Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Why I Have No Idea What You're Saying

Have you ever chatted with a professional in a different line of work from yours and walked away wishing you'd brought a translator with you? You're pretty sure it was English -- at least, the little words sounded familiar. But 90 percent of it somehow managed to whoosh right over your head. Are you stupid? Do you have a hearing problem? Or have you simply been buzzed by wall-to-wall buzzwords?

We all fall into jargon from time to time. Car buffs talk about torque and fuel ratios, composers pepper their language with Italian musical phrases, electricians casually drop terms such as "resistance" and "capacitor," and physicists no doubt talk like time-traveling refugees from Star Trek: The Next Generation. It's only natural for people in the same profession to talk shop. The problem comes when the engineer or the musician or the Chief Operating Officer suddenly has to speak to a general audience. We're listening, but we just don't understand. And after a few minutes of not understanding, we're no longer listening.

The problem isn't limited to industry-specific terminology, either. I'm often asked to rewrite or edit content written by people work in a more general business field, and I still have to spend half of my project time just trying to figure out what the heck these folks are trying to say. A lot of it tends toward the nebulous, stuff about "aligning verticals and utilizing granular compartmentalization to achieve a more impactful synergy," yadda yadda yadda. Business-speak is a way for people to talk a lot without saying much. But if you're trying to sell yourself or your product/service to a mainstream audience, don't be shocked if you're rewarded by the sound of crickets chirping. 

As a first step in clearing up your verbiage, try to avoid jargon-like words that ordinary language can handle perfectly well, such as "agreeance" (agreement) and "incentivize" (spur, motivate). And watch out for whiz-bang phrases that describe something that isn't really that amazing, such as "results-oriented." (You'd never guess how many business professionals think it a huge feather in their caps to describe themselves or their company as "result-oriented." As opposed to what, "sitting-around-doing-nothing-oriented?" You actually aim to deliver results? Does that mean your competition doesn't?) "Full-service" is another phrase that doesn't really communicate anything. (Ever hear a company describe itself as "partial service?") 

Finally, don't overuse the relatively simple, easy-to-understand buzzwords just because they aren't as likely to whoosh us -- for instance, not everything has to be a "driver" for something else. (I see that one a lot too.) Get a thesaurus and give another word or two a chance. There are plenty to choose from.

If you're not sure you can veer away from industry lingo, or you can't tell how accessible your stuff is to your intended audience, get a professional copywriter or copyeditor to go over it for you. You may get a revised version that makes you exclaim, "Oh, so that's what I was saying!"

Monday, December 4, 2017

Creating Content for Influencer Marketing

If you've been involved in your organization's marketing efforts for long, you know by now that "If you build it, they will come" works better for baseball movies than it does for self-promotion or brand awareness. Creating content for your own website or social media pages is a must, but it isn't the whole story. If you want your target market to latch onto that content as quickly and as massively as possible, you need to get the attention of the movers and shakers that these people follow, listen to and obey. You can do this by aiming your content directly at those movers and shakers through a strategy called influencer marketing.

What (or Who) Is a Key Influencer?

Key influencers have been with us since as long as there have been human beings to influence, from gurus and great thinkers of the past to modern-day celebrities such as Dr. Oz and Oprah. (Yeah, we've come a long way.) As social media has blossomed on the Internet in the past decade, a new medium of influence has come into being -- and this medium has turned into a powerful soapbox for both bona-fide celebrities and for countless other individuals who have built up a great deal of authority and sway among their followings. These folks are key influencers. If they recommend a course of action, plug a product or service, or profess their love of a particular brand, their followers listen. some of them will take those recommendations to heart and become loyal customers. They may even evolve into key influencers in their own right, spreading the word about their favorite products and companies.

Wouldn't you love to have some influence over the influencers? Well, you can -- if you aim the right content in the right directions.

Putting Those Eyes on You

The first thing you have to is figure out which key influencers your perfect clientele is paying attention to, and which websites and social media channels they're frequenting. LinkedIn Groups, for instance, is a natural home base for pundits in the B2B realm, whereas Facebook might be more likely to attract the B2C crowd. (You can then drill down into into key demographics; for instance, teens seem to have a special love for Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram.) Once you've identified which channels attract the lion's share of your target market, you can figure out which of those users are getting the most views and seem to have the most influence here your particular industry, products or services are concerned.

Now it's time to catch those key influencers' eyes. You might achieve this by:

  • Making endorsements or other positive statements about the key influencers in question, complete with links to their blogs, websites or social media channels
  • Contacting the key influencers and offering them an opportunity to contribute a guest article or video to your website
  • Joining relevant conversations on your key influencers' social media channels so your brand has a clear and active presence there
  • Making helpful, insightful comments on key influencers' blogs or other online articles
  • Quoting their comments in your website and social media content

Influencer marketing isn't a magic wand, and it needs to be employed with a certain amount of subtlety if you want eyes on you instead of just eye-rolling. But if you create high-quality content aimed at just the right people, and then bring that content to where those people live, you'll soon be wielding some influence of your own.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Are You Getting the Most Value From Your Marketing Content?

For the past few Novembers, the kindly folks at Healthcare.gov have sent me friendly reminders that the window for renewing my ACA health insurance policy is now open, urging me to revisit my options for coverage. If you receive these notices too, you may have seen warnings that the premium on your current policy is expected to change, or that your current coverage levels and limits may no longer line up with new circumstances. The message? Go to the marketplace, compare the available policies and providers, and shop around to see if you can do better.

This strategy always makes good sense, not just for health insurance, but also for auto insurance, mortgage rates, apartment rental rates and terms, cable packages, and any other services or programs that might vary in their relative attractiveness to you over time. It's not about whether you're getting the lowest price; it's about whether you have the right features, arranged in the right way, to do you the most good. In short, it's about value. So maybe, while you're busy comparing the relative value of various other options, you should take another look at how well your current marketing content strategies are working. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • What's the marketing ROI? What clear profit has my marketing content helped to generate in terms of direct sales, qualified leads etc? What about clear but less tangible benefits such as brand awareness, reputation management, and customer retention?
  • What are my online marketing metrics telling me about response rates, bounce rates, amount of time spent on which web pages, and exactly where my target audience is dropping out of the sales funnel? Which specific chunks of content are failing to shepherd the lead generation and sales processes along?
  • Am I really saving money by writing my own marketing content, or am I tying up valuable billable time and shooting my productivity in the foot?
  • Which social media channels are delivering the greatest value for the time, effort, and content I pump into them -- and which ones are just sapping that energy for no return?
  • Which of my marketing content activities might be better off outsourced to a third-party agency or other professional, instead of occupying a sizable percentage of my key staff on a daily basis?
  • Are my marketing videos delivering their intended message with the right combination of professionalism, relevance, authority and excitement -- or am I simply throwing stuff onto YouTube in the hopes of winning the "viral lottery?"
  • Is my marketing agency working from a detailed, well-crafted long-term plan, or do we seem to be spending all our time putting out fires and reversing the previous month's missteps?

