Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Why You Might Not Be Ready to Hire a Copywriter

I'd love it if every business owner out there contacted me and requested my writing services for that next big marketing project on the boards. The only snag is, I'd have to turn down most of those requests -- and not necessarily due to my own creative bandwidth limitations. Believe me, I stuff my calendar like Uncle Bob at an all-you-can-eat Thanksgiving buffet whenever I can, even though my brain sometimes cries out for a brief fasting period. But many times I encounter prospects who simply aren't ready to become clients because they haven't yet arrived at the point where hiring a copywriter makes the best sense for their current needs and situation. So how can you tell if you're jumping the gun? Here are a couple of major indicators:


You don't have a budget in place. 


It alarms me when I see clients paying me cash out their wallet or purse. Why? Because marketing payments should come out of a business's marketing budget, not somebody's grocery money. If you don't have an official marketing budget, you need to make one that fits into your overall business plan, just like any other corporate expense. Save your grocery money for groceries, and pay your business expenses with corporate funds. If you don't have any corporate funds, than your business problems most likely lie deeper than the marketing level.

You don't have a strategy in place.


Just as you need a marketing budget to fund any copywriting or other marketing expenses, you need a marketing strategy that dictates the most sensible way to spend that money. What are your long-term marketing goals for your brand? Which media channels can help you achieve those goals, and how should you use each of them in a way that strengthens your overall message? What is your Plan B if Plan A should spring a leak? These are questions for a marketing strategist, not a copywriter. If I get called in to write a press release and the client asks me, "What do you think we should say? Who should we write this for?" and so on, I gently steer them toward a marketing consultant who can help them figure those things out. Once you know how you'll market yourself, then you can figure out whether you need a copywriter's services.

If you're not whether you're ready to hire a copywriter -- just ask. Most experienced writers are astute and honest enough to point out any preliminary measures you may need to take first. I'm always happy to refer my prospective clients to other marketing experts who can lend a helping hand. And if you know you are ready to pull the trigger, I'm right over here holding up the big red target!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Outsourcing to a Freelance Copywriter? Do It the Smart Way

Once upon a time I received a request from a business owner who needed professional-quality content for his website. I suggested my Small Website Package, a heavily discounted web content service I offer to marketing vendors and end user alike, as the most cost-efficient and time-efficient way of making that happen. Some time went by with no response to my quote. When I followed up, he told me that he had been delayed in responding because he figured he could save money by roughing out the content himself and simply letting me edit it. 

No such luck. The content I received was so rough that it took me many hours of editing to get it into acceptable shape -- more hours, in fact, than writing it from scratch would have taken. As a result, my client ended up paying more for the editing than he would have paid for the writing. And that doesn't even include all the valuable billable time (and for all I know, hair) he lost over that rough draft!

I bring this up because an increasing number of business owners have discovered the power of outsourcing, thanks in part to Timothy Ferris's popular book on the subject, The 4-Hour Workweek. Ferris has carved out a lifestyle for himself based on outsourcing an enormous portion of his daily activities to third parties while streamlining his own share of the routine for maximum productivity in a minimal amount of time. It makes perfect sense, really -- hand over a time-consuming/tedious/specialized job (such as copywriting) over to someone who can do it really well in a fraction of the time it would probably take you (such as a professional copywriter). By having that third party work while you do other things, you're "stacking" your productivity for optimal time and money savings.

But like so many other things in life, outsourcing only works if you work it. The client I mentioned didn't save himself any time or money because he did the job and then outsourced it to be fixed. The lost billable time plus the extra hours required for extensive editing just made the job more expensive to complete. 

Now, there are certainly situations where editing is all a client needs, and I will recommend that course of action if it makes sense. If the writing's already done and mostly where it needs to be, then a quick polish can do the rest quickly and affordably. But if you're starting from zero, take advantage of the power of outsourcing and let your copywriter take the whole thing off your plate. You'll breathe easier, you can go back to doing what you do best, and you'll be getting more for your money.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Back to the Well: The Art of Repeating Your Blog Content

It's every marketing content creator's nightmare. You warm up the computer (the one on your desk or the one in your head), you search for a fresh topic for a blog article, and that's when you realize that you've hit the wall. Somehow you have managed to cover every single subject possible for discussion; there's absolutely nothing left to say, or at least that's how it seems at the moment. Meanwhile, that archive of articles from years gone by beckons to you like a long-forgotten pile of gold doubloons. "Oh, but I couldn't just.... but... I mean.... could I?" Yes, you can indeed re-use, re-visit or recycle old marketing content for your blog, as long as you do it the right way.

