There are two different approaches to working with B2B copywriting clients: the transactional approach, and the engaged approach. They can yield two very different results for your business as a copywriter.
Let me give you an example of what I mean by an engaged approach…
Earlier today, I got an email from a client of mine. He wanted me to jump on a teleconference call with him late in the morning with his designer about a direct mail piece I had written.
Now, I had already written that direct mail piece, and submitted the copy to the client. The client approved the copy. In fact, I had already invoiced the client for the work done.
You could argue that my job was done. But he wanted me on that teleconference call because he trusts my expertise. He wanted me there because he knows I can make a valuable contribution to that conversation.
So I said, “Of course I will be there.” I spent about 45 minutes on the teleconference — with no additional pay.
But I happily attended it, simply because I take an engaged approach to working with clients, rather than a transactional approach to working with clients.
The Transactional Approach
In a transactional approach, you do the project as directed, and as you quoted, to the letter. You do a great job. You finish the project, and the client approves the copy. You send your invoice, you get paid, and you go, “Phew. That project is off my desk.”
Then you hope that the client will contact you again sometime for another project. That’s the way a lot of freelance copywriters and business writers work.
By the way, there’s nothing wrong with that approach at all.
Let me give you a real-world example of the transactional approach…
Let’s say you were asked to write an article a week for a company blog. Your job is to interview someone at the company, come up with the content, and write the article so they can post it on their blog. That’s a pretty nice gig.
You write the article, you submit it, you get paid. That’s a transactional approach to copywriting. Nothing wrong with that, really.
But again, there is the other approach. Here’s that same real-world example with the engaged approach…
The Engaged Approach
First of all, you do the weekly article for the blog as directed, and you do a great job. But you also actively recommend ideas and new strategies.
You might offer a monthly strategy meeting with the client to check out the analytics of the blog to see which types of articles are getting the most conversions. You might strategize with the client about new topics that might make their blog more popular and convert more prospects.
You might make recommendations about how to make the blog better and perhaps how to incorporate video into it. If there is a meeting with a designer like I had this morning, you happily attend.
Yes, you are technically doing the copywriting, but you’re also offering to do other things. With the engaged approach, you’re taking a bigger stake in making that blog a winner for the client. You’re playing more of a partnership role by making it a business-building marketing asset for that company and you want it to succeed.
Now, before I let you know which approach works better, let me give you some pros and cons about the transactional approach to working with a client.
A Look at the Transactional Approach
The transactional approach is a very simple model. You know exactly what you’re doing. You do what you say you’ll do in your quote. You invoice, you get paid, and you’re done.
It’s also more profitable from a project perspective. Let’s say you write articles for companies, and you’re very strict about how you work. You interview someone at the company for 15 minutes, then write a 600-word article. The client posts it to their blog, you send out an invoice, and you get paid.
That’s all you do. You don’t contribute ideas. You don’t make suggestions or recommendations, and you don’t attend any other meetings with the client. From a project perspective, that can be profitable.
You can probably get very good at that. Also, with the very clear scope, you don’t have to worry about scope creep too much because you’ve defined what you do.
And a Look at the Engaged Approach
The engaged approach is a little bit different. When you’re working with a client, you’re always looking for ways to make a bigger and better contribution to the client. You’re always looking for ways to help your client become more successful, and ways to contribute ideas and strategies.
As a result, the scope for each project becomes a little bit fuzzy. You have to be very careful. There’s a fine line between giving some free advice and ideas to a client, and doing too much stuff for free.
There’s some point where you want to get paid for the advice that you give above and beyond the call of duty. You’ve got to be careful of the scope when you take an engaged approach.
Also, while it may not be more profitable from a project or project perspective, it’s more profitable from a client perspective.
When you take an engaged approach to working with a client, you’re going in deeper with the client.
You’re becoming more of a partner with that client, rather than just a vendor. You’re not just a copywriting source. You’re playing more of a consultative role.
It puts you in a position to be more of a linchpin for the client. It locks you in, and the client sees you as a real source of expertise that they go back to again and again. Consequently, when you take this engaged approach, clients will be looking for more ways to utilize your services.
In my experience, they’ll hire you for more projects. And they’ll give you much more repeat business and they’ll stay with you longer.
To give you an example, I have one client I’ve been working with for over 12 years. Because I take this engaged approach, I’m practically a member of the team.
I can’t imagine he would even consider working with another writer. More than once, he has referred to me as indispensable.
They wouldn’t make a marketing move without contacting me and asking me for my advice. You know, that’s a wonderful position to be in with a company.
You can’t get in that position with a transactional approach, but you can with an engaged approach. I really like working with clients like that who value me so highly that they use me and only me for their copywriting and marketing advice. They stay with me for years.
I’d rather have five clients like that where I take a full engaged approach with them than 50 clients where I’m doing something purely transactional.
Also, when you take an engaged approach, you really get to a point where fees are not an issue. Your clients are more than willing to pay your top professional rates.
You become a category of one for that client. They think of you not as a supplier, but as a partner. I get very little resistance for the fees I charge. My long-term clients, with whom I take this engaged approach with when I work for them, value my services.
Taking an engaged approach is a little riskier because you’re spending extra time that perhaps you didn’t budget for.
You’re attending some extra phone meetings, or you’re going to see the client live to tour their manufacturing facility and you don’t get paid for that. Or clients are contacting you and asking for your opinion and feedback on things you might not charge for.
That’s true, but for me it’s worth the risk. If you are taking a purely transactional approach to copywriting now, I would encourage you to at least try an engaged approach with perhaps one valued client. A client that you want to go deeper with… A client you want to have around five or 10 years from now.
Do that and see how you feel about it. Trust me, the engaged approach has worked very well for me in creating a level of loyalty with clients that I could never imagine getting if I took a purely transactional approach.
Which Approach Works Better?
You might be surprised by my answer because my answer is both. Both work fine.
I know a lot of copywriters who strictly take a transactional approach. ‘This is what I do, this is what I write. This is what I deliver to the client and then I bill and that’s all I do.’
They’re very strict with their transactional approach. Nothing wrong with that at all. I’ve seen that work very well. I’ve taken that approach myself with many types of clients over the years, and I’ll touch on that more in a moment.
But I find, for me generally, that the engaged approach works better.
Which Approach Should You Use?
As I said, your approach could also be determined by the type of client you’re working with…
If you are writing primarily for ad agencies and design firms, I find it’s frankly a little bit difficult to take this engaged approach.
Ad agencies and design firms want to plug you into a category. They want you to just be the writer and follow their direction and strategy. They don’t want you to play much more of a role than that.
It can happen, but it’s more difficult to establish an engaged approach with agencies and design firms.
With marketing directors of larger companies, I’d say half and half. About half are willing to work with you with the engaged approach. The other half, not so much. It really depends on who you’re working with.
Business owners and senior marketers of smaller companies love the engaged approach.
They love having that B2B copywriter who will give them ideas, who will help them out with strategies. Who will be on the teleconference when they’re going over design concepts with their graphic design firm.
So to recap, I recommend that if you have some clients you want to build loyalty with, try the engaged approach. It’s an approach that has worked very well for me.