Monday, September 9, 2019

The Blogger's Nightmare: "But I Have Nothing to Say!"

How many times have you heard those words escape your lips as you stared into the abyss of an blank notepad or computer screen? Whether you've just taken up the art (and business) of blogging or you're struggling with your thousandth post, this exclamation may ring all too familiar.

It's not unlike the common actor's nightmare: You're summoned to play a role you know like the back of your hand, only to realize at the last minute that they've switched you to a different role, or that you had the wrong play in mind altogether. All you can do is stand there and make something up -- or run away. That may be how you feel right now. You know you need to blog regularly as a means of refreshing your online content and maintaining your target market's attention. But where in the world do you start?

Ideation, or the generation of ideas, can be a major stumbling block to all kinds of creative activity. Many artistic types respond by shutting down entirely and waiting until some invisible hand turns on the idea spigot again. (Hopefully these folks have day jobs or trust funds to carry them through their draught.) The rest of us simply push forward as best we can, relying on every memory, anecdote, thought or stimulus that might hold some promise. It's tempting for many novice writers to imagine some wellspring of ideas that fuel the great practitioners. Harlan Ellison got so tired of having people ask him, "Where do you get your ideas?" that he began telling them that there was an idea factory in Schenectady that sent him a monthly package of them. (It says something about the desperation of these individuals that many of them believed him.)

Ideas almost never drop in out of nowhere; they have to be squeezed into existence, sometimes by brute force. Start by going through any resources that have saved your creative bacon in the past. Do you have a favorite book of quotes, for instance, or a particular art form or hobby that always seems to inspire you? Have current events made a notable impact on your industry or your readers? Do your business interactions produce interesting anecdotes or case histories for you to share your audience?

Another trick when you feel stuck in a rut is to change up the way you blog. If you tend to post serious pieces, for example, try a humorous one to break up the mood. If you've never involved a second person in your blog creation, try interviewing a colleague or peer. If you never create lists, create a list. If you always write in lists, write in paragraphs instead.

Last but not least, remember that two heads are better than one. Ask your readers what they would like to see in future posts, or ask your business team for a quick bull session. and if all else fails, bring in a total outsider such as a freelance copywriter to dream up some fresh ideas you might never have considered on your own. (Just a thought.)

The point is that there's always something to say. In fact, I just wrote an entire blog post about having nothing to say. So, no excuses -- put your idea hat on and get back to work!

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Is This Why You're Not Writing That Marketing Content?

In countless smaller businesses, the buck stops squarely at the desk of whoever started it all. If you're the chief cook and bottle washer at your company, you may be tasked with a huge number of issues, including the business's ongoing marketing efforts. And in marketing, content is still king -- so why do so many business owners shy away from writing that critical content? Here are a few reasons:

It's Hard 

Producing compelling content, for any purpose, takes a certain amount of mental and emotional energy, and there's no denying that it gives the brain a workout. And let's face it, the last thing your average overworked entrepreneur needs or wants is yet another mental challenge. For those who are not naturally gifted or confident writers, the task can seem positively Herculean -- but even those of us who do it for a living can feel pretty drained after a few hours of bashing away at the keyboard. Nor does it necessarily get easier over time; as the lower-level concerns such as spelling, grammar and mechanics eventually get ironed out, the writer's attention turns instead to more advanced issues. There's always some new challenge awaiting you over the horizon, no matter how good you get. So the creation of written marketing content can tie up a good many brain cells that might have gone toward, say, running your business. Which leads me to the next objection:

It's Time-Consuming

Even the fastest, most brilliant writers have to spend X amount of time on any piece of writing if they want it to meet professional standards. Writing is rewriting, as they say, meaning that a first draft is rarely the last one. Before you post that article, print those postcards or allow that new website to go live, you must go over your work with the proverbial fine-toothed comb -- cutting the fat, smoothing out awkward phrases, and making sure the message "pops." The less confident or experienced you are as a writer, the more time you'll spend fussing over it. Some of us (myself included) even struggle with typing speed/accuracy. (I never took typing in school. I can galumph along at an acceptable rate, and my own bizarre self-created technique is too ingrained to unlearn now anyway.) 

It Might Come Out Wrong

Failure in the business world can be damaging enough on its own (unless of course we learn from it) when it occurs privately, inside the company. Falling on your face in public is a whole other level of "epic fail" entirely. We're all understandably terrified of looking like goofballs in the way we present ourselves, and marketing is all about public presentation. So many business owners will shy away from creating their own marketing content on the grounds that they might inadvertently embarrass themselves, now matter how strongly they write. What if the target audience doesn't get what you're saying? What if your industry lingo makes no sense to the average Joe? What does your public want you to tell them?

