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!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Beyond Google: Relevant Content Is the Key

Ah, Google, keeper of the sacred, secret formulae that determine whether your website link appears on Page One of search results -- preferably above the fold, or at least higher up on the search results than your competitors' links. Year in and year out, companies try to crack the Google "secret code," throwing all sorts of strategies at the search engine's current algorithm to see which ones stick. If you've ever sat down with a web or SEO strategist, you've heard about the importance of optimizing your web presence so that Google will reward you with higher search result rankings. Sure, there are other search engines out there worth pleasing, but after all, people don't just search for products, services or information; they "google" them. 

Even the most skilled, experienced web professionals can find Google a tough nut to crack. That's partly because the competition for Google's attention is so vicious, and partly because Google remains a moving target. The company regularly changes its methodologies, which means that yesterday's great online marketing tactic becomes today's disappointing search result. A few years back, I wrote a white paper about an exciting, cutting-edge study performed by a web optimization company, only to watch the owners go pale as Google suddenly changed the way it did things (again), rendering all their hard work obsolete before the study could even hit the news feeds.
What can you do to stay in the sights of this attention-impaired giant? Well, you definitely want to make sure that your digital marketing provider stays on top of all the latest industry news, while building enough flexibility into your site to enable fast, easy updates. This flexibility lets you employ a great, all-weather strategy for online marketing success: production of a steady stream of fresh, useful, high-quality written content -- the kind of material that will always matter to your target market. The good news is that Google currently places quite a lot of emphasis on relevant content. But even if it didn't, such content would still help you generate the kind of responses you're looking for. I've always said that good marketing content tends to optimize itself, and I've yet to see any evidence to the contrary.

Through fair weather and foul, regardless of what Google's algorithm-of-the-moment seems to favor, engaging written content will always make your web presence more, well, present. You'll find that visitors don't just land on your page; they actually read them. They stick around. They check out your products or services. They might even buy stuff or contact you. That's the kind of relevance any business can benefit from, so get the professional copywriting help you need to make it happen!

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Networking and Content Marketing: A Profitable Combination

If you're reading this post, then you already have some understanding of content marketing, whether you realize it or not. The creation of regular content relevant to your audience's interests has become a major element in any modern marketing plan. But old-fashioned person-to-person networking isn't going away by any means. Nearly 100 percent of study participants still regard face-to-face meetings as critical to business relationship development, with some 90 percent of them preferring small groups for their hobnobbing efforts. Even in the age of digital social media, platforms such as have created a mashup of online and offline interaction for business and personal relationship building. What's the essential bridge between these two forms of marketing? You guessed it -- it's the intelligent use of high-quality copywriting. Let's look at some of the ways your written content serves your networking efforts and vice-versa.

Marketing "Leave-Behinds" That Keep You From Getting Left Behind

Networking encounters are notorious for making minimal impact unless they're properly cultivated. You might come from from any given event with a stack of business cards that made sense at the time you collected them -- but not a few days later, when they all go into the circular file. Rest assured (?) that most of the cards you handed out await a similar fate. Even in a one-to-one meeting, the wealth of information you obtain from a new connection may fade from your brain more quickly than you would expect. But what if you're holding an eye-catching onesheet or brochure chock full of exciting content? Now you have a quick, handy, compelling reminder of that connection's value. Make sure your own printed "leave-behinds" make this kind of impression.

A Ready-for Prime-Time Web Presence

How do you handle that questions inevitably asked at networking events: "Do you have a website?" If you don't, you've got some explaining to do. If you do, you may feel more like apologizing for it than sending people to it. Is your web content up to date? Does it represent your current brand image, values and vision? Are your most important products and services given the proper promotion? Seriously, don't even put that next big networking event on your calendar until you've gotten these very big ducks in a row. Interested connections will most likely check out your site before they follow up with you -- not only to learn more about what you've told them, but also to get a sense of your legitimacy and professionalism. Don't let your virtual storefront let them down.

