Archive for April, 2015

Content Marketing vs. Copywriting: What’s the Difference?

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

content marketingIt’s happening more and more often lately: a client will contact me with what’s purportedly just a simple writing project… but then as the specs and goals unravel, it becomes clear that she’s looking for more than just a copywriter: she needs a content marketer.

But wait — aren’t they the same thing? Not exactly. Some copywriters stick strictly to wordsmithing (and there’s nothing wrong with that!), while other writers are more marketing-minded and enjoy incorporating their writing into the overall package. Many writers are somewhere in the middle.

And, of course, not all content marketers are copywriters.

Definitions of Content Marketing & Copywriting

If you think of content marketing as a house, copywriting is like one of the support beams. Could the house stand without the beam? Most likely, but it wouldn’t be nearly as strong or sturdy.

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience.” Whatever technique is used — from email campaigns to text messaging to online display ads — the objective is to get customers and prospects to click, convert, share, or do SOMETHING that contributes to a healthier bottom line.

According to Wikipedia, copywriting is “written content conveyed through online media and print materials, primarily used for the purpose of advertising or marketing, often used to persuade a person or group as well as raise brand awareness.”

What Does Content Marketing Look Like?

There are countless types of content marketing pieces. Below are just a few:

  • Infographics: As the name implies, these are attention-grabbing graphics that present any kind of information, usually statistics or compelling facts, all presented in a highly visual — and usually very colorful – way. Here’s a link to some of the most popular infographics of 2014.
  • Podcasts: Anyone selling a product or service can use podcasts to distribute value-adding audio content to their audience. Podcasts can include entertainment, guidance, information, interviews, or anything that supports the publisher’s goal. Here are a few examples of high-impact podcasts.
  • Whitepapers: Wikipedia defines a whitepaper as “an authoritative report or guide informing in a concise manner about a complex issue and presenting the issuing body’s philosophy on the matter. It is meant to help readers understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.” Not necessarily sexy or entertaining, but definitely value-adding when presented to the right audience.
  • eBooks: Electronic books can be written about any topic, product, service, or industry. For instance, a personal trainer might hire a freelance copywriter to write an eBook with fitness and nutrition tips, and then incorporate a “soft sell” driving readers to his website to learn more (and to ultimately book training sessions or purchase his other products or services). Check out some examples of effective content marketing eBooks.
  • Videos: Justin Bieber isn’t the only one who got rich through YouTube. Modern companies recognize the power of online video content. And it’s easier (and more affordable) than you might think. You don’t necessarily have to hire an expensive production company to create a compelling, useful video that highlights your product or service.

There are plenty more examples, from case studies and product guides to interviews and how-tos. Anything that can be distributed to a target audience — with the goal of persuading them to act — is a form of content marketing. Some types, like business books and whitepapers, obviously require copywriting. But for other types, businesses may attempt to forgo hiring a writer and produce the media in-house.

So, you may be able to produce content marketing pieces without copywriting — but they won’t be nearly as effective. After all, given the choice, you’d never leave out that support beam when building a house… so don’t skimp on well-crafted words when investing your time, money, and energy in a content piece.

“Who Will Be Writing My Content?”

Friday, April 10th, 2015

ghostwriter1I get this question a lot from prospective clients. They visit my website, see “Words by Melissa & Associates,” and wonder “Who are these mysterious ‘Associates’?

I don’t blame them. After all, they have a right to verify that their content will come from a professional, trusted source.

When I started my Cincinnati freelance writing business back in 2007, I was a one-woman show. From technology case studies to articles about potty training to descriptions of Santa figurines, I wrote every word. Over the next couple of years — as my client roster, workload, and family all continued to grow — I realized I was approaching a line. And once I crossed it, I simply wouldn’t be able to keep juggling without dropping something important and breakable.

That’s when I began experimenting with hiring backup writers to handle some of the overflow work. I had mixed feelings about it at first. After all, the quality of my content was a source of pride to me, and the foundation of my business. It was a little scary to give up some control and put my trust in third parties. But every reward starts with some element of risk. This strategy seemed to be a viable way to cultivate as many client relationships as possible, while boosting productivity.

Over the years, I’ve worked with a handful of writers. I carefully hand-pick them to ensure optimal quality and precision of the finished product. I still do a large bulk of the client work myself, but during those periods when projects are coming in fast and furious — and the line between “writer” and “mommy” becomes blurred beyond recognition — I may leverage one or more writers to assist with initial drafts and research. All content is funneled through me for final review, editing, and any necessary rewriting before I submit it to the client for review.

For the projects where I’ve outsourced at least some of the content, the clients have reported that quality was not compromised. To the contrary, it’s often improved by the benefit of having multiple people’s eyes on the content. Plus, if a project calls for a specific type of knowledge or experience, I can tap a writer with that particular specialty. And if any revisions are required (which is rare), I personally handle them.

I’ve also found that working with other writers has made ME a better writer. I’ve honed my editing chops, learned to effective manage people and projects, and become a stronger communicator — all important traits for any successful freelance writer.

