Are you charging enough for your time?

Last week, I wrote a blog post called, “Content mills are (almost) dead. Now what?” At the end of the post, I included this blurb:

“As a call to action to my fellow copywriting peeps, and I say this with the utmost love and compassion: If you are a writer working for $5 per 1,000 word article, stop it. You’re worth more. You really are. And I bet you would feel much better about your writing if you were compensated appropriately.”

There were a couple folks who provided another perspective to this comment.  Yuwanda Black said:

“I’ve seen SEO writing rates slowly creep up in the last few years, so it’s getting better, but there’s still a long way to go — and in the meantime, it pits some writers against others (eg, if you charge “x” you’re not a real writer and you’re bringing the rate down for all of us). It’s the nastiness I get tired of.”

And another comment hit dead-on with a number of new copywriters:

“So as I continue to churn out articles at sites such as Textbroker and yes, Associated Content I also am trying to learn other things that are important to make all of this work. This includes article marketing, proper grammar and punctuation and SEO and slowly building a portfolio. I mean let’s be honest, someone like myself who is just a blogger at heart who has no real skills to speak at the moment, is not going to get hired by a company that has clients that are their bread and butter.”

First – and this is an important point – having a higher per-page (or hourly) rate does not mean that you’re a “real writer.” Heck, if you’re getting paid as a writer, congratulations! You’ve already arrived! You’re already a “real writer.”

The challenge that more experienced writers have with Demand Media is that their rates are much, much lower than standard rates. No matter how good of a writer you are, the company still favors mass article generation rather than quantity writing. Realistically, if you’re only getting paid $5 per article, you’re probably not going to spend much time on it.

At the same time, if “fast writing for lower pay” works for your business model – fantastic. There’s nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to justify your rates to anyone except your clients…and your family.

And that’s where the second point comes into play.

See the thing is, one of the hardest things to determine is “How much should I charge?” To Lew’s point above, he’s a brand-new copywriter searching for opportunities. He needs a portfolio. Writing clips are crucial. So he’s looking at writing for clients like Associated Content as more of an educational process. That’s a good attitude.

At the same time, it’s very easy for creatives to sell themselves short. After all, there’s no magical bell that rings when you’ve “arrived” at a new level of Web SEO copywriting prowess. Clients rarely say things like, “You’re charging too little. Please, let me pay you more money.” Unless you are in a training environment, a mentor relationship, or part of a master mind group, no-one pulls you aside and gives you “Here’s what you should charge” advice.

Which means some writers (and other business creatives) get stuck working for peanuts forever. They compute their hourly rate and realize that working at McDonald’s would earn them more money (and provide benefits, too!). So they get frustrated, feel like their business owns them… and give up.

If this strikes a chord, consider if you’re selling yourself short. For instance:

  • If you haven’t raised your rates for awhile, tell your next prospect that your rates are 10% higher…and see what happens.
  • If you’re a brand-new copywriter, approach a local small business and see if you can work on their Website. You may not get paid much, but you will have a fantastic case study and a testimonial – which will help you gain higher-paying gigs.
  • If you’re feeling funky about raising your rates (for instance, you’re afraid that every client will leave you and your business will fail) talk to a trusted friend or a business mentor and get a reality check. Fear-based rate setting will do nothing but keep you struggling and slaving away. Besides, sometimes we need someone to tell us, yes, we’re that good. 🙂 (BTW – the LinkedIn SEO Copywriting Group is a fantastic, friendly place to get some guidance.)
  • If you’re not sure if your skills are “good enough,” work with a writing mentor/coach and have him/her help. Yes, it costs more money – but you’ll have someone who can help you determine what your strengths and challenges are and work with you one-on-one.
  • If you know that you need to make more money per page – and your current client can’t pay it – consider referring them to another copywriter and looking for a new client. There’s nothing wrong with “breaking up” with a client if you can’t afford to keep them. Just make sure that you help time find another fantastic writer.
  • If you haven’t talked to your accountant/business mentor yet about your business plans enlist their help. They can help you set annual income goals, plus talk to you about the tax ramifications. Once you know how much you have to make to meet your personal income goals, it’s just a case of finding the right clients to make it happen.

