WriterAccess Webinar Archive
How Freelance Writers Get the Big Gigs
Monday, March 31, 2014 – 1:00 PM ET
Let's face it, finding the perfect client that values your writing skill is challenging. And commanding fair pay rates is difficult. Until now.
Join WriterAccess founder Byron White and Matt Grant, Director of Content Strategy at Aquent, discussing how writers position themselves and their work to land the big gigs. Learn how social media plays an important role in defining who you are and your value in the marketplace.
Learn All This and More
- How Clients Find Writers at WriterAccess
- Tips to Spotlight Your Writing Career
- How Writers WOW Clients with Words
- Online Profile Setup Tips and Advice
- Communication Secret Skills that Win
- When to Cut the Loss and Move On
The slidedeck from this webinar is available for download.
Byron: Welcome to today's webinar everyone. Byron White here with Matt Grant. Matt, welcome!
Matt: Thank you for welcoming me, Byron White. Matt Grant here.
Byron: That was a smooth introduction! People didn’t actually see the hoist of the hook I had to use to bring you onto the stage, but you’re here now, Matt. Glad to have you
Matt: Here I am. Happy to be here and really excited to talk to you about this, and I have to say as someone who has worked as a freelance writer and at least been able to on occasion land what felt like a “big gig” I’m really happy to share what I learned from my experiences.
Was that a little better? That was a little better, right?
Byron: Yes, that was almost something you could plan for, so thanks for that!
Well, just so everybody understands the smiles and laughter that Matt and I will share with you today, Matt and I have worked together for a few years at Aquent. Aquent acquired the first company I ever started, called Freelance Access, which was a graphic arts placement agency – and did a great job of rolling the company into theirs at the time and we went through a lot of exciting things together. Matt and I were on the management team back in those days and really helped Aquent do some great things and were part of a great company.
At that time Matt was part of Mactemps University – remember those days, Matt?
Matt: I did, yes. So doing training for what was then Mactemps… Matt and I were realizing this was 16, 17 years ago now. A long time, bro.
Byron: Yes it was. And not only that, but if you look at this picture here, of myself and you, are these pictures when we were right out of college? I do not have this much hair now. And Matt, aren’t you a little more gray than this picture?
Matt: Actually no, this picture was taken just last summer. You can see some gray in the sideburns. Yeah, my hair proper is not that gray but I have a beard now that is pretty much all gray.
Byron: Gotcha. Well I notice your glasses are a little dirty there as well... which for a professor like you actually makes a lot of sense. You’re just fumbling your glasses—
Matt: Yeah, I’m just so much in my head I don’t know what’s going on in the outside world.
Byron: Well what’s really made it interesting to bring Matt into this is, Matt you pounded pavement after you left Aquent for some time and were an outstanding freelance writer working with some great clients and it was a pleasure chatting with you through that journey, so you come to the table with both client-side experience, working in-house now as the director of content strategy, freelance experience, training experience, you’re just a perfect guy for this webinar.
Matt: Yeah, right, I even do some freelance writing still on the side, but now I’m more in the business of hiring writers and Aquent also places writers so I feel like I really bring the whole package.
Byron: Full package, no question about it. So let’s dive right in to this presentation today, and Matt and I are going to do sort of a joint effort combo deal if you will. A couple of ground rules as we go through this. Number one, we’re both going to take some opportunity to talk with you about each slide that we’ve put together for you today. I’ll talk first and shed some light from my perspective, followed by Matt on that particular slide, so we’ll both chime in.
So we’re excited about that. We want to talk first to you about the market as you can see, what’s happening with the market in regards to professional writers. Next we’re going to dive into some tools that relate to both some methodology and technology that we think you need to learn about and understand and at least make sure you’re deploying, some ideas we have for you to stand out from the crowd. And we think we have some magic for you on how to win the big gigs.
A lot of what we’re really talking about is you, the individual freelance writer that has an opportunity to control your fate by pitching gigs directly with clients and working directly with clients. Today’s presentation isn’t so much about tips and advice on how to make it in a platform like WriterAccess, necessarily. We wanted to think bigger and think of you as an individual professional writer in order to really guide you with your career.
You will get a few tips, of course, with things that will apply to the platform—over at WriterAccess and to other platforms you may be members of—but that’s the general gist of what today’s presentation is about. So without further ado, let’s talk about the market.
It is changing. It is changing radically and it has changed. I think for the most part we are all caught up, we’re deeply entrenched in the content marketing revolution, certainly, that’s in full force, and I like always going back to the definition of content marketing so that people can really understand it. And of course I like to say—and I’ve said it a hundred times in these fifty webinars that I’ve had in the last three or four years—but forward-thinking companies are starting to think like old-school publishers, gathering ideas, developing stories, and publishing a steady stream of content that engages their readers and keeps them coming back for more.
