Archives for March 2017

What a Copywriter REALLY Does (How I Work)

In Part One of this blog post, Should You Hire a Copywriter? (The answer may not be as easy as you think), I shared my thoughts on when I think you’re ready to hire a copywriter, and the minimum required “good-to-haves” before you do so. I also shared links to a couple of other articles by well-respected copywriting experts addressing the same question.

In this installment, I’m going to share my process of working with copywriting clients in detail, so you can get a sense of what really goes on, learn more about how copywriters work and what they actually do (it’s SO much more than simply writing), and if you’re wondering, find out why the investment for copywriting can sometimes seem “high” (which of course is relative).

Hiring a Copywriter? Some Things to Consider

Something to keep in mind as you look to hire any kind of service provider is their level and type of expertise. If possible, you want to hire someone who specializes in providing services to your specific kind of business and/or the specific marketing channel you need help with.

For example, I’ve been writing marketing communications copy & content since 2001. I have a background in advertising, PR, sales, and marketing, so I understand the role that marketing copy plays in the bigger picture of business-building as a whole.

Over the last several years, I’ve narrowed my specialization to writing copy for websites and other online communication channels almost exclusively, and almost exclusively for clients who have a creative product or service to sell.

I still write other kinds of marketing copy occasionally [brochures, press releases, blog posts, e-books, case studies, etc.], but I’m mostly focused on online communications – email newsletters, autoresponder sequences, lead magnets, blog articles, etc., and website copy in particular. 

Writing web copy is a specialized skill. In order to write effective web copy that moves your site visitors to take the appropriate actions (for example, signing up for your email list, contacting you for more information about your products or services, setting up a free consultation, etc.), you have to have knowledge of how websites work, how people read and interact on the web, and an understanding of Internet-based content strategy and creation.

If you plan to write your own website copy, that’s fine, just educate yourself first about the differences between web copy and copy/content for other marketing channels. You can’t just throw some old brochure copy you had written once upon a time up on your website, or have your niece who’s an English major write your web copy.

The First Thing I Do When a Potential Client Reaches Out to Me

Not everyone who reaches out will be a good fit. If you’re a service provider too, as many in my audience are, you know this very well.

And as you also know, the pain of ignoring your instincts and working with a client who is not a good fit is not worth the money you made on the project. It’s just not. Life is too short for that nonsense.

And that’s why this first step is so, so important.

Once I hear from someone that they’re considering hiring a copywriter and want to find out more about working with me, I reply with an email telling them I’d love to hear more about their project, and that the first step is what I call a “get acquainted” call.

I also sometimes share the link to my Work with Me page if they haven’t checked it out yet, so the potential client can get a sense of what I do and the investment for my services before we get on the phone.

The “Get Acquainted” Call

The “get acquainted” call is a 15-20 minute no obligation conversation where we briefly look at the potential client’s website together, and I share a few top-of-mind thoughts about copy improvements they can make on their own.

I ask them questions about what’s currently working for them with their web marketing and what’s not, how their web copy is performing, and have them tell me about any big challenges they’re facing with generating clients and new business from their website.

I then ask them to share a few specifics about what they’re trying to accomplish with their website right now, and we chat about my services and determine if working together makes sense.

It’s my policy not to quote prices over the phone, but occasionally I’ll give a ballpark estimate of what the investment will be for the service they’re considering.  Not usually though.

At this point, we’ll end the call, and either one of two things will happen – they’ll need to think about all we discussed and agree to let me know within a few days if they’d like me to write up a customized proposal for the specific copywriting project they’re interested in, OR, they’ll ask me to go ahead and write a proposal for services then.

At this point, there’s still no obligation on either side. However, if I don’t think the client is serious, OR, if they’re not a good fit for whatever reason (say, they’re not far advanced enough in their business yet to drop several hundred to $3-$5K on copywriting when there are other things they need to have in place first), then I’ll share that with them, and ask them to circle back around with me if/when they’re in a better spot with their business.

Not all my copywriting services require a proposal. If a client chooses one of the services on my Work with Me page exactly as is, then there is no proposal phase, the project then moves on to the invoicing and service agreement stage.

The Proposal Phase

If, however, the potential client has a custom project, and is ready to move to the proposal phase, I ask them to give me 2-3 days to do the research and writing required to create the proposal.

Before writing the proposal, I do research into the client’s niche/market and competition, and review their current website thoroughly. I consider everything they shared with me during our initial call about what their challenges are and what they’re trying to accomplish with their website and other marketing outreach, and write a custom proposal based on that information, plus what I feel the best course of action is.

