Copywriter and business strategist, Maggie Patterson joins The Copywriter Club Podcast to talk about growing a sustainable consulting business. This is actually the second time Maggie has joined us to chat, but sadly, the first recordings are lost to history. In this second go-round (which just might be better than the lost episode), Kira and Rob get the low down on:
• Exactly what it takes to grow a sustainable copywriting business
• The three things you need before you can teach a skill or build a course
• How to find undiscovered opportunities in your business today
• What it takes to move your business to the next level
• How to build a platform and position yourself the right way
• How to get more done (especially when you’re busy)
• How to deal with clients (the good and the bad)
• The one thing copywriters can do to improve their businesses today
• The secret to getting referrals from your clients
Maggie lets loose and shares it all in this episode. Click the play button below, or scroll down for a full transcript.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:
The Service Business Success Show
The conflict resolution resource Maggie
mentioned but didn’t talk about
CXL article on process posted by Rob
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.
Kira: What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes, and their habits, then steal an idea or two to inspire your own work? That’s what Rob and I do every week at the Copywriter Club podcast.
Rob: You’re invited to join the club for episode 37 as we chat with copywriter and entrepreneur Maggie Patterson about getting referrals, building a business and merging it with her partner’s business, productize services, why you shouldn’t create a course, and how we can up our game as copywriters.
Kira: Hey, Rob. Hey, Maggie.
Maggie: Hey, guys.
Kira: How’s it going?
Rob: Kira, Maggie.
Maggie: I’m excited to be here.
Kira: Welcome back. We did record an episode with Maggie, and it was incredible, and it was lost. Lost somewhere in a hole, so this is going to be even better, because Maggie is even more fired up this time, right?
Maggie: I don’t know if that’s possible, but we’ll see what I can do.
Kira: I think a great place to start, Maggie, is you recently put out a show on your podcast, the Service Business Success Show, and I believe it was episode 53 of your show. You were talking about why being a practitioner matters. That was one of my favorite shows that you put out, and I know you were fired up. I want to hear what was the catalyst for even creating that show, and maybe you can just give some backstory for people who didn’t listen to that show.
Maggie: Essentially, the premise of that show was … I love this question, by the way, because this is one of my most favorite topics. The premise of it was really that so many times, we want to cut ahead, and we just want this seven bajillion dollar business, and we don’t actually want to do the work. The reality is for us to build a sustainable business, we need to have mastery. We have to have real skills. For us to be relevant and to be able to grow to those next stages of potentially, one day, maybe in the future of having an online course, you need to be really, really good at what you do to be in touch with it.
I think I see so many people teaching that aren’t doing anymore, and they’re disconnected. They’re giving advice that is not relevant, or you know what, one even worse, they’ve never actually done it themselves. It’s something their coach taught them, and now they’re teaching it to other people. There’s just so much flimsiness out there. It makes me crazy.
Rob: Yeah. I see this over and over. I’m not going to name any names. I’m sure people can identify people, but it’s almost like a guru or so-called guru does something once. Maybe they built an email list using Pinterest, or they offer a product and they build a sales page, and then suddenly everything is all about how do you do list building and how do you do sales pages. They’re selling courses about the thing that they’ve done once for their own business. They’ve never done it for anybody else’s business. Who knows if it’s replicable. It drives me crazy.
Maggie: Here’s the thing that gets me about it is as a practitioner, as someone who’s been doing this a fairly long time is I’ve seen so many different scenarios and mutations of how things will go. The market changes so fast when you’re working online. The reality is is that at the end of the day, it’s really hard for you to teach or give anyone counsel when you haven’t looked at that more macro view. I think people are teaching a very micro-view of that thing that happened for them.
Then, what happens to the rest of us over here in practitioner land is we are left undoing those unreasonable expectations. I mean, I have this conversation multiple times per week with clients where I’m educating them. I always say, “That person is a freaking magical unicorn. Results may vary. That’s not typical.”
I’m now the dream killer completely, 24/7. That’s my official hashtag. Princess Straight Talk is the other one I’ve started calling myself lately.
Kira: When people are listening, though, it’s like, “Well, how do we know if we’re ready to teach the course?” Right? Because, there could be some people that have been the practitioner for a while, or at least in their mind, they are good. Is there some type of checklist we could run through so we know when we’re ready to expand and maybe teach?
Maggie: I think there’s really three parts to this is, number one, understanding that value chain of building your business. Most of us start off freelancing, and then we move into being a business owner. Then, we move into leveraged or productized services. Then, we should be going into probably something more like a group program.
So many times, I see people wanting to go from freelancer to big-money group program, or totally hands-off, passive product. What they’re missing in that is refining their method. I think doing … just, let’s say as a copywriter, just writing copy for a really long time is not good enough, in my book at least. You need to have methods, systems and frameworks, and have your process really, really set out. I think if you haven’t done that step of offering a productized service yet, you’re probably jumping ahead.