Lots of time and money spent on marketing doesn't necessarily add up to marketing success. Stop and look at the strong points and weak links in your marketing setup. Maybe it's time to switch your current plan for one that will do you more good in the coming year!

Monday, October 30, 2017

4 Marketing Content Demons That Could Be Haunting Your Halloween

Happy Halloween -- or is it? Even if you're enjoying the parties, decorations, and trick-or-treaters associated with this time of year, your marketing content may be turning your business into something more like a house of horrors. Here are four frightening turns in your marketing content that you'll want to exorcise ASAP.

1. Mummified Marketing

Hollywood has always gotten good scare value out of mummies, even though the real thing is nothing more than the preserved husk of a human being. But if your marketing content is similarly mummified, you may indeed have cause for concern. Websites, brochures, marketing videos and other marketing pieces that sport outdated content convey the impression that your business died a long time ago, or (at the very least) that it's stuck in a kind of suspended animation. Maybe it's time to sweep away the dust and create new, vital, relevant marketing that can take your brand into the future.

2. The Blog of the Undead

The Blog of the Undead is a close cousin to mummified marketing. Like a zombie, this blog is mostly dead but refuses to stay down, rising randomly in search of fresh brains (specifically, those of your audience). But just as one glance at a zombie will confirm that you're not really looking at a living being, viewing a blog with sporadic, erratic updates will paint a picture of a business that is unhealthy at best or may even have one foot in the grave. You need to post to your blog regularly if you want your brand to retain an image of glowing good health.

3. The Ghost in the Sales Funnel

Ghosts and haunted houses are an ever-popular Halloween theme. A typical haunted house story will feature a ghost that lurks in some particular corner of a house, springing out when it wants to scare interlopers away. If you think about your sales funnel as a complex structure that sends your prospects on a one-way journey to a desired outcome (calling you, signing up for a free gift etc.), then your marketing content should be acting as a beneficial force that guides the way from one landmark to another. If any of these landmarks is disfigured by content that asks for too much too early or simply fails to compel further action, then you might as well have a ghost in your marketing machine yelling "BOO" at the worst possible moment.

4. The Wrong Costume

You can't have Halloween without Halloween costumes, which enable you to transform yourself into a demon, witch, ghoul, or any other persona you wish. But is the face you're showing to your target audience the right one for the reaction you want to get? If you want to scare the daylights out of someone, you don't dress up as a happy bunny (unless, of course, you happen to know about that person's severe bunny phobia). By the same token, your brand is the face of your business, and your marketing content must support the persona that you want your brand to project. If your content's tone, style and vocabulary aren't supporting and reinforcing your image, then you might as well be topping off your devil costume with a happy bunny mask.

Take a hard, unflinching look at these marketing gremlins, and get whatever marketing content assistance you may need to help overcome them. It's a surefire path toward more treats and fewer tricks for your business this Halloween!

Monday, October 16, 2017

4 Signs That Your Blog Is Busted

You may have come to blogging for all kinds of reasons. Maybe your social media guru told you that you should be blogging, or maybe you decided to pursue blogging as a revenue stream. Maybe you just want to cement your authority as an expert in your industry. So you got the blog up and running, and now you feel like you might as well not have bothered. What are you doing wrong? Here are four possibilities to look for.

1. Your Posting Schedule Is All Over the Place

How regularly do you post your blog articles -- once a day, once a week, once a month, or whenever you feel like dealing with it? A haphazard posting schedule impairs your ability to develop a loyal readership. You have to train people to know when the newest article is likely to go up so they'll turn your attention in your direction on a regular basis. In the worst-case scenario, a neglected blog might cause your audience to give upon you altogether. Whatever schedule you set, stick to it.

2. Your Content Is All Over the Place

Even if you're posting like clockwork, your blog could still be coming across as a scattered mess of ideas, especially if every article is aimed at a different audience segment. Stop and ask yourself, "Who am I writing for? Who is my ideal reader?" Most likely, it's also your ideal customer. Focus on addressing that customer's needs, concerns and questions, and your blog will instantly come into sharper, clearer focus -- and make a more concentrated impact.

3. Your Sales Pitch Is Turning People Off

Whether you're trying to monetize your blog through affiliate links or you're simply trying to promote your own products and services, it's all too easy to accidentally turn your blog into something that feels like an infomercial. Sure, infomercials can and do work, but at the risk of conveying a sleaze factor you probably don't want associated with your brand. Many web users have already lost patience with hosted content and other sales pitches masquerading as serious content -- so if you do want to sell through your blog, be upfront about what you're doing.

4. No One Knows Your Blog Exists

Did you create your blog with an "If you build it, they will come" attitude? If you have a brilliant blog that only receives a few sporadic hits with each new post, the problem may lie with the fact that you're not promoting the thing. Sure, people searching for specific answers to their problems stumble onto helpful, compelling blog articles all the time, but you can't rely 100 percent on this passive approach to inbound marketing. Get the word out by announcing your latest magnum opus on your key social media channels, complete with links. Talk up your blog at networking events or in your other marketing endeavors. Hook up with other bloggers and share their posts with your audience; they just might return the favor.

If your blog is busted, don't write it off as a bust. See if you need to fix any of the above issues -- and then do it!

Monday, October 2, 2017

It's the Fourth Quarter for Preparing Your 2018 Marketing Content

Here in the middle of football season, you have have already seen your share of heart-stopping fourth quarters. Fans, players and coaches alike know the adrenaline rush that accompanies the knowledge that you've got one more quarter of play to do whatever must be done to walk off the field a winner. Well, the same holds true for many aspects of the business world at this time of year. You've got this one remaining quarter of the year to get your tax information in order, get those receivables into your coffers -- and prepare the next year's marketing content.

Isn't marketing a year-round activity? Yes, it should be. But you'd be surprised how many small business owners put their mindsets into "end-of-year"mode, concentrating solely on cleaning things up, shutting things down, and generally putting the year to bed. That's all well and good, but next year starts on January 1st -- and with it, a fresh push toward new goals. Will your marketing efforts be in position to support those efforts right from Day One, or will you waste the first part of the year slowly and painfully bringing your business back up to speed?

Marketing campaigns take time to conceptualize, plan and implement. You need to work out your marketing strategy, assign the content creation to your team (copywriter, graphic designer, social media coordinator, website provider etc.), and then allow these professionals the time they need to get the job done. You then need to approve the job and make sure your shiny new campaign is ready to roll out right at the beginning of an equally shiny new year.

