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Good Clients (Like this One) Understand a Good Writer’s Value (and Will Pay…)

I couldn’t have scripted it better myself. A little background….

Got a call from a prospect in early November. About 18 months earlier (May 2008), the local daily, The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, did a “Why I Love My Job” feature on yours truly in the Sunday paper. Following a few live seminars I’d done in March 2008 on commercial writing and self-publishing, I’d been approached by one of the attendees who turned out to be the writer of the popular weekly piece.

“You seem like someone who really enjoys what you do,” he said. “Would you be interested in being featured in WILMJ?” “Is this a trick question?” I asked. Uh, yeah. Course I would.

We got it done, the piece came out, and my new prospect, a successful local entrepreneur, saw it, tore it out and said to himself, “I may just need this guy some day.” Well that day came last month. In a nutshell, he was angling for a strategic partnership with another company and wanted a professional writer to work on the proposal. Long story short, I ended up putting in roughly 30 hours – including two back-to-back 10-hour days – over a five-day period at a most healthy hourly rate.

As we were wrapping up the thing on the second marathon day, he stopped, looked up and said (you’re going to love this…):

“It’s a amazing what a difference a professional writer makes. I think of all the times over the last 10 years (as long as he’s had his business) that I really could have used one, but tried to do it myself. It’s great to know I have a resource like this now.”

Seeing the impact a professional writer could make and seeing a proposal turn into an eloquent statement was nothing short of an epiphany for him. THIS is what we need to be communicating to people. No, not everyone will get it, so don’t waste your time beating your head against the wall trying to convince those who don’t. Just find the ones who do.

There will always be people who think writing is something anyone can do, and they’re not worth wasting your time on. But there are plenty of folks out there who, a) understand the value of a good writer, b) know they’re not one, and 3) realize good talent doesn’t come cheap.

True, it took my new client a long time to come to that realization, but I say it’s because he simply didn’t know how to go about finding one or that copywriters like us even existed. Meaning, that in 10 years, chances are excellent not one single commercial freelancer ever made contact with him.

The first time he was exposed to someone of that description, the idea resonated enough with him to have him cut out an article and set it aside. Remember, he didn’t hunt for just the right copywriter; he flagged the first and only one who’d crossed his path. But had he known HOW much a difference a good writer could make, I’d wager he wouldn’t have waited 18 months. And there are TONS of people like him out there.

Update #1: The proposal is moving along nicely, and he shared that his main contact person at the target company, someone, who according to him, is not the complimenting type, told him, “This is very well-written proposal.” Yes, I was part of a larger team, but we writers still love to hear stuff like that.

Update #2: He called me last week to jump on a crisis situation that had just cropped up in a completely different area, and in less than a week, I’d logged roughly 20 more hours. And there are three more projects on tap. With each project, I more firmly establish myself as a valued member of his team – not just a vendor.

None of this is said to toot my horn, but simply to share what’s out there and possible – even in a down economy. I’m telling you, I’m not doing anything more monumental than writing good persuasive copy for letters and proposals. That said, do I think that any $10-an-article, content-mill writer could do what I do for him? Absolutely not. But any good, strategic-minded commercial freelancer well schooled in marketing? I’d bet on it.

Have you had any similar situations?

What sorts of things have you had delighted clients say to you?

Based on these experiences, how would you describe what a good freelance copywriter brings to the right kind of client? What skills are most crucial?

How hard/easy do you feel it is to deliver those things?

How Important is Meeting Clients in Person?

Here we go with Part Two of the previous post. As you recall, I’d gotten an email from a commercial freelancer starting out, asking about business process (i.e., when I write, when I talk to clients, which we covered in the first post) as well as the age-old “meeting/no meeting” issue. Did I meet clients in person to discuss commercial projects, and how often? He was 90 minutes from the nearest big city and didn’t fancy the idea of shlepping himself through such a half-day (minimum) exercise if he could avoid it. He wrote:

One of the things I’m looking forward to as a freelancer is ditching the commute. Going to see a client in person would cost me two to three hours in travel time alone – not including the meeting itself. I currently work evenings, so I could do it, but I’d rather have meetings and project discussions with clients by phone and email.

I understand that you meet with clients locally. How much time per month do you spend traveling to and from in-person meetings? How many of your clients are too far away for in-person meetings? This is one area in which I’d rather emulate Bob Bly.

Referring, of course, to Bob’s well-known aversion to in-person meetings – considering them time-wasters. And I get it. They can be.

Bottom line, if that’s how you want to set up your business, in this day and age, you can absolutely do it. If you position yourself as a competent copywriter who can deliver the results and make your clients’ lives easier and their bottom lines fatter, you can set your own personal “Rules of Engagement.”

