In the June 2009 issue of The Well-Fed E-PUB, I ran a piece summarizing copywriting guru Marcia Yudkin’s take on direct mail marketing vs. email marketing. Marcia came down on the side of using direct mail marketing to promote a commercial freelancing business, and for these reasons:
1) If you irritate a client with your email, or they change providers without notifying you, or just try to reduce their volume, you’ve lost them forever. Mail? As she points out: “Way fewer people request no postal mailings.”?
2) Many folks filter and file incoming email without looking at it. Mail? “Hardly anyone discards a postcard, though, without at least glancing at both sides.”?
3) Finally, and perhaps most compelling, she observes: Email volume is rising while postal volume is dropping. Guess which medium it’s easier to stand out in”?
Right after the issue ran, I heard a counterpoint from LA FLCW Andrew Hindes, “The In-House Writer,” who’s had some good success with email marketing for promoting his commercial writing business. They are both right, which just underscores that there’s no ONE right way to do things. Andrew wrote:
1) People tend to respond to email immediately. Sure, they may delete it, but they might also reply with, “We’ll keep you in mind,” “Can you send me some samples?” “What are your rates?” or “We never us outside writers.”? This is useful in determining whether a prospect is worth pursuing in the future. With a post card, unless the recipient needs help right away—or knows they will in the near future—they’re not likely to respond.
2) An email can link to your website. True, a postcard can include your site’s URL, but clicking on a link is a lot easier – and hence more likely – than typing the URL into a browser. Once a prospect visits your site, there are numerous ways you can further engage them, including newsletters, special offers, etc.
3) Emails can easily be forwarded. If your message doesn’t reach the correct contact at the company, the recipient can pass it on to the right person with a few keystrokes. Or they may forward it later to someone they know is looking for a writer. This has happened to me on numerous occasions.
4) It’s easier for the client to cut and paste your contact info from an email into Outlook or another address book program than to type it from a post card.
5) Unless your postcard is incredibly beautiful or compelling, an executive is not likely to keep it around for long. Most people go through their mail within tossing distance of the recycling bin (I know I do). And even if they do keep you card, it’s likely to be buried under a pile the next time they’re looking for a writer. On the other hand, most people are bad at deleting old emails unless they do it right away. So if your email is still in their inbox, they can pull it up using sort or search functions.
6) Email is cheaper. I usually hire a graphic designer and use custom printing in an effort to create cards I hope will really stand out. But even using the online service you mention at $300 for 1,000 post cards, once you add the 28 cents for postage you’re up to $580 total for the mailing (or 44 cents for an oversized card, for a $740 total mailing cost). 1,000 emails? Priceless (and costless!).
7) Because email messages are cheaper and you can easily create them yourself, it’s very convenient and cost-effective to test different copy and headlines. I typically create three or four different emails and try each one on 25 prospects. If one gets a significantly higher response rate, I use that one on the rest of my list – including those who didn’t respond to the previous message. After all, I’ve got nothing to lose – and it’s free.
What’s been your experience with both?
Has one worked better than the other, and if so, why do you think that’s so?
Have you used any other related strategy to good effect?
Good friend Michael Stelzner just released a killer report (and free, tool!) on social media, compiled from the input of some 900 folks. Entitled Social Media Marketing Industry Report: How Marketers Are Using Social Media to Grow Their Businesses, it’s available for download here.
Among the key findings?
Marketers are mostly new to social media: A significant 88% of marketers
surveyed are using social media to market their businesses, BUT 72% have only
been doing so for a few months or less.
How much time does this take? A significant 64% of marketers are using social
media for 5 hours or more each week and 39% for 10 or more hours weekly.
The top benefit of social media marketing: The number-one advantage is
generating exposure for the business, indicated 81% of all marketers, followed
by increasing traffic and building new business partnerships.
The top social media tools: Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn and Facebook were the top
four social media tools used by marketers, in that order.
Now, I haven’t made much of a secret out of the fact that I’m not big on social media right now for my commercial freelancing business. And judging from the first finding above, I’m not that far behind most folks. I’m guessing I’ll get on the bandwagon at some point, but it’s the second finding above that has me push back: The Timesuck.
I already spend enough time sitting in front of my computer; last thing I want to do is spend another hour+ a day (at the least) doing just that, and for what appears to be an as-yet undetermined payoff. My goal is to enjoy REAL life more, not just get better at the virtual one.