And that’s good news for writers, and it’s even good news for writers in cities like Boston with a lot of publishers in the area, there were a lot of layoffs particularly around 2008 and onward and you think the whole industry has been disrupted and an earthquake has happened and writers are unemployed all over the place… but that’s not really true. What’s happening is companies are hiring writers in-house to manage the content workflow and keep a steady stream of content published.
You know, now as we all know content marketing is about 33% of the marketing spend, which is huge, so there’s great opportunity, I think it’s an exciting time to be a writer in this market place. So those are my thoughts. Matt, do you agree with that? Is content marketing super-hot and are we seeing perhaps a surge of positive things happen?
Matt: Well, it’s interesting because I think, I’m trying to remember back about four or five years ago when C.C. Chapman and Ann Handley wrote Content Rules, their book about content marketing. And now, certainly, it’s gotten to the point with the work that Joe Pulizzi is doing with Content Marketing World and stuff like that, I mean these are conferences and thousands of people go to them. So content is definitely hot. I think that there are several challenges and I’ll also be addressing that later in the presentation.
There are challenges posed for companies, and that’s the fact that if you’re spending 33% of your budget on content, that means you have to produce content—there’s this expectation that content is going to be out there—and there’s lots of different types of content and there’s almost two marketplaces.
There’s a market where companies do, like you say, “chugging the content marketing Kool-Aid” where they want to produce a lot of content quickly with a focus on SEO and stuff like that. Then there’s a market, an older market that already existed, you know content marketing is not really a new thing—Joe Pulizzi talks about companies that in the 1890s were already producing what we would call content marketing—but content marketing has always been a market for high value content that is either marketed directly to consumers or is integrated into the sales cycle. And in part, when we talk about getting big gigs, one channel people really need to be considering is this—going after the high value piece.
Byron: Sounds good. Let’s move on. That was the entire presentation in one burst of a minute, thank you Matt!
Matt: Hey, now we’re filling in the details.
Byron: Yes, perfect, perfect, now we’ll land the plane slowly here.
So one of the things I think it’s critical to understand about content marketing is the fact that in my opinion it’s a team sport. There are a lot of moving parts. And what I mean by that: When you look at the whole content work flow (content planning, creation, distribution, testing, performance analysis), it’s a lot of people, it’s a lot of time, some companies are certainly doing it on their own and writers of course need to embrace these different stages and are often now asked to get involved in these different stages.
Content planning is now coming I think into its prime. About three or four years ago, when we were a full service content marketing agency under the IdeaLaunch brand, we were doing some early-stage planning that involved a lot of heavy-duty work in keyword research, keyword silo development, analysis of the competition, studying what they were doing and putting it down in metrics—and the point there was that we were trying to do a lot of this work in a planning stage. But now analytics is half of the equation.
The big debate, of course, is “is analytics going to win out, or is the writing and the content and the creative people going to win out.” There seems to be these two different separate departments. Much like years ago we had a sales department and a marketing department, we kind of have within the marketing department now the analytics department and the creative department. So it’s even getting more challenging now.
But the real point is to find your spot in this content marketing workflow and to really nail your spot and hone the skills for your particular spot. Matt, do you agree? It is a team sport and there are a lot of moving parts? What’s your take on all of this?
Matt: There’s no way that I could disagree with what you just said, Byron. It’s absolutely a team sport. I think you hit on all the different components of it and you could even say you could add another layer, which is this content strategy. So, what happens is companies have their goals—their financial goals, usually—and then they have their overarching business strategy, and then the smart companies now are putting some time into “how can content function as a lever for us.” And then once you’ve determined that, “We’re going to use our content for these specific goals,” then what comes in is the planning piece, creation, optimization, etc. as you were describing. I think.
Byron: Spot on. The channels are getting more and more interesting and more and more complex, and really what this means for all of us in this wonderful world of writing and content is that we’ve got some serious new challenges that we need to think through and focus on. The distribution, you know, the types of channels we have are diverse, from article portals down to websites and everything in between, and the different types of assets that we can write or create is much more diverse, you could argue, now than it was five or ten years ago.
These assets are starting to show promise and results, and that’s really the most exciting part of things. So we need to sort out what is going to be the focus? What type(s) of assets do you create as a writer? What are you good at creating? And these are really different disciplines that I think you could argue are starting to converge a little bit. We’re seeing some great email writers that really know how to nail call to action and intrigue and the tease with old direct mail skills. We’re seeing testing using some fundamental methodology on conversion and conversion enhancement. We’re seeing personas be developed now, not just for big huge campaigns like ad campaigns were years ago, but we’re seeing personas developed for the entire customer base and prospect customer base.
So the skill sets, I think, are coming together and converging, but the number of different assets that you have to create is expanding. So it’s kind of a funky time. Would you agree with that assessment, Matt?
Matt: Dude, the time has never been funkier. It’s all about the funk.
