Freelance Show & Tell

What I’m listening to: California by The Airborne Toxic Event

I spent this week working on smaller projects for clients, which has given me a little time to work on my brochure and website copy. Full disclosure: It also gave me time to stare at a live feed of a giraffe eating, pacing, brooding like a grounded teen, and taking her damn sweet time going into labor. Even though it was like watching paint dry (less exciting, actually), I kept an eye on the developments or lack thereof.

Still, the majority of my time was on work and marketing content for myself, not just for clients. I’m not finished at all, but I have some ideas on paper that I’m trying to refine. Revamping isn’t hard, but it’s important to get the wording right and the message on point. Every time I revise anything marketing-related, I remember the sales adage: Sell the sizzle, not the steak.

Easy words to live by if you know what they mean. See, we buy things based not on how great the company is, but how we respond to the product. Imagine if a steakhouse advertised their t-bone steaks by telling you about their years of raising cows, of how they’ve become the best steakhouse in the world thanks to their stellar customer service…

Who cares? Seriously, you don’t. You want to know if the steak you’re about to plunk down serious cash for is worth the money.

For that reason, advertisers are going to show you how great the product is. That same steakhouse, if they’re smart, is going to show that steak sizzling as it hits the grill, show the juices flowing as you slice into it, show the grain of the steak …. they’re going to seduce you into trying it. Well, unless you’re a vegetarian like I am, but I’m clearly not their target customer anyway.

They just showed you why you need that steak.

Go on, choose any product. Look for how they’re compelling you to buy. Think it doesn’t work? Then you’re either made of steel or you’ve never stood in line for the latest iPhone. Ah. There. Proved even you can be swayed.

So how does this apply to writing? You’re not advertising a product, so it doesn’t matter.

Only you are. Your skills, your services — those are your “products.”

Freelance writers, sell your sizzle, not your steak. Click To Tweet

I’ll illustrate what I mean.

Let’s assume Frank, a lawyer-turned-writer, is writing his website copy for the first time. Here’s what he might put:

As a professional lawyer with over a decade of experience, I am now turning my skills into a new career. During my legal career, I earned a six-figure income and published a memoir, a nonfiction book, and an award-winning legal blog called The Brief. I’m now dedicating the rest of my career to writing for the legal industry.

Oh my gawd, who cares? Frank is so busy being a self-congratulatory ass that his potential clients went off to check the baseball scores.

Now let’s assume Frank is a lawyer-turned-writer who has taken the time to study marketing, gotten to know a bit about freelance writing, built a network of potential clients, and is now ready to put out some marketing material. Here’s how his revised statement above might now read:

Legal writing done right. With over 10 years as a corporate attorney, I combine legal expertise and legal writing skills to deliver exceptional, accurate results for you. My award-winning blog, The Brief, offers weekly insights into the legalities of corporate messaging, and helps readers understand the critical need to be accurate. Having published one book on marketing within the legal profession, I am ready to help you hone a message that reflects both your practice and your personality.

So what’s missing from Frank’s second draft?

  • His W-2: Please. If you’re mentioning your earnings in your pitch, you’re bragging. Period. Who cares if you make six figures or five? Money doesn’t equate automatically to skill or reliability or even client satisfaction. It’s a bit pompous to bring up your income at all, let alone as some non sequitur to prove your brilliance.
  • His memoir: Unless Frank is ghostwriting memoirs, this isn’t necessarily info that he needs to include.
  • His sudden career switch: I don’t know about you, but his mention of dedicating the rest of his career to writing seemed abrupt. It sets off alarms for me — did he get canned? Is he thinking writing is easier? What’s the back story to why a six-figure lawyer suddenly wants to write? In his second attempt, we see an easier transition that’s a bit more acceptable.
  • His self-absorption: In the first attempt, Frank is all “I” did this and “I” did that. In the second one, while he’s still telling us about his skills, he’s doing by using his skills to qualify the rest of his thought, which is how to please you, the customer.

Writers, do you have any examples of sales pitches that fall flat? Why do you think they fail?
What are some of your must-have items when writing your own marketing copy?

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  • Paula Hendrickson April 6, 2017 at 10:58 am

    Frank’s first example reads like a lot of the corporate bios that come in for me to edit. Only those start every other sentence with either “Prior to that,” or “Previously.” So boring! (And they’re all money manager types so they love bragging.)

    I think we might have the same reaction to the steakhouse ads, Lori. Whenever I see an ad that shows meat cooking or being sliced into it turns my stomach, but I’m thankful I don’t have to smell it, too.

    While I’ve never stood in line for the latest anything (my iPhone is a hand-me-down and I really wish someone would have another to hand down soon). But I’m a sucker for a good yarn ad.

    • lwidmer April 6, 2017 at 11:32 am

      For me, it’s DSW shoe ads. LOL Shoes are the monkey on my back.

      Exactly that, Paula. Boring. There’s no life, or reason to care, given in such boring content.