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What’s Your “Discomfort Threshold” for Growing Your Writing Business?

During one of my commercial writing group-coaching series a few years back I had a candid email exchange with a participant about a question she’d submitted to be addressed in session. It was:

What can I do to stay motivated during those periods when my business-building efforts yield nothing?

She then analyzed her question—rather dispassionately, I’m proud to say, writing:

I now realize that first question was something a lazy person who gives up easily (my past life) would ask. I’m fascinated by how a lot of what you and your book say dovetails with what I’m reading in one of those books on how millionaires think.

It contains wealth principles like: “If you are willing to do only what’s easy, life will be hard. But if you are willing to do what’s hard, life will be easy.” I guess our comfort zones have to expand to include taking more risks.

I thought it was a very…adult realization. Seriously, we’re all lazy, but if you want a life unlike that of most people—perhaps have a successful commercial copywriting practice?—you’ll have to do things most people aren’t willing to do.

As I’m fond of reminding people, this path isn’t easy, so don’t expect it to be. And if they’ve never built a business before—much less a commercial freelancing business—then building a successful one will entail doing things they’ve never done before in their lives.

Let’s get real: this is the crux of success in most businesses, and certainly ours. We all have our thresholds—the points beyond which we just don’t/can’t (as yet) go.

If your comfort level demands that, you only, say, prospect for commercial writing work by bidding on online job sites, and only communicate with prospects and clients by email, unless you’re a prolific marketer, your income will likely be limited.

Simply put, the better-paying marketing copywriting work takes digging to find and land. And, as a rule, its greater complexity (relative to, say, articles), demands a greater involvement/discussion with clients—by phone, in in-person meetings, etc.

And let’s face it, all that opens us up to having our skills be judged by those paying us—especially if we’re being paid well.* All fertile ground for some pretty serious discomfort.

(*If you started out being paid peanuts—or perhaps are still there—it’s less intimidating, isn’t it? After all, how much can they expect for such low wages? But making more money raises the stakes, the stress, and hence, the discomfort. Interesting, no?)

Hey, I hate being uncomfortable as well, but when I started, I knew that success was going to require stepping out of my comfort zone in a big way, for a certain period of time. But here’s the key: the discomfort I felt was really quite fleeting.

And how can it be not be, when suddenly, you discover, for instance, that cold-calling isn’t that hard after all, that people are actually nice, and that—imagine!– some of them are actually interested? Not to mention that they’re all unfazed by your call, when you thought it was going to be some big uphill battle to explain yourself.

Some writers will move past their blocks, realizing the discomfort not only is never fatal, it’s both fleeting and finite as well. In most cases, you’re left wondering exactly what you were so afraid of in the first place. And, it’s not going to stretch for year after year—unless you’re doing it very part-time, and in fits and starts.

Have you expanded your comfort zones since you started? How so?

What sorts of things scared you to death early on, but are now second nature?

What advice would you give someone still held back by their comfort zones, from making a truly good living as a commercial writer?

Any other thoughts or comments on the subject?

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

Put These In Place, and You’ll Grow Your Copywriting Business Faster and with Less Stress

So, a few days ago, I had a morning self-publishing coaching call with a client, after which I was thinking of heading over to the pool at the gym to do my laps. Now, I’m a pretty disciplined guy when it comes to exercise, but I’m also human, so, if I start getting busy, and time passes, it’s easy to say, “Heck, it’s getting late. I’ll just do it tomorrow.” And tomorrow? Maybe it’ll happen, and maybe it won’t.

So, before I got on the call, I packed my gym bag with a change of clothes, towel, etc. Put my keys, wallet and phone next to it. And changed into my bathing suit, T-shirt and flip-flops. Once the call was done, all I had to do was grab everything and go. Which, I did. Had none of that been “staged,” it’d been far easier to bail on the idea.

What I’d done was create a structure for fulfillment.

The whole point? Make something easy to do and you’re more likely to do it.

Duh, right? Well, yes it is, but I’d wager good money, a whole lot of ideas, campaigns, programs, goals, whatever, that never launched, would have if their creators had set up their own “structures for fulfillment.” The key being this:

Starting is the hardest part.

If you can make the “starting” easy, the rest of the steps are more likely to unfold.

I’ve invoked this idea in TWFW when discussing doing simple direct mail campaigns to keep in touch with commercial writing clients and prospects who are part of your database. You know, those folks, who, in the course of your various prospecting efforts for your freelance commercial writing practice, have told you that, yes, they have needs for copywriters, on an occasional or ongoing basis.

Sure, you could decide you’re going to do a really whiz-bang direct mail package, with a specially designed mail piece, maybe with a folder built in (for various copywriting samples), along with a cover letter, and a few other odds and ends. Sounds swell, but will you actually get it done?

Instead, why not create a postcard with a simple message as a reminder, leading them to your commercial copywriting web site/online portfolio? Given how much easier a postcard would be to create, you’d just be that much more likely to get it done.

So, what’s involved in making one? Well, besides creating it yourself or with the help of some graphically talented friend of yours—with whom, perhaps, you trade services— you might check out an inexpensive online printer.

Places like www.modernpostcards.com or www.overnightprints.com offer you the opportunity to pick a design from thousands available, add your copy front and back, and for probably less than $100, you’ll get 1000 cards (and about $125-ish for 2,000).

Remember one of the cardinal rules of direct mail: Frequency trumps creative. Doing it more often and simply is more effective than doing it seldom and creatively.

