For the 67th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast, Kira and Rob sit down with copywriter and content specialist, Emma Siemasko to talk about her business, working with clients, and the advice she would give to someone just starting out as a copywriter. During our conversation we covered:
• how a trip to South Korea launched her freelance writing career
• Emma’s and Rob’s favorite poets—yeah, this one is a little different
• what she learned working at a bad content marketing agency
• the things she learned from starting her own business
• what she did in those first few moments as a freelancer
• how she landed her first few clients after going out on her own
• her advice to copywriters who are just starting out
• the mistakes she made in her first year that cost her a lot of time and energy
• the boundaries she has set up to keep her client relationships working well
• how her clients have reacted to the boundaries she set
This isn’t the first time we’ve talked with Emma about boundaries—she’s really got this down. We also talked about how she packages case studies and sells them to her clients and the opportunities she sees in the future for copywriters. To hear this one, just click the play button below, or scroll down for a full transcript.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:
Another Reason I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House
On Turning Ten
Stories by Emma
The Worst Company I Ever Worked For
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
Intro: Content (for now)
The Copywriter Club Podcast is sponsored by Airstory, the writing platform for professional writers who want to get more done in half the time. Learn more at Airstory.co/club.
Rob: What if you could hang out with seriously copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes and their habits, then steal an idea to inspire your own work? That’s what Kira and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.
Kira: You’re invited to join us episode 67 as we chat with freelance copywriter and content creator Emma Siemasko about her decision to go out on her own, working with clients and setting clear boundaries, writing in the tech space and what she’ll be doing differently in the new year.
Kira: Welcome, Emma!
Rob: Hey Emma!
Emma: Hi Rob and Kira, thanks for having me!
Rob: We are thrilled to have you.
Kira: (laughs) All right, Emma, a great place to start is, of course, with your story. So, how did you end up as a content writer and then business owner?
Emma: Sure! So I have been writing in some capacity basically since I could read, so when I was in first grade, I was writing. Like, I wrote a story about how my grandmother died, which I got a lot of attention on because most six year olds weren’t writing about that… so I was doing some pretty heavy stuff as a little kid… but I went on to study creative writing in college where I specialized in poetry, and after I graduated I actually went and taught English in South Korea for one year. And the funny thing about that was, I was hired to teach, which I did a lot of, but the school where I worked also published their own English language textbooks and I quickly began doing most of the writing and virtually all of the editing for the textbooks because my boss recognized like, whoa, she’s like the best writer that we have, not to be totally braggy, but, so I actually kind of got my first taste of professional writing in South Korea, funnily enough.
And when I came back, I worked for a content marketing agency for a little while. I started my own online dating consultancy and then I worked for about three years at a software as a service company and that’s how I got introduced to the tech space. And the company was acquired and I was like, I don’t really want to work for anybody else—I’d been hiring a lot of freelancers when I worked in-house, so I was like, I know that I can do this, so I made the decision to leave and that was you know, two and a half years ago, and so, here I am!
Rob: Okay. We haven’t talked about poetry with anybody on the podcast.
Rob: And so… I’m going to jump on this and say, what’s your favorite poem or who’s your favorite poet and what kind of poetry did you write?
Emma: I feel, when I look back, what I wrote was like, super angsty, college-girl kind of stuff, not to pigeon hole myself too much, but like, I would be like, writing about like, I don’t know—sex on the beach or something ridiculous or like bragging about getting drunk and high in college… I shouldn’t diminish my work THAT much, but I feel like…
Kira: Okay, now I want to read your work.
Rob: Yeah, this is a little crazy.
Emma: I also wrote a lot about—my poetry focused a lot on relationship when I was in college. I was like, trying to figure out how to have romantic relationships but I was also like super reflective on my relationships with my family and my friends so there was a lot of poetry about that as well. And a lot of my poetry was connected to place, actually, so I’m from New England, and a lot of the poems were like very, very rooted in New England.
And in terms of poets that I love, I absolutely adore Mary Oliver, who’s like the super popular poet. She focuses really on like landscape and the natural world but also, like, has very heart-wrenching and poignant moments of Oh my gosh, this is what it means to be alive. I also love Sharon Old, she has like really great poems about relationships. Those are like, two of my big favorites. There’s a relatively young poet named Mira Gonzales who actually kind of writes about those collegiate topics; I don’t want to diminish them, but like, getting drunk and high but she does it much better than I did.
Kira: (laughs) Those are important topics.
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Emma: I don’t want to call it collegiate because like, people do that… but I was doing it in college. Her name is Mira Gonzalez and she’s really, really good and she also has an amazing Twitter presence so I think she’s done a really good job of marrying her work with social media and the online space. She’s really good.
Rob: I’m going to have to look them up. My favorite poet is Billy Collins and he writes about a lot of like, everyday stuff like the dog barking next door, or you know, the gift a child gives their mother. Like, I especially love “Another Reason I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House”—which is like, if you haven’t read the poem or heard somebody read it. Look it up. It is so good.
