As a cafe writer, you might want to re-think three things in order to stand out in a competitive marketplace: your business name, your positioning, and your image.
Why scheduling fun will make your copywriting flourish
The beauty of being a freelance copywriter is that you can set your own schedule. That, and the fact that you can work from anywhere in the world are the main reasons I became a copywriter in March 2009.
While the traveling and writing thing has worked out, sticking to a productive daily schedule has often been a struggle.
I mean, on any given day, is anyone telling you what to do? No one is watching you, and no one cares if you decide to work in your pajamas all day (not my thing, as I wrote about here, but you may be different). As long as you hit your deadlines, no one knows the difference.
Stop working so hard!
So let’s say all your deadlines are three weeks out, it’s Wednesday at noon, and you’re completely caught up for the week. What do you do?
If you’re like me, you feel guilty doing anything except sitting at your desk writing, rustling up new business somehow, or studying something that will help you become a better copywriter, right?
The Monday through Friday routine seems to be ingrained in my head, even though it’s ridiculous to follow the masses.
Here’s a weekly plan I used years ago when I was in direct sales. It served me well then, and I’m going to resuscitate it in my business again.
4 + 1 > 5
The idea is to actually schedule fun, and take a day or two off every week. I recommend two.
I call it the “4 + 1 is greater than 5” schedule.
Here’s the way I used to do it: Work all day Monday and Tuesday. Get a good six hours of writing in each day, do some marketing, follow up with clients. Be productive and focus for two days, that’s all.
On Wednesday, you spend the morning evaluating your first two days, catching up on anything you missed, and planning the next two days.
Then you take off Wednesday afternoon and evening. Goof off, go to a movie, go for a bike ride, hang out all afternoon reading a novel at your favorite coffee shop.
You’ll be all rested up for Thursday and Friday, which are a repeat of Monday and Tuesday. Serious discipline. Nothing but business-building related activities.
You can focus, because you know you’re not going to work on the weekend (like a lot of normal people don’t). We writers aren’t exactly normal, so you may still enjoy writing on the weekend, but the thing is, it will be your choice, not because you feel compelled to.
Saturday morning is creative thinking time. No hard core projects, just brainstorming big ideas, mapping out a new business concept, figuring out a marketing funnel. Fun stuff!
That’s it. Four days of focused work (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday). One half-day of planning (Wednesday morning), and one half-day of creativity (Saturday morning). Two half-days of fun (Wednesday and Saturday afternoon and evening), and a day of rest …
… and all will be well with the world, your business, and your life. Simple, right? Give it a try, and I’ll bet that:
- You’ll be more productive on the four days you work
- Your down time will yield more creative results
- You’ll enjoy your days off more
- You won’t feel guilty taking time off
- You’ll separate work and play more
I go in spurts, so I won’t necessarily do this schedule year-round. And I certainly don’t do it when I’m in Ecuador. But at least a few months out of the year it works wonders.
Give it a try, and see if it doesn’t for you, too. And let me know if you’ve tried a version of this before.
I’ve always been impatient. Whether it was being in a hurry to get through college (still took me 4½ years), wanting to buy my first house, or rushing through the initial stages of my copywriting career, I’ve never liked spending too much time in “second gear.” Much more fun to shift through quickly and get to the faster speeds, right? When it comes to copywriting, that can be a problem. I sped through second gear, and I paid the price later. You may have done the same. Let me explain. I see five steps, or “gears” in my car analogy, when it comes to building a copywriting business:
- Figure out what you do that people will pay you for
- Get good at that one thing
- Craft a strong message to articulate what you do
- Develop a client acquisition system
- Write faster and better to maximize your time
Let’s just talk about the first two steps today:
Figure out one thing you do well that people will pay you for
This step can take a while, and most people don’t speed through it because you really can’t offer your services until you figure it out. You can’t go from a dead stop to second gear without killing the engine. Hard to do it in copywriting, too.
So, spend some time figuring out what you’re good at and what you enjoy, then …
Get good at that one thing
This second step is the foundation. You can, and should, go after as much client work in your core competency. But just because clients are paying you doesn’t mean you’ve mastered copywriting.
See, when people start hiring you, you think you’re in like Flynn. In my case, people hired me to write web pages, landing pages, and email autoresponder series.
Nothing wrong with that, and I got a lot of steady web copy work, in addition to writing newsletters and a lot of editorial-type content.
The problem? I skipped over mastering one key skill
I confess that I never truly mastered the art of writing long-form sales letters.
Sure, I’d get a gig once in a while doing one, and I’d do a pretty good job. But since I didn’t nail them and wasn’t super-confident, I didn’t go after the big dogs. You know, the ones that pay $10-20,000 per letter, plus royalties.
My suggestion? Whatever your “one thing” is, get really good at writing sales letters. It’s the core foundation skill, and once you can write a strong sales letter, you can easily transfer those skills to other areas.
