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There IS No “Copywriting Industry”…

Relax. No, our field hasn’t suddenly shut its proverbial doors. No, all companies haven’t suddenly stopped hiring folks like us. Nothing that earth-shattering (or ridiculous).

Rather, the above semi-apocalyptic-sounding title springs from, shall we say, a semantic epiphany I recently had. Hang with me here. I think you’ll like this (or perhaps, indulgently, you’ll just chalk it up to, “PB headed off on one of his mental-gymnastic routines…”).

To really understand the potential in our business, I say we need to think of it less as “The Copywriting Industry,” and more about servicing an eternal need that exists, by definition, in a business world that needs to communicate.

This hit me after I’d recently been asked, for the umpteenth time, “Is commercial freelancing still a good opportunity?” When you’re an insider, the question might appear silly, but to those on the outside looking in, it’s a perfectly logical inquiry.

After all, it seems like there’s this field called “freelance commercial writing,” so if there’s a “field,” then it can ebb and flow, right? Well, not really. The idea of a “copywriting industry” somehow implies that a bunch of people got together at one point and decided to create this industry writing copy for businesses. Wrong.

After all, if you go down that mental path, then, you open yourself up to having the rules (about “the copywriting industry”), expectations (of “the copywriting industry”), pay scale (in “the copywriting industry”), and any other component, change on you—without notice. And that doesn’t leave you with much control.

It’s far more valuable to view the existence of this field as nothing more than a response to an ongoing, never-ending, systemic need for writing in the business world. And as practitioners, we’re simply molding our writing skills to the needs of the marketplace.

It all starts with understanding how a typical medium-to-large-sized business works. Any such business that wants to stay in business needs to generate a constant stream of written materials in the course of their ongoing and everyday communication with prospects, customers, and employees.

When you get this, you start to realize there will never be a time when they don’t need to do this. They’ll need writing always and forever, and that need is completely independent of any of us out here. The only question becomes how they’ll get it done – in-house or outsourced.

And because it’s a response to an external, already-in-place need (versus some proactive initiative on the part of a bunch of writers to foist unsolicited services on business people), it’s a writing direction with serious staying power. We couldn’t stop it if we wanted to.

The only question—and challenge—is how to get a piece of the action for ourselves. I say that’s a more useful inquiry than asking—one more time, just to make sure, in case Something Happened overnight— “Is there still a market for copywriting services?”

Is this a useful distinction?

Does it give you a better sense of the work we do, and the opportunity it offers?

Does it help you feel a bit more in control of your career?

Any other thoughts? (besides that I might need a shrink…)

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.

Have You Tried the “Reluctant Rock Star Close” to Deal With Waffling Prospects?

Was on the phone the other day with a commercial writing coaching client. She has an established commercial freelancing business with a number of solid, longtime clients that call on her regularly. AND, she wanted to land a few new ones, feeling she needed to broaden her base a bit.

Well, seems the prospecting process has been a tad frustrating of late, as most of what she’s getting are indecisive tire-kickers. People initially acting all interested in her copywriting services but then dragging their feet endlessly. A typical prospect was a woman who’s driving her nuts with request after request to the point where she’s about to give her the old heave-ho.

One day it’s, I love your writing much better than any of the other writers I’ve spoken with, but you’re too expensive. (Pause) Um…here’s a crazy thought, I know… But, uh, maybe you like me better than all the other writers, because, well, I’m a Better Writer. And uh… (slow here, don’t want her to miss this one….) that’s why I’m more expensive. Gasp.

But, then that’s the first and last time the prospect talks about money. Next, it’s, do you have this or that kind of copywriting sample? And then she wants to revisit a sample my client’s already discussed with her. Listening to all this, I harken back to my sales days, and tell her: When a prospect is all over the map with their objections, best thing to do is simply ignore what they’re saying, since it really has little to do with what’s actually going on.