But yeah, it’s every day stuff. The thing I like about poetry—and I think it’s really applicable to what we do as copywriters—is that, poets have to see the world in a way that’s maybe not just like, a literal description, right? They’re looking for different ways to talk about things that are a little bit interesting and just sort of catch your ear in an interesting way. I think we could learn a lot from poetry, you know, even with the copy that we’re writing.
Emma: Yes, especially Billy Collins, I think, because his whole thing—he was the Poet Laureate and he was all about making poetry accessible.
Emma: So my favorite poem by him is “On Turning Ten”, which is just like, basically, a heartbreaking poem about like, what it means to grow up. Every time I read that poem I cry. I mean, he’s really good. But that is written in very plain language. He’s not writing poems that are like, super, super highbrow and literary, so to speak.
Rob: Yep. No, I think his work is brilliant.
Kira: All right, so I want to ask about your online dating consultancy. What? (laughs)
Kira: Tell me more about this!
Emma: So, actually, this kind of segues into the question of what I learned when I was working at a content marketing agency. And actually, I worked at a really, really horrible content marketing agency. So I think it was 2011 and it was like, still kind of the recession. I had no professional experience and I got hired by this place—we can do more in-depth if you want—but it was so horrible that in my off-time, I was like, I got to be working on something else. And my husband and I had recently met online—we met on OKCupid—and we had lots of friends that were online dating, and they were asking me, as sort of a marketing writer, even though I wasn’t really that yet—hey can you help me with my online dating profile?
So I started a little business called Frog 2 Prince—you can still visit the website I think—unless my credit card subscription has run out. (laughs) But yeah, I was charging guys, mostly, and I would help write their profile, I would give consultations, I actually partnered with a photographer and we would take photos of these guys… and it wasn’t a super lucrative business, and also, it was a bit of a creepy business because usually what happened at the end is the guy would go, do you want to go out with me? I’d be like, that wasn’t really… (laughs)
Kira: That’s not the service. (laughs)
Emma: Yeah, and I was pretty young at the time, I was like 24, so it wasn’t a field that I wanted to go into in depth but I got a really good taste of trying something out on my own and it ultimately helped me get the job at the tech company that I got, because it was like a line item on my resume.
Kira: Side note: Frog2Prince.com is currently available… if anybody wants to steal it…
Emma: Oh, no, it’s frog2prince.net, and it’s—see, this is like—I was inexperienced—actually it’s the number 2. Frog, the number 2, prince dot net.
Kira: Oh no.
Emma: Which is like, I mean, you don’t do that. Like, I did it because it was cute at the time… but it wasn’t even cute at the time. I was like, it’s funny, like if you go to the website it has this 8-bit cartoon characters…
Kira: It’s great! It’s really great.
Emma: I was trying to be “internet: 1998” or something. I don’t know. But anyway, yeah, frog, number 2, prince dot net. And I actually bought duckling2swan for like, women, but I never developed it. So, there you go. It was a failed experiment.
Kira: No, I think you can circle back to that later in life, or like, 2018 and get that going again. We’ll talk about that later. (laughs)
Rob: I’m curious, though, starting your own business, there are definitely lessons aside from, you know, don’t use the number 2 in your URL that have impacted what you’re doing today. Talk a little bit about what you learned in starting a business that’s completely different from copywriting.
Emma: I learned how much goes into it. It sounds kind of silly, but, I think when I was like, oh, I can just offer online dating consulting, I really thought oh, people can just find me, I’ll have a little website, we’ll just have a conversation and I’ll help them and that’s it. And what I learned was oh no. You need to have very clearly defined boundaries, which you know I’m going to talk about, like you might need to have packages, you need to have the business structured, in a way. I learned a lot about like, how to get paid. Like, oh crap, if you’re going to take payments on a website, that’s like a thing you need to learn how to do. I learned that building a website was super hard.
At one point, with Frog2Prince, I was like, I think I’m going to get an intern, which was like the world’s worst idea. First of all, I couldn’t pay the intern. Which was like ridiculous. But I wasn’t really getting paid. I was like, maybe there’s somebody else out there who sort of wants some experience writing and I can help them, even though it was like, the blind leading the blind. And I had this intern and like, she didn’t do that much work for me. I mean the relationship maybe lasted a month, but I learned, it’s like holy crap, it’s so hard to manage people and managing people, if you don’t know what you’re doing, takes up like way more time than doing it yourself. So that was kind of a lesson learned. And, yeah. So I think that was a good lesson. As I was hiring the intern, I remember people were like, that’s a really dumb idea. And I was like, “Why? She can just help me out!”
Emma: (laughs) But it wasn’t quite that good!
Kira: Why didn’t you like the agency? It sounds like the agency’s what got acquired. Or, which company got acquired?
Emma: The tech company I worked for that got acquired.
