Posts Tagged ‘client relations’

A while back during one of my carpet-bombing cold call email blasts, I got this reply: “Thanks for contacting me Michael. I like your experience and your samples – so much so that I am going to overlook the typo in the opening paragraph of your cover letter.”

Now, this guy had me dead to rights. I had made the type of error I always do – something along the lines of “I’m responding to YOU ad for a copywriter.” A missed keystroke, nothing more. A dumb mistake but, really, what douche makes such a point of calling it out? Well, apparently, THIS douche, because I never heard from him again.

So, fast-forward to today. At a meeting with a potential (and totally non-douchey) client  he remarks: “I’m glad I was able to reach you through (a mutual acquaintance.) Did you know that there is no simple, clear way to reach you on your blog? No biggie, just something to think about.”

And he was right. First of all, thanks for the CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. But DAG, how can I have been at this blogging thing for 2.5 years without a contact page? The problem is, you only get so many navigation tabs on WordPress (with my specific template.) So I went through all my pages and inserted “Please contact livelyexchange (at) gmail.com.”

Appropriate? Tacky? Who knows? All I have to say is “Please contact livelyexchange (at) gmail.com!”

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Between the usual freelance load and my half-time gig at the Global Giant Consumer Electronics firm, the blogging has been next to nil. Well, the Global Giant thing is winding down, as the office is pulling up its Charleston roots and moving Up North. But it’s all good.

It’s been an OK ride. Good people, downtown location, good schedule, GREAT money, etc. But as for the work itself…meh. Unfortunately, conditions on the ground did not quite match the job description at the outset. It wasn’t a matter of misrepresentation, but some big changes in business conditions that shook up the job mix.

Basically, what promised to be a healthy mix of web, video, brochure, point-of-sale, trade show, special projects and technical writing became overwhelmingly technical writing. Nothing against tech writing, but it’s not my strong suit, and not what I enjoy.  You can read my thoughts on that here.

So, after enduring it for a while and pushing through some huge projects, I turned in my notice. The timing seemed right; freelance, which had been kind of sleepy throughout the summer of 2010, was making a comeback. I gave a healthy 4-week notice and suggested to my boss that he try to find a true tech writer to do the, you know, tech writing, and perhaps save me for the creative stuff. He agreed, and… and… and then they announced they were closing the Charleston office.

Funny, you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, you wail and gnash your teeth and cry out in anguish, “How much LONGER can I do this job?” Then you get the answer: four weeks. And you’re like, “Cool.”  So, I will be in the office until the first week in December or so, and then go home and wait for those creative projects the boss promised. Will they come? The office is supposed to be closed by spring, so we will see.

At every big serious gig I take, I am always trying to figure out “why I am here.” What is the lesson I am supposed to be learning? How will this benefit me in the future?  In some ways I think the “purpose” was that I needed to support myself throughout a sleepy freelance period.  Another thought was that I always said I could never, would never, do technical writing. But I did. I didn’t love it, and I never felt very proficient at it, but I did it. And I suppose I could do it again if absolutely necessary.

So, soon, it’s back to the full time pursuit of freelance work. And blogging more regularly, because I need to rebuild my Google strength.  So stand by for more pearly pearls of freelance copywriting wisdom, fans of freelance copywriting wisdom!

Contact livelyexchange (at) gmail.com!

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Somehow, within the span of my career, the business lunch has gone from being an indispensable part of the commercial transaction to being deader than disco.

Nostalgic? Not so much. Even at the peak of its power (think Don Draper, martinis, call girls, regret) the Client Lunch was a pain in the ass. Neither the client nor the vendor wanted to be there—it was ritual, through and through. And even if the vendor picked up the check, the client knew he would ultimately be paying for it.

As Lunch passed into memory, nobody really missed it. What replaced it was Value (for once.) Instead of packing up the entire project, driving an hour round-trip and laying out the portfolio amid the highball glasses and ashtrays, you could talk it out over the phone and actually get some work done.

So, when my client invited me to lunch to review the project, I was surprised. It had literally been years, but my curiosity got the best of me…sort of like opening a time capsule, or attending 70’s Night to Benefit AIDS Awareness or your softball team.

