Apologies for the long hiatus from the blog. As many of you know, I went on an adventure for the first three months of this year (see the photo albums linked from the Appetizer course in the March issue of The Well-Fed E-PUB), and slowly getting back into the swing of things. Thanks for coming back!
So, I’m in the home stretch (the good news) of a dental implant procedure (the bad news). Thankfully, I feel like I’m in incredibly good hands with my dentist. She is so competent and knowledgeable, and does such a great job of explaining what she’s doing, making me comfortable during the process, and following up by phone after every step.
It’s a roughly 4+-month process, that began with an extraction of a tooth followed by the insertion of a titanium post screwed into the jawline. Actual powdered bone material is packed into the opening, and over the next four months, it assimilates into the jawbone, and further anchors the post. Finally, a prosthetic tooth attached to another screw, similarly, is screwed into the post.
(NOTE: As grisly and wince-inducing as the above description no doubt sounds, the whole process is basically a lot of sound and water, but no pain—except, of course, when it comes time to pay).
Consider the skill and expertise required to do the job at all, much less the masterful job she does. She is so good at what she does, and this process demands such a high level of expertise, that I’ve shelled out her non-trivial fee unhesitatingly, never considering for a second trying to get it done on the cheap. Just not worth it.
On the continuum of professional services—with those services you might consider “cheaping out” on, or even doing yourself, on one end; and those you’d never consider getting done by anyone but the best practitioner one can find, on the other—her services are obviously ensconced in the latter category.
Then, there are services that companies and individuals routinely put in the former category (i.e., those you might consider doing yourself), but don’t belong there in any way shape or form. And of course, professional copywriting services are one of them.
It’s Easy to Write, Right?
No mystery why this happens. After all, to the untrained eye, what’s so difficult about writing? It’s just stringing words together to form sentences that convey a certain message, right? Any educated, reasonably literate person can do it, yes? What’s so hard about it? Oh my, let us count the ways…
And because of the pervasiveness of this tragically misguided perception about the craft of marketing writing, it has the strange effect of actually convincing many writers of its veracity.
How else to explain why so many exceptionally good copywriters are insecure about their skills (not getting how so few can do what they do well), and lack the confidence to insist upon a professional wage—equivalent to the fees earned by other “professionals”?
Bad Writing Helps No One
Of course, that widely held misconception (i.e., of how “easy” writing is) doesn’t lose much power when so many mediocre writers flock to the field and keep cranking out pretty convincing evidence—for crappy wages—that writing actually is pretty easy.
After all, say the clients who pay those crappy wages, it must be easy, given how little we had to pay for it. I could have done just as good a job, but I don’t have the time. And that makes it tougher for the truly talented commercial writers (a.k.a. marketing writers) to convince many clients to pay those professional wages.
(NOTE: I’m not talking here about simple article-writing skills. If that’s all a client needs, then any number of thousands of writers out there have the basic skills to do an adequate job, and for pretty cheaply. I’m referring here to the more challenging marketing-copywriting skills held by far fewer people.)
They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know
At the heart of that challenge is the fact that those same clients have no idea what really good marketing writing looks like. What they see from the bargain-basement writers becomes their baseline perception, not only of what “good writing” should cost, but more importantly, what “good writing” is.
Hence, it becomes our job to educate them as to the difference it can make. No, if we have access to enough prospects who already understand the value of good marketing writing, and are willing to pay well for it, we don’t need to waste our time educating the unconvinced. But if those “enlightened” clients are in short supply in our prospecting pool, then educating may be in order (or, expanding one’s pool…).
Fact is, solid marketing copywriting takes a LOT of skill and expertise. It’s not easy, and by no stretch of the imagination can just anyone do it (tell you something you don’t know, right?). And if you are one of The Good Ones, I daresay it’s not a stretch to compare the caliber of your skills, in their own way, to those of a good dentist.
Have you wrestled with that typical writer insecurity that plagues so many of us?
Was there a moment (perhaps, a particular client/job) that had you realize you were delivering far more value to your client than just a “freelance writer” would?