Each proposal includes the following sections:

  • Scope of Work
  • Copywriting Objectives
  • Target Audience Information
  • Possible Objections to Overcome
  • Initial Observations and Recommendations
  • An overview of background/prep work I’ll do before writing the copy
  • Investment (usually includes 3 options for moving forward)
  • Proposed Project Timeline
  • Action Items Needed to Commence Project
  • Next Steps (which includes the date by which I need to know if it’s a yes or a no; I usually ask potential clients to get back to me within 48 hours, or 3 business days at the very most after receiving the proposal. If they need longer than that to make a decision, I know they’re waffling/not serious/not ready for this step financially.)

In the Investment section, I typically give the potential client 3 options for moving forward: a basic option, which consists of exactly what they asked for and nothing more, say, home page copy + a compelling tagline; a mid-level option, which includes everything in the basic option, plus a couple of other copy deliverables I think would benefit them and help their business; and an “all the bells-and-whistles” option, which includes everything in the mid-level option, plus additional copy deliverables that are “nice-to-haves,” along with 2-3 months of strategy consulting, among other things.

To give you an idea of what that looks like, here’s an Investment section of a proposal I wrote in summer of 2016:

INVESTMENT

Option 1: Home page copy + About page copy: $998, with a 50% deposit of $499 upfront, and the remaining balance of $499 due upon project completion.

Option 2: Home page copy + About page copy + Newsletter Signup Landing Page Copy: $1498, with a 50% deposit of $749 upfront, and the remaining balance of $749 due upon project completion.

Option 3: Home page copy, About page copy, Newsletter Signup Landing Page Copy, + 2 Hours of Strategy Consulting to be used within 90 days of project completion:  $1649, with a 50% deposit of $824.50 upfront, and the remaining balance of $824.50 due upon finalization of all copy. (2 hours of strategy consulting at a 50% discounted rate of $75 per hour.)

[I’ve raised my prices since writing this proposal, so if I were providing these copy services today, the investment would be higher.]

I also let clients know that, given my typical project schedule, there will be at least 30 days between project kick-off and project completion, and sometimes as long as 6-8 weeks for bigger projects, which means a minimum of 30 days between paying the 50% deposit and paying the final balance.  I like to share this information with clients so they have it for budgeting purposes, as I find it helps them feel more at ease with the investment.

I have occasionally let people break up the investment into 3 equal installments if that works better for them.

The Proposal Review Call

A proposal review call isn’t always necessary, but if a client needs clarification on anything in the proposal, or just wants to talk it through together step-by-step so they’re crystal clear on each element of the document, the suggested service package, or any other details, we get on the phone and review the proposal together.

Once the client has the proposal, and a review call if necessary, they have 48 hours, or 3 business days at the very most, to let me know if they’d like to proceed. As I mentioned above, if a potential client needs longer than that to make a decision, I know they’re not serious, or they’re not ready for this step financially.

I always try to determine this beforehand, however. I don’t want to spend hours writing a proposal, going back-and-forth over email, and dealing with other “I’m-not-really-serious” waffling actions, only to have the potential client not move forward.

It’s fine for a client to make a decision after reviewing the proposal that they don’t want to move forward, I don’t mind that, but if it took them days and days, and multiple emails, and a phone call or two, and endless, relentless questions to get to that point of no, then that’s a huge waste of my time and theirs.

This is fresh in my mind, because I recently dealt with that very situation, and when all was said and done, I had spent 12+ hours dealing with someone who decided not to move forward.  This person did not respect my time, but I let it happen, so I have no one to blame but myself. That’s no way to run a business, and I’ve learned my lesson. Never again.

Invoicing & Client Services Agreement

Once the client says yes to the proposal, if it’s a custom project (service packages purchased exactly as they’re described on my Work with Me page don’t require a proposal), the next step is invoicing and the client services agreement.

The client services agreement includes a project summary, payment details, the project timeline, information about changes and revisions, cancellation policy, and so on.

I spell out in the agreement that when I say yes to a project, that means I must say no to other projects that come my way, so if the client cancels the project after I have already begun work, I retain the down payment.

The client is paying me to write copy, but they’re also reserving time on my schedule, and I cannot rebook that time if they change their mind.

The Work Begins!

Once the client signs off on the services agreement and pays the 50% deposit, the work begins, woohoo!

