The Wonder of the 300-Word Case Study

Recently, I received a client referral for a small, yet mighty copyediting project. The client needed me to copyedit three case studies and a bid letter. Seemed like a quick-turn project that could be fun, so I said yes. What I didn’t realize was that it would blow my mind a little. The case studies weren’t the case studies I’m used to dealing with. They were 300 words long or less! (I know, right?! Take a second to recover.) This revelation was so mind-blowing because my colleague, Mike Russell, challenged me and a few others to write case studies for ourselves as freelance copywriters. We all kind of hemmed and hawed and never did it, but now, seeing the wonder of the 300-word case study, I’m totally going to do it!

The Wonder of the 300-Word Case Study

Because my client, Sev of The Data Scout, has posted the wonder-full case studies on their website, I will share them with you. I recommend you read them and get an idea of how you could write your own case study similarly.

Data Scout Case Study Webpage Screenshot
When I complimented Sev on how cool the 300-word case study idea is, Sev said:

The purpose of these studies is to give prospective clients a clear, concise idea of work I’ve done and value I can add.

Totally. Boiled down to its essence, that is the role of the case study. Why, then, do we make them so long and complex if we can make them so short and simple? Good question. I suppose it depends on industry standards around case studies, how much information you/the client wants to include, and what you/the client think a case study should be.

As writers, we know it often takes longer to write short pieces than it does to write long pieces. In shorter pieces your words have to be immediately impactful, exact, nothing wasted. Longer pieces can start slower, have some fluff, and include the kitchen sink. It’s pretty subjective.

The point of this post is to inform you that there’s another way to do case studies. If you’re like me and thought they had to be long, dramatic, and filled with professional photography and diagrams, I hope you feel relief and empowerment now knowing that you can create 300-word case study wonders. For yourself AND your clients! Whoa…Did that just blow your mind too?

What a Freelance Invoice Looks Like

It’s not a sexy topic: the invoice. But every freelance professional needs to have it. You could even say we rely on the invoice. How else are we going to get paid? Instead of you having to do what my colleagues and I had to do (figure it out through trial and error), I’m going to show you what a freelance invoice looks like. We’ll use the Classic 6 Questions to dissect it:

  1. To whom do you send it?
  2. What information is included?
  3. Where is pretty much covered under whom.
  4. Why do you need to include all the things I’m suggesting? These will be discussed in-line with the topics.
  5. When do you send the invoice?
  6. How do you send the invoice?

To Whom You Send the Invoice

Send it to at least two people: your primary point of contact and an administrator in their office. The reason I recommend sending it to at least two people on the client’s side is because people lose things. I’ve worked with at least three clients who’ve forgotten about my invoice. It was only after I followed-up with them a month later that they said “Oh, um, right. Can you send it again? It got lost in my email. So sorry.” Sure. I email them the invoice again, they confirm receipt, and then three or four more weeks later my check arrives in the mail. Not cool. By sending it to two people AND being diligent about following-up, you’re less likely to have overdue invoices.

Sometimes your client is a solopreneur and there literally isn’t anyone else to send it to. In those cases, cool, send it to that one person. Be sure to follow-up with them on the status of your invoice the day it’s late. Not a week later, the day it’s late. Don’t let it go any longer. If you’re not good at asking people for money, here’s a way to phrase your inquiry:

Hi James,
I wanted to check on the status of my invoice for the editorial calendar project. I emailed the invoice to you on January 10th. Can you tell me when I can expect payment?

Amber James

What Information to Include

Here are examples of my analog invoice and my Freshbooks invoice:

Word Doc --> PDF Invoice

Word Doc –> PDF Invoice

Freshbooks Invoice Example

Freshbooks Invoice Example

The key information to include in your invoice template is:

  1. Payment amount
  2. Payment due date
  3. How to pay you (check in the mail, Paypal, credit card via a digital platform like Freshbooks or Pancake)
  4. What you’re being paid for

At a minimum, you’ll want to include these bits of information because they are directly related to you receiving the correct payment for your work. Make this information prominent, put it in bold, make it colorful. However you do it, make the information clear. Credit for the due date innovation goes to freelance business attorney Katie Lane of Work Made For Hire.