No, I think what you’re showing here shows why we’re even talking about this in a webinar. It shows that when you look at this, it’s not like most companies say from a content asset standpoint “I’m just gonna have blog posts. I’m not going to do anything else.” No, they’re not saying that at all. They see a list like this, they want everything on it. And that’s why there’s a great opportunity for writers.
Now I do think that for some types of content there’s a downward pressure, pricewise, I think that for other types of content there’s never been a time… they’re becoming increasingly valuable. And there are new types of specialization happening here, like Hotspot talks about having “content”—by which they mean blog posts and such that they’re pushing through social channels—versus content offers. And that’s things like eBooks that they’re going to kind of gate and get emails off of and that kind of stuff. But the blog posts are all about sharing and that’s where this kind of thing—even specializing in titles and what titles are going to pop—things like that become a whole specialty unto themselves. As soon as you start talking about testing and experimentation, you have to have a bunch of stuff already in the pipeline to test and experiment with. You can’t test with just one thing. You have to have more. Funky.
Byron: The problem we have, however, is that all this market noise and the multiple channel approach are creating both opportunity and chaos for the freelance writers on the line right now trying to figure this all out.
I’m going to pop to the next slide so everyone can read it, but the net of it is that I think there are a couple of kinds of clients that emerge from this spaghetti mess out there in the marketplace. You certainly have clients that have no plan or strategy, they don’t have buy-in from upper management yet, they’re still “kicking the tires” a little bit, they don’t really know what they want or how to get it, and they are extremely hard to work with. Period. The end.
They will waste your time, you will put together proposals that go nowhere, you will educate and acclimate them—or worse you’ll probably have a champion that drinks the Kool-Aid that you’re dealing with on a regular basis, but upper management has not bought in. So your proposals go nowhere and they keep fishing and trying to find the answers, and thankfully for companies like Hubspot and WriterAccess and many others, we’re working very hard to show people how it works and why it works –and that it works—and eventually those upper managements will buy in and budgets will be allocated to the right types of assets that we’re talking about here.
But it’s bad news, if you’re stuck with your universe of prospect customers that are just not going anywhere. And there are of course the opposite—there are amazing clients out there. And I think these words written here explain it perfectly. They have a sense of urgency, in other words they’re ready to do something now. They’re clear on what they want, which is remarkable, and they really know exactly what the objective is and how you’re going to help them. You know what goals they have and they respect your ability to deliver. Those are the rare and amazing clients that you need to find.
And I would try to have you think about that. If there is one thing I would have you remember today, it’s that there is a fork in the road, and you need to make decisions and possibly fire some of your prospect customers and clients out there that are not going to be worth your time and continued effort in educating and acclimating them on the way things work in the marketplace.
Matt, you agree with that? You going to fire some clients?
Matt: Well, I think it’s interesting what you’re saying, because I have a couple of thoughts on this. On the one hand, if you’re trying to position yourself and you have to sell the idea of content marketing to your client, it’s going to be a long, long, hard slog and I would recommend you get out of it. Because when we started out—right now it’s almost taken as a given that our companies should be doing content marketing. It’s kind of taken as a given that they should all be doing it. What happens, though, is they don’t know how to do it or they don’t know where to start, or—and this is where the opportunity lies—they can’t find people to actually execute on it. So as soon as they find someone who can execute you’re like gold to them.
But I will say there are at least two other ways to think about this. On the one hand you can have clients who have no content marketing strategy; you can have other clients who have a lot of clarity… I would say the sweet spot might be clients who are in the middle. These are clients that you don’t have to sell on content marketing, they know that you can do it—but they’re not really sure what it’s going to do for them and they might have a long runway in trying to figure it out.
So for example I’ll just tell one story I have. I worked for a company that did offshore software development, and you could tell their Senior VP of Marketing really believed in content marketing. And he had a budget for it. In fact he had a budget for the whole year for it, to have a blog which they had never had before. So I was able to meet this guy at a conference, ask what his price point is, and say “Oh, what a coincidence, I can actually produce content.” It did take about a year, between launching their blog and actually writing it before handing it off to another writer because I was moving on to other stuff—but the blog is still going, now three years later.
They are a B2B company, they have a lot of expertise about things, they want to get it out there, they were playing the white paper game and all that, so there wasn’t as much pressure for the blog to perform right out of the starting gate—also because the Senior VP understood that you can’t go from not having a blog one day to having one the next day. But especially in the B2B space, there is a little more wiggle-room with clients who are trying things out, who want to get an oar in the water, and this can become an opportunity that can go on for even a year or longer. So think about the companies in the middle—they’re trying to get to content marketing, they’re not really sure how to do it and they’re willing to try things out.
The other thought I had was this: I definitely did have clients who I thought could be doing a lot more with content on their site, and once again they thought maybe they could but they just weren’t sure what they were doing. I had one client in particular that was a consultancy that did economic analyses of local building projects, and there was a lot of expertise they had within their team. I was never able to get a content gig with them, but I was able to get a site audit and a content recommendation. They paid me in a sense to put together a proposal.
