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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.

Speak Up and Grow Your Commercial Writing Business…

About a month and a half before my holiday trip to Ohio this past December to visit family, I Googled “Ohio Writers Groups,” and found one right in my kin’s neighborhood, Western Ohio Writers Association. Shot an email to the executive director of the group (Gery Deer, also a commercial freelancer), letting him know I’d be in the area for the holidays, and would he be interested in exploring the possibility of an event. Absolutely, he replied.

(Funny sidebar if you’ll allow me a vanity moment: In my initial email, per my custom, I didn’t assume he knew who I was, introducing myself as the author of The Well-Fed Writer, etc., etc. Apparently unnecessary. He wrote back saying his wife had recently bought him my book, and he’d been carrying it around with him like a bible since then. Okay. That saved some explaining time…;)

Anyway, in fits and starts, the thing came together. Gery even tapped his long-cultivated network of local contacts and got me five minutes on TV on Dayton’s News at Noon show (slow news week, apparently…). We had 30+ in seats come show time, and all went swimmingly. Sold a small pile of books, possible commercial writing coaching business down the line, and left some goodwill in my wake – always the goal.

Sure, it’s easier for an author of a book targeted to a specific audience to put on events like this (especially with such an involved local ally as I had in this case). But remember this: what we commercial writers do – help businesses boost their bottom line through more effective marketing and communications materials, amongst other things – is something every business potentially needs.

By extension, any business/civic organization made up of businesspeople would be a good target for a speaking offer (though don’t expect to be paid). Kiwanis, Rotary, local business associations, Chambers of Commerce, industry-specific associations, are all good candidates.

Once there, any number of topics could strike a compelling note with this crowd. Right off the top of my head (and depending, of course, on your areas of expertise…):

“The 7 Most Common Mistakes Companies Make with Their Marketing Materials…”

“Five Ways Social Media Can Boost Your Bottom Line (and a Few Ways It Won’t…)”

“The Powerfully Effective Marketing Tool You’re Probably Overlooking…” (about case studies, white papers, etc.)

“How to Do Your Own Writing for Your Business (and Why That May Not Be Wise…)”

I’m sure you could come up with a bunch of others with a little thought. All designed, of course, to showcase your knowledge of commercial writing, marketing communications, and marketing in general (and your readiness, willingness and ability to execute the aforementioned…).

Most importantly, make it Job #1 at any speaking gig to offer truly valuable content, NOT pick up business. Provide enough practical information that audience members could put your ideas in action without your help. And therein lies a seeming paradox: the more you give away, the more of your beans you spill, the more likely many will be to hire you.

By being generous, you accomplish three things – all good:

1) You showcase your expertise in implementing what you’re discussing

2) You get people thinking, “If he/she is willing to give away this much, they must know a whole lot more.” And…

3) You establish yourself as the “good guy” interested in making them more successful and profitable.

Get an okay in advance from your contact person to offer a brief “marketing minute” at the end of your talk, explaining what you do, letting people know you have business cards, and perhaps offering a free consultation, top-line business analysis, report, etc.

Truth, be known, while I’ve done a ton of speaking related to my books over the years, I’ve done very little of the business speaking described above. But a healthy number of commercial freelancers I know do, given its effectiveness as a lead-generation tool. If the idea calls to you, start with some of the ideas above – or brainstorm your own.

Put your storyteller hat on, breathing life into talks with anecdotes and success stories from your own experiences (or those of other writers – with attribution, of course). Or even made-up “picture-this” scenarios to get them thinking about their own businesses.

Just remember, as you put any talk together, always imagine yourself as a businessperson in that audience, and keep in mind what’s most important to them: profitability, competitive advantage, industry reputation, etc. Benefits, not features.

From what I’ve heard, neither the bar nor audience expectations in general are set particularly high for civic/business group luncheon speeches, so don’t imagine it’d take more than you’ve got to make your mark.

Shy? Introverted? Don’t let that stop you. I read a great piece of advice about public speaking once that went something like this: While having good nuts-‘n-bolts speaking techniques down is always a good thing, the two most important attributes of all good speakers is, 1) they’re experts on their subject, and 2) they love sharing it with others.

Some years back, I watched author Malcolm Gladwell (Blink, The Tipping Point, Outliers), speak at a local Borders about Blink. Obviously shy and egghead-ish – wild hair and all – you could tell speaking wasn’t something natural for him. But, because he knew his subject intimately (AND used lots of great anecdotes), and was obviously passionate about sharing it, he had the standing-room-only crowd captivated for well over an hour. Food for thought…

Have you done this kind of speaking, and if so, how did it turn out?

What approaches/strategies have worked for you in the speaking arena?

What types of groups have you found most receptive?

If you haven’t done this kind of speaking, are you getting any ideas from all this?

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.

One Big Reason Why Commercial Writing Pays Better and Resists “Off-Shoring” (and Why this Other Kind of Writing Doesn’t…)

Okay, possibly just a “mental gymnastics” piece, but you be the judge…;)

Read an interesting book recently: Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel Pink (author of Free Agent Nation and A Whole New Mind). While some of the stuff was a bit obvious (e.g.; money/prestige/titles doesn’t motivate everyone…no kidding), Pink does have a way of spawning mini-epiphanies.

Not to mention that a few things he shared had me exclaim (in the immortal words of Johnny Carson), “I did NOT know that!” Allow me a quick digression…

Most of us are aware that Wikipedia is an “open-source” undertaking, meaning it’s built, updated and revised solely by volunteers – just regular folks like you and me, when the mood strikes us, and, needless to say, for no pay.

