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Kickbutt Writing Skills Still One of the Most Effective Marketing Strategies…

Was updating the customer testimonials on my commercial writing site the other day, and came across this one (excerpted):

“Not only does Peter intuitively grasp where we need to go with a project, but his writing truly inspires my design. Bottom line, Peter’s spoiled me with his talent and he’s always my first choice.”

Now, I don’t include this to preen, but simply to underscore what happens when you’re a good writer (and you’re not the only one who thinks so…) – one who, in this case, enhances the quality of a graphic designer’s work. When that happens, they’ll go out of their way to bring you in on projects whenever possible. And why wouldn’t they? You make their portfolio stronger and their clients happier, and both lead to repeat business and referrals – for BOTH of you.

Which makes solid writing skills, arguably, one of the most potent marketing strategies commercial freelancers have going for them. Good commercial copywriters who craft effective copy make their clients’ lives easier and their businesses more profitable. Do that consistently, and you’ll get invited back again and again, and steered to other work.

And unlike other marketing strategies (i.e., cold calling, direct mail, email marketing, networking, social media, etc.), being a good writer “markets” you without you having to do much other than what you do naturally.

Sure, you still need to do your own marketing campaigns to let the world know you exist, but all those outreach efforts end up turbo-charged when your skills are a few cuts above. Till eventually, you may not have to do much marketing at all anymore. It happens all the time to good writers. The world starts coming to them.

A good analogy? A really good book will have a long shelf life (literally) because it’ll benefit from strong reviews and powerful word-of-mouth advertising, while a mediocre one – with few or no “champions” – will struggle to find an audience, and will likely quickly sink into the nether regions of the bargain bin.

Obviously, however, not all commercial writers are created equal. I feel fortunate to have innate writing ability (though, yes, I still cringe at some of the copy I wrote in the early days of my business). Others’ skills may not be as strong or natural. And let’s face it. While the commercial writing field – like any – certainly rewards those with superior skills commensurately, it doesn’t exclude those with modest gifts. Given the staggering amount of gruesome writing in the business world, those who can simply provide solid (if unflashy), coherent copy can find their niche.

So, what makes someone one of the better writers? Well, for me, a very partial list would include, for starters, a lot of technical things: writing like you talk, telling stories in your writing, avoiding $50 words, making sure your writing has the right cadence, and more. It also means understanding marketing fundamentals like audience, features/benefits, and USP (Unique Selling Proposition); being a good listener so you give your clients what they want the first time; and being able to quickly visualize how copy for a particular project needs to be structured and flow in order to maximize its effectiveness.

And a ton of other things. But I want to hear from you (I’m doing a teleseminar in a few months on the subject and would love to use your comments and observations – with attribution, of course).

If you (and/or your clients) consider yourself an excellent writer, what skills, gifts or talents contribute to that reputation and have them coming back again and again?

How has being a top-notch writer made your marketing easier?

Have you always had natural ability, or have you honed initially-less-impressive skills over time?

If you’ve demonstrably improved your writing skills over the years, what books, resources or ideas made the difference for you?

Any other comments or insights?

Should We Be “Fee-Flexible” in These Times?

So, a few weeks ago, I offered up a competitive bid on a project for a commercial writing client I’d done some good work for some time back. The graphic designer on the project (we’d submitted a “turnkey” project bid) had actually worked for the client for 10 years a while back, had the inside track, and knew all the players. They did tell us they’d be looking at several bids, but we figured that was just a formality (after all, they were a government entity, so they had to go through a “competitive bidding process”). Yeah, buddy, we were in like flint.

Well, guess what? They went with a lower bid. Hmmm. Just an anomaly or a “bad economic sign”? Depends on what you decide, I suppose.

Fast forward to last week. It hit me as I was putting together a quote on a project for a prospect who’d called me out of the blue. I knew what I’d normally charge (and get) for a project like this, but found myself wondering if taking the business-as-usual approach was wise in a time when things weren’t quite usual. With the prospect’s admission that he’d be talking to several other writers echoing in my head, I shot a bit lower than I would have, say, a year ago. Still a healthy fee – we’re only talking maybe 10% lower than normal – but the fact that I was playing the game at all pissed me off.

Okay, so I’m a bit torn. Part of me hears my voice admonishing commercial writers: “Don’t play the price game! You’ll lose because there will always be someone willing to do it for less.” Absolutely true. And, “Stick to your guns; the good clients will always pay for quality.” Also true, and I’m working for several of them who haven’t made a peep about wanting me to charge less (and this new guy has no direct experience working with me, so he hasn’t yet gotten to the point where my competence trumps any price sensitivity). And the new year is off to a bit slower start than usual, so maybe that’s part of it.

But then the other side ponders, “Should I be a bit flexible these days? Are clients getting more budget-sensitive?”

So. Am I making a mountain out of molehill? Am I losing my nerve? Or just being realistic? In case all of you think that us seasoned folks always have it all figured out, think again… 😉 Love to hear from you guys about what you’re finding out there…

Are you finding price is becoming a bigger issue these days with your existing clients?

If so, are you becoming more fee-sensitive these days, making adjustments for changing times?

Or, even if it is, are you refusing to play the game at all, charging what you’ve always charged, because, by George, you’re worth every penny?