But even if you’re just starting out, you can still draw your line in the sand on this issue. Sure, having a rep as a crack copywriter gives you leverage in setting your terms, but you can just as easily play the “logistics” card: I live too far away to make meetings feasible.

Or as one copywriter shared with me: “Once I tell people I’d be happy to meet with them, but will have to charge them for travel time to and from, suddenly, they discover reasons why a meeting isn’t that important after all.” Amazing how that works. Moreover, clients are just as often driving a “no-meetings” policy – knowing as well that they can be unproductive. So, in most cases, it usually ends up being a non-issue.

My story? I will occasionally meet with clients, but that’s MY choice and MY call. Personally, I like getting out of the house now and then, and also like to know with whom I’m dealing and the best way to do that is see them face-to-face. That said, I have and have had plenty of clients over the years I’ve never met. Many are out of town, making it a moot point (and if those clients find you, then they’ve revealed themselves to obviously have no issue with a long-distance copywriter).

But, I’ve also got one right now who I’ve been working with for going on 18 months, who’s local. She’s put tons of money in my pocket and I wouldn’t know her if I fell over her in the street. And she hasn’t insisted or even wanted a face-to-face meeting in that time. Heck, I’M the one who’s been suggesting a meeting after all this time, but she’s strangely unmoved by my entreaties. Oh well.

So, to specifically answer my emailer’s questions, it happens rarely – maybe once a month these days. And when it does, I typically spend 30-45 minutes traveling, in total, MAX. And needless to say, when I do decide to go meet with a client, it’s usually because they ARE close by. Yes, I had more meetings when I first started out, but that was when the Internet was still young (geez, I’m dating myself…).

Do you still meet with clients?

Are you driving that reality or are they?

Have you adopted a “no-meetings” policy for your business? If so, gotten any resistance?

Do you run into (m)any clients who insist on face-to-face meetings?

Your Business “Process” is Up to You, Not Your Clients…

Got an email from a budding commercial freelancer recently, asking about my business “process.” Specifically, when I do my writing, when I talk to clients, if I meet them in person, how often I have in-person meetings (he was a good 90 minutes from the nearest big city and didn’t relish in-person meetings), etc.

I’m going to address the first issues in this post and the part about traveling to meet clients (or NOT) in a follow-up post.

Regarding when to write and accommodating clients, he wrote:

“I like the idea of secluding myself in the morning and just writing, and then leaving the afternoon open for client meetings (by phone or video chat), prospecting calls, etc. On the other hand, I imagine myself as an executive looking to hire a writer, and preferring to take care of this in the morning. Is it practical to expect an executive to wait until the afternoon to speak with me? At the same time, there is a best time for writing, and that time should be devoted to writing, and writing alone. I’m thinking the executive can wait a few hours. If he can’t, then perhaps my marketing system hasn’t done its job with him — at least not yet.”

I think this gentleman has perhaps fallen prey to a common affliction of new commercial freelancers: Overthinking.

For starters, every copywriter’s process and ideal writing time is different, and whatever works for you will generally work for clients. And about the “writing-and-only-writing-in-the-morning” thing… This isn’t like a novelist who sets aside, say, four hours every morning to write – come hell or high water. You won’t have commercial projects to work on every day, and hence writing to do every day. Don’t imagine life as this rigid regimen – unchanging every day. One of the best things about our business is that every day IS different.

But hey, when you do have projects, if you want to shut off your phone and email in the morning and hunker down with your comfy “Well-Fed Writer” sweatshirt (yes, they exist…ask away…) and fave jeans, and Wes Montgomery on the stereo, go for it. You’ll figure out soon enough if the timing works for everyone, and then you can fine-tune.

My process? When I’ve got pressing copywriting projects, I’ll usually get out of the home office completely, leave the laptop at home (yes, you read that right), head to the library or coffee shop with my legal pad, pen and clipboard (I know, I’m SUCH a relic…), bang it all out longhand (okay, pull your jaw up from the floor…), and load it all into the computer at home later. And I’M most productive from about 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. See, we really all ARE different. And that’s okay.

As for accommodating clients’ wishes, sure, you want to be flexible in the beginning to a client’s scheduling preferences for meetings, but if it’s to discuss a big juicy project, I’m guessing you’ll be plenty excited and happy to indulge the client’s wishes. That said, for the most part, you can usually dictate terms of meetings (phone or otherwise) without risking major pushback.

More importantly, your job is not to be at your client’s beck and call whenever they want (unless you’re okay with that AND they’re paying you an obscene amount of money for the privilege…). Don’t be unreasonably inaccessible, but those writers at the top of this craft choose scenarios where there’s mutual respect between writer and client. And fostering that mindset is the first step to being a valued, in-demand professional.

