Rainmaker, it’s Monday, which means I get to open up the Mailbox and see what kind of questions you have for me.
Reminder from Friday’s post that I am shaking things up for the next couple months. The official “theme days” I’ve been running for quite a while now are going on hiatus, in favor of me writing a book while you watch (starting tomorrow!).
But I just have to keep Mailbox Monday around as an optional thing, to make sure I’m providing you the highest and best service I can. (You can submit your questions for future Mondays to [email protected].)
And so today, another Mailbox Monday issue. This one, from a copywriter and regular correspondent who has been running into some roadblocks recently. Who, for reasons you’ll understand, wants to stay anonymous.
And then, starting tomorrow, I’ll dive into the book Breakthrough Marketing Secrets.
Okay, on to today’s question…
Could you talk about how to keep going when the going gets tough? When it seems everything you’re doing isn’t working out, clients won’t tell you why they’re rejecting everything you write, and the wolves are circling the door?
— The spec “opportunity” that went through endless rounds of edits before the client just dropped the project totally (without paying a penny)…
— The client-to-be who loved the proposal — then disappeared…
— The other spec “opportunity” where the client wanted to see a couple other leads — then also disappeared…
— The past client who you wrote something good for — that got results — that led to getting paid — but that isn’t interested in you anymore and isn’t clear why…
— The non-stop grind of prospecting that’s going nowhere…
— The dozen other hooks in the water that aren’t getting so much as a nibble…
And on… And on…
No doubt this happens for other copywriters, maybe just about everyone?
If you tackle this issue, please don’t reveal my name.
Best regards (and sorry for being soggy),
Anon Y. Mous, Copywriter
Wow — rough times! But NOT insurmountable…
You know, my first reaction to this was a bunch of empathy. It’s kind of how I’m built. I didn’t see a clear path out for this copywriter. But I could FEEL their pain.
And sometimes, that’s exactly what you need. Someone to hear you, and feel your pain.
It SUCKS to be in this situation. To have the drive, desire, and skills to at least pull off making a living as an early-career copywriter. (And I know this copywriter has written at least one control for a direct response client, maybe more — they may not be A-list, but they’ve got the skills to pay the bills, if their client situation weren’t so messy.)
And yet, to have nothing going, no matter the effort.
To have all the attempts at getting ahead coming up short.
To see the bills keep coming in, but no checks to pay them.
To wonder what it’s going to take to turn it all around — if it’s even possible.
To feel the deep sense of fear, shame, frustration, anger, despair that this thing that held so much promise just may not work out for you.
All of this sucks — and it can be a downward spiral.
Not believing in your ability to generate results for yourself can lead to not believing in your ability to generate results for clients.
And if that doubt seeps into your copy, you’re in trouble.
Because in selling (in copy, or in person) confidence is paramount. You must believe to be believable. And you must be believable to close the sale.
No matter how good the product or service you offer (including your copywriting), if you don’t believe in it, you won’t sell it.
Then, as I was re-typing this copywriter’s question to me (to enhance the anonymity and remove some personal references) it hit me…
This is NOT a copy or skills problem… This is a positioning problem — 100%.
There’s an interesting quote that’s hit me a few times recently. I have no clue its origins.
The first time I remember hearing it was from my friend, colleague, and first copywriting client David Bullock.
Then, I heard it recently on the Netflix series Orange Is The New Black, of all places.
And when I Google it, there are nearly 26 THOUSAND search results with this quote (exactly — not some variation!), and multiple books by this title…
“Change your story, change your life.”
In short, if things aren’t working out the way you’re doing them, don’t keep doing what you’re doing. Change what you’re doing — starting with the story you’re telling yourself about what you’re doing — and it will change the results.
To spec, or not to spec…
First off, you’ll notice in this email that spec work has become a habit for this copywriter.
I’ve gone on record multiple times recommending spec work as a way to go from ZERO to ONE as a copywriter. To get started. To get your first experience.
HOWEVER, I’ve also gone on record multiple times recommending you want to get AWAY from spec as quick as possible. Because it immediately pegs you as a beginning writer.
Spec is not an ongoing marketing, selling, or self-promotion strategy. It will kill you, if you try to make it one.
So, in regard to changing your story… The story you want to have in place is one where spec has its value in perspective — spec can take you from no projects, to having one under your belt. Then, it’s served its purpose, and should no longer be used. Yes, you can use it to get another sample in another niche, if appropriate. But don’t keep chasing spec work with the idea it’ll get you ahead in your career.
Better positioning for copywriters…
Now it’s time for this copywriter (and probably so many others) to start valuing their work, and their time.
Let me put it this way. When someone shows up to work at McDonald’s, do they need to prove they can flip burgers in order to get paid for their first hour there?
Much less when you take someone with a much higher-valued skill, such as a doctor. When you first go to see a doctor, do you get a free treatment to make sure they are good at being a doctor?
