Handling the tricky situations in your creative business

If you struggle with the tricky client situations that come up as a self employed creative pro, podcast episode #426 is for you.

In Part 2 of my chat with copywriter, Deidre Rienzo, we talked about what she does (and doesn’t do) to attract the best clients and to make her days efficient and productive enough to spend the bulk of her time doing what she really wants to do. 

Listen here or below:


Want more? Listen to Part 1, The Five Minute Pity Party

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Here's the transcription of this episode

ilise benun
In part two of my latest conversation with copywriter, Deidre Rienzo of Connect with Copy, we focus on the practical aspects of getting your creative business off the ground. Deidre shared her best tips from the guest blog post of the same name, including how she's learned to handle all the tricky situations from scope creep, to getting discouraged to setting boundaries for her mother, so listen and learn.

Welcome Deidre back to the podcast and please introduce yourself again.

Deidre Rienzo
I am Deidre Rienzo, and I write personality-rich web copy, blog posts and newsletters for designers and their clients.

Beautiful and how long have you been in business?

Deidre Rienzo
This is my 15th year.

ilise benun
And give us a little of your background. Were you fired from your second job out of college like me, or did something else happen to you?

Deidre Rienzo
I was living and working in Hoboken, as a marketing manager for a transportation company, and I was running a pretty big marketing department with a big marketing budget and a lot of stuff. I had a pretty great job, a great office, I was making a good amount of money. But I just had that feeling like. "Okay, this is all there is?" I was 25 or 26.

So, around that same time, I was dating a man who lived in Ireland, and I said, "You know what? I'm going to quit my job and become self employed, just like that.

Just like that

Deidre Rienzo
Well, not just like that actually. You also lived in Hoboken, at that time and you had posted that you were looking for a virtual assistant on a community message board.

ilise benun
We met up to talk about that we met at a Starbucks.

Deidre Rienzo
And I feel like that was sort of the beginning of the rest of my life.

ilise benun
I remember that cup of coffee. And it's interesting because you did start out as my virtual assistant and then, little by little, you went off doing your own thing. So I wonder if you could briefly encapsulate that part, finding your way, and listening to the market, also, right? How did that happen?

Deidre Rienzo
I was a marketing manager and I knew I had all this marketing experience--as much as 25 or 26 year old could have--but the virtual marketing assistant was sort of a big thing then. So I was like, "Well, if I'm a marketing manager for a whole company, surely I can be a virtual marketing assistant."

At that point, I just wanted to make some money and not have to be tied down to a corporate desk so that I could move to Europe and start a life there.

I did start doing that for you. And the writing was what I really liked the best. I knew I enjoyed writing and I always was reasonably good at it. So that's where the internal desire took me. And it's where I saw myself bringing the most value.

ilise benun
And you did, for a long time, write my content, in my voice.

Deidre Rienzo
Can you believe it? I did! Listen to that everybody: I got to write in Ilise's voice

ilise benun
And you were awesome at it.

Deidre Rienzo
Thank you, that's so cool. It's like, I got to be Santa Claus, I did.

ilise benun
Yeah, I used to not write my own content. I do now, but for a long time, Deidre was better at it than me. So she did it for me and it was great.

Deidre Rienzo
Thank you.

ilise benun
And I do want to focus in this part two here on the more practical aspects of your journey. So one of the tips in the blog post that we're referring to, "10 tips to get your creative business off the ground."

"Number 2: get organized and treat it like a business. Create a workspace. Set office hours. Use Freshbooks." Talk a little bit about that structure. What does it mean to get organized and treat it like a business?

Deidre Rienzo
I think a lot of people have this idea that self employment is just so much freedom. Do whatever you want. Sometimes, I look on Instagram and I get these sponsored ads about becoming a copywriter and working from anywhere. So I used to think this was cool. Yeah, let's work from anywhere.

And I remember one time I was working from a hotel in Barcelona, and the Internet didn't work, my computer didn't work, I couldn't get comfortable. It was just all wrong. The room was all wrong and I just couldn't get into that place where I could focus and do work.

That's when I realized I need an office. I need a space where I can do work, where I can go and that can be the place where the work gets done.

So, yeah, there is a lot of freedom involved. But to get the freedom, you need the structure, and that is whatever it means to you, with your physical space, but also with the way you run your business.