What's the wrong way? Well, simply re-posting an old article verbatim isn't an ideal approach. Regardless of what Google may or may not think about duplicate content within the same blog (and that's a question for your web developer or SEO expert), your devoted readers may recall reading that piece before -- and if they feel you're just treading water, they won't have any reason to keep checking your blog for the latest insights. Also, relying completely on existing material means you're not generating the ever-growing body of work that increases your online authority.

But there's nothing wrong with, say, dusting off an old article, updating it and presenting it as your revised thoughts on the subject. Most of the original material can probably still stand, allowing you to add some new value and call it a day. You can also use that old post as the springboard for a different angle on the same topic, or quote big annotated chunks of it in a new article. Keep these points in mind:

  • Change happens. Your business, industry and/or target audience may have evolved over the years. The article that worked for you back then may not make the same impact now -- but with a little tweaking, its new an improved form could say exactly what needs to be said.
  • What's old is new to your new audience members. More recent additions to your blog readership may be totally unaware that you've tackled a given topic before, and they're not likely to dig through years of archives just to determine otherwise. These folks can probably benefit from a "rerun," while established readers won't mind a slightly new twist on the subject.
  • If it was worth saying once, it's worth saying again. Some of the most critical points emphasized in your marketing content deserve to be heard again and again, not as rote repetition but with intriguing new variations on the theme. The great composers felt no shame about doing this, and neither should you.

Don't assume that every single blog article you create has to be unique, unexplored and unheard of. As long as you can make older work fresh and relevant, you'll never run out of valuable things to say -- which means you'll never run out of marketing content!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Copywriting for Customer Appreciation

Now that another Thanksgiving has come and gone, you've probably had ample time to think about what you're thankful for -- and if you're in business, you're obviously thankful for your clientele. But have you actually expressed that appreciation to your customers lately? Thanking your faithful buyers  and associates not only makes them happy; it also assures them that their choices matter and encourages them to keep choosing you. Sending out the right bits of content at the right times can make all the difference in your efforts to show your appreciation in a way that yields results. Here are are a few of the forms that content might take:


Special Offers

Have your customers attained a special milestone that deserves recognition, from their very first product purchase to 10 years as a regular client? Sending out targeted thank-you emails, letters or postcards lets them know that you're thankful for their decision -- especially if those messages include a coupon, discount or other goodie they can make use of. If a local coffee house, for instance, sent me a thank-you note for my business over the past year with a "Have a free cup of coffee on us" coupon, I'd certainly do that. I might also buy a cookie, sandwich or gift certificate while I'm there.

Thank-You Letters

If you just want to express your appreciation at length in a more personal manner, send thank-you letters to your top clients. While you may not have the time to craft individualized messages to each and every client, you can still write several different variations of the letter aimed at particular industries and personnel. But consider adding the personal touch of ink of paper wherever possible. Hand-signed letters make a deeper emotional impression on recipients, while hand-addressed letters are more likely to be noticed and opened promptly.


Testimonials

If you want to thank a vendor partner for their top-class service and assistance, write a ringing testimonial that can be posted on Yelp, LinkedIn, Twitter or included in that vendor partner's own marketing materials. A polished, eloquent testimonial that tells a compelling success story not only makes your colleague look like a million bucks; it also reflects positively on your own willingness to show your appreciation with such care and passion. If your own team is pressed for time, hire a professional copywriter to help you craft this piece into a brilliant promotional statement. Your vendor partner will feel a natural desire to reciprocate, so don't be surprised if you receive a glowing testimonial for your business in return!

Show your appreciation for your customers and associates, and they'll show their appreciation by sticking with you for many profitable years to come. If you're feeling thankful now, just wait till you see how much more you'll have to be thankful for in the future!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

4 Misconceptions About Marketing Content Creation

The quality, quantity and frequency of your marketing content creation can make all the difference in your organization's growth and success -- but it isn't always easy to know whether you're going about it the right way, especially when there are so many opportunities to mislead yourself. Here are 4 common misconceptions about marketing content creation you'll want to sidestep.

1. Your content should be about you. 


I sometimes see what I call "This Little Piggy Marketing," so named because it goes "We We We" all the way home. While it's important to provide a unique and compelling description of your organization's, history, mission and solutions, nobody's going to buy from a company that only talks about itself. The bulk of your marketing content shouldn't be about you; it should be about your audience -- the person perusing your content right this minute in search of a specific answer to a burning need.

2. Longer is better.


You may encounter so-called rules about how long a landing page or blog article should be, with longer typically portrayed as automatically being better. Take these with a few cellars of salt. Don't assume that because a web page or blog article is twice as long, it's automatically twice as good. Compact, meaningful verbiage usually carries more of a punch and makes a more memorable impression. It's true that the bigger an investment you're asking for, the more depth, detail and persuasive arguments you need to provide. But as a general rule, write only until you've made your point. Then stop.