Number two is understanding, as a service business owner, as a copywriter, there is so much scale left in your business. So many times people will say to me … I’ve had this conversation twice in the last week alone, that they’re like, “Well, I maxed down on how much money I can make.” Then I start deconstructing their business. I look at it, I’m like, “You could raise your price here. You could triple your price here. You could add a service here.” They could be making so much more money without that time, effort and stress of launching a course.
Then the third thing is have you done the audience building? This is the one I see a lot of people break down. Maybe they’ve nailed one and two, but they’re like, “Well, I have a 50-person list.” I’m like, “Okay. Good luck with that conversion rate.”I think as a copywriter, we have a better handle on conversion rate, but we have these mythical, magical stories of rainbows and unicorns where so-and-so had a 500-person list. Well let me tell you about that, it was four years ago when there was only two people doing what that person does. Now, there’s 500 people doing the same thing, trying to teach that same course.
I think you need to have your feet firmly planted in reality, and really look at do I have the audience and the reputation to pull this course off. Hey, maybe you’re only trying to get five people. Great. But, usually people have a very different vision of what that course is going to be.
Kira: Why is this happening now that it’s so saturated? Are we in the bubble, or has the bubble popped? Because I’ve heard some people say, “The bubble has popped in the course arena.” Other people have said, “No. Not yet.” I mean, will we know?
Maggie: I could argue both ways. My business partner, Brittany, and I had this discussion earlier this week. I think we’re seeing the start of the end of the bubble. I think we’re a far … We’re in the decline. I don’t think we’re in the bubble popped. I think the thing to remember is, even if the course bubble pops, that’s a great thing because the best courses, the cream will rise to the top kind of thing. I do think we’re still a while out of these course things. I think, honestly, people want to launch a course because it sounds easy and fun.
Rob: Let’s talk more about that, Maggie. If we want to launch a course, the last time we talked in the horribly lost episode, you gave us some advice that’s contrary to a lot of what we’ve heard from other people. If I want to launch a course, what are you going to tell me?
Maggie: Well, the first thing I’m going to ask you is how big your email list is, and how much are you willing to invest to grow your audience, and realizing that audience growth is a little bit nebulous for a lot of us.
Rob: Let’s say that’s going to be three to five hours a week.
Maggie: Yeah, good luck. I hope you’ve got some money. You know what, here’s the being with Facebook ads, I hope you have a large budget for Facebook ads, because the quality of that traffic, and it’s cold traffic, ain’t going to convert as well. It’s just not. I think you need to really look at where you are with audience growth.
Then the other thing is, too, go back what I said a couple minutes ago, but have you done the work within your existing business to make the most of your services? I would argue 90% of people who are probably listening to this probably haven’t already. They think they’re further ahead. They want to skip ahead. You know what, I did this. I am the case study of this mistake.
I launched a course 18 months ago. It was a big, big thing. I spent a lot of money. I was like, “I’ve been doing this for like a gajillion years. I got this handled.” Well, you know what happened? I spent a lot of money on branding, because I can’t do anything halfway. I basically found myself after launching it the first time in a cost recovery situation. I mean, I had a fairly solid launch. I didn’t have like 50 people. I think I had 20, which was, hey, I thought that was a great showing for the first time out of the gate, but I also had a pretty healthy list at that point.
What I really found from that is how much work I had to decline during that time. It actually cost me money to launch that course in the end, because I was declining all the service business, really great solid leads that I would’ve, at another time, been all over.
Then finally, the time. I had 46 modules in that course. That was a design class.
Kira: Oh my gosh.
Maggie: It was 46 lessons, eight modules. Do you know how long it took to create that content?
Maggie: 4,000 years. It was such a distraction from doing my best work. I launched it twice. It taught me a lot. We do have courses. We do have group programs now, but how we approach this is very different, because to me personally, the launch model is exhausting and stressful. I don’t love it. I would rather go book a 20K project. Thanks very much.
Rob: I think that’s really important, what you’re saying there. If it takes two months to create a course, and you’re not taking on any client work during that time, then it takes almost full-time, another month to launch it and to get it going, and then you’re supporting it maybe half or three quarters of your time, if your course isn’t producing as much revenue as you would be getting from working with clients, it seems like that’s a huge gamble, and probably a losing one.
Maggie: Honestly, I see more people fail with their course launch than succeed. I want people to succeed. I truly do. But I want them to do at the right time when they have the money, the time to invest, and that they’re okay with taking that hit if it doesn’t go as planned.
Kira: Maggie, you’re talking a lot about mastery and opportunities in your current business. You mentioned, “I’d rather book a 20K project.” Well, that sounds great. I think a lot of the copywriters listening are like, “Yeah, I’d rather do that, too, but I don’t even know how to get to that level where I’m booking 20K projects,” because a lot of new copywriters in our club are listening. How can they get that mastery and find those opportunities in their current business?
Maggie: If you’re just starting out, the odds of you booking a 20K project are probably pretty low to start, but it is possible over time. You need to look at things as everything in your business is a set of stairs. You’re always going to be climbing up to that next stair.
