3 Ways to Up-Level Your Business

How you up-level your business depends on your definition of success. For the sake of this post, let’s assume we’re talking about the kind of success that’s measured in dollars, i.e. making more of them rather than less. Here are three ways you can take your business from small fish to big fish.

  1. Collaborate with Partners

  2. Whether they’re going the same place you are, or you’re passing through the same orbit for a short period of time, find business partners who can help you take your business to the next level. Copywriter Peter Bowerman is a big advocate for copywriters partnering-up with graphic designers. He even wrote an e-book on the subject called Profitable By Design: Tapping the Writer/Designer Partnership Goldmine. In it he describes how great it is for a client when a graphic designer goes into a meeting and says, “Yes, I can design this for you. Have you thought about the writing? If you like, I can contact my copywriter partner and take care of all of this for you.” Clients love a one-stop shop solution.

    Another example comes from an artist/photographer friend of mine who’s actively moving his “small fish” business into a “big fish” business. He’s found a niche providing a rotating artwork and photography service for medical offices and hospitals. He wants to expand in that arena, but he’s not sure how. One idea (that I just thought of and haven’t shared with him yet!) is to locate interior design firms that specialize in decorating medical offices and hospitals. He could become one of their vendors, and get them to sell him! Just like the example above where the designer sells the writer. (I’ll call him later to tell him.)

  3. Go Where the Money Is

  4. It’s possible that the reason you’re struggling to take your business to the next level is because you’re just not going where the money is. I’ll use myself as an example. I’m a B2B and marketing copywriter. In previous years, I networked in the small business/solopreneur circuit. I made some great connections, did a few small projects, but nothing big. Nothing that would lend itself to taking me from small fish to big fish (or at least a bigger fish). The amount of time I spent building relationships with this particular group did not translate into my preferred amount of income.

    The lesson I learned? This was not my ideal target audience. So I had to re-think my marketing strategy to align with my business goals. I pivoted my focus from marketing copy for small businesses, to B2B and marketing copy for agencies and larger businesses (preferably with a technical or corporate messaging slant). Since embarking on this focus, I’ve landed some absolutely incredible projects with my ideal clients, doing my ideal kind of writing.

    Figure out where the money is within your particular expertise, and pivot your business (ideally without compromising your happiness) to gain a slice of that pie.

  5. Create a Source of Passive Income

  6. What could be better than making money while you sleep?! Or while you’re on vacation (a real vacation, no work allowed)? It’s all about the passive income. There are only so many hours in the day, and only so many of them you can spend working (especially if you have a partner, pets, children, hobbies, etc). You could create a situation like I mentioned above where someone else is selling your work for you, or you can create a product (e-book, online video training course, website/blog on which you can sell ad space, etc.) that doesn’t require your daily attention.

    With a passive income source, you’ll be able to do the work that takes up hours of your time (and yes, the initial creation of the passive income product will take your time), AT THE SAME TIME your passive income source is making money too.

Those are the three ways I’m planning to up-level my business in the near- and far-term. Obviously they won’t happen overnight, but taking small steps towards one at a time (or simultaneously if that makes sense for your business and sanity) today, is going to make a huge impact on my business/income in the future. My list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully the items mentioned are within accessible reach for us all.

How are you up-leveling your business? Give us some more ideas!

Are You a Copywriter or a Content Strategist?

are you a copywriter or a content strategist?

A few weeks ago, a financial advisor friend of mine and I had a conversation about the terminology of our respective professions.  I mentioned how a few people seemed ambivalent about calling themselves copywriters, and some had started using the term, “content strategist.”

I get it.  “Copy” is a journalism term and one that evokes smoky newsrooms and clattering typewriters. And when you talk about “copywriting,” people think you’re talking about patents and intellectual property, e.g. copyrights.  (I help educate my editing clients about copyrights, but that’s a different subject.)  My friend mentioned there was a similar distinction being made between “socially responsible investing” and “impact investing.”

Earlier this month, the Copywriter Conclave of Portland held a lively discussion about what we call ourselves (and a necessary discussion since “copywriter” is such an important part of the Conclave’s branding).  There was speculation that content strategists are different because some are responsible for managing data sets and keeping track of a company’s content libraries.  Some content strategists are also responsible for creating directions for a brand or a product line.  We all agreed that content strategist sounded sexier than copywriter.

I include the title content strategist on my marketing materials (including my website), but I list my role as writer first.  I believe writing is a strategic activity.  Many may feel writers are passive creators.  Writers implement, but strategy is created by someone else.

That’s not me.  It’s true that when I started writing professionally in Portland, I took direction from my bosses.  But within two months, my overwhelmed direct boss was unable to give me much content direction.  So I started running comps and creating product descriptions based on what the customer would like.  I didn’t always get it right, but I was also the in-house editor, so I was able to adjust during the revision process.  It made me a more proactive writer, and I tried to encourage strategic writing when I moved into a managerial role.  The key here is that the strategy and writing were interwoven in my approach.

