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Apr 28, 2004
How To

20-Year Veteran B-to-B Copywriter Robert Bly Reveals How to Land Clients (Without Networking)

SUMMARY: Ever wondered what it would take to make it as an independent copywriter or marketing consultant serving the b-to-b world? We interviewed Bob Bly who's landed more than 100 clients in his 20-year career, without personal networking (like many marketers, Bob prefers writing to sales calls.)

Here are his tactics, including how to use email and direct postal mail to get new leads, and when to get rid of a "bad" client.
Freelance copywriter Robert Bly continues to market his services, though he has more work than he can handle. "The reason is not to get more business, but to have choices. I only do projects that are well paying, with people that I like, and that are interesting to me."

How can you build your consulting or copywriting career so you're in the same position? We asked Bly to reveal his tactics:

Tactic #1. Specialize (or at least tell prospective clients you do)

No prospective client wants to hear you say, "I can do anything." They want to feel like they are choosing a true specialist. Plus, the more you specialize, the more likely it is that your current clients will tell colleagues about you.

Bly found success by targeting a specific industry (high-tech industrial) and by offering specific services (direct response copywriting.)

Some clients will ask if you can handle production as well as marketing strategy and creative. Bly's found as long as he can hand them a list of specific recommended providers, these clients are more than satisfied. The answer of who to go to can be almost as useful as hiring a single consultant to do everything.

Tactic #2. Try a direct postal mail campaign

Bly got his very first clients 20-years ago by simply sending a one-page letter plus reply card to a list of 500 ad agencies that handled industrial and high tech accounts. Interested agencies could send the card back, noting what type of writing samples they'd like to see.

The campaign netted 35 initial replies. Bly sent each a two-pocket folder filled with photocopies of three or four appropriate samples, a price-list, and a reprint of an article he had written for a trade magazine. (Note: he purposely didn't show off the variety in his portfolio but matched the samples to the prospect.)

30% of these leads turned into a paying client.

If he were to redo the campaign today, Bly would change the target list. "I'd identify the type of company I want to write for, then get a list of people I thought were good clients (not agencies)," he says. "You want to reach the marketing director."

Then, he'd send a one-page letter offering to send an information kit (again, samples in a folder). The return card would ask what kind of copy they'd like to see: ads, Web copy, direct mail, etc.

If prospects who return the card but leave that question blank, Bly suggests calling to find out exactly what samples they want.

After two weeks, call everyone who received the information kit to follow up. Again, Bly says, you'll probably convert probably between one and three out of ten.

Tactic #3. Keep following up

What Bly has finally learned, after "all these years," he says, is that the key to conversion is follow-up. His three key methods are:

o Method A. Contact-managed follow-up

Bly suggests a contact-management program, so when a lead says they don't have anything at the moment, you can ask: "When do you think you might need this project?"

If the prospect is aiming for the beginning June, tell them you'll call in the last week of May. Then, put the contact into your management program so that in the last week of May, the window pops up and tells you to call him.

o Method B. Random follow up

"I read a lot of stuff," Bly says. "Whenever I see an article of interest to any one of my clients or prospects, I rip it out, write 'Andrea, FYI, Bob.' That's all I write. I put it in an envelope and mail it to my prospect."

This unscheduled follow-up is enormously effective, he says. "It really sets you apart."

o Method B. Automated follow up

Ask every prospect if you can put them on your ezine list. "They always say yes," Bly says. (Note: Do *not* put prospects on the list just because you've had contact with them. Make sure you ask first.)

"These three things will convert the maximum amount to sales," Bly says. "Any one of these will work, but the three together are more than the sum of their parts."

Tactic #4. Offer giveaways in your email newsletter

Most consultants do an email newsletter these days. Bly suggests you stand out from the pack by building a more interactive relationship with your list.

Perhaps you should run a topical survey and report results in the next issue. Or copy Bly's example and regularly offering giveaways. "I had given a teleseminar for a software trade association, and had a master CD of the seminar," he explains. He sent an email to his list, letting readers know that if they were in the software industry and were interested in the CD, he'd send them a free copy.

"Within 48 hours we had 200 inquiries, and at least 30 were software, techie-type companies that were interested. One of the clients that came from that must have given me $10,000 worth of business in three months," Bly says.

He's also tested discounts. For example, Bly recently wanted to test subject lines in email marketing assignments. In his ezine, he asked for companies that were interested in running such a test to contact him.

He wrote that he would charge only half price, in return for a company that would let him test subject lines and that would share results. In two days, he had more than enough responses to the offer (and had to turn some companies away).

Tactic #5. Pick clients carefully to avoid bad ones

To Bly, a bad client is one who is both ignorant and arrogant. His answer to dealing with those? He doesn't work for them. "I turn away many more people who want to hire me than I do work for. I only work for people who are a good fit," he says. Otherwise you can lose sleep, lose spirit and lose the passion that makes you a great marketer.

Bly looks for five things before taking on a client:

-> Personal chemistry: "I like them and I think they like me," and they have a similar philosophy and approach.

-> They need the things that he does well (direct marketing), and are in the industry he knows and can do well in.

-> They pay fairly. "I want clients who are used to paying the fees I charge," he says. "I won't work for people who I have to convince to pay me my fee."

-> They're knowledgeable and professional. "Some copywriters prefer to work with smaller clients," he says. "They want to educate and teach and become a consultant." Bly doesn’t. "I don't want the client who says, 'What do you mean by a microsite?' I don't want to explain it to them."

-> The project is interesting. "I'll do anything to keep from being bored," he says.

Tactic #6. Consider having a friend negotiate fees for you

Bly has an unusual way of negotiating: he contracts a private rep to negotiate fees and deadlines for him, because he simply hates doing it.
(Note: we also know of many freelancers who use reps to handle calling on old invoices -- that way the tensions don't come between you and your relationship with the client.)

Bly knows some freelancers at the high end of the price range who reduce sticker shock by saying things such as, "Just so you know, I'm very, very expensive," or, "When I tell you the price, it's not going to make any sense to you, you'll think it's ridiculous…"

When Bly negotiated on his own, he had a different method: he suggests saying to the client, "Do you have a budget for this project?" (That's less threatening than, "What's your budget?")

If they answer no, then you can say, "Do you at least have a dollar figure in mind that you wouldn't mind spending?" If they say yes, you can ask if they'd be willing to share that number with you. "Then you know if your quote will be in line," Bly explains.

You can also quote per page or per unit, he says. (For example: X dollars for a home page, Y dollars for every other page on the site.)

Tactic #7. Build your reputation by writing a book

Bly calls networking "visibility marketing." (In fact, he claims that he hates to network and doesn't actually do any.) "You become visible in the business world, you go to meetings, speak at meetings," he says. "People hear about you and they say, 'Oh, I read your article,' or saw you speak," he explains.

On the other hand he's written plenty of books. He notes that his books have brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars of business, he says. He considers them "brochures that will never be thrown away."

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