Category: Getting Paid

What to charge and how to make sure you get what you’re asking for.

Advice to a Young Writer

“If I had to give young writers advice,
I would say don’t listen to writers
talking about writing or themselves.”

– Lillian Hellman

Via an old friend, a young writer sent me an email: How, he wanted to know, should he get started?

He’s a good-hearted guy, a poet, and does some work in the non-profit, fundraising field.

From what I could tell, he’s not really sure if copywriting is the field for him. Or moving ahead with trying to publish his poems. Or some other kind of writing.

Is there a future for him, he wonders, in fund-raising? And how about the money thing? Is every writer destined to starve?

(He didn’t ask that, but I know he’s thinking it.)

Ah… to be young and full of questions. I remember it like it was yesterday. Because, let’s face it, it WAS yesterday… wasn’t it?

Well, anyway, I sent him an answer.

Maybe more of an answer than he wanted.

In fact, I think I scared him. Because I haven’t heard from him since. Just the same, it’s what I would tell any writer… and hey, you’re writers… so how about it? Care to take a gander at what I said? Sure you do.

So here you go…

ADVICE TO A YOUNG WRITER

Dear “Al,”

I think I was telling your girlfriend, I used to be a living-room novelist. That is, I’d sit around in my apartment living room… usually in a t-shirt and boxers on Saturday mornings… with a beer and a hangover, trying to kick start various pieces I was working on.

Either that, or I’d spent a lot of time scribbling furiously in a journal. I piled up a lot of pages. But here’s the thing…

It’s hard to make time for writing if all you’re doing with your writing is making time.

You don’t want to squeeze off shots into the air. You need a target. 25 poems and a publishing deadline. 3 short stories sold by the end of the year. A publisher breathing down your neck for a manuscript.

Imagine someone will take a limb if you don’t meet the goal. Better, ask someone to take one if you don’t. That’s a metaphor, of course, about making it real.

Point being, if you’re not on the line for your writing, you’ll probably never make it happen. Blunt but true.

Fear to write? That goes away fast when you’re more afraid of what will happen to your paycheck — and your reputation — for not turning in the stuff you’ve promised to turn in.

Fear of not being persuasive? I’m not kidding, one of my writing mentors used to take me over to the window and say, “Imagine you were standing out there in the park, trying to sell a watch to that guy on the bench… and I had a deer rifle trained on your head… if he didn’t buy, you didn’t survive. What would you say to him then? Because that’s how you need to make it happen on paper.”

For me, I ultimately moved away from fiction not because I didn’t love it, but because I wasn’t doing it. I wasn’t working at it the way I knew I would need to if I really wanted to make it happen. And the rent check was due.

To get my foot in the door at the publishing company where I started, I took a $15-per-day internship as an editorial writer (this was in 1991).

I was still in grad school at the time, working during the day… going to classes at night… playing guitar with a friend in a bar after classes until closing… then getting up to do it all over again the next day.

The bar and guitar part, I could have done without. But I had to work and wiggle my way into place for the rest of it.

I was terrible at the start.

That is, my writing was technically pretty good, but I didn’t know how to write sales copy. So a lot of my earlier stuff got thrown away. Either by me or the guy who first started training me.

After about four months, I had a promo in the mail. After about six months, I had my first winning (by a narrow margin) promo, after my first year I was finally starting to get the hang of it. But I had to work at it. And the deadlines are what kept me going, when all else failed.

That’s not to say this kind of writing is for you, by the way. It might be. But you have to know first what it involves.

For instance, there are generally two types of advertising. What most agencies do is called “Brand Advertising” or “Awareness Advertising.”

They put a message out there, hope it gets noticed, and then hope it leads customers back to the product (well, the good ones hope that… the bad ad professionals just want to win awards and impress clients with how cool and witty they can be).

This can be a lucrative field if you can (a) stick out the abusive apprentice phase in which the agency tries to chew you up and spit you out, for very meager pay and (b) you don’t mind working on ads that may or may not ever sell anything.

What I do is called “direct response” or “direct mail” advertising. Basically, junk mail. Though these days, most of what we do is really happening online.

This is considered the ugly duckling of the ad world. Where copywriters from the big agencies are drinking martinis at the bar and wearing black turtleneck sweaters, direct-response copywriters are in the corner drinking beer and, probably, hovering over the free happy-hour slices of pizza.

The benefit of that second kind of advertising, however, is that every single “piece” or sales letter that gets mailed has an individual reply device, coded with the date of the mailing and, usually, the name of the copywriter who wrote it.

The same is true of sales letters online, only they’re tracked via clicks. When a customer makes an order from a letter you wrote, everybody knows it. And they pay you a royalty on it. Those royalties are part of what you negotiate when you take on the job.