But, hey, I realize that’s possibly a short-sighted point of view, and there are no doubt ways for commercial copywriters like us to get maximum benefit from minimal effort (yup, guess that makes me a typical lazy card-carrying member of the human race). I figure I’ll wait till the rest of the world sorts it out rather than be part of the beta-test group.
I also realize that it IS working for many people, so I’d love to hear from you commercial freelancers about how you’re using it to build your businesses.
Are you active in social media (i.e., LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Plaxo)?
If so, which are you using, and what’s been your experience?
Most importantly, has it brought you more business in some specific, measurable ways? Or in less obvious, but still promising ways?
I do these group dinner gatherings to little ethnic holes-in-the-wall every month or so. Always fun. I put a menu together with the restaurant and anywhere from 15 to 50 people show up, pay a flat fee, and enjoy. Nice way to enjoy good food, community and conversation.
This one couple comes to most of them. At the last one I did a few weeks back, as they were leaving, he says, “Oh, make sure you tune into the news at 11 tonight. They’re doing a little piece on Judy!”
Ah yes, that would make sense. After all, Judy is an estate liquidator. If ever there was a recession-proof business, that would be it. And she knows it. The worse things get, the busier and more profitable she becomes. Got me thinking. Are there such things are recession-proof businesses that are good prospects for commercial freelancers? Businesses that are doing well right now because of the economy and as a result, have the money and the inclination to spend it on getting the word out about what they do?
I’m working with a commercial writing client right now who’s awfully close to fitting the bill. She’s a consultant to small colleges, helping them increase enrollment – whether in times of upheaval (internally or externally generated) or not. And she’s got such a great track record that she stays as busy as she wants to be. And some of these colleges are so small (300-400 students) that adding just 20-30 students a year is huge for their bottom line.
I started out doing marketing materials for her own business, but pretty soon, she realized that I wasn’t half-bad at this writing thing (and yes, I’m getting my rate), and she started introducing me to her clients. Sweet. I’ll be talking to her later today to go over a whole list of projects one client wants done over the next few months and to give her an estimate.
There will always be a market for her particular skills among schools looking to bump up their enrollment, and everyone wants that – in bad times and good. And as long as I keep doing good work for her and those clients, the prospects for continued referrals are pretty bright.
Have you worked with any clients in recession-proof businesses or industries?
What might be some recession-proof businesses commercial freelancers could pursue? I can think of funeral homes, the alcohol industry, pawn shops and yes, estate liquidation and other bankruptcy-related businesses. Some more promising than others for sure. Any other thoughts?
Okay, maybe not quite that definitive, but close. Suffice to say, a sticky situation the likes of which I rarely find myself in. After all, one of the best things about commercial freelancing is that payment issues are rare. 30 days or less has absolutely always been the norm for me in 95% of cases.
Was contacted a few months back by a commercial writing client I’d done work for in the past. Successful businessman starting a new venture and needing a marketing brochure for it. He’s a hands-on guy (translation: major micro-manager), but not obnoxious about it. And willing to pay for someone’s attention.
In addition to the brochure (just a four-pager), I ended up crafting a name and tag line for the venture as well. Settled for $1000 for the both, which though a lot lower than I should have gotten (good blog topic in that …), they took me, probably, a total of a 2-3 hours to do – I actually came up with the name during a meeting – so I won’t gripe too much.
Anyway, because I’d done plenty of work with this client in the past and never had a problem getting paid, I didn’t get an upfront deposit. I’d say, “Mistake!” but given the track record, it really wasn’t. And hindsight’s always 20/20. That said, it may not be a bad move, given the climate we’re in, to go with upfront deposits from all clients until things get less dicey.
Well, my guy calls me after I’d sent an invoice for the total (we’d discussed it before I’d billed him) with some disturbing news: His credit line with the bank (to cover operational expenses of getting this new venture up and running) had been revoked. It’s one of the more common by-products of the economic slide we’re in the midst of. Banks just aren’t willing to get any more extended.
Add to that that revenues from his main business are off. So, suddenly, he can’t pay my invoice – at least not right away. So, we set up a schedule, with roughly 30% due on X date, about 40% due two weeks later, and the final 30% due about three weeks after that. Deadline One (a Monday) comes and goes. No check. But, that Friday, he calls me. And that’s key. As long as people are communicating with me, I’ll cut them a world of slack. Shows good faith, accountability, and integrity.