When to Send the Invoice

Depends on the project. If you’re working on a longer-term project like the one in my example, you’ll likely end up billing in parts. For this example project, there are three invoices planned. The first invoice is sent before work begins / as soon as the terms and timeline are agreed upon, the second goes out after the first draft is done and submitted, the third is sent after the first revision is completed. Why? So that way your invoices (and thus, your receiving payment) are dependent upon YOUR actions, not those of your potentially forgetful client.

If you’re working on retainer for a client (good for you!) you’ll likely bill them monthly. If you’re doing a consulting project you could ask for 100% up-front and invoice beforehand. For a large project like my example, you could also invoice for 50% up-front and the rest after the first revision. For smaller projects, I send my invoice after the work is sent, revised, and accepted by the client. These projects are usually pretty short-term, so waiting until it’s finished (two weeks max) is no hardship.

Bear in mind, you can invoice for whatever percentage of your fee, whenever you want, as long as you’ve communicated the schedule to your client as part of the project plan. Some practices don’t always feel comfortable to the client, however. For example, invoicing for 100% up-front, with a first-time client, for a many-months long project. Just food for thought as you choose your invoicing practices.

How to Send the Invoice

When I started freelancing in 2009, I did the first method mentioned above: Word doc invoice template, saved as a PDF, attached to an email, and sent to the client. Then my colleague, Mike Russell, told me about Freshbooks. At first I balked at having to pay $19.95 per month for the privilege of sending invoices that I could just send for free. Then I realized how lovely it could be to accept credit card payments (read: get paid faster), link the whole thing up to Gusto (formerly Zen Payroll) for all the tax-related stuff, and keep track of my business account expenses. Those were some of the selling points that made me convert to Freshbooks. Oh, it also allows you to set up automatic late payment reminders. That feature has come in handy for me more than once.

There are other services out there that do what Freshbooks does. I’ve heard from CC: PDX prez Mahesh Mohan that Pancake is also a good option for invoicing. If you have no interest in paying to send your invoices, I’ve heard of no stigma around the tried-and-true PDF attachment method. When you decide it’s worth it for you to spend money on this sort of service, know that Freshbooks and Pancake are used and recommended by members of the Conclave.

The invoice is amazing. It is that which enables us to get paid for all our creative works. Learn it. Live it. Love the invoice! It can be pretty or plain, simple or elaborate, but it MUST communicate those four things clearly. As an ending thought, I’d like to leave you with some wisdom from money coach Shell Tain. She strongly recommends sending your invoices and following-up in a timely fashion because if you don’t, your clients will get the impression that you don’t care about being paid. In turn, they won’t care about paying you. And we can’t have that.

What additional questions do you have about the miraculous invoice? What methods do you use for billing?

The Quick Turn: Writing to Meet Crazy Deadlines

I don’t prefer last-minute projects. But as a freelance writer, I understand that most of the time, sometimes it’s a necessity because that’s where clients need me the most and that the turnaround time may be out of their control. It can happen when a last-minute project (sometimes called a “quick turn” as shorthand for “quick turnaround”) lands in the client’s lap or the usual writer is unavailable.

Fortunately, writers are used to getting last-minute requests. While they’re not the sought after jobs, we do them for many reasons:

  • We have availability!
  • We excel at meeting deadlines.
  • Quick turn projects are an opportunity to connect with a potential long-term client.

So having worked on quite a few quick turn projects myself, success is more likely with these elements.

1. Meet in person. I like meeting clients face-to-face to kick off a project and get the download as quickly as possible. I can ask questions as they pop into my head, and I can see any visual examples immediately (on a shared laptop, for example). A meeting for even 30 minutes can avoid missed information later and establish a better level of trust and understanding.

2. Communicate often. Writers, be upfront that you will be in touch often, and ask for the best number to call or text. Ask questions for clarification. Provide updates. Send a rough draft or outline. Repeat.

3. Be candid about the results. If you have three days to turn around a 15-page proposal, as I recently did, tell the client that you cannot guarantee the quality of the final product. This acts as a disclaimer for the quality of work you provide and will give the client a graceful way to back out or kill the project. Get it in writing as part of the estimate you send to the client.

4. Agree on a final product you both can live with. If your client can live with a final, presentation-ready copy that may not be absolutely perfect, and you can live with some extra or late evening hours rewriting and responding to client requests, then go for it.

5. Call in another writer for final or concurrent review. This helps with quality control and will help make the final product even better. A second writer can proofread copy and catch any glaring errors and point out inconsistencies. He can write headlines and check for compliance with the project’s requirements. He can be moral support and be there at the end to say, “I can’t believe we did it.”