As I waited in the lobby and “20 Minutes Late” rolled around, the nostalgic charm began to wear off. I predicted the next milestone—the client would eventually roll in without a hint of apology.

And so he did. We were seated, and the waitress handed out the menus. Immediately he sputtered, “Damn! Look at these PRICES! THIS is why I gave up going out to lunch!”

So I ordered the side salad and water. The mindless chitchat began, and I immediately remembered the next business lunch truth: outside the project and the ensuing payment, I just don’t care about your life, dude.

An hour later, the waitress brought the check. Dude made a big gesture out of snapping up the ticket and, before the waitress could leave he said, “I’VE got this!” Then when she was safely out of earshot he said, “Yeah, so…give me seven bucks and we’re even.”

So, to recap: This business lunch Blast from the Past contained no Don Draper, martinis or call girls. However it was loaded with regret—mostly for the 90 minutes of my life I would never get back.

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einstein-never-assumedThis is a preliminary follow-up to my last entry on the corporate newsletter. I say preliminary because the story isn’t over yet…but it did just get a little more interesting.

Previously on Battlestar Galactica,  I was told that two additional business units would be joining my client in contributing to the weekly newsletter. However, they would be doing their own writing and editing because “they have no money.” (Once again, cue the sad trombone!)

I resolved not to be a crybaby, and offered to help the new folks get started, free of charge, hoping that this good will might be repaid if and when budget money became available. I then sat down and blogged this episode, thinking that this “maturity” and “forethought” were the day’s lessons.

And then it hit me…Why was I was assuming these new people knew my rates?  Had they discussed rates with my contact?  Thinking for a moment, I doubted she knew my rates (I won’t bother to explain why…it’s a big company.)  Most likely, the new folks were just assuming that they didn’t have the budget for editing services.

Time for some edu-muh-cation!  So I wrote to my contact and laid out the basic numbers, as well as some generous incentives for the new folks to hop aboard.  Basically I could double my billing, which the three entities could split between them, and allow my original client to save about  30%.  What’s not to love?

My contact replied that she had no idea what she had been paying, and would be letting the new folks know, and I quote, “how affordable it was.”

There’s no happy ending yet, as this new information is still making the rounds.  Regardless, the lesson here is obvious: I assumed they knew my rates. They did not, but assumed they didn’t have the budget.

As Einstein would say, “Wir sollten das nicht getan haben!”  Or, I reckon we shouldn’t orta done that!

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pressTo recap: As I have mentioned once or 16 times, I edit a weekly corporate online newsletter.  The gig began about 18 months ago. It has its light periods and its heavy periods (I lose a lot of iron but, fortunately, I take One-a-Day.) In general, it is a relatively steady, and greatly appreciated average 10 to 12 hours a month.  Of course, I wouldn’t mind it being more.

So the email from my contact at the corporate newsletter definitely caught my eye. It started out most promisingly:

“Starting next week two other business units will be contributing to our newsletter…”

I started doing English-major math: one…plus two…is, um, three!

She continued, “I told them all about you, how you punch it up and make it all sound like one person wrote it…”

Yes, concise, entertaining, singular voice. Go on…

“…but they said they have no money.” (Cue sound of sad trombone.)

Sigh. When I originally sat down with the marketing director those many months ago, this was the hope. That our little exercise in value-added awesomeness would inspire other business units in this big multinational to start up their own newsletters, hopefully with me on board.

Hey, half a loaf, right? More like none of the loaf because they aren’t asking me to do anything.  My contact is going to add my stuff with the other people’s stuff. So, while this doesn’t hurt me financially, I am dead certain it is going to hurt the product. We are right back where we started…the classic corporate newsletter that is written by six different people of varying writing ability. The singular voice is no more.

What do you do in a situation like this? Well, here’s what I did: the mature, business-y thing.  I told my contact, “if these folks need any help getting started, any tips on style, send them to me…no charge.”

I figure, build some good will. Help them get off on the good foot. Take some pressure off of my contact. And, who knows? The purse strings may loosen eventually. In the meantime, I can only hope that my contact will tell her boss about my courageous, selfless act of value-addedness.

Hope, hell…I’m going to request it!