I happen to work in the newsletter publishing business. But there are lots of other businesses that depend on direct-response copy. Fund raising is one of them. Business-driving brochures and websites for non-profits is another. These both tend to be less lucrative than what I’m doing, but can be pretty profitable nonetheless.

How would I suggest you get started?

You mentioned just going after the jobs without the portfolio. I think that’s best, with a twist. Rather than try to fake your way in, blind, something you can always do is go after the freelance jobs with the intention of building a portfolio. And you can say that to a prospective client too.

“Look,” you tell them, “I have experience in the non-profit field, but I’m looking to branch out. Since I’m just getting started, I can see why you’d want some kind of guarantee of getting quality copy, so how about this? Let’s settle on a base fee that’s half the normal rate. I’ll write the project and we’ll go through the draft phases. If you end up liking what we produce, you can pay me the rest of the fee. And if not, then we can cancel the project and you don’t have to pay me anything more. Does that sound fair? That way, I get to build my portfolio and you get the copy…”

Forget the school and forget building a portfolio with no clear purpose in mind, unless you’ve got a lot of time to spare. Training is good. But getting right in there and getting started is better.

That said, you do need some kind of education in the techniques. And there are piles of online courses. They cost money and you can’t be sure if what you’re getting is worthwhile.

Though, I do recommend one that some friends of mine started, called the American Writers & Artists Inc. It’s mostly about copywriting but they have other courses. You can Google it. I teach some of their writing seminars from time to time. At the very least, looking over their site will start giving you some ideas about available writer’s markets.

You can also go to a library or bookstore and look for books by Bob Bly on this and other kinds of writing careers (not “Robert Bly,” the poet, but “Bob Bly” the copywriter). If you end up going the copywriter route, let me know and I’ll send you a list of some more books that might help.

If it’s article writing you want to do, you might get a copy of “Writer’s Market 2007.” Just be aware that it’s pretty tough to make a living only writing magazine articles. Most magazine writers can be found in the kitchen washing dishes… next to the poets ūüėČ

As for leaving your job… you could do that, but I recommend you don’t. Not until you’ve at least taken a look at some of the resources I mention above to decide if they’re really for you.

And if they are, still dig into them first and make sure you like what they have to offer. Get a couple of clients or other repeating gigs, and THEN you can plunge in head first.

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Ego-Butter: How to Give a Copy Critique

redink.png I’ve gotten a few copy critiques in my day. I crave them, no matter how harsh, because that’s what makes the writing better.

I’ve also given a few copy critiques, too. And I’ve discovered that when I’m on the handler side of the red pen, there’s one essential element to making those recommendations more effective: “ego butter.”

Let me back up.

Some years ago, I was part of a conference call with a freelance copywriter. He’d been commissioned for a small job, which was tweaking the lift letter on a much larger, longer control (one I’d written, in fact).

Leading the call was friend and mentor o’ mine, the inimitable Michael Masterson. The letter was, well, weak. Michael took control of the call and made a series of what I thought were brilliant suggestions. We all concurred, except for the freelancer.

After the critique was over, the receiving end of the call went conspicuously silent. “Hello?” we said, thinking he’d slipped on a kumquat or something equally plausible.

“Mail it,” he said. “Mail it and see if it works? Then I’ll revise it.” Clearly, he was peeved. Not, dear reader, the protocol of a copywriter seeking much repeat business.

This guy, no matter how slighted by the review, clearly lost his cool. And with that, he also lost a repeat client. It was really too bad, because I distinctly remember plenty of high-paying work to go around. With some guys, there’s nothing you can do. Their skin is so thin, you could pop it with a tossed marshmallow.

But here’s the thing…

While I despised that copywriter’s behavior, it does occur to me now that, at some level I couldn’t help but sympathize.

See, while not all copywriters are the egoists and temperamental “artistes” like this guy might have been, there are reasons why — if you’re on the critiquing side of a creative exchange — you might want to take the writer’s position into consideration.

First, remember we’re only human. Remember too that good copywriters put a lot of work goes into what they produce. They spend a lot of time with it too.

By the time we’re finished the first draft, we’re connected with the result. In such a way that criticism — even the good kind — can’t help but set one back at least a little bit.

Again, if you’re a great writer and a smart one, you’ll take even the sharpest comments with a smile. But on the flip side, if you really want results from a hired gun copywriter, there’s a step you could take to get much better results. And it won’t cost you a dime.

Very simply, start with the positive. Not excessively so, not insincerely. But clearly and immediately.

Example: “I liked the headline. And oh wow, the typing was nice. And hey, is this scented paper? Nice touch. Now, let’s talk about your lead. I think I see a way to make it even stronger.”

Okay, of course I’m kidding here.

The point is, if the copy is salvageable, there’s something in it you like. Don’t save it for last. Talk about it up front. You can be honest about the stuff you don’t like to. But lower the resistance to your suggestions first.

Is that pandering? Perhaps.

