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Successful Copywriters (Or ANY Craftspeople) Don’t Focus on Success; They Focus on This…

The “APPETIZER” Series: The original version of this piece first appeared as an Appetizer course in The Well-Fed E-PUB in February 2017, and was one I wanted to run as a blog post (with minor alterations) in order to get input from many voices.

A friend of mine recently sent around a pithy quote (source unknown) to a larger group of our friends. It struck me as a truism that gets at the heart of what we as commercial writers should aspire to, but don’t always. It said…

“The goal is not to be successful. The goal is to be valuable. Once you’re valuable, you don’t chase success, you attract it.”

I love its clarity. If you say, “I want to be successful,” not only is success an exceptionally nebulous concept that means different things to different people, but, just as importantly, how you get there isn’t at all clear.

It’s this vague state of being, akin, in many ways, to saying, “I want to be happy”—also a vague state, with vague path to completion. But say, “I want to be valuable,” and well, that’s a LOT clearer, no?

And if you know you want to be valuable as a commercial freelancer, then it’s just a matter of figuring out which skills and expertise you need to gather and develop in order to be valuable—to be someone that high-caliber, well-paying clients want and need to hire.

Once you’ve developed those skills—skills that make you more valuable than the average writer—assuming you do a decent job of letting the world know about you and your above-average abilities, you’ll indeed attract success.

Again, it’s like happiness. Trying to figure out what you should do in order to “be happy” can be a frustrating and circular process.

Come to think of it, becoming a useful, and yes, a valuable person—in many arenas of life—might just have you attracting happiness as well as success.

I can tell you this from plenty of firsthand experience: Being valuable is a LOT more fun than fighting it out with a bunch of other writers, when all of you have equal (low) value.

Forgive an Editorial Aside…
I think this little saying is particularly form-fitted to our times: With all the talk today of finding one’s passion and “finding one’s self” (especially for young people starting out), it’s good to be reminded that none of us is owed a life of passion or fulfillment.

We get there by working our butts off for a long time and for little money or recognition, until we eventually develop a skill or talent for something we enjoy and for which others will gladly pay.

If your copywriting practice is going well, what skills did you develop to make yourself valuable to your clients?

If your practice isn’t where you want it to be (or you’ve struggled in the past), was it because you focused on being “successful”?

Have you found that focusing on being valuable has, by any chance, boosted your happiness along the way? 😉

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Becoming valuable to my clients has been about a lot of things, but mostly, it’s been about honing my marketing-writing chops across a broad array of commercial writing projects so I can step into virtually any copywriting situation, and quickly know what to and how to do it.

If that sounds like the kind of “valuable” you’d like to offer your clients, I invite you to check out Well-Fed Craft, my new, self-paced course that delivers just that. Click the course name above for full details, testimonials AND a free 10-minute sample.

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

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Want More Work? Get Out And Ask For It (Guest Post)

Cool guest post from Brett Stone, who sent me this last fall, when she was still a commercial freelancer (and commercial real-estate investor). She’s since moved into some new and exciting directions, leveraging her past experience and teaching women how to raise their wealth consciousness and create more of what they want in their lives. Find out more about it here.

Regardless, this is a great primer on getting out from behind our “boxes,” and drumming up business through face-to-face contact. I’ve always been a fan of more direct, personal approaches to building one’s business—especially as the world gets more and more impersonal and virtual. I subscribe to the belief—as echoed here by Brett—that business-building is about relationship-building. Enjoy!

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When it comes to digging up clients, most commercial writers would prefer to stay behind the computer and let words do the selling of their services. Yet one of the fastest and most satisfying ways I know to build up a client base comes from taking a deep breath, grabbing a handful of business cards, and getting out and networking face to face.

Truth is, with the glut of information out there today, most people would still rather hire someone they already know and like, than spend time sorting through a miasma of avatars on elance, or blindly respond to an unsolicited email.

It’s always interesting to discover just how many people, upon learning I’m a writer, will suddenly launch into telling me about a book they’ve written that needs editing, a direct mail campaign they’ve been considering doing, or that they need help getting some good quality content on their website. Often these people have had a desire for help for a long time, but they just really had no idea where to turn.