Instead of getting obsessed with the fact that, “Hey, Maggie said she’d like to book a 20K project,” backing up the buss and being like, “How can I book …” Maybe you’re booking $1,000 projects right now. “How can I book a $2,000 project?” It really comes down to three things ultimately as a copywriter is your packages. How do you package your expertise in a way that it makes that act of getting someone to consult with you and say yes easy? How do you price yourself so that your pricing isn’t just trading time for dollars, but it’s actually profitable and you feel amazing about that energy exchange? Then finally, how do you position yourself in a crowded market? Because hello, I think we’ve learned from The Copywriter Club how many copywriters there are. How do you position yourself?
This might be niching. This might be focusing like you have Kira on sales copy. Finding something that you’re really good at and consistently honing that craft and being known for it. I think we, as copywriters, can write a lot of different types of copy. We want to do all these different things, but how we position ourselves in the market is so, so important. What you want to do is make your competition irrelevant so that it’s like, “No. If you are going to do X, you’re going to person Y. The end.”
Rob: I know Kira wants to ask about the number two, but I want to jump right to number three, positioning. When it comes to building a platform, Maggie, you’ve done this. You’ve done it really well. You’re out there. You’re in front of potential clients. You’re in front of other copywriters and other entrepreneurs. Talk to us a little bit about how you’ve built your platform and your expertise and positioned yourself in the market so that others can do the same kind of a thing?
Maggie: For me, I think as a writer, what’s the best way for you to position yourself is with your writing. When I was switching my business from the off-line, I don’t have a website model … True story. I didn’t have a website, but I was fully booked, making good money so I wasn’t super worried, but once I started to change things up and I established my website, and I was like, “Okay, Maggie, what you need to do is …” I started guest posting. I guest posted really steadily. Again, stairstepping, starting with small outlets, working my way up to things like virgin.com and entrepreneur.com and really focusing in on how can I continually showcase my writing.
That was a huge, huge win for me because I create content for a living. I do a lot of ghostwriting. For me, that made a lot of sense. I also think, too, playing to your strengths and understanding where is your audience going to be. Maybe your people aren’t going to read that, so you might need to do what Rob and Kira did and find a podcast, too, that you can host. Maybe you need to be doing video.
I think playing, too, figuring out where your people are going to be like if you’re serving … I always use this example, but if your audience is really, really, really busy moms … It’s a horrible audience for a copywriter, by the way, but you probably shouldn’t be creating long-form content for them to read because there’s no way they’re reading that. They want a 40-second really funny video so they feel connected to you. Understanding your audience needs, where your people hang out, and then what you’re really good at and where you can show up the best.
I think, for me, the platform thing came really naturally because I started off working in a PR agency, so that was my jam. It’s not going to be everyone’s. I think the other thing is, too … I hear this excuse a lot … “I don’t want to be out there. I’m an introvert.” Guys, I’m an introvert, too. I would rather never be on a video, ever in my life, but it’s just part of the game. I think if you want it bad enough, you will push yourself outside that comfort zone and put yourself out there.
The pleasant thing is, guys, people aren’t paying as much attention as you think they are, so if you screw up, it’s fine.
Rob: That’s good to know.
Kira: You can screw up. It is fine. Jumping into number two, you mentioned learning how to price yourself profitably, so you’re not just doing hourly work. That is a struggle for so many copywriters. How do we do that?
Maggie: I think one of the big feelings I had in my early days as a copywriter, and many of us have, is we say, “$75 an hour. That would be awesome.” Because, we’re not thinking about the rest of the process. I think we need to think about if you’re going to have a target hourly rate, or a flat rate for a project, you need to be looking at the entire 10,000 foot level of everything that goes into you delivering that. How long is your sales process? How much time do you have to invest upfront to get a client on board? Those are all sunk hours as far as I’m concerned, and they should be included in it. Otherwise, you’re doing work for free.
You don’t have to tell your client you’re billing them for it. It just goes compounded into your hourly. The same way if they go to a copywriting agency, you’re paying for their marble foyer and their retreat to Cuba. You need to be taking those inputs in your business.
The other thing is, what tools do you need to run your business? What kind of overhead do you need? So many of our expenses, we just treat them differently. I think if you have a specific package that you need an SEO program for, every client needs to have that baked into there. Again, it’s seamless to the client. The rate is the rate, but you need to be accounting for it.
The other thing I think with pricing, is just, again, stairstepping it overtime. If you’re charging $50 an hour right now, maybe you’re going to try out a flat rate. Maybe you’re going to double your rate on your next project. Don’t go for $50 an hour to quoting $5,000 right away. As you build up more competence, you can continuously increase your rate. I think a lot of people are like, “Just increase your rate,” and feel very cavalier about it. I think they underestimate the mental part of this, and the imposter complex, and everything else that comes up with it.
The other thing is, too, the worst is going to happen, and someone’s going to say no. If you can get right with your own money and how you manage your cash flow in your business, it makes it easier to price yourself in a way that not every project is do or die.