Emma: So basically, here’s the, like, steps: Step One was working in South Korea editing English-language textbooks and teaching English, which by the way, taught me a lot about the English language, ‘because I had to teach grammar. Teaching English in Korea. Then I came home and I worked for basically what I would call “Copy Farm”, and at the same time I was doing Frog2Prince. And then I worked for a company called Grasshopper which was a tech company, and then Step Five—if anyone’s been following all that—I struck out on my own and started Stories by Emma. Okay, so the Copy Farm: I actually wrote out some notes for you about this, because I actually wrote a post for Medium after I finished working there called “The Worst Company I Ever Worked For”.
Emma: Vindicated on Medium as part of like their—one of their preferred posts, and all it was, was like curation of glass-door reviews from this company, because it was really horrible to work for, and they treated writers terribly. Working there really taught me, like, what writers do is precious. I already knew that, but also like, I am not going to stand for writers being treated in this way. And that’s kind of been a guiding light for my whole career, of like, I am not going to be stepped on, I’m not going to be asked to do things for free, I’m not going to accept less than what I’m worth, because this company was like all about basically making writers feel like their craft wasn’t valuable. So let me tell you a little bit about it.
Emma: So, they hired recent college graduates, and they paid us twenty thousand dollars a year in downtown Boston, which was like nothing in downtown Boston. It was like, I couldn’t pay my rent on this salary. And the business model was that we would write fresh content, basically industry news articles everyday. So for example we’d write like a two hundred to four hundred word article on cloud computing, but we do it everyday. And we’d source it based on, like, whatever innovations were in the actual news. So, people have to write four thousand words a day. And, they would fall behind, and when they fell behind, you were going to get fired.
Kira: Exhale. Oh my gosh!
Emma: And so people would quit like the day before they knew they were going to get fired, and like, I actually was only there for five months, but it was like my first foray into really professional writing I think.
Rob: Surprising that you would hate that job, I can’t imagine why.
Emma: Laughs. I mean it was like a nightmare! And the thing is the culture was so toxic because everybody was really miserable.
Kira: And that explains why you’re such a fast writer today.
Emma: Yes. Actually Kira, it taught me actually that writing quickly was a really, really valuable skill. So, one of the reasons I did really well at that company and I was only there for five months and I was promoted to their executive writer team, and it was because I was fast. So, I realized like “Oh!” I was fast and good, and you know how people say, “You can have fast, good, cheap—pick two”?
Emma: I always say, like, okay, I’m fast and good and not cheap, and that’s like sort of how I think about my business.
Rob: Yeah. So tell us about what you’re doing today in Stories by Emma, the kind of assignments you take on, the kind of work you do.
Emma: Sure; so, I specialize in content marketing, not really copywriting as much. So I work on blog content and strategy; I work on case studies, which we might talk about more later on in this conversation. I work on long-form eBooks, I do a lot of customer interviews for blog content; I do some long-form web copy, but not sort of direct response, more like SEO-optimized. So those are the kinds of things I specialize in, and I, you know—with different clients, I do different things. I work as a blog editor with one client, and with one client I do more traditional sort of writing blog assignments. With another client, I work with them more strategically on how to get case studies done. So there’s a little bit of a spread, but I specialize in writing in tech, and that’s because I got that experience working at a tech company for three years where I learned a ton about tech marketing and content marketing in particular.
Kira: Okay, so now that we know where you are today, and then we know where you started, and I love how you broke it down into the five steps for us to digest. So what happened in between—because we skipped over the middle, like the messy middle—what were the first few months like when you went out on your own?
Emma: That’s funny because I remember a few days after I quit—and I was in my apartment, and I was like, I feel like I don’t have a job! And it was simultaneous feeling of this is the best thing ever and what have I done?! And I remember sitting in my apartment and thinking that, and instead of being like, wow, I really need to dive in and focus, I was like, I’m going to go on a walk. And I lived in downtown Boston, at the time, which is super beautiful. It was July—it was summer. And I took a walk along the river and I was like, this is going to be the best thing I’ve ever done. I was very confident that I would be able to succeed—even though it was super nerve wracking.
I remember in that first month, I took on a client and it was for SEO consulting work and I didn’t know that much about SEO and I was in totally over my head. There were like, long hours in the beginning, not because I was overwhelmingly busy, more like because I was like, stupid about what I said yes to and what I charged and all of those kind of things that I learned along the way.
Rob: And how did you get those first clients? Were you doing any kind of outreach or did you just sort of wait for them to fall in your lap?
Emma: Yeah, so one of those things that is a really good personal strength is that I’m really good at cultivating personal relationships, especially in person. I mean, I do it online, too, but I had a lot of in person relationships that helped me, so I was part of a content marketing networking group in Boston where there were like, you know, fifty people that I knew personally, that, when I quit (my job) I told them all… and then, I also had made a lot of connections working in-house at the tech company so we would do guest posting campaigns where I wrote for like a ton of different websites and after I quit, I reached out to all of those people, so I did do outreach once I quit, but most of it, I would say, was warm and I wasn’t sort of randomly pitching. I did respond to some like, job requests, like I gave Upwork a shot, there’s like ProBlogger job board, I looked at some of that stuff, but I mostly found that the warm leads really led to the best business.
