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Got a Place to Flee to from Home Office Distractions?

So there’s this cool space not too far from me here in Atlanta called Strongbox West. Geared to freelancers of all stripes, it’s a place to escape to when you want to flee the claustrophobically-closing-in four walls of the home office and get some work done while in the company (or at least the proximity) of fellow humans. And when you’re not ready (and may never be) to commit to a full-time dedicated office space.

Plenty of comfy chairs, desk space, conference tables/rooms, Wi-Fi connection, kitchen – all in this industrial warehouse-y setting. What really sets it apart and makes it a “hmmmm…interesting” is that pricing is three-tiered: for the occasional visitor, the frequent user and the near full-timer. So, no huge commitments necessary. Oh, and your experience comes complete with the resident Strongbox dog, Paloma, a sweet-girl Golden, who’s just the perfect level of friendly un-neediness: comes to say hello but wanders off soon enough.

Now, I’ve never felt the need to move my operation into a separate office. I’ve always been disciplined enough as a commercial freelancer, and fact is, I like my home office – plenty of sunlight, lake view behind the house, everything handy, etc. Course it’s the “everything handy” part that’s the double-edged sword. I’m finding of late that I’m getting a bit more distracted than usual by the fact that, in fact, everything is so darn handy.

Heck, I’ll go do a load of wash. Go check if the mail’s come yet. See if there’s anything new in the refrigerator (since the last time I looked). And the worst one: maybe I’ll just lie down for a 10-minute recharge… Yikes. And geez, as a single guy, I don’t even anywhere near as many distractions as “marrieds-with-kids” would. Pretty pathetic. I know, we’re freelancers, so why can’t we do any/all of the above as long as we’re getting our work done? Still, it’s always easier to glide at home, and also always easier to buckle down when we’re at The Office.

So, Strongbox might be an answer – at least on those days when I’m feeling like a fidgety, over-caffeinated eight-year old. I don’t know about you, but when I need to really focus, seriously hunker down, and get ‘er done (usually in the concepting and copywriting phases of a commercial writing project), I get out of the office and go somewhere – and believe it or not, usually sans MacBook.

In the past, I’ve usually headed to our local library or a Starbucks with project folder of notes, legal pad and clipboard, and aided and abetted by my iPod, shut out the world. In three or four hours, I impress the heck out of myself with how much writing I can get done. It’s a thing of beauty.

Do you find it challenging at times to work at home?

Have you ever considered getting outside office space?

If you have an outside office, what’s the setup, why’d you take the plunge, and after how many years?

What strategies do you use to stay focused and productive in the face of distractions?

Good Copywriters Don’t Let Clients Insult Their Customers’ Intelligence…

So, I use this web-based service to manage book sales, ebook downloads and other jobs on the publishing side of my business (I’m being vague here so as to not name names, though, given the circumstances, I’m not exactly sure why…).

In any case, I pay this company $1000 a year for this service. Not an insubstantial sum of money. And for ponying up a grand, annually, I feel entitled to pick up the phone when I have the occasional technical question, call their toll-free support line and get an answer. Seems pretty fair.

So, I call in the other day with a question, and I’m informed that, as of that day, 10/1, the only way I can get no-charge technical support by phone from now on is if I ante up another 379 bucks a year. Almost 40% of the price of the package I have (their most expensive one).

I give the guy an earful. Which I suspect is about the 50th time that day (being changeover day and all…) he’s been yelled at. He invokes a ridiculous apple-to-oranges analogy of how Microsoft charges for support, until I point out that most people have MS software bundled with their computer when they buy it, so Microsoft isn’t making a ton of money off that sale, making it a bit more logical that they’d charge for support.

He magnanimously allows me to ask my question that day, letting me know that the next time I call I’ll have to pay up. All in all, pretty outrageous, and we could rail on and on about the death of customer service, Companies Behaving Badly, etc. But, the main point of this post is what happened next.

A short time later, I get an email from the company (which they’d apparently sent before 10/1 but I’d missed it) outlining the new service.

Now. Not like I’m right or anything, but my gut tells me that when you’re going to implement a major change to your existing support offering – one that will undoubtedly make a lot of people very unhappy – you don’t compound the inevitable backlash by insulting their intelligence in how you present it…

Here’s how it looked…

1SCScrnCpture

Now, tell me. Do you see ANY acknowledgment whatsoever in this email of the hard reality? Specifically, that, “From this day forward, Valued Customer (who gives us $1000 a year, and has been enjoying no-charge phone support as part of that handsome fee), you’ll no longer get it unless you fork over nearly 400 additional clams.”

Nope. Instead, they blow smoke: “…important extension to our support services…. Ultimate Unlimited Support…extra level of support…blah, blah, blah.” Yeah, they hint around with, “…to continue taking advantage of these personalized services” but nowhere is an honest admission of any kind, something like: “We apologize for this change, but due to rising manpower costs, and overuse of our phone support…etc, etc. etc.” Something, ANYTHING that sounds sincere.

No question, I still wouldn’t have been happy but at least I’d respect them for not insulting my intelligence.

I’ve seen this over and over. Why do companies shun honest communication and opt instead for painfully obvious and laughably ineffective subterfuge? I know, common sense is all too uncommon in Corporate America, but that’s the pat answer. I’m digging for more here.

Don’t they know that we as consumers respond better to honesty? Who was advising them here? All I know, is that if I were hired by a company to write something like this, I’d be sounding the alarm loud and clear that they were making a mistake.