So they paid me to analyze content on their site, what it was doing, to do the competitor analysis, and then make some recommendations about how they could change things on their site and even scale—if you wanted to make a few changes versus a major overhaul. So just because everyone is hearing about content marketing out there, you might be able to make some money just on this front end piece, even if it doesn’t turn into a writing gig, you can actually get some real money to actually do an analysis and put together a proposal for them. So something to think about.
Byron: There’s a good piece that will be coming up for people who want to do just that. But I do like your comment. There are “tweeners” between the two extremes of these examples, but clearly it’s time to make some decisions about where you spend your time on prospect customers. It’s a big deal in terms of winning the big gigs. You need more time to win those big gigs, to do things like test runs with clients and audits and other things like that that you could even get paid for as you try to win these big gigs.
Alright, let’s dive into some tools. So, you need to upgrade your tool chest if you haven’t already and quickly arrive at the cool tools out there that are already at your disposal to manage content. You’ve got a whole bunch of curation tools that are very interesting, you’ve got some research tools that will help you do audits and analysis of your clients and their competitors websites, you’ve got performance tools that will spit out reports for you and start tracking performance, and you’ve got all kinds of workflow tools. I’m curious Matt—of all the tools you see on here, are you familiar with them and have you used any of them? All of them? There are so many, it’s crazy!
Matt: It’s beyond crazy. As I look through this, I’ve used a teeny fraction of them. Curata I’ve used, Storify can help you create a story using Twitter posts, Hubspot I’ve certainly used, most of this—it’s a whole world to explore. There’s a lot there, Byron. It’s overwhelming, actually.
Byron: It’s heavy, it’s heavy. But it’s good to know for the listeners on the line that even a master like you who’s looking at this isn’t saying “Yes, I’ve used every single one of them and some are good, some are bad. There are a lot of things out there, and you need to study them all, learn them all, and try to get them to work.”
I broke these into four groups because you need to have at least one or two from each of these big groups that you’re using, that you go to. And I think that’s what most freelance writers out there are doing right now. You need to keep creating content. It’s your livelihood, particularly for certain clients. You need to keep searching and scouring the web for the stories within their industries that are being told and published. You need to track those and get with the program in understanding what’s going on out there.
The research tools are paramount for SEO style optimization, for understanding the competition—obviously I’m very biased with Spyfoo because Mike Roberts is a pal of mine, but the tool allows anybody to go in in a matter of minutes and say, “who are the competitors, how are their competitors performing, what keywords are the competitors doing well with organically, what keywords are the competitors buying pay-per-click keywords for, and in 5 or 10 minutes you can prepare for a meeting and really be in tune with some pretty interesting analysis of what’s happening not only on a prospect customer’s website but on their competitor’s websites.
And that just puts you in a position, once again, to win these big deals. You have to know what’s going on out there. You have to do the research. And research isn’t going and checking out their website and reading a few of their blog posts. No. Research is digging deeply into the performance of not only their site but the competitor’s sites on the web.
Performance tools are a little more ahead—when you have existing customers in your portfolio, and you’re trying to make sure that their content is spot on, that it’s being read. Google analytics should probably be on this list as well. Spyfoo, Recon Reports—you can have reports sent to you or to you client every month, tracking the winners and the losers and picking up on the good news from each of the websites that you’re writing content for. Hubspot has some great built in tools… the bottom line is that you need weekly or monthly reports that will track what’s going on and—as a selfish plug for WriterAccess here—we actually built analytics into the WriterAccess platform, free of charge for all our customers. They can go in and track up to 50 keywords with their domain name, so that’s kind of cool.
And then workflow tools. Some are outrageously expensive but I hear good things. Once again, we’ve dropped in a free content planner that allows you to post your ideas. You need to be checking Copyscape on your work before you deliver; there are huge penalties that customers have these days—so a lot of stuff going on. So let’s go to the next.
So you also need to start removing the guesswork just with creating content. We talked about performance tools and research tools and workflow tools, but there’s one tool that I think you’re going to need to wrap your head around, a. because it’s free and b. because it’s a total white-label solution. We created, for a lot of the agencies that we work with, a creative brief wizard. I think that one of the greatest challenges you have with your customers in creating great content is understanding what they want.
Obviously in putting hundreds of thousands of orders through the WriterAccess platform, in working with very intense customers that have specs and requirements that are beyond belief, frankly, we’ve learned over the years to perfect the creative brief and put it in a format that allows you to quickly get answers from your clients in this little one-page brief. This is great for any writer out there that wants to use this as a template if nothing else, even if you don’t want to use the actual technology. Learning how to ask the right questions and get under the skin of the target audience with some data at your fingertips. So check out this creative brief wizard.
I’m wondering, Matt, when you work with customers, do you have a creative brief, a formatted way that you learn what they want and what style they want and the personas… how do you do that?