Today, as the owner of my own content-focused business, I’ve extended that process even further, starting with the proposal phase:

  • Determine the initial “power content” (book, e-book, website, and so on)
  • Create a consultation strategy based on client comfort (phone/e-mail/in-person/Skype)
  • Build a deadline schedule
  • Offer regular content (preferably evergreen) that solidifies their reputation or allows them to reach a goal (through blog posts and whitepapers)

Information-rich content is being touted as search-engine friendly now, but it was a survival strategy for me in the beginning of my business. I want my clients to know I’m invested in their prosperity. When prospects hire me, they get the benefit of my entire experience … strategy, editing, consulting, the whole thing.

But I am a writer first.

If you own a business, what sounds better to you … a writer or content strategist?   If you’re a fellow content creator, what do you call yourself?

(This post originally appeared at Enlighten Writing.)

What to do When Clients Edit the Magic Out of Your Work

Last week I received a phone call from a principal of a marketing agency in Portland. She’d found me through the Conclave website and wanted to know what advise I had for people struggling with clients who edit all the marketing-speak out of their content–leaving it bland, ineffective, and unnecessarily safe (read: boring). It’s a really good question. So good, in fact, that I thought it would make an excellent blog post. Here are the five ways I suggested she could stop the client contact (we’ll call her “Linda”) from editing the magic out of her work:

  1. Present Your Work

  2. Present the work to Linda so she understands why you wrote what you wrote, and explain the strategy behind it. An in-person presentation would probably be best, but a videoconference could work just as well. Doing this for no reason might be difficult to explain to her, so make it an event. If you’ve been working with Linda and her employer for awhile, suggest a two- or four-hour check-in meeting to catch-up with the team, re-align on goals and messaging, discuss the big upcoming campaign, etc.

    This approach would be perfect because you could then justify getting a few other content stakeholders in the room (in addition to Linda). That way it’ll be understood by multiple people at the company what the strategic approach is and why it’s the best way to go. Now you’ve got back-up and buy-in from within the company, beyond Linda. (You’ve very thoroughly and professionally gone over her head.) It’s possible Linda is operating with a different understanding of the goal of the content. Leading to option 2…

  3. Open a Dialogue

  4. Invite Linda to tell you why she’s making the changes to your work that she’s making. This opens up a dialogue about what everyone understands to be the purpose of the content and how it should be written. If Linda is editing the hell out of everything you write, it’s likely because her understanding of what’s needed is different than yours. Such situations can lead to larger problems, and need to be reconciled as quickly as possible.

    Assuming Linda isn’t the boss of the company, it’s possible the boss could find out that his employee is spending valuable time editing your work–work he’s paying you to do. If that’s the case, why bother with you at all? He might as well find a new agency to create his content if yours is so bad it has to be heavily edited every time. This Linda problem you have? Bad for your business.

  5. Show the Client the Difference

  6. Try showing Linda the difference in results between your strategic, expert, unadulterated content and her bland, conservative, non-strategic content. Suggest that you do a test campaign: one with her edits and one where she doesn’t even touch it. Show her the analytics of both (is it’s an email campaign or social media posts, for example) afterwards.

    I can only assume that the work of the competent marketing agency will do better. These tangible results will provide serious support for why you should be allowed to do what you do best, and be deferred to when there’s a question about the content. Having those kinds of numbers on-hand can also help if her boss gets involved in the content quality discussion–proof that your approach is working, and hers isn’t.

  7. Go Over Her Head

  8. I suppose this could be akin to tattling, but seriously, this is business. You can go over Linda’s head and talk directly to her boss about your content quality concerns. If you think she’s getting in the way of you doing the job you’re being paid to do, her boss/the owner of the company needs to be made aware of it. It’s your responsibility as an honest vendor to make sure your client is getting the quality and value they expect, and that you want to deliver.

  9. Break Up With the Client

  10. If you’ve tried everything else and neither Linda nor her employer are getting it, I would recommend firing the client. No matter how much Linda edits your work, at the end of the day, your name is on it. That’s your reputation being sent out to people’s inboxes, or posted on the client’s website. If Linda is making you look bad or unskilled, it could ruin your reputation, and future opportunities with other clients (or even with that client!).

    Do your best to educate the client and bring them around to trusting you to do your job. After all, why’d they hire you in the first place if they didn’t like the work you were doing? And why have they continued to work with you if your work wasn’t working for them? Get Linda out of the way. If you can’t, cut that fish loose and move on to more fruitful opportunities. Your time and reputation are too valuable to waste, because once gone, you can’t get either back.

Have you ever had a client (or known someone who did) who was making your job harder by messing up your work? Let’s hear it.

How to Write a Case Study

I’ve written a few case studies in my day, and one thing that made it easy was having a structure around which to write. There are many ways of writing a case study, and the best way to do it is the way that best communicates the work done by the client, and highlights their capabilities. Case studies are used as sales tools, thought leadership pieces, and lend credibility to the professionalism of the client. As I said, the outline of a case study can vary, but in general, here’s how to write a case study.