But ask yourself, in any situation alike this, what’s the goal of the critique? Is it your aim only To toughen the writer’s skin… or are you out to get the best possible copy you can get?

The latter, I’d assume.

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Help Wanted…

help wanted

Know WordPress? 

How about PHP? 

And anything else along those lines, for that matter. 

Because yours truly is looking for a little help. Yep, I’m hiring. Well… in a manner of speaking. Truthfully, what I’m most likely to do is go to one of the many excellent outsourcing sites I’ve seen (DoMyStuff.com, GetFriday, Yo

urManInIndia, etc.) and hire someone from there. 

But just in case you find it interesting, here’s what I’m looking for: This website needs tweaking. For instance, I’ve discovered that it’s programmed to crash Internet Explorer 6. Not intentionally so. But it’s successful at it nonetheless.¬†

It also has a strange stickiness to it that hangs on to some design changes I’d like to dump, even after I’ve tweaked them in the behind-the-scenes customization interface. And it “breaks” some features. Like the Archives, for instance (go ahead, click ’em… you won’t get anything, even though there’s a plug in set up to deliver archives that’s supposed to do the trick.)

Then there are the things I just don’t know how to do but would like to. Add in design pages that don’t have the sidebars and header. Have sales pages that I can link to but that remain hidden until they’re referenced in ads. Create a forum for you guys to poke around and chat with each other. Create a membership only paid part of the site where I can give away lots of extra goodies. Program in some SEO keywords, etc.

And so on.

So how about it? Anyone out there a closet programming whiz? Warning… since I can outsource a lot of this stuff fairly easily, I’m not looking to hire full-time or to spend a bundle. I just want to get a couple of repairs made so I can open up access to the site and increase the traffic.¬†

Drop a comment onto this article and it will get to me via email.

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10 “Speed-Copy” Secrets

speedy

The better you get at writing good copy, the more clients will want access to your time. In the beginning, you’ll want to give it to them.

But as time goes by, you won’t be able to.

You’ll try to cherry pick projects, taking on only those that won’t bog you down disproportionately to what you’ll get in return.

But what happens when you have no other choice than to just… write… faster?

You can try these tips…

1) Really DO Cherry-Pick Projects

It’s great to be eager.

But you’ll find there really are some copywriting jobs that just aren’t worth it. Which ones? Be wary, for instance, of poorly baked products with no clear audience or no clear benefit for the audience they’re meant to target.

Likewise, look out for¬†projects without a passionate champion on the client side. If there’s nobody who can¬†sell you on what you’re supposed to be selling, there’s a good chance you’ll have a hard time selling it to prospects, too.

And finally, look out for projects that don’t have at least 85% of the pieces in place before you get started. Unless, that is, you’re also being paid to help develop the product… a different and more involved job than just writing the sales letter.

2) Know Your Load

Four solid hours of writing, day in and day out, with rest of the day for calls, meetings, and email is actually a pretty solid pace. Sure, one can go longer when needed. But writing can be physically draining, if you’re doing it right.

Copywriter Bob Bly once told me that, while he also logs only about four hours on each project per day, he stays fresh by working keeping two projects going at once and switching to four hours on the second project in the

I’ve tried that. And sometimes it works. But frankly, once I start working on something — anything — I get too caught up in in it to let it go. So I actively try to avoid other projects until I’ve got the first one completed.

Your style will be up to you.

3) Gather Your Resources, Part I

One of the best ways to accelerate the pace on any writing project is to feed it the nourishment in needs to get started. That nourishment is information.

Read up, interview, discuss.

Call the most central figure for the product that the client can offer and do a phone interview. Record it and start typing as you play it back.¬†You’ll need other resources along the way. But this is where you’ll need to begin, if you want to make sure you burst out of the gate with as much power as possible.

4) Build Your Framework

Once you’ve got a grasp on the general direction you’ll need to take in the promo, you’ll want — no, need — to make an outline.¬†Too many early writers skip this step. Many say they don’t need it.

Yet, for all but a rare few, unstructured writing shows. The benefit of an outline is that you know where you need to go. But you also know, as you pile up research and ideas, where you DON’T need to go.

And that’s equally important.

5) Gather Your Resources, Part II

Once you’ve pulled together a rough outline of where you’re headed, you’ll immediately start to see the additional holes you’ll need to fill.

Now it’s time to go out again and start digging. Pile up links, magazine clippings, notes from studying the product and the customer base. Notes from talking to the client.

Just for the record, the research part of your copywriting process should almost always take the most time. How much longer?

A fair breakdown, if you’re working with a product you don’t know well, is about 50% of your total time available spent on research. And then 30% on writing the first draft. Plus another 20% for polishing and revision.

6) Try Writing in 3D

You would think that writing the beginning first, the middle second, and the end last would be the best way to go. And for many writers, that’s precisely the path the follow.¬†However, I’d personally recommend creating a writing system that’s a little more non-linear.

