Have you ever heard the phrase ‘you can’t read the writing on the label when you’re inside the bottle’?
Writing your website copy is no easy task.
It’s like being the one inside the bottle. You are so close to what you do that it’s hard to see it clearly.
“In terms of finished product, it is very hard for any self-employed person to distill their voice and find fresh phrasing that will resonate with their audience. Many try to do that on their own and it is typically a frustrating task.” –Terra Osterling
Many of my clients insist on writing their own copy, but ultimately have a difficult time with it. I provide a Guidebook and Copy Guidebook after The Focus session/workshop (an in-depth conversation designed to uncover a lot of information about your business) and some do ok writing their websites. However, some do go on to take my advice and hire a professional.
This is the first in a series of interviews with other professionals that may help you as a service provider or consultant. It’s my hope you come away with a better understanding of what they can bring to your business overall, not just with your website creation!
Meet Terra Osterling
Terra is a copywriter at Sudden Write Turn Freelance Writing, and has been in business since 2012! Terra agreed to answer some questions about what got her into copywriting, what she does for her clients and shared some advice and lessons learned from being in business for herself for more than ten years.
I think of Terra as “The Connector.” She truly connects with people in order to write their copy in a way that connects them with people they want to build a relationship with.
Q: How did you get started with your business?
I had a lot of different professional jobs, including at a museum, a law office, and commercial real estate office; at each job I found a way to work writing into my responsibilities. In 2012 I decided that I wanted to write full time, so quit my job to do just that! I started very small by writing human interest features for a local weekly newspaper. Those stories really helped me to refine my interviewing skills, which I use to this day with every single writing assignment.
Q: What are some of the fears and doubts you had going into business?
Imposter syndrome, for sure! Basically, who was I to say “I’m a writer” and have people believe me? In the beginning that fear was because I wasn’t established and didn’t have connections, let alone a portfolio, so I would lack credibility. No one knew who I was! It turns out that you build your credibility every time you deliver.
Q: What results do you bring about for your clients? How do they benefit? What do they get from working with you?
I synthesize a lot of information to quickly make strategic connections that contribute to achieving goals. I do this by concisely weaving in details that will reflect their brand, so their message better connects with audiences and contributes to converting them into enthusiastic brand ambassadors and prospects.
So, I am a very good writer, but I am also a very good professional partner.
My work product is consistent and brand/topic-sensitive. I am also reliable in every way, customer-service savvy, and empathetic. Basically, working with me makes life easier for my clients. I also put clients/interview subjects at ease and ultimately make them look good, and therefore feel good.
Q: What tips do you have for your clients to ‘do the work’ with you for a better result than if they did it on their own?
So #1 is trusting someone like me to be able to do it for them.
Then they need to be clear on their brand: Who they are, what they deliver to their clients, and what their overall strategy is.
I can be a contributor to further articulating those factors in a finished piece, but they need to be clear on it for themselves. They need to know what their business is and where they want to take it. Hands down it is the most important piece.
Additionally, keep communicating with me. I purposely make interviews very organic and easy so people will talk authentically. I do a lot of the work in interviews to pull out of them what they might not realize is already there. That’s the best input. But I also love to have prior versions of a piece and any research they’ve done themselves, especially keywords and phrases.
When it comes time to review/edit a draft, clear feedback is very important. Again, good input means good results.
Overall a client will get the best results when they come prepared to collaborate.
Terra and I have similar approaches when starting projects.
She said this about getting started, and I have found the same to be true:
“People struggle to identify their own story. Often they think there is nothing interesting to tell about themselves, or they don’t know how we will ever complete their project in a way that is engaging. (I assure you, every single person or business has at least one great story.)
What I do is all in the interviewing. I just let them talk. I ask follow up questions. I go off ‘into the weeds’ to encourage the telling of some story that seems unrelated, but reveals a gem or closes a loop on another story.
Sometimes I tell a quick, relevant story of my own, because all my interviews are really conversations and a conversation is always way more comfortable than a stiff interview. Overcoming any fear they have solidifies once they see the first draft — which is seeing how I see them and their story. It is always an ‘a-ha’ moment for them.”
Incidentally, many brand and also web designers include a discovery conversation very similar to this to their projects as well. (Mine is called The Focus.) You may find you’ll have several of these deep conversations when working with different individuals for copywriting, branding and website design.