I love Freshbooks. It's a really easy way of doing my invoicing and accounting. I'm not really a money person but it just keeps it all organized it feels really fun, it feels really easy.

ilise benun
What are your office hours Deidre?

Deidre Rienzo
I have a baby. Well, now he's 15 months old. So he's a little bit over one, he is starting daycare in a couple of weeks. I have my husband take care of him during the day when I work. But I like to get up and feed him breakfast. So I don't start working until around 10am and I work until three, four or five. It depends.

The way that I like to structure my workday is I have maybe two or three things on my list of things to get done. And if I get them done, then I'm done for the day.

ilise benun
What if you don't get them done.

Deidre Rienzo
If I don't get them done then I keep working until I'm done. But hopefully I'm able to finish working by five, because now, I can't work until six or seven. I have things to do and, you know, people to feed.

ilise benun
The fact that you have two or three things each day to get done may sound very sane, to people who have 100 things on their to do list. How do you manage not to have 100 things or 25 things on your to do list?

Deidre Rienzo
Because I don't do a lot of things.

ilise benun
What don't you do?

Deidre Rienzo
I'm all about maximizing so I ask myself, "What am I going to get out of this? Am I going to get out what I'm putting in?"

And if the answer's no, then I don't do it.

So I don't do social media. I don't do little projects that take up time and energy but don't make money. I think I'm able to keep my to do list really small, because I just say no. I say no to a lot, a lot of things.

ilise benun
Number seven is: "Create boundaries with the people who don't understand that you're actually working." What is that about?

Deidre Rienzo
I'm not even sure if my mom still understands that I'm working. 15 years later, she kind of gets it now. There are a lot more people are working from home now. So maybe there's more legitimacy around it and other people see it and say, "Okay, you're actually working."

But I don't know. I don't think so. I think it's our job to treat it like a business. And we are working, so we need to explain to the people around us what that looks like and what that means for them.

So that might mean, "I'm going to be in my office from 10 until 12. If you're here, maybe we can have lunch together from 12 until 12:30. Then I'm back to work."

ilise benun
So what's interesting about that framing of it is you're not saying, "Don't bother me between 10 and 12." You're saying, "I'll be available to have lunch with you between 12 and 12:30."

Deidre Rienzo
I think you have to be really, really clear about your expectations. There will be times when I'll be in here and I'll be working on something that doesn't require much focus -- maybe I'm updating my website or I'm doing some invoicing or some outreach -- and I'll say, "If you need me, come on in."

Or if a family member texts or calls, or a friend. Don't answer it and call them back when you're having a lunch break or at the end of the workday and say, "I saw that you called earlier. Sorry I didn't get back but I was working. Usually I work until four o'clock, so it's easier for me to talk after that."

I feel like, in the beginning, you almost have to be like militant about it for people to get it. Later you can be a little more flexible, especially with the people who understand it. You really do have to have clear, clear boundaries. Otherwise, you'll never have the time to do your work.

ilise benun
And how do you do that with clients who are paying you, but who try to abuse the boundaries, or may not even be aware of the boundaries?

Deidre Rienzo
When we have an initial email about the free consultation, I say, "I'm available at 10, 11 or 12 on this day. Which of those times can you do?" And they'll pick one.

If we're scheduling a phone call and they say, "I'm free after 3 or 4." I'll say, "I don't do phone calls that late. My brain doesn't work. Legitimately, my brain stops working at three o'clock. I can't think about anything." 

Fortunately, copywriting is never really an emergency. It's never, "We need this tomorrow or right now," where maybe design can feel a little bit more like that.

Again it's also choosing the right clients because, you know, when you have clients who plan their schedules and respect your boundaries, then it's not usually a big deal.

But if something isn't gonna work for me, I say it. And I also try to spell things out in advance: how the process works and what it looks like. For example, "We're going to have a strategy phone call that will usually take an hour, maybe an hour and a half. Within two to three weeks after that you're going to get your first draft of web content."

I just try to lay it out clearly so they know what to expect and then that makes it much easier for the clients to know how it works and then they are there to help you do your best work.

ilise benun
You put that in writing, you're saying?

Deidre Rienzo
I also talk about it. So both I think is good.

ilise benun
And do you ever get a client or a prospect who says, "Oh come on, just tell me how much it's going to cost."

Deidre Rienzo
What do you mean?

ilise benun
Often people tell me that before they're ready to quote a price, this may not be relevant to you because you quote a price right off the bat and people know this is how much it generally costs. But you know those people who, all they care about is the price and they don't really want to talk too much, they just want to know how much is it going to cost?