Have you had clients contrast their experience working with you, with one working with a freelancer with little marketing background?
OR, have you had a client been hesitant to hire you, thanks to a past “bad-writer” experience?
Any other comments or observations?
Speaking of good writing, I’ll be re-launching Well-Fed Craft—my popular program on how to actually write the most common commercial writing projects—on June 26. For all the details, go here.
Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.
Got this email from a reader in Canada a few weeks back:
Writers in my market are noticing a trend towards clients hiring low-cost writers, mostly journalism students from the local college. Journalism has been pretty much wiped out here so there’s been a huge increase in these writers. We’ve also noticed several big clients are now offering minimum wage for copywriting positions. So there’s pressure.
A few of us “senior” writers have been talking about collaborating on some sort of marketing strategy based on selling a higher-quality writing service. The general idea is not to compete directly against the will-write-for-food crowd, but to become the go-to writers for clients by offering a consistent, professional and accountable service.
I’ve partnered with another writer to offer this service to a client whose reputation may have suffered some by hiring cheap writers. What we’re seeing with these cases are things like websites with glaring typos, businesses with poor Google results, etc. Are the clients noticing this? Maybe. Is it damaging their reputation in the marketplace? Probably.
While this idea of ours looks positive, the question is this: Do you know of anyone else who has tried this strategy, and have you seen what works and what doesn’t?
At first blush, a little disturbing, but I’m not at all sure we’re comparing apples to apples. Here’s my thinking on this…
I haven’t been seeing this trend personally, but I’m sure it’s happening. The key question: What sorts of copywriting projects are these writers being asked to do?
I ask this because a journalism student from a local college will, in no way shape or form, know their way around good, effective marketing copywriting.
And hiring cheap writers will reliably yield the unreliability he mentions. I can certainly see cheaper freelancers being able to write passable-looking “content” like white papers, case studies, blog posts, etc.—given their more “article” nature.
Commercial Writers Do It Better
Needless to say, a copywriting pro would render those content projects far better, while their versions of ads, direct mail, brochures, landing pages, etc., will be infinitely better, more effective, and far more likely to pay for themselves many times over, than anything a cheaper writer might deliver.
It’d be interesting to get into the heads of these writing buyers. Maybe they know they’ll be trading off some quality for the lower wages paid. But they’d only do that if they truly believed that what these bargain-basement scribes deliver is all they really need.
Don’t Know Good Writing (or Writers)
After all, these clients have already proven they don’t understand the value professional writers bring, so they’re just as unlikely to be able to recognize good writing when they see it, and be happier with inferior stuff.
In the long run, I suspect those same clients, if they start seeing that they’re losing out to companies who are investing more money in writers better equipped to deliver effective content—and general marketing copywriting—may end up doing the same themselves.
In answer to his specific question, I wrote:
If you feel you and your compadres ARE stronger marketing copywriters, that’s probably your best pitch. Yes, I’d also play the reliability, accountability and detailed-oriented (i.e., clean, error-free copy) cards, but I wouldn’t lead with those: Even though they’re exceptionally important, they sound a bit thin, compared to the effective marketing-copy angle.
That should have them thinking that they’re potentially losing far more money in sales, than they’re saving by hiring cheaper writers. And heck, why not make that part of your pitch?
Back to School?
Bottom line, If your prospecting hasn’t turned up enough “good” clients (i.e., those who understand the value people like us bring, and are willing to pay well for it)—and they’re certainly out there—you might need to do more educating of those clients who think, “Anyone can write.”
In many cases, clients don’t even realize there are writers like us (i.e., marketing copywriters). They just need a writer, and if they don’t have success with lower-budget ones, they’ll find a “better writer”—i.e., a more experienced journalist-type writer.
Let ‘Em Know Our Kind Exists
So, the marketing we do for our practices not only lets the world know that we—in particular—are out there, but just as importantly, that marketing copywriters like us, very different from the typical “freelance writer”—are out there.