At the end of the day, you can have a very successful SEO copywriting (or other creative) business. But first, you have to determine that you’re good enough to charge X rate, you’re smart enough, and dammit – people like you.

And only then will you be charging enough for your time. 🙂

Boost your conversion rates with this one simple technique

Ready to write your Web copy (Sure!).

Want to boost your conversion rates (heck yeah!).

This proven technique doesn’t cost any money, require you to download an app, or even require that you hire a consultant. It just requires two skills that can completely transform your writing.

The secret?

  • Ask smart questions
  • Shut up and listen to the answers.

Simple, yes. Sometimes, really hard to do. But when you ask good questions – and shut up and listen to the answers – amazing things happen.

You’ll start to “see” your target customer much more clearly. And that clarity will help you write some kick-ass copy.

Good online copywriting – the kind of writing that gets people to pull out their wallets – means telling a story. It means conversing with your target customer like they were your best friend. It means knowing as much as you can know about your audience so everything you write meshes with what they need to read.

That means creating a very targeted tone and feel, highly-specific benefit-oriented messaging and a writing layout that helps your reader take action.

The thing is, you can’t dial-in kick-ass, top-converting copy and expect it to perform. You have to ask a lot of questions and weave those answers into your writing.  In fact, I would run screaming from any writer who said, “Yeah, I can write that,” and proceeded to do so without a client interview. That kind of copy (and you see it everywhere) is flat, lifeless and dull.

Who wants that? Not you – not your client – and not your company.

If you’re working fast and furious, the client interview seems like an easy step to skip – especially if you work in-house (after all, you work for the company – why should you ask questions about the market?). The answers you receive, however, will help your writing sing. You’ll be able to position your client better in the marketplace, focus on the benefits that are really important and overcome objections more easily.

In short, asking questions will make your job easier. Plus, your new and improved copy will see a new and improved conversion rate bump. It’s an easy win/win that you shouldn’t ignore.

Here are some questions to ask:

What to ask your client:

  1. Who is your main online competition. Please provide their URLs. (It’s always smart to check out the competition.)
  2. What (services/products) do you offer that your competition doesn’t?
  3. What’s your Unique Selling Proposition?
  4. Why do your customers say that they buy from you? (Ask for testimonials.)
  5. What are common questions that your customer service department receives?
  6. Who is your target audience?
  7. Do you have multiple target audiences?
  8. What are specific characteristics of your target audience(s). For instance, are they male or female? How old are they? Where do they live? What do they do for a living?
  9. (For technically-based clients.) Do you have visitors coming to your site tasked to gather information who aren’t the main decision makers – but are crucial to the conversion process? For instance, an assistant may look for vendors for his boss to vet.
  10. What online and offline marketing initiatives have worked in the past? What has not worked?

(Note: As I mentioned, these questions still apply for in-house folks. Even if you think you “know” the answers, it’s worth having a meeting with all involved team members and discuss the responses. It’s very possible that some team members view the answers very differently. If people aren’t on the same marketing page, settle the issues before you start writing.)

If you’re planning your editorial calendar, why not do something totally radical and ask your customers what they’d like to read about. For instance:

  1. What topics are interesting to you?
  2. Do you prefer reading articles? Blog posts? White papers?  All of the above?
  3. What was your favorite (article/blog post) that you read this month? This year? Why did you love it?
  4. What’s one thing about the content that you absolutely love?
  5. What’s one content-related task that we could improve upon?
  6. Is there anything new that you’d like to see in the future?

The more questions you ask – the better your writing. Better writing = higher conversion rates. It doesn’t get easier than that.

What questions would you add to the list?

How to explain SEO copywriting to clients

Do your clients think that “SEO copy” is a bad word?

Unfortunately, I’m not surprised.  An article called, A 3-Step SEO Copywriter Confession by Kelly Watson joked, “As an SEO copywriter I often get lumped in with keyword spammers, blog content aggregators and overseas article writers.

Sound a little familiar…?