Now is the time to get your marketing content in good shape for 2018. We're in the fourth quarter, and the clock is running out. Fortunately, you have access to a freelance copywriter who can help you generate much of that marketing content quickly, painlessly and professionally. Make the right calls, right now, so you can know you're ready for the next "big game" as soon as the final whistle blows on this one!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Creating a Need: The Key to Effective Copywriting

Here in Central Texas, the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey may be most noticeable in the lines of cars waiting patiently (or not-so-patiently) to fill up at the limited number of gas stations currently carrying fuel. It's not actually a lack of gasoline as such; the fuel is out there, but distributors are having trouble getting it to the public, and the small amounts that are making it to the pumps get gobbled up fast. The situation would probably be resolved sooner if people weren't also buying 2.5 times as much gas as they normally purchase. No, they didn't purchase 1.5 more cars when nobody was looking. They're just responding to what they perceive as a strong, immediate need.

Now, you may not sell gas for a living -- but wouldn't it be amazing to see people lined up along the block, either literally or figuratively, to buy what you do sell? It's certainly possible to achieve that result if you convey a strong sense of need to your target market. Let's look at some types of need you can instill in your copywriting.

Practical Urgency

Before the widespread adoption of the automobile in American life, gasoline was nothing more than just another fuel. People lived their entire lives in one town, while kids trudged several miles to school in the snow (or so your great-grandparents claimed) without complaint. But once Henry Ford placed affordable, sturdy, gas-burning Model Ts in everybody's driveway, gasoline quickly turned into a must-have item. Gasoline allows people to work far from home, take kids to and from school, deliver commercial products to warehouses -- in short, it generally keeps everybody moving. As we became dependent on cars, we became equally dependent on gas for those bottom-line benefits. Which bottom-line benefits do your customers not just want but genuinely need? Or if they don't genuinely need it, what can you say to convince them that they do?

Emotional Need

Cars don't just represent utility; they also represent freedom, independence and flexibility. It's emotionally reassuring to know that your car can take you where you need to go at any given moment -- but by the same token, if you've grown accustomed to this feeling, the sudden prospect of not having transportation can be unsettling in the extreme. That's what turns "Oh, the gas supply will be tight for a while" into "OH NO, THERE'S NO MORE GAS IN THE WORLD EVER!" Rationally, we may know better, but emotionally, we're itching to grab our place at the pump. So ask yourself what your target market is used to. What products and services have they grown to love, and how would they feel without those products and services? What negative emotions can you evoke in your content to create a feeling of need -- emotions which are then eased by your solution?

Unique Solutions

To some extent, gas is gas -- a commodity, with one tankful no better or worse than another. The leading brands try to make their products stand out by trumpeting this cleaning agent or that performance additive, but most of us would be willing to take whatever's out there when gas is short. Even so, there are some high-performance vehicles that call for a particular octane, and the owners of these prized possessions will shell out the additional money for that octane. Does your business offer a better solution that the others? Are your services unique or especially well suited for a particular situation? If so, write to that need and you might well corner the market on a niche audience.

Remember, it's all about the perception and feeling of need -- from "I desperately need gas to get to work" to "I desperately need a jelly donut right now" -- and your unique ability to fulfill that need. And if you have a need of your own for some skilled copywriting assistance to help you achieve that effect, let me know!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Bending the Rules of Copywriting: When the Wrong Words Are Right

One of the things I hear most often from business owners who engage my freelance copywriting services is, "I never do my own writing because I just know I'll get the spelling and grammar all wring." Well, of course effective copywriting requires a lot more than just a firm grasp of spelling and grammar. In fact, some of the most powerful marketing content deliberately plays fast and loose with those rules. Let's take a look at those instances in which breaking the rules can be good.

We've all seen examples of riotously incorrect ad slogans over the years. Half a century ago, Winston offered up the famous declaration "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should," sparking immediate controversy over its misuse of "like" as a conjunction. Would it have been more correct to say "Winston tastes good as a cigarette should?" Certainly. But would the slogan have been swept into the public consciousness to anywhere near the same degree? No way!

(The tobacco industry seems to have had ongoing issues with grammar. "Us Tarrytown smokers would rather fight than switch!" was another faux pas that nevertheless caught on with the public. Perhaps a new medical study is in order....)

Geeks worldwide know and love (or hate) Apple's encouragement to "Think Different." I was just beginning my writing career when that campaign first launched, and I remember some English majors sneering about how Apple's proofreader was asleep on the job. Surely the company meant "Think Differently!" But they missed the point entirely: Apple was using "different" as a concept -- a way of life, not a modifier. 

My various writing instructors used to insist that you have to know the rules before you can break them. In other words, if you understand a rule and then break it intentionally, you're creating a deliberate effect and not an ordinary screw-up. If you're quoting a certain famous cartoon bird, for instance, you can't correct his speech to read "I thought I saw a pussycat," because you'll lose the whole pop-cultural context and you won't be making your point (whatever that is).

So, yes, you can break the rules. You may even want to. But let us know, somehow, that you know what you're doing and why you're doing it -- and make sure the result is genuinely compelling. Heed the wise words of the members of Spinal Tap: "It's such a fine line between stupid and clever."

Monday, August 7, 2017

On Vacation? Keep On Marketing!

Many years ago, an underground cartoon character by R. Crumb made a big stride into mainstream popularity. You may remember him as that dude sticking a big giant foot out in front of him, accompanied by the immortal slogan "KEEP ON TRUCKIN'" (which was also the name of the comic). Here was a guy who was going keep making his forward steadily, no matter what the circumstances. Many of us entrepreneurs and one-person shops promise to put that kind of persistence into our own marketing efforts -- until vacation time ambles along, when we gladly pack our bags and run off to enjoy a well-earned vacation. Unfortunately, when we stop marketing, we find ourselves "on vacation" even after we return from vacation.Why? Because we weren't marketing our products and services while we were gone.

Now, that doesn't mean you have adopt a life of servitude to your business, laboring away 365 days a year. But it does mean that you'll want to think about ways you can keep promoting your brand even while you're out relaxing and enjoying yourself. Here are some strategies to consider:

Network on the road. Surely there's enough room left in your overstuffed suitcase for a stack of business cards. Take them along with you, and be ready to hand them out when you get into a potentially-lucrative conversation en route to (or at) your destination. Seek out casual networking opportunities such as mixers and Meetup groups. Food, drink, and interesting chats are always welcome additions to any vacation -- and they're also pretty good for greasing the wheels of commerce.

Stockpile your marketing content. If you want to stop thinking about business entirely during your vacation, put a little extra thought and effort into your marketing content before you take off. For example, you may want to pre-write a stockpile of blog articles (or outsource them to a freelance copywriter) so you or you team can simply post them (manually or automatically) according to your usual schedule. Those steady updates will help maintain interest and enthusiasm from your target market, while also helping you avoid giving the impression that you totally abandoned your online marketing efforts.