Matt: Well, Byron, you’d think that I would, but no. Partly it was kind of drilling down with people, usually it would be something thrown back over to them as a statement of work—so “based on our conversation, this is what I’m going to do for you, these are the topics I’m going to hit and the things I’m going to post,” things like that. So while I didn’t always use them—and sometimes to my cost—I’m a big fan of the creative brief and I think it’s really critical, especially to get it in writing. And that’s why I like WriterAccess (and this is a totally unpaid plug folks).
I think getting what the client wants in writing, up front, so you have something to go back to—and it can happen with longer form pieces like a white paper, but even with fairly short things like letters or emails—the shorter it is, the more fraught it can be with “did you get it right or not?” And having something like that that you can go back to when you’re going back and forth with a client because they’re not happy with what you did, having a common document like this can be really critical in working things out with your client. You can say, “Well you said this, so that’s why I did that. Have things changed since the brief was created? Was that not exactly the goal?”
A lot of times too the client will change what they’re looking for based on what you show them. So you can create the creative brief and have everyone sign off on it, but when you show them a few things they say “ah, I don’t know, that’s not what I wanted.” And it’s good to be getting paid for every step, because then you can say “Fine, let’s work this out.” It can be challenging when someone says, “No, this isn’t it, just write something else.” I’ve not used the creative brief wizard, but I would defend to the death anyone who likes to do that.
Byron: Well said, and creatively as well. Perfect!
So let’s jump over here to the last of the tools section, and that is LinkedIn.
I’m not sure about you Matt, but when we receive applicants at WriterAccess we instantly and immediately go check them out. And checking them out is a quick and easy and painless process of a. diving into their LinkedIn account to see what their professional repoir looks like, and clearly LinkedIn is the destination of choice for professionals to show their savvy and their experience and their history—and even more importantly their reviews and their endorsements. And it’s just easy. And if you don’t have a LinkedIn profile that’s professionally set up, take a number but step to the end of the line please.
It’s just not acceptable for anyone, really, professionally, in my humble opinion—unless you have some bone to pick with LinkedIn or their management team or their company philosophies or something, which I would love to hear—it’s time to step it up. Particularly reviews and recommendations—that’s what we’re looking at here at WriterAccess and I’m sure you’re doing the same, Matt. Do you agree with that? Are you putting as much weight on LinkedIn as I do?
Matt: I would say in people with online presence, people are going to check you out. I would say certainly LinkedIn should look good. It’s definitely possible for people who are very talented to have neglected their LinkedIn profile and have not thought of it as the marketing piece that it can really serve as. Frankly, if I were hiring writers, I want to see samples of their work. So in addition to the LinkedIn profile, I believe you need to have a blog, you need to have a portfolio site, you need to have some place where I can see what you do. and frankly if you have a blog, I want to see whether it’s something you actually care about, what you’re doing already.
So LinkedIn is easy to neglect and you really do need to pay attention to it. I also strongly believe that you need to show that you’re committed to writing on the web by actually doing it.
Byron: And what’s your take on Facebook? Let’s just throw that into the mix, Matt. Facebook’s a playground that we can relax a bit on? Or do we…
Matt: Well, it’s weird. For me, I am social especially on the writing side of me. What I consider really public is my LinkedIn profile, my Twitter feed, and my personal blog—my personal site. That’s the business end of things.
Facebook, obviously there is business that happens there. It’s a little weird because it’s not as open to search from a Google search standpoint. I also find that obviously, you need to be careful what you put on Facebook. You’re not going to put pictures of you doing illicit activities in illicit circumstances or radical political views—anything you share on Facebook can be shared anywhere. So be careful and I absolutely agree with that.
But I know different people use Facebook for different reasons. I don’t totally dig it, but I know people I follow and connect with as friends tend to use Facebook for biz dev. I tend to actually take it on my feet so I don’t see it, I’ll be honest with you.
Byron: Got it. When you make a post on Facebook are you at all cognizant that others are looking at you from a professional perspective? I’m just curious about how you look at Facebook.
Matt: I do, I do. But only because when I got into Facebook, I was working at Aquent and suddenly I had a lot of friends because everything was connecting with each other. So I know a lot of people are still in my Facebook audience that worked with me, and also people look at my feed who are potential clients. So even though I can have a kind of edgy sense of humor as you know, Byron, I do self-censor on Facebook because I know it’s part of the web, so potentially open to the whole world, but I already know there are people in my Facebook network who are professional connections, and I do have to take that into account.
Byron: Good stuff. Thanks for the censorship.
Matt: Really, everyone thanks me for my self-censorship. But the “magic” is really the exciting part of the presentation!
Byron: Wow, I appreciate the buildup too, you’re awesome.
