Freelancer: Know Thy Customer

Tom T bugMy wife Toni and I have different views about what makes the universe tick, but one of the many things we agree on is this: when the universe wants you to learn something, the lesson repeats until it is learned. And even after you think you know it cold, you’ll get an occasional pop quiz just to make sure.

I had one of those humbling educational moments a few weeks ago, when I tried out an individually-targeted mailing for my copywriting business. I was reaching out to the owner of a design firm who hadn’t called me for a while with a clever package designed to get her to pick up the phone.

Little did I know that my pop quiz that day was to be “How well do you know your prospect?”

Usually I’m pretty good at that one, doing whatever I can to get into the heads of the people I’m writing for. I interview them, study demographic information when I can get it, read the magazines and blogs they read, and work to figure out what keeps them up at night.

On this particular day, though, I was in a hurry. The mailing was the last item on my list of goals I had promised my accountability buddies I would do before that day’s meeting. (For those of you just tuning in, members of our group who don’t complete their goals for the month have to wear corporate clothes. I find the threat of that jacket and tie highly motivating.)

The mailer needed a bag of coffee I didn’t have. So there I was in the grocery store at 7:26 am, firm in my determination not to wear a tie that day. Browsing the aisle, my eyes fell upon a bag of Caribou coffee…one of my favorites. And it was on sale! What joy! Into the basket it went as I traipsed to the self checkout lane. Scan, bedledeep, swipe, and out the door in less than four minutes.

Back in the office I crafted my clever letter, verified that the bag could indeed be shoehorned into a small flat rate box, and was on the verge of sealing the package when I heard a little voice in the back of my head. It’s taken me a long time to listen to that little voice, but over time I’ve learned that when it starts talking, it’s usually because I’m about to do something boneheaded.

Something was wrong with my clever package. What could it be? Instinctively, my hands went to the keyboard and typed the URL for my prospect’s website. And there it was, plain to be seen on the About Us page, displaying my professional hubris in living pixels. Not one, but two references to her ardent devotion…to Starbucks.

Grumble, grumble, grumble.


The package shipped in the nick of time with the right brand of joe.

I’ve renewed my commitment to pre-writing homework.

The client called three days later, floored by the mailing and eager to re-connect.

And I didn’t have to wear that @#$%! tie.

Meet Tom in person and hear about his accountability group at CFC 2013, June 22-24 in San Francisco. And get $50 off with promo code “ILISE” — Register here.

Tom N. Tumbusch writes copy that creates action for creative agencies and green businesses. He publishes a free writing tips newsletter each month and periodically shares more casual wisdom on the WordStream of Consciousness Blog. His tiny solar-powered corner of the Internet can be found at