We’re going to have to rework the timetable, he says. I tell him I’m happy to work on a schedule of $500 here and $500 there. He says great, that he’ll be get back to me. It’s been about seven days (and a holiday in there) and I haven’t heard from him, and if I don’t in a few more days, I’ll be in touch. Bottom line, while I’m not terribly pleased, I’m not worried either. I know he’s good for it.
Ever had a situation like this or similar? What did you do?
What are some of the valuable lessons you’ve learned from your experiences?
Pricing our commercial freelancing work. How do you do it? Me? I became a convert to the Flat Fee Channel (“All flat fees, all the time…”) some time back. Rates are best quoted within the context of a particular project. Tell a client your hourly rate is $100, without relating that rate to a specific job (he’s thinking, “Is it going to be 5 hours or 50??”) and he might just run screaming into the night. But say $1000 for a project you think will take 10 hours, and if that’s close to what he’s budgeted for the project in his mind, then you’re in business. An hourly rate, in my humble opinion, should be a number kept to yourself, and used only for internal calculations.
All that said, the debate still goes on. Last week, got the latest piece from wildly successful Atlanta commercial freelancer Ed Gandia. Ed’s the publisher of the great ezine, The Profitable Freelancer (visit and subscribe at no charge). Ed did a great two-part piece for my ezine in June and July of this year about how he made $163K in his first full year as a commercial freelancer.
Ed’s latest piece was entitled “What’s Best: Hourly or Flat Fee?” Check it out (it’s short) here before reading the rest of the piece. Here was my response to it:
Ed: I have found precious few commercial writing clients willing to even let you quote on an hourly basis if they don’t know you. That’s almost exclusively reserved for long-term clients who trust you implicitly, and/or for projects that have, by definition, an undefined scope and fluid parameters, that simply don’t lend themselves to being firmly nailed down. Not sure how one would even go about trying to force an hourly-rate approach on a client. For most commercial freelancers, in my experience, the more important issue is do you quote a straight flat rate or one that reveals your calculations (i.e., “$1500” vs. “$1500 based on 15 hours at $100 an hour”).
The former is the better approach, because as you point out, if you work fast, and finish the project in, say, 12 hours, you’ve just upped your hourly to $125. And as you also point out, the client only cares about the final result. As long as you get it done for the amount they agreed on, then, technically, they don’t care if it takes you 1 hour or 50. If you share your internal calculations, then if it takes you less time, technically, you should charge less. Going with a flat rate focuses the whole discussion to the end result, which is the only thing that really matters.
Just as importantly, the flat-rate approach has the subtle but powerful affect on you, the commercial copywriter, of further “professionalizing” what we do. We’re being paid to deliver a professional service for a fee. We’re not an hourly worker punching a proverbial clock. And I say that same distinction isn’t lost on the client either, who’s more likely to view you as that professional and worthy of your fees.
Also, just a note about flat fees. I’ve found over the years that a range in your quote that varies by 10-15% is acceptable to most clients. Haven’t had any pushback from a client ever. Generally speaking, by agreeing to a quote of, say, “$1500-1700″ or “$4500-$5000,” clients have reconciled themselves to the upper end of the range, and because the two figures are close, it’s not a problem. But it gives you a bit of extra wiggle room for unexpected surprises, which if you have a cushion, you may not have to even charge for. And that’s good for client PR (though if there IS extra time involved, and you don’t charge, you might let the client know that you usually would but won’t this time. That way, you don’t establish a dangerous precedent by having them think that such an M.O. is standard, which it definitely isn’t).
AND, if you end up below your upper end, which has often happened for me, and charge a bit less, it’s a nice surprise for clients, who can’t help but notice you were responsible and frugal with their money. If you suspect money isn’t the #1 issue for a client, I might even suggest one bump the top end of your fee range a bit beyond what you know it’ll take, so you can in fact, ultimately charge less than the upper range so as to make that good impression.
How do you price your work?
Have you had unpleasant experiences quoting hourly rates in a vacuum (i.e., minus the context of a particular project)?
Do you have clients you work with on an hourly basis, and if so, what’s the nature of the relationship and the work?
Any insights you’ve learned about pricing work you care to share?