What do I mean?

Research, ideas, phrases… tend to arrive in a disorderly fashion, just like a conversation that leaps from one topic to another entirely.

So what I do is write in sections. I actually create separate, labeled parts of my file in Word. These sections match my outline or “mind-map” of the message I’d like to deliver.

Then, as I research and revise, I jump back and forth between sections, adding to one, tightening another, copying and moving pieces of ideas.

Each area fleshes out at roughly the same time, then I reorganize them to fit the more logical, linear outline that will underlie the final piece.

7) Write Your Close First

Here’s an interesting idea — start at the end. And I can give you at least two solid reasons to do this.

First, because the offer you write will, word for word, have more impact on the prospect than any other section of the promo — save for the headline and lead. If the offer stinks, you haven’t got a chance no matter how brilliant your copywriting.

Second, because knowing specifically how you’ll close the sale gives you a target to shoot for. This, too, is a great defense against the tangents that can knock you off the trail of your sales message all too easily.

8 ) Give Your Lead Room to Breathe

I know perfectionism is a killer problem for a lot of new writers. Get over that. Really. Why?

Because you’ll kill yourself and your career trying to get the right word line-by-line. Especially when you sacrifice writing the bulk of the rest of that promo while you tinker and tinker… and tinker… with the lead.

Here’s an alternate idea… put the headline and lead copy in a separate document or somehow cordoned off from the rest of your promo. Open that alternate writing area whenever you’re working on the main document.

Whenever you have an idea about how to make the lead stronger, dip into that alternate writing window, make the changes and then jump back to the rest of the piece.

I do this a dozen or more times while I’m writing, with the headline and lead changing 10… 20… or more times before I’m through.

9) Learn to “Copyify” Your Notes As You Research

This takes practice. But you’ll through your copy much faster if, when you take notes from resources you’ll use, you record the notes directly into copywritten form.

For instance, not “Mention last year’s booming commodity market to support resource buying op”… but rather “Last year’s booming commodities market is the perfect example. Had you subscribed to my ‘Dirt, Rocks, and Other Investments’ advisory service then, you’d already be up XXX% on Mud Futures alone by now.”

You get the picture.

If you can record your ideas quickly in a form that’s close to the sound you’ll want for the final draft, obviously that cuts back future writing time.

10) Use Markers and Shortcuts

This last one is a small thing. But very, very handy.

Let’s say you’re writing and you need to cite a stat you don’t have at your fingertips, try just dropping in “XX” where that falls.

Or let’s say you need a subhead to transition between sections but the perfect one escapes you at the moment. Don’t get stuck. Instead, drop in “[SUBHEAD HERE]” and keep moving.

The idea is to preserve the momentum at all costs. Just make sure you search the replacement phrases and fill things in after the writing is done.

This list could go on, of course. But that’s a pretty good start.

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How Much Money Do You (Deserve To) Make?

cashregister“Money,” Woody Allen once said, “is nice to have — if only for financial reasons.”

Or as one of my copywriting mentors used to say, money isn’t just about affording a better life, taking care of your family, or safeguarding your retirement.¬†It’s also a way to ‘keep score.’

Is that a sad testament to the shallowness of humanity? Or a reassurance that ambition and the drive to thrive are alive and well? ¬†It’s up to you. But¬†personally, at least on one level, I think he’s right.¬†Think about it.

We know that there are higher things than the material trappings of being a working stiff. Yet,¬†when you see the Forbes 400 list of the world’s wealthiest… do you look? And when you do, do you stop at looking at the net worth or do you secretly search for the age, education, and hard-luck background stories too?

Most of us can’t help it.

We want to know how we’re measuring up.¬†Spiritually, intellectually, aesthetically of course. But let’s face it, those things can be tough to measure.

Income, on the other hand, is easy.

Either¬†you’ve got it or you don’t. And as a measurement of success, it ends up a universal equalizer, non-negotiable and true. ¬†Sure,¬†applications of wealth, obsessions with wealth, understanding of wealth and what it can mean, those things can all vary. But wealth itself, for everybody it’s a common denominator. A means to living in the manner we hope we’ve earned.

Long story short, having a little extra scratch on hand… ain’t such a bad thing.

And having a lot more, well, that’s a hard idea to resist too.

Okay, so now that we all feel good about money and having some… how do you measure up?

Some time ago, CR friend Chris Marlow put together a survey of fellow copywriters.

Keep in mind, most of her responses came from the U.S., some from Canada and some from the U.K.  This could be as much because the survey is in English as it is a fair representation of the global market.

Also,¬†most of the responders (61%) are in the 1-5 year range of experience. And more than half have written for both specialty markets and what they would consider “general” fields.