Deidre Rienzo
Right. Yeah, sometimes people will email me and say, "How much does it cost?" and I'll say, "Here are my packages on my website."

ilise benun
And you have pricing on your website, which you think is a good idea. Say why.

Deidre Rienzo
It's a fantastic idea. Yes, I think it saves so much time, it's great. But you have to know what your prices are and you have to stick with them. 

ilise benun
I think once you said to me, "Sometimes I feel like I'm leaving money on the table because I put my prices out there." 

Deidre Rienzo
Sometimes I think that. I think it's about shaping your services.  Clearly this thing with this amount of deliverables costs this much. I have "starting at" this price, for super basic web content, it starts at $1500. The most kind of popular package is usually around $2200. But then, clients or prospects will come with something that's just bigger or different and that will cost more.

ilise benun
And how do you handle scope creep, Deidre, when they want something more later, once you've already quoted the price?

Deidre Rienzo
You know, that isn't really a problem for me, the scope doesn't usually creep.

ilise benun
That's kind of amazing, especially for web copy.

Deidre Rienzo
Here's what I do, though. I usually try to quote a project. I'll say, "These are the pages you'll get. You'll get an 'about me,' you'll get a 'why us,' you'll get a 'services.'  But as we dive in, the navigation may change. My suggested navigation may change because once I talk to them and hear what they need, it might turn out that they need this page or we're going to shape their services this way.

I try to like build some of that in, especially with my most popular package, I say, "I'm going to give you everything I think you need to express your business in a way that's going to connect with your ideal clients based on this conversation we had.

Sometimes we'll get in there and they'll say, "Actually I'm thinking of adding this service or adding something new." And that will cost more.

Usually I'm able to get a really good understanding of what their business is and who they're working with and what they're doing in that initial call so that the scope doesn't often change. And I include two rounds of revisions in my estimates. There have been times when I've done certainly three or four rounds of revisions, little tweaks at the end, and I've never charged for extra revisions because I build in a little cushion to get it where I need it to be.

But it's also never like, if we get to the point where I have delivered my final copy and you want eight rounds of revisions, we kind of know that right when I deliver that final round of copy. 

I think this has happened two or three times over all of these years of doing this, that they say, "This isn't what I wanted." And I'm like, "Okay, why don't we part ways here." Yeah, you know,  those were lawyers.

ilise benun
Really?

Deidre Rienzo
Yeah, I think the only other time that happened was, sometimes people they tell me, "We don't want to sound like everyone else in our industry. We want to have a personality. We want to be different." And then, we dive into it and I hear all of these things and I do what I do. And then the copy, when it was delivered to them, it just made them feel too uncomfortable. And they were like, "No we can't do it, we can't do that." So now I'm much better about clearing that up before it happens,

ilise benun
Running it by them, the tone before you write everything?

Deidre Rienzo
No, not even that. Just having the conversation about what they really want and being able to hear whether or not they are truly wanting to express themselves authentically, in a way that, you know, isn't like "third person lawyer talk" that every other lawyer is doing.

I just don't work with lawyers anymore. I think it really happened three times -- two of them were lawyers and they were like, "No, we really do want to sound different." And I'm like, "No, you want to use a million buzzwords and third person craziness."

ilise benun
Alright, I just have two more questions for you. You said also somewhere that marketing doesn't have to be crazy complicated to work. What does that mean?

Deidre Rienzo
So many people, my colleagues, spend so much time and energy and effort, doing all of the marketing things or doing all of it.

When really, they just need five steady clients to make the living that they want. And they know who those five steady clients might be. They know who their ideal clients are.

So, why don't you just find your ideal clients and reach out to them directly and start a relationship, instead of spending all this time doing marketing campaigns and social media and all of these other things that just might not be a really good use of your time?

In the beginning when I first met you, I did one of your marketing plan groups and it was similar to your Simplest Marketing Plan. And I did my newsletter and I did outreach to people that I found on LinkedIn. That's the only marketing I've ever really done. And if we want to consider my guest posts on your blog, marketing, I've done that too. 

ilise benun
So you're saying, that's your marketing plan. It's not crazy complicated. It works.

Deidre Rienzo
Yes.

ilise benun
So, let's just say it again in case people missed it.

It's your email newsletter, reaching out on LinkedIn and guest blogging on my blog. That's it.