Ultimately, my freelance writing business is only as successful as my clients’ satisfaction levels. If they are receiving engaging, well-written, and fully researched content — along with my stamp of approval and quality guarantee — then I’ve done my job well. Just as a surgeon needs help prepping her patients before the main event, I believe there’s no shame in a busy copywriter enlisting some help in crafting an early draft.

Nothing trumps quality — regardless of who’s holding the pen.

Handling Criticism With Grace

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

revisionsAll freelance writers go through it. Whether we’re writing web copy, product descriptions, or press releases, there will inevitably be those heart-sinking days when clients give us — to put it delicately — less than stellar feedback. Maybe the tone or style wasn’t quite what they had in mind, or perhaps the research was lacking and a few facts were missing or in error. Or perhaps the client is just exceedingly picky and darn near impossible to please (which is a separate issue altogether).

Whatever the source of the dissatisfaction, that first instance of negative feedback can be a crushing blow to a freelance writer’s ego, especially if he or she is just starting out. But as your skin thickens and you get some content jobs under your belt, you’ll get better at handling criticism from clients — and, in many cases, turning it into a positive.

Read on for a few tips on how to gracefully receive less-than-glowing feedback, and come out of it with your confidence intact.

  • Remember that it happens to everyone. We’ve all heard the stories about how Stephen King and J.K. Rowling endured dozens of rejections before their first books were published. Judging content is extremely subjective, and there will inevitably be someone who doesn’t fall in love with your stuff. Keep in mind that you’re in good company, and one disillusioned client does not erase your previous successes and skills.
  • Step back before reacting. It can be tempting to immediately reply in defense of your work, but it’s best to take some time to let the feedback sink in. If the client provided clear and detailed gripes, you know what you’re dealing with. But if the feedback was vague — such as “It didn’t meet expectations” — ask for clarification of what specifically didn’t float their boat.
  • Do some discovery. Once you have the detailed feedback, revisit the project specs and make sure you didn’t miss anything. Next, review the content again and make sure you didn’t miss any errors. If you realize that any part of the content falls short of your best work, you can acknowledge that in your response.
  • Take responsibility. If you discover that you were at fault for any of the issues — whether it was a typo or a botched fact –  ‘fess up and offer an apology. Never offer a string of excuses or pass the buck. The client doesn’t need to know that your kid was sick and you were distracted while writing their article. Just apologize and offer to fix it.
  • Offer revisions. Most freelance writers offer one (or sometimes two) round of revisions at no additional charge. I’d say in 99% of these cases, some thoughtful editing can turn around the whole situation. Of course, if the client has suddenly decided she wants to make sweeping changes to a project’s topic or scope, that warrants a separate conversation and fee adjustment.)
  • Keep the client’s needs in mind. If you’re not meeting them, the project won’t succeed. Treat every complaint as an opportunity to better understand those needs, so you can recalibrate your arrow and hit the bulls-eye squarely next time.

These are just a few best practices for handling negative client feedback. I’d love to hear what other freelance writers (and clients) would add to this list!

The Great Pay Disparity

Monday, April 6th, 2015

moneyI’ve been a freelance writer for eight years now, since leaving my corporate content job in 2007. In that time, I’ve found that the only consistent part of content writing is its inconsistency — especially in regard to pay.

Starting out, anxious to build a portfolio and gain some credibility, I was content to get paid peanuts. I’ll admit that I wrote plenty of articles for $10 or even $5 apiece. But as my experience and client list grew, I nudged up my fees accordingly. Even so, I’ve always been fascinated by the huge disparity in what various clients are willing to pay — and it’s not always what you’d expect. A small business may offer a competitive rate for some blog posts, and the next day a larger company will share their considerably smaller budget for web content — leaving me scratching my head.

With the hugely subjective nature of placing a value on content, how can a freelance writer sniff out the higher-paying clients and eventually leave those $5 articles behind? Here are a few tips.

  • Vet the prospects. There ARE quality clients out there with healthy budgets. Sure, they’re harder to find, but it’s worth the digging. Bypass the too-good-t0-be-true Craigslist offers; these usually don’t pan out. Take the time to thoroughly research companies, make a list of the good, solid ones, and tailor your marketing efforts to them.
  • Say bye-bye to job boards. Like most freelance copywriters, I used them early on, but they’re not an avenue for sustaining a steady (or growing) income. Most of those boards are frequented by low-paying clients who want to audition a bunch of new writers for pennies on the word.
  • Network. Ideally, in person. A single face-to-face meeting can get you further down the path to prosperity than dozens of anonymous Internet exchanges.
  • Publish quality content. Whether it’s your own freelance writing blog (like this one), or a reputable website or magazine, putting great content out there is the quickest way to build credibility and establish the trust of high-paying clients.
  • Base rates on value. Instead of limiting yourself by pricing your services hourly, consider how much revenue your web copy, article, or eBook will generate for the client – and then charge accordingly.

I could go on and on — but these are just a few of the ways that content writers can start weaning themselves off of penny-pinching clients and attract the ones who place a higher value on skilled writing professionals.