The opposite, however, is not as easy.
Take your time in second gear. Learn how to write sales letters. Study the process, the masters, the classic controls. If you don’t have any clients, write practice letters or submit specs.
Somehow, some way, learn this one key copywriting skill. Even if you don’t end up specializing in long copy, you’ll make your mark sooner and you won’t have to circle back around like I did recently to re-learn it.
Now that I have, what’s the next step? Mastery.
And that’s a topic for a whole other blog post. For now, I’m curious. Which gear are you in right now? Which step have you found the most challenging so far? Leave me a quick note here.
I recently spent a week in Southern California, lounging on the balcony at the Montage Laguna Beach, having dinner with friends at the Chart House in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, and kicking back and enjoying the laid back vibe.
Sure, I brought some projects along, but since I’m a copywriter, I can work from wherever I want. The writer’s life, right?
While I enjoy a brief respite from the daily grind now and then, there’s no place I’d rather be than at my desk … crafting some smokin’ hot direct response copy and brainstorming how to make more money.
The writer’s life of leisure? Not for me. Golf? Boring. Barefoot on the beach with a laptop? Yawn.
Even Disneyland gets old after a couple days (once every five years or so is enough for me).
No, my idea of fun is putting in eight-hour days, sweating bullets while writing bullets, pulling an occasional all-nighter to meet a deadline, and getting positive feedback on my copy.
Fun is helping a new client crank out some serious sales numbers, landing a five-figure project, and depositing a full advance on an upcoming gig.
Now that’s living.
I’ll leave the golf course and beach scene to the old-timers who’ve already made it (or the young bucks who think they’ve already made it, but are going to get passed by soon).
Yes, copywriting is hard work if you want to make a lot of money.
If you’re content to work a few hours a day and make what average people make at their full-time jobs, kick back and grab your margarita.
Want to land higher-profile clients and make more money than the average copywriter? Don’t mind working 50- or 60-hour weeks until you’ve truly “made it”?
Then I invite you to stick around for the Copywriter Café style of building a powerhouse copywriting business.
Stay tuned for a simple way to nail the proposal and phone conversation the next time you talk to a prospective client.
Until then, I’d like to know … what is your idea of copywriting fun?
Leave me a brief note in the comments.
This article appears courtesy of American Writers & Artists Inc.’s (AWAI) The Writer’s Life, a free newsletter that delivers original, no-nonsense advice on how to live the life you’ve always dreamed of. For a complimentary subscription, visit here.
It’s the moment of truth: your first meeting with a big-time client.
Ace it, and your freelance writing career is off and running.
Botch it, and you’re back to the drawing board, trying to figure out where your next paycheck will come from.
I remember stressing out the first five or six times I was in this situation. My mind was a whirlwind, thinking …
What are they going to ask me? Will they want to see samples? What if they ask who else I’ve worked with? How do I find out what their budget is? Do they know I’m not making a living at this yet? What do I say to them?
It can be intimidating to say the least.
The problem for me in the beginning was I needed the work more than they needed my services.
Can you relate?
Until your schedule is booked solid or you’ve had a few successes under your belt, you are operating from a position of need. It’s tough to shake that, but I’ve found a solution.
Change your thinking. Don’t think of it as an interview where the client questions you to see if you qualify to be their freelance writer.
Instead, re-frame it.
Look at every client meeting as a different kind of interview. Yes, you’re trying to impress the client. But more important, you’re also questioning them to determine if they’re a good match for your services.
See the difference?
It flips the interview around and puts you in a position of strength, even if you’re just starting out.
All it takes are three things to pull it off: A structured outline, practice, and a dash of confidence.
Like a good sales letter …
If you’ve completed the Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting, you know that there’s a certain architecture to an effective sales letter.
Same with interviewing clients. You can wing it and see what happens, or stick to a structured framework and greatly increase your chances for landing a project.
I learned this skill from dozens of meetings with copywriting clients, and thousands of one-on-one meetings when I was in direct sales.
When I talk about “meetings,” I’m referring to an initial meeting with a prospective client whom you haven’t worked with before. The purpose of the meeting from their standpoint is to see if they want to hire you. The purpose from your perspective is to see if they’re a good match for your services, and to sell yourself, of course.
These meetings could be in person, on the phone, or by Skype. By the way, if someone ever calls you out of the blue and wants to talk in-depth about your services, schedule a time to talk, even if it’s only half an hour later. This process has never worked for me when the call was unexpected.
Here are the seven steps you should include every time:
Thank the client for their time. If the meeting came from a referral, remind the client of that and mention how you know the person who referred you. Outline in a few sentences what you see as the objectives of the meeting.
Transition to the next section, “the lead,” with a question. Something like, “Are you open to trying something slightly different to improve results?”
Tip: Don’t sit back and let the client take control. Take charge in a subtle way by asking questions, being prepared with your own statements, and sticking to your plan.
