B2B copywriting: an interview with Pete Savage
Pete Savage is an example of why I always say that freelancing is more secure than having a job.
Pete turned losing a job into a freelance business in record time, as you’ll see in a moment.
When we talked, Pete shared his thoughts on the unique world of B2B copywriting.
Dean: How long have you been a freelance copywriter? What’s your story?
Pete: I’ve been a freelancer for about 8 years now. I tell people I was pushed “backward and blindfolded” into the world of freelancing … which means I got fired.
Turfed on a Friday morning, and by Monday I had my first freelance gig. And the market for freelancers is even better now that it was then. I was a copywriter in a small ad agency — that’s the place I was let go from. Prior to that, I had worked in the corporate world in sales and marketing jobs.
Dean: Fired on Friday and freelancing on Monday? That must be a world record! So now you specialize in B2B or Business-to-Business copywriting. Just in case someone doesn’t know what that is, can you give us a brief definition?
Pete: When you or I purchase a computer or clothing or accounting services, those are B2C, meaning Business-to-Consumer transactions. B2B, or Business-to-Business, transactions don’t involve consumers; these are purchases that take place between businesses.
The small business owner in your city’s downtown (as well as Microsoft headquarters in Seattle, for that matter) buys office equipment and cleaning services and accounting services from OTHER business. Those are B2B transactions. So B2B copywriting involves writing marketing materials for companies who sell their goods and services to other businesses.
Dean: Why did you choose to specialize in B2B?
Pete: I have a business degree, and a background in B2B sales ( I was a sales rep for Pitney Bowes in a former life) so I understood and enjoyed the business-to-business environment before becoming a copywriter.
Dean: How does B2B pay compare to other freelance projects?
Pete: The pay is excellent. There is one exception … the royalties that you can earn in consumer copywriting (primarily for large direct mail projects) don’t exist in B2B.
Dean: Some freelancers work with local clients. Others, like me, work with people scattered all over the world. How about you?
Pete: Yes, my clients are all over North America.
Dean: I would imagine you have a lot of U.S. clients since you work with technology companies. Are there any advantages or disadvantages to being located in Canada?
Pete: Yes, I have a mix of U.S. and Canadian clients and I’ve always viewed it as a totally seamless thing. I don’t really make the distinction between the two because our economies, our cultures, our industries are quite homogeneous.
The only time I notice it, really, is when spellcheck hassles me about writing about my neighbour’s favourite colour. So then I have to localize my behaviour.
Dean: I have a client with Dutch branding and I have to purposely use those sort of spellings. People in the U.S. consider them somewhat exotic. Give us an idea of the type of projects you routinely get from clients?
Pete: It really does run the gambit. Taking the past year as an example, I’ve written everything … direct mail, email marketing, case studies, online video, microsites. Often times I’ll do conceptual / consulting work leading up to the copy which is fun.
Dean: Yes, it’s always nice when you can help develop the concepts rather than have them handed to you. It’s not only more profitable, it can also give you more control over the final message. In your opinion, has social marketing made an impact on B2B?
Pete: Yes, more and more clients are talking about it. It’s in the early stages, so lots of B2B companies are still hesitant, still cautious, but you’ll see it become more prevalent. A year from now, most B2B marketers will have a social media presence.
Dean: Do you need any special education, skills, or experience to do B2B copywriting work?
Pete: You don’t need a business degree or formal skills, but an understanding of how B2B marketing works is a must. There are nuances in terms of the sales force and the marketing department in B2B, how they differ, how they interact, how one supports the other, etc.
It’s not rocket science, but you need a solid understanding of the B2B world in order to be valuable to your clients. You can either get that understanding through your work experience, which many people already have, or by studying the industry… books, blogs, industry publications, etc. AWAI also has programs that teach these essentials. Full disclosure: I’m a contributor and co-creator of some of AWAI’s B2B programs.
Dean: This might sound like an odd question, but is B2B fun? I do a lot of B2B and think it’s a blast. But to some people, it sounds a little dry.
Pete: Haha … yes, I think people might think that because there has always been so much dry corporate marketing stuff out there. But a good copywriter will help their clients get past that, and get down to the real story, the real essence of the products and services.
Really you’re helping your clients do a better job of selling and marketing their business, which is very fun and rewarding.
Dean: What is the hardest thing about writing B2B copy?
Pete: For me, it was harder years ago when I was new to it, trying to get comfortable writing naturally instead of all corporate-collar-and-tie like. Once you get past that and get really comfortable writing like a human being, writing B2B gets much easier.
Dean: What do you do when you’re not being a B2B genius? Any sports, hobbies, obsessions?
Pete: My latest work-related obsession is helping solopreneurs build thriving businesses. Since writing a book on the subject of freelancing, it’s become a key focus of mine. I love speaking, teaching, writing, blogging about the topic. I’m also blessed with a happy and growing family, so right now my non-work time is spent with my wife and kids, which I love.
And at this particular moment in time (June 2010) I’m regularly sneaking away from work to watch England in the World Cup.
Dean: Yeah, but don’t those freakin’ vuvuzelas drive you nuts? Sheesh. Speaking of nuts, does your dog Ringo help out around the office?
Pete: I wish! If I could channel Ringo’s energy bursts (he’s a Weimaraner) into helping me out around the office I’d be 10 times more productive!
Dean: If you could give freelancers just one solid piece of advice for writing great B2B copy, what would it be?
Pete: Avoid the stiff, vague, lifeless corporate speak that you see so much of, and help your clients better connect with their audience by writing in a natural, human, conversational style.
Dean: I think that’s good advice whether you’re writing B2B or B2C or anything, really. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Pete.
- Email copywriting: an interview with Ivan Levison
- SEO copywriting: an interview with Heather Lloyd Martin
- PR copywriting: an interview with Kathleen Hanover
- Web copywriting: an interview with James Chartrand
- Direct mail copywriting: an interview with Dean Rieck