Sure, she could outright ask, “Ms. Prospect, you seem to be interested, and I could be wrong about this, but it just feels like something else is going on that’s keeping you from moving forward. Could I ask what it is?” And that approach is worth a shot. Though, the prospect might tell her, might not, and might freak out that she’s been busted for being so transparent. But my client and I both agreed an even better strategy might be to step back, and as you walk away, leave them with this:

“Ms. Waffler, I’d really love to work with you, and I think, on some level, you feel the same. But, truth is, and I really don’t mean to sound like a rock star or something, but my schedule is filling up pretty fast for the next few months.

“So, if you’ve got some specific projects you want to move forward on, I’d love to discuss them, along with timetables, of course. I want to make sure I have the time to provide the high quality work I’m committed to delivering, and that my clients have come to expect from me. If you’re not ready to get going, no problem at all, but I just won’t be able to promise a quick turnaround if we get started in a few weeks…”

Or some reasonable facsimile thereof…

And here’s the funny part. She was hesitant to say the above to this prospect, despite the fact that, it was, in fact, completely true. She really was that busy (but is a veeeery smart commercial freelancer who looks ahead and tries to ward off the slow periods by continuing to build her client base – even when she IS busy).

She didn’t feel comfortable sounding like she was all that, even though, if you asked her clients, she was just that to them. And I can’t fault her for being modest. I’m not comfortable talking like that, either, but if it’s true, you’ve got nothing to apologize for. And more to the point, if it takes The Reluctant Rock Star Close to light a fire under an indecisive prospect’s behind, then rock on…

Hmmm…as a matter of fact, now that I think about it, who says it’s even got to be true to say it? We’ve all heard the admonition to “fake it till you make it,” right? Here’s Exhibit A of that strategy. Not something to use on every prospect, but if you’ve got a few whose middle names are, “Noodle,” “Mull” or “One More Thing…” and you find yourself gnashing your teeth loud enough for them to hear while you’re talking to them, maybe it’s worth a shot. What have you got to lose?

In addition to being good practice for being bold (which is a muscle like any other: it gets stronger the more you use it), it just sounds like a really fun way to startle the lost causes out of their torpor. And who knows? You might just learn how motivating Perceived Scarcity can be.

Have you ever used this approach (either when it was true or wasn’t) as a way to spur a prospect to action? (or perhaps, because you simply didn’t care anymore…)

Have you encountered more waffling-type clients of late, and if so, how have you dealt with it?

What other strategies have you employed over the years to motivate prospects to pull the trigger on projects?

Any other reflections on the Law of Scarcity?

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

Do You Quote By Hourly Rate or Flat Fee?

Pricing our commercial freelancing work. How do you do it? Me? I became a convert to the Flat Fee Channel (“All flat fees, all the time…”) some time back. Rates are best quoted within the context of a particular project. Tell a client your hourly rate is $100, without relating that rate to a specific job (he’s thinking, “Is it going to be 5 hours or 50??”) and he might just run screaming into the night. But say $1000 for a project you think will take 10 hours, and if that’s close to what he’s budgeted for the project in his mind, then you’re in business. An hourly rate, in my humble opinion, should be a number kept to yourself, and used only for internal calculations.

All that said, the debate still goes on. Last week, got the latest piece from wildly successful Atlanta commercial freelancer Ed Gandia. Ed’s the publisher of the great ezine, The Profitable Freelancer (visit and subscribe at no charge). Ed did a great two-part piece for my ezine in June and July of this year about how he made $163K in his first full year as a commercial freelancer.

Ed’s latest piece was entitled “What’s Best: Hourly or Flat Fee?” Check it out (it’s short) here before reading the rest of the piece. Here was my response to it:

Ed: I have found precious few commercial writing clients willing to even let you quote on an hourly basis if they don’t know you. That’s almost exclusively reserved for long-term clients who trust you implicitly, and/or for projects that have, by definition, an undefined scope and fluid parameters, that simply don’t lend themselves to being firmly nailed down. Not sure how one would even go about trying to force an hourly-rate approach on a client. For most commercial freelancers, in my experience, the more important issue is do you quote a straight flat rate or one that reveals your calculations (i.e., “$1500” vs. “$1500 based on 15 hours at $100 an hour”).