Keep your social media activity business-centric. Business owners seem to love posting tweets and Facebook pictures of their feet stretched out on a beachfront lounge chair: "Ha ha, you're working and I'm not!" But bragging about your laziness isn't necessarily a brilliant marketing move. At the very least, it certainly doesn't communicate the image of a present, fully-engaged professional. And if you're obviously the heart and soul of your company, your audience may decide that there's no point in even contacting your enterprise for the time being. Keep in mind, too, that no matter how much fun you may be having, any social media posts via your official channels need to remain aligned with your brand image and values.

Have a great vacation -- and do some great marketing at the same time!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Right Time for Marketing? Right Now

Steve Martin used to joke about the most important element in comedy: "And that, of course, is...ti-MING, ti-ti-ime....ming."

No one's timing is always perfect -- not in comedy, and not in business. But we like to bamboozle ourselves into thinking that there's one perfect shining moment in which to act, one perfect thing we can do or say that will hit the cosmic jackpot and get customers running to us. We watch and wait for that moment, hoping that we'll be quick enough to pounce on it when it arrives.

And in the meantime, our business hangs in stasis.

Procrastination is human nature. We want all conditions to be optimal before we commit to starting something. We want to know the temperature in the pool before we even dip a toe into it. A lot non-swimming happens that way.

Writers understand this kind of fear better than just about anybody. Some speculate that the dreaded "writer's block" is, in part, a simple fear of commitment, an unwillingness to try ideas out and watch them fail. When you insist that everything that comes from your pen has to be gold, you make it impossible for yourself to start. So writers have to get used to the routine of starting somewhere -- anywhere -- and drafting a big chunks of text that will almost certainly hit the wastebasket. But in the process of crossing things out, we discover the piece we wanted to write among what remains.

Launching a marketing campaign can produce the same kind of fear. What if the timing isn't just right? What if you make a strategic error along the way? What if your judgement isn't perfect? Wouldn't it be more comfortable just to stay where you are?

There's no bad time to market yourself. I've had business owners wave off the prospect of launching some fresh marketing on the grounds that "I'm doing really well at the moment." It's those last three words that matter. Don't let yourself be blindsided by this month's numbers -- they are probably the direct result of the marketing you did last month, last quarter, or even last year. Slack off on marketing now, and you may hear crickets chirping a month of two from now. When things are going badly, marketing can help get you back on top; when things are going well, marketing can help keep you there.

"But I have no ideas." That's what marketing consultants and copywriters are for. You'd be surprised how many ideas you have once an experienced professional starts pulling them out of you. I've helped clients create entire newsletters, blogging campaigns, and article series out of what appeared to be thin air -- only it wasn't thin air. They had the ideas; I just helped bring them to life. We didn't wait for the planets to line up just so. We made it happen.

And so can you. Anytime.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Understanding Copywriting Rates

"How do you bill?" is a more complex question than you might think when you're soliciting the aid of a freelance copywriter -- or any freelance creative worker, for that matter. Different independent contractors have different ways of estimating and billing for their work, and just because you've always seen it done one way in the past doesn't mean that this new person you're working with is doing it wrong or trying to pull a fast one on you. But these different approaches can make the billing side of things seem unnecessarily and annoyingly murky for business owners and marketing agencies who need to purchase content. Let's look at a few basic ways copywriters rate and bill their work.

Per-Word Rate

A great many large agencies offer writers a per-word rate for their content, and some writers insist on such a rate themselves. On the surface, it seems fair enough. Putting fingers to the keyboard is work, so each completed word can be seen as a unit of work performed. It certainly takes a lot of the mystery out of how the writer came to his final payday. The downside for the client, however, is that more writing isn't necessarily better writing -- in fact, as I mentioned in a previous article, wordiness is more likely to make a piece of content less effective. The per-word rate actually encourages padding the text (at least up to a pre-agreed maximum word count), so you might end up with an impressive-looking wall of verbiage that's actually pretty weak stuff.

Hourly Rate

Billing by the hour is an extremely common approach taken by all kinds of independent contractors. Like the per-word rate, the hourly rate fixes what you're paying to a concrete, measurable variable -- the amount of time spent writing, editing and/or researching. Assuming your writer is using a verifiable program for logging those hours, you can rest assured that you're paying for X amount of labor. But there's a wild card in this deck as well, namely speed. Some writers agonized methodically over each and every word, while others blaze through the draft like lighting. To complicate things further, both writers may come up with equally fine results. So does the faster writer deserve to be penalized for his efficiency? Is the slower writer really working harder, or is he just being lazy (and racking up a bigger bill for you)?

Per-Project Rate

This is the method I generally use. That doesn't make it "better" or "worse," but I've found that it serves both my clients and me fairly well. In this approach, the writer either offers a fixed menu of rates for various kinds of projects, or he eyeballs the project's scope, thinks about how much time and effort he's likely to put into it, and then quotes a flat estimate. Additional charges may apply if the project grows way beyond its original parameters. Clients like this method because they always know exactly what they're going to pay before the project even starts. I like it because it makes it easier for me to figure out whether I'm meeting my own monthly budget and financial goals. There will be some times when the work turns out to be harder than expected (meaning you get extra work out of your writer for the same money), and other times when it turns out to be easier (meaning that your writer enjoys a better payday for the time spent). In the long run, I find that it evens out.

So what kind of billing system should you look for in a copywriter? Ultimately, that's entirely up to you. But I would urge you to look at the writer's experience, integrity and demonstrated skill first and foremost. If you're getting good marketing content, you're getting a bargain!

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Call to Action: Your Marketing Content's "Curtain Line"

The first act had gone fine. The audience hadn't exactly leaped to their feet in an ovation, but they were still there when the intermission lights came up, and most of them appeared to be awake. So far, so good, I thought from the catwalk where many playwrights (or was it just me?) prefer to hide during a production of one of their plays.

My playwriting teacher knew where to find me, of course. "They like the play. The only thing you need is a new curtain line."

"New curtain line?"

"Yes. The closing line of the act isn't really strong enough. You need to put something else there that will really resonate with the audience on the way out, something that will draw them back for Act Two."

"Uh...okay." I wouldn't have minded having this conversation before opening night of the production, but sometimes you really can't tell what works and what doesn't until you try it out. So after the show I went home, thought up a new line for the leading character to end the first act with, and the next night the whole scene -- in fact, the whole show -- worked better. 

Copywriting has its own version of the "curtain line." It's known as the call to action. 

The call to action is that last compelling statement in which you force the readers to react to what they've just absorbed in a specific way. Maybe it's time for them to pick up the phone and place their order. Maybe it’s time for them to fill out the request form for more details. Maybe it's time for them to whip out their credit card and make that payment. The point is...it's time. You've delivered a compelling message to them; now it's time for them to respond appropriately.