Rob: That’s really solid advice. I’m asking myself, “Okay, how does Maggie do this exactly?” What does your business look like, Maggie? What do you charge for copywriting? How do you engage with your customers? What part of your business is coaching? How does that all breakout?
Maggie: Our business, it’s turned into a monolithic.
Rob: Yeah. You have a partner as well, right?
Rob: This isn’t just you. You’re doing a lot of stuff.
Maggie: Yeah. Our business roughly breaks down into two components, is we have one component which is our agency, which is under the Scoop Industries’ banner. That is we basically do content and tech. We do a lot of consulting. We also do a lot of implementation. Within that, from a copywriting perspective, we tend to focus more on content, and content marketing, versus all the sales copy.
I can write a sales page. I write a pretty good sales page. I don’t want to write sales pages all day long, so I try to limit them. For example, someone comes to us and they need a funnel created, we’re doing the start to finish. We’re doing the strategy. We’re creating the content. We’re doing the tech implementation. We’re doing the testing. We’re doing that completely from A to B.
The reason I ended up with a business partner is because I kept partnering with this Brittany chick on all these projects, because they … was very compelling for our clients at the time to have it start to finish and for them not to manage us.
Then, the other part of the business is we prefer the term consulting over coaching. We work with service business owners, so copywriters, designers, therapists, illustrators, you name it, tends to be a lot of creatives. We work with them on helping them grow a services business, so packaging, pricing, a lot of confidence. How do you show up? How do you hire your first team member? All those bits and pieces that are a bit of a mystery to us as business owners. We’re really usually really good at what we do. We start out with that. Then, we start running a business, and we’re like, “Oh man. I’m in over my head.” I’ve been running a business for a long time. I’ve always worked in consulting capacity, so that was a really natural addition to the business overall.
Kira: Maggie, you’ve built this agency. It didn’t happen overnight. I’ve seen the question in our club, in our Facebook group, someone asked recently, “How do I do this?” Because it sounded like they were moving that direction. They knew they wanted to go in that direction of building an agency, but like you said, there’s so many stairs to get there. What are the first few stairs to move you in that direction?
Maggie: For me, I started off, like most of us do, straight up freelancer, and then I started taking on subcontractors and really establishing a brand and positioning the business. Then from there, we’ve moved up the chain of really defining what we do and don’t do as an agency. I think there’s, a lot of times, a misunderstanding, an agency can do everything. It’s like no. I think the best agencies are really specialized in what they do, but understanding the expectation. There is a higher expectation with that higher price tag that goes with the agency service.
Then the other thing has been for us now is really solidifying our team, streamlining everything so we’re profitable, bringing on full-time employees and really running it as an agency and not just like two chicks who run a business from their houses in their pajamas.
Rob: Yeah, this is a serious business for you guys. What does a typical project look like? You’re not taking on small things for a few hundred dollars. You’re talking about larger engagements.
Maggie: It’s a really interesting question right now, Rob, because we’re in a bit of flux. We have a lot of retainer work. I, to be honest, I love retainer work. I know a lot of people don’t like it because it’s boring, but when you have four payrolls to deal with, it’s the best thing ever, because we know that baseline monthly expenses are handled, and we don’t need to worry about it because we’ve got these retainers lined up.
We are taking on more projects at a local level. Those tend to be higher value projects because they’re brick-and-mortars. They just want this digital marketing piece of their business handled. We’ve started doing some web work, partnering with a web designer, and really doing things start to finish. I quoted on a project that was $10,000 plus last week, which was copy … in a website for a local business. I mean, that to me is really, really rewarding work because, number one, they’re not talking to me about magical unicorn marketing. Number two, they really can see … We’re able to up their game so, so quickly, and that money is really well spent, and really drives a lot of ROI quickly for them.
Kira: That’s $10,000 for a website project, and then ultimately the goal be to have that client come back for another project and retain them as an ongoing client, maybe not a retainer client. Is that right?
Maggie: Generally, after we’ve done one bigger project, I generally … We like to move them into a retainer, if they’re a good fit. I always feel like the project is like our first three to five dates. Then, I decide if we’re going to go steady or not, because sometimes people … I’m like, “Yeah. We don’t have room for you. Sorry.”
Kira: The chemistry is not there.
Maggie: I personally, I’m at the point in my life where my tolerance for certain things is fairly low. When something’s not a fit, I’m okay with walking away, even if there’s a lot of money involved.
Kira: At one time, how many clients is your agency managing roughly?
Maggie: I would say right now we’re like in the 15 plus category.
Maggie: I was counting how many clients I was involved with the other day. It was seven. It was very, very manageable, keeping in mind, there is more than just me working on things.
Kira: Yes. Seven sounds like a lot, but I guess it helps to have a team. I want to know how you manage your day, because you’re doing a lot. Running this agency, you have your hand in a lot of different pots. How do you manage it and stay sane and avoid burnout? That’s a lot of questions over there.
