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Commercial-Writing Clients with Money vs. Ones Without: Like Night and Day…

I got an email from a recent Well-Fed Group Coaching participant that made me smile for a few reasons. She wrote:

This is all becoming less and less theoretical and more real. Which is eerie. It seems I’m beginning to live in your make-believe world!

Too funny. I swear, it’s as if, until people experience these things for themselves, they imagine I’m making all this stuff up about how the commercial copywriting business-building process unfolds. I promise, it’s far easier to share my real-world commercial freelancing experiences than to fabricate a bunch of them out of whole cloth.

But it was what she said after that that had my “Blog-Topic-Alert” meter going off. She wrote:

I’m also beginning to see how differently potential clients with money vs. those with little, behave. They’re like different species.

One simple statement with so many ramifications. For starters, it’s so true. The difference in the respective experiences of working with clients who have little money vs. those with plenty is so vast as to be almost vertiginous.

In a great blog post I recently commented on (and in which I was mentioned – yay!), freelancer Kathy Shaidle says:

The cheaper the client, the more demanding they are. My $75/hour clients tend to approve the very first version of everything I send them, thank me profusely, pay me immediately, and hire me again. Clients I’ve taken on for far less (because I’ve felt desperate — or sorry for them) ALWAYS want more changes, more words, more pages, more of my time on the phone, more everything. Eventually, I (politely) fire clients like that. Inevitably, they are replaced almost immediately by more professional ones with larger budgets (and brains).

And in our world, $75 an hour isn’t even that much; but her point is sound.

If you spend your time hanging out with low-ball writing clients, and in turn, being run ragged by them, it will very likely have you question your career decision.

But find the good clients, and your sense of the overall viability of freelancing will undergo nothing less than a radical transformation. It becomes a whole different word. Less hassle, more creative fulfillment, and, of course, more money.

Better-paying clients are almost always easier to work with than the low-ballers, as my coaching client above noticed. She observed:

The one who wants to get things moving knows the value of what a writer can offer. The one who said he was interested in having me work for him, but then took a long time getting information to me, and was antsy about pricing, didn’t seem to fully accept the cost of doing business. Or he just doesn’t have as much of a budget set aside for marketing. The folks who are hardest to negotiate with are the ones with the smallest budgets.

To her comments, I’d add that, for the kinds of clients we want to work with, money is never (within reason) the main issue. Rather, it’s a predictable superior outcome they’re seeking. And that motivation always trumps money.

But know this: if you’re in the early days of building your commercial writing business, lower-paying clients are the ones most likely to be willing to work with you when you have little to recommend you other than a few unimpressive samples and an abundance of enthusiasm.

As such, they serve a wonderful purpose: to help you build your confidence, as well as both your intangible “experience portfolio” and your real physical one.

But realize that you need to compartmentalize those early experiences with that class of client, as being a means to an end, not an end in themselves.

I say this because those coming from “writing ghettos” (i.e., the content mills, where $5 for a 500-word article is de rigeur) may feel that working with clients who actually pay $25 an hour (wow!), even if they are pains to deal with, is “died-and-gone-to-heaven” territory.

But if you indeed have writing skills far beyond the typical content-mill writer, and are eager and willing to plant and nurture those skills in greener writing pastures, then $25 an hour is only the beginning. No, it’s not easy to get to that $75-to-$125-an-hour copywriting level, and don’t believe anyone who says it is. But, it’s doable, and I hear daily from people who’ve done it.

And if you’re sadly still playing in that copywriting bargain basement, and complaining about the low-ballers who just won’t pay you what your skills are worth, then you don’t understand the dynamic at work there.

I think I did a decent job of attacking this victim mentality in a recent guest post I did (on Lori Widmer’s Words on the Page blog), entitled, “Why Writers Don’t ‘Deserve’ to Make More than $5 to $10 an Article.”

For most of you regular visitors to this blog, you “got” this a long time ago, but if you’re still wrestling with it, check it out. It all comes down to having copywriting skills not shared by thousands of others, and when you can stand out, you’ll start seeing firsthand, as discussed earlier, the HUGE difference between client classes.

What other differences have you seen/experienced between the clients with money and those without?

If you’re now operating in solid, higher-rate commercial writing territory, but didn’t used to, what/when was your “light bulb moment”?