Clients – both small and large businesses – may think of SEO copywriting as “keyword spamming” and want nothing to do with it. Sure, they know they need good content. But where they get confused is what good SEO copy looks like. Maybe that’s because all they’ve seen is bad copy. Or maybe that’s because although content is crucial, it’s not necessarily valued.  After all, Yahoo! owns Associated Content – accused by some as being a “content mill” company. Some SEO companies pay low-dollar for writing and refuse to pay more for higher quality work. We love what content does for us. But we want it cheap. And cheap typically means really, really bad stuff.

And unfortunately, there’s so much “bad stuff” out there, it gets mistaken for “normal” SEO copy best practices.

For instance, Stephen Spencer in his Multichannel Merchant article, Black Hat Tactics Can Ruin Your SEO said one black hat tactic was:

SEO copy — slipping keyword-rich content (often with keyword-rich text links too) meant only for spiders into the very bottom of the page

Whenever I see SEO copy I roll my eyes and think to myself, can you get any more obvious than that?

Well, yeah, I understand what he means – he’s talking about keyphrase STUFFING, not keyword-rich content.. At the same time, the casual reader (someone who is not SEO savvy) reads this and thinks, “SEO copy is bad and obvious. I shouldn’t have it on my site.

Another example comes from the 3-Step Confession article.

Confession: I have inserted misspellings into my own writing.

I have rejected really good headlines and great lede sentences for mediocre ones that start with a keyword or phrase.

I have stifled the urge to delete redundancies. I’ve even added redundancies to get one more keyword into my writing.

Don’t get me wrong – the rest of the post is great. But adding misspellings purely for SEO purposes has never been best practices. And adding redundancies makes me think of fluffy, keyphrase-stuffed paragraphs that talk about “home business opportunities” for the next 750 words.

And if *I’m* thinking that – what are clients thinking? I know if I was a clueless client, I’d wonder, “So, I have to have misspellings on my site for search engine rankings? No way.”

Is it any wonder that clients are a little confused?

The great news is: Once the clients understand the benefits, they’re excited. They’re on board. They realize that their copy will not, in fact, suck.

You just have to explain what good SEO copywriting is first. Here’s how to do it:

  • Get a sense of your client’s knowledge levels – and be prepared to spend time addressing the basics. Don’t assume that your client understands what SEO copywriting is just because they contacted you. Or because they throw a few buzz words around. They may know that they need it – but they may be pretty fuzzy about the specifics. They may really believe that it’s all about stuffing the page as “spider food” (as Spencer mentioned.) Take some time to share with them why the writing is so important, and explain how it could impact their site. Bonus points if you create a PDF with some fast copywriting facts.
  • Show examples of your past writing. I talked to a prospect the other day who said, “I know exactly what SEO copy is. My SEO company wrote something for me and I hated it.” When I showed him that (good) SEO copy was completely different than the keyword-stuffed page he received from his SEO, he immediately mellowed out.
  • Explain your process. Take time to impress upon your client that you’ll be doing more than just shoving keywords into the copy. You’ll be learning about their business, creating benefit statements, developing a strategy and telling a compelling story. I heartily agree with Watson when she says, “SEO is the easy part. The hard part is capturing readers’ attention with writing they actually want to read.” Clients need to know that, too.
  • Ask what questions your client has – and listen to what they *don’t* ask. Unless you have a highly direct client, they may not say, “Hey, I’m afraid that I’m going to pay you a lot of money for content that sounds like hell.” But they may ask things like “How can I tell if it’s working,” or “Why should I hire you at $X/page, when I can get this for $Y/page.” Same fear. Different approach.
  • Do a rockin’ job. It sounds basic, but if you’re not returning your client’s calls/emails – you’re sending a bad message. If you’re sending so-so copy because you’re “busy,” the client won’t be happy. Show your client how fantastic (and professional) SEO copy really  is. Once your client has seen your awesome writing (and the resultant sales paired with some impressive search positions,) they’ll be a fan of SEO copywriting (and you) for life!

Client management tips from Captain Hindsight

As my faithful readers know, I love South Park (if you don’t believe me, check out this post…and this one, too!)

Recently, South Park introduced a new superhero character – Captain Hindsight. The Captain’s special superpower was to be able to fly into any situation, tell everyone exactly how the situation could have been prevented (like the BP oil spill crisis) and fly away.

