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Kim Wilson
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9 Essential Secrets You Must Know Before You Sell Your Copywriting Services to Small Local Businesses This Year!
by Brian S. Konradt of BSK Communications and Associates

Doctors, accountants, lawyers, real estate brokers, veterinary hospitals, consultants, and many small and home-based businesses rely on the skills and wits of freelance copywriters to write creative and sales-clinching copy to increase their customer-base and boost sales. But there's one small problem: very few small and home-based businesses in your business community will admit to hiring freelance copywriters.

The majority will tell you they don't hire freelance copywriters because, well, they just don't! So how do freelance copywriters garner small and home-based businesses as long-term clients and receive steady, repeat work from them?

The answer is discreet: they fulfill this market's needs much differently than how freelance copywriters fulfill the needs of corporations, ad agencies, and businesses with sales in the multi-millions.

Here's how you can steal a piece of this proliferating and potentially-lucrative market and make small and home-based businesses eager to work with you.

Secret #1: Don't ask for freelance work
One common mistake is to ask small and home-based businesses if there's freelance work available of if they have use for a freelance copywriter. Adducing your question in this context will garner numerous no's. According to Paul Murray, a copywriter who writes for small businesses in the Atlanta, GA area, "...most small and home-based businesses don't actively seek freelance writers." For this reason, says Murray, "they rarely have freelance work to hand out." The remedy: "Asking for freelance work does not work—you must create it," says Murray.

Secret #2: The "secret" selling strategy you must harness
Corporations, ad agencies, manufacturers and other large businesses usually knock at your door with freelance work and tell you—in some cases—exactly what needs to be done. But selling to small and home-based businesses is different: they won't knock at your door with freelance work or tell you what needs to be done. Instead, you must knock at their door with freelance work and tell them how it's going to be done.

Small and home-based businesses usually rely solely on staff employees to produce their newsletters and brochures. Or worse, the client or owner of the business writes the copy himself to save money. But this is often met with devastating results. Their print materials contain embarrassing grammatical errors and boring copy that kills business and projects a negative image.

Approaching small and home-based businesses with freelance work requires you to create a need for your services. This can be accomplished by emphasizing the benefits of hiring you and showing the owner how your copywriting skills can exceedingly improve their existing print materials and/or create print materials that can boost sales.

The best way to create freelance work, says Murray, is to "look for missing print materials that many businesses use but [this particular] business lacks."

For instance, Murray discovered that his local veterinary hospital lacked a regular newsletter because the owner didn't understand how his hospital could benefit from one on a repeated basis. "It wasn't because the owner couldn't afford a copywriter or he had other print materials that substituted a newsletter," says Murray, "it was because he was uneducated as to how a newsletter could positively contribute to his business."

Murray's selling strategy is simple: he showed the owner how hiring him to write and produce a monthly newsletter would convert initial customers into repeat clients, bring in more referrals, sell more products such as flea control and sprays, and enhance the hospital's image.

The bottom line, says Murray, is "the newsletter would boost the hospital's sales...that's what the owner really wanted to hear."

Once the owner realized the need to hire a freelance copywriter to write and produce a regular newsletter (and many other types of promotional and informational material), Murray got the job.

Remember you have a benevolent advantage as a copywriter seeking freelance work in your business community: you're familiar with the businesses around you and you have a sense or can find out quickly their needs. Once you debunk these businesses' needs, you can create a plan to fulfill them...which leads to securing work.

Secret #3: Never sell your services—always sell solutions
"Boosting sales" is the magic phrase that all small and home-based business owners want to hear in your sales letter or over the phone when you speak one-on-one with the owner. They care less if you write better copy than another copywriter or you offer more diverse services or you brandish a bigger client list. If you can't help them boost sales, why should they bother hiring you?

A common mistake is to pitch yourself as a freelance writer offering copywriting services. According to Murray, "This is one reason why small and home-based businesses are hesitant to hire freelance copywriters: they don't just want a writer to write fancy copy. They want a writer who can write copy that increases sales. Period."

If you write newsletters, you better know how your newsletter can predominantly boost your clients' sales. You also must know how your copywriting a newsletter can benefit the client's business; e.g., you can tell the client your newsletter can increase referrals, turn first-time customers into repeat clients, increase product sales, enhance the company's image, etc.

When Murray discovered his local veterinary hospital lacked a newsletter, he saw this as a potential problem that the owner did not realize. What was the problem? Without a newsletter, the hospital was losing sales. The solution: produce a newsletter as a way to boost sales, project a positive image, increase referrals, and sell more products. Murray then pitched himself as a copywriter with the solution.

(I've hit on something that all copywriters must learn: you are in business to sell solutions—not services. Clients hire copywriters to solve their problems, whatever they are. Sales, whether low or high, are always a "problem"—or a potential problem—since sales can be indefinitely increased. Clients of small and home-based businesses are no different: they rely on sales as a major "emotional" concern as any business does.)