Keeping in Touch Through Content Marketing

If you've been in sales for any length of time (and let's face it, we're all in sales), then you know that it takes a minimum of seven "touches" to take a connection from initial awareness to an actual purchase. This degree of thoroughness can wear you out if you try to accomplish it entirely through old-fashioned calls -- but modern content marketing practices make it a breeze. You can create a drip email campaign, for instance, that sends out specific marketing mini-articles, special offers, and other enticements based on your connections' current positions in you sales funnel. You can also keep populating your blog (and therefore your website) with fresh, useful news, tips, and trending information as a means of turning your first-time visitors into regular guests.

Make no mistake, networking does work -- but only if you support it with effective content marketing strategies. Hire a freelance copywriter to help you generate that content, and you'll find that your getting greater value out of every in-person connection you make!

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

How to Get What You Want From a Freelance Copywriter

So you've decided to hire a professional writer to help you with your marketing content. It's a no-brainer, right? Assuming you've taken the right steps to make sure you've got the right person, you're guaranteed to get whiz-bang copy that makes exactly the statement you wanted to make in exactly the way you wanted to make it. From this point forward, you can set yourself on cruise control and let the writer write. Right?

Well, not quite. No matter how much of the creative burden you offload to the writer, you still have an important task -- communicating what you need and want to your creative team. If your writer (or graphic artist, or web designer, et cetera) receives wrong or incomplete information about your mission statement, corporate values, target market or other things that make your business tick, you'll get marketing content that misses the mark. Effective communication with your writer will help ensure strong, effective copy just as effective communication with an architect helps ensure that your home ends up with the right number of bathrooms. "Hey, the house looks great now that it's built. By the way, did I mention we're a family of twelve?" Oops.

Some items you want to make sure you discuss with your writer include:

Priorities. Writers love background information, so by all means, pile it on. But at some point before the writing starts, make sure you've highlighted the talking points nearest and dearest to you. (A competent writer should ask you this right off the bat, but feel free to volunteer it.) What are the most important things your audience needs to come away with after viewing your marketing content? What must they do? How must they feel? What things about your business set you apart from your competitors? Once you've discussed these things with your writer, you can then throw an avalanche of white papers, web links or other data on his/her shoulders while resting assured that the big points will get the most "ink" in the final product.

Creative scope. Putting your writer on too long or short a creative leash will put a noose around your chances for getting the right final product. If you tell the writer, "You're the creative guy. Just come up with something," be prepared not to like what happens. The writing you get may sparkle and represent a high professional standard, but it may also cover the wrong topic or emphasize the wrong message. On the other hand, if you're mapping out every little point and sub-point down to individual phrases, you're really writing the piece yourself and using the writer as an editor. That's okay if it's the arrangement that you and the writer agreed on. But if you're paying somebody to create content and then spoon-feeding every word to them, then you're wasting time and money.

Direction. Many business owners and marketing directors bring on a new writer when they intend to make a drastic change in the direction of their marketing -- but what if you just want to continue what you've already started? That's great too. Like a session musician sitting in for a regular band member, a skilled writer can mimic a wide range of tones and styles, even while the presence of a new player adds a little jolt of fresh energy to the proceedings. Just make it very clear to the writer that it ain't broke so you don't want it fixed. Not a problem. 

Talk to your freelance writer, and you'll get writing that speaks to your customers. And that's the most important communication of all.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Is Your Marketing Content Offering Too Much Information?

If you ever see "TMI" posted on an online message board, you may know that it stands for "Too Much Information." It's usually a warning, or a complaint, that you're telling us more than we want or need to know. (Example post title: "Personal Hygiene Question (possibly TMI).") 

While "TMI" usually refers to unpleasant subject matter, it can also be applied to cases of epic rambling or brain-crushing detail. I even think of it in terms of spilling the beans unnecessarily. I recently watched a rotten old B-movie where a guy was being beaten up by a lynch mob for a murder he didn't commit. Meanwhile, the guy's friend spots the real murderer in the crowd, grabs him, and starts slapping him around. The culprit immediately falls to his knees and starts yelling, "I didn't mean it! I didn't mean to kill her!" Um, okay. Thanks for sharing. You might consider not representing yourself in court.

We sometimes offer too much in our marketing copy. It's tempting to spew out all the facts and figures, reams of testimonials, or volumes of microscopic detail about what we do. It's hard to resist posting every single conceivable question and answer on our FAQ page until it resembles an FAQ book. (Be honest, are all those questions "frequently asked?") We want to stagger our readers with our comprehensive knowledge and solutions -- but who wants to be staggered?