Kira: Okay. So what else helped you? So like, not to say that you’ve made it, but you did! You’ve pushed through a lot of the hard stuff to get your business running and increase your rates and have successful business. So what do you think you were able to do that you would say is really critical for new copywriters to do or embody as well?
Emma: So there’s a bunch of things that I think copywriters should consider. One is working in house. So I see a lot of freelance copywriters that are like, oh, I just sort of wanted to do this and I have no experience… and I couldn’t, without having worked in-house. Like, I’m often even like “Maybe I should go back in-house because I could learn so much more about this other thing!” depending on where you work, so I think it’s actually like, getting a full time job can be like a really good education in content marketing or copywriting if you do it for a couple of years. So I think making in-person connections is another thing. I was willing to invest in like, paying money for like, conferences and stuff like that that just helped me meet people. And when I met people, it wasn’t like I was like, hey, I want you to be a client, it was more like, hey, what do you do? I’m interested in learning about you.
And later down the line… that would sort of come back in the form of work. I think some of the other investments I’ve made is that I hired a business coach about a year in because I was drowning in work—I felt really miserable, like, despite the success I’ve had, there’s been like a lot of down times and last year, I was like, maybe I should seriously like, go back to work fulltime somewhere because this isn’t working for me. And the business coach actually really helped me put systems into place, and I could NOT have done it without her—that’s the thing. So I think making some of those investments and making investments in yourself is really important. I think copywriters have a tendency to be like, I don’t have any money for that! And like, I get it. It’s expensive to hire a business coach, but for me, it paid off. Same with being part of the copywriter club think tank that I’m in now. It really pays off to invest in some of that stuff.
Rob: So I really want to underline what you were saying about working in-house because like you were saying, so many people just jump into this, it’s something that I can do, it’s easy, I can do it from home, I don’t need any experience, and I look across the board and so many of the writers that people look up to started with in-house positions. People like Joanna Wiebe, who worked in-house for Intuit and Roy Fur, who worked in-house for a long time doing both marketing and copywriting, and you know, the list goes on and on. You know, the number of people who have experience at agencies or in-house for specific companies is really big and you just have this opportunity to learn from other people who know what they’re doing already, on their dime; you don’t have to find your own clients. It’s just a great way to learn the business.
Emma: Yeah, and I think what it really teaches you is the business part of it. So, I worked for—my manager was in SEO—but he was like, he’s still to this day, one of the best marketers I’ve ever worked with. Like, he is absolutely amazing and he taught me so much about what value content had for a business and it wasn’t like he was like, don’t be creative, it was like he helped me connect the dots and I just don’t think I could’ve learned that without working hand in hand with him, trying to get really great content out the door and then trying to optimize it. So it gave me a strategic edge to have that experience. Yeah! I mean, I think it also opens up a lot of connections, right? Like you work in-house for a while and you meet all of these people that can then lead to work down the line.
Rob: Yeah, absolutely. So you said in your first year, you got to the point where you were drowning in work and I imagine a lot of people are listening, thinking, holy cow, how come my first year hasn’t been like that? You know? How did that happen and how did you deal with it? What were the systems you put in place in order to make that work?
Emma: Sure! So when I say I was drowning in work, I don’t want people to think like, it was the most amazing year ever…
Emma: It was like, I was working harder, not smarter. So here’s some of the things that were happening. I didn’t have any sort of onboarding system, so anytime a new client would come to me, I would just like, email them back, like, spur of the moment. I didn’t have like, okay, this is the email they’re going to receive, I had no marketing materials, I didn’t have a rate card, and I didn’t have—like, now I send a PDF with more information about me. And so I was drowning because of like, back and forth interactions. And I was also drowning because I didn’t have rules, or boundaries, so, for example, now I say to clients, you only get one round of revisions. Like, I pass off my copy in a Google doc, go in, make as many comments as you want, I will revise one time and that’s you know, the project. But when I was drowning, I would—I didn’t have any system like that in place. So a revision could stretch on for months—it was just burning me out.
Emma: And I also don’t think I was very good at saying no, especially when there were red flags. So there were a bunch of people that I worked with that I was like, this person is a jerk. I think I’m going to work with them!
Emma: And you know, I think that bred a lot of resentment in me, so when I went to that business coach, I was just feeling like, burnt out, not really from the amount of hours, but by how I was being treated and by just like, struggling to sort of keep up with the emails and make sure things didn’t fall through the cracks.
Kira: So let’s talk about the boundaries. You know, we had a Facebook live recently where you talked a lot about boundaries. So let’s talk about some of the boundaries and rules that you set up for your business that have saved you from drowning.