The former is the better approach, because as you point out, if you work fast, and finish the project in, say, 12 hours, you’ve just upped your hourly to $125. And as you also point out, the client only cares about the final result. As long as you get it done for the amount they agreed on, then, technically, they don’t care if it takes you 1 hour or 50. If you share your internal calculations, then if it takes you less time, technically, you should charge less. Going with a flat rate focuses the whole discussion to the end result, which is the only thing that really matters.

Just as importantly, the flat-rate approach has the subtle but powerful affect on you, the commercial copywriter, of further “professionalizing” what we do. We’re being paid to deliver a professional service for a fee. We’re not an hourly worker punching a proverbial clock. And I say that same distinction isn’t lost on the client either, who’s more likely to view you as that professional and worthy of your fees.

Also, just a note about flat fees. I’ve found over the years that a range in your quote that varies by 10-15% is acceptable to most clients. Haven’t had any pushback from a client ever. Generally speaking, by agreeing to a quote of, say, “$1500-1700″ or “$4500-$5000,” clients have reconciled themselves to the upper end of the range, and because the two figures are close, it’s not a problem. But it gives you a bit of extra wiggle room for unexpected surprises, which if you have a cushion, you may not have to even charge for. And that’s good for client PR (though if there IS extra time involved, and you don’t charge, you might let the client know that you usually would but won’t this time. That way, you don’t establish a dangerous precedent by having them think that such an M.O. is standard, which it definitely isn’t).

AND, if you end up below your upper end, which has often happened for me, and charge a bit less, it’s a nice surprise for clients, who can’t help but notice you were responsible and frugal with their money. If you suspect money isn’t the #1 issue for a client, I might even suggest one bump the top end of your fee range a bit beyond what you know it’ll take, so you can in fact, ultimately charge less than the upper range so as to make that good impression.

How do you price your work?

Have you had unpleasant experiences quoting hourly rates in a vacuum (i.e., minus the context of a particular project)?

Do you have clients you work with on an hourly basis, and if so, what’s the nature of the relationship and the work?

Any insights you’ve learned about pricing work you care to share?

GUEST POST: Why 2008 Has Been a Good Year For Me, and How Every Year Can Be Good For You…

By Joseph Ratliff

There’s no doubt, it’s been a tough year for most businesses.

The economy sucks, and many business owners are feeling the pain at the register.

That’s precisely why it’s been a good year for me, because I know that businesses need my copywriting services now more than ever. Now, I’m a direct response marketing copywriter, so my writing has much to do with the success or failure of marketing campaigns.

With my role being so critical in a business’ success, I market my services to that point exactly.

But this post isn’t about me. It’s about you, and the opportunities you must recognize in this “state of the economy.” Here’s the key:

When I started to notice that the “reason why” clients were hiring me started to change, I simply needed to change my “reason why” to match that of my potential clients.

It’s called message-to-market matching, and it’s a skill you must master for the long, tough economy ahead or suffer the consequences.

So, how do you match how you’re marketing your copywriting services to your potential market?

You ask them. It really is that simple.

Simply interview the type of client you want to serve. Ask them about their business, talk to them as “business owner to business owner” and they’ll start to reveal to you the very problems that you need to be solving with your marketing so you can skyrocket your freelance copywriting business.

It really boils down to starting a conversation, and just talking naturally to your potential client. Don’t sell anything, don’t “try to do” anything. Just talk to them about their favorite person: them.

That’s the secret, the very simple secret, that has my 2008 ending very well. I want yours to as well…so…

Do you use any methods that are working/not working to gain clients? Why/why not?

Have you followed this strategy and asked your clients to tell you about their businesses? If so, what came out of it?

Are there any obstacles that if you overcame them, you feel your business would skyrocket? (Think in terms of how you interact with people, what types of objections you’re facing etc.)

Joseph Ratliff is a Lacey, WA-based internet business growth specialist, direct response copywriter, and editor of The Profitable Business Edge 2 blog. He has been writing copy for over 7 years, and coaching online (and offline) business owners for the last 3 years to increase profits with their marketing. He uses a special marketing methodology when he works with each of his clients that is guaranteed not to fail, or Joe keeps working with you until it does, for no additional fees. For all the details (and to check out his blog), visit http://josephratliff.name and click on “Coaching Services.”