The best news about face-to-face networking, though, is that 99% of the time, you’ll be the only copywriter in the room. Yes, you’ll encounter bloggers and people who’ve published an ebook, but rarely is this their main source of income. Just by getting your services in front of someone who needs them and is dreading having to look for it, you’ve already helped them by saving them a big chunk of time. They’ll be so grateful to already know you that, chances are excellent, they’ll hire you.

So though it can be absolutely terror-inducing to stand up in front of a group of 60+ people and plug your business, I’d like to offer a few strategies that can turn face-to-face networking into something that’s not only a successful work-generating activity, but an awful lot of fun.

Finding Opportunities
The first thing you’ll need to do is identify where your clients are hanging out.
Unless you’re just looking for supportive friends to go and have coffee with, don’t go to events for writers. Instead, look for events that target the people who hire you. If you write for ecommerce, then go to events for ecommerce owners; if you write for the natural health industry, go to events for practitioners, etc. You get the idea.

I also attend small B2B events. Even though the attendees there aren’t prospects for my commercial freelancing business, often they serve people who are (such as marketing professionals) and recommend my services to a client they’re already working with.

The Chamber of Commerce is good place to check out, but don’t stop there. If you live in a good-sized metropolis, Meetups.com is a fabulous resource. They have groups focused on all different sorts of interests and businesses. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, you can also start your own.

Many cities also have private companies that sponsor networking events you can attend for a small fee. If you have a little more money to invest, you might also consider attending conferences.

When talking with people, ask what other events they go to, and consider attending yourself. Also, keep your ears open for introductions to mastermind groups. These are little more difficult to sniff out, but a good mastermind group can get you in with highly successful entrepreneurs. These are people that pay good money to farm out writing tasks so they can keep their valuable time focused on growing their business.

Go In With A Plan
At the majority of events, you’ll be asked to stand up in front of the group and introduce yourself and your business. Yes, this is the scary part—public speaking is a greater fear than death for most people—but there are things you can do to allay any anxiety.

The first “must-do” is to prepare. Sit down and write out a script (you’re a writer, right?). In most cases, all you need are three to four lines you can deliver in a clear, friendly way.

Instead of talking about yourself, state your job and then briefly tell people, not what you do, but what you can do for them. I focus my pitch on how my copywriting can help people make more money. Don’t try to be funny unless you’re really skilled at it, and don’t try to engage with the audience unless you’re a seasoned public speaker.

Once you’ve created your lines, memorize them. Stand in the middle of your living room and rehearse, delivering them as if you were addressing a room full of people. As you speak, work towards sounding spontaneous, as if talking right off the top of your head. Be sure to practice standing and gesturing in a way that’s relaxed and natural.

Effective “Mingling”
While people are introducing themselves to the group, take note of those who are in positions to hire you or could possibly refer you to people who would. When the evening turns social, make a point of approaching each of these people and making a connection.
This is actually a very easy thing to do.

Simply go up, introduce yourself, hand them a business card, and then ask them to tell you about their business and their goals for it. Don’t talk about yourself unless they ask, and then only in a context that relates to ways you might help them. Don’t sell. Share a little and then show more interest in what they do. Often people will continue to pursue you to write for them without you having to promote yourself at all.

If the people you want to approach are already in conversation in a group, it’s perfectly acceptable to go up to them and join in. Just like you, people are there to make connections and they welcome the burden being off of them to initiate it.

Don’t Forget The Follow-up
The very next day (or later that same day), take ten minutes and send an email to every person you met who you think might become a client or a valuable relationship. In the letter you can comment about the event, tell them it was a pleasure to meet them, ask if they have any ideas how you might help them and refer them to your website.

I usually write one short, friendly letter that I personalize by changing the name and then send out as separate emails.

Often, that follow-up is just the little comfortable opening someone needs to take the next step towards hiring you. Several times I’ve had people write me back and tell me how they’ve been to many events, and I’m the first person who ever bothered to make contact with them afterwards.

The truth is, when it comes right down to it, whether you’re a commercial copywriter or a dog-food vendor, success grows out of forming relationships you nurture by putting yourself out there, and genuinely asking “How may I serve?”