A good piece of copywriting has a shape to it, just as a well-written act in a play does. An effective act grabs the audience from the beginning, ratchets that interest level higher and higher, then leaves them in the most powerful, congruent emotional state possible -- the precise emotional state you want them to experience. Marketing copy should build in the same manner, ending with such an emotional punch that the reader feels compelled to take the next step.

So when you write that marketing piece, save the best for last. Rally the troops -- your readers -- with a rousing call to action. Challenge them to act on that feeling you just planted in them. Turn those prospects into customers and those customers into repeat customers. Get what you want the easy way -- by asking for it.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Why "Writing to Impress" Usually Backfires

You sit down to write your next blog article, new web page or updated brochure with a single goal: to dazzle your prospects and customers. But how exactly do you do that? You might be surprised to learn that "writing to impress" can do your content more harm than good. Here are a few examples of how this kind of overachievement can actually sabotage your goals.

Technobabble - If you've ever sat through a science-fiction show where the writers resorted to incomprehensible technical lingo at a key moment, you may have felt both irritated and excluded. The same holds true for marketing content that aims above the level of its intended target market. Companies in complex fields such as the technical, medical or legal arenas often feel compelled to display their expertise in this way -- without realizing that they're alienating their audience instead of impressing it. Technobabble only works when your ideal reader, listener or viewer is as fluent in that language as you are. If you need to reach the general public, you must boil your message down to general terms.

Formal-speak - Many business experts fall into the trap of using overly-formal language in their marketing content, especially consultants who feel the need to impress people. The approach usually means lots of passive verbs, indirect sentence structure and "five-dollar words." The end result is dulled emotional impact -- pretty much the opposite of what you want when you're selling your products, services and/or brand. Lack of directness pushes people away, while the longer a word is, the less power it usually holds. Clear, direct language will make your point much more quickly and effectively, while helping to establish you as a friendly peer instead of an unapproachable oracle.

Purple prose -  If you've ever seen an over-the-top amateur movie or book review, you've probably been hit over the head with phrases like "Buckets of tears were gushing out of my eyes like waterfalls from the very first scene" or "I was collapsing with laughter at every moment." This kind of hot-and-heavy hyperbole (a) is pretty hard to take seriously and (b) exhausts your audience's emotional batteries from from the beginning. If everything is spectacular and amazing and life-changing, then nothing stands out and contrasts become impossible. You've lost your ability to create emotional highs and lows in your content -- and with it, your ability to engage the audience in a meaningful way.

"Writing to impress" usually doesn't -- but writing to establish a strong, credible, instant connection with your ideal respondent definitely does. Honing your approach and technique takes some doing, but you can always engage a professional marketing copywriter who already knows his stuff. Either way, make sure your content makes the right impression!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Copywriting for Your Video: The Secret's in the Script

Video is the way to go. You’ll hear that from an increasing number of web developers and social media consultants these days. Uploading your marketing or informational videos to your website, YouTube and other channels can boost your online presence and create excitement about your company. And these days it’s easier than ever. I was in video production back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and creating even a short clip required a roomful of expensive editing facilities. Today you just point your iPhone in front of your face, talk/record, and post the result. Voila! Instant marketing — for better and for worse.

Video hasn’t killed the copywriting star. Why? Because more often than not, the effectiveness of a marketing video hinges on the words coming out of the presenter’s mouth. Some business owners with the gift of gab might have a magical ability to say all the perfect things in the right order in exactly X number of seconds. The rest of you, however, will find yourselves uhh-ing and umm-ing your way through multiple frustrating takes — including, in the worst case scenario, the final one. Posting such a video can do more harm than good.

So what’s the answer? Most video producers will tell you that it’s a script — a prepared marketing statement spoken directly to the camera and/or recorded as voice-over narrative. Video scriptwriters typically handle this task by creating a two-column document, with a list of shots on one side and the corresponding spoken text on the other. This not only keeps you from sounding like a doofus when you address your audience, but it also gives the director and editor a clear written blueprint for the entire video, saving time (and therefore money) in post-production.

Do you want to appear on camera or not? The great advantage of the voice-over narrative is that it allows you to record the whole thing at your leisure without having a camera pointed at your face; the editor will simply insert the completed audio wherever it needs to go in the finished product. And since you’re not on camera while you’re delivering your spiel, you don’t have to memorize anything. This is a big deal, believe me, unless you have a TelePrompter or cue cards standing by (and even then, your eyes may betray the fact that you’re reading). 

In some cases it may be worth it to hire a professional actor to serve as the face of your company, at least on video. On the other hand, if you are already known as that face, you’ll need to find a way to deliver the text yourself. A skilled copywriter will often help an on-camera novice by scripting a series of shorter speeches taken as multiple shots, as opposed to long monologues. Believe me, I’ve seen a LOT of time and money wasted because some poor non-actor was forced to nail a demanding speech in a single take.

So while it’s fantastic that video technology is cheaper and easier to work with than ever before, remember that to some extent, you still get what you pay for. And paying for a professionally-written script can make all the difference between a glorified home video and a genuinely effective marketing presentation.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

How to Create Great Marketing Content Today (That Won't Embarrass Your Brand Tomorrow)

I'm something of a connoisseur where really bad movies are concerned. Everything from cheap drive-in fodder and Z-grade science-fiction films to those bizarre educational shorts we used to watch in school holds a strange interest for me. Apart from the unintentional entertainment that occurs when sheer awfulness propels a film into a realm of its own, there's also the fascination of the what-were-they-thinking factor. Usually, of course, they were thinking to make a couple of bucks in a kind of artistic hit and run. A producer would scrape a few reels of something resembling a story together and throw it into some theaters for a couple of weeks, with the idea that it would make its money and then disappear forever.

Except that in many cases, that didn't happen. Mystery Science Theater 3000 and home video restorations have brought tons of this odd old material to light again over the years, giving it a second life and giving its creators (or their heirs) something to cringe over for decades to come. Here in the Information Age, nothing is truly temporary -- and if you're generating marketing and branding content for your company, you need to keep that in mind.

No matter how beautifully you upgrade your corporate brochure from its humble, quick-and-dirty "just something to show" beginnings, those horrible old originals are still out there, waiting to be uncovered the next time a client unloads an old storage box or cleans behind a counter. As for web content -- a quick trip through the Wayback Machine and similar archive databases will reveal all the previous version of your online presence in all their awful glory.

If you can't hide from your past, content-wise, then what can you do? That's easy -- get it right the first time. Instead of just cobbling something some text together now with the idea of improving on it later, spend the extra time and effort making the best possible creating decisions in the here and now. For instance, ask yourself:

"Is this how I want to present my brand to my target audience?" It's such an elementary question, one that anyone should always ask when creating marketing content -- but if you're in a hurry to get your brand up and running, you could be skipping over important facets of your messaging or not aiming at your target audience as precisely as you should. Why rush to release content that won't do your business any good?

