You Only Get One Chance

I blew it.

I had a golden opportunity with the editor of a major publication, and I failed the test. I'll explain more in a second …

Steve Roller here, back with more about developing non-writing communication skills.

Even though writing is most often a solitary pursuit, there is more live interaction than you might think. Take two writers of equal writing ability, and the one who communicates better and takes action will usually earn more. It's that simple.

Back to my story …

The editor and I were discussing a promotion for the launch of a new service. It involved a flat fee plus a royalty arrangement if they liked my copy and used it.

Problem was, I didn't do my homework.

I should have studied this publication's target demographic. I should have prepared insightful questions. I should have thought about what questions she would ask me.

Since I didn't, I was caught off guard. I didn't feel confident during the phone call, and I'm sure it came through.

Not the first impression I was hoping to make.

I wrote a pretty good sales letter, but it never mailed, and we parted ways. I missed out on a potential long-term relationship, ongoing royalty income, and possible referrals.


I only had to bomb once to change my ways. Take one of my more recent calls …

A fairly new Internet marketing company found my website and contacted me. Their head of product development scheduled a phone appointment with me.

In the week before the call, I researched the company thoroughly. I got on their email list and started receiving promotions. I "liked" their Facebook business page and Googled them to find out everything I could about them.

I also prepared a detailed questionnaire and even role-played how I thought the phone call would go. It was almost like preparing a speech, and it paid off.

This Silicon Valley company knew high-tech marketing methods, but they really didn't have a handle on direct response. They also didn't understand who their customers were.

Here's the interesting thing. The phone call started out as I expected, with the woman asking me a couple of questions about my background and experience. We had an instant, easy rapport, and the conversation soon shifted because I had questions of my own prepared.

I structured the questions to lead things in the way I wanted them to go. Remember, I practiced this quite a few times. At one point, though, she put me on the spot and said, "How would you do this landing page differently?"

I told them what I liked about it first (always a good diplomatic move). But I wasn't afraid to offer advice either.

I told her that the copywriter (who may have been her) didn't seem to be speaking to one person and didn't quite understand their typical customer. It sounded like a young, hip techie talking to a peer. In reality, their customer base is mostly male first-time entrepreneurs in their 40s and 50s. The copy was also a bit confusing, and the call to action wasn't clear.

Her response? "You're exactly right."

Throughout this week, I'll have a number of communication tips for you, starting with this fundamental truth:

People like to do business with upbeat, confident people who have something to offer.

Want to always leave a good first impression?

Start with these three things, whether it's on the phone or in person:

  1. Be likeable. Start on a positive note and find some common ground. Spend more time asking insightful questions than talking about yourself.
  2. Be prepared. It's a lot easier to act confident when you've done your homework.
  3. Be a giver. Offer valuable advice based on your expertise. Be more concerned with what you can do for them rather than what you might get out of the relationship.

The old adage is true: you only get one chance to make a good first impression.

If you'd like to land more projects and get a more detailed explanation of point two above, check out my article "The Art of the Client Interview."

Do you have a recent success story? Any phone or email communication tips? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

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Published: July 3, 2012

4 Responses to “You Only Get One Chance”

  1. As always, thank you for contributing this article: your article resonated with me, as usual.

    The key is research.

    A lot of these meet-ups fail because the potential employee never bothered to conduct any research about the company.

    What is this company about? What makes it tick? What are its strengths? Limitations? As a copywriter, who is your target audience? How can you contribute and add value?

    These are some of the questions you should be asking. Copywriters, in order to succeed, need to possess a high level of empathy.

    Can you put yourself in somebody else's shoes? Or are you too self-centred and self-absorbed to care?

    That's what separates those who succeed from the also-rans.

    Archan MehtaJuly 3, 2012 at 11:30 am

  2. Steve - good story. I had a similar experience although mine did not end as well.

    I saw an advert for a financial newsletter that wanted some help. I sent in a piece of writing and got an immediate response. The publisher/editor asked for my resume, which I sent. Then he asked if we could talk on the phone.

    On the call, we discussed that I would like to write for the publication - articles, sales letters, anything he needed. He said that sounded great. He was bothered that I would be working remote, but otherwise seemed interested in whatever I would send.

    So I sent - a good bit. Advertising pitches, editorial pitches, product ideas, you name it. He said that was great, keep it coming. But he used none of it.

    After a couple of months of not hearing back I sent some more and asked if I was hitting the write note, he said he was busy and that's why he hadn't gotten back with me sooner but had a project.

    I did the project, which I didn't bill for despite his suggestion tha

    Guest (Trey)July 3, 2012 at 4:37 pm

  3. Outstanding reminder for all copywriters, no matter what their niche, to take the time and do your homework to fully understand the client, the product, the target audience, EVERYTHING. Part of being a professional is being prepared. The more prepared you are, the more professional you'll be, and that will always lead to more success. It's a basic premise of AWAI's Accelerated Six Figure Copywriting course, and cannot be emphasized strongly enough.

    AugustinJuly 3, 2012 at 6:35 pm

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