6. Price accordingly. Like the 1 a.m. call to the plumber when your basement is flooding, emergencies ain’t cheap. Make sure your quote includes an opportunity cost (because this job requires 100% of your time that will require you to turn down or defer other work) and reflects the unusual nature of the work and turnaround time (e.g., a stress surcharge).

I hope this overview helped you!  If you’ve worked on (or solicited) last-minute projects, what are your thoughts?

Finding Writers to Rebrand Your Business

A business “rebrand” is the most challenging and rewarding inbound query a freelance copywriter can receive. I’ve owned my freelance writing and editing consultancy for five years, and the Finding Writers To Rebrand Your Businesschanges to how businesses market themselves has been nothing short of extraordinary. In the past year, I’ve been approached by three large enterprises to help them update their messaging and assess the effectiveness of their customer-facing marketing materials.

Many larger businesses that never had an in-house writer before (or even used freelance writers) has seen the value of quality content (Moz’s Rand Fishkin calls it 10X content). This is the content that sparks curiosity and is shared multiple times.

The cobwebs from the 2008 financial crisis are shaking loose, and businesses are moving beyond saddling their existing employees with tasks like content creation. And they see the value in the results.

So why the shift?

A big reason, in my opinion, is the sea change in how companies view marketing (and branding) itself.

Former idea: We’ve always done business this way. It’s not broken, so it doesn’t need fixing.

Newer idea: Innovation requires strategic action (e.g. hiring writers and designers to communicate).

Many companies understand the importance of content marketing in all its forms (blog posts, whitepapers, infographics, videos, and quizzes). Sometimes they are just unsure how to find the best content creators, and sometimes they unsure how to measure results.

“Best” is a loaded word, and it’s going to mean different things depending on a company’s needs. Some business owners or marketing managers believe the “best writer” is someone who has worked in their particular service or industry before. Others think someone is the best if s/he learns quickly and works with minimal supervision.

The types of projects also vary. A company at the start of a rebrand may just want a writer to work on website content and some internal-facing pieces. Blog posts, e-mail marketing campaigns, and whitepapers may come later.

This leave writers in a surprisingly strong position. If you’ve been eager to learn about a new industry, then this is the perfect time to make inquiries. (There are multiple posts on the Copywriter Conclave of Portland’s website to help teach you prospecting tactics.)

Even if a company is seeking an all-in-one solution (web design/content/graphic design), writers are vital. You can demonstrate past projects where you worked with a web or graphic designer. You can pitch yourself to the agency handling the design work. Or you can take a pass if that’s too many moving parts. There will always be companies seeking qualified writers to help them rebrand.


Did you find this article helpful? If you’re a new copywriter, I’m available for coaching. If you’re a business (especially at the start or the middle of a rebrand), please feel free to get in touch at the Enlighten Writing website.  I’m here to help!

Image credit.

Why You Should Work with Creative Staffing Agencies or Not

Throughout the life of this blog, I’ve sung the praises of working with creative staffing agencies (CSAs) as an awesome way for freelancers to get work. I’ve met hundreds of business people, freelance and full-time, who’ve worked with CSAs and shared their experiences with me. Some say good things, some bad, and some have a meh response.

Based on conversations I’ve had and my experience working with CSAs, I want to give you some information about why you should work with creative staffing agencies or not. Information below includes the process, some pros and cons of working with CSAs, and a list of the agencies available in Portland (many of which operate in multiple cities nationally and internationally).

Mathys and Potestio

How the Process Works

  1. Connect with the CSA through their online form. You’ll likely need to provide a resume, link to portfolio, and general background info on yourself.

  2. Auto-generated email tells you your application was received and someone will get back to you soon.

  3. A recruiter gets back to you soon to setup an interview.

  4. In the interview, the recruiter goes over your resume with you, gets to know you personally, asks what kind of position you’re looking for (e.g. freelance/contract/full-time copywriter) and with whom (medium-sized corporation in their marketing department).

  5. You leave the interview with a new team member and advocate, if not a friend. (I’m actually friends with a few of my CSA recruiters. Speaking of which, Blaire owes me a beer…)

  6. When a relevant position comes up, the recruiter who interviewed you (or another recruiter from their office) will email or call you to discuss your interest and availability. You say yay or nay, and they submit you for the position or not.

  7. If you’re submitted, they’ll be in touch about whether or not you get an interview. If you’re not submitted, they’ll contact you again with future opportunities.