"How does this content stack up against my hottest competitor's?" I've sad before that if your marketing content is as good as everyone else's, then it's better than no one else's. That may be true, but at least it's not laughable by comparison either. Make sure your print and Internet marketing efforts don't place you at a critical disadvantage from the very beginning, no matter how quickly you plan to upgrade it. You don't want to give yourself the extra burden of overcoming a bad first impression.

"Is it trendy, or is it timeless?" How evergreen are your copywriting (and design) choices? How gracefully are they likely to age? Is your text brimming over with today's slang, buzzwords and business-speak? If so, you're dramatically shortening the potential lifespan of that content's usefulness to you.

Your marketing content doesn't have to be perfect right out of the gate, and over time you will inevitably need to modify it. But get whatever professional copywriting help you may need to start out strong. You'll be less embarrassed if and when your first attempts bob up into view again -- and you'll have marketing that actually works, both now and in the future!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Practice Makes Perfect: Developing Your Writing Technique

A few months ago I attended an MSP Training session. MSP, which stands for Member Success Program, is a basic training course in the fine art of networking for BNI (Business Networking International) members. As a ten-year veteran of that organization, I've taken the course several times before, but we're supposed to re-take it regularly to keep our skills sharp. The agenda includes how to give an effective self-introduction, how to listen for possible referral opportunities, the difference between a genuine referral and a lukewarm "lead," and so on. This sort of training is especially useful for those of us who weren't born with a natural gift for self-promotion or confident interaction with a roomful of strangers. But I've found that the most important thing I can do to become a better networker is to network. A lot.

I guess this is true of just about any activity, particularly the ones that don't come naturally to us. Sure, you might accidentally pick up a basketball one day and discover that hitting 3-pointers is child's play for you and dumb luck for all your friends. More likely, though, you'll have to practice hour after hour, shot after shot, until you get the muscle memory down pat. That's technique, and anyone can develop some degree of it, no matter how much actual talent they have for the given task. In fact, technique can continue to serve you even when natural ability can't or won't. There are countless stories of singers, actors, athletes, musicians, you name it, who perform competently or better in the face of illness, injury or personal stress. They may be so distressed or distracted that afterward they can't even remember what they did. But's that okay, because their technique remembered for them.

Writing is another activity that benefits from constant practice and repetition. If you feel the ned to communicate your company's mission or your own expertise through writing, you don't need a journalism or marketing communications degree -- you just need to do the following things:

1) Read a lot 
2) Write a lot

If you plan to write your company's marketing content, immerse yourself in marketing content from your competitors, from unrelated industries, from your junk mail inbox, from everywhere you happen to find it. Soon you'll be able to recognize the good stuff from the bad stuff, and eventually you'll start to recognize the mediocre stuff as well. At the same time, practice whatever form of writing you intend to pursue. It's perfectly fine to mimic the masters to get a feel for what they're doing -- many great composers got their start by transcribing each other's work verbatim. After a while you'll be able to know whether a given word or phrase will work before you ever set it down, with no need to wait for "inspiration." And that's the beginning of technique, because once you can do that, you can write whatever you want, whenever you want.

Can you still have a professional copywriter go over your work and edit as needed? Of course! But if you really want to refine your own writing, I recommend that you study the copywriter's revision of your draft with a surgeon's eye. What exactly did he change, and what exactly is that change doing to make the content better? It's like getting a bonus tutoring session for the cost of an editing job, so take advantage of it. And whatever you do -- keep practicing!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

This Is Your (Target Audience's) Brain on Copywriting

Do you recall the old TV ad that showed a frying egg with a voiceover proclaiming, "This is your brain on drugs?" As dumb as the analogy may seem, that ad was remembered, quoted and even parodied for years. Why? Because it used certain psychological hooks for engraving itself on the minds of viewers. Let's face it, marketing is largely the art of psychological manipulation. So let's look at how your marketing content can employ specific techniques to place your target audience "under the influence."

The Bizarreness Effect

The Bizarreness Effect holds that creating bizarre images out of otherwise-mundane ones can help lodge those images in the memory. Let's go back to our opening example -- an image of an egg in a frying pan, paired to the idea of a brain on drugs. These two incompatible, less-than-memorable notions form an unforgettable metaphor when you put them together.

Appealing to Both Sides of the Brain

You probably know that the left side of the brain is considered the more rational of the two hemispheres. It's one that responds to facts, reasons and logic -- but it's not the one that makes your target customer buy. That impulse comes from the right side of the brain, which is commonly associated with creativity, emotion and intuitive thought. Ideally, your marketing content appeals to both hemispheres. Your feature statements pile on fact after fact in support of your products or services, while your benefit statements hit readers where they live emotionally by helping them envision how their lives will be improved by those products or services.

Repetition, Rhythm and Rhyme

Just as the major search engines take notice of repeated, relevant keywords in your marketing content, the brains of your target audience will respond to repetition. The more you repeat a statement, the more convincing it becomes--simply because it's being constantly reinforced in the brain. Rhythm and rhyme can then make that statement more memorable, just as they tend to make song lyrics stick in your head. Think about all the great catchphrases you've heard over the years. Still thinking about them? Exactly.

Reticular Activation

If familiarity breeds recognition, then specificity breeds familiarity. If you try to appeal to everybody in the world, in every possible scenario, your message is probably so generic that it has no strong psychological effect on any individual. But if you paint a specific "How many times has this happened to you?" kind of picture, your ideal customer may think, "Wow, I'm having that exact problem right now. These people are talking to me!" That reaction is coming from a bundle of neural fibers called the reticular network, which acts as a kind of high-level "lookout" that waits for stimuli it recognizes as something we need to pay attention to right now, as opposed to the mass of more generic information the brain doesn't have time to bother with. Target your message as precisely as possible, and you'll be targeting that reticular network.

Persuasive copywriting is as much about psychology as it is about sheer writing skill. An experienced marketing copywriter can help you apply both for maximum effect. Contact me today and let's talk about how we can influence your target market!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

How to Save Money on Copywriting (Without Sacrificing Quality)

If you can't set aside a zillion-dollar budget for marketing copy creation, then you're in the same boat as the vast majority of enterprises. Does that mean you have to settle for insufficient marketing efforts or weak content from inexperienced, skill-challenged writers? Certainly not -- sometimes you just have to make sure you're getting the best value out of your professional copywriter. Here are a few tips for doing just that:

Know what you want to say (before you ask a copywriter to say it). I recently edited a rough draft that someone had sent me for a real estate brochure. My rewrite was approved by the person who requested it -- who apparently hadn't checked with another head honcho in the company, who had wanted something significantly different right from the beginning. So they had to create another draft, with a completely different focus, and send that to me for editing as well. Don't get wrong, I'm happy to have the work. But if you don't have tons of writing or editing funds burning a hole in your pocket, get totally clear on what you want done before you give your copywriter his marching orders.