Most write for either the “Marketing Communications” field or “Banking and Investment” with a majority writing for both business-to-consumer and business-to-business products.

So…¬†what are we making, year over year?

Just over 25% — at the time I had taken the survey — landed in the $50K to $75K category… with nearly 15% making between $75K to $100K… and a small but impressive slice taking in as much as $300K to $400K per year. (I’m in the latter category, but know plenty in the middle and a handful in the first).

How are they finding their best business, biggest paying assignments, and favorite clients?

What fields yield the most copywriting opportunity?

What types of pieces did they write for most — speeches, brochures, e-zines, direct-mail letters, radio and space ads, and more — and what did they charge for each?

All this, you’ll have to get from Chris.

She compiles and sells the survey results every year. I recommend it not for affiliate income (in fact, I can’t find my affiliate link at the moment and want to get this post up, so this is just a straight shot over to Chris’ site (click here)), but because I know that by knowing how others pull off this career, you’ll get some ideas for yourself.

And maybe a little inspiration too.

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From “Just Learning” to “Bigtime Earning”

 LOTS of people study copywriting. Only a few of those actually make the leap and DO it. What makes the difference between them?

¬†Getting that FIRST client. When the “big time earning” copywriters look back, it often feels like it was no big deal.

¬†But looking forward, I understand it can be daunting. That’s why I’ll let you in on a little secret — there’s a shortcut. And following it can land you light years ahead of the competition.

¬†Here’s another secret. It’s not hard to learn this shortcut either. How’s it work?

Click here to find out. 


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Inspiration or Flat-Out Imitation?

Every great direct response copywriter can tell you what a valuable thing it is to have a “swipe file,” that burgeoning bin or desktop folder of winning promos crafted by other copywriters.

The idea, of course, isn’t to rip off the best of your colleagues… but rather to read, see what’s working, and use that to get your own creative juices flowing.

Not everybody gets that. Some people understand the concept, but go ahead and plagiarize anyway. Not good, folks.

And it looks like it’s not just a problem in direct mail or online advertising. For instance, Don Hauptman recently sent me a clip from the New York Times that Madison Avenue pros might be taking the, er, “borrowing” technique a bit too far.

Honda Motors and the Subway sandwich shop chain, both have ads out there centered on the old “Odd Couple” sitcom theme song. Coincidence? Maybe.

Maybe so, too, for Visa and the “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” movie trailer, who both featured the same instrumental piece of music in their commercials… borrowed from the 1985 movie, “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.”

Or the three ads from Dell, Sears, and Wal-Mart respectively — each with the “make holiday wishes come true” story line. And the movie trailer for the new “Beowulf” movie, which harkens back to the campaign advertising the blockbuster flick “300.”

Lots of ideas strike lots of people at the same time.

But it just goes to show you, you’ve got to work that much harder to be original with your message.

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7 Easy Ways to Get More From Writers

whipsmart.pngWhat’s the single best way to make sure you get what
you want out of the writers you’ll hire?

I’ll give you not just one but seven easy ways to guarantee a quality result, in today’s issue.

And by the way, don’t skip this if you’re the writer instead of the client… because this list could make your job infinitely easier too, simply by showing you what to ask for from anybody who hires you.

But before we jump in…

What to Know Even Before You Pick Up The Phone

First and foremost, one of the BIG reasons some businesses don’t get what they want from copywriters… is because they’re not exactly sure what it is they hope to get, right from the start.

Sure I do, you say.

I want sales.

Isn’t that pretty simple?

Yes. But be careful.

Why?

Because you can boost sales in a number of ways. Some ways are true to your product, some are not.

And a sale that’s followed by a slew of cancellations or refunds is no sale at all.

What’s more, there’s often another subconscious motivator that gets in the way of even the best marketer’s intentions.

And that is, of course, your ego.

How so? If your ego is inflated by selling more of a quality product your customers want, that’s good.

But too often, that’s now how it plays out.

Take, for instance, the jillions blown by “brand” advertisers on things like Superbowl ads.

Are those funny but pointless spots really about selling more product? Or are they more likely self-congratulatory spots set out to appeal to an advertisers sense of importance?

Ads like those let advertisers feel great about themselves, their businesses, and their brand.

They are the echelon of “hip,” the pinnacle of product entries in a pulchritude contest, the bountiful beauty in which those advertisers will bask like buffalo in a basin of… okay, I’m running out of ‘b’ words… but the point is, so-called advertising often does very little to get sales, despite all intentions to the contrary.

Ego that forces a message that offers no substance or promise to your target market is, in a word, a waste.

And finally, you need to be aware that even if you ARE sensibly focused on boosting your bottom line, there are different KINDS of sales you’ll want to make. And different strategies that precede those sales.

For instance, if you’re out to sell a high volume of a low-priced item… to a whole new set of names… that demands one kind of copy. If you’re looking to convert current customers for more sales, that’s something else (almost) entirely.

