About a month and a half before my holiday trip to Ohio this past December to visit family, I Googled “Ohio Writers Groups,” and found one right in my kin’s neighborhood, Western Ohio Writers Association. Shot an email to the executive director of the group (Gery Deer, also a commercial freelancer), letting him know I’d be in the area for the holidays, and would he be interested in exploring the possibility of an event. Absolutely, he replied.
(Funny sidebar if you’ll allow me a vanity moment: In my initial email, per my custom, I didn’t assume he knew who I was, introducing myself as the author of The Well-Fed Writer, etc., etc. Apparently unnecessary. He wrote back saying his wife had recently bought him my book, and he’d been carrying it around with him like a bible since then. Okay. That saved some explaining time…;)
Anyway, in fits and starts, the thing came together. Gery even tapped his long-cultivated network of local contacts and got me five minutes on TV on Dayton’s News at Noon show (slow news week, apparently…). We had 30+ in seats come show time, and all went swimmingly. Sold a small pile of books, possible commercial writing coaching business down the line, and left some goodwill in my wake – always the goal.
Sure, it’s easier for an author of a book targeted to a specific audience to put on events like this (especially with such an involved local ally as I had in this case). But remember this: what we commercial writers do – help businesses boost their bottom line through more effective marketing and communications materials, amongst other things – is something every business potentially needs.
By extension, any business/civic organization made up of businesspeople would be a good target for a speaking offer (though don’t expect to be paid). Kiwanis, Rotary, local business associations, Chambers of Commerce, industry-specific associations, are all good candidates.
Once there, any number of topics could strike a compelling note with this crowd. Right off the top of my head (and depending, of course, on your areas of expertise…):
“The 7 Most Common Mistakes Companies Make with Their Marketing Materials…”
“Five Ways Social Media Can Boost Your Bottom Line (and a Few Ways It Won’t…)”
“The Powerfully Effective Marketing Tool You’re Probably Overlooking…” (about case studies, white papers, etc.)
“How to Do Your Own Writing for Your Business (and Why That May Not Be Wise…)”
I’m sure you could come up with a bunch of others with a little thought. All designed, of course, to showcase your knowledge of commercial writing, marketing communications, and marketing in general (and your readiness, willingness and ability to execute the aforementioned…).
Most importantly, make it Job #1 at any speaking gig to offer truly valuable content, NOT pick up business. Provide enough practical information that audience members could put your ideas in action without your help. And therein lies a seeming paradox: the more you give away, the more of your beans you spill, the more likely many will be to hire you.
By being generous, you accomplish three things – all good:
1) You showcase your expertise in implementing what you’re discussing
2) You get people thinking, “If he/she is willing to give away this much, they must know a whole lot more.” And…
3) You establish yourself as the “good guy” interested in making them more successful and profitable.
Get an okay in advance from your contact person to offer a brief “marketing minute” at the end of your talk, explaining what you do, letting people know you have business cards, and perhaps offering a free consultation, top-line business analysis, report, etc.
Truth, be known, while I’ve done a ton of speaking related to my books over the years, I’ve done very little of the business speaking described above. But a healthy number of commercial freelancers I know do, given its effectiveness as a lead-generation tool. If the idea calls to you, start with some of the ideas above – or brainstorm your own.
Put your storyteller hat on, breathing life into talks with anecdotes and success stories from your own experiences (or those of other writers – with attribution, of course). Or even made-up “picture-this” scenarios to get them thinking about their own businesses.
Just remember, as you put any talk together, always imagine yourself as a businessperson in that audience, and keep in mind what’s most important to them: profitability, competitive advantage, industry reputation, etc. Benefits, not features.
From what I’ve heard, neither the bar nor audience expectations in general are set particularly high for civic/business group luncheon speeches, so don’t imagine it’d take more than you’ve got to make your mark.
Shy? Introverted? Don’t let that stop you. I read a great piece of advice about public speaking once that went something like this: While having good nuts-‘n-bolts speaking techniques down is always a good thing, the two most important attributes of all good speakers is, 1) they’re experts on their subject, and 2) they love sharing it with others.