Establish a single point of contact for your copywriter. This is related to the above point, but it applies to how you communicate with your copywriter. Even if your team is agreed on the main points, style and tone of the piece to be written, too many cooks can still spoil the content. If Executive A is requesting changes that Executive B doesn't know about and Executive C hates, your copywriter may end up reworking that content multiple times -- billing you each time, by the way, since it was your disorganization, not his incompetence, that made the fixes necessary. The easiest way to prevent all this chaos is to designate one point of contact between the company and the copywriter, with all requests, notes, comments and questions passing that individual's desk for final consolidation and review before the writer ever sees it.

Make your content marketing strategies more efficient. When you see the bottomless well of the Internet demanding more and more content, it's easy to make the assumption that more is always better, or at least necessary. But before you engage your writer to pump out tons of articles, landing pages and other copy on every possible topic related to your industry for every available social media channel, take a careful look at which of those channels actually matter to you. For instance, do you really need to be posting hundreds of articles on Facebook when your primary target market prefers to use LinkedIn, or vice versa? If your audience does follow you across multiple platforms, might it make good sense simply to post the same article on those various platforms simultaneously to make sure you don't miss anyone? How about your website -- does it really require a hundred pages of content that try to address everybody in the world, or could it make do with ten pages aimed directly at your ideal buyers? Don't buy more content than you actually need.

Don't go with the cheapest copywriter. This last point may sound counterintuitive, but I've seen it demonstrated with painful clarity by clients who sought out the cheapest rate from the cheapest writer they could find. You can guess how the results turned out, which is usually why I would then be hired to rewrite the first writer's work (in some cases, large quantities of it). So the client ended up paying twice when they could have hired the right professional, paid one reasonable rate, and gotten high-quality work the first time.

Take these tips to heart when you're about to engage that professional copywriter for your next project. When your marketing efforts take off, you'll know you got your money's worth!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

4 Surefire Blog Article Options for Your Business

Successful online marketing hinges on the creation of high-quality marketing content disseminated on a regular basis to your target audience. The simplest way to keep that content train rolling along the track is by posting a steady stream of blog articles on your website and other social media channels. But even if you have a professional copywriter on hand to turn your ideas into text, somebody still has to come up with the ideas in the first place -- and that's where the content train often screeches to a halt. Fortunately, you don't have to re-invent the wheel every time you have to produce a new post. Here are four tried-and-true types of blog articles you can always turn (or return) to.

1. The Spotlight

Do you have something about your business you want to talk about, such as a branding change, new product line, new client or exciting upcoming development? Write a blog article about it! Your blog can throw the spotlight on a variety of buzz-worthy happenings, from a case study of a major problem you recently solved for a customer to that big charity event you're hosting in a few weeks. This option is especially attractive if you don't also have a dedicated news page on your site.

2. The Editorial

If you're an authority in your field, then your opinion matters -- or at least you want it to matter to those who encounter it online. An editorial piece on some aspect of your industry, or recent events that relate to your industry, can put your experience, expertise, and insights on display to powerful effect. You'll want to walk a fairly careful line, of course, because an overly inflammatory approach could easily alienate a lucrative segment of your audience, while a sour or grumpy tone may also prove a turn-off.

3. The How-To Guide

Everybody loves free guidance on how to solve a particular problem, especially if that advice is coming from someone who really knows his stuff. Well, every business on the planet meets some kind of need -- and a need is a problem looking for a solution. Dispensing valuable free advice is never time or effort wasted. Brighten a few lives with your expert how-to articles, and you can expect those folks to come back to you when it's time to pay for more complex solutions.

4. The List

People love to click on list articles. They're neatly organized, easy to read and easy to digest. Bloggers also love list articles because they provide a handy, ready-made format -- which naturally guides the brain into producing relevant talking points to fill those lists. For best results, give your list article a title that will compel your target audience to check it out, such as...oh, I don't know..."4 Surefire Blog Article Options for Your Business." See how that works?

When you're flailing around for blog topics, fall back on any of these categories and see if you don't suddenly get ideas. Happy blogging!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

4 Ways to Use Copywriting for Reputation Management

The issue of reputation seems to be on everyone's mind these days. Who can you trust? What should you believe? Which institutions or individuals are telling the truth, and which ones aren't? If you want your own brand to be trusted, you have to establish and maintain a sterling reputation in an increasingly skeptical world -- especially when that skeptical world is armed with the tools of modern social media. Fortunately, you've got some tools at your disposal as well, including the strategic use of strong, convincing marketing content. Here are four ways you can employ copywriting to strengthen your brand's reputation.

1. Building Your Online Authority

Your marketing content may do a good job of selling your products and services, but are you also leveraging its power to sell your reputation? As important as it is to create brilliant, exciting copy for your sales and benefits pages, don't neglect your About Us page. If you have decades of experience as a trusted provider, extraordinary training or special skills, make them known and stress their value. Then demonstrate that value by posting authoritative blog articles that provide genuinely helpful information.

2. Outweighing the Negative With the Positive

Did you know that negative statements and feeling are processed more quickly and have far greater impact than their positive equivalents? This negative bias means that a few bad reviews can influence your target market more profoundly than several good ones. That's why you need to keeping pumping out positive content over a variety of channels. Regular press releases and feature articles spotlighting your latest achievements, an ever-growing collection of testimonials from satisfied customers, white papers and case studies explaining how you solved specific problems for various clients -- and these other forms of copywriting can help you achieve the necessary weight of positive buzz to push back against any negative tide.

3. Answering Objections in Advance

One not-uncommon complaint that tends to come up in negative reviews is, "They claim to do such-and-such, but they don't actually tell you how they can achieve such miracles." If you leave gaping holes in your marketing arguments, you're inviting skepticism or even scorn from a jaded public. Anticipate your prospects' questions and concerns by addressing and defusing them in your written copy. The FAQ page of your website is an ideal place to do this, but you should always be mindful of objections that might occur at any point in other areas of your marketing content as well.

4. Responding With the Right Rebuttals

Despite your best efforts to serve your customers and put the right foot forward in your marketing content, negative reviews or comments will inevitably surface. Nobody's perfect, and your dissatisfied (and vocal) customers may take to social media or other channels to express their frustration. Their feelings may even be based on incorrect expectations or even sheer delusion on their part. You can't leave these complaints flapping in the wind unchallenged, but you can't stoop to anger or insults, either. As I've mentioned before, a professional copywriter can help you craft sensitive, sympathetic responses that also succeed in defending your point of view and your commitment to quality.

Expert copywriting can help you rise to the top of the trust game by securing and growing your brand's most valuable asset, its reputation. It's the truth -- believe me!