If you want to raise the price on something you’ve sold before, that’s something else. And if you’re looking to sell something high-end to previously low-end buyers, that’s something different yet again.

“Soft offer” pitches work uniquely… as do time-limited pricing offers… product launches… and even those pitches that create a whole new product category altogether.

Then… you’ve got the pitches that need to combine one or more of the marketing strategies above. And we haven’t even talked about your cost restrictions, list selections, and the rest.

You see what I’m getting at.

Bottom line, and this is important for you to soak up before I take you anywhere else: The MAIN thing you can do to better guarantee you’ll get what you want from the copywriters you hire is to figure out exactly WHAT it is you want to happen, first.

The better you know your strategy in advance, the better you can prep the copywriter before you bring him or her into the equation.

That understood, what comes next?

Now we get into the meat…

Seven Ways To Make Your Writer Write Better

In my experience, on both sides of the copy contract, here are seven easy ways to get more from your writers.

And again, writers, you read these too. Because it can’t hurt to know how good clients think, can it?

Here we go…

1) CHERRY-PICK YOUR WRITER

Let’s face it. Each copywriter, especially a good one, has his niche.

Some work with one kind of product well. Some with others. Some are great at telling stories. Others can work wonders with a track record.

If you’ve been in business any amount of time, you’ll start to know which writers have which talents. And you’ll match them carefully to your products.

Copywriters, there’s a lesson here for us too: Know your strengths and capitalize on them.

Make sure you accept the projects that fit with your talents. Unless you’re up to the challenge, avoid the projects that don’t.

2) HEAP ON THE RESEARCH

The better informed the copywriter, the better — usually — the copy he’ll crank out.

So if you’ve got the material, flaunt it.

You might resent, as I’ve seen some marketers do, the idea of doing footwork for someone you’ve hired to do just that.

But the fact is, even great copywriters will work even better if you arm with material to start the job.

Copywriters, there’s a lesson here too, albeit an obvious one: Writer’s block, fluff-laden copy, empty leads and offers and headlines… they all go away when you throw relevant specificity into your sales pieces.

Insist on asking for as much background material as you can get your hands on, at the very start of the assignment.

3) TALK IT OUT, AT LEAST TWICE

Talk to your copywriter at least twice — in detail — about what you’re hoping for in the first draft.

Talk once at the very start of the assignment and then ask to talk again, just to make sure the writer is on the right track.

And this, with enough lead time to make any changes before he or she turns in the first draft.

Copywriters: Realize that, as much as it’s essential to work alone and to protect undeveloped ideas, it’s also astounding what clarity you can get from a simple half-hour phone call.

If you wait for it to happen, it’s a distraction when it comes. But if you pursue the conversation, you might actually help the marketer clarify in his own mind exactly what he’s looking for.

4) PROVIDE A POINT MAN

I can tell you from personal experience, there’s nothing worse — when you’re working on selling someone’s sales copy — to have to hunt down someone, anyone, who will answer your emails to help you gather the things you need to complete the task.

Give your copywriter a gift up front — a handshake and introduction to a trusted person on the inside who will take calls and emails and attend to them promptly, as if completing the sales copy actually meant something to the organization doing the hiring.

And copywriters, don’t leave the scene of a first meeting without the name of this person.

Any client who can’t provide one, avoid working with more than once. They don’t take their marketing seriously.

5) LEARN HOW TO GIVE FEEDBACK

Patton’s quote at the start of today’s issue notwithstanding, sometimes you’re going to need a lot more in the way of first-draft feedback than, “doesn’t quite work” or “needs more” scribbled in the margins.

When I review copy, I famously almost double the original document length with my suggestions and comments. Nothing gets left to interpretation. Tell them more rather than less.

When something works, tell them that — absolutely. And when it doesn’t, tell them that too.

But tell them why.

If the writer is worth his salt, he’ll have a much better idea of how to make things right.

Copywriters, you need to push for this kind of feedback too. You’re not out to bait for praise or battle critiques. The whole process of review is to delve deeper into what your client wants — needs — from you to get the job done.

6) COME CLEAN ON DEADLINES

It might feel like courtesy to give your creative team lots of breathing room.

But, really, you’re much better off coming clean about your deadlines right up front.

Tell them what you need and when.

Some especially busy copywriters might have to turn you down. But if the time is available to work within those parameters, the pros will appreciate your clarity and efficiency.

Copywriters, this of course applies to us too.

Half of us are in this business because we like the freedom of setting our own schedules.

But to make that work, you have to… well… set them. That means making sure you know up front what’s being asked of you.

Insist on establishing this early in the game.

7) CUT THE FAIREST DEAL

The best businessmen I know don’t mess around trying to gain an upper hand. Nor do they give away the store.

They focus instead on the middle ground, making sure both sides benefit when a strategy pans out.