Emma: Yeah, and I was thinking about the boundaries things, and I just want to say, before I get into these crazy boundaries…
Emma: …they’re really like, guidelines. So like, I disobey the boundaries occasionally if not often, but they provide like a really good framework for like, this is how I operate. And I’ve heard, and probably people listening have heard too, that if you make a decision once, that’s a lot easier than having to make a decision over and over again, so for example, if you decide, I go to the gym on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and that’s a decision you make, it’s way easier to actually follow up on that than if you say, I’m going to go to the gym more. And then it’s like, you wake up every morning and you’re like, should I go, shouldn’t I go? And then you end up not going. So that’s kind of the inspiration for this.
So, I’ve divided this up into client boundaries and life boundaries. But let’s start with clients. So. No work on the weekends! Period. No texting, no G-Chat, no emails after 6pm. No roundabout ways of paying invoices. You pay me via my invoice software, which has so many options, so if you have another way, like, no! Okay. No working off-contract, and no client calls in the car, and every client relationship has to start with a 15 minute consult call. So that’s just sort of a short list of the client boundaries I’ve come up with that work for me.
Rob: Okay, let’s talk about no working off-contract, because I think a lot of times, we tend to be pretty smart about that first project where it’s like, okay, I’ve got the contract, we finish that up, and the client comes back, now we have a bit of a relationship with them, sometimes it feels a little weird to send them a contract on the second project, or maybe the seventh or eighth project, so I love this rule.
Emma: Yeah! So this was a hard one for me to learn, and not because I got like super burned and someone took me to court or something… but I had like a relationship with another copywriter I used to work for go a little bit awry and they like, canceled our contract, and it made me feel kind of weird, and I read the contract super in-depth and at that moment, I was like, dude, I really need better contracts. And so I hired a business lawyer, somebody I’d met in person, in San Diego, and like a creatives conference, and for $500 she made a great contract for me that I can use, and change. But yeah, I do think it can be hard, time after time, but I try and make contracts that are more open-ended, so like, the contract would be good for a year, for example, it’s not like I need to send them a new contract you know, every month.
Kira: Right. Okay, so as far as the payment, I believe it was Maggie Patterson, when she came on the show, she had mentioned she charges the initial deposit and then collects 30 days after that, and so I started doing that recently—so setting that boundary and that rule for my business has helped alleviate a lot of financial stress, because before, I would collect that final payment at the end of the project, and that was not always clear. It was like, well, do you send it when it’s the first draft, or the final draft, or when do you send it? So, I’m just curious, what type of payment boundaries, guidelines, have you set for your business?
Emma: So I require fifty percent deposit when working with any new client, and they have to pay that before work commences, and it’s funny because yes, I say it’s a boundary, but here’s an example of when I’ll sort of not do it… sometimes, companies have like, really difficult accounting companies to work with, and securing that fifty percent deposit is like super difficult, so occasionally, I’ll say like, eh, it’s okay, you can pay me at the end.
But I invoice at the end of the month, so I invoice on the last Friday of every month. The 50 percent deposit happens when it happens, but in general, the invoice will come on Friday at the end of the month that the work was completed.
Kira: Okay, cool. So as far as other boundaries, the texting, and Gmail, or like your client is sending you messages over Slack, and this happens to all of us and it can get a bit out of control, even when they don’t have bad intentions, they’re just trying to contact you. So how do you handle a situation like that? How do you redirect it in a way where you don’t feel like a jerk, too?
Emma: Yeah, so we talked a little bit about this in our Facebook live, and I think, some of it is getting smart about how much you let it affect you. Because ultimately, we’re only responsible for ourselves and what we can control. So for example, Slack’s a great one, and I gave the example I think of, someone came to me and was like, these Slack notifications are waking me up in the middle of the night, I wake up in the morning and I have like twenty messages and I’m totally overwhelmed… and I was like, why don’t you just turn off slack notifications? I wasn’t saying that because like, I knew better—it’s just like, we forget that we actually have more control over these things than we think, so like, I for example, won’t open slack on my computer until about 10am when I’ve kind of answered emails for the day and I’m a bit more settled in. So, I think making choices about how you respond… so if you have a client and they’re like, I need you right now!!! Where are you???? Where are you??? You can feel like, shoot! I got to respond this second!! But you can actually wait, and you should get back on your own time.
So, yeah. That same person that was talking about those notification was also frustrated because she was in a different time zone than her client and the client—she would send an email at the end of her workday, and it would be the morning for the client, who I think was in Hong Kong. So he would respond immediately and it was really stressing her out because she was like, I’m done for the day, it’s after my 6pm—I can’t work on this! And my suggestion was, hey, why don’t you schedule that email to go out at a time that works for you? Right? Like you can just delay sending that email out and get smart a little bit about using tools so that when he responds, you’re there to receive those responses.
Rob: So I’m curious how your clients have reacted to the boundaries that you’ve put in place. I’m sure that a lot of people, when they’re thinking about this, they think, “Oh, this is going to be received as a negative by my clients”.