The Six Parts of a Case Study


The case studies I’ve written have been very technical and quite long. The client I wrote them for sells high-end audio equipment that typically has a long sales cycle (i.e. their customers take a long time after being introduced to the product before making a decision to buy). In order to help their sales team, the client wanted case studies that showcased their varied installation and application capabilities, including the system specifications. For reference, here’s a sample case study that I wrote, and that you can use to follow along as you read these six parts.

  1. Client Introduction

  2. Tell us about the customer the installation/product/service served, especially if they have big name recognition. Who are they? What do they do? What’s unique about the business? Give the reader a brief overview.

  3. Challenge

  4. What did the customer need and why? In the case of installing audio equipment, was the customer renovating a facility? Building new buildings? Upgrading? This is where you tell the reader what the task of the vendor was–the immense problem they would soon solve.

  5. Solution/Process

  6. How did the vendor do it? Don’t over-exaggerate here, but definitely display the vendor’s skill and expertise in coming up with a solution that fit the client need, budget, and timeline. This is some impressive feat that shows off the heroic capabilities of the vendor. Don’t brag, but bring the awesome.

  7. Materials List

  8. This section might not be necessary for most case studies, but for technical hardware/software products, the audience (AV integrators, IT/facilities managers) want to know how much hardware is required (read: how much space and money it will cost) to achieve the solution. As you can see on page 3 of the case study referenced, the number of hardware pieces and their names are listed for reader convenience. So, when the audience decides to research the vendor’s capabilities, they know exactly what products/services to explore. Not to be a broken record, but this is where the sales tool-ness comes in.

  9. Conclusion/Results

  10. So, how did everything work out? Did the client love it? (Obviously nothing negative about the vendor is going to go into a case study they’re writing for their own sales use, but you know what I mean.) Tell us how it all worked out. Is attendance at the venue up? Are there any statistics that can be shared? Positive feedback from visitors to the space? Combining the challenge and the solution, what were the learnings? Anything super special or interesting?

  11. Quotes Throughout

  12. Every kind of sales and marketing piece is made stronger with relevant quotes. Include quotes throughout the case study from the customer, vendor, and the customers’ customers (also referred to as end customers–visitors to the new facility, for example). Don’t let this be optional. If you’re writing this piece, make it a requirement that you get quotes from the customer at a minimum. Vendor and end customer quotes are less important, but still cool to include if you can. Quotes are excellent supportive elements for everything mentioned above.

Also, your client for a case study could easily be the vendor performing the service (as was the case for me) or the customer who commissioned the work. Conclave member Jeff Gunderson has written quite a few technical case studies, too. Here’s an example of how he writes them.

I’ve encountered “case studies” that are more like glorified photo galleries (creative agencies are often perpetrators of this). They have beautiful, heroic images, a one-liner photo caption for each, and a concluding statement. Not a case study. A case study should be a meaty sales tool that a company can show to clients that showcases their capabilities and competence to do what they say they do. Photos should definitely be part of case studies (along with good design), but they’re more the garnish or the sauce, not the headliner, not the main attraction. Fight for the integrity of the case study if you’re ever in that position. I’ll back you up!

How do you organize your case studies? Any examples you’ve come across that you’ve liked?

How Being a Freelancer is Like Being a Survivalist: A Rant

According to Webster’s Dictionary, a survivalist is “a person who advocates or practices survivalism” or “one who has prepared to survive in the anarchy of an anticipated breakdown of society.”


Being a freelancer won’t necessarily prepare you to survive a natural disaster or societal meltdown (though I’m positive our skills are transferable), but it will enable you to take control of your income, and by extension, your life. Here’s why I think being a freelancer is like being a survivalist.


We’ve all heard the term “starving artist,” and conventional wisdom tells us that being a freelance anything is dangerous because of the financial unpredictability. That’s just really not a concern once you scratch the surface (and you get your business and process dialed). As freelancers, we have the power and privilege to steer our own careers and set earning goals that could change every month if we chose.


We, not our managers or the CEO of the company, have the power to give ourselves raises, take 20 weeks of vacation per year, work remotely from anywhere on the planet, and climb our industry ladder as quickly, or not at all, as we see fit.


Our position is unique too, in that we can change the course of our business or work focus as quickly as our personal and client needs dictate. What’s easier: turning your car around or turning it around with a trailer hitched to the back? We just have less baggage, less bureaucracy, and way more flexibility in every aspect of our business.


Make no mistake, being a freelancer isn’t always roses and rainbows. Working for yourself is hard work, and sometimes we don’t make our monthly earning goals, or land that client we really really wanted. C’est la vie. Chock it up to experience, learn from it, and become stronger every day.


We don’t do this because it’s easy.


We do it because we love it.


We do it because it’s our right livelihood.


We do it because we wouldn’t want it any other way (and/or we’re such pains in the butt we’re totally unemployable anywhere else).


We know what to do and where to go to make our dreams come true. We produce enough of our own natural resources to at least be self-sustaining. That’s why being a freelance creative is like being a survivalist. Because we have the skills to survive and thrive, regardless of our external environment.