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Why Aren’t You Still Working with that Client from 2008 (or Earlier)?

I recently heard from an old commercial writing client for whom I hadn’t worked in probably five or six years. She had a small copywriting project, along with a vague “and we’ve got a few other things cooking we might need your help with.” Always a nice treat when old clients surface, but there’s always a bit of a nagging voice that comes with it…

“How come you stopped working with them in the first place?”

The easy answer? Well, the project you were working on for them ended, you both got busy, and the old “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” thing took over. Never sounds very satisfying, because it points to laziness on my part in the follow-up department. It’s like the natural order of things is that YOU should be contacting them and discovering they have a job for you. NOT them having to reach out to you.

The latter seems to imply that there might very well have been many other commercial freelancing jobs, big and small, you could have done for them in the ensuing years, but you missed out because you weren’t top-of-mind when those gigs came along. And not being top-of-mind also means missing out on possible referrals as well. Sigh.

As confirmation (the self-flagellation now begins in earnest…), she said she was reaching out because the copywriter she’d been using just wasn’t getting it done. Sheesh. And it gets worse. She says, “I need a writer who can write like only you can.”

You know, like he did on that flurry of work five years back, all of which they loved, and after which, he just vanished. What was I thinking? That that would be all they’d ever need? Turn that knife.

I have a dear friend—and fellow commercial freelancer—here in Atlanta who’s been working with one client steadily for about five years. Seems, every time we talk, their name surfaces as part of the “what’s-on-my-plate-now” conversation. They’ve made her multiple offers over the years to come onboard full-time. But, she’s resisted. Hey, why buy the cow, etc., etc.

She gets constant work from them because she knows their business inside and out, is a great writer, incredibly thorough, knows PowerPoint like the back of her hand (along with several other programs; no, you don’t have to be so technically inclined to succeed as a commercial freelancer, but it doesn’t hurt). In short, she’s incredibly capable and versatile.

So, when the workload with a client is steady and ongoing, as it is with hers, it’s easy to not lose touch. But clients like that (i.e., providing a virtually unbroken streak of work) are most definitely the exception, not the rule, in this commercial copywriting business of ours.

Now, I’ve been pretty good at keeping in touch with most of my clients over the years, but if I’m going to be honest here—and Exhibit A above makes it hard to come to any other conclusion—there are a handful of clients who would have been turning to me far more often over the past years had I done a better job of keeping in touch.

Recently, thanks to that blast-from-the-past client call, I reached out to a bunch of those “fell-through-the-crackers.” While nothing’s come of it yet, I’m back on their radar, with an OK to check back in on X date, so that’s all good.

Yes, as we all know, there are a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with us, why we might stop working with a client: company goes out of business; our contact leaves for another company, and the new one has their favorite writer; company hires an in-house writer (or just dumps the writing off on that overworked admin), etc.

But, that’s not the whole story, and we all know it. As the marketing truism reminds (uncomfortably, perhaps?), “It’s far easier to get more work from an existing client than to land a new one.”

Have you had an old client get back in touch after several years, making you realize you’d done a sorry job of regular follow-up?

How do you ensure good clients, even those without steady, ongoing work, keep you “top of mind” for when they do need a writer?

Have you had a steady client that’s hired you for at least 3 years? If so, what do you do (besides write really well) that keeps them coming back?

Have you just thought of a few clients you lost touch with? And what are you going to do about it? 😉

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

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.

An Ode to “Good Clients” (i.e., Virtually All of Mine…)

I just got off the phone with one of my favorite commercial writing clients – someone who embodies what I like about most of my clients: she always thinks of me first when writing comes up (who wouldn’t love that?); values my contributions; respects me and my process; gives me enough time, attention, and input to do my job well; never balks at my project bids, and makes sure I get paid promptly.

And yes, most of my clients over the years have been like her. Sure, even the greatest client has their quirks and minuses. After all, we’re still dealing with human beings here. One is hard to reach and often doesn’t return calls. Another can be a bit of a micro-manager, though backs down graciously when it’s gently pointed out. Yet another may be a little scattered in meetings. But, all in all, small stuff.

So, needless to say, I was a bit taken aback by an email I got recently from a budding commercial writer recently, discouraged about this commercial writing field of ours. Based on what he’d read on the blog, he wrote:

“The message I get is more or less as follows: “Yes, you can make great money, there’s plenty of work, but most of your clients will suck – kind of like the so-called ‘colleagues’ you have if you’re employed full time.”

Hmmmm. Never really considered that the blog was presenting, perhaps, a skewed perspective of our business. Though, as I explained to him, by definition, the blog addresses issues and challenges common to commercial freelancers, and as such, often focuses on the “problem children” amongst our clients. After all, people don’t need much help dealing with ideal clients, or all the things that go right.