If you throw information at a reader until steam comes out of his ears, he can't focus on the key points that piqued his interest in the first place. Worse, you've allowed no space for the reader's imagination to roam. It takes two to communicate, and if you've created an impenetrable brick wall of information that fills every single crack, answers every question, anticipates every thought the reader might have, then your reader has no room to insert his own imagination -- which means he can't envision your product or service making his life or business better. You've blinded his mind's eye.

Too much information will also cause you to lose queries. Once you've told the prospective client everything he needs to know, you've drastically reduced the chances of having a future conversation with that person. Sure, your prospect might call you right away to order something, but he's more likely to just file the pages away for future reference -- and keep shopping around. 

The real point of effective marketing is to get folks excited enough to want more -- and they get that by talking to you. Once you've got that conversation, you then have the opportunity to build trust, set up meetings, or point out additional products or services that lead to a bigger sale or future business. Give prospects a reason to contact you!

Just remember: TMI (Too Much Information) = NEB (Not Enough Business).

Monday, April 8, 2019

Fit to Print: The Art of Print Marketing Content

I devote a lot of electronic ink to the online copywriting experience, but rest assured that print marketing is not dead. I field plenty of requests to write content for trifold brochures, onesheets, flyers, direct mail, newsletters, door hangers -- if it involves applying ink to processed tree pulp, I've probably written for it. And just as effective web writing has its own set of rules, you can apply certain techniques and ways of thinking toward improving your print marketing content. Here are some things to keep in mind the next time you're faced with the proverbial blank page.

Thinking Collaboratively - The most effective print marketing pieces rely on an equal creative partnership between the copywriter and the graphic designer. Some items will naturally begin life as an arresting image, while others will take their cue from a grabby opening statement or final tag line. I've gotten writing ideas a designer's initial sketches, just as designers have built their visual approaches around my first drafts. Ideally, both of these individuals are working together from the beginning to create a piece that works on both levels to create an integrated expression of your message.

Painting a Picture - When you're writing for a brochure, onesheet or other print marketing piece, you find out in a big hurry that less is indeed more in the wonderful world of marketing copy. You've got to keep in mind that big chunks of the final product will be filled up with photos, charts, logos and other illustrations. Your writing must not only make make room for these aspects of design; it must acknowledge and enhance them. The last thing a mailer or other space-challenged piece needs is a wall of text in a microscopic font. Think about those TV ads that have the big mess of fine print shoved into the bottom of the screen. Ever wonder what all that stuff says? Me neither.

Breaking It Down - No matter how much or how little text your print marketing piece can accommodate, solid blocks of it create unnecessary eyestrain (and brain strain) for the reader, especially in today's "absorb it a glance or toss it" world. If the copy lends itself to subdivision, break it down into bulleted lists, statements or short paragraphs. This practice not only helps readers zoom in on the information that rocks their world the hardest, but it also adds visual variety to the layout and gives the graphic designer more options for positioning the text in clever ways.

Keep in mind that different print marketing formats will call for a different mix of information and "sizzle." While a brochure can offer a leisurely guided tour toward a final call to action, a mailer may have to nail the reader from the outset with an arresting image and/or phrase. Whatever your needs, an experienced marketing copywriter, preferably one who is used to working with graphic designers, can help you choose those words as wisely as possible. If if you feel you could use that kind of expertise -- well, you know what to do!

Monday, March 25, 2019

Is Your Marketing Machine Still on Spring Break? Get It Running Again With the Right Marketing Content

Another March is flying by, and March means fun and games. Many of the tech-savvy Central Texas entrepreneurs I know flock to SXSW every spring, tweeting madly about various events, presentations and informal get-togethers. And in the midst of all this chaos, kids suddenly have the week off. The older ones go hit the live music events or take off for whatever beach they can afford, while the younger ones need supervising at home (unless the whole family is planning a week-long excursion). In short, the entire city gets massively distracted. Question is, what happens to your business's marketing in the process?

Okay, you're on vacation, or you genuinely need to be attend trade shows and panels (where you may indeed make new connections and land new clients), or you can't leave your kids at home alone during the break. But if you haven't set up a marketing machine that keep running in your absence, then your business is taking the week off along with you. Many of us can't afford that. 

