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Small Businesses Can You Afford (Not) to Use a Copywriter?

Lisa J. Lehr

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Traditional business lore says that half of all new businesses fail within the first year.

The latest statistics from the Small Business Administration (SBA) show that “two-thirds of new employer establishments survive at lease two years, and 44 percent survive at least four years. " These numbers are far more encouraging. Still, why do one-third fail in the first two years, and more than half within the second two years?

This story is told at MarkTAW online: “In season 2 or 3 of The Apprentice, [a contestant] named Tana wasted a lot of time trying to repeat a past success. She'd started her own business during the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. She bought a bunch of ordinary Olympics T-Shirts wholesale, and spent her time bedazzling them. She was able to sell them at a premium because her shirts were better than the competition's.

"When given a new task: Sell t-shirts designed by prominent NYC artists, she was convinced that the key to profitability was to bedazzle the artist's designs. She wasted hours trying to find a bedazzler and completely ignored marketing. After all, who doesn't like rhinestones? The other team simply emailed a list of their artists’ fans and sold their shirts for 5 or 6 times what Tana's team was able to fetch from strangers off the street.

"This might seem like an incredibly stupid move, but it's probably very typical behavior. "

I agree. It's a basic law of marketing that you may have the best product, but unless you have a marketing program as good as your product, you're not going to sell it. And you're in business to sell, aren't you. . . and ultimately to make money? So while marketing does cost money, it's an investment in your ultimate success.

Let's say you just heard your great-aunt has died, and you're mentioned in her will. You don't know how much your share of the estate is, but you have reason to believe it's significant. The only condition is that you must attend the reading of the will in person.

Further, let's say you live in Massachusetts and your great-aunt's will is going to be read in her hometown in southern California, a trip of considerable distance and expense. What's your reaction going to be?

1. “No problem. "

2. “Oh, forget it. I don't need Great-Auntie's money. "

3. “I can't afford to travel! Someone else will have to get my share!"

4. “Wow, that's a big trip, but I guess I'd better go if I want the money. "

Now, if you're already well-off, you may have the luxury of reacting as in number one or two. But if you're a person who could really use the windfall, you'll probably react more like number three or four. And if you have good sense when it comes to investing in the future, it'll be number four.

The point is that by spending some money, you create the opportunity to gain far more.

If you're a small business, this is the reality you probably face every time you consider something you could (and should) be spending money on: insurance, legal counsel, accounting, data backup, professional cleaning services. The list of things you shouldn't be trying to do yourself may seem endless.

At the top of that list is marketing. Saying, “I can't afford to work with a copywriter!" and trying to create your own marketing package is equivalent to saying, “Someone else can have my market share!"

To make sure you get a copywriter who's right for you, take these steps:

1. Determine your budget. If you're a startup, you may not have an official budget, and you may have no idea what copywriting normally costs. So determine how much you think you can spend without serious hardship, and be ready to listen to the copywriter's ideas about how your marketing dollars are best spent.

2. Don't aim for a top-drawer copywriter, but don't aim for a bottom-drawer one either. The lowest bidder is probably the lowest bidder for a reason. Your best bet is a middle-drawer copywriter-one who has a decent portfolio (usually on his website) but isn't necessarily writing for nationally known clients.

3. Ask the copywriter if she offers any kind of special package or “deal" for new and/or small businesses. Some do; some may never have thought about it, but might be open to the idea. If you feel comfortable with the copywriter, and suggest that you'll have future work for her, she may be willing to work with you at a discount rate for the opportunity of getting in on the “ground floor" of a successful business-yours.

4. Don't ask the copywriter if you can write it and he can “improve" it for a lower fee than starting from scratch. You may be a good writer, but unless you're already trained in copywriting, it's going to be just as much work for him to “fix" your work as to start from the beginning.

5. Be prepared to learn something. The copywriter is a copywriter (and you're not), and she has training and experience you don't. It's okay to ask why this or that is done a certain way, but trust that she knows what she's doing. If you're not comfortable with the copywriter, find a different one.

Bottom line: if you're serious about making money (and if you're not, why are you in business?), make marketing a top priority. Finding a copywriter is easy. Just search for “copywriter" or “copywriter [your niche]". Fill out the online inquiry form or e-mail him or her and ask a few questions. If a free consultation is offered, go for it.

Then choose the copywriter who's the best match for your business needs and get going on making some money.

Lisa J. Lehr is a freelance copywriter specializing in direct response and marketing collateral, with a special interest in the health, pets, specialty foods, and inspirational/motivational/self-help niches.

Have you signed up for her fr~ee e-mail series on marketing strategies?

New! Download her Marketing Guide (also fr~ee) by clicking the link on the footer menu at her website.


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