I was talking to a fellow copywriter a few weeks ago and he complained that he spent over $300 a year on various subscriptions.
When you think about it, that’s not that much to keep up with industry news and the latest tips and technologies. It’s easy to pay even more. However, I told him I do the same thing for free.
For many publications, especially in business niches, there aren’t enough subscribers to make subscription fees profitable. The real money comes from advertising space.
So publishers frequently employ a strategy called “controlled circulation.” Basically, they provide free subscriptions to boost circulation and allow them to earn more from selling ads.
As I write this, I don’t spend a dime on business subscriptions. Every marketing or business publication I get is free.
A few years ago, I set up a “store” where you too can subscribe to a wide variety of trade business magazines for free. There are also a lot of reports, industry guides, white papers, and downloads.
Publications don’t offer this deal all the time. So publications come and go in the store. However, if you keep checking, you can eventually amass an impressive collection of subscriptions, even for publications that ordinarily charge hefty fees.
Click here to browse the current offers. And don’t be shy. These subscriptions really ARE free. And you can ask for as many as you want.
Since I get so many inquiries about copywriters and copywriting, I created a Copywriter Information Center on my business website. Here’s one of the many articles and resources you’ll find there.
I’m often asked what copywriters do. So I tell them, in a nutshell, a copywriter writes copy for advertising and marketing materials, such as print ads, direct mail, and brochures.
Oh, great, they say. I’m a pretty good writer. I got good grades in English class. I should get into copywriting.
Well … it’s not just about writing.
In the real world, a copywriter must have skills beyond copywriting.
A copywriter must also have expertise in a variety of areas related to creating and producing the ads they write, which may include:
Rush work. We all hate it, but it’s a fact of life for freelancers. Trouble is, some clients abuse our good nature with repeated requests for quick copy.
Sara Lancaster takes on this problem and provides a few suggestions for dealing with it.
On Monday, a client sends you an e-mail requesting brochure copy. The company’s sales team is going to a conference next week. NEXT WEEK!
On Tuesday, a potential client calls to ask if he can have 50 articles about cell phone repair ASAP.
On Wednesday, an old co-worker IMs and asks you to be a professional reference. She’d love it if you could review her résumé that afternoon.
On Thursday … oh, never mind. You get the point.
What is with all these rush copy projects?
Back in the Jurassic period of my career, there was no World Wide Web. So there were no nifty online payment services for billing freelance fees.
I’d invoice clients the same way I sent them copy: in the mail. Yes, I’d print an invoice, address an envelope, and drop it in a mailbox. The client would get the invoice a few days later.
Today, we have PayPal.
Billing clients with PayPal is about as easy as it gets. You can send an email invoice or use PayPal’s “request for money” feature. When the client pays, it comes to your PayPal account and you get a notice upon arrival.
Some clients like PayPal because they can use a credit card to pay you, and they don’t have to fumble with checks or bother with sticking bits of paper in the mail.
But this convenience comes at a cost, namely PayPal’s transaction fees.
In the U.S., you’re charged 2.9% of your invoice plus $0.30 for each payment. So to receive payment on a $1,000 invoice, you lose $29.30. If it’s an international payment, it’s an extra 1.0%, so you lose $39.30.
Writing can be a lonely way to make a living.
This is especially true if you’re a freelancer, but it’s also true if you have a full-time corporate position.
Writers create the messages that communicate, persuade, and sell. Yet they are too often underpaid and disrespected by those who directly benefit from the skill and experience writers bring to the business world.
I cannot personally complain much about this, but I’ve had my fair share of prospects who have expected me to essentially be their slave, work for nearly nothing, and bask in the joy of it all.
Some of this has come from pure ignorance about what professional writers do. Though some comes from outright disrespect. Though I try to be polite, I have little patience for this and am not shy about expressing my opinions on the matter.
When this disrespect takes the form of cheating you out of fair pay, breaking contracts, or ignoring copyright protections, it may be time to consider joining a union. And I’d like to introduce you to two of them.
If you write a novel, it’s clear to everyone who owns the work. You wrote it. You own it.
But if you write a website for an employer or client, who owns the copy?
What we’re talking about here is “copyright.” It’s one area of law that you should understand to protect your interests and avoid unnecessary confrontations with employers and clients.