If you’ve built up a list of, say, 200-250 prospects you’ve gathered through prospecting, sending a postcard 3-4 times a year to that freelance commercial writing database of yours becomes a remarkably easy and inexpensive process. 250 postcards four times a year will run you roughly, $120 to $200 (depending on size of the postcard—regular or oversize), each time, including postage.

Simplifying it even more is this: You can send the same postcard every time. No need to reinvent the wheel each time. AND, the more your copywriting prospects/clients see that same card, the more they’ll associate it with you. And that’s a very good thing.

And there are countless other examples of establishing “structures” in order to ensure that you do the things you need to, to build your copywriting business.

For example, planning a cold-calling campaign, but dreading the process? If you…

1) Compiled a long list of the right kinds of prospects and phone numbers (think many 100’s, so if you screw up a few—which you likely will—you won’t worry about it)…

2) Set up your week with sizeable chunks of time, earmarked exclusively for calling…

3) Had a quiet space, protected from interruptions/distractions, and…

4) Created a brief cold-calling script modeled on the one in TWFW (p. 127)

…it’d be more likely to happen. All of which underscores an important truth:

Most of the fear surrounding many business-building activities stems from a fear of the unknown. Yet, once you set up your structures, much of that unknown becomes known. And, as such, can no longer be anywhere near as scary.

What are some of the “structures for fulfillment” you’ve put in place for your commercial freelancing business?

Have they made it easier to get things done?

Did you put them in place because you weren’t making things happen?

Any specific success stories around this idea?

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

This Writer’s Clients Give Him a Check Every Month (Thanks to a Tough Economy…)

So, a few months back, in the April 2011 Well-Fed E-PUB, I ran the following Main Course about retainers from Visalia, CA commercial freelancer Tim Lewis (tim@tlcopy.com, http://www.tlcopy.com).

Retainers – essentially a guaranteed monthly income from a commercial writing client – can be wonderful things. Not to mention especially welcome in a tough economy – and as you’ll see in Tim’s account, they’ll not only benefit us, but our clients as well.

Tim’s had some solid success with this strategy in building his own commercial freelancing business, and generously shared his experiences. Then it hit me that it’d make an ideal blog post – perfect for gathering input and experiences from all of you.

Frankly, I haven’t had much firsthand experience with retainers in my commercial copywriting practice, but if you have, I hope you’ll weigh in! Take it away, Tim…

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Being a commercial freelancer can be more than just “per project” work. There’s a way to enjoy our fabulous lifestyle without worrying where your next check will come from. Setting up retainer-based agreements with clients is a great way to ensure consistent freelance copywriting income.

This is exactly what I did a few years ago when I said goodbye to the corporate world. Instead of hurling myself into the freelancing abyss without a safety net, I approached my boss with a unique proposition: I would resign my position as a hospital marketing director, but stay on as a consultant to help groom my replacement (my assistant). This way, she could learn the ropes and I could have the time I needed to build my copywriting practice.

It was a win-win for both parties. We agreed on a three-month contract that paid me roughly the same as I was making full-time. I had plenty of time to build a healthy business base while spending a few hours each week training my replacement and writing all of the communications pieces for the hospital. Plus, I could still pay all of my bills! The arrangement worked so well, I decided to approach some of my recurring clients with a similar proposal.

The response was tremendous. Because of the economy, many of my prospects (large hospitals) had laid off much of their marketing and communications staff. Since the work still needed to be done, they jumped at the chance to bring in an experienced hospital marketer/communications writer to help them get through this economic downturn.

As things start to pick up, many of my clients are realizing that my services fill all of their marketing needs, and at a fraction of the costs associated with bringing someone in full-time. Though I still do some one-off project work, my most productive partnerships are retainer-based consultant gigs.

How to get a client to agree to a retainer? Here’s how I approach it:

1) Every long-term relationship starts with a single project. Once you land it, knock it out of the park. Exceed your client’s expectations.

2) Once you’ve floored them with your talents and professionalism, follow up with a phone call. If they’re local, take them out to lunch. Ask if they have an ongoing need for writers. If so, pitch yourself as the solution.

3) If they’re interested, find out what their needs are, and what their budget is. From that info, craft a proposal detailing the services you’ll provide (e.g., blogging, web management, e-newsletters, etc.), the hours you can dedicate to them, and your monthly rate. The proposal doesn’t need to be some extensive legal document; one or two pages will suffice. If it’s a large company, they’ll most likely have you sign a legally binding vendor agreement. Read it carefully.

Make sure to include language in your proposal stating what will happen if you exceed—or don’t reach—the hours you’ve agreed upon. When the client has a light workload one month, I still ask to be paid in full (that’s the beauty of a retainer).

On the flip side, during busier months, I reserve the right to charge my hourly rate for excessive overages. Now, I have strong relationships with my retainer clients. As such, I will often not charge for a few extra hours here and there. However, when there’s an unusually heavy workload, I will let my client know that I’m approaching the cut-off and there might be some extra fees involved. That way, they can plan accordingly and either give me the go-ahead to move forward or hold off.

Also, revisions to your proposal should be expected while negotiating the agreement. Be prepared to be somewhat flexible with your rates and the hours you commit to. You may also want to start with a one-month contract to see how the partnership works, then make changes to the agreement down the road.

If negotiations aren’t as smooth as you’d like, be patient. Remember that this is a mutually beneficial situation––you’re guaranteed consistent income for an extended period of time and they’ll have dependable access to an expert in their industry.

If you’ve had experience with retainers, how did yours unfold at the outset?

How did you structure them?

Has the tougher economy opened doors to possible retainer scenarios?

Have you had retainers that didn’t work out well, and if so, what would you have done differently?

If you haven’t done any retainers, do you have some clients who might be a good candidate for such an arrangement?

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