Emma: I do think that boundaries have sort of a negative connotation, and they did for me before I put them in, because it feels like you’re putting a barrier between you and your client, and you want to be like super available. But what I found is that having these boundaries actually makes people feel like I’m running a really legitimate business. So, it’s not that when I talk to them, I’m like “Hey, here is my list of rules, and you better follow them.” It’s more like I try and redirect. So, for example, it a client G-Chats me, I either will not respond on G-Chat, or I’ll G-Chat them back and say “Hey, send this to me in an email or send this to me through the project management system we’re using.” So I have actually found like no real negative reactions to it.
The only thing that can occasionally happen is that a client persists in doing the activity, right? So you say like, “Hey; please don’t G-Chat me”, and they keep G-Chatting you, and I think that’s a really common problem. Again, I would say, like, don’t respond; I think we think like “Oh, if I don’t respond, they’re going to get mad at me”. But I think you cannot respond, pick up the phone, and be like “Hey, I want to explain why I’m not responding on G-Chat. I don’t use it for business because…” and position it as a value to them, because it’s really easy for things to get lost on G-Chat and I want to make sure I’m crystal clear about what we’re working on and what questions you have so let’s keep it all in one place. I think that’s super important as positioning the boundaries as a benefit to them because it actually is. Like, you can do better work if like you’re not taking a phone call in the car, for example.
Kira: Yeah, and it’s also good for us to remember as the service provider that maybe the last person your client had hired was open to texting or—well, I can’t imagine why anybody would be open to that, but—maybe open to receiving messaging on Slack or other channels. So it’s almost like we have to train our clients, and they’re looking to us for that guidance.
Emma: Yeah, and I think one of the things my business coach taught me was be much more proactive and that clients would feel l was much more professional if I was proactive, rather than being super reaction. So, instead of waiting for a client to be like “We’re going to communicate on Slack”, it’s on me to be say like, “Hey, we’re going to communicate by email”, or “We’re going to communicate on Slack,” or “We’re going to communicate in a project management tool,” and taking a little bit of that control because what I believe is that if you put boundaries into place, then it puts you in the driver’s seat of that relationship a little bit more, and I think clients really respect that. I don’t think they’re super resistant to that. I think they see you more as an expert if you do that.
Kira: So I want to talk about your life boundaries which, I mean these are all life boundaries, but, specifically into your personal life, because I know you’ve set some boundaries there that we’ve talked about as well. I’d love to hear some examples because this is as just as important as the business boundaries.
Emma: Sure! So, I have like a couple of ones that are like, sort of silly, like I told you guys, I think, there’s no cats allowed in our bedroom. That’s one thing, although I actually violated for the first time last night.
Emma: And like, I’m going on a podcast tomorrow talking about boundaries as the cats are in my bed, so like I failed my own boundary. But that’s a rule, you know: no cats in the bedroom. I don’t know how they got in last night, but these personal ones all have like a parenthetical statement at the end, so it’s like, “no cats in the bedroom, but I violated this last night”; “no going home for the holidays”. I live in California, my family’s in Boston. I love them and they’re the absolute best but traveling home for the holidays is like, such a nightmare!
And so if I don’t want to go, like, I’ve given myself permission that it’s okay. Like, that’s a boundary that I’ve said to the family like “Hey, I’m not coming home from the holidays this year”, which is super difficult to do, and that could be a whole podcast in itself. Let’s see…so, we have another rule, which is: we live in a really small one-bedroom apartment in Silicon Valley. And, we have a rule, that there’s no guests allowed to stay overnight in our one-bedroom apartment, which is super controversial, but we find that we’ve said, “Hey, we’ll pay for a hotel.” We live like next door to a hotel. We’ll pay for a hotel for guests, but having people like come and stay, especially for like a week, is like actually not optimal for anybody, but people get kind of….I don’t know. See? I feel bad about some of these personal boundaries. Some of these are way harder.
Rob: Yeah, but especially if you work from home, you know, having house-guests in a one-bedroom apartment? Like, it just doesn’t work.
Emma: Well that’s what I think. But like, this is difficult, right? Because it’s like, I don’t really want to, like, tell my sister like “Hey, can you guys stay somewhere else?” Like, I’ve had to do that and it feels like crap. So I think the personal ones are harder for me than the client ones, which, you know, kind of makes sense. Like I think I can keep my client relationships very professional, but with the personal relationships, it’s like I want my sister to love me no matter what, right? So, (laughs), those ones are a bit harder.
Kira: So what would you say Emma, to someone who doesn’t have clear boundaries in their business and their life, and they’re listening and they’re like “Okay, I need to do this”, where can they start if it doesn’t come easily to them and they can’t necessarily hire the same business coach that you worked with or a business coach at all? Where can they start?