Maggie: Yeah. That’s a lot of questions.
Kira: Solve all of my problems.
Maggie: In the interest of transparency … and I will totally walk you through how I manage things on a day-to-day basis. My business partner, Brittany, and I have done a really solid job, I will say, of us dividing and conquering on what functional areas of the operations of the business we handle.
I don’t touch money. Well, I touch money, but I don’t touch money. I don’t manage our money on a day-to-day basis. I’m not in charge of any of that kind of that functional operational stuff. I handle more of our marketing. That division of labor has been really, really positive. Again, if you don’t have a business partner, you’re probably going to have to do that all yourself. You’re just going to have to get really real about how much you can actually do in a day.
As part of that, make time to work on your business, not just in it. I know that’s like the most tired advice, but this is the problem when you offer services, so many times we don’t account for … You have to get your taxes to the accountant. You have to review your monthly bookkeeping. You have to go talk to the lawyer about contracts. That stuff takes up time in your day.
Probably the biggest win I’ve had in my day-to-day time management is making sure that I have at least Mondays and Fridays in my schedule for operations and marketing. It might be a little bit different in your business, but carving out time, even if it’s half a day a week or couple days a month where you are working on the business. You’re following up with referrals. You’re doing the things to move the business ahead, and not just spending all your time heads down on client work and then poking up and going, “Oh man, I’ve got no clients. I got problems.”
Rob: I think that takes a concerted effort, right, where it’s like two hours a day or a day a week or whatever so that you’re making sure that that pipeline always stays full.
Maggie: Yeah. You know, here’s the thing. I know when I started doing this, I found it really, really challenging. A lot of it for me was like … Client service is really, really important to me. It’s just like in my DNA, so I tend to be a bit of a people-pleaser with my clients in that way and like want to respond quickly. What I had to learn was when I scheduled that time … It is secret. It’s the same way. It’s like five o’clock, I am off to eat dinner with my family, same thing. I treat it that way, because if I don’t do that, the business does not move ahead.
Rob: Good stuff. Maggie, I want to back up a little bit because I think people are probably listening thinking, “Okay. This is great. Maggie is running this agency. She’s got employees. She’s got a partner. They’re doing these great projects.” This isn’t where you started.
Maggie: Oh no.
Rob: Can you tell us …
Maggie: No. Definitely not.
Rob: … your origin story, how you became the superhero that you are today. Tell us how you got started.
Maggie: I did all the things I was supposed to do as a early adult. I went to college. I went to college again. I graduated. I got a job. I found myself after a few generations working in a PR agency. I, from a very young age, literally, I was one of those annoying kids who always had business ideas, and would start a business. Like, “Wagon rides around the block, 10 cents. I’m going to make perfume.” My mother was horrified.
Kira: Oh gosh.
Maggie: I was literally one of those entrepreneurial kids. When I chose to go into communications, I knew that that was something I could eventually do as a business. Then I went on my lovely, amazing year-long maternity leave here in Canada. I’m sorry Americans. I essentially spent that year plotting my non-return to work. When my boss called me and was like, “Okay. Let’s talk about coming back.” I’m like, “I’m not coming back.”
I actually gone so far as when I left, I packed … I had an office with a door, which I loved, but I packed everything up in my office and took it home, because I was like, “You guys might need this space,” because I knew I wasn’t setting foot back in that building. I didn’t want a reason to have an out. I quit. I didn’t have any clients. I hustled really, really hard for that first two to three months. I really, really focused in on the people I already knew in my professional network, people I had worked with in the tech industry for years that I was like, “Hey, I’m consulting now. I’m doing a lot of writing. I’m doing PR. I’m basically here to do whatever you need.”
I took on some crappy projects. I totally took on some crappy projects, but I quickly learned. I had one thing written in a, quote, business plan. It was I wanted to make $4,000 a month. I thought, “Hey, if I can make $4,000 a month, this family of mine, we’re going to be an easy street.” I’d reached that goal within, I think, it was eight weeks.
Maggie: From there, I saw the potential to really grow. But I had a baby. I don’t want a baby who had sleep problems, so I was just trying to … in survival mode. For a good solid eight years, I was kind of riding the wave, running another side business. Then one day I was like, “I’m really bored. I need to do something new,” so I moved my business online. That has now morphed into what I do today with Scoop Industries.
Kira: Didn’t you say that your side business had something to do with knitting or am I imagining that?
Maggie: Paper crafts.
Maggie: Literally, this is where people always go, “This so does not … I didn’t see this one coming.”
Kira: It does not compute.
Maggie: Well, when I was on my year-long maternity leave, I was really, really bored. I’ve always been really into journaling and photography, and so I took up scrapbooking. In typical Maggie fashion, I couldn’t just leave it alone and have it be a hobby. I turned it into this like little crafting Empire where I was selling products and teaching classes. Then I started training other people who wanted to do this. I had a lot going on. I was making amazing money over there, but I just got tired of it like I tend to do and I needed to … I pieced out, handed off my one business to the partner, and was like, “All right. I’m out. I’m going to go do marketing now full-time all the time,” because I was working way too much.