Have you had any success with face to face networking?

What are your strategies for creating profitable relationships?

Do you have any events you regularly attend?

What sort of statements do you use to describe your business?

BrettStonepicBrett Renee Stone is a copywriter and investor who specializes in the areas of real estate and ecommerce. Over the years she’s helped her clients raise or generate millions of dollars. Currently, she’s shifting gears, teaching women the process of wealth creation to get more of what they want in their lives. Find out more here.

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

From What Background Did You Come to Commercial Freelancing?

One of the things I love about this field of ours is that there are few backgrounds one can’t leverage into a freelance commercial writing career. Over the years, I’ve crossed paths with commercial writers who started out as doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, engineers, bankers, software salesman, PR people, undertakers, farmers, accountants, scientists, and many more that elude me right now.

It’s always interesting to me to see what fields someone can parlay into commercial copywriting career, and that they can parlay that field successfully.

Of course, it’s no surprise the commercial writing field is so accommodating to most any background. After all, every business needs a healthy volume of writing, and who better to deliver that writing than someone who hails from that field?

Obviously, as most of you know, I turned a 15-year sales/marketing career into a future as a commercial freelancer, and someone who understands sales and marketing is going to get the attention of many a prospect.

But I’d love to be able to share with readers of this blog who are considering a jump to our field, the various different paths that have led to it, to prove to them that, in fact, virtually any field one comes from can be a good starting point. With that in mind…

What was the background that you brought into commercial writing?

How did you leverage that background when you started out?

And if you did leverage it, what did that background mean to the people who hired you?

If you didn’t leverage it, was it harder to get started?

Any other comments?

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

Why Commercial Writers Earn More Than Regular “Freelance Writers”

When I first wrote the original piece noted below, it struck me as a subject on which I’d love to get some feedback from you guys. Look for other such posts (I know, recycling content, but all for a good cause…;)

In the November 2013 Well-Fed E-PUB, my Appetizer course shared a recent client experience that underscored for me why good commercial freelancers generally make a lot more money than regular “freelance writers.” Here’s that piece (adapted and slightly edited)…

Got an email from a client of mine a few weeks back, needing a little editing work on a project her designer was working on for her (i.e., combo brochure/direct mail piece she’d be giving away at trade shows as well as mailing out to prospects).

While I can’t make blanket statements, I’d wager good money that had she simply contacted a “freelance writer”—someone charging quite a bit less than I do—with the same request, she’d have likely gotten just what she’d asked for: edited copy.

However, I took a look at it, and gave her my thoughts: she didn’t need the thing edited. She needed to trash what she had, and start all over again both with the copy and design (and, while she was at it, replace her newbie, “moonlighting-college-student” designer with one of my trusted design partners).

While the existing design was quite creative—a main panel with all sorts of other panels that folded in on it—I looked at it through a far different lens. I listened to what she said she was going to do with it. I looked at what she was selling—a service that needed to have a “case built” for it, and in a logical, sequential fashion.

Her existing copy didn’t begin to build that case (and given the design, the requested editing wouldn’t have allowed me to expand it to do so), nor did the existing design framework even remotely facilitate the proper persuasive unfolding of that “story.”

Doing good copywriting work for her for years has her trust that I know what I’m doing. So when I suggested a totally different layout (still quite creative), new designer, expanded copy and a far higher fee than originally envisioned, she quickly gave the green light.

She’s the ideal client: someone who understands that the ultimate effectiveness of a marketing piece always trumps cost (within reason, of course). So, I’m being paid far more, largely because I’m providing a level of expertise that straight “freelance writers” wouldn’t.

If you know how to write, and even tell a good story, you’ll only be able to command a certain fee (given how many other writers have those same skills), but if you can, indeed, “build that case” for a product/service in a logical, creative way, and can think strategically about copy, and—when necessary, about physical layouts that facilitate that “case-building”—watch your writing income rise.

On this piece, I averaged roughly $120 an hour, not as much as I’d like, but not bad for fun work. And I made more than a regular “freelancer” because I know both how to write AND organize what I write to fit a certain layout (which in this case, I suggested, further increasing my value).

