Creative Writing – Books on Craft

Hi, Copy Bitch! I stumbled on your blog and noticed that you’re a creative writer in addition to being a copywriter. Cool! I love writing, and I’ve been thinking about going back to school for it. In the meantime, I’m asking the writers I know about the books they like to read (books on writing that is). What do you recommend?

—Happy Scrivener, Detroit

Answer: So many books, so little time. Okay, here are three that I recommend (two books and one essay):

  • Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott. The love of my life gave me this book back in the mid 90s, and I’d go through all the heartache again just so I’d encounter the book when I did.
  • Envy” by Kathryn Chetkovich. This is a personal essay — an important one, as far as I’m concerned. Whether we like to admit it or not, envy runs rampant in writing circles (hell, probably in all circles), and the best way to deal with it is to recognize it, make peace with it, and learn how to manage it. You’ll find people will be happy to make you feel better when you get rejected. Many of those same people will have a tough time being genuinely happy when you publish. We’re human. It happens to ALL of us (myself included) — I don’t care who you are. Best we all learn to deal with it.

Happy reading and writing!

Customer Retention Strategies: Make it Easy to Cancel Memberships

So here’s the story. There will be a quiz at the end.

  • Once upon a time, I subscribed to an eCard company that I’m going to call Colorful Peaks. (I’m sure the smartypants out there will be able to figure it out.)
  • I subscribed to Colorful Peaks over ten years ago. I know this because when I recently went to put in my old standby password to login, it didn’t work, nor did any combination of password I’ve been using for the last ten years.
  • I can’t remember the last time I sent an eCard through Colorful Peaks.
  • This past Saturday, at 6:30 a.m., I received an email from Colorful Peaks reminding me that it was renewal time and that my credit card was going to be charged $15.99. The email also said this: If you prefer to discontinue your membership, you can find easy instructions on our Help pages. Go to <redacted link>, sign in, and click on ‘All About my Paid Membership’.
  • I immediately clicked on the link, thinking I’d cancel my membership right then and there.
  • I did not read the above “rules” carefully, and only clicked on the link and did not sign in. I was on a main Help Center page. I’m a savvy user, however, so I clicked on the section that said, “How do I…” This brought me to a page that listed a bunch of FAQ links, including “How do I cancel my subscription?
  • I clicked on the link, and was told I needed to login if I wanted to read the answer.
  • GRRRR.
  • So I entered my email address, which was the user name, and tried every combination of password I’ve been using for the last ten years. Nada. So I went through the “Forget password? Click here” rigmarole, and waited for the password to be emailed to me.
  • I got the password, actually said out loud to no one “Wow!,” reflected for several minutes on how much my life has changed since using such a password, got depressed, thought about putting tequila in my coffee, pouted because I had to be somewhere at 8 a.m. and didn’t want to go because I would rather wallow in my depression (I’m a sadist that way), and then rallied because I needed to cancel the damn account, shower, eat, feed the cat, go through my obsessive compulsive routine of shutting off the stove and checking the lights three times, and get out of the house.
  • So I quickly logged in, poised for an easy cancellation process, ONLY TO BE TOLD THIS: To request a cancellation of a subscription, please contact our membership support center by calling 1-888-254-1450, Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. EST.
  • Let’s recap here: they send me the reminder at 6:30 am on a Saturday, try to confuse and depress me with the process of trying to figure out how to cancel my account, and leave me hanging for 48 hours before I can possibly attempt to cancel said account since they sent me the reminder on the weekend, and, no doubt, were hoping I’d have forgotten about it by Monday (they hadn’t counted on the fact I’m an angry blogger with no life).

Here’s the quiz: Couldn’t the folks at Colorful Peaks have put the cancellation information in the email to begin with? Yes or no?

Answer: Yes. Yes they could have. They chose not to.

I don’t understand why companies don’t let customers cancel online. Okay, I do understand why, and so does Saint Godin who talks about the reason in his recent post about, but that doesn’t make it any better.

However, I could have forgiven Colorful Peaks for this requirement if the folks running the show had inserted the cancellation instructions in the body of the reminder email, which, by the way, had a subject line of “Important news about your Colorful Peaks Membership.”

Here’s your homework, business owners: when it comes to customer retention strategies, don’t follow this example. If you’re already doing something like this, go fix it. Now.

UPDATE: I drafted this post yesterday, but I just called to cancel my account. I started out with an auto attendant who decided my request was too complicated and handed me to a live person. This person was nice enough and efficient and of course wanted to know why I was canceling. I decided to see how she would respond to “I just can’t afford it.” She said they could lower the price to $11.99. I said no thanks.

The Anatomy of a Great Offer

Dear Copy Bitch: I’m launching a new website (I’m a fellow copywriter), and I wanted to know if you had any ideas for great offers. I can come up with this stuff for clients, but it’s hard to do it for myself.

—Steve T., Santa Monica, CA

ANSWER: Congrats, Steve! But before I answer, I must address that pesky pachyderm in the room. I know some people are wondering why I’d give advice to a copywriter, i.e. a competitor. Simple. I believe there’s enough room for all of us. Competition is good because it ensures we writers (lawyers, marketers, politicians) do as good of a job as we possibly can. I also believe in the concept of paying it forward. Many people have helped me along the way after all.

Okay, enough of the philosophizing. Let’s talk about the anatomy of a great offer. Here are some traits that I think all great offers have:

  1. It will provide me with something that I consider valuable.
  2. It’s easy to access.
  3. It’s easy to understand and/or use.

1. Make Valuable Offers

So how do you figure out what people will consider valuable?

Ask current customers. Shoot them a quick email or make a quick call and ask them what they would get excited about seeing available on your website.