Why DO companies do this?

Can you share any similar examples?

Am I wrong here?

Am I overreacting?

The Power of NO…When Turning Down Work Just Feels Right…

So, I’m working on a project with this agency and they start hinting at this other gig. Seems they’ve been writing the copy for this consumer products line for seven years, and while the client is fine with the design work they’ve been doing, they’re just not thrilled with the copywriting. They wanted me to take a look at the latest round of copy and see if I had any ideas. But, before I did, they gave me the deal on the situation. Get this…

They can only use a pre-approved list of words – no deviating. The middle management layers of approval have their own biases AND their own need to justify their existences by making changes or otherwise showing their disapproval. And after those managers are done, they’ve culled down the three concepts that the firm gives them to ONE, which is the one they have the agency creatively execute and then present to the top boss. ONE concept.

And gee, big surprise, he often isn’t nuts about it. Give someone ONE idea to choose from, and that’s a whole lot of pressure to like it. Give someone three to choose from, and even if you know which one you want them to choose, by having a few others there as “filler,”? you make it easier for the client to like yours. Of course, clients are notorious for turning that particular piece of logic on its head and loving one of the filler concepts. But hey, if they’re happy and we get paid, life could be a lot worse.

It was clear to me right from the get-go that the issue wasn’t the copy – it was fine. It was the process that was the issue – a process structured in such a way to make it nearly impossible for the agency to succeed.

And heck, for all we know, this account is one of those that likes to keep their vendors in a constant state of anxiety about their worth to the company. Praise ‘em too much and they might just start asking for more money. Keep convincing them that “you’re just not quite hitting the mark, but I guess we’ll go ahead and use your lame copy anyway…”? But seven years into the process, they’re still working for them, so maybe they don’t suck that badly after all…

As many of you know, this craziness is more common in Corporate America than most people would ever imagine. Well, needless to say, I said, “Pass.”? NOT interested in working under those circumstances. Feels good to say no sometimes.

What sorts of client/project situations do you run from?

The Adult Conversation About This Business…

Some months back, I got an email from a guy relatively new to the commercial writing field. He’d done a bit of work in one particular niche, liked it and was making a few bucks. He continued with this:

“However, I want to go after the money, in whatever form is most easily gotten in terms of getting the work and getting paid, so I would love your input in where that might be and how to get the work.”?

I always have to smile when I get notes like this. “Short cut hunting,”? I call it. I wrote him back:

“I’m not picking on you here, because a lot of people ask this. But, I’m afraid it just doesn’t work that way. If there were indeed a place where it WAS easy to get work that paid well and fast, in this wired age of ours, do you really imagine it would stay a secret for long? Everyone would be flocking to it, and in short order, rates would drop to nothing. Like any other business, it takes hard work and persistence to make it happen.

“There really aren’t any shortcuts, unless you count experience that you bring from another industry that you can leverage into writing for that industry. In that case, you WILL probably be able to get in the door faster because you have some value you’re bringing to the table. That’s the key: things can be easier when you have an advantage of some sort that others don’t.”?

In a perverse sort of way, I’d like to think this reality check would be of comfort to people considering the business. Knowing that it’s NOT a cakewalk should banish any lingering suspicions that I’m selling snake oil here – promising riches with little effort. After all, we’re big kids. By this point in our lives, how many times have we heard, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”? Knowing that the effort required needs to be substantial lets you know that the rewards are real. And they are. Not just financially (you can make money in any decent J-O-B), but far more importantly, in the heavenly, oozing-with-freedom lifestyle. Trust me. You want this. Can I get a witness?

Know that if you DO build a successful business, you will have accomplished something big – something the seasoned practitioners already get – in spades.

So, what advice/warnings/admonitions would you give a “short-cut hunter”??

How NOT to Build Customer Loyalty…

Last year, I leased a postage meter from the company that shares my initials. Their introductory special offer became more understandable after seeing the bloated prices they charged for supplies. Some time back, I started getting regular “Low Ink!” warnings on the meter. Their cost to replace the slightly-bigger-than-a-pack-of-Tic-Tacs-sized cartridge? $47 + $8.50 shipping (UPS Ground). 56 bucks. On a whim, I called my neighborhood Cartridge World (www.cartridgeworld.com), a low-cost, high-service, friendly cartridge refiller franchise (from Down Under, incidentally…). $28 refilled, drive-out price. But it gets better.

When I handed it over to the guy at CW, he started walking to the back of the store, then stopped, hefted it gently, and said, “This doesn’t feel empty.”? He knew exactly what it should weigh both full and empty, and a few moments later, he comes back: “It’s still about one-third to one-half full.” Nice. Thanks, guys.

Oh, and up yours, PB (them, PB, not me, PB), for hoping I’d just do as I was told and toss roughly $20-25 worth of ink and pony up another 56 clams. I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall at THAT meeting: “I know, we’ll set the machines to give premature low-ink warnings so we’ll increase ink sales by 37.56%! Wow, what a genius! Give him a raise!” Guess it never occurred to them that they’ve got competition on supplies, and even worse, honest folks who can bust them SO easily. Not smart. And now I’m writing about it. So they lose my supplies business along with that of probably a bunch of others, too.

P.S. I finally returned for a replacement cartridge nearly four months later.

P.P.S. When it came time to order mailing strips, THEY wanted over $80 for two boxes of double strips – delivered. Got the same thing from a competitor for $22 – to my door.

How do you make sure your copywriting clients keep coming back to you instead of going to the competition?