I saw my son getting older. I was like, “You know what, I just want to have my summers peaceful. I don’t want to be bringing all this stuff to host a retreat for 40 women who want to scrapbook. This is exhausting.”
Kira: All right, Maggie. I want to shift gears a little bit and go back to, I think, something Rob said about managing clients. You are great at that. It’s, like you said, it comes naturally to you. What are some best practices that we can all benefit from hearing, again, or maybe for the first time, around dealing with clients, the good clients and maybe the difficult clients? Just tips that can make all of our lives easier.
Maggie: I love this question. Number one, totally think about your on-boarding experience, because what tends to happen for us is we get excited. We get a client, then we go, “Oh no. What’s going to happen now?” If you’re going to set up one system in your business, this should be it, what needs to happen with that client the day after they sign the contract, two days later, write up for that first … especially if it’s a bigger project, 30 days, 60 days, whatever it is, and figuring out all those touch points of the client, because there is nothing more stressful from the client’s perspective than when they sign on that dotted line with you and everything kind of stops.
You do not want them to have buyers’ remorse and start this relationship on a negative note. You want to bring the wow factor right away. This can be getting everything to the most timely fashion, getting pre-work to them. Make this as a turnkey system that you know exactly those steps on a checklist you need to do every single time. Get a card in the mail, really make them feel like sigh of relief. “This money I just paid was worth every penny. I am in good hands.”
If you think if you can do that, it really sets the tone of the relationship moving ahead, whereas if you get a little loose and sloppy with that part of it, it’s harder to recover from it. I think the other thing is, especially if you work with retainer clients, is having set touch points with your clients that are even if you’re not talking to them on the phone all the time, is that you’re like, “Hey, can we have a quick monthly check in?” Getting voice to voice with people. Again, even if you don’t love it, really, really important.
You always want them to feel like you’ve got it handled and not do the what about. Because what happens when the what about happens, they’re upset. We get defensive. Then things devolve from there. That’s when things tend to be negative. I think managing up front with some really great … putting it in your calendar, check in on your clients, project manage X. Do all these little tiny acts all the time that the client knows you’re listening.
The other thing is, finally, when a client has gone sideways … I’m a big fan of time and space. I think a lot of times, we want to respond really quickly. A lot of times, what I come to realize is I have all these different stories trapped up in my head from previous client experiences, and I start making assumptions or it triggers me, and then I come back little too harsh, or defensive. I tend to be kind of sarcastic, so I have to rain that in. Understanding that responding in the heat of the moment does not help you.
The other thing is, too, I had a client situation a couple weeks ago that was getting a little sticky. She’s like, “Can we talk?” I’m like, “Yeah. Let’s get on Skype in 20 minutes.” I mean, I didn’t love it. I was scared of that conversation because it was going to be difficult, but we managed to get everything back on track, and she loves me again.
Kira: Two follow up questions to that. When you got on this call with this sticky situation, how do you manage that call? Do you have any tactics for managing those sticky, uncomfortable calls?
Maggie: I’ve got an amazing resource for you, which I totally think you should link up to the show notes. I have a client who is a speaker. Her specialty is difficult conversations. We work on her content all the time, so I get all these little secret weapons. I think one of the things I’ve had to learn … and I think this is not just businesses. It’s just with my husband, with my son, is sometimes it’s okay to be silent. I think a lot of times, we want to cut people off, we want to jump in. Just let them talk. You don’t have to have a response to every single thing. I think in that specific situation, my client just really, really wanted to be heard. Honestly, I had to get really truthful with her about a few things.
I said like, “Listen, when you do this, this is a bit of a problem. Here’s why. It’s really challenging for me to serve you in the best way when you do that.” I think if you can turn it around and make how you’re feeling … Don’t say, “I feel X.” It’s more about, “This is the impact on the work I do for you,” then, actually, it gets through. That little turnaround, I think, makes a big difference. It’s like, “I cannot be of the greatest service to you when X is happening.”
Rob: Yeah. I see that in my business every once in a while where I’ve taken on a new client. It’s embarrassing, but you say, “Hey, I’m going to start working this week.” I start the work, but I don’t necessarily follow-up with an email that says, “Hey, I’ve started on it, or whatever.” Two or three days later, as I’m going through your research or whatever, I get an email. It’s like, “Hey, Rob. How’s it going?” It’s like, “I should know they’re going to want an update.” They just want to be kept into the loop. They’re not angry, but they want to make sure that you’re actually paying attention. They’ve just written a check, and they want to make sure they’re getting value for it.
Maggie: I mean, honestly, giving them … We use base camp in our business. I love base camp because they have visibility into what’s happening when it’s happening. Even if we’re not talking all the time, they can go in and see the team has completed that task, and that things are moving along.