These are all sound concerns -- and I hear them all the time from business clients who engage me to write their marketing content. Fortunately, a skilled copywriter can squash most of them. By hiring me to take their writing off their plate, for instance, business owners and marketing managers can focus on the pressing needs of their company instead of wrapping all their free gray matter around a blog article or web page. It also prevents content creation from sapping all their valuable billable time. Outsourcing the writing to a third party can even help ensure that the final product speaks to a broad mainstream audience and not just other folks in the business.

Are you facing any other challenges to producing the marketing content your business so desperately needs? Contact me and let's work on overcoming them!

Monday, August 12, 2019

Audio vs. Video Script Writing: Two Different Types of Marketing Content

So you want to explore the media or radio, TV and Internet audiovisual media to promote your products, services and brand. These tools can certainly hit home with your target market. But do you want to go with full-blown video commercial spots, or focus on radio spots instead? Can't you just write one script for both media? And if not, why not?

The writing techniques you use will vary depending on whether you're employing both sight and sound or sound alone to make your points. I've written both kinds of scripts, and with very few exceptions, I've found the need to employ a different approach to each, even when both scripts are selling the same product or service. Let's look at how these two types of media stack up.

From a purely presentational viewpoint, video has some obvious advantages over audio-only formats. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then moving pictures can deliver an epic amount of information in a surprisingly short amount of time. The highly compressed nature of visual storytelling makes it ideal for TV commercials, especially when you consider the costs of prime-time advertising. It also allows you to ram home your message quickly and efficiently on YouTube and other video sites in the attention-challenged world of the Internet. A copywriter drafting a video script will typically fill one side of the page with visual descriptions, sound effects and other technical information, with dialogue and/or voiceover text positioned to match on the other side. This format gives the director, actors, and editor an easy-to-follow breakdown of the whole piece, ensuring that no essential elements get left out.

The downside of video is the sheer financial and logistical complexity that required by that extra dimension. Cameras, lighting equipment (and the skilled personnel behind them), location and/or studio sound, costumes, makeup, video editing -- you can rack up a huge bill in a hurry. You'll want to do your homework to make sure that your video spot will tap your target market and deliver substantial ROI.

That leaves radio, podcasts, "commercials on hold," and other audio-driven projects. While audio-only scripts might seem like poorer cousins compared to their sight-and-sound counterparts, the truth is that this format is both more limited and less limited than video when you know how to use it to its full potential. Sure, you can't show things over a radio speaker -- but you can suggest them. And whatever you can suggest, you can afford. You want to have Godzilla destroy the city in your radio ad? Fine. Mix together sound effects of Godzilla's distinctive roar, crowds of people screaming and muttering, and some guy yelling, "Godzilla's destroying the city!" Congratulations -- you've just achieved an effect that would cost zillions of dollars to present on the screen.

On the other hand, the need to describe things for the reader's imagination can eat up precious time, and it can sound pretty stilted as well. I once heard a radio adaptation of the film Forbidden Planet which, while generally well acted, was overstuffed with description: "Hey, what's that?" "Looks like a robot." "Interesting how he has four limbs just like we do." Et cetera. And even though radio spots cost less to run than video spots, you still have to plot your marketing strategy wisely so that the right prospects are hearing your ads at the right times.

Anyway, audio and video can both serve as powerful tools for capturing new customers and retaining old ones -- a long as each type of script is written to play to the medium's respective strengths while downplaying its weaknesses. An experienced, creative copywriter can ask for compelling visual images that won't break the budget, or suggest limitless vistas over the radio waves with a few well-chosen words. Just remember, all scripts are not created equal -- and that's how it should be!

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Blowing Your Own Horn: How to Write About Yourself

I recently had a chat with a client in the transportation industry about dressing up his website, which had languished for many years as a do-it-yourself effort and was ripe for refurbishing. The client that he needed a more professional online presence, but getting him to talk about his accomplishments, or his company's advantages over its competitors, was like pulling some seriously impacted molars with a pair of eyebrow tweezers. I did finally manage to extract some good nuggets of information that would help me sell his services, but only after hearing him say several variations of, "We don't really like to go around bragging on ourselves."

Um, you don't? Because that's pretty much what marketing is all about.

If you're not going to tell the world about your company's virtues, who will? Word of mouth will only take you so far, partly because you have so little control over it. You can ask for testimonials right and left, but guess what -- you still have put those testimonials up for public view, and that means including them in your marketing materials. If you want your business to succeed, you can't be a shrinking violet; you have to talk it up. And if, like so many entrepreneurs and small business owners, you're the heart and soul of your enterprise, then you have to be willing to talk yourself up as well.

