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  1. #1
    Mary M.

    Your thoughts, please!

    Some background before my questions.

    Eight years ago a newly-established landscaper did some work for me after I waded through his poorly constructed four-page proposal with enough errors to blind me. However, I had him do the work because he and I had retired from the same company at the same time and I was familiar with his integrity. At that time he worked alone from a new pick-up and did a good job for a fair price.

    Since then, his company has grown, he has a dozen employees, six large trucks, lots of business, and a sizeable ad in the yellow pages.

    Last month I contacted his company again about another landscaping project and was surprised to receive the same poorly constructed four-page error-riddled proposal for my new job. While I did not hire him for the work, I kept his four-page proposal because I decided -- perhaps smugly -- that his business expansion has not allowed administrative upgrades and -- now you know where I'm going here!!! -- I would like to offer to revise his proposal.

    From what I've read over the years about business-related copywriting, I know I must approach him without insulting him and must tactfully and professionally persuade him to even consider my revision suggestion.

    Inasmuch as I have been considering entering the business-related copywriting field, I will appreciate your input about (1) whether I should approach him about my proposal and (2) whether or not I should charge him a fee or chalk this project up to resume building and (3)whether I should approach him with my completed revised proposal.

    Thanks for the time you give my dilemma.

  2. #2

    Re: Your thoughts, please!

    Hmmmm, interesting dilemna. How well do you know him? Well enough to know that he would or wouldn't be insulted with the gentle suggestion that some copywriting and editing for his business might serve him well?

    I freelance with copyediting and proofreading and my policy is- no freebies. (Except for non-profits like the local feline rescure group and even that I'll limit to no more than five pages).

    And here's my logic. I earn my living doing this, I'm a professional. For me to give my services away is foolish. Would you expect him to install new landscape in your yard just because he *thought* it looked bad? No, probably not. You know he has time, effort and labor invested in his work and so do you.

    How about trading with him for this and using it on your resume if he agrees? Let him do xx in your yard in exchange for 10/15/20 hours of work on his marketing material. Maybe that would work for the both of you.

    Good luck and happy editing!

  3. #3

    Did he work for you for free?


    The best way to approach this potential client is to produce two or three 'mock' brochures/catalogues. (Maybe you can do mock ups for several other potential clients in the area) In addition, you might even want to make up a couple of draft catalogues for his business to show him how really snazzy and professional his business materials can be.

    Consider that, when he was starting out, he had no qualms about charging you for his services. You are a professional. You must respect yourself as such before anyone else will. Once that is accomplished, everyone will see you as a professional. You da ad man, the go to guy when people in town want professionally produced materials at a resonable price. Well ... okay, the go to gal.

    Let him know that you have been working as a writer for a some time and are now branching out into this new area with your writing skills. You have several other businesses that you will be speaking with in the coming days but you wanted to offer him your best deal since you know him personally and have always respected him as a person and business man. (In other words, lay on the BS)Then you compare his current catalogue with what you have to offer. Show him how the new catalogue catches the customer's eye with color and slug lines that focus on what the customer feels is important - value - quality - professionalism.

    Then, after you've got him interested, let him know that, inasmuch as you are building your new endeavor with a few clients and will count on their word of mouth advertising within the business community, you are currently offering, for the next ten days only, the special price of $$$ (this not only gets you over the guilt trip of charging him for the service, but you get paid (always a good thing), you get brownie points for giving him such a good deal (check the market for the going price for such work and give him a 25% discount or something), AND you do get that free advertising within your local business community (future sales).

    He'll be eating out of your hand!

    THEN, after you leave his business with that sale, go to the rest of the companies with which you have set appointments and sell them on your brilliant copywriting!

    ALSO: in my area, the local Public Broadcasting System has a fundraising auction once or twice a year. Contribute your copywriting skills for a) a one-time brochure valued at $$; and/or b) six months or a year of copywriting for a company, valued at $$$$$$$$$$. The big bonus here is that this is classified as a charitable donation and, although you have only a nominal outlay of cash, you get untold value in market visibility and it's a tax deduction besides! What more could you want?