Some years back, I watched author Malcolm Gladwell (Blink, The Tipping Point, Outliers), speak at a local Borders about Blink. Obviously shy and egghead-ish – wild hair and all – you could tell speaking wasn’t something natural for him. But, because he knew his subject intimately (AND used lots of great anecdotes), and was obviously passionate about sharing it, he had the standing-room-only crowd captivated for well over an hour. Food for thought…
Have you done this kind of speaking, and if so, how did it turn out?
What approaches/strategies have worked for you in the speaking arena?
What types of groups have you found most receptive?
If you haven’t done this kind of speaking, are you getting any ideas from all this?
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So, I’m hanging out with family for a few days in that dead zone at the end of the year, feeling like I need to be a little introspective….meaningful… significant… Y’know, that “let’s-reflect-on-2009” backwards glance (I know, many of you would just as soon not) “and-look-forward-to-2010” optimism (better).
Actually, all I really want to do is veg out, sleep late, eat too many holiday treats, and be monumentally unproductive. And so far, for the most part, mission accomplished.
If that’s you, too, let’s rouse ourselves up for a few moments of lucidity, brush the cookie crumbs off our ratty sweats, switch off the TV (fret not; it’ll still be there when we’re done, ready to once again serve up all manner of inanity), pensively grasp our chins in hand, and ponder what’s been and what’s coming for us commercial freelancers. A few stream-of-consciousness musings…
The world has changed for most Americans this year. But if unemployment stands at 10 percent, that means…
Employment stands at 90 percent.
The overwhelming majority of companies still open their doors and answer their phones every Monday. They still have to market (even more so now), still have to sell, and still have to communicate with employees. And that means a lot of writing. Yes, some have pulled those tasks in-house, reducing many a freelancer’s rates and pipeline volumes, but at the same time, consider that…
Many companies have dropped pricey agencies or design firms, or jettisoned creative/communications staffs, but still need to get the work done.
Think they’d be receptive to a smart, creative, strategic commercial writer/designer team? I’d bet on it. Now’s the time to forge those alliances so you’re prepared to offer prospects end-to-end solutions, not writing services. In that vein…
Stop thinking of yourselves as freelance writers (that’s about us: features). We’re problem-solvers (that’s about them: benefits), and speaking to clients in those terms will resonate.
Many smaller companies have folded and many more will disappear before the pendulum swings back. But, chances are, the ones hanging tough are smart and savvy – just the kind to understand the value of good copywriting. Because, after all…
Writing is the engine of commerce, and don’t you ever forget it.
No product or service gets explained, promoted, marketed, publicized or purchased, and no one gets informed, educated, pitched or sold…without writing. And none of the preceding gets done well without good writing. Writing is the alpha and the omega of all business and is present at every stage of every business strategy, process, campaign and transaction. Nothing happens without words. So, what’s your writing gift?
Figure out what writing value you offer.
You won’t get hired by any company unless you deliver something of real value they can’t do themselves. If you’re able to deliver great copy AND dispense sage marketing advice to companies going through a rough patch, you’ll be in demand (of course, many who’ve shared with me of late how well things are going already know that).
Maybe you’re able to transform complex subjects into accessible copy. Perhaps you’re an expert on X subject or Y project type. Whatever it is…
Make sure your web site clearly showcases what you do, is easy to get around and assumes that prospects have no time whatsoever to hunt (the truth).
If even just writing well is your strong suit, remember:
Bad writing is everywhere. It’s epidemic.
There are plenty of firms that would hugely benefit from nothing more than clear, coherent marketing materials and web content. Regardless of your gift, how to find them? Well, if your usual watering holes have dried up, consider that…
It’s a numbers game, and the Law of Averages is ironclad.
Landing business may have become an uncertain proposition, but one absolute constant is the Law of Averages. Knock on enough doors and you’ll find the work. Guaranteed. So, dust off your phone prospecting skills. I know, yuck. But it works. Every time. And that’s powerful stuff.
These days, me-too pessimism is the easy path, so let’s be contrarian and upbeat, shall we? No glibness intended. No question, the tough times are real. AND, last I checked, we’re still the gatekeeper of our thoughts. Even if you don’t feel like it, play along anyway, and after you’re done, there are a few holiday cookies, the remote and a nap waiting for you.
Why are you bullish about 2010?
What are you going to do more of in 2010? Less of?
What negative habit are you going to jettison in 2010?
What trends do you think bode well for commercial freelancers?
