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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.

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.

What’s the Right Way to Apologize When You Screw Up?

Screw-ups. We all have ‘em. With friends, family, and yes, with our commercial writing clients. But, how you deal with it can be far more important than the screw-up itself. This subject may be a bit off the mainstream of commercial writing, but thought it was worth knocking around, and certainly has relevance for our copywriting businesses.

Last week, one of my copywriting colleagues stepped in it after sending out a note about a coaching client and a niche that client had developed, and sent a link to a YouTube video featuring that client prominently on one side of contentious political issue.

Later that day, once realization dawned (no doubt spurred by some angry notes), out went the mea culpa, saying, in essence, “I didn’t mean to promote a political point of view, and have been so busy lately doing this and that that I neglected to ‘consider the content’ of what I sent out.”

In the wake of that, I got an email from a reader, saying, “Upon reading her apology I unsubscribed from her list” (having just subscribed a few days earlier). She went on to point out that, “not ‘considering the content’ showed little respect for one’s recipients, which, in turn, ends up losing, not gaining interest and goodwill.”

Finally, and most importantly, she took offense at my colleague’s apology, which was less of an apology and more of an excuse, citing “busy-ness” with this and that unrelated task and, as a result of that preoccupation, not thinking it through.

As my friend explained, “When we make a mistake, don’t we have an obligation to own it? With a different sort of apology I might not have unsubscribed. Something like: ‘Today I distributed a video featuring one of my clients. I regret sending it. The video did not demonstrate the point I was hoping to make, and in fact contained a political message many of you may have found inappropriate and offensive. I apologize. Please be assured that nothing like this will happen again.’ But instead she made excuses.”

Which made me think about the nature of apologies. In follow-on emails, we both sympathized with my colleague’s compounded error. You make a mistake, and in trying to apologize, it’s only human to want to make yourself look good (or less bad). You’re faced with a) frankly admitting no-excuse cluelessness, or, b) claiming the excuse of distracted carelessness (who can’t relate to being too busy?). In this case, my colleague chose the latter. And perhaps it worked on some, but certainly not on my friend.

I bring up this episode NOT to gang up on my colleague anymore (who no doubt took themselves to the woodshed several times), but to use it as a discussion starter about the nature of apologies. I’ve certainly apologized in the past like my colleague did, so I can’t throw stones. But now (perhaps based on the results of that approach), I put myself in the second camp. If I screw up, I’ll throw myself to the wolves – no excuses.

One of the things I’ve learned in my years on earth is that, overwhelmingly, people are just looking for reasons to forgive you. Do a soft-shoe, deflect and dissemble and they’ll pound you doubly hard. Perhaps because they’re punishing you for that same slippery quality they hate in themselves.

But, come to them with a clear-eyed admission of guilt, hat in hand, no excuses, and they’ll fall all over themselves to offer you absolution. Perhaps, because, by the same token, they’re rewarding you for showing the same flawed humanness they share with you, a humanness they know takes courage to reveal. And they’ll not only forgive you, you’ll grow in stature in their eyes. Sometimes irrationally…

Caught a news item last week about Lt. Calley of My Lai (Vietnam) massacre infamy, who, 41 years after the fact, finally apologized for his role in the cold-blooded murder of 500 unarmed Vietnamese civilians – mostly women and children. He did it at a Kiwanis Club meeting in Columbus, Georgia, where afterwards – you ain’t going to believe this – the assembled attendees gave him a standing ovation.

If that isn’t proof that people love to be magnanimous (and will actually think better of you no matter what you did), whether or not they should be, I’m not sure what is.

Can you share a time you apologized to a client in a no-excuses manner and how did it turn out?

Can you share a time you apologized to a client by making excuses and how did that turn out?

Any other thoughts on apologies?

Is There Such a Thing as a Recession-Proof Client or Industry?

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?