The information uncovered at the beginning of the process, with a copywriter, may sometimes be enough to inform the brand and website. In many cases, though, additional conversations are needed to uncover more information to truly bring your brand to life and connect with your visitors.
All of this helps you to stay consistent with your brand and message
everywhere you show up!
Q: Terra, there are so many copywriters out there, and now AI. How do you differentiate yourself? Why should someone work with you rather than rely on what AI spits out?
For my human counterparts, we usually have our niches of both topics and types of projects.
My niche is I really don’t have a niche.
I provide long and short form copywriting for clients from across a spectrum of industries, services, and topics.
I have a very short learning curve and am a very intuitive writer, so I can be writing an email campaign about sewers and water mains for an engineering client in the morning, and in the afternoon write about the fall harvest and food pairings for a winery client.
I believe that what truly differentiates me is relationship building. I focus a lot on making life/their jobs easier for my clients, and many see me as part of their team. That requires both hard and soft skills.
As for robots … well, successfully using those tools is all in the prompting. So if someone knows how to interview themselves better than I would interview them, then I guess I won’t stand out.
But experience has shown me that it’s those soft skills that do make me stand out.
Plus I take my clients to coffee or lunch and care about their lives. Robots don’t do that!
Q: What’s a lesson you’ve learned from being in business that’s helped you grow that you think could help my audience of independent consultants and service providers? (the always giving Terra gave me four!)
Boundaries are healthy, even in business and even with clients! This includes honoring your office hours, time off, and especially your process as a professional in your field.
Absolutely use a formal contract, which can spell out some of those professional boundaries. If you take yourself and what you do seriously, others will, too.
Also, TRUST YOUR GUT. If something feels off about a prospect, you can absolutely say it’s not a fit and step away. This applies also to client relationships. If it sours for some reason, your formal contract should have an out.
All that said, try not to take it personally if someone puts you through a long ‘brain-picking consultation’ process, but then turns down or ghosts your proposal. It’s hard if you are approaching it as relationship-building, but they are still looking at bottom lines. It’s a good time to say to yourself, That’s not my ideal client.
Q: Terra, how do you use your website in your overall business toolbox as a copywriter/consultant?
I use my website for basic information about working with me, what services I offer, and as an online portfolio.
I don’t generate sales through my website, only a few times in all these years has a client come to me cold through my web contact form. But absolutely I feel it is necessary to have, because it is an extension of my personality and, as I said, a place for prospects to preview my work and style. I often point people there to do their research on me if they would like to prior to a consultation.
Q: What are some resources you use in your business and how do they help?
Paid versions of Zoom, Dubsado, Calendly, and QuickBooks Online are vital tools for me for automation of scheduling, contracts management, and billing/getting paid. Huge timesavers.
This may sound off-topic, but I also invest in AVG for Anti-Virus and Internet Security and for a PC Maintenance app. Good tech preventative hygiene is super-important when you are your own tech support!
Other professional partners I rely on:
Jordan Fritz, JF Bookkeeping Solutions. Since I am not a bookkeeper but I do my own bookkeeping, I use Jordan’s services a couple times a year to keep my QBO better organized. She knows that software inside and out!
Susan Jefferson, TechCreative LLC She designed my website, but more importantly my hosting and email is through her. It is reassuring to have someone local and responsive for that.
Working with a professional copywriter on your website project (or newsletter) doesn’t need to be intimidating.
Copywriters connect us with our readers and potential clients, but also connect us with our true message, vision and values in a way that we often cannot fully express on our own.
Instead of plowing through the frustration of writing your site on your own, consider reaching out to a professional copywriter. You may be a published writer, but writing for your website is a totally different type of writing!
In addition to a relationship-based approach to copywriting and editing, Terra offers a service called Workshopping, which is for clients who have topical expertise and creative ideas but need guidance to a finished, publishable piece. It’s great for when you have a writing project you’ve started, but can’t find the right voice or lack the time, energy, or confidence to finish it.
Workshopping is a collaborative approach to helping finish your document-in-progress. I am confident in saying this service is unique — I don’t know of any other writer offering this option for helping clients move closer to reaching their business goals. You can learn more at: https://suddenwriteturn.com/workshopping/
Terra Osterling is a writer and editor who has helped a diverse range of clients with their communications needs. She uses creative problem-solving skills and a discerning eye for detail to develop clear and engaging messages for print and electronic media.