And that brings you the relationships that you want.

Deidre Rienzo
Yes, very much so.

ilise benun
So my last question is, the blog post that you wrote, "10 tips to get your creative business off the ground now" uses the timeframe of 10 years. "Here's how far I've come in 10 years."

But if someone wanted to get there more quickly, what would you say? What would you have done differently? This may be repetition of some things you've already said, but just to encapsulate, what would you suggest someone does?

Deidre Rienzo
Okay, I'm gonna say, figure out what you do and who you do it for as quickly as you possibly can, based on what they really, really need.

Then shape your services in a way that makes it easy for them to say, "I want to work with you." As soon as you can, shape an offering. Don't just say, "I do everything for everyone."

Shape an offering, like, "I do annual report design for these kinds of nonprofits." Shape that offering for them and write to them on your website and in your outreach. Speak right to them and to their needs.

Maybe this is kind of a silly one to say but find the kind of clients who might send you recurring work, so you're not having to find a new project and a new client all the time.

I'm fortunate that a lot of my partners are designers. They work with me to write content for them. And they work with me when a client comes to them and says, "I need a website," but they don't have words for it. So they say, "Deidre is my copywriting partner. She can help you figure out the words that we need for your design."

Also I made a lot more money the year that I decided that, instead of just doing web content, I would also do recurring newsletters for people. I can write a monthly newsletter for you, client. So maybe I charge $300 for a newsletter, but that happening every month did definitely add up over the year.

ilise benun
And that's instead of the one off, one time need for web copy basically.

Deidre Rienzo
Yeah, exactly.

ilise benun
All right, well I feel like you have shared a ton, Deidre, and I know everyone's gonna love this. I want to thank you for sharing your experience over the years. Tell the people where they can find you online.

Deidre Rienzo
At connectwithcopy.com

ilise benun
Let me just ask you one more question actually. Because I know that your website hasn't really been refreshed in a while, and I'm curious, do you care?

Deidre Rienzo
I look at my website every so often. And I think, "Do I need to update this?" I keep the work samples up to date. I add blog posts. Also, I add testimonials and I still think it reflects what I do, who I do it for and what I want to say.

And of course I think the design is great, Jill Lynn Design did it and she keeps all of the back end up to date so I don't have to worry about that.

ilise benun
Perfect. I agree with you. I think it's perfect.

Deidre Rienzo
Oh, thanks.

ilise benun
You're welcome, but I'm just bringing it up because so many people think, they look at their own website, and they know how long it's been up there, and they think it's too old and that everyone else is gonna think it's too old. But the truth is, if it's still working and it's doing what you want it to do and it reflects the work that you do and you update the portfolio and the testimonials, it's not like it's static and dead and, you know, dated, then I think it's fine.

Deidre Rienzo
Right. I totally agree, as long as that looks current and I haven't really shifted what I do or who I do it for in a long time

ilise benun
Because you found your place.

Deidre Rienzo
I did. So it's all still relevant.

ilise benun
Beautiful. All right, thank you, again, Deidre, I really appreciate it.

Deidre Rienzo
I just want to say, seriously, thank you, ilise, because I would not be here if it weren't for you.

Your guidance over all of these years and having you as the the voice of reason or the person like pointing me in that right direction through everything you do has just been so helpful.

And also knowing this community that you've created, that we're all going through these same things, has been such a big deal for me.

I can't imagine where I would be if we didn't have coffee in Hoboken that time. I'm happy, I love my life and a lot of that is because of what I do for work and a lot of that is because of you.

ilise benun
Thank you, that is very sweet. You're gonna make me cry so we have to hang up now, Deidre.

Deidre Rienzo
Thank you, ilise, it was fun.

ilise benun
It was fun. Thank you for doing it.

Outro
I do hope you learned a little something. Little by little I promise it will get easier, and before you know it, you'll have more and more confidence.

Speaking of confidence. If you cringe when a prospect asks for a proposal, or if you can never come up with the right thing to say in the moment, I think you'll like my latest download "Worth It: how getting good at the money conversation pays off."

It's got case studies, resources, and plenty of "what to say when" scripts and tips for real time conversations, and email messages, so you never again, say the wrong thing.

You can find it at marketing-mentor.com. I'll be back soon with more conversations with creative professionals who are practicing what I preach to overcome -- once and for all -- the feast or famine syndrome. Until next time.