At this point I send the Client Intake Questionnaire. It consists of 25 questions about the client’s business, their audience, what sets them apart among others who do similar work (if they don’t know the answer to this, I help them figure it out), who their ideal clients are, their goals for the copy, and other questions designed to help me get crystal clear on their vision for their business, the copy, and the outcomes they want to achieve.

I’ve had so many clients tell me that just the act of filling out the intake questionnaire has helped them gain clarity on the direction of their business, what their competitive advantage is, and what they want to achieve with their marketing and their business overall.

I usually ask clients to return the completed intake questionnaire to me within 3-5 business days. I then go over it with a fine-tooth comb, highlighting anything I need further clarification on, noting concepts and ideas that will help them stand out in their niche, pulling out phrases and ideas I can use in the copy, and generally getting crystal clear on what I call their “big idea,”  – essentially, the answer to the question, “Among all the other _____ [thing they do] out there, why choose _____ [their business]?”

Next comes a phone call to review the intake questionnaire together before I start writing the first draft.

Now It’s Time to Do Research & Other Pre-Writing Prep

In addition to thoroughly combing through the intake questionnaire and reviewing it together with the client on the phone, I also do the following before I begin writing:

  • Review client testimonials and other feedback from previous clients
  • Review current website & website copy
  • Review any marketing collateral the client has used in the past or is currently using
  • Research competition online
  • Brainstorming and concepting to come up with the client’s “meaningful difference,” and what I call the “hook” – the combination of things that set them apart in their niche and that are part of their BIG IDEA, as mentioned above, which is the answer to the question, “Among all the other ______ out there I could buy from, why choose to buy from ______?”

This is an abbreviated list, but you get the idea.

After all the above is completed, I put together what I call the “Core Message Doc.” This document contains information about:

  • The client’s “big idea”
  • The common objections they receive for resisting the sale and how to overcome those objections
  • Information about their ideal clients and unique selling proposition or “meaningful difference,” and how to craft a compelling marketing message using this info so the client can authentically stand out in their niche
  • Voice, tone & other language notes to use when writing the copy
  • Features and benefits of the clients’ products and/or services
  • Values the client wants conveyed in the copy

And so on.

Then and only then do I begin writing.

So when I “write copy,” I don’t just sit down and write. The writing part comes after many hours spent doing other important things first, including gaining a deep understanding of the client’s business and the results the client wants to achieve, AND how I can help them get there. 

The Writing Process

The writing process is fairly standard.

Once the prep work above is complete, I write the first draft and send it to the client for feedback. I give them specific instructions about the kind of feedback I’m looking for, and ask them share anything else they think is relevant for me to know before I write the second draft.

With this first draft, I also include a document called a “Copy Rationale/Explanation of Approach” – this is a separate document explaining in detail why I made the copy choices I did.

Once the client has had a chance to review the first draft and the copy rationale doc, I ask them to put their comments, proposed edits, and feedback in writing on the draft, and send it back to me.

Once I receive this, we schedule a call to review the first draft together before I write the second draft. I like to do this to be sure we’re on the same page about changes that need to be made before writing the next draft.

I then write the second draft and send it to the client with their edits, feedback and suggestions incorporated, and give them the opportunity to give me another round of feedback.

Although I offer 2 rounds of revisions on all copywriting projects, it’s rare that I have to do more than one round of revisions. It’s happened 2-3 times in the last 6 or 7 years, but that’s it.

Once the final revisions are made and the client signs off on the project as “complete & final,” I send the invoice for the 50% balance of the project fee.

Then we hug and do a happy dance, and break out the champagne!

Ha ha, just kidding about that last part. My clients aren’t local, so we don’t see each other IRL, as the kids say. But I would love it if we could! 🙂

Final Thoughts

I hope this article helps you understand why copywriting is so much more than “just writing,” and that good copywriters, in addition to having strong writing chops, also know a great deal about marketing, sales, how to help you stand out and get traction online, and other business-building topics.

We’re not “just writers,” and copywriting is not “just words.”

I will leave you with this, in the words of the great marketer, businessman and copywriting genius John Carlton:

Working with a copywriter is gonna be one of the most time-and-money intensive relationships you have in your business.

Copy is the MAIN ELEMENT in your ability to attract prospects and close them as customers. (Yes, the quality of what you offer matters… but never forget that the Marketing Graveyard is crammed with superior products that died horrible and fast deaths because no one figured out how to sell them.) ~John Carlton

If you think you’re ready to hire a copywriter for your creative business, check out my copywriting services here.

If you’re not quite at that stage yet, but could use some expert advice on your current copywriting challenges, check out the super-affordable Creating Better Copy Personalized Help Session here.