Now, if you’ll indulge me a moment while I slip into my special cape and transform myself into Captain Hindsight. ‘Cause I have a situation to save…

The situation first surfaced on the Facebook SEO Copywriting page. Derek Cromwell said:

“One of the worst was a very large project I had that was over 40 pages of site content for a non-profit organization. When the draft round of the content was completed the client flipped out over the “quality” despite the fact that I explained the nature of the draft. I wanted them to review the tone, to make sure I was representing them properly while also hitting their audience, market, etc based on the research I had done.

I was basically told, in summary: “This is all bad, it’s not right, everything has to be redone.

After chewing it over I explained that starting over from scratch wasn’t acceptable unless they wanted to pay for a new round of content, I explained the revision process again and the purpose of doing revisions. They went from “This is all bad” to “ok we can give you some notes”. The notes I got back were minimal – turns out they just had a corporate panic attack and we’re quite happy with the content once I beat it into them that minor edits happen, and that’s why we do revisions.”

Ouch. If you’re a business owner (or even if you work in-house), chances are you’ve “been there.” You bust your butt for a client trying to impress them. You provide them your product (or service) and expect that they’ll be thrilled. When they aren’t, it’s like having ice water dumped down your back. It’s shocking and unpleasant and makes you want to scream.

Here’s what Captain Hindsight says about this situation:

  • Proceed slowly with new clients. Working with a new client is like just starting to date someone. You know that you have shared commonalities – otherwise, you wouldn’t be working together (or dating.) But it’s not the commonalities that make or break a new relationship. It’s the differences.  Rather than providing them with all 40 pages, instead, I would have started with one. Tell the client that the first page is to set the tone and feel, agree on the content structure and for specific feedback. That eliminates any “expectation shock” where the client wanted X – and you thought they wanted Y.
  • Get highly specific notes prior to starting work. I’ve learned that interviewing new clients on the phone is the best way to tease out what they really want, versus what they say they want the writing to look like. A short 30 to 60-minute phone chat allows me to nail down the benefits, the tone and feel, and what pain points are crucial to include. Once I have my notes, I email my notes to the client and say, “Are we in agreement? Is this what you want?”  Once I have their email signoff, I’m ready to rock. But I won’t start without that signoff. Otherwise, if something changes – the client changes her mind about the benefit statements, or if they want a tone and feel revision – you have written proof that they had already agreed on a certain course of action. Otherwise, you have to defend why writing a new page would be considered “out of scope and will cost more money” – which is something a client never wants to hear.

For more tips about working with clients, check out this post about working with big brands.

How to work with big brands without going insane

Many smaller vendors dream of, someday, working with the “big boys.”  That allure of a big reputation builder (and what you think will be big money) is a wonderful intoxicant.

I fondly remember my first big-brand experience. An apparel client wanted to me write the copy for an ad scheduled to appear in The New York Times Magazine (I literally had one hour to write the copy…but that’s another story.) I was sitting in a restaurant called Happy Burger  (really!) when I turned the magazine’s page and saw my ad. I literally walked up to every single table and said, “See that? I wrote that!”

Fortunately, the restaurant owners didn’t kick me out. And the people I talked to were nice…if not a little amused by this small blonde chick (well, blonde back then…) bouncing around about her ad copy.

That’s the fun side people see about writing for and working with bigger brands. You can point to something and say, “I did that!” However, in my 20+ years (ouch) marketing career, I’ve realized that large brands have their own issues. Some people literally do not have the temperament to work with larger companies – the politics feel too much like a “real job.” Other people can really kick butt for big brands. Here’s how to handle the issues:

  • Is the client ready to sign? Congratulations! Now hire an attorney. In about 90% of cases, a big-brand client will want you to sign their contract. That seems OK, right? Far from it. I’ve seen contracts slip in non-compete clauses saying that you won’t work with X companies if you sign with them. I’ve seen contracts that stipulate that the client will pay 6 months after services are rendered (really!) I’ve seen contracts so confusing that they’re bad for both parties.  You may feel weird saying, “I have to have my attorney approve this,” but you must. And then you must listen to his/her advice and go back to the client and say, “My attorney is asking for these changes.” Bad things can happen if you sign a bad contract. Trust me. It’s always better to walk away.
  • Insist on one point of contact. Large companies often have multiple people “touching” the marketing/branding/copywriting. And all of those people may have a slightly different perception of what should be done and what your role is. One person needs to be your internal “boss” – not two or three or five. Otherwise, you will always be serving too many masters and never sure what your priorities are. It’s also smart to…
  • Try to work with an internal advocate. Hopefully, you have someone at your client’s company who is “on your side.” An internal advocate is crucial for calming feathers, fighting for you during any political change and doing handy things like making sure that your invoice is really in process (rather than sitting on someone’s desk.) This person may or may not be your point of contact, but is always worth their weight in gold. They will save your butt more times than you know.
  • Know that an “emergency” could crop up at any moment. I had one big-brand client that always used to send me a panicked email right before I got on a plane (and when I could do nothing about it.) It was always the same type of request: “The CEO has approved X, and we need to to have this in 24 hours” Yeah, it may frustrate you that you’re getting this dropped on you at the last moment. Heck, I remember spending many disgruntled hours in a hotel room working while my conference friends were playing. At the same time, know that the client isn’t doing this to you on purpose. They just had this dropped on them, too.  And at the end of the day, they are trying to pay you money (the most important point!). Think very carefully before biting back and saying, “I can’t help you with such short notice.” Or if you have to say that, figure out a solution for your client so you don’t leave them in the lurch. To that point…
  • Understand that having a big brand client is like being married to a hottie. How? Because you know that your competition wants them – wants them badly, in fact – and they’re  just waiting for you to mess up so they get their chance. Companies will try various ways to “woo” your client. I’ve had competitors fly my client out to “resort meetings” so they could pitch their content services (Note to company that did that – you think that I wouldn’t find out? Shame on you!) If you’re really lucky, your client not only tells you who’s “hitting” on them, but shares any insider information they learned.
  • Just like being married to a hottie, your big brand client will expect a certain level of attention. What would happen if you ignored your partner and only got back to them “when you had time?” Eventually, your hottie friend will move on to someone who will pay them the attention they think they deserve. You don’t need to respond within 10 seconds of receiving an email, but respond – preferably before the client’s end of day. If you don’t know something and need to check, send them an email saying that you’re working on it. An ignored hottie (like an ignored client) is a bad thing…and you don’t want them looking around for options, do you?
  • Be clear about your ability to use them as a client reference. I would love to tell the world about this one client I have. If I could, I’d overcome every writing objection out there, “Wow, you work with X? You must be good.” But I can’t. Why? The contract prohibits me even mentioning that we have a business relationship. I can’t even say that I visited their offices once. Know that large clients will make you sign NDAs – and those NDAs may mean that you can’t use them as a reference or clip. You can sometimes negotiate this (it’s worth a shot.) But be prepared for “no” as the answer.
  • Decide how to deal with the bullies. There are big brand clients that use their size as a weapon. They squeeze you on price, threatening that “other people will do it for much less.” They ask you for free information to “prove that you know your stuff.” They slow-pay your invoices, or act surprised when you want to get paid on time. I had a search engine (no, I won’t name them) tell me that they wouldn’t pay my invoice because they “Changed direction and couldn’t use the copy now.” Uh, what? No freaking way, dudes. Remember my first advice about “hiring an attorney.” Mine came in big handy during this time (and yes, I got paid.)
  • Be clear that things can happen that have nothing to do with you or your abilities. Sh*t happens with corporate clients. A new CEO comes in and cleans house, and suddenly your “stable” client fires you. A company gets acquired by an agency, and the agency takes over the copywriting. Your client contact is promoted or fired, and your new contact would rather work with a more familiar copywriter. It sucks and it’s defeating and it’s frightening. But it happens. It’s not you. It’s the corporate environment (and in a way, a good reminder of why you’re not working in-house!) To that point…
  • Never rely on a big brand client as stable income. Once upon a time, I worked exclusively with retail clients. In fact, I had two big ones that provided most of my income. Want to know what happened when the recession hit? Both clients immediately canceled their contracts, my internal advocates were laid off and my income was sliced. That was a very dark week. You may have a signed contract with a client – but that doesn’t mean that they won’t break it if they need to. Yes, you can tell your attorney to fight them – and sometimes, you can recoup your losses. At the same time, how much money are you willing to spend to fight a broken agreement? It’s far better (and smarter) to always be marketing and keep the pipeline full.
  • Enjoy the experience. Yes, big brands have their own “quirks” (as does every target market.) At the same time, they wouldn’t be hiring you if you weren’t that good. Congratulate yourself for getting the gig. Learn everything you can about the politics, procedures and the personalities. Learn how to price for larger markets, figuring that this is your new target audience. When you can successfully negotiate the political perils of working for a large company, everything else will seem “easy.”