2. The lead
A sales letter uses a good lead to “hook” the prospect. You need to do the same. What can you say that’s different than what everyone else is saying? If the client is in your niche, use that: “I specialize in helping family-run organic farms increase sales by writing landing pages that get people to respond.” That will get their attention.
This is also where you introduce a “Big Idea” or throw in a “Big Promise,” the overriding benefit that you can offer the client.
For example, you could say, “You know, the buzz these days is all about social media, which should be a big part of your strategy. But what I’m actually seeing is that marketers who combine social media marketing with direct response convert more viewers into buyers, and keep them longer. I’ll show you in a little bit how I can increase your customers by combining both. But first let me ask you…”
Tip: Don’t make the mistake of jumping in yet with selling yourself. You need to cover step three first.
3. Probe and listen
This is probably the most important part of the client interview, and it’s also the part most freelance writers skip over.
Why is it important, and why does it often get skipped?
Asking questions, or probing, is important because it allows you to maintain control of the conversation, increasing the likelihood of a positive conclusion (landing the project.) The more you ask, the more you find out exactly what the client needs.
Listening is important because they will essentially tell you what points you’ll need to emphasize in step four.
I’ve been guilty of leaving this part out, which is common, when I don’t prepare questions ahead of time and can’t think fast enough on my feet.
I also think that listening is one of the hardest things to do. We’re writers, so we like to tell people what we can do, right?
Tip: Write out a list of as many questions as you can possibly think of pertaining to the client and the project.
4. Position yourself as the solution
I call this “positioning” and not “selling” because what you’re really doing is showing the client where you stand. You’re not trying to be all things to all people, but letting them know what type of clients you work with, and what you can do for them.
This step is easy if you’ve done a thorough job of probing and listening.
Keep it simple here and include three things: Remind them of your hook, or USP (Unique Selling Proposition), relate a benefit you can offer to something they told you in step three, and offer some proof (an example or a testimonial.) Let me give you an idea of what I mean:
“John, like I said, I specialize in helping small organic farms grow their sales. You mentioned that one of the things you’d like to do is get more people who come to your site to take action. I might be able to help you by creating a sales page that really speaks to your customers and makes an offer they can’t refuse. It’s similar to what I did for the xyz company last month. Their CEO told me that sales have been up 37% since they implemented the changes…”
As with the other steps, the best way to transition is with a question. A simple, “Does that make sense?” can suffice.
Tip: Don’t go overboard in trying to sell yourself. In fact, you may even want to say something to the effect of, “Not everyone is a good match for what I do, but if we end up working together, I think this idea would work for you, too.”
5. Create the picture
We’re winding down. You’ve showed them how you’re different. You’ve asked a bunch of questions to find out if you’re a good fit for each other. You’ve listened to their answers, and framed your skills in terms of how you can address their needs.
Now recap the benefits you can offer them and give them a vision of where their business can go by putting things into action.
“John, my strength is helping small businesses like yours increase their customer base and grow sales by implementing direct response marketing along with social media, without having to invest tens of thousands on an ad agency. Imagine three years from now having to increase space because you’ve doubled your business and moved into new markets.”
Tip: Don’t hesitate after this statement. Go right into …
6. Expect a logical outcome: landing the project
What else? If you are a good fit for each other, expect that you’ll be working together soon.
“My calendar is booked up for the next two weeks, but I could get started on this by the 15th. I can send over the details in an agreement, but would that be soon enough?”
The more confident and naturally assumptive you are at this point, the more likely you’ll have a new client.
Tip: If they hesitate or aren’t sure, ask more questions. There are still a lot of details they’re probably wondering about, which you can cover in the last step.
7. Let them know the next step
Take the lead here and let them know how you’d like to proceed. Don’t wait for them to dictate terms to you.
If things sound good: “Ill write out a detailed agreement for you, along with two options for you to choose from. I can get that to you by next Thursday, and I’ll touch base with you the following Monday. Does that work for you?”
If you still have details to iron out, or if they still have a lot of questions: “I can send out a detailed proposal of exactly what I can do for you, along with options on different pricing levels. You’ll probably have questions about it, so why don’t we schedule another brief phone meeting? I can call you on the 10th at 2:00 PM. That will give you a few days to look over the proposal I’m sending. Does that work for you?”
Tip: If you’ve done steps 1-6 the way I’ve outlined here, step seven is just a natural progression, and there’s not much more you can do besides ask a few more questions to qualify where they are. Keep it simple and straightforward.
Increase your odds
Does this client interview structure work every time?
Not at all.
Not every client meeting will go as planned. You may not have a chance to stick to your “script” and ask all kinds of questions.
And no matter how good you are, you won’t be a good match for everyone. Not everyone will think you’re the solution for them either.
Use this structure, however, and you’ll give yourself a better chance of gaining new clients.
Two last pieces of advice: Practice this process, and don’t worry about who says “yes” and who says “no.”