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taxgiftIt’s that magical time of year when a freelance copywriter’s thoughts turn to tax-deductible gifts for his clients. So, with a spirited cry of “Ugh…again!?” he sets out to find that perfect memento for $25 or less (that being the individual gift deduction limit, Ho ho ho.)

There are two big questions you must answer this time of year…what, and for whom.

First, let’s tackle the considerably more difficult decision…for whom? Gah! Well, let’s give a cursory glance to your list of clients…

  • Guy you’ve known for years who uses you constantly
  • Guy you’ve known for years who doesn’t return your calls anymore
  • New guy who has used you once, and seems very promising for the future
  • New guy who used you once, but doesn’t return your calls anymore
  • New guy who seems very promising, but who hasn’t used you yet

Is that everybody? Many shades of gray, right? Sorry to say that I have no advice here, other than to approach it on a case-by-case basis. One thing’s for sure: you don’t need to keep score like your mom used to…as in, “Aunt Margaret stopped sending us a card, so I stopped sending one to her.” You’ve probably figured out by now that this is a one-way street. Your giving decision is rarely based upon whether you will receive a gift in return, or even a thank-you…because you probably won’t.

On the other, more cheerful hand, the decision about what to give gets easier every year. For example, at the checkout line at your local Kroger or Publix, next to the candy, soap opera mags and E-Z Widers, you will find a wide assortment of pre-loaded gift cards. Bed and Bath, Red Lobster, Amazon… you can pretty much find it all.

This year, my all-time, foolproof, go-to utility pick for gift cards is the iTunes card. 25 bucks is 25 songs (with one-quarter of a song left over…talk about value!) As a gift, the iTunes card’s “ease of purchase-versus-personalization” ratio is off the charts in your favor. So, for Cynical Santas everywhere, it’s my five-star (of Bethlehem) gift recommendation for 2008!

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Postscript: Speaking of cynicism…there’s the real kind, and (my preference) the literary kind that spices up blog posts. So, trust me, if you happen to receive a surprise in your stocking from old Mister Wiseguy, it’s sincere.

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In a previous post that shall remain nameless (but appears directly below) I wrote about the practice of…manipulating primary phrasesin order to maximizeyour website and make it display more prominently to the various…”finding programs.”

As a reward, this bit of blogging brilliance has received about 21 hits, as well as  veritable avalanche of:

  • Spam;
  • Spam, eggs, sausage and spam; and
  • Lobster Thermidor a Crevette with a mornay sauce served in the Provencale manner with shallots and aubergines garnished with truffle pate, brandy and with a fried egg on top and spam.

I know what you’re thinking…that the spam, eggs, sausage and spam hasn’t got MUCH spam in it.  But, quite frankly, I DON’T LIKE SPAM! Especially not 200 in the past 3 days. That’s more than in the entire history of Lively Exchange! Meanwhile, if I send out more than 5 cold-call emails, I am forced to “type the characters as they appear” on Captcha…..

Hopefully, there’s a silver lining. Maybe this episode means I will reach a whole new level of visibility in the blogging realm. But I am not holding my breath.

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PS…I would never quote Monty Python without providing a link. But the WordPress server no likey for some reason!  I’d complain, but what’s the point? I mean, look at these shoes. I’ve only had them three weeks and the soles are already worn through……… Anyway, it’s pythonline.com.

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SEO Quiz: Can you spot the key words?

“If you are selling your home, selling your house or selling your residence in the tri-county area you should contact the tri-county home/house/residence selling experts who have been selling homes, houses and residences in the tri-county for over 30 years!”

Believe it or not, I made that up. Sadly, it’s exagerrated only a little bit. Keyword-packing bugs me, mostly because it’s done by people who don’t believe they need to hire a professional copywriter. Just repeat a bunch of keywords over and over and, whammo! Optimization. (It bugs me that they say whammo!, too.)

As I ask elsewhere on this site, shouldn’t your web copy also speak to the portion of your audience who aren’t search engines? So, for an SEO article, this means writing in English, as organic as I can make it, while still keeping the keywords in mind. When the draft is finished I go back and try to graft in more keywords wherever it makes sense. When I feel like I have reached a logical limit, or maybe just a little beyond that number, I quit. What’s interesting is that this intuitive measurement is typically right in line with whatever keyword percentage-count the experts are recommending. The beauty is that you can actually go beyond that 5 or 8 or 10 per cent limit as long as it’s organic.