He also was overthinking this one: Why would you assume a client would “prefer to take care of this (meetings, projects discussions, etc.) in the morning”? And as such, wouldn’t want to be put off till YOU want to talk? It conjures up an image of a client with arms crossed, foot tapping, staring at his watch repeatedly, getting more steamed by the minute. Simply put, the world doesn’t work that way.

All clients are different and all, like you, have their preferences, but few are going to be such hardasses about things like this. And if they are – Big Red Flag. You need to spend far more time thinking about how you’re going to land those clients in the first place – a far bigger challenge than determining the time of day you’ll actually interact.

But let’s hear from you in the trenches:

Do you have set times when you write and other times for client interaction, marketing, etc?

When are you most productive?

If you DO have rigid time divides between tasks, how often do you run into clients unhappy with being unable to talk to you when they want to?

When you have projects pressing, do you like to go somewhere else to get more focused and productive?

Do you shut off your email (a la Timothy Ferris in “Four-Hour Work Week”) and/or phone when you’re battened down in the creation process?

Stay tuned for the next post about client meetings – in-person vs. virtual.

Twitter: Beyond the “Twivial” and Towards True “Twinfluence”…

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.

Ever Had a Client Expect You to Take Out an Insurance Policy?

Got an interesting though somewhat disturbing email a few days ago from a commercial freelancer. She wrote:

I wanted to get in touch because I have a concern that’s starting to affect my commercial writing business, and others will likely be coming up against this more frequently as well. In the past six weeks, I have been asked to sign contracts with three corporations. One company wanted me to obtain a General Liability policy in the amount of $1 million (has absolutely no relevance to freelance writing); the other two companies are insisting I obtain Errors & Omissions insurance, which also is irrelevant.

Errors & Omissions insurance is professional liability insurance for mistakes or negligence. One financial Web site said: “It protects a company against claims for financial injury that allege a product failed or the company failed to perform services, causing a loss of use of tangible or intangible property to others.”

I sent the following reply to my contact at one of the companies:

“Here’s the problem: If I/we as freelance writers are writing about a company’s products, the information provided to us comes from the company or company sources. The company is responsible for the accuracy of this information and having their legal departments sign off on the final document. With words, you could never gauge how someone would be making a purchasing decision and how your choice of language influenced that. The only thing you can gauge is whether the facts are correct or not—statistics and so on. And it is the company’s responsibility to check their facts and give a final okay.

“Also, the company always touches the piece last, and unlike an actual product such as a computer, medical device, electric fan or something else that could have flaws due to its manufacture, words can be changed and altered by the client right up to the last moment–or continuously, if the words are in an electronic format. Therefore, the final copy or ‘product’ is never static and the product the original writer produces can and often is very different from the final product the public sees.”

Her reply was that she completely agreed, but her hands were tied. Either I obtain the insurance or I cannot work for that particular company. This is a company I do quite a bit of work for, so I am probably going to cave in and purchase this insurance; she thought it could cost up to $1,000 per year.

I feel like this is a big issue that’s only going to get bigger, and this change is happening fast. I feel like we need to educate corporations about the fact these types of insurance have no relevance to what we do. I thought this might be helpful for other freelancers to know that this is happening and perhaps we can work together to find ways to deal with this (or get around it).

Other actions I’ve been asked to take within the past year (by only large corporations, not smaller businesses) that I have never been asked to do in the 12 years prior:

1. Change from a sole proprietorship to an LLC
2. Obtain a Dun and Bradstreet number
3. Take steps towards becoming a registered woman-owned business
4. Provide information about my personal health insurance coverage and homeowner’s insurance

Companies are trying to cover themselves, but need to be educated about what we do. Any advice freelancers can share with each other regarding this would help us all.

**************

PB: Okay, so all of this is just bizarre to me, but if this person’s encountered it multiple times from different companies, something’s going on. I’ve never gotten hit with any of these demands in 15 years, though in the past 4-5, I haven’t been working (by choice) with many large companies. And in 15+ years in the business, I’ve never ever heard of any copywriter being hit with a lawsuit over copy they wrote, nor even heard of someone who knew a copywriter in that situation. We’re talking about Powerball lottery odds here.

Given the fundamental irrelevance of this concern on the part of these companies to what freelance commercial writers do, and the ensuing demands being made of this particular copywriter (and others, presumably), in my humble opinion, it has all the earmarks of corporate legal departments working overtime to come up with anything that could possibly go wrong. Pretty much the raison d’etre of the legal profession anyway.

But why now all of a sudden? Any thoughts?

Have any of you come across any of these demands from your bigger clients?

If so, how did they explain their thinking on it?

And if so, how did you deal with it?

Any other input based on specific knowledge of industry trends?