    Good luck with it and let me know how it works out.

  4. #4
    Glen T. Brock

    Re: Blasphemy! an opposing view

    Hi folks,

    Somebody get a rope! I'm going to make an unpopular observation.

    Although T. Kilmer and Reese have excellent ideas on how to approach this man, what do you do if he doesn't appreciate your skills?

    Once I knew a man who was as completely illiterate as any adult I had ever seen. He was incapable of writing his own name. But he carved incredibly beautiful canes from a simple block of wood. I was an art student in college but I could only marvel the delicate and intricate designs he carved into that wood. From my point of view this man was handicapped but from his point of view--his metier--he was the master.

    The gentleman in question today is a landscaper. That's his metier. By what you have said he's very good at his craft. Also, by what you have said, he didn't benefit from the last time the two of you bartered for services. It might be possible that he does not appreciate good copy with good lawn care. After all, he has done well without it.

    The art of convincing a client of the need for something he doesn't value is the essence of advertising. Not only do you pitch the value of your producct, but you must do it in such a way that it does not belittle your client. That could be tricky.

    With that in mind I would not even hint at the idea that his presentation is sloppy. Perhaps suggesting a new approach could open new markets would work. Not knowing the background of the client it is difficult to assess how much he values your services. He may not value it much if at all. After all, he's in the landscaping business, not the advertising business.

    Go easy. Remember he thinks as highly of his work as you do of yours.

    Glen T. Brock

  5. #5

    Re: Blasphemy! an opposing view

    Your idea is nice, but I would agree with Glen - with work like landscaping, I think most people hire based on good referrals from friends and word of mouth, and apparently, from what you say about this man's growing business, he's getting plenty of those. Since most small businesses have to watch their overhead pretty closely, it just might not be worth it to him to improve his proposals if he's getting good customers already. What you might do is just mention in casual conversation that you are starting this business, maybe give him your card, and then tell him that if he knows anyone who could benefit from your work you would appreciate a referral. Then, if he wants your assistance he can ask for it, and if he doesn't he will not feel he has to "dodge" you in the future.
    Your business sounds awfully interesting, though! Good luck.

  6. #6

    Re: Blasphemy! an opposing view


    Lots of good points here, but Glen really nailed it and Mary's suggestion of asking him for a referral would be the best approach.

    "Since then, his company has grown, he has a dozen employees, six large trucks, lots of business, and a sizeable ad in the yellow pages."

    If he's still using the same proposal, and he's experienced this kind of expansion, there's a strong chance he perceives the proposal to be working just fine. as is. You probably would be barking up the wrong tree to offer him an improvement over what he sees as effective.

    In fact, I've learned (I'm a public relations practitioner working solo for nearly 10 years, large agencies for more than 20 years before that)that you are really wasting your time chasing down those types of clients. I agree there's work for your services but you need to target businesses who are looking for marketing/writing assistance in the first place. They can be tough to identify but that's where savvy networking comes into play.

    You've got a good idea but it sounds as this landscaper isn't the right target for you to pursue.

    And yes, don't give anything away for free. Maybe offer a discount but always make sure the real value of the services is outlined in your engagement letter and invoice. The same holds true for working with non-profits - be sure clients always know the value of what you're providing.

  7. #7
    Gregory Robinson

    Re: Blasphemy! an opposing view

    Mary, i think you should do it for free and here's why.
    1) It's nice to know people are not money grubbers all the time. I help alot of people get on their feet (or in your friends case back on thier feet) and then when they are I tell them the next time will cost them. These are tough economic times and hillary said it best, " it takes a village"

    2)Giving him a free service is a way of promoting your skills as a proofreader. How is he going to know you are as good as you say you are unless you show him using something he understands.

    Many will read my advice and be angered at it , but we really should help each other. Remember that a little bit of kindess and charity can go along way.

    think about it, baby.

  8. #8

    Re: Blasphemy! an opposing view

    Sorry, that's Anteann's suggestions. I just can't follow these strings sometime!

