Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Is Success Possible When Your Business is Completely Virtual?

The other day I was talking with a fellow copywriter about how she approaches networking, client projects and marketing in general. She lives in Santa Barbara and regularly makes an hour and a half commute to meet with clients and attend networking events. She mentioned that a writer friend on the East Coast conducts all business by email which is why my West Coast writer friend thinks her business is struggling.

But I don’t necessarily agree. I’m going to piggyback a bit off Lori Widmer’s post where she asks whether or not in-person client meetings are really necessary. While the West Coast copywriter says that in-person meetings and local networking events have been keys to her success, I have also encountered other copywriters/freelance writers operating strictly online who are doing pretty well for themselves.

For instance, Devon Ellington has stated that she only deals with clients by email because all instructions and expectations are clear and in writing. And when James Chartrand of Men with Pens revealed she was in fact a female, she stated that she was able to keep her identity a secret because she only conducted business by email and never spoke with clients by phone.

I do find that phone calls can become time sucks if you don’t remain in control of the conversation, but there are times I feel the need to speak directly with a client to get clarification. Some clients don’t communicate well in writing which is the reason they need a writer. I schedule all phone calls in advance.

Meeting clients in person when nothing solid is in the works just doesn’t work for me right now since I take care of a three year old all day. But if the offer is tempting enough, and the prospect is willing to pay me for the consultation, I won’t say no. I can find a sitter. Thankfully the Internet gives writers more options to set up a business model that meets specific, individual needs.


dava stewart said...

When I first started writing for $$$, I planned to call companies on the west coast after getting home from my "regular" job in the eastern time zone. I couldn't get any traction at all.

Lately, I've ben working with local small businesses, and it's going much, much better. And, your friend is right - most of them don't communicate very well in writing. I was half afraid to meet one lady after a few email exchanges because she seemed so short and terse. She just finds it easier to talk than to write.

I guess it depends on a host of factors from your own personality to your niche (if you have one) to the personalities of your clients.

Thought provoking post. Thanks!

Kimberly Ben said...

I agree, Dava, I think it depends on many different factors nowadays.

I'm glad you're having local success.:)

Lori said...

Thanks for the link, Kim. :)

Dava has a point, but it can work both ways. I met with a client in Manhattan once. She was brusque in person, but in email later on she was a gem. I didn't realize she appreciated my work until she flat-out said so. Devon pointed out, I believe, that it's not an uncommon thing in New York - people are busy. They're brusque, not rude.

I can count on one finger the number of client meetings I've had in the past two years. 2008 was a fantastic year for my career, and while 2009 felt like a huge struggle, I was off my 2008 income by a mere $5K.

Client meetings, or lack thereof, are not the reason writers struggle. I think the West Coast writer is just better face-to-face.

Jenn Mattern said...

You definitely have to know your strengths. I'm trained in public speaking. It's a strong suit for me. But I still don't do face-to-face meetings. I don't invest the time in things that aren't necessary, and that's unnecessary in my work. I land almost all gigs through email. If that doesn't work, I pick up the phone -- I've never lost out on a gig when I've done a phone conference first. That's as far as it has to go for me... ever.

The biggest benefit is that it allows me to work with clients globally, even if we're on completely different schedules. It also allows me to streamline my client communication into email blocks which saves time and lets me work more productively.

However, not everyone can pitch themselves effectively or answer comfort / reassure / persuade clients effectively via email. Face to face might be better for them. In that case though, I have to admit I'd be curious why someone making a living as a writer can't market themselves via, well, writing. I just find that an interesting situation.

Kimberly Ben said...

@ Lori: Yes, I agree; I think that the west coast writer is much more comfortable dealing with others face-to-face. She likes attending in-person networking events and frequently does public speaking engagements about marketing.

@ Jenn, like you I prefer to deal with clients by email and phone (traffic in Atlanta has become a nightmare).

Knowing how to reach clients globally definitely increases opportunity. I also agree that some people are able to pitch themselves through email. This is true of the west coast writer. Although she's been working as a freelancer for over 10 years, she has asked me for query suggestions after finding out that's how I've found the majority of my clients. She just more comfortable communicating by phone and face-to-face I think.

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