Have you noticed this trend in your market?
In your experience, do clients realize there are marketing copywriters out there, not just journalist-style “freelance writers”?
In your experience, do the prospects and clients you cross paths with know the difference a good marketing copywriter, and know what quality marketing writing looks like?
Ever had a client who just didn’t get what a good writer could offer, and your amazing copy rocked their world, and gave them a new appreciation for folks like us?
How are your marketing-writing chops? Not sure? If you’re ready to BE sure, and truly separate yourself from the writing masses, check out my (rapidly-filling) Well-Fed Group Coaching series focused on “craft” and starting October 18. Full details and testimonials HERE.
************************ Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.
When I first wrote the original piece noted below, it struck me as a subject on which I’d love to get some feedback from you guys. Look for other such posts (I know, recycling content, but all for a good cause…;)
In the November 2013 Well-Fed E-PUB, my Appetizer course shared a recent client experience that underscored for me why good commercial freelancers generally make a lot more money than regular “freelance writers.” Here’s that piece (adapted and slightly edited)…
Got an email from a client of mine a few weeks back, needing a little editing work on a project her designer was working on for her (i.e., combo brochure/direct mail piece she’d be giving away at trade shows as well as mailing out to prospects).
While I can’t make blanket statements, I’d wager good money that had she simply contacted a “freelance writer”—someone charging quite a bit less than I do—with the same request, she’d have likely gotten just what she’d asked for: edited copy.
However, I took a look at it, and gave her my thoughts: she didn’t need the thing edited. She needed to trash what she had, and start all over again both with the copy and design (and, while she was at it, replace her newbie, “moonlighting-college-student” designer with one of my trusted design partners).
While the existing design was quite creative—a main panel with all sorts of other panels that folded in on it—I looked at it through a far different lens. I listened to what she said she was going to do with it. I looked at what she was selling—a service that needed to have a “case built” for it, and in a logical, sequential fashion.
Her existing copy didn’t begin to build that case (and given the design, the requested editing wouldn’t have allowed me to expand it to do so), nor did the existing design framework even remotely facilitate the proper persuasive unfolding of that “story.”
Doing good copywriting work for her for years has her trust that I know what I’m doing. So when I suggested a totally different layout (still quite creative), new designer, expanded copy and a far higher fee than originally envisioned, she quickly gave the green light.
She’s the ideal client: someone who understands that the ultimate effectiveness of a marketing piece always trumps cost (within reason, of course). So, I’m being paid far more, largely because I’m providing a level of expertise that straight “freelance writers” wouldn’t.
If you know how to write, and even tell a good story, you’ll only be able to command a certain fee (given how many other writers have those same skills), but if you can, indeed, “build that case” for a product/service in a logical, creative way, and can think strategically about copy, and—when necessary, about physical layouts that facilitate that “case-building”—watch your writing income rise.
On this piece, I averaged roughly $120 an hour, not as much as I’d like, but not bad for fun work. And I made more than a regular “freelancer” because I know both how to write AND organize what I write to fit a certain layout (which in this case, I suggested, further increasing my value).
My goal with this post (and hopefully, the ensuing comments) is NOT to discourage non-commercial writers from our business. Anyone can learn, through experience and practice, the craft of good marketing copywriting and the strategic planning side of it. But, I did want to highlight that it IS a different set of skills, and for a businessperson, they’re worth more, and hence worth learning.
And, in all fairness, we commercial copywriters get paid a lot more than regular freelancers, in large part, because the business arena in which we’re operating pays higher rates than say, magazines, newspapers, or content mills.
So, it’s the setting as well as the good skills, but being in the “high-rent” district will only get you so far without the skills.
What do you feel good commercial freelancers bring to the party that regular writers don’t?
Can you share a specific moment/project when you realized you truly had far more marketable skills than the average writer?
Can you share a moment where a business client had an epiphany, as they realized how much more you were able to do for them than a regular writer did/could?
Can you share a moment when your ability to think strategically about copy or layout, set you apart from other writers?
Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.