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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.

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.

What Do You Think of “The Salad Dressing Rule”?

Got an email recently from a reader with a concern (and frustration…) we’ve all come up against at some point in our commercial writing careers. He wrote:

The challenge that’s just unnerving me is how to shift prospects’ minds from thinking they can do the writing themselves instead of paying a commercial freelancer $100+ an hour to do it. What would be the best way to create a brand that would neutralize this kind of thinking on the part of prospects?

Got a similar question posed to me by one of my group coaching participants:

What’s the best way to approach an industry that often relies on in-house engineers to write its copy? Should I try to convince them that a good writer is a better choice than an engineer, or could I instead offer editorial services in these cases?

Here’s an aggregate response to the both of them. There are two ways to approach this issue and both have merit.

#1: A question immediately comes to mind: Why are you wasting your time trying to convince people who don’t think they need a professional writer, to start using one, rather than finding those clients who understand the value of good copywriting and already use writers, or, at the very least, are open to hiring one?

In one of my books, I talk about The Salad Dressing Rule (explained by a fellow freelance commercial writer friend):

If you sell salad dressing, it’s far easier to convince someone who already eats salad to try your dressing than to convince someone who doesn’t eat salad at all that they should start doing so.

In both cases, these folks are finding people who “don’t eat salad.” So, using the prospecting strategies laid out in the book, start barking up some different trees.

Bottom line, you can’t convince those who are convinced otherwise, unless you get them to try you out and they see the difference a commercial copywriter can make. Which leads to the second approach…

#2: As many experienced copywriters have noticed in their travels, getting a prospect to understand what we do by trying us out will often make converts of them (assuming we’re good at what we do, and understand that particular client’s business). As such, in the case of the engineering firm (or ANY prospect who’s hesitant to hire you to execute a writing project from scratch), yes, maybe you offer editing as a door-opener.

If the client has an epiphany (and I’ve seen it happen plenty) based on the editing, maybe they’ll try you out right from the get-go the next time around. All you can do is offer. If the client isn’t receptive, move on. If you’ve had other clients start out as they did and become converts, make sure you’re getting testimonials from them and share those with the hesitant ones…

(NOTE: this is where building alliances with graphic designers can really help. Designers hate designing around crappy copy and ending up with a sample that looks great but reads like doo-doo. So if they have a client who’s written their own copy (and it shows), and you’ve built a partnership with that designer based on delivering superior copy that makes their design shine, they’ll often try to persuade the client to hire you, knowing the client will end up with a more effective piece, which can only reflect well on them. Not to mention they get a stronger piece for their book. In those cases, you’ve got a third-party doing the selling, which can be more compelling. Doesn’t always work, but when it does… There are few things sweeter than seeing an erstwhile skeptical client find religion after seeing professionally written copy that positively puts theirs to shame.)

All that notwithstanding, the “try-a-taste” approach is still going to be harder to pull off than finding those already inclined towards folks like us. If you’re in a smaller-market area, and trying to build your freelance copywriting business there, it might prove a necessary stepping-stone to cultivating serious clients. If, however, you’re in a major metro, you might not need to beat your head against the wall; there WILL be plenty of prospects who do “get” what we do. Not saying they’re easy to find, but likely easier than trying to get the others to “start eating salad.”

Do you only pursue prospects already sold on the value of professional writing?

Or do you try to do some converting along the way?

If so, how have you gone about getting them to try you out, and has it worked?

In a tough market, should we be investing more time in “educating the unsold” or do you feel it’s still largely a waste of time?

Got This Fun, In-Demand and Lucrative Copywriting Specialty in Your Project Mix?

So, suddenly I’ve been thinking a lot about case studies. For starters, I just finished a big one and it consumed a big chunk of my commercial writing life (details in the July and August ezine “Appetizer” courses).

Then, my friend Casey Hibbard (The Case-Study Queen), announced she’s offering a six-month intensive case-study coaching program for copywriters.

Finally, I’ve been thinking about how marketing is moving in a much softer, gentler direction – more informational and educational (think white papers). Customers have become savvier and more skeptical (haven’t you?) over the past few decades as more and more unbiased product information is readily available. So “selling” needs to be more low-key, more genuine, and more real-world. Case studies – essentially third-party testimonials – are a perfect example of that.

In a recent email Casey sent out about her program, she noted that “survey after survey shows that happy customers are the #1 thing that influences buyers’ decisions.”

Makes sense. After all, what’s more compelling: some company telling you their product does this, that and the other, and you should buy it (even if not that inelegantly)? Or reading several verifiable stories about actual customers saying, essentially, “We had a problem, this product solved it, and we couldn’t be happier”?

Think about a case study, whose basic form discusses The Challenge the client company had encountered; The Solution offered by the vendor (for whom you’re writing the piece); and The Outcome, complete with gushing quote from the now-thrilled client.

The whole goal of the piece is to have the reader find themselves (i.e., their company) in that story, to have them say to themselves as they read about this company, “Interesting. That’s the same thing we’re wrestling with.” And given that the company is named, they can even call them up to confirm the information.