Ask potential customers.
Think of the type of business owners you want to do business with, and ask them what they would consider valuable. Chances are if you don’t directly know some of these people, you know someone who does.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Picture yourself as a business owner who lands on your website. What sort of information would be valuable? Tips on how to proofread more effectively? A 21-point guide on creating blog posts that get people talking? A step-by-step tutorial on writing an effective web page?

Worried that these types of offers give away too many trade secrets? Don’t. Educating your clients or prospective clients on certain writing tasks won’t put you out of a job. (Empowering people is never a bad thing. Well, at least in this case.) What it will likely do is 1) make them appreciate what you do even more and/or 2) make them advocate for you (especially if they’re reporting to people further up the food chain).

Something else to keep in mind: I believe in crafting multiple offers. Make them page specific. So if you have a service page on website copywriting, craft your offer around that. For example, a document called “What’s a title tag and why should I care?” might work well on this page.

2. Make Your Offers Easy to Access

Don’t make people email or call you. Make the offers free and downloadable off your site. Use simple forms (i.e. make the forms short). Get only enough info so that you can continue to stay in front of people, but don’t ask people to surrender every last shred of information about themselves. Don’t  use automatic opt-ins. If you have a question like “Do you want to subscribe to my newsletter,” make sure the “yes” box isn’t automatically checked. After someone hits “submit,” make sure whatever it is that people just signed up for—a document, a coupon, a webinar, access to a private area of your site—is obvious. Include easy-to-read directions if your offer involves anything that involves more than one step. A nice touch? Automated emails that include information around your offer.

3. Make Offers Easy to Understand

In your case, you’ll probably be providing tip sheets, white papers, and tutorials. Remember the KISS rule (Keep It Simple, Stupid). These items are not the place to show off jargon or impress people with your literary prowess. Instead, provide readable, practical information that a 10-year-old can follow, digest, and start using today.

The same holds true no matter what the offer is. If I run an online store, and I offer a coupon code, it should be clear as to what the code is and how and where I’m supposed to use it.

The best way to make sure you’ve taken care of items #2 and #3 is to test it yourself and then have some other folks go through the process.

Hope this helps!

Customer Retention Strategies: Are You Welcoming Customers or Scaring Them Away?

Yesterday, I went to my “remote” office, a local coffee shop (part of a chain) that offers free Wi-Fi. I go quite a bit, usually at 2:00 in the afternoon and stay for three hours (the place closes at 6:00). I always buy something (e.g., coffee, at the very least), and I make sure I’m not monopolizing tables (I’m often the only one there). Sometimes, I’ll buy a Caesar salad on my way home if I don’t feel like cooking (hahaha — me cooking; that’s a joke). That was my plan yesterday. “Was” being the operative word.

The last few times I’ve gone to my remote office, I felt I was intruding on — even bothering — the workers. Yesterday was no exception. In fact, it was worse. I ordered a hot coffee and bagel, but there was no hot coffee (I mentioned it was a coffee shop, right?). The girl said she’d have to brew it and that it would take a few minutes. I told her I didn’t mind. Slightly exasperated, she grabbed one of her underlings and asked him to make the coffee. His confused expression suggested to me that he hadn’t done this particular task too often (and the fact I found coffee grounds floating in my beverage confirmed my suspicions). So I went off with my bagel and waited for the coffee to brew.

After five minutes or so, I went up to the counter to see if it was ready. But the girl who’d taken my order and the guy who’d made the coffee were nowhere to be found. Another girl was there, and I explained that I’d already paid, blah, blah, blah. She gave me my coffee. I went to put in some half-and-half, and the metal jug that’s usually on the condiment counter was missing (during my last three visits, the jug has been empty). I looked for one of the employees, but they were all out back, so I used milk instead. This particular condiment counter has two holes for trash — or for people like me who need to drain some of the coffee to make room for cream — but yesterday, the napkin dispensers covered them up. You wouldn’t know these holes for trash were even there. It was as if these three things — no coffee, no cream, no place for trash — were subtle hints, ones that rang through loud and clear: I was not wanted. (I mentioned it was four hours before closing, right?)

As the afternoon wore on, it became clear to me that a state inspection was looming, given one girl’s excessive scrubbing of the baseboards (ah, I remember my days in food service when I was in high school and I was charged with this task). There were at least four workers in the store, cleaning and counting and sorting. I don’t begrudge them this — I know inspections can be stressful. However, I felt like an intruder the whole time. And what’s more is that I’ve felt this way during my last few visits.

They cleaned around me and my table — I offered several times to get up and move so they could clean my particular area, but they said no. Still, a woman can tell when she’s not wanted. So around five, I started cleaning up my stuff, debating the whole time whether I should order the Caesar salad I had planned on buying three hours ago. I decided against it — it felt like I’d be bothering them.

Let’s think about this: this shop lost a sale — a sale that was “a given” — all because of the way I felt in the store. Yes, it was my perception of the situation. But my perception was my reality.

So ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you making your clients/customers feel welcome? How do you know? What are you specifically doing to address this?
  • Does your body language betray you (e.g. do your shoulders sag or does your back arch when you’re asked to do something)?
  • Are you impatient with people on the phone?
  • Do you sigh when talking to customers or sound breathless and in “hurry up” mode?
  • Do you say “thank you” in a genuine tone?
  • Do you make eye contact?
  • Do you anticipate your customers’ needs?
  • Do you go beyond the basics that your job requires?
  • Hell, are you even covering the basics?

Don’t take this for granted. How many sales are you losing (or winning) based simply on the way you treat people?

As for me, well let’s just say this: I’m glad Starbucks is now instituting free Wi-Fi in its stores.