Not so much to either.
So why are you giving away your copywriting skill and ability? Why are you giving away your valuable time placating to client requests?
Let me take apart some of the scenarios outlined in this copywriter’s email to me, and show where you could easily draw the line and tell the client, “You need to pay me for that…”
And some of these even assume this copywriter is STILL doing at least some spec work — just not doing MORE than the necessary work to get on the client’s radar. We’ll talk about long-term plans in a moment.
The spec “opportunity” that went through endless rounds of edits before the client just dropped the project totally (without paying a penny)…
Okay, you’ve just submitted the spec, and the client is interested enough to reach out to you for edits.
After you’ve gotten to this point, the spec has done its job. You’re on the client’s radar. They come back and want a couple edits…
“That’s perfectly fine. I’m excited about this project, and glad you are, too. I’d be happy to move forward with edits, once we have a contract in place for the project. The fee for this project is $#,###. This covers X, Y, and Z. 50% of that is due in advance, for me to begin those edits for you.”
If they say they’re not ready to move forward based on what you have, here’s how you respond…
“Okay, I understand. Here’s what we can do instead. I can do those edits for you, but it’s going to be $###, paid in advance. (Assume an hourly value of your time, and calculate how many hours you expect ONE round of edits to take. Quote a project fee based roughly on hours times hourly fee.) If we move forward on the full project, I’ll apply this toward your project fee.”
Then if they take you up on that, and want another round of edits, you say…
“It seems like we’re moving forward on this. It will be easier for everybody if we just get this under a contract for the project. Again, I’ll apply what you paid before. So you total project fee is now $#,###. I’ll take what you already paid out of your 50% advance, so the amount due to move forward is $###.”
Or if they want another round of edits, you charge them based on the hourly equation I recommended before.
If they’re not willing to pay you for your time, THEY SUCK AS A CLIENT AND YOU DON’T WANT TO WASTE YOUR TIME, ENERGY, OR EMOTIONS CHASING THEM.
In terms of getting paid, you’re literally better off working at the McDonald’s down the street than chasing them as a client.
Alternate scenario… The proposal.
In the last couple years, I approached one client who I really wanted to work with, and sold him on working with me by spending a lot of time putting together stuff for him, before he paid me a dime.
Aside from that, you have to pay me even to get a proposal from me.
That is, if you’re interested in working with me, you’re going to pay me for an initial consulting call. We’re going to get on the phone, and discuss your current situation, and how I can help. Then after the call, I’m going to put together an action plan for future work with me. Applying the cost of this initial call to the first project’s fee.
While I usually want to move forward with the client, I’m not emotionally invested in the outcome. Because I’ve gotten paid already for the time invested.
I don’t have to “make back” my investment of time, by chasing the client hoping to get the project.
This puts me in a totally different position and mindset from the beginning — it gives me a different story. For myself, and for the client.
Don’t write this off because you’re thinking, “Yeah, but you’re Roy and I’m me.”
This is how I became the Roy Furr that you know.
Yes, some of this was benefited by things like publishing these daily essays. And by creating a public persona and presence in the marketplace.
However, it’s a chicken and egg thing.
I was moving strongly toward this “pay to play” attitude and practice from the very beginning. When it was hard for me to do so, because I hadn’t developed much of a reputation yet.
I said, “I should be paid to show up just like a McDonald’s worker or any other employee, or like I have to pay my doctor or any other professional.” There’s nothing about a copywriter that inherently says I should give away what I do for free.
I can justify it with information and marketing, which are leverageable because they don’t really require my time to deliver… But I should not have to justify the value of my time by giving it away free. Which actually, when you put it that way, sounds rather crazy.
If you want your time and your work to be valued, put a value on it. You can either do it explicitly, by charging for it — and when giving it away, only doing so in controlled chunks, like spending one hour on the initial draft of a spec with the understanding that edits are paid. Or you can do it unintentionally, by giving away large chunks of your time and thus telling the client subconsciously that your time has no value.
Here’s your new story — and I’m not just talking to copywriters…
Your new story is that you have value. Your work has value. Your time has value. Even when you choose to give it away, you recognize that value and limit what you offer for free.
But mostly — and more and more as you gain even one or two projects’ worth of experience — your time has value, and the client knows it because they pay for it. They pay to play.
You have every right, and the responsibility to yourself, to walk away from clients who don’t value you. Who are unwilling to pay for your time, even as they ask for more and more of it.
When you have this in your heart, it will be clear to clients from the beginning. And when it’s clear to clients from the beginning, they’ll respect you more. And when they respect you more, they’ll want to work with you more. Both the first time, and for future projects.
It’s not an easy shift, but if you can make it, it will make all the difference in the world.
That’s a big breakthrough, I promise.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets