Rogue Ink

June 2, 2008

That’s Not In My Job Description.

Filed under: Copywriting,Entrepreneurship — Tei @ 8:45 am
Tags: ,

I was writing up the copy for my website (yes, James, I really was) and wrote up a quick list of the services that I provide. These, in case you feel like hiring me this morning, include writing marketing, promotional, and informational copy, editing, rewriting, and a little special something I like to call marketing strategy lite, which is a bonus. Basically, if you’re about to do something really dumb with your marketing, I will tell you. It’s common courtesy. I wouldn’t let you walk out of the bathroom with toilet paper dangling from your fly either. I’m just awesome that way. Which got me to thinking about extras.

Why I Should Never Ask Other People’s Opinion.

I ran the copy by a few people, and every one of them wanted me to add in a service or two that I’d done for them above and beyond the copywriter’s call. Transcription. SEO. Public relations. And I have done all of these things from time to time for certain clients, because I like my clients, and I’m willing to dabble in just about anything if a) they’ll pay me for it and b) I feel I can get some reasonable results out of my attempt.

I won’t be advertising those services on my site, though, because I know what happens next.

They’re going to multiply. Not like bunny rabbits, oh no. Like amoeba. Like big globby all-encompassing goo that sucks up my time and my life and eventually the entire world, because as we all know, every apocalypse begins with me in some way, shape or form.

Begin with a fairly basic service. Copywriting. Excellent. Then people want to know if I do certain kinds of copywriting (yes, I do, and no, I don’t know what you need yet, but if it involves the written word, I will write it). THEN they want to know if I do things that are RELATED to copywriting (yes, I do, because I like my clients and I will generally try to make them happy). And THEN they want to know if I will do things that are related to THINGS that are related to copy, and it is here that I put my foot down. Firmly. Upon a large beetle.

Math is the Language of the Devil.

I am not certain who told my clients about this snowballing effect, but they all seem to believe heartily in its existence. A copywriter who can weave SEO keywords into her copy can surely also figure out what those SEO words should be. This is true, but only to a certain extent. Good SEO analysis involves more than a Wordtracker subscription, and I know it. I know it involves knowing about whatever algorithm Google is using this week and which keywords people are spending money on and analyzing the value of incorporating other keywords that aren’t worth as much into your copy, and I will tell you right now that THE SECOND SOMETHING STARTS TO BE MATH, I HEREBY RESIGN. I do my taxes under duress. I dislike counting my change jar. I cannot, and you do not want me to, analyze an algorithm to determine optimal keywords.

But if you will tell me which ones some savvy math guy has figured out are the best for you, I will craft copy around them all the live-long day. Singing merrily and flinging pennies about.

Awesomeness Has Reasonable Limits

Do not pretend you can do things that you simply cannot do. When a client insists that they’d really like me to come up with the SEO keywords, I will, but it will be with the fair warning that I am using common sense, not math, to arrive at my conclusions. Most of my clients are just fine with that, but I will never claim to be an SEO expert, and I will never claim to offer the service, any more than I will claim to be a professional sword swallower. Would I try to swallow a sword for a reasonable fee? Sure, why not. Just so’s no one expects it not to end in tears.

I know that we all get ashamed of admitting when we don’t know how to do something. A client asked me the other day if I did graphic design as well, and even though I am not personally to be trusted with art supplies in any form, including a piece of chalk and a sidewalk, I felt a little sad to say no. I cannot explain this. I think it has to do with the hero complex. If a client wanted to know if I practiced law as well as wrote copy, I would probably also feel a little ashamed, even though he has no reason to assume that I do either of those things. Writers are not designers. You can tell, because they’re spelled differently. Sometimes people are BOTH, and those people are very cool people, but the one does not automatically imply the other.

Some professions do this, and I think they’re screwing it up for the rest of us. Actors and waiters come to mind.

You can bend over backwards a little bit for your customers. Like a good morning stretch, the kind that cracks your back with that perfect little pop. But only Cirque de Soleil performers can bend all the way back and touch their foreheads to the backs of their knees, because guess what?

That’s THEIR job description.

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  1. Thank you.

    It is so easy to be sucked into the idea that you need to “be all things to all people” to get enough work. And soon enough the ‘big globby all-encompassing goo’ is so thick you don’t even know what your core business is anymore – so what’s the likelihood that your potential clients will be able to work this out?

    I get the thing about being ashamed to admit when you are not awesome at something. I think (speaking for myself only of course) it might also have something to do with not wanting to say ‘no’ to any opportunity, and not wanting to disappoint people.

    In truth though, if you don’t focus your efforts, you probably end up just being mediocre at a whole bunch of stuff, rather than really great at one or two.

    Comment by Rebecca Leigh — June 2, 2008 @ 10:13 am | Reply

  2. Ayup. I’ll sometimes do things out of my comfort zone if there is time pressure or if we really tried to find someone more qualified but nobody was happy with what we found. But like you, I know very well what I can do, what I *should* do, and the difference between..