Alright, first let’s take a look at your profile, and particularly let’s hyper-focus on the headshot. Now, let’s just reel back to this gorgeous head shot of Matt over here. Now clearly: professional, happy, positive energy, glasses need cleaning, yes, we talked about that, but really people, it’s critical, don’t you think Matt? I mean I know it sounds crazy, but some people just are convinced that an image that’s not professional, it’s maybe shot in the backyard with the kids running around, I mean I’ve got nothing against that if it’s on Facebook but your reputation, your work in my opinion, is a clear reflection of your profile image. Matt, agree or disagree?
Matt: I think, again, sadly sometimes people can undercut themselves by not having a professional headshot. Again, people can be talented people and they just represent themselves poorly. I do think at this stage in the game, you really do need to have a real headshot—although oddly enough, I’m saying this on LinkedIn, the one I use there is one I took using Photobooth. There are no kids in the background and it looks… not art-y, but it doesn’t look inappropriate for LinkedIn. I have not used the very handsome professional headshot I had taken last summer—as it turns out, for free—I was at a conference and they had an offer for attendees to do a professional headshot right there and it looks great, I think. You can get inexpensive headshots, but long story short, go pro.
Byron: Yes, thank you. Go pro, please.
Not only that, Matt, but one thing to point out in all of this. When you’re on a platform like WriterAccess, a picture is worth way more than a thousand words that you could potentially write for a customer. Here’s why: You’re being judged and viewed side by side, and when a customer uses advanced search, all they really have to go by is your headshot. It’s you versus all the other competitors in the marketplace. A headshot and a little bit of copy explaining who you are, what your star level is, maybe a very brief description, a sentence and a half of your work… it’s just remarkable to me that people don’t take the time to get a professional image done of themselves. All I can tell you is you’re hurting yourself, you’re hurting your work. The people on this presentation want to know how to close the big deals, $10,000 and up gigs—the professional image, professional LinkedIn account, those are critical and I almost feel like I should talk for another ten minutes about this—I won’t, but it’s so aggravating. I’m too passionate about this, but you’ve really got to step it up. It does define who you are.
Ok, should we go back and talk about this for a few more minutes?
Matt: No, I think we’ve covered that topic.
Byron: Thanks, Matt. Ok, next up—performance, really. Performance is something that you need to get in tune with. Performance is hard to measure; I get that. A lot of the content on WriterAccess, you as a writer are not going to get to see some of the many ways that content will be performing for a customer. That’s the weakness of a platform like WriterAccess… of course, “stay tuned” is all I can tell you. The long and short of it is, at least understand how your content could be tracked and could be measured, and here’s just a shortlist of things that I’ve talked about quite often.
Diving into Google Analytics and how riveting it is, how many return visitors you get, what the bounce rate is, all things you should be looking at. Furthermore, you were asked probably to optimize particular assets for keywords… well guess what, you can do a search at Google and see whether the particular assets you created for that customer pop up. Or you can take your fifty keywords that you want to focus on WriterAccess and get access to that information—if all things go well in a perfect world—you know, you need to get in tune with these types of data.
Minimally, even if you don’t have access to that data and your customer isn’t giving you access to that data, you should be talking to your customer. “Hey, how did those last ten blog posts go? Did I perform?” or “I’ve been working with you for three months now. Is your traffic up? How about time on page? Are your bounce rates down? What influence is that blog having on your sales?” By asking those questions alone you’re creating the chance to deepen those relationships with your customer, showing that you want to be held accountable and responsible and that you care about performance. That’s the name of the game. That’s what high end professional writers are doing out there. They’re digging deeply into the metrics and the analytics. Matt, thoughts on that?
Matt: Well, you really do need to think about it in terms of marketing, so as you ask these question as Byron was saying, those answers become part of your story, so you can help perspective clients. Every client engagement should end with some kind of story. I came in, they wanted this, I did this, and this was the result. So a lot of times, someone has to tell you what the result was, because it may be rather opaque.
Byron: A really good point. The performance and the results become your story. Bottom line.
Alright, so the pitch. Time to muscle up your rates by working on your power pitch.
Bottom line is that no one really wants to be sold to these days. And that’s bad news for guys like me because I’m a salesperson at heart. But what it really means is that I have to bake the cake a little bit differently with how I pitch business with WriterAccess, when we go out into a Fortune 500 company and try to pitch the business on “hey, we’ve got a pool of writers we can pitch, we’ve got technology, we’ve got analytics built in, we’ve got all these great things…” you know, it still is a pitch, and you need to be very careful about the pitch.
One of the things I’ve learned over the years is it’s not so much the ingredients of all the things you’re doing and how amazing you are and all the one-liners you come up with—it all comes down to how you bake the cake. And that comes down to something pretty simple: how you’re understanding the whole content marketing topic and process and how you’re customizing it for each of the clients that you’re working with.
