What a day, dear readers! What a week! We're off to Blogher...for a weekend of mixing and matching and chit-chat with many good friends. The air will be filled with talk about blogs, women, writing, and empowerment. Which brings us to our terrific interviewee this week: Christine Taylor of Christine Taylor's Core Collateral. We so enjoyed learning about Christine's world -- a world of writing and being Mom. Christine is one lady who doesn't let any grass grow under her feet. She's one busy lady...which, for all intents and purposes, is an oxymoron, anyway. We give you Christine:
Lip-sticking: Christine, let's talk words. Jane is quite fond of the written word, as our readers are well aware. There is an on-going controversy on whether or not women are better speakers than men. What do you think, as someone who works with words.
Christine: I've known some fine speakers out there, both men and women. And I like to speak myself, taking after my minister father who is himself an outstanding speaker.
I think that the common thread among all good speakers is that they connect with their audience. This doesn't necessarily mean a motivational or emotional talk, although it can. It means reading an audience and having the ability to speak to them where they are, to speak to what they're worrying about, and to offer practical solutions for those worries. This covers the gamut from motivational speeches to business talks: knowing the challenges your audience is facing and offering real help for those challenges. I believe that the most successful male speakers have this ability to connect, but who comes by this quality naturally? Women!
Lip-sticking: Your website says, "Powerful copywriting for high-tech companies." Explain the difference between just writing...and copywriting. And, throw in a caveat about copyrighting.
Christine: Copywriting is a subset of writing. When most people think "writer" they think "novelist." Believe me; I'd like to write a novel someday! It would be a huge achievement in my mind and I'm determined to do it. But it is so rare to be able to support yourself with that kind of writing.
Magazine writing falls into the same "hard to support yourself" category, even though so many writing classes and seminars are set up to teach it. The writing career that has the best chance of supporting you comfortably is copywriting, which is essentially writing for marketing and advertising vehicles. Copywriting falls into a number of different categories: direct mail, ad copy, websites, annual reports, marketing collateral and lots more. The industry is also divided into Business to Consumer (B2C) and Business to Business (B2B).
I'm mostly involved in writing marketing collateral for technology B2B, which includes white papers, bylined articles for trade magazines, and case studies. You can read more about the differences and advantages on my website, and you can also download a special report from my home page that goes into more detail.
Jane, you also asked about copyrighting: the vast majority of copywriting is work-for-hire, and copyright passes to the client when they make their final payment. The only time this might be an issue is if a client is very late on paying me but is already using my copy. And I mean more than 60 days late. However, this rarely happens and I've only had to hint at it once with a late-paying client.
Lip-sticking: Do you think writing for the web is different than writing for print? Many folks just throw up their brochure copy on a website and consider themselves done, and then they wonder why the world isn't beating a path to their door. This seems absurd to Jane...given that we've come so far with our knowledge of the web in the last 5 years. But, it still happens. When you encounter this, what do you do? What do you say or do to convince clients that your services are what they need?
Christine: Jane, you are absolutely right. This is a particular problem in the technology industry, where so many start-up founders come from an engineering background and are only comfortable with highly technical and dense marketing pieces, even when it comes to their website. And then they wonder why no one gets to their contact page... it's because no one understands what they're talking about!
Once a technology start-up has been in operation for a while, gets a second round of funding and a more sophisticated management and marketing team, these kinds of problems will go away. But it's really challenging to write marketing copy for these types of companies in the early stages, and the more technical their founder/CEO is, the more you're going to have a problem. It's true that you don't want to write fluff pieces for engineers, they don't like it. You need to have solid text offering real information and useful solutions. But large technology purchases are only recommended by the engineers. They're made by the executives, many of them who don't have a technical background! They must be able to see and grasp a good business reason for making these large technology purchases, and they're right. But try telling engineer-founded start-ups that.
My conclusion? Think twice about taking on start-ups, and when you do, err on the technical side. More sophisticated companies will see the necessity for business-oriented copy, but with the less sophisticated ones you're a voice crying in the wilderness.
Lip-sticking: It's been said that a writer's life is a lonely one. We often spend days in one room, fingers tapping away at our keyboards, ignoring the phone, catching a little TV now and then. Does that describe you? Tell us what a typical day in the life of Christine Taylor is like...
Christine: Heh, how did you get a video camera in my living room?! With the exception of ignoring the phone, that's me. I get up early to eat breakfast by myself (well, with the dog), journal and pray, go over my calendar, and collect myself for the day. Then I get my young son up and eventually out the door to school, poor kid. (He'd much rather play video games than learn long division, and I don't blame him.) Then it's walk the dog and back home to start work by 8:30.