Yet, the blog’s often-necessary focus isn’t The Story of the copywriting field. At least, it’s not been mine. And in the relatively rare cases when my commercial copywriting clients haven’t fit the above description, some haven’t hired writers before, and perhaps I’ve failed to communicate properly, or clearly outline terms and expectations. Sure, we’ve all had a few jerks, but for me anyway, those types have absolutely been the exception, not the rule.

The fact that, overwhelmingly, I’ve had good clients, is largely a function of this commercial freelancing field of ours. Assuming you’re targeting the right prospects, you’ll be landing a higher-caliber breed of client (than say, the clients I often hear about from my magazine-writer friends), and that’ll yield good client experiences.

Case in point: in my 18+ years as a copywriter, I’ve never once been stiffed by a client. Not ever. And I can count the slow-pay episodes on the fingers of one hand. I’d challenge any non-commercial writers to make the same claims. We’re just dealing with a better class of client (or probably more to the point: corporations have healthier budgets than publications do, which makes payment challenges a non-issue).

So, who are the right prospects? They’re professional, busy, high performing and exacting. They intimately understand the difference that professional copywriting can make in their messaging, their value proposition, and ultimately, their bottom line. They have the resources to invest, and – this is key – for them, the right outcome trumps price. And when you find them, this business can be a lot of fun.

And yes, I DO know that when you’re starting out, sometimes you have to put up with more…stuff (though still less than other writing avenues) than later on. But if you’re in that place, know that as you become more established, the quality of your clients will rise – mainly because, at that point, you can afford to cut some loose.

So, I want to hear your stories of great clients – to underscore that they’re the norm, not the anomaly. I want to hear about those people who make this business worthwhile, challenging (in a good way), enjoyable, and rewarding – both creatively and financially (okay, we don’t always get creative fulfillment, but I’ve found it happens far more than the uninitiated might imagine…).

If your situation is similar to mine, good for you. If, however, most of your clients make you crazy; don’t give you the respect and consideration you deserve; haggle over fees and need repeated reminders to take care of invoices, know that that’s not typical. AND, it might be time to consider a phased “house-cleaning.”

Tell us about your favorite client(s). What do you like about them?

Do you have a favorite “Clients-Behaving-Wonderfully” story?

Do most of your clients fall into the “good-guy” category?

If so, how did (do) you make sure that’s the case?

How Would You Deal With Such an Unpleasant Client?

Recently got an email from a new commercial writer up North. All you experienced folks, if you’re like me, you’ll be saying, “Oh, just let me at this guy…” She wrote:

I’m writing a web site for a logistics company, a family business run by a nice guy in his early twenties. It’s my first job as a freelancer commercial writer, although I have quite a bit of experience as a copywriter at an ad agency. Here’s the deal:

Sent the initial agreement outlining that three revisions are included; any over that amount, I charge for. Sent initial draft. Client says they’re happy with it; suggest few minor tweaks. “Awesome,” I think. Make changes; send second version. Client sends back a few more minor changes. “Easiest first client ever,” I muse.

Third version I send, emphasizing “Let’s look this over, make sure everything looks great, and I’ll proof for grammar, punctuation, etc., and we’ll call it a day.” Client responds, “Great. I’ll just send it along to our consultant and we’ll get back to you.”

(Sound of brakes screeching). “Um, okay…”

I wait nervously for a few days before emailing client. I’m told he and the consultant are still making lots of changes. Wait a few more days; told they’re still making changes. Finally, not knowing what’s left of my copy, I insist on having a phone conference with this mystery consultant, who turns out to be a very confrontational and opinionated attorney, who not very nicely attacks me for all manner of grammatical transgressions.

According to him, the lead’s been lost in a pile of blah-blah-blah. He wants everything stripped down to bare facts. In short, he is a writer’s nightmare. And I’m a new twenty-something commercial copywriter, eager to please my first client, and totally intimidated by gruff, fifty-year-old lawyers.

When I ask my client why the sudden change, his response is merely that his consultant pointed out a lot of things to him.

My question: We’re still technically on the third round of revisions, although the “revisions” are adding sections, removing sections and making very significant changes. The client doesn’t want to get back to me and give the OK on this last round because I think he believes as long as he’s within the three rounds of revisions, the sky’s the limit on making changes.

How do I diplomatically communicate the scale of changes permitted? How do I prevent this from happening in the future? How do I avoid both pissing off my first and only client and being a sucker who’s doing work for free?

Whew. Doesn’t that story just make you want to shine up your brass knuckles? Of course, she did make a few newbie copywriter errors. Like not determining up front all the folks who’d be approving copy. Honest mistake, and one of those “hindsight-is-20/20” things. Been through many projects where I didn’t think to ask that and it never turned out to be a problem, but had there been a hidden butcher with machete and red pen lurking in the shadows, I’d have been hosed.

