it’s a solid and well-reasoned piece. And to me, it just underscores, yet again, that there’s no “One Right Way” to run your copywriting business. Takes a healthy level of confidence to take this stance right out of the gate, but her “read” on clients, and what they don’t like, is solid. Thanks, Andrea!

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An alternate headline for this post could’ve been “Why Most Freelance Writer Portfolios Suck.” Because they do.

Take a gander at freelance writer forums and you’ll notice a lot of advice about how to put together a writing portfolio. Often, that involves a physical binder showcasing printed copies of your work.

Don’t do that.

I never have, never will. As you can guess, I have pretty strong feelings about it.

Let me take you to a meeting I had a few months ago with Daniel, the owner of a local marketing firm. I contacted Daniel via LinkedIn, pointing out we shared a few mutual acquaintances, and making myself available for freelance commercial work. He didn’t have a need for a new copywriter at the moment, but invited me to stop by his office for a chat since, you know, all marketing agencies have an insatiable need for content.

I came to the meeting with a notepad and a pen. Nothing else. We talked about the needs of his agency and how those needs aligned with my forté and background. At the end of our time together, Daniel said:

“Hey, send me a work sample or two. Just the stuff you’re most proud of.”

Then, he added:

“I hate it when writers send me a bunch of writing samples. I don’t have time for that.”

I chuckled because, (1) I’d heard this before, and (2) I could SO relate.

Years earlier, while working in the corporate world, I occasionally interviewed candidates for marketing communications jobs. I hated — HATED — when someone walked in with a fat binder and insisted on walking me through every page.

First of all, it’s impossible to mentally digest and make judgments on so much content during a job discussion. The best I could do was to jump around the material, gazing at headlines and sentences in a random fashion, then zone out the rest. My eyes glazed over in a hurry.

So what’s the alternative?

Here’s how I’ve approached it. I did link to work samples on my website, but never shared those links with prospects until they asked for it.

You see, the purpose of your first or second interaction with prospects is just to tease them — to create interest and start a conversation. Don’t expect to close the sale with your first email or phone call. (In fact, don’t even try. It may happen, but it’s a huge turnoff if you push for it.)

If interested, the prospect would naturally talk about his/her needs, then ask me for samples. Armed with what I’ve learned about them, I’d email just 3-5 select samples that were relevant to what they were looking for.

Eventually, I also deleted most of the samples on my website. I had started with 10-15 samples and one day I thought, “What prospect in his right mind is going to read 15 samples? Wouldn’t it be smarter if I limited their choices to just my favorite work?” So I shaved that list down to a handful and bulked up on testimonials instead.

Copywriter Steve Slaunwhite follows a similar rationale. After observing the same dynamic I described above (where hiring managers only read random lines of a portfolio and ignored the rest), Steve adopted what he calls a “Portfolio One Sheet.”

In that sheet, Steve describes the project, its goal, the extent of his role, and showcases just a couple of excerpts. (Naturally, the strongest parts.)

What if you’re brand-spanking new and don’t have writing samples yet?

Make some up. Seriously. You can write for an imaginary business, write for a family member, choose a worthy cause or local business and offer to rewrite their brochure, landing page, sales letter, email promo — whatever. You can also take something you’ve written at a past job or writing course, give it a nice edit and you’re good to go.

This isn’t shady, and it isn’t uncommon. It’s how you get started. The point is to prove you can write. No one cares if you got paid for it.

Pressure’s off. No excuses left.

With the approach I described above (which, by the way, never failed me once), you don’t need a lengthy, bulky portfolio. A couple of samples should be enough for someone to determine whether your writing lines up with their standards and needs.

If you’ve been stressing over a writing portfolio, don’t. We’ve just removed that excuse and the pressure that followed it. (You’re welcome.)

What’s worked for you in the past?

What portfolio challenges, dilemmas or hang-ups give you heart palpitations or hinder your interactions with prospects?

If applying any advice from this post, what will that be?

If not, why not?

AndreaEmersonPicAndrea Emerson is an Indianapolis-based copywriter & freelancing coach. She blogs about what it takes to build a profitable freelance business here.

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

How My Home Remodeler Helped Me Improve My Copywriting Business…

So, I’m in the midst of renovating my townhome in Atlanta. The kitchen is done, and the upstairs bedrooms and baths are next.

The guy I’m working with was incredibly hard to nail down. He first came by to discuss the kitchen in mid-November of last year, but it wasn’t till mid-March that he finally got started. He doesn’t always return calls promptly, and his smiling “don’t-worry-it’ll-all-be-okay” responses—in broken English—to requests for specificity on time and expense were, at the outset, borderline maddening.

And, there’s no one else I want working on my house.

I’ll happily deal with the delays, the occasional radio silence and the vague, happy-face answers. Why?

Well, for starters, he’s just done an amazing job so far. The quality of his work is outstanding. Moreover, he’s got a naturally creative mind—always coming up with great ideas for this or that space—and if there’s multiple ways of doing something, he’ll always suggest the least expensive one, yet still get great results. And all that wasn’t reason enough to love him, he’s amazingly reasonable, to boot.

(By the way, if you live in the Atlanta area, no, sorry, you can’t have his name. Not till I’m done with him, anyway… :-)

All the above is great, and definitely a “best-of-all-worlds” combination one virtually never finds, but it was something else that really cemented my attachment to him…

He’s committed to delivering a superior product—even if it means more work for him (understand: he worked on a fixed labor cost, not by the hour). An example…

I brought him two samples of backsplash subway tile—one a rustic travertine, one of tinted glass. I asked him which he thought would be best. He looked at them both, looked at me, and holding up the glass tile, said, “This one would be a lot easier for me, but this one (holding up the travertine) is the one you want to go. It’s harder to work with this material, but you’ll be much happier with the outcome.”

There were plenty of other similar little examples, where his desire to have me be happy—no, scratch that, thrilled—with the outcome, trumped any clock-watching on his part.

Bottom line, he’s spoiled me terribly, and even though, as I write this, the delays in getting started on Phase 2 are giving me déjà vu, it doesn’t matter. I’ll wait.

Of course, I try to never miss opportunities to map the experiences I have in one part of my life onto the others. This guy is a living example of how to build rabidly loyal clients.

What might it do for our commercial freelancing businesses if we shifted our focus from clock-watching and making sure we didn’t get taken advantage of by clients, to looking for ways to make sure our clients are thrilled with the work we do for them?

Sure, all we have is our time, and we can’t give away the farm, but assuming we’re earning a healthy wage, and have factored into our quotes some time for “hiccups,” what could cultivating a “service” mindset do for our practices?

In addition to ensuring our work plate always stayed full, and our fees stopped being questioned, what might it do for our spirits, our souls? Because, I’m telling, this guy is a happy man. Full of joy, goodwill and sunshine. Just the kind of person people love to work with.

Have you run across people—outside of our profession—similar to my friend above, who inspired you to raise the bar on your commercial writing offering?

Have you adopted a “service” attitude in your practice, and if so, can you share specific examples of its impact on your client relationships?

And if you have developed that mindset, how do you balance it against the need to earn a fair wage?

And if you haven’t adopted that mindset yet, has this piece given you some ideas, or affirmed some feelings you’ve already had about how to run your copywriting business?

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