Emma: Yeah, so what I would recommend is creating a list of things you want to happen in your ideal day. So, maybe you, you know, plot that out. Maybe you want to start working at 9AM and you want to stop at 4. Well that means, realistically, you’re not going to send any emails after 4 o’clock. Right? So like, try and plot out what your ideal day looks like; plot out, like, when you want to start and stop, when you want to take lunch, if you want to be able to run an errand in the middle of the day, like go to the grocery store in the morning or afternoon—which is a huge benefit of working for yourself, by the way—sort of carve out what your ideal day or week looks like, and then create the boundaries from there, because I think it’s sort of an extension, right, where like if you want to work certain house, then by extension, you can create boundaries in place. And like, some of that is like, I thought of another professional one, which is that I don’t take meetings on Mondays and Fridays… I only take meetings Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and that’s like—it’s not just like, I have to remember that all of the time; I have a Calendly calendar that blocks off those days so clients can’t schedule at that time.
And that’s kind of the extension of once you decide, hey, I need a couple of days a week where I don’t have meetings, then you can say, okay, well, when a client schedules something with me, those options need to not be available, right?
Kira: Yeah, that just makes me realize that I have set some boundaries—like, same one—no calls Mondays and Fridays, but I break them quite often, so maybe I just have to rethink how often I’m actually breaking my boundaries.
Emma: Yeah, and I think it’s okay to break the boundaries occasionally and that’s why I think people should think of them as guidelines—and as a goal, because you know, we can’t like, I have responded to an email after 6pm. I’ve let my cats into my bedroom, like one time I did it. But still I think giving yourself permission to do that is fine because sometimes the situation calls for it. It’s just that having some boundaries in place can make you feel more in control of your business, which is not something we should take for granted.
Rob: Yeah, definitely.
Kira: So, I want to pivot, Emma, and ask you about one of your recent packages that I know we’ve chatted about in the think-tank, but you’ve recently launched a package for case studies and you’ve been working with clients on case studies. And what I’m interested is kind of what happened behind the scenes in order for you to create the package—even figure out what they want—and launch it into this world. I know it wasn’t easy, behind the scenes.
Emma: Yeah, so I had been working with a lot of clients that were requesting customer stories, case studies, also like, expert interviews. Like, they’d interview people like the two of you and they’d want to put your insights into a post on their blog and so I was getting tons and tons of work in this space and I really enjoyed it because I really love interviewing people, I mean, you guys are doing it right now to me, but it’s super fun to talk to people and find out what they’re working on and I was having the opportunity to talk to people that were totally outside the copywriting space. So the thing about it was, I feel like before I launched it I was really living in a business comfort zone. Like it was something I wanted to do for like a year and it wasn’t until I kind of joined the copywriter think tank and I had some other people be like, yeah, you should really do this, for me to be like okay, yeah. I have all the tools I need, I have some people I can bounce the copy off of, I have people that know about packages, and it really gave the momentum to actually launch it.
Rob: So what’s working for you, as far as case studies go? How do you put them together? What does the project look like?
Emma: The way that I’ve been selling them is, the company has to buy three case studies—like a package of three case studies—and with case studies i’ve recognized that they’re not something that people want one of every single week. It’s more like they want to build a library of case studies… they maybe want six in all, they maybe want one per marketing persona, so I found that if I offered three, that was like a good package offering, like somebody could buy three case studies. I’ve found that I can sort of like, sell a lot as part of that package. So one of the reasons I like case studies is that it’s not just like, okay, you write something… it includes the interview, it includes coming up with the template for case studies, it includes a lot of outreach, it includes a lot of approvals from the client that you’re interviewing; there’s a lot of back and forth and project management that goes into it so I’ve found that I’m able to charge a higher price tag. So that’s how I’m trying to sell them now.
Kira: Do you mind sharing how much you’re charging?
Emma: Well, I think it’s about three grand for three case studies.
Kira: Cool. And then they’ll buy those three case studies and then you’ll deliver over six months, or three months…?
Emma: So that’s something that I’m trying to massage. So at the beginning, I was like oh I can do them as soon as possible but I didn’t realize just how long it was going to take to get all the stakeholders involved, like, even scheduling the calls, like, people are horrible at! Like the customers that I’m interviewing, right? Like they don’t get back to me or I need a headshot and it takes like a week to get it, stuff like that—so it’s taken longer than I’ve expected, so I think like yeah, three to six months is the expectation.
Kira: And what would you say to a copywriter listening who wants to package a service, maybe it’s not case studies—maybe it’s something else, and they haven’t packaged anything before and created the process and thought about the pricing before; do you have any advice based on what maybe worked well or what didn’t work for you?
Emma: So, it was really, really difficult for me to do packaging. I really struggled with it. The reason that I struggled so much with packages is that I always want to be there for my client to customize what i’m offering based on their needs and sometimes, I feel like packages out there are too cookie-cutter, and even when I worked in-house as a content marketer, I was like, this is too packages and like, half this stuff, I don’t need. I really wanted to like, have more control and pick and choose what I wanted.
So that’s something that I was super conscious about, and I think—what I would say is that when you’re putting together packages, you really have to get experience with what you’re doing first, and see how people respond to different proposals. Like, you could just say on a phone call, like, “What if we did a package of three case studies?” Or, like, “Do you only want one case study, or would you like to have five?” And let their kind of answers guide you, ‘because if somebody’s like “Well I’d like ten case studies”, then you’re like “Oh well maybe I should be putting together a once-a-month case study package that goes through the year”.