    Comment by Tony Lawrence — June 2, 2008 @ 10:50 am | Reply

  3. We often get requests for jobs that are related to our core business but that aren’t our core business. Keyword research is one (no, we won’t) and paid blog commenting is another (no, we won’t). There are tons. It’s inevitable that a client wants to see you as the one-stop shop to save time.

    That’s a good thing. But know your limits. I don’t want to be the jack of all trades and master of none. I want to do everything that I do very well and have a good list of contacts for all the other things I won’t do.

    Also, these contacts do the same. “Sure, I can write okay, but the Pen Men do a better job of it. Let me get in touch with them while I finish the XYZ you hired me to do.” Etc. etc.

    It comes down to learning to say no. Use it. Wield it. The power of no brings freedom and better success.


    Comment by James Chartrand - Men with Pens — June 2, 2008 @ 12:20 pm | Reply

  4. Oh, by the way. I don’t believe you. I know what you were doing yesterday. I was doing it with you.

    Hm. That did not sound good.

    Comment by James Chartrand - Men with Pens — June 2, 2008 @ 12:21 pm | Reply

  5. I don’t have a fly, I wear a kilt! 🙂

    To your last point. I remember a professor where I studied who was not well-liked for thesis examinations, because he would ruthlessly drill deeper and deeper with questions.

    All he was really after was the words:

    “I don’t know.”

    I figure it is always okay to say “I don’t know” followed by “and I’ll find that out for you, from someone who does.”

    Comment by Brett Legree — June 2, 2008 @ 12:38 pm | Reply

  6. “Math is the Language of the Devil.” According to Peter Griffin, it is also the lesbian sister of biology. I believe it. Math is my arch nemesis. Biology, although I have slightly more interest in it, is a close second.

    “Writers are not designers. You can tell, because they’re spelled differently.” I also like to often say: “Writers are not designers. You can tell, because they spell differently.” This is an ongoing funny thing between me and my designer friend Shaun. It’s why he needs me. 🙂

    Also, I must have the hero complex too. I am completely ashamed when I say there’s something I can’t do, even if totally unrelated, but especially when it comes to certain types of editing. I know where my strengths and weaknesses lie. And I have finally come to realize I cannot edit any and all topics, or do substantive editing as well as I can copyedit and proof. It sucks, but as long as I have someone I can refer, I feel less guilty.

    Comment by Steph — June 2, 2008 @ 1:27 pm | Reply

  7. Weird. I commented but it didn’t show. Now I notice it says there are 7 comments, but I can only read the first two.

    Comment by Steph — June 2, 2008 @ 1:30 pm | Reply

  8. I think you’re right on with this. It really doesn’t pay off in the end to try to be all things to all people. If you have a niche and you’re damn good at, you will be sought out for that talent.

    I tell this to folks in my industry (animation). When they show up at a studio and say “I’ll do anything!” because they are so desperate for work, it works against them. The HR people don’t know what to do with them and know they can’t be good at everything. Focus on one or two things and get damn good at them.

    I think building up a referral system with other people that *do* have those talents will make you more valuable to your clients. You’re still helping your clients by guiding them to the right people to do the job. Then hopefully others will guide people to you right back. 🙂

    Comment by Karen JL — June 2, 2008 @ 4:59 pm | Reply

  9. Rebecca: True. Most clients like to think that you know more about your business than they do, and if you can’t articulate it, they get worried.

    Tony: Big chasm, that difference, for most of my things.

    James: SOME of us can multi-task. And you disappeared right about when I did. I know. I had Gmail open to ding me.

    Hm. That didn’t sound so good, either.

    Brett: Kilts save you from all kinds of embarrassment. Except blue ribbons.

    Steph: I dunno what’s wrong with your comment-land. I can see ’em all. Let your hero complex thwart the masses.

    Karen JL: Exactly. No one likes the guy who pretends he can do it all and then does a half-assed job. He’s THAT guy.

    Comment by Tei — June 2, 2008 @ 5:35 pm | Reply

  10. I get a lot of that with my artwork.

    I do watercolor landscape paintings.

    Recently, I’ve been asked to paint a set for a local theater production. And to copy a Batman Comic book cover page for someone’s kid. Sorry. That’s NOT what I do. Total different set of skills.

    (However, I do have my day-job, so I can afford to say no).

    PS. Brett, for GOD’S SAKES, put your kilt back on.

    Comment by Friar — June 2, 2008 @ 8:01 pm | Reply

  11. On this I have lived and learned. There are things I CAN do but are no longer in my “job description.” I have narrowed my focus considerably to the things I love to do and am good at doing. I have found that my profit margins and my mood improved and clients still like me. Better still, I am able to refer business to people I know and like who do the things that are no longer my job.

    Comment by Karen Swim — June 2, 2008 @ 11:23 pm | Reply

  12. “…because as we all know, every apocalypse begins with me in some way, shape or form.”
    Hilarious… and untrue; they start with me 😉

    Comment by Simonne — June 5, 2008 @ 1:54 pm | Reply

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