Granted, nobody wants to come across as an egotistical braggart, but like the old saying goes, "It ain't bragging if it's true." One of my clients is a business coach based here in Austin who works with sales teams both in person and via phones conferences. This means that he helps the occasional client in Canada and the UK. So does he market himself as an "internationally known business consultant?" Absolutely -- because that's exactly what he is! It's not pretentious or self-aggrandizing to state a compelling fact that demonstrates your experience, success and popularity. Even so, I know plenty of folks who would hesitate to use such a phrase in their own marketing: "Oh, that sounds like I'm blowing my own horn." Well, sure you are. If you've got the legitimate chops, then go, Satchmo, go!

Sometimes business owners don't actually understand just what makes them so special, so they simply neglect to broadcast it in their marketing. I worked with an industrial equipment client once, and once again the metaphor the frustrated dentist reared its ugly head as I tried desperately to obtain some juicy tidbits that might reveal the client's UVP (unique value proposition). The conversation just went on and on...

Me: What makes your products superior to your competitors' products?
Client: Oh, we all really use the same industry-standard stuff in this industry.
Me: Well, do you offer better or longer warranty protection?
Client: Not really. It's all the same.
Me: Are your prices more competitive?
Client: No, everybody charges about the same.
Me: Are you faster? Harder working? More skilled at installation?
Client: Well, there's only a few ways to install these things.

...and on. Finally I asked, "Look, is there anything that sets you apart from the other guys?" The client replied, "Well....we actually sort of invented this industry about 30 years ago. We were the first to introduce any of these products."

Self-promotion isn't bragging; it's selling. Do you want to sell? Then get out there and blow your own horn!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

What's the Rush? How to Avoid Copywriting Rush Fees

You're looking at the calendar and sweating bullets. Tomorrow's deadline for uploading or publishing your company's latest article has creep up on you for whatever reason, and now you have 24 hours to commission and receive a completed draft from your writer. But when you get him on the phone (assuming he's available at all), he requests a humongous extra payment for the job. Yes, you're looking at a rush fee -- or a missed deadline. Pick your poison.

There's no set range for such fees in the copywriting world. Peter Bowerman has mentioned attaching a 20 percent rush fee to some of his jobs, while others may charge anything up to twice their usual rates. I used to charge 20 to 30 percent, based on how much of a scheduling inconvenience the job created. Because that's really what a rush fee is -- not an attempt to cash in on a client's obvious desperation, but a kind of inconvenience fee.

You see, busy freelancers typically juggle multiple jobs day by day, week after week, and in some cases we're booked weeks or even months in advance. While I try to build some flexibility into my work calendar, I've found that a couple of "I have to have it tomorrow!" requests can bring my planning down like a house of cards, which in turn jeopardizes my ability to produce for my other clients as promised. Reliability is everything (well, next to writing ability) for a copywriter. So the rush fee discourages clients from grabbing our labels and begging us to turn our schedules upside-down. In fact, these days I won't even accept a rush job. The extra money isn't worth the chaos. 

So how can you prevent the marketing equivalent of a four-alarm fire from breaking out? The same way you prevent real fires -- through foresight. While not every single nail-biter can be avoided, here are a couple of helpful tricks for making things run more smoothly:

  • Keep an editorial calendar. If you run recurring blog posts, email blasts or newsletter articles, plan out the entire marketing year in advance if possible. If it isn't, then even a quarterly plan would be better than winging it from month to month. then share the plan with your writer, and start collecting whatever background information or other materials you want to send him.
  • Stockpile. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- stockpile those articles! Not only will always have something ready to post or publish, but you'll also have more options as to how you'd like to fill that next chunk of blank space. Maybe the September article would work better for October, for instance. If you have both of them well in hand, simply swap them out. This strategy works well with your editorial calendar because you can pre-purchase several month's worth of material far enough in advance to avoid any rush fees or sudden unavailability from your writer.

In short, the easiest strategy for not paying rush fees is not to rush. Work with your freelance copywriter to iron out any scheduling questions well in advance, and both your marketing budget and your blood pressure will benefit!

Monday, July 1, 2019

Out of Blog Ideas? Try These Topic Triggers

It happens to every blogger, website owner, or social media manager at some point. You know you have to keep up that regularly-scheduled stream of blog posts to keep your target market engaged -- and you know that it has to be original relevant content, not just whatever you can scrape off of someone else's website. But you can do nothing but stare at your computer monitor or smartphone screen, emitting flop sweat instead of ideas. At times like these, it's easy to freeze up in panic or despair that you've completely run out of blog content for the indefinite future. But keep a cool head, because help is on the way. Here are some ideas and suggestions to spur your imagination and trigger a fresh flood of blog content.

Think in Categories

How many different kinds of blog articles are there to choose from, really? Blog content tends to fall into different categories, and you can use those categories as a starting point to determine what kind of post you want to write. For example, what about:

A success story - Can you recall a recent situation in which you helped one of your clients out of a jam? If so, you have the basis for a success story that might convert readers into customers.

Breaking news - Has some major innovation, cultural shift or financial upheaval affected your readers and/or your industry? It's time to add your two cents to the online discussion.

