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?
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.
Back in July on this blog, we explored the age-old issue for commercial freelancers: In my commercial copywriting business, should I be a generalist or a specialist? (Read it here).
And when economic times are tough, it takes on even more importance. Which strategy is better in tight times? we ask. Well, grab a seat and join the debate here.
I’ve been a generalist since Day One and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Love the variety, the access to a potentially much wider range of clients and for a bunch of other reasons. Marketing brochures, ad copy, newsletters, direct mail, sales sheets, case studies, speeches, video scripts, sales letters, landing page copy, headlines, tag lines, slogans, naming, book titling. The list goes on and on, and for a soup-to-nuts industry spectrum of companies.
I’ll fully admit that specialists who truly set themselves apart in their niche will likely make more money than me, and that’s just fine. I’d be a very unhappy camper if I had to do the same kind of project or write for the same kind of industry all the time.
Sort of like the guy who’s told by his doctor that if he doesn’t quit smoking, drinking and eating rich foods (all the stuff he enjoys), he’s only got 5 years to live, and but he’s got 10 if he cuts out all those bad things. And he decides, heck, I don’t WANT to live five years longer if I can’t enjoy those things.
Anyway, we’re not done with the Generalist/Specialist debate – literally and figuratively. I invite you to join yours truly, Peter Bowerman, Mr. Generalist – who’s made a most comfortable living writing for clients across the spectrum for going on 16 years – and Mr. Specialist, Michael Stelzner – who’s done pretty darn well focusing exclusively on white papers for many years – in a lively debate.
Thursday, September 17 at 3:00 EST for an hour. Be there.
There’s no charge for the event, but you need to register here to join us. Can’t join us? Register anyway and we’ll send you the recording!
We’ll debate the pros and cons of both sides (AND take your questions). And when we’re done, you’ll have the inside scoop on which path makes the most sense for you and your circumstances…
Was updating the customer testimonials on my commercial writing site the other day, and came across this one (excerpted):
“Not only does Peter intuitively grasp where we need to go with a project, but his writing truly inspires my design. Bottom line, Peter’s spoiled me with his talent and he’s always my first choice.”
Now, I don’t include this to preen, but simply to underscore what happens when you’re a good writer (and you’re not the only one who thinks so…) – one who, in this case, enhances the quality of a graphic designer’s work. When that happens, they’ll go out of their way to bring you in on projects whenever possible. And why wouldn’t they? You make their portfolio stronger and their clients happier, and both lead to repeat business and referrals – for BOTH of you.
Which makes solid writing skills, arguably, one of the most potent marketing strategies commercial freelancers have going for them. Good commercial copywriters who craft effective copy make their clients’ lives easier and their businesses more profitable. Do that consistently, and you’ll get invited back again and again, and steered to other work.
And unlike other marketing strategies (i.e., cold calling, direct mail, email marketing, networking, social media, etc.), being a good writer “markets” you without you having to do much other than what you do naturally.
Sure, you still need to do your own marketing campaigns to let the world know you exist, but all those outreach efforts end up turbo-charged when your skills are a few cuts above. Till eventually, you may not have to do much marketing at all anymore. It happens all the time to good writers. The world starts coming to them.
A good analogy? A really good book will have a long shelf life (literally) because it’ll benefit from strong reviews and powerful word-of-mouth advertising, while a mediocre one – with few or no “champions” – will struggle to find an audience, and will likely quickly sink into the nether regions of the bargain bin.
Obviously, however, not all commercial writers are created equal. I feel fortunate to have innate writing ability (though, yes, I still cringe at some of the copy I wrote in the early days of my business). Others’ skills may not be as strong or natural. And let’s face it. While the commercial writing field – like any – certainly rewards those with superior skills commensurately, it doesn’t exclude those with modest gifts. Given the staggering amount of gruesome writing in the business world, those who can simply provide solid (if unflashy), coherent copy can find their niche.
So, what makes someone one of the better writers? Well, for me, a very partial list would include, for starters, a lot of technical things: writing like you talk, telling stories in your writing, avoiding $50 words, making sure your writing has the right cadence, and more. It also means understanding marketing fundamentals like audience, features/benefits, and USP (Unique Selling Proposition); being a good listener so you give your clients what they want the first time; and being able to quickly visualize how copy for a particular project needs to be structured and flow in order to maximize its effectiveness.
And a ton of other things. But I want to hear from you (I’m doing a teleseminar in a few months on the subject and would love to use your comments and observations – with attribution, of course).
If you (and/or your clients) consider yourself an excellent writer, what skills, gifts or talents contribute to that reputation and have them coming back again and again?
How has being a top-notch writer made your marketing easier?
Have you always had natural ability, or have you honed initially-less-impressive skills over time?
If you’ve demonstrably improved your writing skills over the years, what books, resources or ideas made the difference for you?
So, I get my monthly cell phone bill from Verizon (yeah, I’m naming names; maybe someone will forward this to them and they’ll get their act together…). So, in it were a few of these slick little inserts. One of them had this headline: “Get Mobile Broadband on the Nation’s Largest 3G Network!”
The copy went on to explain how I could get “lightning-fast Internet access” which would allow me to check email virtually anywhere. Hmmmm. Interesting. Sounds like something worth having. Let me go check it out…
So, they give a web link: www.verizonwireless.com/upgrade (yes, feel free to follow along in this exercise in futility just so you know I’m not making it up). OK, so while I’m a good commercial copywriter, I don’t exactly consider myself some “Landing Page Copywriting Guru” by any stretch. But, I know this much:
If you provide a link on a mail piece, email blast, or ad that purports to offer more detail on Widget A described on said mail piece, email blast, or ad, then make sure the link provided indeed takes them directly to a landing page providing more detail on Widget A.
Is this complicated?
So, click on over to the above link, and see what happens. Not a word about “Mobile Broadband.” They make me log into my account (first chance for me to lose interest). But, I’ll play along. I log in, and at next screen? STILL nary a peep about “Mobile Broadband.” Now, they’re asking me irrelevant questions about upgrading my phone.
It’s clear to me at this point that if I want to find any more information on Mobile Broadband, I’m going to have to go searching their site, which I have no interest in doing.
But get this: even if I was sooooo interested I was willing to do a site search for “Mobile Broadband,” you still basically get nowhere. One link takes you to a more detailed description (finally), but still doesn’t tell you how much it costs, nor provide further links to find out that info.
Who in the world is minding the store over there, for crying out loud? Just because there’s a big name on the door doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing. Examples like this are everywhere. Corporate marketing communications departments are often good at the big picture and are great at cranking out pretty stuff, but they’re often under such pressure (and I’m sure more so now than ever before) that a lot of the crucial “execution” details fall through the cracks.
It just underscores two things: 1) don’t put big companies on a pedestal as having it all figured out; and 2) there are a vast number of opportunities out there for commercial freelancers like us to help them clean up their act.
Why do you think so many companies get this stuff wrong so much of the time?
Have you come across similar examples like this? If so, can you share?
Have you been intimidated by big companies in the past, only to discover that they’re mighty flawed and human after all?