You’re going in to a client and you’re there to assess. It’s classic rules—stop talking and selling and listen to the wants and needs of your customers. I have commonly referred to this as the Socratic approach, which Matt you might remember as the whole Socratic approach I brought out to the marketplace… so what’s your thought on that? I’m suggesting that you make the pitch, go in, use your Socratic techniques, find out what your situation is before you start prescribing a solution and blabbing about how great you are. That’s the critical element. Go ahead, Matt.
Matt: Alright, we’ll definitely say no one wants to hear you blab about how great you are. First of all, what you’re charging for your services is important. When we talk about marketing we talk about the four P’s and one of the P’s of course is product, but there’s also price. What you charge for your services telegraphs and sends a clear message about how much you value your services. Someone recently asked me how much I charge for freelance editing and I said 75 bucks an hour, since I haven’t actually done it in several years, and he said, “Too low.” And so I bumped it up to something significantly higher. But it’s important to realize that for certain clients, if you want to really go after the big bucks, you have to think about exactly what Byron’s saying—what role in the sales process is your content going to be serving?
If it’s “top of the funnel” web content for SEO, even though Google’s trying to fight against that in many ways, you’re not going to be able to charge a lot because a lot of people don’t see that as inherently valuable. They don’t see individual blog posts as particularly valuable. They see a hundred blog posts as valuable, or a thousand blog posts, but one is not.
Whereas, if you’re writing a white paper that’s very detailed and is supposed to generate leads on deals that are $200,000 deals, well suddenly that white paper is perceived as very, very valuable. Or if it’s the one piece of sales collateral that a salesperson is going to put in the hands of a prospect, this is something you’re asking clients to look at. You’re not usually doing that with your blog posts per month. So you have to remember that the client, especially depending on the deal, if the deal’s in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, they want to spend—not a “significant” amount of money—but they want to spend more money on that because they feel they should be spending real money on something that’s going to get them $200,000.
So when you’re pitching and thinking about the rates you charge, remember that that’s marketing as well. The more money you ask for, the more valuable you are saying you believe your own services are.
Byron: Spot on. The question is the answer—I have said that so many times. I have some really cool questions that I’ve put together for everyone today, and here they are. I think as you approach your clients and you’re trying to build your pitch up and you’re focused on their needs and their wants, you need to ask some really good questions. I gave everybody a good list, so that’ll enable us to move on to the next slide.
Great writers are really, really hard to find and that’s something I want Matt to dive a little deeper into. I would argue that actually they’re really easy to find—just go to WriterAccess—but that’s my pitch on behalf of all the freelancers that might be listening in from WriterAccess. But I think it works in your favor if you’re a really good writer, so Matt, why don’t you go ahead and expand upon that.
Matt: I think as someone who’s trying to hire writers currently… but also for example I met a guy at a dinner the other night who works for an engineering company producing engineering software, and he really needs a writer. Specifically, he needs a writer with a mechanical engineering background and he’s having a really hard time finding that. So that’s what I mean. Finding writers in itself can be challenging. Finding writers who you don’t have to hand-hold… Now sometimes, if you bring a new writer in and they’re going to be writing for you for a long time, there’s going to be a ramp-up, and they’re going to have to learn your style and your business, so it’s not always fair to expect that they’re going to knock the ball out of the park with the first thing they write. But certainly if you do that, it can be helpful.
And certainly, with the clients that turned into my biggest clients, it was because they didn’t have to revise it, they didn’t have to edit it, and I got it in on time for them. And that became the basis of building out a business into a billion dollar company. Because writers are hard to find, people are willing to pay a premium when they do find them. And part of that can come with just being the person they have writing for them for years. Individual pieces may be in the hundreds of bucks, but when you write a hundred of them suddenly you’re in the thousands.
Also, having specific knowledge in a functional area is really key. Now again you can’t specialize in everything, so part of it has to be like Byron was saying, figuring out where you fit in this content marketing team—what is your specialty, and really honing in on that so you can target clients. If you have knowledge, that is your leverage and if you’re a good writer… the two things I’ve found with this area. if you’re a good writer you’ll do well, and b. if you’re a good editor, a lot of times firms will have content assets that are just crappy, and they will pay you decent sums to actually fix things, or to add the technical details.
Byron: Spot on once again.
Matt: I’m just killin’ it.
The other thing is, “big companies have big needs.” So when thinking about how you get the big gigs, you’ll be surprised. Most big companies have whole lines of products, and each one of these products will have a whole set of content needs around them. What I’ve found is that if you can get your foot in the door working on one of the products, it opens up a lot of opportunities because every other product is going to have the same amount of content needs. So that’s why I say when you get the first thing you can do for a company, you put your biz dev (business development) hat on and ask “I’m sure these aren’t the only people who have a blog about this kind of product, or need two pages about this product. How do I get involved in that?” And it can lead to frankly full-time work.
Byron: Do you think there’s a particular strategy, Matt, in going into big companies? They’re harder to get into, they’re harder to find, what do you think the right tactic and strategy is?
