How Important Has Being “Forgettable” Been to Your Success?

Say you had some home fix-it project that you hired someone to take care of, because you’ve just got too much going on. You’re thinking, he’ll show up, get the details, and then he’ll go to work. You’ll go back to your to-do list until an hour or so later, when he calls to you up the stairs and lets you know he’s done. Write the check. Finito.

If instead, he kept calling you down time after time with more questions, or asking to borrow tools, or chatting about his operation, or his wife’s shopping habits, or the last episode of American Idol, there’d come a point where you’d say to yourself, (all together now…): F’cryin’ out loud, I’d have been better off doing it myself.

Did an encore plenary speech appearance at the Washington Independent Writers annual conference this past June. The theme of my talk was “Creating a Memorable Box.” Given that human beings like to put things in boxes as a way of quantifying the world around them, the more we can make ourselves memorable to our clients, the more success we’ll have. I defined “creating a memorable box” in this way:

Make what you bring to the professional table a “predictably enjoyable and rewarding experience” for your clients and you’ll find a receptive and returning audience.

One of the memorable boxes I discussed was being forgettable. I do case studies for a large manufacturing company in Atlanta. I get a few grand to do a 1500-word story that takes me maybe 12-15 hours to do. They never question my fees. Why? Because after they give me the parameters in an email, I ask a few questions and then I’m gone – until it’s due. No endless phone calls or emails.

They go back to doing their jobs – which is how it’s supposed to work – and forget aaaaaall about me until the finished product shows up in their email box – ready for prime time. For any writer in any arena, reliability, dependability and yes, “forgetability” are solid gold boxes to be put in.

(NOTE: Not surprisingly, this is a company with money – which is key. When money isn’t a big issue for a company, but bottom line profitability and competitive edge ARE, the work HAS to be done right. As such, the desire for reliable, predictable competence will always trump cost.)

While the following idea should be a “well, duh…,” we all know how that sometimes goes. Here’s it is: A company will hire a writer because they don’t have the skills, time or both to handle it in-house. The whole point of hiring that writer is to create less, not more work for themselves.

After they meet with you once, and give you the scoop on the project, your goal should be to vanish from their minds, gloriously freeing them up to do their jobs. Sure, every job is different, and some involve more client contact, but no matter the situation, the extent to which you operate autonomously is the extent to which you will create that predictably enjoyable and rewarding experience that will keep clients coming back.

How important is it to your clients that you’re forgettable?

What strategies do you employ for being forgettable for your clients?

What lessons has being forgettable taught you?

What Commercial Writing Pearl Would You Share As a Guest Blogger?

I pride myself on being able to write “multi-tasking” copy – like the headline above. Yes, this post is both a call for guest bloggers and a call for great commercial freelancing business subjects/ideas/strategies in your comments.

I gotta say, I’ve truly been blown away by the brilliant, wise, and insightful blog commentary from you guys these past 11 weeks since blog launch. In less than 90 days, we’ve built a pretty amazing knowledge base on a variety of subjects in the commercial freelancing arena – over 350 comments in all at press time! And so I want to open the floor to your contributions. And yes, I won’t lie – it’d be nice to get a bit ‘o help in cranking these things out regularly. Which, of course, is consistent with the collaborative nature of my books, ezine, and now, the blog. One “well-fed writer’s” perspective is only so tasty and satisfying.

So, what would you share? Even if you don’t plan on guest blogging, give us a snapshot of the most important lesson you’d share with your fellow FLCWs (freelance commercial writers for those new to the neighborhood…).

Perhaps a prospecting strategy that’s borne much fruit over the years?

An unusual market (if you’re willing to reveal it)?

A particularly great success story?

A fabulous tip that’s made you more efficient, better networked, more profitable?

An insight into the business that’s made a huge difference for you?

Perhaps a subject you’d like to see me or someone else cover in the blog?

If you DO want to expand that gem of a comment into a full-fledged guest post, take 400-600 words to tell your story. And you know this blog’s drill: questions at the end to pull out the golden nuggets. Make it a subject with “legs” – one that can spawn a rich discussion.

What’s in it for you? Besides rocketing prestige in the eyes of your peers? You mean, that’s not enough? 😉 Seriously, got a book, ebook, ezine, report, service, blog, web site (writing-related, preferably…) you want to promote? As a quid pro quo for sharing your goodies, I welcome your plug at the end of the piece.

So, comment away, and if you want to do a post, send your idea to me at peter@wellfedwriter.com.

“Financial Self-Sufficiency As a Freelance Writer (STILL?) in Six Months or Less”??

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?