But did you know that the browser Firefox (150 million users); the server software platform Linux (running 25% of all corporate servers); and the web-server program Apache (used by 52% of all corporate web servers), are all open-source as well? All volunteer efforts, with no money changing hands? Who knew? (everyone but me, perhaps?)

Pink shared this to illustrate that “intrinsic motivation” – doing something just for the challenge, creative expression, and reward of solving problems – can be a powerful driver for humans, and far more effective, after a certain point, than money, prestige or awards.

Enough “gee-whiz” facts…

One point he made had something click in place for me, and had me realize something about this commercial writing field of ours, as well as other arenas of so-called “writing” (that may not really be writing at all). He notes that jobs/tasks fall into two categories: algorithmic and heuristic, explaining:

An algorithmic task is one in which you follow a set of established instructions down a single pathway to one conclusion. That is, there’s an algorithm for solving it. A heuristic task is the opposite. Precisely because no algorithm exists for it, you have to experiment with possibilities and devise a novel solution. Working as a grocery checkout clerk is mostly algorithmic. You pretty much do the same thing over and over in a certain way. Creating an ad campaign is mostly heuristic. You have to come up with something new.

Think about jobs/tasks that get “offshored” reasonably successfully: computer programming, software development, database management, accounting, other technical processes, etc. All algorithmic tasks that follow a set path. Heuristic tasks – with no fixed set of instructions or set processes – are far harder to outsource to offshore practitioners. And writing is one of those things.

Most writing. Certainly the kind of writing we do – projects that entail original and critical thinking, not to mention facility with English as a native tongue – isn’t leaving our shores anytime soon for some sweatshop garret in Bangalore, Karachi or Manila.

But, there is one arena of writing that has been offshored, though, to a large extent, without ever actually leaving our shores. Of course, I’m talking about writing for content mills (e.g.; Demand Studios, eHow, Suite101, etc.): 500-700-word keyword-rich articles cranked out by legions of “writers” for rates hovering around $5-$10 a pop (or less; keep reading…).

Why does it pay so poorly? Because there are countless people with the same minimal skills necessary to produce such pieces (making it “commoditized” writing). And why is that? Because writing these pieces entails an easy-to-follow formula, making it one of the few algorithmic writing tasks out there.

Why is it formulaic? Because the quality of the writing doesn’t matter. The articles are just a framework to hold keywords, which are there to engage the search engines and drive traffic to the site, where, in turn, the goal is to have visitors click other links on the page. So, when the writing doesn’t matter, it can indeed get offshored for peanuts.

Exhibit A: I just got an email from a frustrated writer who’d gotten an email promo from this outfit. Their home page trumpets: “Get articles written for as low as $2.00 an article.” Can you say algorithmic? I rest my case.

Heck, given that, let’s not even call it writing. How about word-arranging? Definitely a more accurate description. Or as my frustrated writer friend enlightened me, the term to describe the process is actually called “spinning,” and in many cases, is actually done by computer (and scarily well in some cases). So, yes, there is definitely skill involved. As she put it, “You try writing a 400-word article with the phrase ‘mesothelioma diagnosis’ at a density of 6.25%.” I get it, and…

Given that its practitioners approach their task in terms of “How many pieces can I crank out in a day?” if that isn’t a piecework mentality – part and parcel of many algorithmic tasks – I’m not sure what would be.

No doubt, having what they do be called “word-arranging” will make me pretty unpopular with those folks working in the content mill realm, and truly believing that what they’re doing is, in fact, writing. Well, tough. If you think you’re a true writer, then quit screwing around in that algorithmic writing sub-basement and move up to more heuristic writing tasks – where your creative fulfillment and earnings can only rise, if for no other reason than you’ve got less competition for what you’re able to do.

After all, how could you offshore what we do? Certainly with projects where the goal is a specific, measurable response, and hence, must be crafted just so (e.g.; direct mail, landing-page copy, direct response, sale promotions, etc.), offshoring won’t work. When the bottom line is on the line, you can’t afford to do it on the cheap.

But even projects with softer metrics (e.g.; case studies, white papers, sales sheets, brochures, etc). where the goal is educating, brand awareness, image-building, impressions, etc., I’m still not seeing how offshoring would work. Yes, budget constraints could have a company seek out lower-priced resources, but the stronger and more focused your skills, the less likely they’ll be able to get what they need from cheaper writers (i.e., they may be able to write, but often run screaming from even the whiff of “marketing.” All the better for us…).

Of course, my foundational assumption is that, for most of the good clients we work with, or want to work with, the writing itself matters very much. If we get to a point where it doesn’t, all bets are off. Though, if that happens, I suspect that’ll be the least of our problems.

So, the more heuristic the writing task (i.e., the more creativity and original thinking involved), the less likely that task can be offshored (to a foreign or domestic shore…), the more in demand competent practitioners will be, and the higher rates they’ll command. Not saying it’s easy (it’s not), but if the alternative is slaving away for peanuts, then I say, taking the time to hone your skills in order to set yourself apart is worth the investment.

Was this just a useless mental exercise or am I on to something here? 😉

Have you thought about writing in these terms (algorithmic vs. heuristic) before?

Have you successfully transitioned from a more algorithmic writing career to a more heuristic one, and if so, can you share a bit of your story?

Any epiphanies of your own from this discussion?

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