Matt: Yes. I think a good tactic, one that certainly worked for me, is going to marketing conferences. I focus on B2B marketing because I do think you can get a little more money for your content if you go the B2B route than if you’re going B2C… but that’s just my experience. Going to content marketing conferences… Hubspot has their in-bound thing, Social Media Marketing World is happening in San Diego… where the marketers congregate is where you need to be to meet these people. You’re not going to be able to cold-call into AmGen and get in touch with people, you need to try to meet people face to face. I’m a very strong believer in that. Go to social media breakfasts, go to anything you can where you might meet marketers. I think that’s the best strategy.
Byron: Have you ever been to a conference where it was a waste of time, or do you feel like most conferences get you at least somebody that will go on your mailing list potentially become a customer?
Matt: Well you know me, Byron, I’m actually a pretty outgoing person. When I’m sitting at lunch I talk to the people next to me. When I’m at a booth, I’m talking to people. So I’ve definitely been to conferences where I could say I didn’t necessarily realize revenue, but at the same time with one conference I went to, a year and a half of work came out of just that one. So building your network and getting out there—and certainly getting out there on the web, too is important. I know one guy who uses Twitter and has something like 60,000 Twitter followers, and being super-active on Twitter is one way that he got out there, so now he gets a lot of in-bound stuff that way. So that’s what I say.
So I know we’re getting to the end here, but I want to say this: If you want to make more money, write things that clients value more. It’s a whole value chain when you think about the funnel. There’s the top of the funnel and the bottom of the funnel, and the closer you get to the bottom of the funnel—which is where the money comes out—the more value clients are going to put on the work that you’re doing. And that’s why I recommend here two things they might value. There’s the white paper that’s really tied to lead gen (lead generation) and they might actually set up a gate around it and things like that. I’ve been involved in doing podcasts and videos and things like that… there’s a lot of things that companies will value more. If it’s part of a $50,000 project, clients are willing to pay a few thousand dollars to get the copyright.
But also, helping more C-level execs, because certainly one of the other pieces of this content world is a C-level individuals area. getting into the writing game and b. they have good ideas but they need help writing. So if you can help people that are higher up in the value chain with their company, you can also get bigger money.
Byron: Hire an agent to market your skill. An agent like WriterAccess/Aquent?
Matt: Right, right, so sometimes the biz dev piece can be difficult for some people, especially if it’s not your thing. You want to be a writer, not a salesperson. So there are organizations like WriterAccess and other online communities or staffing companies like Aquent that can actually help you get your foot in the door if that’s something of a challenge for you.
Byron: And do you think that people should be very realistic about that commitment, in going to somebody like an Aquent if they want a full time or even a part-time freelance job, you need to really build your trust with that agent. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of that trusting relationship?
Matt: Yes, I can very quickly… They’re a customer too, so any time you’re working with a company like WriterAccess or Aquent, the way their clients view them is going to depend on the work that you do. So the more you deliver, the more valuable you are to them and the more valuable they seem to their clients, so it’s a building interaction there. It’s a job but it’s also like an audition and you’re trying to put your best foot forward.
Byron: Excellent. Now the finale, here: Do your homework before the pitch. We talked about it a little before but here’s a quick checklist. If you’re not doing your homework before you pick up the phone or have a first conversation with somebody, you can forget the big buck contracts. You need to look closely at what they’re publishing and how it’s performing with some of the tools that we mentioned.
So what are you waiting for? Let’s get going! This seems like a pretty cool conclusion. What do you think Matt?
Matt: So yes, I think it is simple but it does take work, so I’d say focus on what you do best, focus on making your writing skills as strong as possible, focus on specific niche or area expertise, and don’t be afraid to get out there and meet people and let them know what you do.
Byron: Right on. Now here’s a quick reference to my book, everyone, I’m going to stay on the line for a little while in case anyone has any questions, Matt may have to jump. Matt, thanks for joining us today!
Matt: Yes, thanks for the opportunity Byron! And thanks folks for listening. You can follow me, MattTGrant on Twitter or get in touch with me firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks a lot!
Byron: Alright, thanks Matt, take care!
Matt: Thanks Byron, ciao.
Byron: So if anybody has any questions, I’ll happily take a look, feel free to use your chat to get them in to me and I will hear your thoughts and respond. Here’s a link to my book; everyone’s going to get an email link to this presentation as well. You’ll be able to hear a recording of this, pass it around and share it… you’ll also get a link to download a free copy of this book; or right now you can go to WriterAccess.com/writingskillguide to download a copy of this book which is at the printer right now, actually, but you’ll get a PDF version of it. Hope everyone enjoyed the presentation; I would love to hear any feedback on my Twitter account @ByronWhite. That would be awesome.
I appreciate everybody joining me today. Until next month, I hope your life and your writing profession are a little better, smarter, faster, and wiser thanks to this webinar. Thanks for tuning in everyone!