Do you give it away for free?

So, what do you do when someone wants free advice?

I talked to someone the other day who had just hung out her freelance Web writing shingle. That means, she’s hustling for clients. All. The. Time.

She had a great sales-call conversation with a local business owner. They talked. They laughed. They bonded. He asked her, “What changes would you make to my site,” and she spent 45 minutes outlining how she’d change the Titles, how she’d start a blog, how she’d add keyphrases to his copy. She even showed him WordStream‘s keyword research tool and how to use it.

She was convinced she got the gig. The prospect told her that “He’d let her know” – and she left in a sales-happy daze.

Fast forward two weeks. The prospect won’t return her calls. He won’t return her emails. And when she looks at his site – surprise, surprise – some of the Web copy was changed per her suggestions.

Where did she go wrong?

She gave it away for free.

This is a problem for any professional. If you work with computers, everyone calls you for tech support. If you’re an attorney, people ask you to answer “Quick legal questions.” And if you’re a freelance SEO copywriter (or SEO professional) the question on everyone’s minds is, “How can I do better in Google?”

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for educating prospects. That’s important. But there’s a fine line between educating clients on best practices and telling them how you’d “fix” their site (or whatever you get paid to do.)

This can be especially tricky during the sales process. You may really, really need this sale. Or, the person asks you face-to-face. Suddenly, not giving out free information seems like a sales (and social) faux pas. You start wondering if other people have given out freebie information and you’ll look bad if you don’t.  Heck, it doesn’t feel comfortable to say, “Uh, you have to pay me for that.”

No, it doesn’t feel comfortable. You don’t need to say those words, exactly…but you do need to say something like them. That is, if you want to make money.

Yes, you want to show off your expertise during the sales process. Yes, you want to wow the prospect. At the same time, you need to set a boundary. You need to know – clearly, deep in your heart-of-hearts know – that you are willing to talk about X for free. Maybe you provide one tip. Maybe you provide very general (but highly educational information.)

Or maybe, you don’t want to give anything away for free – even the most basic information. That’s OK, too.

When the prospect says something like, “What would you do to fix my site,” that’s when your boundary should kick in. Say what you’re comfortable saying and then steer back to the sales process. Tell them, “It looks like you have many Web writing opportunities here. I can outline them out in a report that contains (X) and costs (Y).

Or you could say, “That’s a great question. I’d have to dig deeper into your issues to really help you – let me tell you a bit more about how I consult with clients like you.”

You’re not ignoring their question or being rude. You’re simply – and nicely – informing them of your limits. At that point, they can choose to work with you (get the information they obviously want to have) or try to find someone who will give them freebie help. Either way, you win.

Consider if it’s time that you reviewed your own sales process. Have you felt “trapped” into providing “too much” information? Do you give it away for free? Are you gaining new clients – or inexplicably losing gigs? It could be that a slight change in your sales process can actually drive new business.

What about you? What kinds of information do you give away for free – or do you?

Profiling is Good, When it Comes to Your Perfect Customer

Greetings fellow SEO copywriters and content marketers! As foretold, here is the fourth of the five crucial steps you need to walk through before putting fingers to keyboard, pen to paper, voice to recorder — whatever your chosen method — and yes, it involves RESEARCH! But as you know by now, research is not a dirty word.  On the contrary,  it is your friend, confidante, and informant.

I know your fingers are itching and your mind is twitching, BUT if you take the time to do the groundwork laid out here first, you will save yourself untold fruitless hours, wasted energy, client frustration, and botched work!

So let’s do it right the first time:  Measure twice, cut once!

