At first blush, it didn’t seem like such a fortuitous meeting. It was 1994, my stumbling, halting first year as a commercial freelancer. On the side, I was writing columns for a local Atlanta rag. I’d been put in touch with the graphic designer who was laying out the publication I was writing for, to address a spacing issue for my piece. We connected, resolved the issue, end of story. Not. SO not.
That designer ended up getting me in the door of the design firm where she worked, which yielded many thousands of dollars in billings for copywriting jobs over the next 4-5 years. As as we worked together on a bunch of commercial projects, we developed a rapport, a collaborative working style and plenty of mutual respect.
When she launched her own one-person design studio in 1997 (the talented ones always do), I was her first call when the freelance gigs she landed required copy. And even when her clients didn’t think they needed a writer (but did), she’d lobby to get me involved. Why? Because she’d seen, over and over again, how my writing enhanced her design, her clients’ satisfaction, her overall value proposition and her repeat/referral business.
Which, incidentally, is one of the key answers to the question, “What does it take to become a designer’s ‘go-to’ writer?” And I’m telling you, if you’re writing commercially as even part of your writing mix, you owe it to yourself to forge some alliances with graphic artists.
This woman, a one-person shop, has been, without question, my #1 client in terms of billings in my 18-year career, putting many tens of thousands of dollars in my pocket in that time. Our partnership has truly been a golden goose for this boy’s career, and I know I’ve made a big contribution to hers. She’s gone as far as to say, in a testimonial on my copywriting site, “Our creative alliance has played a key role in sustaining MY successful freelance career for close to 15 years now.” And it gets better…
She took on a second designer for a while as her business really blossomed, and I clicked just as famously with her as I did with her boss. And when that second designer eventually went out on her own again (she was already a 20-year design veteran when she was working for my lead designer), I became her ‘go-to’ writer as well. And as these two creative pros built their own businesses, landing work for themselves, that often meant finding work for me as well, and with little or no effort on my part.
What about reciprocity? Didn’t they expect me to bring them just as much work as they brought me? Actually, no. Obviously, I’d always give one or the other the work when a commercial freelancing project I’d landed required design as well (usually smaller- to medium-sized companies, of 50-200+ employees; companies of this size don’t typically have the in-house creative resources to fully execute these projects, but generally have the money to contract those services).
But, it was never expected – just a nice bonus when it happened. In their estimation, what I was contributing to their projects was enough. As a result, far more work flowed to me from them than the other way around.
So, make those design connections. If you’re in any decent-sized major metro, you’ll find a bunch of them (just Google “Graphic Designers – (your city)” for starters. And even if you’re not, our wired world has pretty much made geography a non-issue. Visit their sites, make sure they’re established, with a good reputation and doing good work, and then contact them. And remember, being the right writer is as, if not more important than finding the right designer. Happy hunting!
I invite you check out my new ebook entitled, Profitable – By Design: Tapping the Writer/Designer Partnership Goldmine. In it, I lay out all the details of a strategy that’s absolutely been my bread-and-butter for close to two decades. Check out the skinny here.
And join me for a no-charge teleseminar this Wednesday, 6/15 at noon PST (3:00 p.m. EST), when I’ll be a guest on Carol Tice’s Freelance Free-for-All. But you need to register in advance (AND pose a question). Get all the details here. Hope you’ll join us…
Have you built any partnerships with designers?
If so, how did you go about putting them together initially?
And how have they worked out for you?
If they’ve been lucrative, what have you found to be the expectations from the designer?
Any other comments on your experience with this strategy?
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.
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.
Just got off the phone with one of my regular commercial writing clients after a semi-lovefest of good feelings. The Background: She calls me late one Friday and tells me she needs a sales sheet (8 ½ x 11, front and back) for a new program they’re promoting. She apologized for waiting to the last minute (hey, that’s what clients do), but wondered if I could turn around a finished product by early Tuesday. Which meant, of course, that the first draft would have to be pretty much done by EOD Monday. I said I’d be happy to help them out, but that I’d have to charge a rush fee. NO problem at all. In fact, we never discussed money at all. I’ve done enough commercial projects with her that she knows I’ll be fair.
So she sends me all the background info, and there was a good bit. She wasn’t able to send the last (and arguably most important piece) till Monday am. Once I had it all, and had looked it over on Monday am, I had a few questions, left her a voice mail, but got to work. As it was, she wasn’t able to get back to me till around 5:00. By then, I’d proceeded with the project, assuming x, y, and z until I heard differently. She filled in a few blanks for me in that 5:00 call, but it was 95% done by that point.
I sent it off the following morning and we had a call set up for that afternoon to discuss. She says, “The copy is awesome. I really don’t see anything that needs to be changed.” Music to any copywriter’s ear, of course. She went on to say how big a burden I lifted off of her shoulders. I mentioned that the piece had pretty much been done by the time the time we spoke, and she said, “That’s why I love working with you. You ‘get it’ fast, work with virtually no supervision, and make my life really easy.”
Incidentally, one part of the project entailed creating bios on three distinct entities who were part of the service offering being promoted on the sales sheet. Typically, a copywriter might expect to get the source material for such a set of bios from the client, but I knew this client had no time, wanted me to take ownership of the project, and trusted me implicitly to get it done. So, I simply looked up each entity on the Web, and put together the bios myself. Remember: clients routinely look to us to decide how something’s going to unfold. Want to move into the top earning echelons of this craft? Then, become one of those copywriters that takes ownership of projects.
Now. The point of this post is not some self-canonization. It’s to underscore what it is that clients want from writers: receptive to ultra-tight deadlines, a quick study, excellent work, minimal time invested on their end beyond emailing you background/source material, fast turnaround, being easy to work with, yes, taking ownership, etc. And when you give them all this, within reason, money ceases to be an issue. And when that happens, this business gets really fun. You become an incredibly valuable strategic partner to them and they will pay handsomely for your services. All of which is one pretty good answer to the question of how you weather a tough economy. Become invaluable.
Have you had a similar experience lately? If so, care you share?
What value do you bring to your clients that makes money a non-issue?
What have you heard from clients about other writers who don’t deliver?