Wednesday, February 3, 2010

On Giving Unsolicited Advice

I recently was approached by a potential client who wanted a landing page for a website. Sounded straightforward--until I got to the end of his request. He planned to use the page on numerous websites that are optimized for different keywords. What he basically wanted was a series of paragraphs that could be rearranged indiscriminately to fit different keyword combinations. Oh--and he wanted the page to sell as well.

Here's where I had to stop and think. The thing is, a sales document requires you to identify with your customers' problems and position your company as the solution. There's an order to the information that's supposed to appear. Persuasion is like a thesis--you have to prove it in steps. Those paragraphs in hard-hitting sales letters aren't interchangeable. If they were, they wouldn't just be ineffective--they'd basically say nothing.

I told the prospect my concerns and explained how I would do it--using other tactics to optimize the page for numerous keywords and choosing the most relevant keywords to include naturally in the copy, with the possibility of writing entirely new sales documents for different markets and products. The response I got was the one I expected--that at this point their budget didn't account for it and they were hoping to get a sales letter with interchangeable parts as a cost saving measure. On my end, it looks like by trying to cut expenditures they are shooting themselves in the proverbial foot. But I gave my advice--and hopefully they'll take it.

What weird requests have you received for writing projects? And how do you deal with them?


Unknown said...

That IS weird! I think you told them exactly what they needed to hear, too. Whether they listen or not is another matter. :)

Strange request #1: Write my book so I can regain custody of my children.

Strange request #2: We can't see the difference between your $200 press releases and our $25 blog posts. So write this blog post announcing our new partnership...

Strange request #3: Write this series of business books telling everyone how incredibly wealthy and successful we became using these methods. But we can pay only 1/3 what you're charging....

Jennifer Williamson said...

HA! I've definitely seen more than my share of #3--once I had a prospect make a big point of telling me all about their multi-million dollar marketing budget, then they tried to get me to work on the website for free.

Myric said...

Because I do video/film work in addition to writing, I get wacky requests all the time.

#1 - "Hey, [mutual friend] said you're a writer and editor, too! Would you help us write our wedding vows? And actually, can you write a script for our wedding ceremony, then film it and give us a DVD? And it should have words on the bottom of the screen for my grandmother who is deaf."
(you mean subtitles?)
"Yes, those!"
(Um, I write technical articles and fiction, I'm not so good with speeches or romancy stuff. And that's an awful lot of work you're asking for.)
"Oh, don't worry, we'll invite you to the wedding!"

#2 - I've had the same sort of "#3" offer, but on the video side creating infomercials. And the company decided they wanted to offer me deferred pay based on the net profits. In other words, "help create an infomercial (a lot of work to begin with) and make it so compelling that when people buy as many copies of our book as they did the sit-up machine, you'll be a millionaire." Or don't get paid, since about 90% of infomercials don't actually make any net profit.

Watch out for deferred payment!

Unknown said...

Myric, that's wild! I bet they'd have wanted that video to be perfect, too. Some people think that asking begets them a slave.

Jennifer Williamson said...

I'd get requests for free help all the TIME. I'd do it for friends and family, but my policy was only small projects--no writing someone's entire nineteen page website for free; I just don't have the time to do a lot of free stuff anymore. And if it's a friend of a friend (not a close friend or family member), I think it's kind of ridiculous to expect a ton of free help...they'd pay a lawyer or an auto mechanic who was a friend of a friend.