  8. The recruiter sets up the interview. You go. You dazzle.

  9. Filter Digital Staffing

  10. The recruiter calls to tell you the result: you got the gig/full-time position or not.

  11. You begin work on the agreed-upon date.

  12. If you landed a freelance or contract position, then the process repeats from #6. If it’s a full-time position, the recruiter’s work for you is done…until you want to leave that position and need their help finding you another one!

Mathys+Potestio created this great video explaining how the process works and what they do as creative recruiters.

Pros of Working with Creative Staffing Agencies

Now for the benefits of working with CSAs:

  1. They’re on your business team. When you work with CSAs, what you’re inviting them to do is leverage their client network to find you the kind of work you want. In addition to your own efforts to find work, CSAs are working toward that same thing on your behalf.

  2. It’s free to work with them. You don’t pay them anything to help you find work or to accept an assignment once it’s been found.

  3. They can place you in freelance, contract (long-term or short), AND full-time positions depending on what you want them to look out for.

  4. They give you health coverage. Depending on how many hours per week you work, you could be eligible for health coverage from the CSA who is essentially your employer when you work for companies through them.

  5. Creative Circle Staffing

  6. Your portfolio will become awesome. There are some heavyweight companies and agencies in the Portland area, and I’m just going to assume you don’t have access to them. These companies usually have a dozen ways to prevent you from getting a foot in the door. You can totally do it though. Using LinkedIn, networking events, and years of patience, you can likely crack into any client. Asking the CSAs to get you in is a much…much faster way to go though.

  7. They advocate for you to the client. When a company/agency wants to hire for a position, they often reach out to CSAs to help with their recruiting. When they do that, the CSAs check their rolodex of talent and recommend people based on their relevant experience. The CSA goes to bat for you to get the position. They don’t just submit your resume and call it good, they have a conversation about you with the hiring personnel. (At least that’s the ideal.)

Cons of Working with Creative Staffing Agencies

Not to be outdone, here are some potential drawbacks of working with CSAs:

  1. The pay is low. CSAs are middle(wo)men. They connect job seeker with job giver and are paid for that work. That payment comes out of your hourly rate. Here’s a sample equation: Company pays CSA $97/hour for You, CSA pays You $50/hour. If you’re placed in a full-time position: Company pays a percentage (10-15% I’ve heard) of your salary to CSA as a “finder’s fee,” Company pays You your full salary with no deduction for the finder’s fee.

  2. The work offered is lame. Sometimes the work recruiters present to you is lame and not at all what you want to do. When that happens, say no. And while you’re at it, tell the recruiter you’re not interested in hearing about positions like that.

  3. Recruiters get in the way. There was one time I got a gig at adidas through a CSA. The client said he wanted me to meet him onsite, but then the recruiter said I could meet via phone. I called him at the agreed-upon time and learned very quickly that he had expected me to be onsite. That gig went away fast. Yes, inexperienced recruiters can definitely get in the way of work.

  4. Recruiter communication is low-quality. Some people I’ve referred to my CSA recruiter connections have had really bad experiences. They’ve said things like: the recruiter never got back to them, shat all over their resume/relevant experience, treated them like a dime a dozen (i.e. not important or worthy of individual attention). I’ve experienced this as well, especially when I was starting out and I didn’t have a lot of experience. I’ve found that the smaller the CSA, the higher quality of experience you can expect.
  5. 52 Limited

Creative Staffing Agencies in Portland

And now for that list of creative staffing agencies in Portland. I’ve worked with a lot of them, and I’ve had good, bad, and meh experiences. I won’t rate them that way, but I will say, in general, my best experiences have been with the smaller CSAs. The time they’ve taken to get to know me, the quality of the recruiters, and the quality of the work (freelance, full-time, and biz dev!) they’ve referred has made me an advocate for CSAs. For me, because of the quality of my experiences with these smaller CSAs, the pros outweigh the cons. Here’s the list:

  • Mathys+Potestio
  • Filter Digital
  • Creative Circle
  • 24Seven
  • 52 Limited
  • Vitamin T
  • Aquent
  • Pact (Never worked with them.)
  • Boly:Welch (Never worked with them.)

  • So, IMHO, that’s why you should work with creative staffing agencies or not. What’d I miss? Why do you or don’t you work with CSAs? Anything you’d like to add? What have your CSA experiences been like?