As long as there are people out there who need and want what we offer, we have to keep working to get their attention and hold it long enough to convert curiosity into sales. But too many entrepreneurs are flying by the seat of their pants, marketing-wise, putting out email offers or posting blog articles when and if they have time to do so. The problem is, if you wait until you have time, then your business suffers whenever you don't have time -- which is most of the time! You have to make time for marketing, whether it's convenient for you or not.

This doesn't mean you have to skip all those industry events or personal breaks. It means you have to construct a marketing campaign that can operate more or less on auto-pilot. More often than not, it involves some degree of outsourcing. You might need to talk to a web marketing company about constructing a direct mail system that automatically routes specific messages to prospects in accordance with their various stages of interest. You may have to talk to a copywriter about creating a stockpile of blog articles that will hit your website at scheduled intervals. 

Whatever you do, don't let an established routine fall apart for any significant length of time. I once got an email from a client who had been AWOL for about 8 months, wanting to know if I could resume blogging for him. He hadn't come up with any articles of his own during all the time -- the blog had simply, and visibly, been left for dead. I told him that while I'd be happy to write some new articles for him, we'd have to rebuild whatever readership he'd gained from scratch. A little neglect, unfortunately, goes a long way.

Summer will be here soon enough. You and yours may be looking forward to a well-earned vacation. So do the necessary strategizing right now to make sure your marketing will keep its nose to the grindstone while you're having fun!

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

When (and How) to Take Copywriting Advice

You've come to the conclusion that you need professional help crafting your website content, blog articles, print marketing collateral or email campaign. You've found an experienced marketing copywriter with an excellent reputation, and you're ready to pay his price to get the job done. So why is he telling you things you don't want to hear -- and how should you respond?

Specialists in a given field have a nasty habit of doing that. I suppose the auto shop is an example we can all relate to. If smoke is pouring out of the back end like a secret weapon in a Bond film, the gauges and indicators are screaming redly at me, or I hear noises that can't possibly occur outside of a wild animal documentary, then I know I have a car problem. So I give it to the mechanic, only to hear that I need a new this or a rebuilt that or a massive tuneup that costs more than the car's even worth on paper. Well, I didn't want to hear that, so what are my options? I can (a) ignore the mechanic's advice and hope he's wrong (or just trying to sell me stuff), (b) ask for the minimum amount of repair that will keep the car from dying completely, or (c) authorize all the work and let the mechanic do what he does best. The final choice will be determined not just by my budget, but also by my opinion of the mechanic's expertise and integrity.

It's the same when hiring a copywriter. Say you receive a draft that doesn't quite work for you, so you ask for changes. Maybe the writer will agree that the changes are necessary and happily make them without a word -- or maybe he'll advise you against some or even all of them. wait a minute, what's happening here? You're paying this guy to do what you want done, right?

Well, that depends on how much expertise you're buying along with that copy. An experienced copywriter who knows his stuff will be able to see things you can't, either because you're not a marketing expert or because you're too close to the problem. In those cases he might say, "I understand where you're coming from, but let me explain why I wrote it this way." If his explanation sounds sensible to you, you may want to re-evaluate your evaluation. If he seems to be responding out of some kind of bruised artist's ego or a simple unwillingness to cooperate, then you can safely ignore his arguments and insist in the changes (and hire a different writer next time). If, on the other hand, you really just wanted a glorified stenographer instead of a creative partner, you're probably better off engaging a junior writer or a marketing intern; you'll certainly save money by not hiring expertise you don't need.

When you interview a professional copywriter, make sure you communicate your expectations, not only for the writing but for the relationship as well. You always have option of taking or rejecting copywriting advice -- and you'll be getting what you paid for.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Original Website and Blog Content: The Art of Being Unique

I don't know if this happens to you, but I see it all the time. I'll be looking up some topic of interest or other, and I'll find myself saying, "Wait a minute. Didn't I just read this blog article or web page on another site?" And sure enough, I did. So which organization came up with the original website or blog content, and which one simply did a copy-and-paste? I have no idea -- and if your site is the one I'm looking at, that's a problem for you.