Secret #4: You must penetrate their budgets
Small and home-based businesses have calculated annual budgets that they abide by. Murray says, "Their budgets are often severe [i.e. small] and unyielding...and their budgets often don't include you"—the freelance copywriter.

Convincing prospective clients to make room in their budgets is a matter of identifying their problems (or potential problems), pitching yourself as the copywriter who has the solution(s), and then showing the decision-maker how you'll achieve this outcome.

Make sure you also stress the fact that you're a writer who intends to boost their sales with your copywriting, not just to provide professional print materials.

Secret #5: Educate to eliminate ambiguity
Many small and home-based businesses are unfamiliar with how freelance copywriters work and need to be schooled with the particulars. Take the initiative. Educate these small and home-based businesses with how you work, what they will get by hiring you, what you charge and when you demand payment, and what you will deliver.

Educating will eliminate the ambiguity that often shrouds the decision-making-process—why should the prospect hire you? When an owner understands what you do and what type of role you play in helping his business flourish and grow, he'll be more inclined to hire you.

Consider creating an "educational section" of your direct mail package or include an educational section of your promotional materials. For example, you might enclose a Q&A section that will eliminate ambiguity as to how you work and what your role is and answer many first-time clients' questions.

Secret #6: Charge project rates—not hourly rates
If you tell small and home-based businesses that you charge $50 an hour, they may balk, scream, or simply look at you drop-jawed. They'll try to persuade you to charge much less—but every professional copywriter knows dropping pay rates to accommodate low-paying "flea-market" clients is bad business practice.

Owners of small and home-based businesses are usually not educated with standard pay rates of commercial copywriters. Instead, they may "accidentally" look upon you as a typist or a writer who sells your words for pennies—"or a writer who is only going to write copy, not copy that's going to boost sales," says Murray.

The other problem is that the owner may equate what he pays a staff employer with what you're asking, which may be three to four times higher. Your job is to convince the owner otherwise.

Again, we're back to the educational process. You must educate owners so they're aware of your pay rate, what your role is, why hire a copywriter versus a staff employees, what you will provide, and emphasize the fact that you're a writer who intends to help them boost sales.

Another way not to have owners gape skeptically at your pay rate is to charge project rates, instead of hourly rates. Owners of small and home-based businesses seem more acceptable to paying a fixed project sum (Pay me $500 to produce this newsletter") instead of an hourly rate ("Pay me $50 an hour to produce this newsletter."). The reason is paradoxical: hourly rates seem to create a negative feeling in which the client will be paying you per hour while you work on the newsletter, whereas the project rate assures the client will be paying you a fixed sum and nothing more.

Besides, project rates can be profitable versus hourly rates. If you write faster and use your time wisely, you may be able to produce the project in less time, thus increasing your overall profit.

Secret #7: Copy to completion is a plus—and a must
Small and home-based businesses "don't want a writer to write a bunch of words," says Murray. "They want a writer who'll write the copy, get a designer to design it, and then take it to the printers to produce the finished piece."

If you copywrite newsletters, small businesses also expect you to do the layout, design it and work with a printer to print it—or hire other freelancers to fill in where your skills lack.

Instead of pitching yourself as a copywriter who writes newsletters, pitch yourself as a copywriter who produces newsletters from "copy to completion." This means you not only write the newsletter, but you also deliver the finished product.

Small and home-based businesses usually won't settle for a copywriter who only provides copy.
"[Small and home-based businesses] don't have the time or knowledge to coordinate the project themselves, locate other freelancers to complete the newsletter or work with a printer to produce it," says Murray. "They'd rather have a single person do everything."

The other point: when you approach businesses with freelance work, it only makes sense that you deliver a finished product, not a piece of the product.

Besides, pairing of skills is becoming commonplace. Freelancers are teaming up with one another to deliver a better, finished product for their clients. Start you own "resource file" in which you retain background and work experience information on other freelancers, such as illustrators, graphic designers, printers, and photographers. When a small or home-based business owner relies on you to produce a newsletter, you can tap into your resource file and pull out freelancers who most qualify to assist with your newsletter project.

Becoming Project Coordinator (i.e. a copywriter who manages a project from copy to completion) means you may be spending more time on completing the project—so make sure you get compensated. Add 10-20% of your pay rate to indemnify your time coordinating the project and delivering a finished product.

Secret #8: Always meet with the prospective client
Writing for small and home-based businesses in your local community gives you an advantage: locality.

Your marketing efforts, advises Murray, should be focused on establishing an initial meeting with the prospective client to discuss how you can play a major role in boosting his sales.

When Murray set up an initial meeting with the owner of the veterinary hospital, his aims were to alert the owner of a "potential problem"—the hospital was lacking a newsletter that could effectively boost sales, while increasing referrals, turning initial customers into repeat clients, enhancing the hospital's image, and increasing product and pharmaceutical sales. Murray then sold himself as the copywriter who had the solution. And he got the job.

