Got an email recently from a budding copywriter with a big worry. She wrote:
What is the language of marketing? What kinds of jargon can I expect when I talk to marketing execs? I am concerned that in meetings or conference calls, I might find myself up against a foreign language of sorts because I never worked in a corporate marketing environment.
My first inclination was to simply say, “Not really a big issue in freelance copywriting. It’s not really like a different language, so don’t worry too much about it.”
But then, I got to thinking about it and realized that, when you’ve been in the middle of a particular world for 20 years (this month, in fact…), it’s easy to imagine that it’s not all that complex. And bottom line, it really isn’t that terribly complex, but it’s not completely transparent, either.
And right about the time I got that question, I received an email from a new commercial freelancing client, with the background information on a new project he wanted me to quote. And in that email, he told me what files he’d attached, which included “the wires.” Commence head-scratching. Huh? Wires? What are the wires?
He was with a marketing/design firm, and after clicking through the source material, I realized that one of the documents was a line-drawing mockup of the website they’re creating for their client, and for which they need new copy. That six-page mockup with all the little boxes, arrows and greeking*—is known as the “wires.”
*(Oh, that’s placeholder copy a designer inserts in spaces where copy is needed, but hasn’t been written yet. It usually reads, “Lorum ipsum dolor sit amet…” and a bunch of other, well, Latin, actually. So, the name’s a misnomer, but it’s still “greeking.” And two Latin-to-English translation sites are telling me that the five-word phrase above means…well, “Thong team…” Hmmmm. No clue. Remember, it’s placeholder copy.)
So, “wires.” Learn something new every day. So, maybe there’s a little more to the jargon in the commercial copywriting business than I’d like to believe. Of course, a couple of standard phrases come to mind: collateral, for instance: the term for various and sundry marketing communications pieces beyond ad copy that are part of a larger campaign—things like brochures, sales sheets, case studies, etc.
Then there’s the “creative brief.” Meaning, the document you’ll receive from clients (i.e., an agency, design firm, or the marketing department of the end-user themselves) describing the scope of the project in question, what the objective is, what the deliverables are (there’s another word: “deliverables,” meaning the final end products that need to be created, and which you’ve been entrusted to write), the timetable, contact people (a.k.a. “subject matter experts”—a.k.a. SME’s, and yes, actually pronounced “Smee’s”—yet another term!), etc.
All that said, I still maintain that, even if you come from a background completely different from commercial writing, that it won’t be anywhere near the same as, say, visiting a foreign country where you don’t speak the language.
Over time, I learned all these (and many other) words by osmosis, but my overriding recollection is definitely not of one embarrassing moment after another as clients exchanged looks, loosely translated as, “Where did this guy come from?” Not so.
So, that’s a few that occurred to me off the top of my head, but I’m sure there are a ton of others I’m missing right now. So let’s help out this nervous newbie, and share some of the jargon you’ve come across in your freelance commercial writing travels.
And, for the record, I’m not talking about the silly jargon that’s the brunt of jokes about “corporate-speak”—things like mission-critical, value-added, at the end of the day, outside the box, leverage, etc.
Yes, our fledgling freelancer should familiarize herself with those as well (here’s a pretty good list), but I’m talking about the useful terms native to this field of ours.
What are some of the terms, phrases, jargon, that you’ve encountered in the course of your copywriting practice?
In your opinion, how hard is it for a newbie to get a handle on all the vernacular? Did you feel at all confused or out of your depth when you first started out in the business?
Are you aware of any resources/glossaries listing a lot of these terms (I know, I should know some…)?
Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.
I don’t quite remember when I stumbled upon commercial writing as a viable freelance profession, but as soon as I did I was sold. My background was in event marketing and sales, which I enjoyed but wasn’t necessarily passionate about.
I have always loved writing and I knew I wanted to do something using my business background, so combining the two was a natural fit. Although I didn’t have any professional training, I decided to make the leap to starting a freelance copywriting business in January 2010.
I did two things from the start that have been game changers for my business: first, I put up a website on WordPress, an incredible website content management system; second, I took the time to optimize my new site for the search engines (a.k.a. Search Engine Optimization or SEO), even though I really didn’t have any idea what I was doing at the time.
After getting my site up, I hit the pavement hard trying to land those first few clients. I networked like crazy, attending any free or low-cost event I could. I also spent a considerable amount of time reaching out to my network and getting involved on Twitter and LinkedIn. After a few short months, something interesting started happening. I started getting emails that looked like this:
Slowly but surely, SEO overtook networking as my #1 method of developing new business. Pretty soon I stopped going to networking events, slowed down my social media activity and stopped marketing almost entirely because I had so many projects lined up from clients who had found my website.