For example, I had a customer interview this morning for one of my clients where I work on case studies. One of my tasks this afternoon is to let that client know I talked to their client, and that they can expect the draft on X date now. Such a small touch point, but they’re not left wondering with something that’s so important, me talking to their client, if it happened, did it go well, all those questions that are going to come up.
Kira: Yeah. I definitely … There’s room for improvement there. I’m going to just dig in the weeds a little bit more before we move on. You’re talking about on-boarding. This is for me, personally. I do get really excited. I feel like I have on-boarding under control. But where I fall apart a bit is in between projects with the same client. You do a good job, and they want you for the next project a couple months later. Then, I feel like I … not that I slack off, but a loosen up on the on-boarding for this second project because I’ve already gathered some information. I’ve done some research. I feel like there’s got to be a better way to do at it, but I don’t necessarily think I need to do the rigid on-boarding process I did initially.
Maggie: Kira, I think this is such a great question, because I think this is a really natural … This is such a natural thing. We’re like, “I got it handled. Let’s not create more …”
Maggie: Why would you create more work for the client? I think acknowledging to the client saying, “Hey, you know what, because we’ve done this before, I’ve got X, Y, and Z, but what I really could use from you is A, B and C.” I think if you can make this, the process, seamless but make sure you do that reset with them so they know what to expect … Also, too, like maybe you don’t need anything additional, maybe at that point, it’s just a matter of communicating the timeline and setting fresh expectations for this specific project.
Rob: Okay, Maggie. Let’s shift gears again, a little bit. You’ve done a lot of work as a copywriter. You’ve been very active in our group giving advice to writers, usually about things like process, but I’m curious what you think a lot of operators are doing wrong. What could we be doing better … Maybe it is process. Maybe it’s outside of process … to just level up our game just a bit?
Maggie: Systems, 100%. Systems and frameworks. Be honest, this stuff does not come easily to me. I am like your classic creative copywriter. I went into writing because I like writing, not because I like systems.
I think this is where if you can look at … Okay. When I do a website package, how can I streamline every step of this so that I know exactly what step needs to happen? Do I have standard pre-work? Do I have a standard process that I go through with every client when I talk to them and I interview them the first time? Every step of the way, what are the systems you need?
These don’t have to be fancy. I see so many people wasting so much time creating these beautiful flowcharts, I’m like, “Oh my gosh, that was like 10 hours of your life you’re never getting back.” Put it into Google Doc. Put it in a folder so that every time you’re going to do this, its handled.
I also think, too, once you’ve done that and you start to refine that … Rob, you shared an article yesterday in the group which I thought was really great and had really pointed out a few things that have really helped me up-level my business is just having standard frameworks, so being able to say to the client like, “This is the process we follow when we write your website. We do storytelling. We do content strategy. Here’s what you can expect at each step.”
Even in the sales process, laying out your process, and not letting the client dictate it really helps you command more money at the end of the day. If you have loose systems, formalize them so that you can sell those as part of the process so that when you say, “Oh, the price is X,” the client doesn’t cringe and go, “What?” They understand the value of what you’re delivering to them, and the results they can expect.
Rob: That’s good.
Kira: Joanna Wiebehad mentioned something similar around owning that process, owning your system and your frameworks so that the client isn’t running your project for you.
Maggie: Yeah, it’s so true with copy. I think a client can think they’re the expert very, very easily. I mean, they’re a great writer, or their cousin is, or someone else. You’re like, “No. This is how we do things, A, B, C, D, E. The end.”
Kira: Maggie, you have your hand on the pulse of content, copywriting space, strategy space, online marketing. You know what’s happening through your clients and through your own work. Where do you see some opportunities in the marketplace for the creative copywriters that are maybe listening right now?
Maggie: This question came up in the group yesterday. I think one of the areas that I don’t think enough copywriters are paying attention to is we are in the video age, learning how to write video scripts, help clients plan out talking points, how to help them share their story, parse out the relevant pieces, and put that together in a way that is actionable and compelling for their audience. I think that is an art. I think it’s something that a lot of copywriters, it could be an amazing revenue stream to add on to what they’re already doing, or to attract new clients.
Video is not going anywhere. I mean, I’ve been talking a lot with clients. They want to start doing Facebook Lives, so that they don’t know where to start. I’m like, “Here’s a framework to help you plan it out.” I can collaborate with them on that. It’s not just them getting on, not creating that stickiness with reviewers, and just having it be a waste of time.
I think the other thing is, too, don’t afraid. If you see an opportunity in your client’s business, where they can be doing something better, they could add something to the mix, based on what you know, suggest it. So many times, we’re so afraid to feel like we’re pushing, or we don’t want to be sleazy and give them the upsell, but that’s where the best opportunities are always going to be is with your existing clients. Don’t assume they don’t have money. Don’t assume they don’t need help.
Rob: One system that I think almost every writer, and maybe even businessperson needs help with is a system for getting more referrals, from happy clients from friends, neighbors. What sorts of things do you do and you help your clients do to create a system where they’re getting great referrals that provide ongoing work for the future?