3. SEO is everything.


I've addressed this point before, but it's all too easy to fall into the habit of writing "for SEO purposes." Yes, search engine optimization is important, and yes, regular, relevant content can help you boost yours. But keep in mind that SEO can only put your audience in front of your products and services; it can't inspire them to buy. The real power of your marketing content lies in its ability to hit your prospects and clients where they live once you've gotten their initial attention. As critical as it is to get visitors through the door, it's even more critical to convert those visitors into customers. 

4. Once you've created "enough content," you're done. 


Unfortunately, the tale told by your marketing must be a never-ending one, for the simple reason that your clientele, the business world and your own offerings are constantly changing. If you create a big pile of content and then simply stop generating more, that pile will eventually grow stale, no matter how brilliant it may be. To make matters worse, your clients may get the impression that your business has gone similarly stagnant. You must keep re-engaging your audience with fresh, relevant content that holds their attention and inspires new purchases.

Steer clear of these misconceptions, and you'll find it much easier to keep your marketing ROI on course toward your goals. Do it right -- and watch it work!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Content Marketing Revision: How to Get the Rewrite Right

H.G. Wells has been attributed with the following quote: "No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft." I don't know whether Mr. Wells was speaking from some hard-earned personal bitterness (if in fact he really said this at all), but few writers can completely avoid an occasional goring with a red pen. I've been relatively lucky in that I don't usually get a lot of rewrite requests. That isn't necessarily bragging -- for all I know, the clients have rewritten my work themselves without mentioning it to me. In any case, I've found that there are certain things that both writers and their clients can do to help make the revision process less painful:

Writers: Ask questions, no matter how dumb they may seem. You may be the writing expert, but your clients are the ones with all the industry knowledge and inside data necessary for your project. Get clear on the basics and fill in the informational gaps as needed by asking questions. A quick email or phone call can prevent some major misunderstandings, not only on details but on the overall direction of the entire job.

Clients: Collect your notes -- all of them. You may be tempted to shoot some revisions requests to your writer the moment you receive the draft. But if you do, be prepared to fire off another email, and another after that. And then there's your marketing person, and your CEO, and whoever else may care to pile on with suggestions. Nothing confuses a writer worse than dozens of emails, each with different and possibly conflicting rewrite requests. Make sure you have collected everyone's comments and parsed them for consistency before sending that ONE email to your writer.

Both parties: Be prepared and responsive. For writers, that means listening closely and making detailed notes right from the initial consultation. Before launching into the first draft, go over the job with your client to make absolutely sure you're both on the same page. For clients, it means answering the writer's questions and providing additional information in a timely manner. Work together to make that first draft as compelling and accurate as possible, and you may not need to go to a second draft at all.

H.G. Wells would approve.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

4 Ways to Build Trust by Building Your Marketing Content

For better or worse, the current political tides have brought the word "trust" floating upward to bob prominently on the surface of the American consciousness. But for business owners and marketers, trust is a year-round essential. You know you have to grab and then build on the trust of your target audience if you hope to succeed. You may also know that presenting the right message is a critical step toward that goal. But do you know how to make your marketing content work for you in your trust-building efforts? Let's look at four smart strategies for communicating that trustworthy image.


1. State Your Case With Case Studies


You can say "Trust me" until you're blue in the face, but nobody's going to do so until you've answered the obvious next question: "Why?" Even then, you can list all kinds of features, awards and accolades, but your prospective buyer may be more powerfully persuaded with a detailed look at how your products or services helped someone else with a similar need. This is where short case studies can do a world of good. Write up a few well-chosen paragraphs describing a past client's problem, the steps you took to solve it and the results they enjoyed as a result. Post it on your website and repeat as needed until you've got a whole "gallery" of success stories representing different industries and/or solutions.


2. Tell Them Through Testimonials


You don't always have to blow your own horn -- sometimes your satisfied clients are more than happy to sing your praises publicly. That's why you should get into the habit of asking for real, verifiable testimonials. If you've got people vouching for your quality by sharing their own delight with your work, pepper your online and off-line marketing content with it. The fact that this is one kind of content you don't have to spend time and effort composing is a nice fringe benefit.

3. Flash Your Credentials


Just as flashing a badge can get a plainclothes police officer past skeptical gatekeepers and other obstacles, displaying your professional and community credentials can help lower trust barriers. If you belong to local or national chapters of well-known associations, get permission to put their logos or banners up on your site and add them to your print marketing collateral.

4. Keep Sharing Your Expertise


The more you know about your field, and the more generously you share those insights with others who need them, the more deeply you'll reinforce your reputation as a trusted expert. Keep posting those interesting, useful blog articles. Make your voice heard on your social media channels of choice. Polish your website and print content until it shines with authority.

Trust has to be earned, and your marketing content can help you earn it. Contact me if you'd like some help taking your reputation to new heights!