Monday, February 20, 2017

When Your Audience Isn't You

Many years ago I wrote a website for a client in one of the technical fields. The products and services were rather complex in nature, and the owners understood that their own technical backgrounds put them a bit out of touch with their non-technical target market. They asked me to write a set of marketing pieces that would work as a selling tool by sidestepping all the jargon and making the ideas accessible and attractive.

I'm usually a good choice for these "jargon-specific" jobs precisely because of my lack of technical, medical, or legal background. I come to the project as Joe Q. Public. If I can put the concepts into words that I can not only understand but respond to positively, I know I'm on the right track toward attracting that mainstream audience. Ignorance may not be bliss, but it can be highly practical in selective applications.

So I got to work and crafted some clear, simple (but not mindless) copy that stressed the bottom-line benefits of the products, appealing to readers' desire for ease, convenience, and value. A sensible approach, right?

But the owners were uncomfortable with what I'd done and took it around the offices (this was one of those "decision by committee" things), with each decision maker adding his share of comments and notes for the rewrite. Not surprisingly, there were practically no requested cuts -- only additions: "Let's talk more about the specs of this product line." "We need to be really clear about exactly what this does." And so on. I was still fairly new in the writing game at this point, so I didn't feel I had the gravitas to speak with authority against these suggestions (and truthfully, I was just grateful to have a lucrative gig, so I would've gone along with anything). So I employed every single "improvement" the client requested.

The client was delighted with the final result. But to this day, I've never displayed it in my portfolio, and I never will. It's a bloated mass of over-explanation that would put a ferret on amphetamines to sleep. I can't imagine the intended audience responded as the client had hoped; I don't even know for sure if the company is still in business. If it is, those marketing pieces weren't the deciding factor, I can guarantee that much.

So what went wrong, other than Yours Truly lacking the backbone to to correct his benefactors' corrections? Quite simply, the business owners abandoned their initial goals, and they ended up with writing that they liked, instead of what their audience would respond to. The first draft took them out of their comfort zone as technicians because it wasn't written for them.

It's one of the trickiest problems in copywriting, yet also one of the most crucial things to understand: You don't necessarily want writing that appeals to you; you want writing that appeals to your target market. If you are not your target market, then you may need marketing content that would underwhelm an engineer or an attorney or a neurosurgeon but tells your potential customers all they want and need to know.

Be honest -- if your marketing content is drawing web traffic to your site, lighting up your phone switchboard with inquiries or sending new customers through your doors, will you like it then? I'm betting you will!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

4 Ways to Work Valentine's Day Into Your Marketing

We're coming up on another Valentine's Day. If you sell gourmet foods, champagne or flowers, this particular holiday is obviously right up your alley. But any business can use this special day as a springboard for a variety of marketing opportunities. Let's look at four ways you can sweet-talk your target audience.

1. Thank-You Notes

There's no easier way to let your clients know how much you appreciate them than by writing and sending out thank-you notes. While you and your team may not have time to pen each of these meaningful messages by hand, you don't have to take completely generic approach either. Think about what kinds of messages would appeal directly to each specific segment of your clientele -- then write a few different variations on the theme of your heartfelt appreciation of them. For a really personal touch (and to help ensure that the letters get opened), you might even consider hand-signing and hand-addressing the envelopes; if that's not possible on a massive scale, you can at least do it for your VIP clients.

2. Special Offers

Valentine's Day is a time for giving gifts that show your sentiments, so why not give your beloved customers something nice that also happens to help drive more business your way? A Valentine's Day coupon, discount, gift certificate or other special offer can serve as the centerpiece for a "We Love Our Customers" campaign. If you can turn your products and services toward the theme of romance, from chocolates to spa days, so much the better.

3. "Share the Love" Contests

Love isn't just a one-way street, you know; hopefully, your customers think as highly of you as you do of them! Why not give them an opportunity to express their love for your products and services through some sort of "Share the Love" competition? Post the announcement (on your website, blog, social media channels et cetera) that you're looking for videos, photos or other submissions that show your customers using your product or service, standing next to your company signage or otherwise showing their support for your brand. You can even appeal to the writers in the crowd by asking them to include you in a poem or short story. Give out prizes for the most creative entries -- while coasting on a wave of positive buzz!

4. Valentine-Related Blog Articles

I've written before about the benefits of crafting seasonal blog articles, and Valentine's Day is no exception. You may be thinking that there's nothing remotely "romantic" about what you offer, but think again. As a professional ghost-blogger I've composed countless Valentine-centric articles about everything from life insurance (showing your family how much you care) to health services (February is American Heart Month). There are countless ways to turn this time of year toward any business or industry -- especially when you have the assistance of an imaginative, experienced copywriter.

Here's to a perfectly lovely -- and profitable -- Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Yes, "I Don't Want to Write It" Is a Good Reason to Hire a Freelance Copywriter

I was talking to a health and wellness professional today about helping her fill out the content on her website -- and at one point she put on a somewhat sheepish expression and said, lowering her voice, "I could do it myself, because I'm actually a pretty good writer. But I, uh...I don't want to." But you know what? That's okay. She shouldn't feel apologetic about her resistance to writing her own marketing content -- and for that matter, neither should you.

This display of embarrassment comes up from time to time, and what I find so interesting about it is that clients who acknowledge that they can't write their own material often seem less hesitant about engaging my services than those who could write their own material but choose not to. Their hesitation may be due to feelings of:

  1. Guilt - "I should be doing this, since I have the ability. Delegating it is irresponsible and lazy of me."
  2. Concern - "An outside party can't understand my business, industry or unique value as well I can."
  3. Frugality - "I don't need to be paying a writer for something I could be doing myself."

Let me address each of these pain points in turn. First, there's nothing lazy or irresponsible about outsourcing; it's just good business. You're no doubt exhausted enough by all the other issues you have to deal with on a daily basis -- issues that demand your attention and no one else's. Writing takes time, effort and mental energy you may not be able to spare, so outsource it and apply your strength where it's truly needed.

Second, it's understandable that you might worry whether your writer can grasp your products, services and corporate mission as well as you do. But a skilled professional has mastered the art, not only of writing, but also of listening and absorbing information. Better yet, as relative outsiders we can view your business from the standpoint of the general public -- possibly even better than you can.

Third, the frugality argument doesn't hold up when you think about the value of your billable time. Should you spend that time selling your wares, growing your business relationships and making the smartest possible decisions to steer your company into the future, or should you spend it writing marketing content -- and which scenario is more likely to help you make money instead of losing it?

Okay, so maybe Bartleby, Herman Melville's famous scrivener whose response to every request is "I would prefer not to," takes this too far. But "I don't want to write this" is a perfectly sound reason (among others) to put that content writing burden aside -- by handing it to me!

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!