Think like Michelangelo: A freelancer’s guide to choosing great clients.

part of the sistine chapelHistorically, artists have always needed to find a patron. Sometimes the church, sometimes a nobleman or a merchant.

Without the support of a patron, artists wouldn’t have had the resources to do great work. We all have to eat.

And those patrons often gave pretty clear instructions regarding the topic of the art. For example, painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel wasn’t Michelangelo’s idea. The work was commissioned by Pope Julius II.

In fact, Michelangelo was reluctant to take on the project. He would rather have been sculpting.

But you know how it goes…what the client wants, the client gets. (Particularly when, in addition to being the Pope, you are also referred to as “Il papa terribile”.)

The thing being, the artist’s life isn’t so very different from the freelancer’s life.

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Are your freelance copywriting services perceived as an expense, or as an investment?

cash registerMaybe you don’t think about your services in this way.

But your clients and prospects do.

As a prospective client looks at your estimate, she will perceive it in one of two ways.

“This is going to take a chunk out of my budget for this quarter. I wonder if this is really the best use of my dollars.”

Or…

“This is going to cost me a few bucks, but it’s going to generate a truck load of extra sales.”

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Next time you write an online sales page, put a pea under the mattress.

adding a real pea to a direct mail letter

adding a real pea to a direct mail letter

Before we get to the point I want to make with this article, let’s look at using a real pea to grab people’s attention.

The image above shows a mailing I wrote back in the early 1980’s. It was for a company that sold company formation services. That’s not a very exciting topic, so we scratched our heads and came up with an idea that would make the mailing stand out.

Our thinking was that most of our client’s prospects were probably fairly happy with the company formation services they already had, but there were probably one or two things about the service that niggled away at them and annoyed them – a bit like the princess trying to sleep with a pea under her mattress.

So that was our starting point.

Yes, that’s a real pea. Yes, we asked a lot from our printer and mailing house: a custom window in the envelope, a real dried pea in a bag, which had to be glued to the letter, and then each mailing had to be hand-inserted.

Expensive, but worthwhile, because we got a response rate of over 17%. (Without the pea it would probably have been closer to 1% or 2%.)

In the world of writing for the web, it’s a little harder to insert a real pea into people’s monitors. But we do need to find some ways to put a pea under the mattress. We need to find a way to make our sales copy hook our readers, and keep them engaged.

There are billions of sales pages online. Most are bad, a few are good. But almost all are simply a rewrite of what everyone else has written. Many follow a formula or a template.

So how can we put a pea under the mattress when we are trying to sell online?

First, get away from the old, offline concept that every sales page has to open with a headline, followed by 500 or 5,000 words of sales text with the occasional sub-head.

Instead of hoping the text will do all the work, why not use a video, slide show, infographic or social media to do the heavy lifting?

No, I’m not talking about those irritating squeeze pages which offer to show a video in return for your contact information. I’m talking about replacing or at least adding to traditional text-based sales pages with multimedia.

You can communicate your value proposition with a video.

You can describe the benefits of your product or service with an infographic.

You can show proof with a slide-show of images, or a second video.

You can replace the usual, barely-credible testimonials with captures of tweets or Facebook updates which praise your product or service.

Or how about communicating your guarantee with a face-to-face video clip?

What I am seeing so far is the occasional use of video and images on sales pages.

What I am suggesting is that you go further, disrupt the traditional sales format, and use multimedia to better capture and engage your readers.

It may not be the same as sticking a pea in an envelope, but it should be enough to separate your sales pages from the billions of others which all seem much the same, and are decidedly old-school and offline in their approach to making sales.

Freelance Copywriters: Stop handing in second rate work!

When I’m busy with other work, I sometimes outsource copywriting work to other freelancers.

Working with project partners, I often have to read the copy submitted to my partners by their freelance copywriters.

Here’s the shocker…

More often than not, freelance copywriters hand in garbage.

These are good, professional copywriters, all capable of producing outstanding work.

But the work they submit is rubbish.

Maybe the opening is weak. Maybe the flow just doesn’t work. Maybe there are factual errors, or spelling errors. Maybe part of the offer description from the brief is missing. Maybe the headline is just plain wrong.

Or maybe it’s not terrible, but clearly in need of some more polish, with a second or third draft required.

You think I’m joking? I’m not. I see this again and again. In fact, I see unfinished, unpolished copy more often than I see well-crafted, error-free copy.

The bottom line is – most freelance copywriters fail to hand in their best work.

This is insane, because you will be judged by what you send in to your clients. And it is immensely frustrating for your clients, because they often know what you are capable of, and don’t understand why you would send in anything less than your best.

Maybe you thinking, “Hey Nick, sometimes we send in a draft just to get feedback, before we move on to the final draft.”

That may sound like a reasonable excuse, but I think it’s just that – an excuse.

If you have questions you need to ask your client, ask them. But don’t send them a weak draft, in the hope that they’ll help you make it better. You are meant to be the expert. That’s what they are paying you for.

“But Nick, I have a lot of clients and tight deadlines. I can’t spend forever on each project.”

Well, you won’t have a lot of clients for long if you send in second-rate work.

Let me ask you a question – don’t you have in pride in your craft as a copywriter?

Do you feel good when you send in work that is less than your best? Does it feel OK to do that?

It’s complete craziness. As the saying goes, you are only as good as your last job. And if your last job was second rate, so are you.

Work for fewer clients and spend longer on each job, so you can hand in your best work every time. And as you build your reputation as a copywriter who always submits great work, you’ll be able to charge higher fees.

Fewer clients. Better quality. Higher fees.

Doesn’t that make more sense?

And believe me, with so many copywriters submitting second-rate, unfinished copy, there is a huge opportunity to brand yourself as the freelancer who always delivers his or her best work.