When You Want Quality, Pay for Process

Creative professionals have an entirely different set of work-related gripes than people with “normal” jobs. I was having a conversation with a fellow creative professional who wanted to smack a particular person in the face for an entirely too common reason: they weren’t charging enough.

I get why they do it. Heck I’ve done it. You’re trying to make money, making money is hard, getting clients to pay you real fees is hard. It’s tempting to compete on price to get your foot in the door. It’s entirely understandable.

But it drives prices down and customers away because you cannot sustainably charge those rates and deliver excellent work. There aren’t enough hours in the day.

I told her that she should have a post where she explained the difference between professional results and Fiverr-rate results and I wasn’t done typing before I realized I should have the same thing.

The First Draft of Everything is Shit

Ernest Hemingway said that the first draft of everything is shit. He was probably drunk at the time and we don’t want to take it as an absolute, but generally, the first draft of something is pretty bad.

If you’ve ever read some irrational ranty screed on social media that went off on tangent after tangent and never bothered to make a real point, you’ve read a first draft.

If you don’t spend a lot of time writing, you might not understand, but if you’ve ever read some irrational ranty screed on social media that went off on tangent after tangent and never bothered to make a real point, you’ve read a first draft.

The first draft is often a place where you’re just putting down ideas, working out your arguments, and testing phrases. It’s usually a big hash that includes way too many words, a bunch of run-on sentences, and every tangent under the sun.

Why do you care?

Because at the prices a copywriter can charge at those content mills—Fiverr, Upwork and the like—a writer cannot earn a living wage while writing multiple drafts.

The Content Mill Process

I’ve done a fair amount of work on Fiverr. I know what my process was and I would imagine it’s pretty close to what other people do. It went like this:

  1. Noodle around for a bit thinking about the right approach.
  2. Write a draft.
  3. Run it through Grammarly or some other online editor.

And that’s it. That’s all you have the time for because if you’re spending more than half an hour on it, you’re working for less than minimum wage.

The Pro Process

The pro process is different. I’ve documented the steps I take in writing a blog post. There are 20 of them. That includes some pre-writing stuff like identifying an audience and the particular keywords I want to hit. It also includes some post-writing stuff like making sure I have graphics and pull quotes and making sure I post it on social. And of course it includes writing an outline ahead of time so my first drafts aren’t shit.

But drafting the post is one step.

Editing the post is six, and those are the steps that make the difference.

Big Picture Pass

In this draft, I’m looking at ideas. Do I have all the right ideas? Do I have any extraneous ideas that distract from the main point? Are all the ideas in the right order? I don’t generally have many problems in this area because I outline first, but they do crop up, especially when I change focus midway through.

Targeting Pass

Your audience is incredibly important. You’re trying to speak their language. In the targeting pass, I make sure that the language I’m using fits the audience I’ve documented. This isn’t just a matter of words and phrases, but things like references and analogies. If I’m addressing millennials, I’m not going to reference the Everly Brothers or adjusting the rabbit ears to get better reception. Those might be the first examples that come to mind and I’m not going to stop drafting to find a better example, but when I’m editing, I’m going to find one that the audience will understand.

Connectivity Pass

Content isn’t worth a damn if people don’t read it and read it to the end. There are verbal tricks we can use to encourage people to keep reading. In the connectivity pass, I deploy those tricks where I haven’t already.

Simplification Pass

When drafting, it’s more important to get the ideas right than to get the words right. In the simplification pass, I fix that. I don’t simplify the ideas, I simplify paragraphs, sentences, and words. I eliminate the run on sentences. I use shorter words, shorter sentences, and less complicated grammar.

Read Aloud Pass

I read everything aloud. It’s an essential step in the editing process because it’s where I catch everything that I’ve missed in previous steps. If there’s some awkward phrasing, I catch it here. If an edit broke a sentence, I catch it here. If I’m missing a word, used a homophone, or whatever, I catch it here. It’s the single most invaluable step in editing, and it’s not one you can afford when working at Fiverr rates.

Grammarly Pass

My last editing pass is a run through the pro version of Grammarly. Grammarly catches a bunch of things like homophones, commas, repeated words, and that technical stuff. It ALWAYS finds something. Often, it flags a deliberate choice I’ve made and I override it, but it flags commas, other punctuation, and misspelled words that somehow managed to slip through my read-aloud.

The Difference is Everything

That’s not a quick process. I try to spread my blog posts over four days—pre-writing on one day, drafting the next, editing the next, posting and scheduling the next.

Spending four to six hours on a blog post—not including research—isn’t unusual. You can’t do that when you’re getting paid less than ten dollars for it.

Expertise takes time.

You don’t care how long it takes, you care how good it is, but how good it is depends on the care put into it and care takes time. Expertise takes time.

If you want to stand out, you need professional quality content that speaks directly to your customers and addresses their needs. You need someone who will take the time to give your content the care it needs to truly stand out.

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