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!