  9. #9
    mike fulton

    Re: Raspberries! An Opposing View

    Mary M:

    What are your motives? Do you want to help the guy out, promote yourself, or make a buck?

    Before you do anything, learn the laws which apply to landscape contracting. Just writing an air-tight contract will NOT necessarily keep the guy out court if someone is hell-bent on suing him. For example, if you include in your contract something to the effect that the contractor shall be free of liability blah blah blah, there's a good chance that a state law will hold him liable despite the fact that the client waived his rights.

    If you want to help the guy out and you know that you can help him, suggest that his contract could be spiffed up, point out one area where his current contract form fails, then ask him if he'd like a rewrite.

    If you want to promote yourself by rewriting his contract gratis in the hope that you will get a referral, forget it. You'll never see any business from it. He'll just give his contract to his buddy contractor and give him permission to copy it. There will be nothing you can do to stop him because that type of writing is work-for-hire which leaves you no control over the final use of the contract form.

    If you want to make a buck, quote him a price for rewriting the contract, then do it. Collect your money in advance.

    My experience with contractors is that this species of animal is Teflon-coated. After a few years in the business, they know how all the weasel words. You'd be surprised how many "contractors" actually work WITHOUT contracts or written proposals.

    If you're interested in rewriting the guy's contract form and outlining his responsibilities, do it gratis with the mutual understanding that you will be putting the contract in your portfolio with his company's name showing. Assuming that you know design, it will be a good thing to be able to show future clients. Because you have **expertise** in that field, you could call yourself a specialist. It could work for you.

    You may want to offer your services as a proposal writer for the contractor. This could turn into a steady gig for you. Depending upon the scope of his projects, each contract may require drastically different proposals. It may be worth it to him to add an extra $150.00 per contract for you to spend ninety minutes writing his business proposals for him.

  10. #10
    Mary M.

    For the responders

    Many thanks for your insightful comments, all of which prompted me to view some aspects of the so-called dilemma with a new eye.

    tkilmer, I agree with your recommendation that I not give my work away and, in fact, never have. Years ago I wrote a newspaper column and was the only paid columnist because I had explained to the editor pre-agreement that I didn't give my work away. Your "barter" suggestion is a good one I had not considered.

    Reese, your recommendation that I prepare a mock revision to the landscaper's present proposal is one I previously considered. I appreciate your explanation and agree the mock proposal is a good idea, along with your agreeing with tkilmer that I not give away my work.

    Glenn, your post offered valuable -- not controversial as you suspected -- insight. I had only slightly considered the rejection issue, not considered at all that the landscaper has done quite nicely without outside admin help, and also had not given much thought to approaching him with the probability that a revised proposal would broaden his customer base. My narrow incentive had been to clean up his sloppy proposal!!!

    Anteann, you're right in your view that this landscaper has done nicely without my intrusive help (!!!) and that he may/may not be aware (or even concerned) that a revised proposal would enhance his business -- perhaps.

    Danielle, I appreciate your agreeing with some of Glenn's points; they are valid.

    Gregory, I so appreciate your reminding me we need to exercise kindness and charity, but have a business mentality that also reminds me I need to follow good business practices concerning business issues, lest I become a charitable case myself. I know that's an exaggeration, but I hope you get the point. However, I could "barter" the business relationship, as suggested by others here. (Side note here: Since retiring,I have volunteered thousands of hours at a local hospital, mentored a middle-school student, coordinated my church's Habitat for Humanity participation, served on countless committees at church, etc., so I don't feel I'm practicing an uncharitable lifestyle.)

    Mike, you also provided me with introspective questions I had not previously considered: Do I want to help this landscaper, promote myself, or make a buck? In all honesty, I think I'd like to achieve all three. Yes, you are correct in alerting me to learn about landscaping law before making revisions to his proposal. Although it is presently filled with legal requirements, contingencies and guidlines, "updates" would be necessary. Finally, while I would like to ask for payment in advance, I don't really think I could expect it; after all, I'm the novice in the arrangement.

    I now have more to think about before making a decision. Thanks again for the time all of you spent steering me.

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