Between client and copywriter, that often means a royalty on sales. The better a piece performs, the more you both make.

Sure, some of the best copywriters do flat-fee only. But those fees are high… along with the quality of the copy they’ve earned a reputation for producing.

Copywriters, heed this: You’ll generally do your best work if your biggest payoff is performance-based.

Client or copywriter, I hope all that came in handy!

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14 Ways to Make Your Prospect Relax

chill pill.jpg I’m not unveiling any big secret by telling you that a lot of what you’ll do when selling is all about emotion. And it has to be that way.

Why?

Because we humans — the thinking animal — are perversely also designed to be jumpy, reactionary, over-zealous, anxious organisms. If it were ever in my character to use the term “hot mess,” this is where I’d use it (but it isn’t.)

However, if there is absolutely a time in any selling “event” where you cannot afford to let your prospect’s emotions get ahead of you, it’s on the order form. Yet, too often, exactly that can happen. Your prospect can become too nervous to pull the trigger and place an order.

Fortunately, this too is something you can learn to control. Today, I’ll give you fourteen things you could try.

Keep in mind, as you read through, that this list is by no means complete. Nor is it a checklist. You can try one of these things… all of them… or a mix.

And remember, the goal for each is to simply help your prospect scale that last wall of anxiety he or she might have before pulling out a credit card to order…

1) We all know putting a guarantee box on your order form can help ease worries. But in today’s age of online marketing, what about using a recorded “video guarantee” instead? Right there on the form.

2)Are their trade organizations or guilds related to what you’re selling… or if the product pitch is local, is there a trade union you could join? If yes, pay your dues and put the logo (with permission) right there on your order form.

3) Along those same lines, this is an oldie but a goodie… try adding more or larger “secure offer” icons (e.g. not just “Verisign” but “McAfee Secure” and “BBB” and a whopping big, well-designed “100% Satisfaction Guarantee” icon). Aim for at least five icons per reply page.

4) Test placement of these trust logos from the last tip. Some research says that the single best place isn’t at the top of the page or at the bottom, but rather right under or next to the “Place Your Order” button.

5) Try putting a callout box containing a testimonial — with photo — right next to submit button on the form.

6) In fact, if you’re selling online, try putting a recorded video testimonial or testimonials on the side of the reply page.

7) Here’s a twist on the “100% Satisfaction Guarantee” that might work with mid-priced items and higher: “100% + a Buck.” That is, offer a total refund if requested, plus a dollar. It’s just an extra and not too costly twist to up the ante on your guarantee.

8) If your current order form has a lot of “buy now” urgency in the language, try testing it against a “Take your time to decide, there’s no pressure — that’s what the full money back guarantee is all about” version. Urgency is good, but not so much it forces paralyzing panic.

9) Try posting a box on the order form that lists shipping/other service costs… then slashes through them in red and says prominently “Please do not worry about shipping or other service costs. We will assume that responsibility entirely.”

10) Try the same as in the last tip, but even simpler, with a callout logo that says “Free shipping on all orders, guaranteed.”

11) If there’s a discount on the offer, show it graphically and make it actionable. e.g. Instead of just saying “Get 20% Off!” before detailing the deal, say something like “Click Here to Get 20% Off” or even more official “Redeem Your 20% Savings By Clicking Here” and maybe even add a better deal with “Redeem Your 25% Savings By Clicking Here” as a second option.

12) Again especially for online offers, but when the reply page opens — or on the page, in a box — flash a callout that says, “Use this discount code to get 10% off on a two year order: LS4736.” And then auto enter that code on the order form, as though someone typed it in for your buyer.

13) Again with the reply-page testimonials, try testing between reassuring testimonials about the product… and ones directly about the shipping process, e.g. “I got my reports instantly, minutes after I ordered” or “When my order arrived, it was all there as promised… and I really liked the bonus gift you included.”

14) Before we show the reply page, flash a box that says simple, “Before we help you process your order, what name would you like us to call you during the process?” and then personalize the order form that follows according to the name they provide.

Again, just a few ideas.

Feel free to add to the list using the comment email address in the footer of this issue.

Hope you find ’em useful!

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Seven+ Ways to Keep Your Clients

shake.jpgOver the years, have I written my share of crotchety emails to product managers, traffic managers, legal assistants, publishers, and graphic designers?

I confess — I have.

A tiny handful have even made it past the “send”¬†button… most, after sitting in my “draft” folder to¬†cool, have landed in the trash can.

But rather than air out my own dirty laundry, let me share some insight from my friend and fellow marketer, Lori Allen. Lori runs Travel Writing and Travel Photography seminars for our mutual pals over at American Writers & Artists Inc.

She deals with lots of copywriters and other freelancers. So much that she once gave a
presentation at the famous AWAI boot camp,¬†“Confessions of a Marketing Director: 17 Ways to Keep¬†Clients Coming Back.”

