I had a client a while back who needed some emergency blog surgery – STAT.
He wasn’t happy with the two pieces he had commissioned on an e-lance site, which shall remain nameless… (but let’s just say that it rhymes with ‘Schmeelancer-not-daBomb’).
Another client of mine (the one who had referred this unsatisfied customer) mentioned – on the DL – that this guy was now a bit jaded about copywriters. So, I had two jobs to do: save the project and restore this man’s faith in my people. Jinkies!
He emailed over the files ASAP. As I triaged this copy emergency (ok… gave it a quick skim-read), my heart sank. It was breathtakingly bad. And this was after two rounds of edits.
The benefits of this client’s services – which had clearly been plucked from some kind of cliché word-wheel – were being strangled by an over-supply of keywords. It certainly wasn’t written in his customers’ language. It may as well have been written in Klingon; it was so inaccessible.
I couldn’t save this one. It was DOA.
I advised the client to start over. Like a lower-end Bosch washing machine, this broken-down copy would take more work (and more $$) to ‘fix’ than simply buying a new one.
We kicked-off this new project as I always do – with a detailed copy brief. As we talked through the questions, the client’s passion and excitement about his business (and increasingly the project) spilled onto the page.
A few minutes in, he paused. “Wow…” he said quietly. “So, you actually want to know about my business before you write about it? You don’t get that on Free… (I mean) that e-lance site.”
It made me a bit sad. And a bit mad. Yeah – I was smad.
Any effective copywriter will tell you that a good brief is a basic requirement for good copy. And yet, you could have knocked this guy over with a feather that I was even interested in him and his customers. (I am tearing up just thinking about it.)
Is that really what’s going on out there?
I’ve since asked around. It’s apparently a common experience. Clever, rational people are dipping their toes into the outsourcing pool and getting third degree burns – all because they’re making decisions based on price instead of value.
No wonder some business owners are left thinking that hiring a copywriter is a waste of money.
To be clear, I’m not blaming e-lancers. Pricing-wise they’re trapped in a race to the bottom. And when clients ride the copy elevator down to the bargain basement, something’s gotta give.
Writers with cheaper rates obviously can’t take out the ‘words on a page’ part (that’s the product after all). The only sandbag left to throw over the side is the other stuff – the ‘service’ part of a copywriting service.
Problem is, that’s where a lot of the magic happens. Behind the velvet curtain, a good writer is pulling all the levers to make sure that your copy builds a bridge between your business and your customers. They’re linking features to benefits. Baking in your unique selling point (that ‘secret sauce’ that customers can only get with your business). Crafting a call to action that nudges the reader towards ‘yes’.
These things require insight. Insights are uncovered… (da da-da DAAH!) during the brief.
So, if you’re after the Cliff Notes version of this blog, this is it:
the copywriting brief isn’t an ‘extra’, It’s essential. It’s about digging around in your business and uncovering the pure gold that even you didn’t know was there.
By the end of the project, I had won this guy over. And he was a model client. The brief was chockers full of the shiny stuff. His (very few) edits provided clarity. It truly wasn’t him… his last project was simply doomed by the lack of a good brief.
He’d fallen for the seductively ‘cheap ‘n’ cheerful words on a page’ promise. And it had cost him. Probably less than my hourly rate… but still. That investment wasn’t delivering any kind of return.
He signed off his last email never having mentioned how he felt about my rates. Only the value I’d delivered.
“Thanks, Carolyn. Love your work.”
It’s still kind of my favourite review.