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Five Practices That Serve Me Well as a Copywriter

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The following essay appears in a book entitled, “The Power of Five” published by Donna Kozik. It describes five activities that I, Susan Greene, do consistently and believe contribute to my success in business as a freelance copywriter.

1.  Treat every prospect as though he or she is going to become your favorite client.

I used to think I was a good judge of people, especially when it came to business.  But that was back when business meant in-person networking and most relationships began with face-to-face meetings.

The Internet changed all that.  While most of the changes have been good, some have made my job as a freelance copywriter more challenging.  When getting to know potential clients, for example, I’ve lost my ability to determine whether they will be easy-going or make me want to change professions; whether they will be realistic about costs or will quibble over every dollar; and whether they can be trusted or lack scruples.

You see, nowadays, I rarely meet my copywriting clients in person, so much for looking them in the eye and judging their character.  Some, particularly my international clients, I don’t even get to speak to on the phone.  Instead most of our communications happen via email.  Often it takes a few exchanges until they let in some air between their cards and their vest.

The majority of new-business inquiries I receive about my copywriting services begin with a one-line email that reads, “Hi, how much do you charge?”  It’s tempting to respond curtly or ignore these strangers who don’t address me by name or tell me who they are.  And how can I provide rates when I don’t know anything about their project?

What I’ve learned though, is that the first contact is a dipping of the toe in the water.  These prospects don’t know me.  They certainly don’t trust me yet.  They found me on the Internet and want to see if the real me matches the image on my website.

My experience has been that if I provide a friendly and informative response, the next email exchange will include more details.  Respond nicely, and I’ll be treated to even more disclosures on the next round.  My enthusiastic replies soon have prospects telling me their hopes, dreams and desires which, if copywriting–related, I am happy to fulfill.

Some of my best copywriting clients began our relationship with that first tenuous question about rates.  So, regardless of the brevity or abrupt tone of the initial contact, I treat every prospect as though he or she is the client I’ve been waiting all my life to meet.

2.  Sweat the details.

You’ve heard the expression, “Don’t sweat the details.”  My approach is different.  I do sweat the details.  And I believe that’s a big part of why clients choose to hire me for their copywriting needs.

I am thorough in every sense of the word.  Shoddy work doesn’t fly in my world, and I don’t let the particulars fall through the cracks.

I do extensive research and strategizing before typing word #1 of copy.  I develop concepts to ensure the client’s objectives are met.  The copy I ultimately submit will have been written, edited, analyzed, revised and proofed.

I want to know, and even more importantly, I want my client to know, I’ve done everything possible to make it (near) perfect.  Sweating the details is why I proudly call myself a professional.

3.  Mentor someone new to the field.

I am frequently contacted by people who aspire to be a freelance copywriter but don’t know how to get started in the field.  Sometimes they’re recent college grads.  Other times they’re stay-at-home moms or dads.  And occasionally, they’re people in an unrelated field who’ve achieved a certain level of success but now want to explore their passion – writing.

I have a stock letter I use to respond to these inquiries.  It includes a list of helpful online resources, relevant books and some specific steps the aspiring copywriter can take to get started.

After I send out that letter, I usually get a brief reply – “Thanks.”  But every once in a while, recipients will take the time to ask follow-up questions or even send me writing samples to review.

From this small group of enthusiastic copywriter hopefuls, I’ve chosen a handful of individuals to personally mentor.  I’ve helped them with their writing, told them how to establish their business, assisted them in pricing their work, and even occasionally referred clients their way.

While my focus was on helping them, I too, gained something from the relationship.  In teaching them and answering their questions, I’ve gathered confidence in my expertise and recognized the wealth of experience I’ve acquired over the years.  I’ve realized how much I know about my craft.  I can call myself an expert without any self-doubt.

But the benefits of mentoring a copywriting cub don’t stop there.  Often the advice I give these newcomers is advice I myself am then reminded to take, such as:

  • Don’t dwell on your mistakes; learn from them and move on.
  • Price your copywriting work high enough; you’re worth every cent.
  • Don’t let a client’s harsh words get you down.
  • Accept new clients and projects even when you’re intimidated by the work.  That’s how you grow.  You will find a way to get the job done.
  • Maintain a healthy balance between work, play and family.

My own words of wisdom have helped me as much as they’ve aided the copywriters I’ve mentored.  And that’s the unexpected, but welcome side effect of mentoring.