Now, of course you can't comb the Internet constantly searching for any competitors who might decide to steal your content and pass it off as their own. But you can make sure that you're creating your own original content, content that helps you stand out by expressing your individual brand image, voice and values.

It should go without saying that Google doesn't think highly of duplicate content. Contrary to what some people think, the search engine doesn't usually slap any major penalties on companies that post the occasional copy of someone else's (or even their own) written content. That's partly because it's accepted that accidental duplication will happen to the best of us; it really can't be helped in the immense digital cosmos of the Information Superhighway. But you can forget about that duplicate content helping you to rank more highly. It confuses the search engines so that they don't know which site's version to index, re-index, or rank for query results.

But the problem of duplicate content doesn't begin and end with Google's reactions. How will visitors to your site react when they see an article or web page that they just read on someone else's site? If you don't assume that you're simply a thief, they'll at least get the impression that you have nothing original to offer compared to your competitors. Your brand will appear generic, and you'll become just another possible choice, as good as any other, in a crowded field of options.

That's the real reason you need to populate your digital marketing content with original material. Original content helps you stand out so that your message "pops" in comparison with all the other pages and posts your prospective customers are viewing as they seek solutions. There's no denying that you'll have to cover much of the same ground, topic-wise, as everyone else. But by putting your brand's unique spin on the subject, you can demonstrate that you've got something special to offer -- and isn't that what marketing is all about?

Don't fall into the comfortable trap of "borrowing" content from around the Web. Take the time to custom-craft your own original material, or bring a professional copywriter on board to help you. You're already one of a kind, so make sure that your target audience knows it!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Marketing Content for Events: Do You Know What You Need?

Here in Central Texas, events abound at this time of year. Over the next several months, Austin will be bustling with such notable public gatherings as SXSW, the Pecan Street Festival and Eeyore's Birthday, while San Antonio hosts Fiesta San Antonio and a variety of other very visible celebrations. These events all represent opportunities for getting your brand out there and promoting your products and services. But do you have the necessary marketing content to take full advantage of the gold mine that lies before you? Let's run through some of the different marketing pieces you'll want to add to your to-do list.

Blog articles - If you want to catch prospective attendees' attention well ahead of the event in question, why not post some blog articles that specifically reference that event in the context of what you offer? Make sure they know that you'll have a presence at the event, and invite them to visit your booth and chat with you.

Direct mail - "We'll Be at [Such-and-So Event]!" screams the header on those direct mail postcards filling your prospective customers' mailboxes. Better yet, you're including a special coupon or discount that they can claim if they come visit your booth or table. Make it a sufficiently mouth-watering deal, and they'll be there.

Brochures or catalogs - Once you've got people coming to see you at a given event, you'd better have a proper "leave-behind" to hand them. A well-written brochure could be all you need to help you stand out inside that swag bag. If you really want to offer comprehensive information to your event visitors, take the time to craft (or update) a full-color catalog featuring professional content describing your company's history, mission, values, and full range of offerings.

Promotional videos - Will you be occupying a table or booth at an event such as SXSW Interactive?If so, you may find it hard to get attendee's attention amidst the sprawl of noise, banners, and sign-up tables. That's when you need to set up a giant-sized monitor displaying an exciting, funny, startling, or dramatic promotional video. But keep in mind that a video isn't just as series of images -- it's a structured presentation built on a rock-solid script that tells your story.

You see where I'm going with this. It's time to plan your event marketing strategies and tactics across multiple channels. Contact me today so you can get the top-quality print, blog, or video writing you need to turn yourself into the biggest event of them all!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Hiring a Copywriter: What Are Your Options?

So you need to hire a copywriter to bolster your blog, whip your website into shape or perfect your print marketing. Let's assume your business actually has a marketing budget, and that you actually have allocated some funding toward this solution. The next question is: How will your hire your copywriter? You can engage this essential marketing content creation specialist under whatever kind of working arrangement both of you find workable. Let's take a look at some common copywriter hiring options.