Here are some of the highlights she shared…

1) Don’t complain or badger the client.

Imagine waking up from surgery only to have the¬†doctor hovering over your bed, complaining about the¬†mess you made in the operating room. You’d feel a¬†bit, er, put out.

Yet, one copywriter Lori hired wrote her a letter¬†complaining about the migraines and sleepless¬†nights… she had “caused” because of the project¬†she’d given him.

Guess what — she never hired him again.

Likewise, it’s not a good idea to badger clients for¬†feedback. Sure, sometimes a response comes way too¬†slow — I know, I’ve been there — but a gentle nudge¬†is better than a searing cattle prod, in the long¬†run. Believe me. I’ve been there too.

Of course, the longer and better you get to know the¬†clients, the easier it is to be frank about what you¬†need to get the job done. But even then, don’t¬†mistake familiarity for a license to act like a jerk¬†(Believe me, I’ve been… ah, you get the picture).

2) Offer to help not to destroy.

If your marketing client has a mailing control you¬†think stinks, what should you do? Write them, of¬†course, and tell them what idiots they are… right?¬†Wrong.

Yet, Lori has letters from copywriters who say¬†exactly that. Outright, they try to get new business¬†by telling her that their layout stinks… the¬†headline is insipid… and so on.

Is that the way your mama taught you to behave? Nope.¬†And you shouldn’t behave that way with a client you¬†hope to keep or win over, either.

One of the great things you learn as a seasoned¬†writer is how to TAKE criticism… and if you’re¬†lucky, you learn how to GIVE a critique better too.¬†That means knowing when your critique is welcome and¬†when it isn’t. It also means knowing how to make¬†suggestions that get your clients looking forward¬†hopefully… rather than feeling defensive.

3) Emphasize past successes, not failings.

How many poor chumps have you seen trying to “get the¬†girl,” only to lapse hopelessly into awkward self-deprecation? Bottom line: you can’t go far by hiding¬†your light under a bushel.

Talking to a new client? Then let them know what¬†you’ve accomplished. If you’ve got great controls for¬†one company, get samples and share them with the rest¬†of your clients. There’s no need to be modest.

Talking to a longtime client? Don’t forget that the¬†quality of your business relationship is built on¬†reselling yourself to them, too. With discretion,¬†make sure they don’t forget your greatest hits.

What if you lack experience? Don’t cringe in the¬†shadow of your own innocence. Instead, be bold,¬†eager, and well-informed. Be honest. And shine the¬†light on what you’re GOING to do for them instead.

4) Know when to call instead of write.

Like I implied earlier, writing is often an isolated profession. You start to cherish working alone, and might even start using e-mail as your buffer against a disruptive world.

True, email can save you lots of time… sometimes.¬†But here’s the real weakness of working solely by e-mail: It can make you think you control the¬†conversation, when you really don’t.

That’s a problem.

Especially when you’ve got a complex idea to get¬†across… an opinion that could be misread… or a¬†sensitive question to ask.

There’s no way around it — you have to know when to¬†pick up the call instead of write. Better yet, know¬†when it’s best to meet in person. I know, that whole¬†“face-to-face” thing seems like old technology. But¬†you’ll be surprised by how much better it works,¬†compared to, for example, brainstorming by Twitter.

5) Always include your contact information.

Okay, this isn’t about e-mail etiquette exactly.¬†Except in the sense that it’s always right to make
your introductions. Obvious? Perhaps.

But Lori showed us an e-mail from one copywriter that would astound any self-respecting schoolmarm.

He asked her to mail something to him via the postal¬†service… at a new mailing address he didn’t¬†provide… while writing from an e-mail address he¬†said he didn’t usually use. And he signed the message¬†only “J.” And that was it.

Nice going, bonehead.

6) Understand the technical side of the business.

This isn’t so much etiquette either. But it pays,¬†says Lori, to know enough about the print side of the¬†direct mail business. Just so you can talk the talk¬†when necessary. This is especially true when working¬†with graphic designers. Nothing will help you sound¬†more like a seasoned marketer. By the way, this is¬†also true when you’re working with online copy. You¬†don’t need to know HTML, but it helps to know the¬†technical options afforded to you.

7) Get excited about the product.

Again, not an etiquette point. But essential for¬†every communication you’ll have with a copywriting¬†client. If there’s anything that will really make¬†your copy work well and your clients willing to¬†respect you, it’s a sincere understanding and¬†appreciation of the product you’re writing to¬†support. The enthusiasm flows from between the lines.¬†And this will make your writing job much easier, to¬†boot.

In the title to today’s piece, I said “+” after the¬†“seven.” What’s that stand for? Well, naturally, the¬†easiest way to keep a client is to write great copy¬†that sells.

But that’s way too obvious, right?

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