I work in my high-ceilinged living room with a view of the pines, and I love it. Mornings are mostly writing -- client projects if they're in the writing stage, if not, marketing copy like articles and copy for my own site. Afternoons are client interviews or less intensive work like fixing links, submitting articles to ezine directories, forum discussions, and the like -- basically undemanding stuff, since early afternoon is not my best time. At 3 I pick up my son, which I really look forward to -- it does get a little lonely sometimes! Then it's back to work for another couple of hours, and I'm done for the day.
I don't work long hours, that's not why I started this business. I'm a classic example of the "lifestyle entrepreneur," who centers her business on her preferred lifestyle. That's not to say that I don't like money, I do! But my main purpose in business is neither money nor growth, its lifestyle. If money and business growth go to maintain that lifestyle, great. But as a single mom, it's far more important to me to work a 40-hour week, pay the bills and have lots of time for my son, than it is to work a 70-hour week and make more money, but have no family life. I'm sure you've heard the adage "an entrepreneur is someone who happily works 80 hours for herself instead of 40 hours for someone else." That's not me, and I'm not convinced it should be anyone. I don't think that the 80-hour-a-week classical version of the entrepreneur is healthy for her, her family, her business, or her community. If you're working that hard over a long period of time you've either taken on too much, or you're so tired and strained you're accomplishing in a week what used to take you a day. Lifestyle choices are extremely important to me, can you tell? (we want to hear more, another time, perhaps.)
Lip-sticking: It's blog time! You have the beginnings of a very useful blog. What kinds of decisions went into building this blog? Where would you like to take it? Who do you think should read it?
Christine: I'm trying to drive traffic to my website! The majority of my business comes from networking and discussion forums, which are wonderful things but I'd really like my website to drive more interest and subscribers to my newsletters. My newsletter subscription base is still tiny and that's been frustrating. So I started a blog about writing marketing collateral called Christine Taylor’s Core Collateral for exposure and traffic, and also to make myself write and think about what I do more frequently. It's only a few days old so we'll see what happens! I'm very happy to actually have one after so many months of thinking about it.
Lip-sticking: We noticed your most recent blog post (July 25) talking about "in-house writing" being a "false economy." We're very familiar with prospects who think they can "do it all" in-house, then -- when they discover they can't, they come back and want the original quote, when the job has become a fix-it-upper, which is far more task intensive, and more costly. When it comes to copywriting, seriously, how do you handle clients like that?
Christine: In all honesty, I've only encountered that situation once. Coincidentally that was the only time a client ever stiffed me! I'm still ticked off! *laughs* Well all right, I got over it.
A client’s ill-advised decision to go in-house certainly impacts my bank balance! But the real loss is to the client, since these in-house projects usually either don’t happen at all or happen painfully slowly. It’s not that in-house staff can’t write a white paper, or a bylined article, or a case study. Some of them are quite good at it. It’s an issue of priority and time, and when staff faces a choice between an intensive writing project and in-your-face tasks, the writing project will lose every time.
So for all those weeks or months that the client should have been shopping their great new collateral around - they haven’t. They’ve lost sales and exposure, and they can’t ever get that time back. That’s why many times, deciding against a professional copywriter is a false economy.
Lip-sticking: When did you discover this desire to be a wordsmith? Tell us what kinds of books you read, relative to staying abreast in your chosen field. What kinds of books do you read for pleasure? And, finally, what about magazines...do you read magazines? Any women's magazines?
Christine: I'm a writer because a) it allows me to be home for my school-age son, b) I'm good at it, c) I like it, and d) it pays the bills. Frankly, I'm absolutely delighted at this combination and feel humbled and grateful for my life.
A short history of how I got here: Five years ago I made a mid-life career change from computer support to technical journalism. I was frankly surprised to find out that I liked this type of writing, and that I was good at it. However, I hated my long commute. Since I was shortly to become a single mom I was terrifically motivated not to let my young son spend more time in daycare than home with me. Then I read Peter Bowerman’s The Well-Fed Writer and realized that a copywriting career could support me in my own business and allow me to be home with my son.
Over the next two years I gradually began building my copywriting business while still working at the magazine, and two years ago I went full-time into my own business. The business books I read are about marketing and managing small business - right now I’m reading Big Vision, Small Business by Jamie S. Walters, a small business owner herself who has a brilliant vision of what small business can look like without the business myth of “grow or die.”