Per Project

I've almost always offered this setup. Most of the people who have contacted my for writing work express relief over the fact that they know exactly what they're getting a for a flat fee. It's just like making a purchase at a shop: Product X costs Y dollars, and that's that. Companies with skimpy marketing budgets can't commit to a vague estimate, so knowing exactly what they're getting for their money allows them to breathe easier. It's also a recommended method when you're hiring a writer for the first time. Is he a fast writer, or is he a pokey one? Are his estimates accurate, or will you receive an ugly surprise at the end of the job? flat per-project rates eliminate that uncertainty. They also eliminate some uncertainty on the writer's part -- if I know what I'll be earning on this project, I can plug that number into my earnings without having to adjust it (possibly to my regret) later.


Some projects and working arrangements can benefit from hiring a writer by the hour. If your writer has a track record of accurate estimates, or if he's willing to eat the extra hours on an underestimated job, then the client has nothing to lose. Large or ongoing writing needs are particularly suitable for hourly billing


A monthly retainer is a type of contract that "retains" your copywriter of choice for a specified amount of work or number of hours. For instance, you might retain my services for $600 a month. That $600 could buy you X number of writing hours, or it could pre-pay for X number of blog articles or web pages or whatever. Retainer contracts make sense if your business needs a steady stream of writing work and you don't feel like bouncing from writer to writer to get it. They're also handy if you're trying to reduce your administrative paperwork, because you're processing one invoice a month instead of a new invoice for every single project. Marketing firms and web development companies can really benefit from putting writers on retainer.

Permanent Hire

If you're a big marketing or advertising agency, it may be worth the investment of time, money and energy to hire one or more copywriters as full-time permanent staff. Or maybe not. The business world has moved away from the massive, megalithic corporate model of the past. "Nimble" is the new normal as businesses rely increasingly on outsourcing to minimize their payroll, overhead and HR headaches. Many companies, even the ones with a bottomless need for written content, find that a reliable bullpen of contractors can get the job done just fine.

Which option is right for you? I can't answer that question without learning more about your business, your marketing efforts and your writing needs. But if you'd like to talk about it, you know where to find me!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Don't Just Create Marketing Content -- Create Your Audience!

Ever think of starting a media juggernaut that exists solely to support your business? In the past, that idea would have been dismissed as vain, over-ambitious, or just plain laughable. These days, it's considered Smart Marketing 101.

Steve Jobs famously said, "People don't know what they want until you show it to them." In other words, it's up to you to create the demand for a product or service by introducing it to your target audience within the larger context of how this product or service can enhance their lives. Proctor & Gamble demonstrated this concept by creating a whole new form of entertainment as a marketing tool. The soap company (and that's pretty much all it was, back in the 1930s) needed a way to present its products to a specific audience -- homemakers. It did so by inventing the soap opera.

Daytime drama reached into millions of households via radio and eventually television, giving the lady of the house a daily feast of "stories" accompanied by, of course, commercials for detergent products. Proctor & Gamble had become more than a product manufacturer -- it was now a media producer. If you spent your afternoon doing the laundry, chances were you were also caught up in the latest brain tumor diagnosis, adulterous affair or discovery of an evil twin. Meanwhile, you'd hear about how and why a particular detergent got the job better than Brand X, more often than not from the characters themselves. If your favorite radio or TV character is singing the praises of a new dandruff shampoo day in and day out, eventually you're going to buy some just to see what all the fuss is about.

This same approach is alive and well today. We call it content marketing -- a combined delivery of advertising and other information that a specific audience genuinely needs or enjoys. An effective modern marketing campaign might achieve this in the form of drip marketing, a series of direct-mail or email "touches" that collectively build the reader's trust in your company until the urge to buy or at least contact you for more information becomes overpowering. And just as soap opera audiences come to think of the characters they see as living, breathing people, your target market comes to rely on you as the trusted resource for your industry of field of expertise.

Blogging can prove especially valuable for building an audience that relies on your expert point of view on the subject at hand. Say you're a tax attorney trying to establish your credibility and convert prospects who need what you have to offer. By posting authoritative, genuinely helpful articles on a wide range of topics related to taxes, the people searching for that information online -- who obviously need and want such information -- come to rely on you as their own personal guru on the subject. And who better to work on their taxes than someone they already trust? That's content marketing.

Now it's your turn to create your own business's media channels. Build your own buzz through the power of content marketing. Who knows? With the aid of a skilled professional copywriter, your product or service could become the hottest show in town -- with your target market serving as the town.