"Also use the first meeting as a networking session," says Murray. "Your aims should also be to find out his [the prospect's] needs, his other problems [or potential problems], and propose how you can solve these problems."

By actively listening and asking questions, Murray discovered several "hidden" events developing at the hospital. For one, the hospital was adding a new ICU (intensive care unit); secondly, a new echocardiogram room was being built; and thirdly, a Web site was being produced. Without an initial meeting with the owner, Murray never would have been aware of these events. Murray, of course, saw the opportunity to provide "future" copywriting services for these events.

An initial meeting also has the greatest potency to establish rapport and build a relationship with the prospective client, which increases the chances of getting the work.

Here's some key points to make your initial meeting with a prospect more effective:

  • Discuss how your copywriting can, essentially, boost sales. Thoroughly and visually show the prospect how his business can benefit from a newsletter (or any other service you're providing)—and also explain the disadvantages of not having one (this is suppose to create negative feelings of fear and pain). "Creating visual pictures are essential," says Murray. "You want the prospect to share in your vision...and your goals. You want him to be an active participant in your ideas."

  • Show some of your samples and explain how some of your samples achieved results for your other satisfied clients.

  • Show samples of what the prospect's competitors are using. "Along with my samples, I brought some newsletters that other hospitals were using and told the owner, 'This is what your competitors are using'," says Murray. "When I alerted the owner about what his competitors were using and he wasn't, I created a negative visual picture in his mind that he wasn't keeping up with his competition and that he was lagging behind."

  • Also at your initial meeting, if you can't close the sale or the owner needs more time to decide, give the owner three business cards (one to put in his wallet, the other to tack up on his bulletin board or put in his Rolodex, and the third, in case he loses both of them) and tell him you'll call tomorrow to discuss his decision.

Secret #9: Proposals are gems: Use them to multiply work
All small and home-based businesses need them—but few of these businesses will ask for them (because they don't know they exist): proposals.

If you can craft an effective proposal, "seven times out of ten you can get yourself the work...including repeat work from the same client," says Murray.

Murray began using proposals in his second year of business when he realized why many businesses were declining his services. "The owners did not see how I fit in or what type of benefits I could bring to their businesses...Even at meetings, I think my words went through his [the client's] ear and out the other."

A proposal provides an inclusive tangible blueprint as to how you will help the business increase sales. It elucidates how you fit in as a copywriter, what you will provide, the benefits of your services and your product(s) (i.e. newsletters, brochure, etc.), and explains how—providing specific steps—you intend to increase sales.

Because Murray writes newsletters for various veterinary and dental practices, he has his own "Newsletter Proposal" template which he uses to secure newsletter projects. His Newsletter Proposal specifically outlines what his role is, the benefits and solutions to using a newsletter, and explains how hiring him to produce a monthly newsletter can increase the client's sales.

To make his meetings more productive and to procure a definite direction, Murray uses proposals as centerpieces for in-depth discussions, instead of meeting with the prospect to engage in a mundane Q&A session. "You can sit with the prospect and take him through all the details on how you're going to increase his sales, step-by-step. Instead of a listener, he suddenly becomes an active participant in your ideas."

Murray also uses proposals to make an impression. "Proposals make you look professional, resourceful and knowledgeable. Everything the prospect wants to know is organized and packaged for easy, quick reading [in a proposal]."

The other advantage: proposals are tangible items that allow prospects to touch your thoughts and ideas. "They also [continue to] sell after the meeting," says Murray, who recommends you leave your proposal with the prospect so he can read and re-read it at his leisure.

However, Murray warns: "Don't give away your secrets. Your proposal should explain how you're going to increase sales, not show how it's going to be done."

When Murray discovered the opportunities developing at the veterinary hospital, he created and submitted a proposal, which essentially, laid out in detail how he could increase the hospital's sales by publicizing the new ICU, echocardiogram room, and Web site, using various forms of informational and promotional materials and PR and marketing strategies.

"My proposal convinced the owner that increasing his budget to hire me to write and produce promotional materials would, in the end, increase his sales," says Murray, who recommends the primary function of a proposal should convince the owner that "he has nothing to lose by hiring you, and so much to gain."

Armed with these nine secrets, you're now ready to locate and secure clients of small and home-based businesses in your local community. Take particular interest to new start-up businesses and businesses offering new products or services to the community. You can generate dozens upon dozens of ideas to provide copywriting services to these businesses, while showing the owners how you can help increase their sales.

Brian Konradt is the owner and operator of FreelanceWriting.com, a Web site dedicated to help writers master the business and creative sides of freelance writing. Mr. Konradt is also the principal of BSK Communications & Associates, a communications/publishing business in New Jersey, which he established in 1992.









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