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!