My goal with this post (and hopefully, the ensuing comments) is NOT to discourage non-commercial writers from our business. Anyone can learn, through experience and practice, the craft of good marketing copywriting and the strategic planning side of it. But, I did want to highlight that it IS a different set of skills, and for a businessperson, they’re worth more, and hence worth learning.

And, in all fairness, we commercial copywriters get paid a lot more than regular freelancers, in large part, because the business arena in which we’re operating pays higher rates than say, magazines, newspapers, or content mills.

So, it’s the setting as well as the good skills, but being in the “high-rent” district will only get you so far without the skills.

What do you feel good commercial freelancers bring to the party that regular writers don’t?

Can you share a specific moment/project when you realized you truly had far more marketable skills than the average writer?

Can you share a moment where a business client had an epiphany, as they realized how much more you were able to do for them than a regular writer did/could?

Can you share a moment when your ability to think strategically about copy or layout, set you apart from other writers?

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

How Do You Deal with the Unimaginative Client?

Got the following note from a reader and fellow commercial freelancer:

I wrote a website recently in which I dropped the reader right into the environment of the business and took them on a tour of the facility, while describing their experience of the place. Nice flow, lots of mental imagery, etc., if I do say so myself. The client changed it all to “the purpose of,” “We do this,” We do that,” on and on. Read like a drill sergeant. Frustrating to say the least. Ever had a similar experience?

To which I replied:

Yes, we’ve all been in that frustrating place. Clients without vision and imagination are everywhere. All you can do is make your professional opinion known, but ultimately, they’re the boss, and they get what they want. I’m always prepared with an “I-did-it-this-way-and-here’s-why” rationale if they suggest changing it, and I will push my case strongly (and having been at it for as long as I have, I might push harder than someone newer to the biz). But, again, that’s all you can do.

Sometimes our job as commercial writers is just a job. You do your best, you put your best creative foot forward, hope for a client with an open mind—willing to embrace a bit of creativity—and make a strong case for your approach if they balk. But, in the end, if the client’s narrow perspective wins out, and you end up simply being paid well (even if you don’t end up with a copywriting sample worth showing), c’est la vie. There are worse things.

If they keep doing it, you need to make a decision: stay, hold your nose and collect your money; or let them know you can’t work with a client who won’t let you do your job. Guess what you’ll do depends on how much you need them…;)

It always amuses me (used to make me angry, but I’ve mellowed…) when clients hire me to do something they presumably don’t feel they have the skill to do, and then change what I’ve written to something of their own creation that isn’t nearly as effective. I could understand it better if I were being paid $25 an hour, in which case they’d consider me little more than a stenographer. But I’ve had clients who were paying me $125 an hour do it as well.

And in the example above, how our friend crafted the piece is a wonderfully effective way of doing it: making it real, letting the reader “test-drive” the experience of a product or service. Why clients can’t see that an approach like that is more engaging, and hence, more effective, is a real head-scratcher.

I suspect it’s more of a comfort-zone thing. They’re so used to thinking about business in black-and-white terms, and they’ve worked hard to carve out some market share, so they’re afraid of somehow alienating their customer base by communicating to that base in a “voice” that’s more colorful than their usual. Just a theory.

With bigger companies (smaller companies are typically far more willing to be creative), the fault can be laid at the feet of legal departments, which, trained as they are in imagining every possible worst-case scenario for every piece of material they disseminate publicly, will predictably nix anything out of the ordinary.

I talk in TWFW about a project I did many years back for that Big Soft-Drink Company here in Atlanta, working through a design firm. It was a promotion geared to their bottlers, and linking one of their products to a big golf tournament. I filled the piece with all sorts of fun, golf-related double-entendre-verbiage: “Drive for the Green!”; “An Opportunity that’s Dead Solid Perfect;” and more.

Some months later, I saw the final product. Every single one of my clever little bits of color had been sanitized out of the piece, replaced with bland, snoozer copy. Oh, well.

Why do you think many corporate copywriting clients resist more creative approaches? Have some shared their reasons?

Have you had client push back on a creative/interesting approach, and if so how did you handle their resistance?

If you were able to sway them to your point of view, what did the trick?

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