A call for input - What do your readers think about a specific subject? What's on their minds, and how you can provide some much-appreciated assistance? Ask them to submit topics that you can address on your blog.

A guest blogger - Who says that you have to write every word of your own blog content? If you have access to valued vendor partners or industry pundits, why not invite them to contribute occasional posts as guest bloggers? You can then return the favor by making guest appearances on their blogs, making you visible to a whole new audience.

An employee spotlight - Do you have a new employee or established "superstar" you'd like to introduce to your readers? A blog article can provide the perfect opportunity to call attention to the quality of your team members (and, by extension, your company).

A product or service spotlight - Do you have a new product or service that you want to promote, or a regular feature that could benefit from some additional focus? Blog about it -- and invite your readers to learn more by contacting you directly.

Think in Questions

Another useful technique for triggering blog topics is self-questioning. Asking yourself certain compelling questions can lead your mind down the path toward fresh ideas. For instance, you might ask yourself:

  • What's the most important thing I've learned in the past 12 months?
  • What are the [X number of] things my readers can do about a specific problem -- and how can we help?
  • What are some of the most common myths or misconceptions our target audience might have about some aspect of what we do?
  • What burning issue or danger does our audience really need to know about?
  • How does the current season or upcoming holiday affect our readers' need for our products and services?
  • What kind of special offer or event can I announce in the context of a blog article?

Try these triggers on for size and see whether they open up new vistas for your blog content. If you need even more help, bring a second brain on board by hiring a freelance copywriter!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Should You Hire a Freelance Copywriter or Engage a Marketing Agency?

Not too long ago, I took a phone call from a business owner inquiring about press releases. Which is fine; I've written plenty of press releases over the years. But it soon became apparent that he didn't just need help writing the articles -- he also needed someone to provide him with high-level PR distribution and marketing strategies. So I referred him to a marketing strategist that I knew at a local print/digital agency. At around the same time, I spoke with a Florida real estate agent who needed, not just writing help, but also professional SEO assistance. I agreed to perform the writing portion of the job, but I referred the SEO tasks to a marketing agency in Dallas.

When does it make sense to hire a freelance copywriter in San Antonio, Austin, or wherever, as opposed to engaging a turnkey marketing agency that offers a full suite of marketing services? It's a worthy question, and one that benefits from a little understanding of how both freelance copywriters and marketing agencies actually work.

Money Matters

For businesses with a tight marketing budget, it obviously makes sense to buy only the services you need. If you already have access to professional-quality web design, graphic design, SEO etc., and you're firmly in control of your brand voice and marketing agenda, you might need nothing more than a writer to generate the content you already envision as part of your master plan. One nice thing about this approach is how easy it is to hire writers on an ad hoc basis. Need a single press release, or a month's worth of blog articles, or a quick update to your home page? Simply call your writer and place that order. Current copywriter not working out? Just hire a different one the next time you need some content. Need more content than one writer can handle? Keep two or three of them in your Rolodex, and engage them as needed. Since copywriters base their rates on their particular experience levels, reputations and skill sets, you can always obtain your ideal compromise between affordability and expertise.

Marketing agencies tend to require a steadier, more consistent agreement and a higher level of commitment from their clients. It's true that many of the smaller ones -- the "boutiques" -- can be amazingly flexible in the tiers and terms of service they offer. But it's a little harder to flit from one agency to another at the drop of a hat. Expect to sign on for a flat monthly rate at the very least. In short, it's a more elaborate situation to get into, and to get out of.

Range of Services 

Some copywriters dabble in other marketing services above and beyond writing; the rest of us prefer to focus on the thing we do best. If you know that you need multiple, integrated marketing services, overseen by a professional marketing strategy team, hiring a turnkey marketing agency makes all the sense in the world. But it isn't necessarily your only option.

Remember my opening anecdotes, in which I directed those prospective clients to a marketing strategist and an SEO firm respectively? I was still the designated writer on those jobs -- I simply reached out to my professional network of trusted colleagues. If your copywriter has built up such a network over many years of experience, then you've pretty much got all the pieces of a full-blown marketing agency at your command. Some of these providers may be agencies in their own right; others may be independent contractors and experts in their respective fields. You can mix and match until you have a team that suits both your budget and your marketing needs.

Here's another little insight for your consideration: Many smaller marketing agencies don't maintain their own in-house writing crew anyway. They outsource those services to -- guess who? -- freelancers like me. So you may end up working with a freelance copywriter whether you realize it or not. The big difference in this scenario is that you're not one choosing the copywriter. You may not even be communicating with the writer directly. If that's something that matters to you, you might be better off bringing your own freelance copywriter to the project.

As you can see, there's no clear-cut right or wrong way to proceed. If you're still unsure of your copywriting and marketing needs, feel free to contact me for some honest, straightforward advice!