Now that 2 ½ years have passed since I started my freelance business, I’m astounded by how a small investment into learning and applying SEO has had such a profound effect on my business. Although most of my experience is positive, I do have some warnings about SEO, which I’ll share in a moment.
How I Optimized My Freelance Copywriting Website
I want to explain exactly how I used SEO effectively to drive traffic and prospects and ultimately convert web visitors into paying clients. I did the following six activities, which contributed to my current page-1 Google ranking:
1. Identified and selected my keywords using Google’s free keyword tool
2. Wrote keyword-rich title and description tags for my primary website pages
3. Blogged and kept blogging using my keywords a few times a month for the first two years
4. Promoted my blog posts on Twitter and LinkedIn
5. Learned to love Google Analytics as a way to see what keywords people used to find my site and other key metrics that helped me refine my strategy
6. Used WordPress to update my pages and keep my site fresh with new, timely content
7. Slowly started getting backlinks due to securing speaking gigs and workshops and through meeting other bloggers at networking events
The Effects SEO Has Had On My Business
While SEO has been incredible for my business, I’m the first to admit that it’s not for everyone. And despite its obvious benefits, I’ve allowed it to unfortunately limit my business. Here are my insights into the good, the bad and the downright ugly effects of SEO:
• I rarely find myself in a bidding situation. For some reason, maybe because I’m on the first page of Google, when clients reach out to me they’re ready to do business immediately.
• I’ve met some incredible contacts through people finding my site: direct clients, referral partners (tons of website designers), marketing consultants, colleagues who recommended speaking gigs for me, fellow writers I’ve hired for overflow projects, and even an intern.
• Getting on the first page of Google happened very naturally for me by doing just the few simple, but consistent, activities I outlined above.
• SEO does not necessarily manifest the clients you want. Renowned copywriter Bob Bly has said that potential customers who find his website via SEO are never his best prospects; they require too much education, hand holding, and aren’t as willing to pay his fees as customers are who buy his information products or hear him speak at an event.
• SEO is not for everyone. Some copywriters might not need to spend time optimizing their site if they’re able to generate business through, for instance, books, speaking gigs, repeat clients, referrals, etc. Spending time optimizing their sites may not be the best investment if they’re staying busy thanks to other lead-generation efforts.
• SEO has made me a very lazy business owner because I’m now used to prospects coming to me. It’s caused me to commit the cardinal sin of running a business: I have almost entirely stopped proactively marketing my business.
• SEO does not consistently bring me high paying prospects. It’s so easy to work with clients who approach me, I know I’m losing out on higher income clientele by not proactively pursuing those who might have more money or bigger projects. It’s rare that a corporate client will find me via SEO….most of the time my traffic is comprised of web designers with referrals, micro-business owners, service providers or solopreneurs.
• Ever since I landed in the top spot on the first page of Google, I have to work hard to maintain my ranking. It’s made me slightly obsessed with SEO since I have other business owners and freelancers constantly nipping at my heels for the top spot.
While SEO does have its downsides, the good has far outweighed the bad. Succeeding in SEO for my own site has led me to writing my first information product, garnered me a slew of speaking gigs, and might someday be a good niche for me, even though now I’m very much a generalist.
Weigh In On Your SEO Efforts…
What has held you back from getting started with SEO?
If you have taken the time to optimize your site, has your experience been similar to mine?
Any do’s and don’t’s you can share from your own experiences?
Retainers – essentially a guaranteed monthly income from a commercial writing client – can be wonderful things. Not to mention especially welcome in a tough economy – and as you’ll see in Tim’s account, they’ll not only benefit us, but our clients as well.
Tim’s had some solid success with this strategy in building his own commercial freelancing business, and generously shared his experiences. Then it hit me that it’d make an ideal blog post – perfect for gathering input and experiences from all of you.
Frankly, I haven’t had much firsthand experience with retainers in my commercial copywriting practice, but if you have, I hope you’ll weigh in! Take it away, Tim…
Being a commercial freelancer can be more than just “per project” work. There’s a way to enjoy our fabulous lifestyle without worrying where your next check will come from. Setting up retainer-based agreements with clients is a great way to ensure consistent freelance copywriting income.
This is exactly what I did a few years ago when I said goodbye to the corporate world. Instead of hurling myself into the freelancing abyss without a safety net, I approached my boss with a unique proposition: I would resign my position as a hospital marketing director, but stay on as a consultant to help groom my replacement (my assistant). This way, she could learn the ropes and I could have the time I needed to build my copywriting practice.
It was a win-win for both parties. We agreed on a three-month contract that paid me roughly the same as I was making full-time. I had plenty of time to build a healthy business base while spending a few hours each week training my replacement and writing all of the communications pieces for the hospital. Plus, I could still pay all of my bills! The arrangement worked so well, I decided to approach some of my recurring clients with a similar proposal.