Even Seasoned Scribes Fret Over “Just-Turned-In” Copy…

I recently got a note from a fellow FLCW and friend of mine up in New York. Here’s what he wrote:

Peter: Do you sometimes anguish over the waiting period, after you’ve submitted work to a client and then anticipate their thumbs-up or thumbs-down response? As I write these words, I’m waiting on a client to whom I sent what I believe is some pretty solid creative copy. But the longer it takes to hear back from them, the more that glass-half-empty side of my mind’s town crier belches out, “Now hear this: they hate it! They hate it!”

Do others ever go through this kind of self-doubt? Do you sometimes think the worst? Or wonder if you’re good enough to be doing this sort of work? Do you find yourself too needy in the “I-need-validation” department? I confess that this yoke finds itself around my professional neck more often that it ought to. But, I can’t help it! Am I totally alone in my self-imposed angst?

My reply?

You’re absolutely NOT alone in that. Believe it or not, I go through the same thing on every project. Thanks to a lot of successes and happy clients over the years, I’m not nearly as crazy about it about it as I was some years back. In fact, in the rare cases in which I DO miss the mark these days, in most cases, it’s a matter of the client changing direction or not being clear, because I will ask the right questions to get the copy right. But yes, until I hear, I’m always a bit concerned.

In fact, as I write this, I’m waiting to hear back from a client about the third ad I’ve written for their company in the past few weeks. The creative director loved the first two, and I’m sure she’ll like the latest, but she also usually responds within a few hours. It’s been closer to 24, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t nag at me a bit…

Perhaps it’s something in the nature of writers (okay, some writers; I’d be curious as to Jon McCulloch’s take – the subject of the 5/12/08 blog post (just scroll down) – a fundamental insecurity about putting our creations our there – especially when money’s on the line. Perhaps it’s just human nature – the propensity to think the worst when an outcome isn’t certain.

So, if that sounds familiar, you’re not alone, and if you’re still on the outside of the business looking in, know that even the seasoned pros chew a fingernail from time to time. And in a perverse way, I see an upside: that mindset will always keep you a bit humble, and humble writers listen carefully to their clients to make sure they DO create work that hits the mark. Which, in turn, will keep those angst-ridden moments to a minimum.

Do you experience those pangs of insecurity if you don’t hear back from a client after turning in copy?

Have you gotten beyond it, and if so, what made the difference for you?

“Stupidest Question Ever Asked” Spawns 5 Commercial Writing “Facts”

A year or so back, I got an email from an Atlanta gentleman that has to be a top contender for The Stupidest Question Ever Asked. I realize that’s not very nice, and I know “there’s no such thing as a stupid question” when starting out, but still…. In essence, here’s what he wrote:

“I noticed you’re in Atlanta – I am, too. Congrats on your freelancing success. For someone starting out in the same market as a commercial freelancer, that success is a bit intimidating. (Here it comes). Can I safely assume that you’ve pretty much sewn up the Atlanta market, copywriting-wise?”

(Beat). Rub eyes comically. Re-read. Drop jaw. Guffaw. Shake head. Okay, okay, maybe not the stupidest question ever asked, just one from someone with very little understanding of business in general and our business in particular.

My reply: “Joe, think about this logically. I couldn’t sew up the copywriting market in a city of 100K, let alone one of close to five million. Could one attorney, plumber, accountant, real estate agent, or mechanic sew up the market for their specialty? Rest assured, there’s plenty of copywriting business out there.” I’ve been working in this market for 15 years and consistently run across working, thriving copywriters I’d never heard of before.

Sure, as we all know, this business isn’t a cakewalk. 5K jobs don’t fall out of the sky with minimal effort. Lucrative freelancing requires good writing skills and a grasp of business. That said, his question is similar to those I get asking if this is still a good business to get into – given the economy. Questions like these underestimate how much potential work there is AND how many companies know the value of good copywriting (and they overestimate the number of competent, reliable copywriters out there). They fail to see the reality at work:

Fact #1: Every single business has to create written materials either for marketing, advertising, or internal needs. The bigger the business, the bigger the volume.

Fact #2: There are only two ways to create those materials: do it in-house or hire it out.

Fact #3: As long as that company’s in business, those needs won’t ever disappear (if they want to STAY in business), even in lean times, when arguably, they have to do even more.

Fact #4: While many businesses don’t understand the importance of good marketing materials, those are the ones that fail or struggle eternally. Forget ‘em.

Fact #5: Most successful businesses DO understand the importance of good writing as a key contributor to their growth and success, and many of those companies hire it out – especially smaller companies (which can mean $1-100 million+), for whom it’s not usually cost-effective to have in-house creative staff.

Obviously, our challenge is to find those companies, but know, as sure as the sun rises in the morning, that they’re out there.

Until and unless American business undergoes such a radical shift in modus operandi that all business books and schools have to retool their offerings, those five facts, are in my humble opinion, fairly immutable.

Agree? Disagree?

What would you have said to him?

Other comments?