Service pricing: Hourly rate or fixed fee?

If you provide copy, design, consultation, or any kind of service to advertisers, you already know how difficult it is to deal with pricing.

One of the hardest decisions to make is whether to charge by the hour or to charge a fixed rate.

This is just one of many issues I’ve been thinking about lately after reading Steve Slaunwhite’s definitive book on the subject, Pricing Your Writing Services. It’s written from the professional writer’s perspective, but the principles apply to graphic designers, Web professionals, consultants, and many other service providers as well.

The short answer to this quandary is that it’s better to charged a fixed rate in most cases. Why? Well, that requires a longer answer.

Quoting hourly prices seems more natural when you’re starting out. That’s because we’re all used to the hourly concept. People are often paid hourly. And it’s an easy answer to the question “What do you charge?” But hourly rates present problems for professional level service providers. Read more

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Deceptive direct mail or clever selling tactic?

When you’re creating direct mail or any form of advertising, it’s important to be an aggressive advocate for the product or service you’re selling.

But you always run the risk of crossing the line between advocacy and deception. The problem is knowing exactly where that line is. Everyone has a different standard for ethical behavior.

Here’s a letter I received recently. (I’ve blurred all identifying information.) It appears to be perfectly legal and fairly typical for a direct mail solicitation today. In fact, I receive many letters like this from a variety of businesses.

economic stimulus letter

The letter arrived in a plain envelope. Neither the envelope nor the letter displays a company logo. Read more

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Kaboom! The selling magic of Billy Mays

Billy Mays is the king of direct response TV ads.

Don’t know who Billy Mays is? Yes you do. Watch this video.

Everyone knows Billy Mays. And for good reason. While direct response TV commercials are all designed to get your attention, Billy Mays is the one pitchman who can grab your attention even if you’re in another room.

Mays started his selling career right out of high school pitching products on the Atlantic City boardwalk. He honed his craft at home shows and state fairs around the country. He became famous after meeting the founder of Orange Glo International, a manufacturer of cleaning products.

Orange Glo hired Mays to promote their various cleaners, including OxiClean, Orange Clean, and Orange Glo. Sales soared. This success propelled the company into the top 10 privately owned companies from 1999 to 2001, according to Inc. Magazine.

What makes Mays’ pitch so effective? Enthusiasm, directness, and authority. A Billy Mays pitch is packed with nonstop energy. He’s pleasant, but doesn’t joke or clown around, always getting right to the point. His voice is loud and commanding, a style perfectly suited to selling on a busy boardwalk, but also perfectly suited to breaking through to preoccupied TV viewers.

I think few would say they “like” to watch a Billy Mays commercial. He’s considered obnoxious by many. But that’s irrelevant. Just as people say they dislike catalogs while continuing to place orders, they say they don’t like Mays’ in-your-face style while emptying the store shelves of the products he pitches.

In marketing, you should learn from what works, not from what you like.

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5 ways to kill good copy with bad design

You’ve heard it a thousand times: “Copy is king.”

Sure. That’s because direct marketing is all about the message, and copy delivers the message. But … and this is a very important but … design is what delivers the copy.

Assuming that copy is the only important part of a printed direct marketing message is like thinking that the screenplay is the only important part of a movie. A movie starts with the script, but until it’s translated into visuals, there’s no movie.

It’s the same with advertising, direct response advertising in particular. The sales pitch starts with the copy, but the copy must be translated into visuals before you have a complete message that people can read and interact with.

Even a simple letter requires some design: page size, type, color, logo placement, underlines or highlights, signature in blue, and other elements. Get these items wrong and the design will obstruct the copy rather than enhance it.

How? Here are 5 of the most common ways design can kill your copy:

Start with a visual “concept.” There’s nothing wrong with concepts per se, but the message should guide the concept, not the other way around. I once had a client who would send a design and ask me to fill in the blanks with copy. This led to terrifically weak direct mail. Of course, starting with copy from a writer with no regard for design can be nearly as bad. Read more

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The direct mail envelope quandary: plain or bold

The envelope is arguably the most important part of a direct mail package. It’s more than a container for sales materials. It’s the element that determines whether people will spend time with your message or toss it in the trash.

While there are endless variations for envelopes, you can divide most into one of two categories: plain or bold.

plain direct mail envelopePlain envelopes are those that display little or no advertising copy. Some are totally plain, showing nothing but the outgoing and return address. Others add a minimum of copy or graphics to help encourage you to open the envelope, such as the AAA direct mail piece shown here. Read more

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