Equipping Writers for Success
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by Jennifer Brown Banks
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Here's the ticket: testimonials. They're one of the most effective forms of "social proof" around. And here's the good news: you've probably already been passively acquiring them already through the quality services you provide.
Comments like: "Thanks Joe, for the terrific job you did on creating the collateral pieces for our new clothing line" or: "Mary, you have been a Godsend - your work on our website has increased our traffic tremendously this quarter" can speak volumes about your skill set, your creativity, and your performance record as a freelancer. Giving you a much-needed competitive edge in these tough times.
What exactly are testimonials?
Testimonials are the equivalent of reference letters in the corporate arena; they open doors. Dictionary.com defines them as: "Something given or done as an expression of esteem, admiration, or gratitude."
Consider the following statistics:
Testimonials can come in different forms. Like celebrity endorsements by Kirstie Alley, who gives the "skinny" on how she lost weight through Weight Watchers. They can even be provided in video form through mediums like YouTube.
No matter how they're executed, in order for them to serve their intended purpose and have optimal effect, they must be used strategically and correctly. With this as our guiding goal, here's what you need to know about using testimonials to cultivate new business and "stay in the black."
The Wrong Way:
While reading the bio of an author's work in a popular newsletter, I excitedly clicked on the embedded link to her website to learn more about her services. When I did, I discovered an error that many writers unfortunately make. Her testimonial was weak and generic, and was more of a "courtesy comment" that editors periodically send to contributors than a testimonial. See if you agree. It read: "Nikita, I enjoyed reading your work. Thanks for your submission."
Put yourself in the place of a potential client. Would this statement inspire your confidence? Or cause you to choose this writer over the many scribes offering similar services? Probably not.
Another author offered the following testimonial on her site as well: "Interesting article."
Having an ineffective testimonial is just as bad as not having any at all. There's a better way.
According to marketing expert Holly Buchanan, there are three conditions for testimonials to have maximum impact.
The Right Way:
Here are two testimonials I posted on my site's landing page to establish my value to potential clients reviewing my online "portfolio" with successful results:
"I hired Jennifer for a Blog Consultation. With Jennifer's help, I could see my blog more objectively. She gave me very clear and concrete ways to improve my entire site. Within hours, I felt way more confident about my online presence. She's friendly too. Even in her emails, she provides service with a smile." ---S. Webb, M.F.A.
Here's another example of a strong testimonial that I read on another writer's site -- a writer whom I later hired to work on a project:
What makes testimonials truly effective?
"Solid" testimonials highlight a writer's specific creative strengths. They establish what separates him/her from the hundreds of other service providers with similar offerings.
They're also credible and convincing. They address how the writer helped a client to solve a problem, enhance services, or make a profit in his business. They are also accompanied by the provider's name and the person's title or organization, (as opposed to just initials).
In many instances, the problem with using testimonials is one of misperception. In other words, the unenlightened believe that it's better to have 10 weak or vague testimonials than 2 or 3 strong, illuminating ones. Not true. Quality trumps quantity here, always.
Experts "speak" out on testimonials...
Here's what a few authors and experts had to say on this topic:
---Victoria Grossack, Writing-World Columnist"Testimonials are great for selling books - if they're genuine. The best way to spot a fake is to look for information that's too general or that can be written solely from skimming the table of contents. With this being said, the best testimonials are those that give specifics about what the reader liked. Better still, if the reader tells how the book helped them create success in their own lives--especially as it relates to the topic of the book.
"As far as obtaining testimonials? If a client is truly satisfied, it should be as simple as asking them. To better improve your chances, do these three things: 1) Give them a length, such as "I'm only looking for three sentences or so." It takes away the intimidation. 2) Remind them what they said they liked about your book. 3) Write a sample to send to them as an example. There's something about seeing a short testimonial that makes a client go, "Oh, I can do that, and I can crank that out now while I'm thinking about it." Remember, all readers are not writers, so something that seems simple to you may get bumped down the to-do list for others. Make it appear effortless."
--- Wendy Burt-Thomas, freelance writer, editor and PR consultant & author of four books, including The Writer's Digest Guide to Query Letters"The best approach to getting a client to provide a testimonial tailored to your needs is to write it, then send it to them to edit to their taste. If you ask them to write one, you're giving them work to do that takes away from the work they do to make money. It will get pushed to the side. Don't make them think, help them react."
--- Sporty King, Author, Toastmaster award-winning speaker"I believe testimonials are quite effective... if used well. Anonymous posts like Alice J. or Thomas R. mean nothing. And testimonials that aren't unique in how they are written, like 'I liked it!' or 'She does a good job!' carry little value. So, in other words, either the wording has to be superb, the message of great quality, or the person's name writing the testimonial carries some weight (or the company they work for). Otherwise, why have it at all?"
---C. Hope Clark, Funds for Writers Creator
How to obtain quality testimonials
Do you have a prestigious client who sings your praises? An editor who has worked with you happily for several years? Don't be shy to send them an email or letter asking for their endorsement. Most are more than receptive, and would welcome the opportunity to show their appreciation for a job well done.
Another way to get them, is through client surveys and questionnaires. The added benefit here, is that even if you don't use all the comments you acquire, it's a great way to keep the lines of communication open and gauge satisfaction levels with your existing client base, which can encourage repeat business. Be creative.
For maximum impact, be sure to place testimonials in a very visible location on your site -- either on the landing page, or under a bright designated tab that reads "why hire me" or "testimonials from satisfied customers." Another popular placement choice for many writers is the right margin of their site. Word to the wise: sometimes a little experimentation may be required to arrive at what works best for your site's design and your aesthetic preferences.
On a final note...
Always be sure to request permission to use testimonials on your site and ask how the person wishes to be identified, along with their comment. This shows professional courtesy and increases the likelihood that current clients will be future ones.
For more information on how to use testimonials, check out The Third Person Pat on the Back by Fred Gross.
This article is not available for reprint without the author's written permission.
Jennifer Brown Banks is a veteran freelance writer, pro blogger and ghostwriter with over 700 published pieces in local, national, and international publications. She loves cooking, karaoke, and word games. View her "testimonials" at her award-winning site, Pen and Prosper (http://penandprosper.blogspot.com/).