So, a case study can sell a client – or at the very least, move them a lot further and faster along the sales cycle – without any direct involvement of the company selling the product or service. True third-party selling.

The key? People don’t want to be “sold.” They want to come to their own conclusions, at their own pace, without someone (with a vested interest) breathing down their neck. They can find that company’s web site and all the information they need about the company’s offering by themselves, thank you very much, with no need (yet) to talk to a salesperson.

So a case study can do the heavy sales lifting, and if a series of them all resonate with a reader, that prospect could essentially be sold by the time they call the company. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Third-party selling is credible because, presumably, the company in question who bought the product and is now happy with the solution, would have no reason to tell tales, and no reason to speak well of a product and the company selling if it weren’t true (notwithstanding outright bribery, though again, all of it’s easy to confirm).

I have one commercial freelancing client for whom I do longer-form case studies (4-8 pages) and for fees that range from roughly $2000 to over $4000. It’s fun and challenging work. I interview several players involved in a particular project, spin an interesting (hopefully) narrative, weaving in quotes throughout – including many that gush on and on about the company. See some samples here.

If you haven’t added case studies to your freelance copywriting menu, you’re no doubt leaving money on the table – AND missing out on some enjoyable work.

And for all you ex-journos out there: case studies are one of the easiest commercial copywriting project types to transition to from a journalism background. You need to be able to add a marketing spin, but remember, you’re simply reporting how a “solution” unfolded (facts) and including quotes (more facts) from those whose company benefited from that solution. It’s the juxtaposition of those components that make it compelling to a reader.

Are case studies a part of your copywriting mix?

If not, why not? If so, what do you like about them?

If you hail from a journalism background (magazines or newspapers) and have parlayed that into writing case studies (among other projects), how did that transition go?

Any comments/observations, from your own experience, about the place of case studies in marketing today?

“Niche or Die!” (Really? You Sure About That?)

So, I’m in the midst of series #5 of my commercial freelancing group coaching program (as I write this) – geared towards business copywriters just starting out. Not surprisingly, one of the BIG bugaboo issues for newbies is “niche.” Seems you can’t spit these days without hitting a guru or two who’ll adamantly assert, chopping the air for emphasis, that you absolutely, positively must differentiate yourself in the marketplace by way of a well-delineated niche.

If you don’t, they’ll continue, you’re on a one-way road to professional oblivion (with financial ruin swiftly on its heels). So many new copywriters agonize over this one, so afraid to hang out a shingle without a laser-specific professional focus. Sorry, but as an across-the-board strategy, I don’t buy it.

(Note: we did touch on this subject a year or so ago in the Generalist vs. Specialist debate, but I’m taking a bit of a different spin here, and looking for slightly different input from you experienced folks).

Here’s my take: If you have a well-defined niche you can pursue, by virtue of past career experience, track record or education, by all means, go for it. Having a niche absolutely can set you apart – AND earn you more money. Even if you don’t have a big portfolio of work in, say, Industry A, if you know all about Industry A by virtue of 10-20 years in the business, you’ll be attractive to writing buyers in that industry (who’ll translate that experience into “minimal learning curve”…).

Even if you hate the field in which you’ve spent a decade or two, if you’re trying to get started as a commercial copywriter, I’d still recommend you leverage that experience out of the gate. You don’t have to write about it forever, but it’d be nuts to not parlay that into work until you get established.

Remember, even if you don’t love your industry any more as a field to work in, writing about that field from the comfort of your home in your sweats is a whole other ballgame from having to go to work every day (i.e., commute, endless meetings, office politics) in that same field in a job you loathe.

But what if you don’t have a 10-20-year track record in some field? Listening to the experts, you still need to create a niche. But what niche? Pull one from thin air? Flip a coin? Declare yourself an expert on X, but without the background, training or samples to back it up? What’re you going to say if someone asks for those samples? I’m afraid I just don’t see a whole lot of sense in that approach. If a niche isn’t occurring naturally to you, it’s probably not there, so don’t force it.

So, Plan B is to build your business sans niche as a generalist. Something I’ve been doing for 17 years, incidentally. Sure, I had a sales/marketing background, and I did make sure people knew that, but most of the projects we commercial writers do are marketing-oriented anyway, so is that a clearly defined niche? Debatable.

Sure, it’ll be tougher with little to leverage. But, if the alternative is touting yourself as an authority in an arena where you’re really not, I say the anxiety level with that scenario will likely top that of someone going niche-less. And in the latter situation, if you’re a really good writer and go out of your way to be overly professional, reliable and easy-to-work with, those things will set you apart (assuming you’re reaching enough people with your marketing efforts).

What’s your take on niche?

How important do you feel having a niche is for someone starting out?

Did you have a niche when you began? If not, how did your story unfold?

Do you feel strong writing skills, professionalism and reliability can be a “niche” of sorts (given how relatively rare they are)?