Pleasure reading? I’m in the middle of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Other favorite authors are J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams. When I do read magazines, my favorite ones are shelter magazines like Creative Home. Women make up the vast majority of those readers, but I rarely read women’s magazines like LHJ, Vogue, or whatever. They just don’t write for the person I am, and I get so very, very tired of seeing 20-year-old models in the anti-wrinkle advertisements. [ha! you aren't the first woman to say so...so, why don't the advertisers get it??]
I also find that some ads are downright offensive. I picked up a Harpers Bazaar a few months ago, ran across a big advertising spread that apparently involved a some cute clothes, a graveyard and necrophilia, and so I practically ran screaming from the room. What do they think women want to see in these magazines? Geez, I hope it’s not that! [well, not women 'of a certain age,' the very women they should be courting since WE HAVE THE MOST MONEY!]
Lip-sticking: Is copywriting a 'man's world' job? Have you ever felt, especially in high-tech, that being a woman was a disadvantage?
Christine: In copywriting, being a woman is not a disadvantage. That’s because you’ll be working primarily with marketing and PR people, many of whom are women. And the men in PR and marketing are quite comfortable with women.
It can be a bit of a challenge in technology copywriting when you’re dealing directly with very technical and not very marketing-sophisticated executives, most of whom are men surrounded by other men. But that’s usually only the case with newer companies like start-ups, who might not be very sophisticated about their copywriting needs. More and more I tend to avoid these situations and concentrate on mid-range and larger companies who already know what marketing and sales collateral they need and are willing to pay for it.
Lip-sticking: How well does your website work for you? What are you planning for your blog, to help build business -- if anything? We like hearing stories about how blog actually have ROI, or...are built to provide ROI.
Christine: My website doesn’t work for me as well as I’d like it to. I’d really like my website to drive subscribers to my newsletter and to encourage contacts from prospective clients, but this has rarely happened.
To solve this problem, I recently started my blog and revamped the content on my website. I’ve also started to place my articles again in online ezines and ezine directories, which has worked well in the past. And I’m breaking down and doing a CGI script for my contact page so instead of just listing my phone and email numbers, prospective clients can input their information if they want me to contact them. Hopefully this will happen more often because I’m concentrating much more on client benefits than I used to in my own copy. I feel silly about this because marketing should concentrate on benefits. My only excuse (and it’s not a very good one) is that technology copywriting concentrates at least as much on features as benefits, and I probably went too far in that direction for my previous content.
Lip-sticking: For the record, is shopping online a must for you? What's the worst thing an e-commerce website can do to send you clicking away? Would you shop online for groceries, or do you have that "supermarket" need? In fact, if Amazon.com sold non-perishables...crackers, diet drinks, tissues, paper towels, etc. would you buy from them, rather than load up your shopping cart at the local supermart? (we do! and love it! we even buy frozen foods online...we are so not into the supermarket thing anymore.)
Christine: Online shopping is not only my preference, it's a necessity! I live in a small mountain town and we're half an hour from just buying underwear and socks, for heaven's sake. With gas prices the way they are, it's a whole lot easier to order books from Amazon rather than make the 45-minute trek to the nearest Barnes & Noble. Not that I don't love the B&N stores, I do. But I get sick of all that driving... not to mention during the snowy season we can't always make it off the mountain when we want to. [Christine, we don't want to shock you but B&N has a website, too!]
I might as well order something online during a snowstorm, assuming our electricity doesn't go out from the icy power lines! For the record, my two favorite consumer sites are Amazon and eBay. I love eBay! I use them for older books, vintage jewelry and fabric. I've ordered online from smaller sites too and have always been pleased. I don't think I've ever had a problem ordering from smaller sites. As for grocery shopping, I would kill to order them online and get groceries delivered! I hate grocery shopping! Sadly, my 3500-person mountain town doesn't quite qualify as a major urban center and so I don't expect online groceries up here any time soon. Oh well.
As to what will send me away on an ecommerce site when I’m leaning towards buying something - I’m notorious for shopping cart abandonment, and I am definitely not alone in the world. Do you know the thing that gets to me? Having to get up and get my credit card to give them the number. I feel so lazy! There are ways around this - keeping a number in a password-protected file, Google’s password-protected credit card auto fill, or using PayPal where you just have to sign in. I’m far more likely to buy if I can do those two things. Otherwise, I’m often not motivated enough to finish the sale!
We think Christine made some excellent points today. We like her approach to life, and her Mom attitude. [lots of Dads out there feel the same way.] But, we like her shopping attitude best. Take note of her request not to have to fill out a long form to buy from you. For those who are paying attention...
What's not to like about that?