If you’ve been following this SEO copywriting and content marketing how-to blog series, featured each Monday, then you’ve already checked out your competition, noted the latest social buzz about your product/service, and have completed a productive and insightful “SWOT” (strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats) analysis of your content.

Now, we have two more essential research steps to go.

First, in this post, we are going to profile your perfect customer.

All of the brilliant SEO copywriting you’ve created will not accomplish The Goal — Conversions –if you fail to capture the attention, imagination, and buying impulse of your target market.  Can you define your perfect customer?

Take the example of a relatively simple product, like a digital camera.  Now, let’s take a closer look at your prospective buyers:

  • The senior citizen may want an easy-to-use digital camera with minimal features, simply to take pictures of the grandchildren
  • The college student may want an inexpensive digital camera with which  s/he can readily upload videos to YouTube

Another example, cosmetic dentistry:

  • The high-powered female executive may want cosmetic dentistry to enhance her image
  • The  “weekend warrior” hockey player may want cosmetic dentistry to repair a chipped tooth

It should be clear by these examples that, while we would like to appeal to every customer, the most effective marketing message will target one perfect one.

Why?  Because at the end of the day, your prospect wants to know:  What’s in it for me?

Ask yourself theses questions, when constructing the profile of your perfect customer:

  • Are they men?  Women?  Both?
  • How old are they?  Does your product or service appeal to different ages?
  • How much money do they make?
  • What kind of work do they do?  Are they retired?
  • What are their main concerns and pain points?
  • What books and magazines do they read?
  • What websites do they frequent?
  • How do they spend their discretionary income?
  • Is “OK and cheap” what they crave?  Or do your clients require only the best — and are willing to pay for that exclusivity?

The deeper you dig, the more defined your perfect customer, the more refined your market niche, the more targeted your copy, and the more effective your SEO and content marketing efforts!

Next Monday, we will pull it all together to address the crux of the matter: defining your unique selling proposition, See you then!

RFIs gone wild!

Ah, the RFI. If you’ve been in business for awhile, you’ve seen the multi-page “request for information” documents prospects use during the vendor-vetting process. Some companies love filling them out, figuring it’s a great chance to showcase their successes and land the client. Other companies dread the time and manpower RFIs take to complete, preferring to opt-out of the process. With questions like, “Share your philosophy about working with clients, ” and “Explain a recent problem you had with a client, and how your firm handled it,” RFIs often feel like job interviews – except everything is done on-paper rather than face-to-face.

Mind you, I’m a big fan of prospect due-diligence. Companies need to make sure that the vendor they hire will meet their needs – and sometimes, you can learn everything you need to know by reading written responses (especially if you’re hiring a SEO copywriting agency – if they can’t write compelling RFI responses, I doubt they could create good Web copy.)

But then, the other day, I received a very unique RFI – and I’m curious to see what you think…

The “typical” questions were there regarding how my firm worked with clients, and and asking about my firm’s writing process. But then, the questions started getting very…personal.  They asked me to name my top clients and their annual spend. Then wanted to know if I’ve worked with clients in certain verticals – and they wanted me to name the clients and engagement scope. And in addition, they asked for two year’s of financial statements.

Mind you, my husband didn’t see my financials until about two weeks before we were married.

Yes, there would have been a MNDA in place – so the information would have been protected. However, I didn’t know anything about the gig. Nothing. Not the scope of work. Not the budget. Nothing. This could be a $100,000 SEO copywriting makeover – or a $1,000 project. And unfortunately, the prospect was prohibited from providing any information until after they received the RFI – assuming, of course, that my firm made the cut.

How did I handle it? I took my firm out of the running. Even with a MNDA in place, I didn’t feel comfortable discussing my current clients with a prospect – not without my clients’ express signoff. And certainly, I did not feel at all comfortable sending over two years of financial documents before I could even speak to the prospect (and truth be told, I would never send over financials to a prospect.) It’s a shame, because I’m sure that I could have helped them. But the RFI process soured me on the gig.

But you tell me.  What types of RFI questions are appropriate – and what feels like “RFIs gone wild?” Am I being stubborn? Would you have provided that information in the hopes of getting the gig (keeping in mind, of course, that you wouldn’t know what the gig was before submitting your information.)

What do YOU think?