Obligatory disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer and I don’t pretend to be one. What follows is my admittedly meager understanding of basic copyright principles. You should not consider this legal advice. If you have a legal question about copyright, you should consult with a real lawyer who has attended a real law school (not one on the Internet) and works in an office with rows and rows of impressive leather-bound books.
What is copyright?
Today’s copyright laws are based on the Copyright Act of 1976. This act basically says that the moment you fix your work in a tangible form, whether it’s written, typed, or dictated, your rights are automatically activated.
In the minds of some consumers, people in marketing operate at an ethical level below lawyers and barely above used car salesmen.
And that includes copywriters.
Some of my friends call me the “marketing weasel.” It’s said affectionately, since I make a lot of money for some of them, but it shows that even copywriters don’t have the best reputation for ethical behavior.
Don’t worry. I’m not going to get on a soapbox here. I just believe that this is a subject every copywriter should think about from time to time. Sara Lancaster touched on this last month when she revealed her own standards for accepting clients.
What is your stance on ethics in copywriting?
Many years ago, I wrote a piece for Direct Marketing Magazine where I outlined 4 ways to approach ethics:
Most of my clients have been respectable and honest. Many are household brand names, such as Sprint, American Express, and Turbo Tax.
But I’ve received my share of calls from, shall we say, questionable clients. You know, gambling, porn, and other businesses on the wrong side of the tracks.
Today Sara Lancaster reveals how she deals with this difficult ethical challenge.
The day I sat down to write this post I received a timely email from an affiliate program inviting me to promote clothing. Here’s an excerpt:
We have been looking for someone such as yourself to promote our fashion and classic items…take a look at our full selection by clicking this link. As you’ll see, we carry everything from the latest fashion finds to the classic staples that are essential to every woman’s closet.
I bit. When I clicked the link I was surprised to see an assortment of men’s risqué undergarments that I wouldn’t exactly describe as “classic” or “women’s” — more like outrageous and borderline offensive.
I’ve fielded several calls and emails from adult website owners, online gambling promoters, weight loss experts selling snake oil, “business opportunity” con artists, etc., who all wanted quality web content for their morally questionable niche.
While I’ve turned down most of these projects, every now and again I’ll take a project provided the client seems to be a legitimate business person with scruples.
If it’s happened to you, you know how devastating it can be. If it’s not happened yet, get ready, because it will.
Sooner or later, you’re going to screw up big time on a copywriting project. You’re going to make a mistake so serious, you’ll think your life as a professional copywriter is over for all time.
And the question is, how will you handle it?
I’ve been fortunate. In my long career as a freelance copywriter, I can remember only one serious screw-up. It happened when I had just started out and was writing copy for a local agency.
The agency had volunteered to create a mailer for a prominent award show. That meant thousands of area advertising professionals would see the piece. The agency wanted to make an impression and was putting their reputation on the line. They were also putting their own money into the project.
My job was to work with the designer to create the mailer. It looked simple enough to me. Headline, some descriptive copy about the show, a list of VIP judges, and so on.
I worked hard to write the important copy I thought the designer needed. And, being inexperienced, I figured that I didn’t need to worry much about all the routine things that went into every direct mail piece.
Oops! That’s when I made perhaps the most incredibly stupid mistake of my career.
They’re out there. Lurking in the shadows. Waiting for the right moment to strike.
They’re the copywriting sample bandits … nefarious and sneaky people who seek to steal your samples for their own greedy ends.
If you’ve never run into a sample bandit, let me tell you about two encounters I’ve had recently so you can get a taste for how these villains operate.
A guy calls me on the phone:
Bandit: “Yeah, high. I have a car dealership and I’d like to do a mailing. Can I get some of your samples?”
Me: “Why don’t you tell me a little about your business and what sort of promotion you want to do?”
Bandit: “Uh, do you have any samples of auto dealer direct mail?”
Me: “A few. But if you could tell me what you want to accomplish, perhaps I could help.”
Bandit: “I want more customers. How about those samples?”
Me: “I can send you samples, but I’m just trying to find out a little more about the sort of promotion you want to do so I can help you accomplish your objectives.”
Bandit: “You know what? Never mind.”