And no question, when starting out (and young, too boot, and easily daunted; we’ve all been there), and have a great gig going with a first client, you really do want to please. All things considered, she got paid, learned some valuable lessons (far more than she’d have learned on a smooth-sailing gig), and will be that much more prepared next time.

One thing that’s a no-brainer is the whole idea of expanding scope of a project. Not sure whether they spelled out the project parameters on the original agreement. But, given how she agonized over saying anything once the thing began spreading in all directions, I’m guessing not. Big mistake.

If you make it clear upfront, in writing, that the project includes X components – X # of pages, for X fee, then as soon as things start expanding beyond those stated specs, then it’s a simple matter of saying, “Things have changed, and the fee needs to be renegotiated.” No need for hesitation or angst. The client agreed to a certain sized project for a certain fee, and it’s now grown beyond that. End of discussion.

Being completely matter-of-fact about that is crucial to preserving your status as a professional. And it should happen regardless of whether it’s your first client or your 1000th. If you had a plumber over to fix your sink and you asked him to fix that leaky toilet upstairs while he’s here, you’d never expect him to do it for nothing. So, why would you think for a nanosecond that clients are entitled to freebies? They’re not.

Another non-negotiable point for any professional is how you’re being treated. If someone starts with snide remarks, confrontational, belligerent tone, or insulting manner in any way, I’m going to say something. Anyone who does that honestly believes you’re little more than “The Help,” and as such, can be talked down to. I once told one such a client, who the hell he thought he was, talking to me that way. That went over well. I ended my participation at that moment, walked away, and got paid for my time.

Got this update from our beseiged copywriter:

“I wish I could say I’d come up with a brilliant way to resolve the situation, but it really amounted to a combination of contributing many more hours than I’d planned on (thus losing money) and finally, drawing the line and telling the client I’d have to adjust the quote before making any further changes.

“Trying my hardest to diplomatically plow through numerous revisions was what kept my relationship with the client from souring. (At the project’s completion, he enthusiastically volunteered to be a reference for me.) But whether the situation was resolved successfully is debatable. I succeeded in making the client happy, but lost money and watched some great copy turn into something I’m not as thrilled to put my name on. Live and learn.”

Ever found yourself dealing with a similarly unpleasant individual? If so, what did you do?

Any other suggestions to head off problems like these?

When you were starting out, how did you balance your desire to be accommodating and customer-oriented with the need to not become a doormat?

And if you didn’t manage that well (and many of us didn’t!), what did you learn from the experience?

Run Into This Promising (and Increasingly Common) Client Scenario Out There?

So, I was talking the other day with one of the graphic designers I’ve collaborated with in my commercial writing business for years. She’d recently picked up a new client – a big company selling something people have to have, and targeted to a specific demographic – one that’s been making money hand over fist the past few years.

While happy to get the new work, she’s been frustrated with them of late. They’ve been so busy growing they haven’t had time to sit down and discuss strategy, despite having a ton of projects (some of which will require copywriting) they need to get done. They just rented a huge booth at an industry trade show and told her they wanted her to redesign all their signage – along with direct mail and promo materials.

She wants to bring me in as soon as she can sit down with them and get a laundry list of projects (and accompanying commercial writing needs). Oh, and they’ve got plenty of money. Folks like these are dream clients for solo practitioners (i.e., commercial freelancers and designers). They’re out there and market realities are having them show up more and more on my radar and that of folks like my friend.

Prior to contacting my friend, the client had been working with a small ad agency going through meltdown. They couldn’t get ahold of people at the agency – which had laid off a bunch of folks – and the work wasn’t getting done. Now, if there was ever a situation where a talented freelance writer/designer team could save the day AND save them a bunch of money, time and aggravation, this was it.

This is becoming a more common tale in this economy. Even if an agency isn’t going under, just the fact that their high-overhead economics require them to charge far more than a copywriter/designer team would, is enough to have clients question those bills and try to find lower-priced alternatives. But, they have to feel they can get the same or better quality from a few solo operators in order to feel comfortable making the switch.

So, the opportunities exist. But they won’t drop in our laps and those we do find out there will require solid writing skills, strong marketing chops, buttoned-up presentations and absolute professionalism. But we have one BIG thing going for us: these clients WANT to believe we can solve their problems – they don’t want to hunt any longer and harder than they have to.

Have you run across any scenarios like these? New clients who’ve dropped sinking (or pricey) agencies to go with freelancers (you or someone else)?

If you have, how did it unfold?

What did it take to give them the requisite comfort level to move forward?

If you haven’t landed any new clients in this way, can you see some possibilities in your network?

Are you partnered with a graphic designer or two, and hence, positioned to capitalize on opportunities like these?