So here’s a recent example of that: a blog article I did for a ______ company located in _____ that promises to save you ____ on your _____ bills!  Fill in the blanks!

Answers in next month’s issue of Highlights, available in doctor’s waiting rooms nationwide.

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Hey gang…it’s been a crazy week. A video project has tripled in scope and has assumed top priority, particularly in this economic environment! So here is a hybrid repost/rewrite of a topic from the early days of Lively Exchange.

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Get ready for a mind-blowing revelation: Copywriting or video production for large corporate clients–companies with a marketing department as opposed to a marketing guy–can be rewarding and challenging at the same time.

Thanks, genius. What’s that mean?

The benefits are numerous. The corporate marketing or merchandising manager usually know pretty much exactly what they want to say about their product-they just need a creative way to express it. All of the research you need usually arrives in a compressed folder or a UPS envelope. The typical MBA knows how to delegate tasks and, if you have earned their trust, they usually stay out of your hair. Best of all, with a Fortune 1000 company you usually don’t have to wonder if that $700 check is going to clear!

I sense a “but” coming…

On the other hand, when things veer outside of those “usually’s” it can get challenging. These managers are busy people, multitasking to the extreme. This script, website or brochure may be Priority One for me, but it’s more like Priority Seven for the manager. Getting your questions answered may prove difficult at times. And yes, you will get paid, but I didn’t say when. Remember that your invoice has to be signed and coded and sent to Accounts Payable by that very same harried manager.

So, um, yeah. That first example sounds better. How do you steer things in that direction?

One thing that helps is to have an internal project liaison.  When I enter into a professional arrangement with a large corporation, I cross my fingers that such a person is waiting for me on the other end.

The project liaison is a corporate in-house gatekeeper to whom the various marketing, merchandising and training mangers turn. The liaison is a “creative resource wrangler” that serves many functions beneficial to the company and the freelancer.

From the company perspective, the internal project liaison:

  • Compiles, vets and maintains a roster of qualified creative talent
  • Matches projects to the appropriate vendors
  • Can field vendors’ general questions about company history, policies, philosophy and, equally important, politics!

From the freelance writer or producer’s perspective, the internal project liaison:

  • Helps the writer or producer prioritize competing internal projects
  • Can be a vital sounding board when the project hits its inevitable bumps
  • Is a more credible figure when it’s time to poke or prod the client for a variety of concerns, including: payment, invoicing, getting paid, remuneration, gettin yo moneyz, and so on.

It is a tremendous convenience to have a single reliable resource looking out for you in a huge corporation. And it is definitely a two-way street. The internal project liaison has many clients depending on him or her to provide them with a talented, professional creative solution. He puts his credibility on the line and chooses you. You return the favor by not only doing a great job but by keeping him in the loop at all times-during the highs and lows-so that he is absolutely up to the minute. This is professional courtesy, but it can also help prevent any he said/she said if things go rotten!

So, look for an internal project liaison to empower/count on/whine to. If one doesn’t exist, help create one. Almost every marketing assistant is looking for a way to stand out and gain more responsibility. Making headaches disappear for managers and directors is a golden opportunity to do that.

The final bit of advice is to remember that being proactive and doing what you can to keep the machinery running is helpful, but only to a point. You’re still only a freelancer. You can only suggest, nudge and influence so much.  If an internal client simply doesn’t want to play ball, the project will suffer. Hopefully, between that client’s internal reputation (as a slacker) and your strong relationship with the liaison, you won’t be penalized for it.

But don’t be too shocked if you are!

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This is a touchy subject. If you wish someone a Happy Administrative Professionals Day, they will either A) thank you, or B) take offense that you consider them a “secretary.” Regardless, it’s a risk I am willing to take..but you can bet I try to be cool about it!

When you deal with the big corporate client, you are likely to spend most of your face time…or ear time… with an Admin. She routes your calls, sets up the phone conferences and, most critically, tracks down those invoices! If she is not your best friend on the inside, then you just don’t get it!

So take a moment to send her an email, or one of those dumb animated greeting cards!

Note to A: thanx for the reminder!

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