A Copywriter Walks Into a Bar…

Posted By on May 23, 2010 | 0 comments

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Wait, let’s start over. A freelance copywriter (designer, developer, lawyer, whatever) gives a longtime client a bid. The client gasps and says, “Why so much? This is only a couple of hours of work!”

To which the freelance copywriter states, “Yes. A couple of hours and fifteen years of experience.”

Can’t just anybody do it?

I read a poorly-written article recently, mercifully short, that disparaged all copywriters as having nothing to offer. The author argued that anyone can be a copywriter by studying political pundits at the extremes of the spectrum.

The topic was commercial copywriting. The stated wisdom in the article was that you don’t need to write copy that sells, you only need to write with passion.

This ignores the fact that the extreme political pundits are essentially performers and are ranting to the already-converted. The converted aren’t reading to be convinced; they’re reading to have their biases confirmed.

What’s your labor worth?

If everyone who could type an email had professional communication skills, millions of writers would be out of work and this is clearly not the case. That doesn’t mean all those writers are good. It means all those people hiring them know that they don’t have the skills they’re hiring for. Commercial copywriting, like any profession, requires skill acquired over many years. Only those who don’t understand what it takes to do something can ever ask, “How hard could it be?”

Freelancers in any profession hear this all too frequently. There are clients who get it and clients who don’t. The ones who get it feel they’re investing in services or products that will affect their bottom line positively. The ones who don’t get it feel like any business expense is a ripoff that they should get for less money. (This doesn’t apply to their product or service, of course.)

Let’s make a deal

In fairness, we all like a deal and hate the idea of overpaying. We forget the times we bought something on the cheap and were sorry. We say, “Well, you get what you pay for.” And then we go out looking for the cheapest deal again.

So how do we learn to do a better job of valuing the services of the professionals we hire?

We don’t have time to learn how difficult it is to do someone else’s job. We think of most jobs in terms of actual time spent. But the guy or gal who fixes the catalytic converter on your car not only had to get trained to do that, they had to fix a bunch of them for real and they had to buy expensive tools and equipment for their shop. It’s not just the two hours spent on your car.

Professional empathy

Maybe we need to remember how much of our own work goes unnoticed or undervalued and apply that to other people we’re dealing with. Even the checkout clerk at your grocery store has skills that you don’t have, and those skills allow you to get out of the store quickly and easily. Part of the price of your Wheaties pays the clerk’s wages.

I suspect that most of us don’t really begrudge a good professional getting paid what they’re worth. The folks who do begrudge them probably don’t value their own work very much.

So, I was saying…

A copywriter walks into a bar.

The bartender rattles off a dozen beers on tap and asks what the copywriter wants.

The copywriter walks out.

Next day, the copywriter walks into the bar again.

Again, the bartender rattles off the beers on tap and asks what the copywriter wants.

The copywriter walks out.

Next day the copywriter is back.

The bartender says, “We got beer that’ll have you hammered before you can reach the door.”

The copywriter says, “Gimme one.”

The bartender pours and asks, “Why did you stay and order this time?”

The copywriter says, “I don’t care about features, I care about benefits.”

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