So when I was coming up with packages, I got on the phone with a lot of people that I knew had case studies, and I had no aims for them to hire me. I was just like, “Can you tell me about how these things get written, how often you publish them, why you choose to profile who you do, what are the barriers you’re running up against?” so that I could then create the package based on what they actually wanted as opposed to like what I think they wanted, or what I thought like I could charge them a lot for. ‘Because I think people make that mistake where they’re like, “Oh, if I put all these things together, I can add a really big price tag”, and I don’t really like to work that way.
Rob: We get a lot of questions in The Copywriter Club Facebook group about structuring retainers, and I know that you’ve worked with several clients on a retainer basis. What does your retainer contract look like, or what kinds of things do you make sure are in place, the boundaries again, to ensure that those types of relationships work, and don’t fall apart, because the client expects too much or you’re not able to deliver on those expectations?
Emma: Yeah, so I think retainers are really tricky and there’s a few different ways I’ve gone about it. One is that I’ve charged hourly, and it’s really the only time that I will charge hourly, because I do think that hourly leaves some room for random back and forth emails or G-Chat, or, I mean… I still don’t use G-Chat, but like…. it leaves room so that if the client is contacting you, you’re not like, “This is not in the scope!” You can just kid of tack it within the hours that you’re doing, so I’ve found that that’s been actually a really good way of doing it and having sort of a minimum number of hours the client has to commit to. That especially works for clients that are like, “I don’t know what I want.” For other clients, I basically send them like a rate sheet with you know, case studies x dollars, a blog post is y dollars, a eBook is z dollars, and, I say as you want these things, they’ll be charged monthly, and the retainer is more like a cap. So for example, I have a client that pays me four grand a month, and that’s the cap, right? So they know what the individual items cost as they ask for them, and when we reach the cap, that’s on me to say like hey, we’ve reached our threshold or if we’re consistently not reaching it every month, that’s also on me to say like, “Hey, is there more you need me to do? Because you’re spending half of what our agreement is.”
Rob: Yeah, it feels like to make a retainer work, there’s got to be a lot of extra communication, and a lot of heads up, you know, “this is where we’re at”, so that the client expectations just don’t get out of control.
Emma: Yes, and I think one thing I’d say is that it really doesn’t make sense to do a retainer for me for less than four grand a month. And that’s just because of like all of that. Like, it doesn’t make sense to have a retainer client that’s paying you five hundred dollars a month to do like a few things; at least, it doesn’t make sense for me at this point. I really like retainer clients because it’s really like having a partner to do business with that you can get much more in-depth with that you’re doing, but there are some challenges there and yeah…I’m still figuring it out too. That’s what I’d say.
Kira: So, I know we’re almost out of time and, there are a bunch of questions that I still wanted to ask you we won’t be able to get to, but, I’d like to hear just what you think is a missed opportunity for copywriters today.
Emma: I think copywriters shouldn’t be afraid to write in industries that they, at the surface, don’t know anything about. Like I see a lot of copywriters that are like, “Oh I’m going to write for coaches,” or “I’m going to write for like beauty brands” or I’m going to write for like these kind of sexy industries, just because like that’s what they see and what they interact with and I think those industries are great and the copywriters that work for them are awesome, but I also encourage copywriters, especially new ones, to try out a bunch of different things and see what sticks, ‘because I think there’s missed opportunity there, that if you specialize in a few things that are kind of unusual, that can help you get ahead.
Rob: Really good stuff. I especially love, you know, what you’re saying about boundaries and the advice you’ve given us on retainers. It’s just a lot of meat in this episode and we really appreciate you taking the time to share so much stuff with us, Emma. If people want to connect with you, where would they go to find you?
Emma: Well you can always send me an email; it’s firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find me on Twitter; my Twitter username is @emmafayeis; or you can find me on Facebook under Emma Siemasko and I’m a member of The Copywriter Club. You could find me anywhere. If it’s a fellow copywriter, I don’t care if you G-Chat me, so….
Kira: Oh, interesting!
Rob: No boundaries for fellow copywriters.
Kira: Laughs; you’re going to regret saying that!
Emma: Yeah! You can find me wherever you are, let’s say that!
Kira: We can find you at frog2prince.net.
Rob & Emma: There you go!
Kira: Everyone, everyone, please check out that website right now. All right, thanks Emma.
Rob: Thanks, Emma.
Emma: All right, thanks you guys.
You’ve been listening to The Copywriter Club Podcast with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Music for the show is a clip from Gravity, by Whitest Boy Alive, available on iTunes. If you like what you’ve heard, you can help us spread the word by subscribing in iTunes and by leaving a review. For show notes, a full transcript, and links to our Facebook community, visit thecopywriterclub.com. We’ll see you next episode.
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