How cool! You have a prospective client for your web copy business. Before you punch in their phone number or tap out an email with your rates, you might consider conducting some background research to ensure that you WOW them when you do talk.
Although sometimes they’ll assume that you know as much about their industry as they do, they’ll more often be surprised and impressed at any knowledge you demonstrate.
See, they may not say so, but in the back of their minds, they’re wondering if anyone outside of their company can write effectively about their products and industry. Most small companies would have already tried writing the copy in-house, and bigger B2B companies don’t want to hire a writer who is unfamiliar with their industry.
To better prepare you for your first conversation with a prospect, here are three things you can do:
1. Visit their website.
Although this is a no-brainer, it’s important to understand what you’re looking for on their website.
For example, before talking with a recent prospect, I quickly scanned every page of their site. It turns out they had a page for case studies that simply said, “Coming … ”
When you visit their website, here’s what to look for:
- What do they say they do, and for whom do they do it? If this isn’t immediately clear, then you have a golden opportunity to help them with the messaging on their home page.
- What language do they speak? Do they talk in “Corporate-speak,” technical jargon, or write in ways that you and I know aren’t conducive to selling? Most smaller B2B companies don’t know how to write effective copy.
- Do they have any lead-generation strategies in place? Most smaller companies won’t be generating leads. They simply want the visitor to “Call Us” or complete a contact form. This is another opportunity to write a special report and a series of autoresponder emails.
- What products and services do they sell? Many companies assume that the website visitor can’t be bothered by details. If you can’t figure out the value of their products, then neither can their prospects. That’s a great opportunity for you.
- What web pages do they have … or not have? FAQ pages are lazy marketing. Don’t tell your prospect that, but you and I both know that the copy itself should answer all the major questions. A FAQ page usually means that the rest of the copy is lacking in substance. Also, you may find missing pieces — case studies, video, and additional content.
- Are they using social media and social networking? If they’re not currently using video on their website, you can offer to help create meaningful videos. And, if they’re not using social networking (Facebook, Twitter), you can offer to help get them started.
- Do they have an ACTIVE Blog? “Content Marketing” is one of the hottest topics online today. Companies increase their lead generation by over 50% simply by providing useful content (videos, articles, Facebook updates, etc.) on a regular basis. Many mid-to-small companies won’t have this capability.
2. Check out their competition.
When preparing for a recent client project, I noticed that all of their major competitors said the same things on their websites.
They used the same tired claims of being “the industry leader” without providing any specific details. I could have easily substituted one company name for another and nobody would have known the difference.
When you do a quick review of your prospect’s competition, you can spot opportunities for making your prospect stand out from the crowd. What are their competitors doing that might be working? And, more importantly, what are they not doing that you can exploit when you make your proposal?
You’ll also get a sense of what their industry as a whole is doing. Are others in their industry using social media and social networking to grow their businesses? Or, are they stuck in the past with Web 1.0 websites?
You’ll have additional leverage if you find that their major competitors have upgraded their websites, are focused on a solid content marketing strategy, and are using social media to build their fan base.
When visiting the competition, here’s what to look for:
- Effective copy. Do they all say the same things, or does one company stand out from the crowd? Dig deeper into that company’s website because it will offer clues to what’s working in their industry.
- White papers and special reports. Do the competitors have up-to-date white papers and special reports? In order to keep up with the competition, your prospect might want to consider posting their own white papers.
- Use of social media and social networking. If the competition has Web 2.0 websites, then you’ve got some leverage to get your prospect up-to-date.
As you’re looking through the competitor’s websites, make a note of the terminology they use. Simply by using the same jargon when you talk with your prospect, you’ll give the impression that you’re highly knowledgeable about the subject matter.
3. Background research on the company and people.
Finally, I’ve found that it’s very handy to do a bit of investigative research on the company and the person with whom I’ll be speaking.
Here are four things you can do:
- Search on the Company Name. A simple search on the company name can be quite revealing. First, do they come up number one on Google? If not, you’ve got a serious SEO (Search Engine Optimization) opportunity. Then, see what else is written about them. Are there press releases (another opportunity)? How about articles about the company itself?
- Who’s on LinkedIn? You can actually follow many companies on LinkedIn. You can also look up the profiles of people who are currently employed by the company. Hopefully, the person with whom you’ll be speaking is listed. Read his/her profile to get a sense of the person, especially any personal information they might share.
- Who visits their website? You can get a limited, but useful amount of demographic information from two websites: www.compete.com and www.alexa.com. Check them out and see if there’s any information about your prospect.
- What’s trending? Go to Google Trends (http://trends.google.com) and try out a few different industry keyword phrases. I’ve found this to be most helpful in understanding where there’s growth in a given market.
When you arrive at your initial conversation with a prospect fully prepared, you can ask more pointed questions that will demonstrate your expertise and increase your overall value.
Now … get out there and get some web copy business!
[Ed. Note: In Sid’s next article, he’ll review the questions you should be asking your prospect when you do talk. These questions will help you to prepare a proposal that is more certain of gaining approval.]