Qui Ckon CEO Ver.

January 6, 2014 at 9:17 am | Posted in copywriting | 8 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Almost white

Does this look all white to you?

Sorry about that title; only had time for a ‘quick once over’.

All the letters are there: the caps and spacing didn’t confuse, did they?

As a copywriter, I sometimes get quick-once-over requests. I wonder if you do too.

The request has three variations:

1.  Just give it 15 minutes.

Some clients assess my work by what I keep, not discard.

Thus, if I spend an hour rendering two pages of crud into one perfect paragraph, they see 50 words and think Bargain!

If I were a surgeon, they’d say:

Look at that jar: it’s tiny! Why bill me for operating on my whole body when you only took out that little, bitty gallstone?!

2.  Just focus on the howlers.

An intelligent client may spend weeks crafting a pitch for a huge piece of business. She’s happy with her content and only wants me to flag the one or two bad errors I might find.

Though I invariably find dozens of small to medium errors that I know will undermine her brand, pitch (and even viability) she isn’t interested. She knows her writing is good. She gave it to me at the eleventh hour, as an afterthought.

If I were a crèche, she’d say:

We’re entering Emily in a national baby contest in four hours. I’m going home to change. Just keep her alive until I return. Only call if she goes blue or black; don’t worry about the peanut thing. I know my daughter.

3.  There’s only two hours in the budget.

I perfect communications via multiple processes. Spelling, punctuation, tone, cadence, readability and jargon are just the tip.

Numbers, fact accuracy, logical flow, legal compliance, audience suitability and consistency with branding and prior communications form the next level. Then there’s the optional humour, irony, academic and cultural references etc.

This deep thinking takes time.

So, if I get two hours to optimise 6000 not-very-good words, I must cut corners. Yet like a Rubik’s cube, my corners intertwine. Lose one, no cube.

If I were a builder, they’d say:

We need a safe, certified, 25-square home for $50K. Don’t forget the plumbing, wiring, plaster, painting, insulation, termite proofing and hurricane roofing. We’re in Darwin.

Time is money: I need it and I know clients aren’t made of it. I promise perfect communications: too-small budgets make this impossible. Yet I genuinely like my clients and want them to prosper.

I can’t let flawed work leave my desk. So I do three or four hours for the price of two. Just like the fairies.

How about you? Do you mow three hectares for the price of two? Install five workstations for the cost of three? Teach eight people for the fee of five?

If so, what’s your motivation?

  1. Pride.
  2. Love.
  3. Money.
  4. Other (please state _________ ).
  5. All of the above.

Idlo VETOK Now!


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  1. You speak without a forked tongue, my friend.

    Pride in my work, aka professional reputation, often leads me to going more than the extra mile.

    And I guess that I’d prefer to have some work happening (even if it means that I’m getting less than my normal hourly rate) than none at all.

    Perhaps neither of us will make a fortune from our wordsmithing, but we’ll always be able to say that we’re proud of our work.

    Happy writing and editing!

    • I’m so glad you feel that way, Desolie. I’m deeply honoured to count myself among your colleagues. Thank you for commenting on (and promoting!) this post. 🙂

  2. Very nicely mapped out, Paul. Here’s a couple of reflections to add to the mixmaster …

    I often work on large editorial projects. So if your book, annual report or project report is (say) 100,000 words, it might take me 6 minutes per 1000 words just to read and absorb it. (And that’s quick.) So that’s 10 hours. It might then take me 6 minutes per 1000 words to optimise the formatting and fix the spelling. Another 10 hours. And then 6 minutes per 1000 words to, as Paul says, give it a ‘quick once over’. Another 10 hours. And then 6 minutes per 1000 words to actually make some substantive editorial improvement to the logic, clarity and brevity. And then 6 further minutes per 1000 to proof it (which is really just looking for mistakes, even if there are none to find).

    So that’s 50 hours, made up of bare minimum tasks done fast.

    As a client, is that the sort of quick once over you expect? Because even if you don’t realise, that’s what you’re asking. I can and will cut corners to meet your budget, but given what you know now, well, which corners and by how much?!

    And here’s the second reflection: Ask a plumber to quote on 50 hours and let us know the figure. Is it any more or less surprising? 🙂

    PS I also put in extra hours due to #1 Pride.

    • I appreciate your reflections, Ad; and deem you a particularly bright source. Your breakdown is fascinating and I’m pleased to see I’m not the only one banging on about this issue. My renovation builder quoted 50 hours, charged 100, then cut every corner in the book. I’m still fixing them nine years later. Give me a proud copywriter any bloody day! Kind regards and thanks heaps, Mate. P. 🙂

      • So how do we promote the value (and therefore the cost) of excellent copywriting and editing?

        We don’t think twice when a tradesman demands $xxx just to come to assess the problem. But so many potential clients baulk at our merest hint that an initial consultation or first read of a document will incur a cost.

        All suggestions gladly welcomed 🙂

        • That’s a tough question, Desolie. As soon as I could afford to shun clients who shopped on price, I did. Now I do well-paid work for a discerning (and delightful) few. But this happy state took 15 years to reach. As to spreading the word on what we do and how (and why it’s worth the money) this blog is probably my best shot so far. I too am open to ideas! Kind regards, P.

  3. In my experience, when someone asks you to give something ‘a quick once over’ they are not actually asking for your opinion but rather asking you to confirm their belief that the work is correct. Which really means that they do not respect the input that you can provide. Unfortunately this is the cross that professional wordsmiths often have to bear because, for the most part, they care about and appreciate the power of words more than their clients.

    Some possible retorts:
    Do you want it quickly, or are you prepared to invest the time and money to make it better?

    It’s either perfect or it’s not. Your choice.

    Define ‘quick’. If by ‘quick’ you mean an initial 5 minute free consultation in which I explain why your need a copywriter to look at this thoroughly, then yes I can do ‘quick’.

    Interesting thing about the word ‘quick’. It has most of the same letters as the words quack, dick and fuck. Now, are you sure you checked every word?

    Do you mean quickly, or do you mean swiftly, expeditiously, efficiently, hastily, promptly, hurriedly, abruptly, or in the cursory manner your question implies?

    • Dear Chris. This is an absolute pearler of a comment. Once again, you’ve made me wish I’d spoken to you before writing my post. Thank you for sharing your witty, beautifully written and highly educative thoughts. Kind regards, P.

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