And if you indeed went from low writing wages to the higher ones in our world, did you immediately notice the stark difference in client quality?

Have you moved out of the “$5-an-article” writing world, only to get stuck in the next (and still-low) level?

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

Lessons I’ve learned from landing clients on first dates (Guest Post)

Call it “inadvertent self-promotion”…

Men With Pens recently ran a guest post about dating rules you can apply to client prospecting. Considering I’ve inadvertently won over a commercial writing client while on a first date, I found the post pretty funny.

This has actually happened to me not once, but twice.

Dating your clients?
To clear up any confusion, I don’t make it a habit to go on a date and pitch my freelance copywriting business as a solution to a host of marketing problems. Before we went out, I had no clue if this guy was a potential client. There are certainly more effective ways to find new clients than blurring the lines between business and pleasure.

So how did it happen? It started out like a typical dinner date. Inevitably we graduated from small talk to discussing what each of us does for a living.

People tend to assume I’m either a novelist or someone who helps file for copyright protection, so I’ve become accustomed to explaining what a copywriter does, and how businesses benefit from strong, persuasive copy. We discussed everything from what I write and why to what I hope to achieve by being in business for myself.

Two days after our date, he hired me to write a press release.

Passion is essential, in dating and in business.
I would have considered this a one-off until it happened a second time. Then I noticed the pattern – I was winning these guys over because I wasn’t in sales mode. I was simply talking about something I love doing. I obsess about finding the right words and expressing concepts clearly, and that shines through when I talk about my commercial freelancing business in a setting where there’s no pressure to land a sale.

Luckily for me, each of the guys I dated runs his own business and understands the value of good writing.

After they expressed interest in my copywriting services, I tried to help out where I could. I offered to give their sites once-overs and suggested minor tweaks that could improve the language of their offerings. This showed my dates my value as a business writer and ultimately led to them hiring me.

Instead of trying to convert prospects into clients, I’m just telling people about something I love. In a nutshell, I’ve become more adept at marketing myself because I no longer see it as obnoxious self-promotion.

Be comfortable pitching, even off the clock.
The lesson in all this is NOT how to perfect the art of picking up clients on the dating scene. It’s in realizing how you talk about yourself to others in different situations.

I don’t consciously separate my business contacts from my personal contacts anymore. I’ve discovered that mindset forces you to mentally divide people into prospects and off-limits. Pre-emptively determining someone is off-limits could mean you miss out on an awesome client with a paying gig.

When you’re trying to impress someone enough to land a contract, any nervousness you might feel has a way of working its way into the conversation. However, when you talk about what you do with genuine passion and conviction, you’re providing true value, not being an obnoxious salesperson who’s just trying to win someone over.

Remember, you’re offering a legitimate service to people who need and WANT your help. Get comfortable talking about yourself and your commercial copywriting business no matter where you are – you never know when it will pay off.

Have you landed a client in an unexpected place?

Has the ‘share-don’t-sell’ approach worked for you as a way to close new clients?

Do you keep your eyes peeled for situations like this, or stick with more traditional methods?

Put another way, do you draw distinct lines between the professional and personal sides of your life?


Angie Colee is a freelance copywriter and branding expert. She loves good food, comedy shows, and the power of words. She is also considering trademarking her awesomely red hair. For more marketing and branding tips, please check out the blog at coleecreative.com. And if you’re ever in the San Francisco bay area, look her up. Coffee is her lifeblood.

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 Favorite Ideas for Writing Ergonomics, Aesthetics, Functionality, & Work/Life Philosophies, Please…

Got the idea for this post from a picture sent to me by my brother… It was a unique desk arrangement he’d set up for his son. Apparently, my precocious nephew would often wake up in the middle of the night with the compulsion to get online and check this, play that, or research the other. So, to make it optimally easy to have that happen, this setup was born…

Now, he literally has to just roll over in bed, and he’s at his keyboard… Hmmm. Gets you thinking, no? Nah, probably not. We sit on our fat butts enough as it is in what we do. To not even have to get out of bed at all and still be able to do our jobs just seems to be giving entropy more of a helping hand than it really requires… Still.

In any case, I got to thinking about all those cool little ideas we’ve all come across to make our commercial freelancing writing lives a little easier, more comfortable, less stressful, etc.

