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Columns by Linda  Formichelli:

Self-Promotion with Emotion

Obedience School

Momma Always Said

Sweet Talk



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Do You Copy?

You've surely come a long way since kindergarten when you oh-so-carefully scrawled out your name with a crayon clenched in your teeny little fist. Now all grown up and finally pulling your own weight, you take that crayon to checks, invoices, thank-you notes and all sorts of other materials without a second thought. "Nothing to it," you boast, as you dash out yet another John Q. Hancock in Burnt Sienna.

But are you really the writing master you think you are? Or have the Crayola fumes merely done a number on your noggin? Just because you can keep the words on the line doesn't mean you're ready to show them to the world. Try this: Search around online for the worst business Web site you can find -- preferably one that uses the word "synergy" six times in the mission statement and mixes up "your" and "you're." Now consider this: The person responsible for this embarrassment of a Web site thought he could write, too. He believed it with as much conviction as you believe that you can write your own marketing materials. And he was wrong.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that you're a crummy writer. All I'm suggesting is that you might want to hire a copywriter when it comes time to write up your marketing materials. Not only do they know the difference between "their" and "they're"--they also know how to craft an irresistible call to action that will have prospects pounding on the door with fists full of money.

More importantly, they leave you free to do what you do best, whether that's selling snow to the Inuit or biting the heads off of chickens. "Your customers hire you because you specialize in what you do," says Tracy Brown, an IP marketing communications copywriter. "You don't specialize in creating marketing copy." (Anyone here who does, in fact, specialize in creating marketing copy may go to recess early.)

Trapping the Wily Writer

You might think finding a writer would be as easy as heading to your nearest bar and looking for chaps with journals -- but that would net you no more than a sulking poet, nursing the wounds from his latest poetry slam setback.

No, what you want is a writer who has no qualms with placing his or her abilities up for sale on the free market -- and the best place to find philistines like that is to peruse the sales writing around you. "Whenever you read a newsletter or sales brochures that you like, call the company and ask them who wrote it," suggests IP copywriter Amy Bowles Reyer, Ph.D. "Other good resources are designers and publishers who probably have ongoing relationships with certain copywriters."

You can also search for copywriters on freelance project board sites such as Freelance Online, Content-Exchange, Guru.com, and Monster Talent Market. Ask to see samples of their work before bringing up your own projects; you'll get to see the work that they consider their best and compare it with what you want.

Once you've rounded up a few copywriters who show promise, it's time to line them up against the wall and fire questions at them. In addition to the basics of their qualifications and educational and work background, ask them the following:

  • Do you have any experience writing in this field?

  • What kinds of assignments do you handle?

  • Do you think I'm pretty?

  • What are your fees?

  • How long will the job take?

  • What is the revisions process?

  • You weren't kidding me when you said I was pretty, were you?

  • Do you have any references from past clients?

Once you're through with the interrogations, make your decision and deliver the news. If you need help writing the PFO letter to the candidates who didn't make it, well, you've just hired yourself a copywriter so you should know where to turn.

Coping with Copywriters

Hiring a copywriter is just the beginning. Since few copywriters are omniscient, your new hire will be hounding you like paparazzi on the heels of Prince William. You may know exactly what you mean when you describe yourself as an IP waste management consultant, but he'll undoubtedly need to know more. Some of the things he'll want to know are:

  • What you do

  • Who your competitors are

  • How you differ from and outperform the competition

  • Who your target market is

  • Who your clients are

  • What grand feats you've performed in the past

  • Why you keep asking him if he thinks you're pretty

The copywriter may also want to see your previous marketing materials, sales literature from your competitors, examples of copy that you like, your client testimonials and evaluations, your business plan, your grade school report cards, and other written materials. In the end, he must know your business better than you do so that he can hit the high points of your business and draw the prospects to your lair.

Swallowing the Bill

So how much is all this "professional writing" going to set you back? Well, let's just say that if Coleridge had been a copywriter instead of a poet, he would have spent less time lauding the laudanum and more time landing the ladies.

Copywriters can charge anywhere from $25 per hour at the super low end to $150 per hour and more. Brown, for example, charges $60 per hour, while Bowles Reyer charges $90 per hour for corporations and $70 per hour for non-profits or smaller companies. Some copywriters charge by the word, with $1 per word and up being common, and others charge a flat fee per project. I charge $2,100 - $2,700 for an eight-page brochure, $600 for a one-page sales letter, and $400 for a one-page press release. These prices are pretty much middle of the road.

What's that, you say? If you had $2,700 lying around, you'd be basking on a beach in the Bahamas while scantily dressed beachgoers rub oil on your glistening back? Don't despair--there are ways to bring the prices down. One way to save money is to write the copy yourself and then hire a copywriter to whip it into shape. "Unless you are a very bad writer," says Brown. "Then it only makes the editing that much harder."

If you're really strapped for cash, you may want to write the copy yourself and ask a professional copywriter for a "copy analysis" or "copy critique" which can cost anywhere from $200-$600, according to Bowles Reyer. "This includes a written report of two or more pages (single-spaced) describing what works, what doesn't, and why and how it should be changed," she explains. "This does not include writing or rewriting of the copy itself but offers an expert opinion and fresh ideas about an existing piece of copy."

In the end, you have to weigh the costs of the copywriting versus the costs of having your own writing turn potential clients off. Sure, crayons have always been cheap, but sometimes it pays to spend a little bit more.

We'd love to hear your feedback about this column, or put you in touch with Linda Formichelli if you like. You may also like to see her biography.

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