Maggie: Remember when we talked about that on-boarding process? You also need an off-boarding process with the clients you love. Don’t ask clients you don’t love to refer you. Ask the ones you love. Especially if you do a lot of project work, when you’re wrapping up, make sure that you’re not just collecting the testimonial from them, or getting feedback, that you’re actually taking an extra step to say, “Hey, you know what, I’m always looking for clients, amazing clients like you,” however you want to phrase it. You’re the writer, guys, and inviting them to introduce you to other people.
I think we shy away from asking for referrals because, again, it feels pushy. I will tell you this, my business to this day, relies so heavily on referrals that I will always ask for the referral. I never hesitate to do it, because it’s so much better than having to put on pants and go network with people, or stand in a room and feel awkward with a cocktail, or cold calling. Oh my gosh, if my business relied on cold calling, I’d be working at Jamba Juice, seriously.
Asking for the referral is the least scary of all the options in my book. If you are at a point where you’re like, “Hey, you know what, I don’t even know where to start with referrals,” a couple really quick things. Number one, make a big list of everyone you’ve ever worked with, all your past clients, past collaborators. My first client when I started freelancing came from a college professor because I let him know I was in business. So many times, we don’t tell people what we’re doing. “How’s business?” “Good.”
Maggie: If people don’t know what you do, they can’t refer you. There’s so many people, I can guarantee for almost each and every one of us, is there is so many people in your personal network, and in your extended professional network that want to see you succeed, that if you just send … Warm them up if you haven’t talked to them in a while. Don’t send it randomly to someone from three years ago. If you send a quick email and say, “Hey, you know what, I’m on the lookout for this type of client. See anyone, let me know. The biggest thing with this is to make this really easy. All you have to do is connect us by email, and I’ll take care of the rest.” Make it a very easy ask that all they have to do is send an email. Okay. Most people can do that for you.
Rob: When do you do that? Do you ask when you send the final invoice? Are you asking in the middle of the process? Is it as you’re off-boarding and delivering the content that you’ve promised? When do you ask for the referrals?
Maggie: I would honestly, I always like to make sure everything is paid for before I ask for anything. I’m also an upfront payment kind of gal, though, so I don’t have final invoices.
Maggie: I feel very strongly about that. We can talk about that in a second. If you’re doing a lot of retainer work, this might be just something like, “Hey,” twice a year, you’re going to ask clients that you’ve never asked before for a referral. I just worked with one of our mentoring clients on this. She does an annual survey. That’s part of the process she goes through.
If you have project clients, just baking this in to be the last step, like, “Hey. I loved working with you. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” Then, that’s when you could ask. I would make sure that drafts are delivered, everything is tied up neatly with a bow in this kind of … your very last step in the process.
Kira: Okay, Maggie, because you mentioned it, we have got to ask you before we wrap. You take your full payment before you start the project?
Maggie: Either full payment or milestone payments. I never deliver final anything without money.
Maggie: I don’t believe in final payments. I don’t. I just don’t. I’ve been burned too many times. If it’s a project under 3,000-ish, I ask for payment in full. If it’s a bigger thing, it’ll be milestone payments along the way, but typically those payments end long before the project ends. If that’s a deal-breaker for people, I’m not a great fit for you, because me getting paid is more important than anything else.
Kira: Can you give a rough idea of the type of number, the rate on a project that would require three milestones and three payments throughout it?
Maggie: Let’s say it’s a $9,000 project, 3,000 upfront. Day 30 day, day 60.
Kira: Okay. Cool.
Maggie: Just make it really simple. I try to get the bigger amount upfront. It’s been funny. I used to bill like 30 days till I was paid later. As soon as I switched this, I expected a lot of pushback. Honestly, it’s only come up once or twice. Most people are like, “Okay.” If you’ve positioned yourself well enough as the expert, they will do it for you. I will say this, if you work with big corporate clients, it is harder, but I’ve definitely pulled it off.
Rob: That’s great, Maggie.
Kira: That’s amazing. Rob and I are making some changes in our businesses.
Rob: I’m updating my terms and conditions on my site right now. There’s a ton of stuff that we really could be asking, especially when we’re talking about processes. You’ve done this so many times. It would be awesome to have you back maybe just to do a show entirely about processes, and really stepping through what it is, but because we’re out of time now, we won’t ask for more than that. Where can people find you online if they want to find more about you and read some of the work that you’ve done?
Maggie: The Service Business Success Show. We talk in a very real way, the same with the Copywriting Club talks about running copywriting business. We talk about just running a business based on clients. You can also find us over at scoopindustries.com.
Kira: I love your podcast, Maggie. I love listening to the two of you, just real talk. You set us all straight. You keep us all grounded. I really appreciate it. I appreciate your time coming back again to record another episode. Thank you.
Rob: Thank you so much, Maggie.
Maggie: Thanks, guys.
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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 in 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, and full transcript, and links to our free Facebook community, visit thecopywriterclub.com. We’ll see you next episode.
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