A few months back in the E-PUB, I talked about (and highly recommended) the Nada-Chair, this nifty thingy I’ve used for years, that makes sitting for long stretches far more comfortable than any expensive chair I’ve ever come across. Looks strange, but it works. Here’s me wearing it…

No smart remarks, please… 😉

Then, a few weeks back, a friend of mine sent me an ingenious idea for keeping all your electronics cables in place and from falling on the floor. No explanation necessary as her picture was truly worth a thousands words…

Smart, eh?

Then there was the “Treadmill Desk” idea one reader sent me. This one has real potential. And this guy is turning it into a cottage industry…

Finally, a few years back, I think I shared a very cool Internet radio station through iTunes called Jet City Lounge, which, for me anyway, makes for wonderful background music. Cool, smooth, nice beat, non-intrusive, and I’m one unbelievably productive commercial writer while it’s running – like now, for instance.

From iTunes, go to Radio, then Ambient, then “Groovera Presents Jet City Lounge”. Or just listen on the web. And if JCL doesn’t float your boat, there are countless others in dozens of channels – all free.

Anyway, so let’s have a little fun here. Send me your ideas (and feel free to include links and pictures). And here are the rules: ONLY stuff like the above; only ideas related to ergonomics, aesthetics, functionality, atmosphere, etc. ONLY stuff related to our physical environment.

NO web-based writing/networking/business resources, software, social media platforms (doesn’t it seem like they multiply like rabbits?), books, etc. Also, I welcome any life philosophies you’ve incorporated into your commercial copywriting work life that have made a big difference for you…

What gadgets and gizmos do you swear by?

What things have you put in place in your physical environment that you just can’t live without?

What fun, cool, smart tips for maximizing your physical productivity, comfort, and office atmosphere have you come across?

What work/lifestyle philosophies have you adopted that “frame” how you approach work, and that improve the quality of your life?

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

Ever Landed Copywriting Gigs in Unusual Ways (Like These Folks Have)?

In the November E-PUB (here and adapted below), I wrote a piece about finding commercial writing jobs in unlikely places. Thought I’d make it blog post, in order to collect your stories about landing copywriting work in cool and unplanned ways.

I love it when work comes from unexpected directions. In The Well-Fed Writer, I talk about picking up a big marketing brochure after chatting up a guy over chips and dip at a party.

And a few years back, I landed a year’s worth of commercial freelancing work from a big charity (probably $10K, all told), after a serendipitous chat I had with a friend in another social setting. We knew each other, but not professionally, and once she discovered what I did, it was a few short steps (and yes, beating out the competition) to a pile of work.

Back in the June E-PUB, I ran a fun piece about a commercial writer making contact with a prospect while playing online Scrabble!

I recalled all this when I got a note from another freelance copywriter, who wrote:

On and off, I erroneously get phone calls meant for another local business. Today the sales/marketing person called me to see what could be done to resolve this. As we were talking, I asked him what their business does. They do tech stuff: web design, databases, maintenance, support, etc. I have a lot of tech writing experience, so I told him a bit about my freelance commercial writing business. He said they’re always looking for good writers, so I’ll be staying in touch.

You just never know when you might run across a potential lead, even in an unconventional way! It’s good to think outside the box and always be open to opportunities that might randomly come along. I was reminded today that potential business really is everywhere around us, and that when we just put the word out about what we do, the work somewhat easily comes our way (assuming we have good writing skills, of course…).

And while it hasn’t turned into work for her yet, to find, through a wrong number, a prospect who regularly uses copywriters? That’s not only a real long shot, but a golden lead as well, and one well worth following up on.

And she’s right. We often get so focused on prospecting only in the “right” places, that we overlook opportunities right under our noses. Doesn’t mean we should turn into obnoxious self-promoters, aggressively hitting up our friends at every turn. But keeping our radar up for opportunities in non-business settings, is never a bad idea.

Have you picked up work in unconventional ways? If so, can you share some stories?

Do you keep your radar up when you’re in non-prospecting settings?

Have you landed work from someone you’ve known a long time, but never in a professional capacity? (friend, relative, someone at the gym, a club you belong to, etc.)?

Any strategies you’ve used to keep you alert to hidden opportunities?

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.