The response was tremendous. Because of the economy, many of my prospects (large hospitals) had laid off much of their marketing and communications staff. Since the work still needed to be done, they jumped at the chance to bring in an experienced hospital marketer/communications writer to help them get through this economic downturn.
As things start to pick up, many of my clients are realizing that my services fill all of their marketing needs, and at a fraction of the costs associated with bringing someone in full-time. Though I still do some one-off project work, my most productive partnerships are retainer-based consultant gigs.
How to get a client to agree to a retainer? Here’s how I approach it:
1) Every long-term relationship starts with a single project. Once you land it, knock it out of the park. Exceed your client’s expectations.
2) Once you’ve floored them with your talents and professionalism, follow up with a phone call. If they’re local, take them out to lunch. Ask if they have an ongoing need for writers. If so, pitch yourself as the solution.
3) If they’re interested, find out what their needs are, and what their budget is. From that info, craft a proposal detailing the services you’ll provide (e.g., blogging, web management, e-newsletters, etc.), the hours you can dedicate to them, and your monthly rate. The proposal doesn’t need to be some extensive legal document; one or two pages will suffice. If it’s a large company, they’ll most likely have you sign a legally binding vendor agreement. Read it carefully.
Make sure to include language in your proposal stating what will happen if you exceed—or don’t reach—the hours you’ve agreed upon. When the client has a light workload one month, I still ask to be paid in full (that’s the beauty of a retainer).
On the flip side, during busier months, I reserve the right to charge my hourly rate for excessive overages. Now, I have strong relationships with my retainer clients. As such, I will often not charge for a few extra hours here and there. However, when there’s an unusually heavy workload, I will let my client know that I’m approaching the cut-off and there might be some extra fees involved. That way, they can plan accordingly and either give me the go-ahead to move forward or hold off.
Also, revisions to your proposal should be expected while negotiating the agreement. Be prepared to be somewhat flexible with your rates and the hours you commit to. You may also want to start with a one-month contract to see how the partnership works, then make changes to the agreement down the road.
If negotiations aren’t as smooth as you’d like, be patient. Remember that this is a mutually beneficial situation––you’re guaranteed consistent income for an extended period of time and they’ll have dependable access to an expert in their industry.
If you’ve had experience with retainers, how did yours unfold at the outset?
How did you structure them?
Has the tougher economy opened doors to possible retainer scenarios?
Have you had retainers that didn’t work out well, and if so, what would you have done differently?
If you haven’t done any retainers, do you have some clients who might be a good candidate for such an arrangement?
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.
So, I went out for a lunch the other day to my local Jason’s Deli. Pretty big chain – good, thick Dagwood-style sandwiches, great salad bar, etc. And no, I’m not getting free coupons for plugging them here. Just giving credit where it’s due, since I’m about to do the opposite as well…
Anyway, so while they have all these specialty sandwiches listed on their boards and in their printed menus, at the heart of their offering is a “build-your-own-sandwich” feature. You pick your meat (~ a dozen) and your bread (ditto) and then choose from a bunch of trimmings and condiments.
That’s what I want, so I grab a menu to review my options. Just as I have done successfully every other time I’ve come here for a sandwich. I open the menu, and look, and look and look some more. I see all the specialty sandwiches, paninis, subs, salads, desserts, etc. I see the section for the Build Your Own Sandwich, which reads:
BUILD YOUR OWN SANDWICH
Served with: Chips or baked chips with a pickle.
Substitute fresh fruit for chips & pickle. 1.59
Pick your meat, name your bread, select your spreads and dress it up.
You also decide the size. whole/5.99 • half/4.99 • *slim/4.99
.60 extra: hot corned beef hot pastrami natural, grilled chicken breast
*slim = half-portion meat between two whole slices of bread
That’s it. Where’s the list of the meats and breads and trimmings and condiments you get to choose from? AWOL. They were always there before, but I don’t see them now. Am I missing something? They’ve even included the three meats that cost extra, but not the 12 that are offered as part of the regular sandwich price. What gives?
So, I walk up to the counter, menu in hand, and ask the guy, “Where’s the list of meats I can choose from? And breads? And trimmings and condiments?” And just so you know, they don’t have a big menu board mounted that provides all that info.
“They’re not in there?” he asks? Nope. “Let me take a look,” he says, and here’s the clincher: “These are brand-new menus we just got in.” He looks. And looks and looks some more. “Hunh. That’s strange.” Yeah, tell me about it.