4.  Make your own luck.

People have said to me, “You’re so lucky you have a talent you can use to make money.” And, “I so envy you being able to have your own business.  I wish I could do that.”

The truth is I’m no different than they are.  They could do what I do – find their talent, hone their skills, make it into a business.  Sorry to say there’s no magic.  And no amazing stroke of good luck ever came my way.

My success has been due to hard work and a won’t-ever-quit attitude.  I tried new things, even when I feared failure and embarrassment.  I said “yes’ many times when the safe answer would have been “no.”

I didn’t spend all my time planning; I focused on doing.  When I felt overwhelmed, I forced myself to keep going, making small increments of progress until overwhelmed turned into done.

Every break I’ve ever had was the result of something I’d done prior to position myself in the right place.  Opportunities didn’t find me; I created them.

Here’s what I’ve learned: you could spend the rest of your life hoping to get lucky.  Or you can start taking specific steps today to succeed.  I know which option I’d choose.

5.  Tell, don’t sell.

As a self-employed copywriter/marketing consultant, much of my success is attributed to my ability to attract clients willing to pay for my services.  After all, I can be the world’s best copywriter, but if I have no clients, my business won’t survive.

My approach has always been to offer information.  I have a website with over 100 articles on it about copywriting and marketing.  Google ranks my site high because I’ve established myself as an authority on those subjects.  That ranking in turn results in traffic to my website and ultimately to prospective clients who contact me to discuss their projects.  Of course, I also get clients from referrals and social media.

In initial contacts with prospective clients, I don’t use a pushy approach.  I don’t sell; I tell.  Much like my website, I offer information and guidance.  I ask a lot of questions about their business and then provide suggestions on how they should proceed with their marketing.

It doesn’t take long before clients realize I know what I’m talking about.  They recognize the value I bring and ask if I would consider working on their project.  While their initial focus may have been on getting a price, now their priority is getting me to agree to take on their work.

I often think back to the first place I learned the subtle selling technique of educating your client.  Many years ago I traveled to Istanbul, Turkey.  The country is well known for its beautiful woven rugs.

Any tourist in Istanbul visiting the sights is likely to be approached by rug salesmen who try to persuade you to visit their rug shop.  Even though we had no intention of buying a rug, my traveling partner and I allowed ourselves to be led to one of these shops.

What we found there were salesmen who were nothing like the American salesmen we knew.  Instead, these Turkish shopkeepers were willing to spend hours getting to know us.  They told us about their business, introduced us to their workers, let us touch the raw materials, explained the history of their craft, showed us the process of creating the rugs, and even treated us to a nice lunch and unlimited rounds of tea.

Not once did they say, “So, would you like to buy a rug?”  Not once did they try to close the sale or pressure us to leave.  They treated us like friends, sharing their knowledge and hospitality with us.

The whole experience was so pleasant that eventually we began to like and trust these shopkeepers.  As we slowly let down our guard, we did exactly what nearly every tourist there ultimately does: we asked if it would be possible for us to each buy a rug.

It was only days later as my traveling partner and I, lugging our heavy backpacks with small rugs tied to them, realized the brilliance of the Turkish rug sales process.  And oddly enough, even then, knowing their game, we still liked the shopkeepers and were pleased with our purchases.

The shopkeepers hadn’t fooled us.  They’d simply educated us about their products.  They gave us an appreciation for their true value, and from that new knowledge grew our desire to buy our own rugs.

My visit to Turkey was more than 25 years ago.  The small rug I carted around on top of my backpack for three weeks of travel still has a place in my bedroom, but it’s the lesson I learned the day I purchased it that I value the most – tell, don’t sell.

* * *

Author Bio:  Susan Greene has more than 20 years of experience as a freelance copywriter.  Based in Orlando, Florida, she works with companies around the world to create websites, brochures and sales letters that help them promote their products and services. 

When asked about her success as a freelance copywriter, she tells a quick story about her daughter.  “When Katelyn was three-years-old, she stuck a pompom up her nose, where it immediately became lodged and unreachable.  After the doctor, using multiple instruments, was finally able to remove it, he asked Katelyn why she’d put the pompom in her nose.  Katelyn said, ‘I had to see if I could.  Guess what?  I can!’”   

Susan says that same attitude describes her approach to freelance writing.  “Guess what?  I can!”  

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