So, I get my monthly cell phone bill from Verizon (yeah, I’m naming names; maybe someone will forward this to them and they’ll get their act together…). So, in it were a few of these slick little inserts. One of them had this headline: “Get Mobile Broadband on the Nation’s Largest 3G Network!”
The copy went on to explain how I could get “lightning-fast Internet access” which would allow me to check email virtually anywhere. Hmmmm. Interesting. Sounds like something worth having. Let me go check it out…
So, they give a web link: www.verizonwireless.com/upgrade (yes, feel free to follow along in this exercise in futility just so you know I’m not making it up). OK, so while I’m a good commercial copywriter, I don’t exactly consider myself some “Landing Page Copywriting Guru” by any stretch. But, I know this much:
If you provide a link on a mail piece, email blast, or ad that purports to offer more detail on Widget A described on said mail piece, email blast, or ad, then make sure the link provided indeed takes them directly to a landing page providing more detail on Widget A.
Is this complicated?
So, click on over to the above link, and see what happens. Not a word about “Mobile Broadband.” They make me log into my account (first chance for me to lose interest). But, I’ll play along. I log in, and at next screen? STILL nary a peep about “Mobile Broadband.” Now, they’re asking me irrelevant questions about upgrading my phone.
It’s clear to me at this point that if I want to find any more information on Mobile Broadband, I’m going to have to go searching their site, which I have no interest in doing.
But get this: even if I was sooooo interested I was willing to do a site search for “Mobile Broadband,” you still basically get nowhere. One link takes you to a more detailed description (finally), but still doesn’t tell you how much it costs, nor provide further links to find out that info.
Who in the world is minding the store over there, for crying out loud? Just because there’s a big name on the door doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing. Examples like this are everywhere. Corporate marketing communications departments are often good at the big picture and are great at cranking out pretty stuff, but they’re often under such pressure (and I’m sure more so now than ever before) that a lot of the crucial “execution” details fall through the cracks.
It just underscores two things: 1) don’t put big companies on a pedestal as having it all figured out; and 2) there are a vast number of opportunities out there for commercial freelancers like us to help them clean up their act.
Why do you think so many companies get this stuff wrong so much of the time?
Have you come across similar examples like this? If so, can you share?
Have you been intimidated by big companies in the past, only to discover that they’re mighty flawed and human after all?
I do these group dinner gatherings to little ethnic holes-in-the-wall every month or so. Always fun. I put a menu together with the restaurant and anywhere from 15 to 50 people show up, pay a flat fee, and enjoy. Nice way to enjoy good food, community and conversation.
This one couple comes to most of them. At the last one I did a few weeks back, as they were leaving, he says, “Oh, make sure you tune into the news at 11 tonight. They’re doing a little piece on Judy!”
Ah yes, that would make sense. After all, Judy is an estate liquidator. If ever there was a recession-proof business, that would be it. And she knows it. The worse things get, the busier and more profitable she becomes. Got me thinking. Are there such things are recession-proof businesses that are good prospects for commercial freelancers? Businesses that are doing well right now because of the economy and as a result, have the money and the inclination to spend it on getting the word out about what they do?
I’m working with a commercial writing client right now who’s awfully close to fitting the bill. She’s a consultant to small colleges, helping them increase enrollment – whether in times of upheaval (internally or externally generated) or not. And she’s got such a great track record that she stays as busy as she wants to be. And some of these colleges are so small (300-400 students) that adding just 20-30 students a year is huge for their bottom line.
I started out doing marketing materials for her own business, but pretty soon, she realized that I wasn’t half-bad at this writing thing (and yes, I’m getting my rate), and she started introducing me to her clients. Sweet. I’ll be talking to her later today to go over a whole list of projects one client wants done over the next few months and to give her an estimate.
There will always be a market for her particular skills among schools looking to bump up their enrollment, and everyone wants that – in bad times and good. And as long as I keep doing good work for her and those clients, the prospects for continued referrals are pretty bright.
Have you worked with any clients in recession-proof businesses or industries?
What might be some recession-proof businesses commercial freelancers could pursue? I can think of funeral homes, the alcohol industry, pawn shops and yes, estate liquidation and other bankruptcy-related businesses. Some more promising than others for sure. Any other thoughts?