So, get the big picture here. Here’s a national sandwich shop chain – 225 stores strong. Ranked #1 in annual sales in QSR Magazine’s Top Ten list of restaurant groups with under 300 locations. Just named “Best Restaurant in America” by Parents magazine.
And as an experienced commercial writer, I know how projects like these unfold and get produced, and know this menu revamp probably went through at least a ten sets of eyes (conservatively). Yet, somehow, some way, almost inconceivably, the menu got printed, minus, arguably, THE core, central menu information – one of their signature features.
And each location no doubt got a few hundred copies of the new menu, which means close to 50,000 printed in all. Truly amazing.
And until it’s replaced with a corrected one, it’s going to make the counter staff’s job a LOT more complicated. Not to mention far longer wait times at lunch time, as everyone who wants a custom sandwich is going to have to ask for all the choices, listen and try to remember all they heard, and THEN decide. As opposed to knowing exactly what they want by the time they get up to the counter (i.e., like it should work). A freakin’ nightmare. This is the proverbial Menu Designed by Committee.
Oh, and get this: the SAME meatless/breadless menu was loaded up on their web site, to boot! So, until they fix it (and I haven’t checked it since), when people call to order takeout, they’ll be putting the counter staff through the same ordeal! Or if they’re trying to order online, they’ll likely just say, the heck with it and go somewhere else.
Now, obviously, Jason’s has done a lot of things right or they wouldn’t be as successful as they are. And while this screw-up won’t really hurt them in the long run, it’s just one more example – and they’re all around us – of BIG companies who don’t have their act together. Now, don’t get the idea that all companies are full of morons – obviously not the case. And this screw-up doesn’t prove that Jason’s is a bush-league operation. Again, not so. But this stuff happens more than you might imagine.
So, as you build your freelance copywriting business, don’t canonize these corporate entities as all-knowing, all-intelligent, all-savvy, all-buttoned-up entities. Ain’t necessarily so…
So, how do you think stuff like this happens?
Can you share some similar stories of major screw-ups in a big company’s literature?
Or similar snafus that show the Big Boys aren’t so smart, and maybe human, just like the rest of us?
Have you made the mistake of thinking you don’t have what it takes to make a difference for a business, since, “they’re SO much smarter than me”?
Okay, so I tried this waaaaaaay back when, shortly after the blog’s launch – asking for guest posts. Got a few submissions from my fellow commercial freelancers, but after a while, things sort of fizzled out. And yours truly had to load that big blog burden back on my shoulders. I know, get out your violins, right? 😉
But seriously, I’d like to revisit this idea. Why? Because over the past three years (almost to the day – we launched on 3/30/08), we’ve developed a pretty extraordinary commercial writing “master mind” here. I’m happy to say, this blog has made its mark in that time, and has enjoyed great participation, with an average of ~25 comments per post! Compared with typical copywriting blogs, that’s a smokin’ number. So, thanks to all of you!
I’ve kept the blog frequency low: about twice monthly (heck, it usually takes 7-10 days to work through the commentary on any given post). That said, I’d love to start posting weekly, and to do that, I really need your help.
After all, The Well-Fed Writer approach has always been collaborative. My books, ezine, knowledgebase, the new Partner Pantry, and yes the blog, wouldn’t have been possible without the countless stories, insights, inquiries and experiences from commercial writers across the country and the globe. I’m just one guy, with one limited set of commercial copywriting experiences. What could you share?
Perhaps a prospecting strategy that’s borne some serious fruit over the years?
An unusual market (if you’re willing to reveal it)?
A particularly great success story – with a lesson attached?
A fabulous tip that’s made you more efficient, better networked or more profitable?
An insight into the business that’s made a huge difference for you?
Anything else to share that can help commercial writers make more money, have greater professional fulfillment, or enjoy a higher quality of life?
And keep in mind, you don’t have to be a seasoned freelance copywriting veteran. Had an experience that taught you something and enhanced your career in some way – something that others would benefit from? I don’t care if you started your commercial freelancing career a few months ago; let’s hear it!
Guest posts should be 400-800 words. And you know our drill: real-world stories and experiences are best. And of course, please include questions at the end to turn it into a subject with “legs” – one that can spawn a rich discussion.
What’s in it for you? Besides the warm fuzzy feeling you’ll get from helping your fellow commercial freelancers? Not enough? How about raising your profile in the eyes of your peers? More? Geez, tough crowd… 😉
Seriously, if you’ve got a book, ebook, ezine, report, program, service, blog or web site you want to promote, I welcome your promo copy at the end of the piece.
The first three years have been fabulous – yielding a mighty impressive body of work covering subjects across the commercial writing spectrum. I’d love to see where we can take it during the next three years, and beyond.
Got a blog post idea? Post the particulars here, as a comment, or email me at peter at wellfedwriter dot com.