Should You Buy Solar Leads or Generate Your Own?

buy solar leads

You can be the best PV installer in town. But without a steady stream of solar leads, your company won’t survive for very long. That’s because qualified prospects are the lifeblood of any installation business.

And when it comes to consistent solar lead generation, you really only have 2 options:

  • You can buy solar leads.
  • You can create your own.

Both approaches have pros and cons. But for long-term results, in-house solar lead generation is usually the better (and cheaper) option.

And in this article, we’ll explore why that is.

But first, let’s look at the benefits and drawbacks of buying solar leads.

When Does It Makes Sense to Buy Solar Leads Online?

There’s no shortage of online marketplaces that sell solar leads. Some will even screen leads before selling them – meaning you don’t have to spend as much time weeding out unqualified prospects.

Another advantage of “outsourced” solar lead generation is that you only pay for what you use. So this strategy is sustainable indefinitely – provided that what you make per lead is consistently more than what you spend.

But there are many potential drawbacks of buying solar sales leads.

1. Quality Assurance

One of the biggest disadvantages of outsourced solar lead generation is that you have little to no control over the screening process. And this means you may end up paying more than you bargain for.

There’s the money you spend to buy solar leads. But there are also many hidden costs associated with chasing down prospects. If those poorly screened customers have no chance of ever converting – you’re wasting valuable time and money.

2. Exclusivity Rights

Does each solar energy lead belong to you exclusively? Or are you receiving a prospect list shared with dozens of other installers in your area?

If the latter, your sales pitch better be legit. Everyone you contact will have already heard the usual spiel.

3. Freshness Factor

The older the solar lead, the less chance of converting a fence-sitter into a customer. That’s why most vendors charge a premium for newer prospect lists.

4. One Size Fits All

Even when solar leads are fresh, exclusive, and carefully vetted – there’s no guarantee your prospect list will be the right fit for your business. Solar may be a commodity, but homeowners come to the table with a diverse range of different goals and needs.

This is why cookie-cutter approaches to solar lead generation don’t work for everyone. Sales opportunities that may be perfect for one installer could be a waste of time for you – depending on your niche and offerings.

It’s possible to find reputable marketplaces that sell high quality solar leads. But if you go this route, you’ll eventually run into the next hurdle – namely cost.

5. Buying Solar Sales Leads Is Expensive

When you outsource your prospecting efforts, solar lead generation becomes an ongoing cost. And the moment you stop paying, the well runs dry.

No problem,” you say. “I have the budget to keep going.”

And maybe you do. But remember that solar energy leads are market-driven. And this makes it easy for:

  • Prices to change rapidly.
  • Competitors to outbid you.

That’s why it’s not uncommon for fresh, exclusive, and carefully vetted solar leads to start in the $100 range.

Can you afford to drop $1,000 for a list with only 10 prospects on it?

Again – maybe you can. But what about tomorrow? Or next month?

Solar Leads Are REALLY Expensive

If you’re like most installers, $100 a pop is tough to manage.
And that price is actually quite generous.

According to a 2017 analysis by SolarReviews:

  • The average cost per solar lead is $578 nationwide.
  • The average solar lead conversion rate is 5.98%.

For this approach to work in the long run, your own profit margins and conversion rates have to be off the charts. But that’s hard to do in an industry as saturated as solar is.

This is especially true in markets like Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York – where solar panel leads routinely cost more than $1,000 per prospect. And if you’re buying solar leads in California, be prepared to drop nearly $2,000 per name.  

Note that I have nothing against buying leads. In fact, this strategy makes a lot of sense if you’re just starting out. When you buy solar leads, you can:

  • Test the waters on a fairly limited budget.
  • See how customers respond to your offerings.
  • Tweak, refine, and perfect your solar sales pitch.
  • Improve your conversion rate with lead nurturing.

But once you reach a certain point, you’re almost always better off bringing your solar lead generation efforts in-house.

Let’s explore why.

The Pros and Cons of “In-House” Solar Lead Generation

With the right content marketing strategy, you can generate your own solar leads in-house – without having to outbid other installers.

This process involves:

  • Publishing valuable content that anticipates and answers the types of questions your ideal customers have.
  • Using SEO to optimize your content and make sure it ranks well in the major search engines.
  • When prospects research online, they’ll eventually stumble across your site and fill out a lead generation form (to “learn more”).

Just as with buying leads, the primary downside of launching your own lead generation campaign is cost.

At least in the beginning.

This is because the process is front-loaded, requiring a substantial investment of time and money before the solar leads ever start rolling in. And that’s why this strategy is best reserved for more established installers who’ve already refined their lead funnels and sales pitches.

But despite this upfront investment, the setup is worth it.

And here’s why.

Going solar is never an impulse purchase. Homeowners typically invest weeks of online research before pulling the trigger. And that makes perfect sense. It’s only natural to have questions when spending thousands of dollars on a professional PV installation.

Truly motivated homeowners will eventually find the answers they’re looking for. And the goal is to make sure they find this information on your site – instead of on a competitor’s.

That’s where content marketing comes in.

With enough valuable content, your site will emerge as an authoritative resource that potential users come to know and trust.

Here are some other benefits of in-house solar lead generation:

1. Forever Traffic

Every asset you publish online lives in perpetuity, meaning it has the potential to continue generating new solar leads forever.

2. Better Coverage

By publishing many different types of content, you can better target customers throughout the buying cycle:

  • Some are just starting out and are researching the benefits of going solar.
  • Others are closer to making the plunge. And they’re exploring their options.
  • And still others are ready to buy. They just need a reason to choose you.

3. Quality Control

You can implement stricter controls, allowing you to quickly weed out unqualified solar PV leads that’ll never convert. For example, a “Zip Code” field can help ensure you only follow up with prospects in your service area.

4. Low Pressure Sales

With solar lead generation, customers have explicitly given you permission to follow up with them. This means you don’t have to bombard these interested prospects with cold calls or high-pressure sales tactics (like many do when buying solar leads).

5. Less Guesswork

Another benefit of in-house solar lead generation is that you can answer real questions collected from real customers.

Here’s what I mean.

Anyone can come up with a list of hypothetical FAQs:

  • What are the benefits of going solar?
  • Is it better to lease or buy my panels?
  • How does net metering work in my state?

But your installers are in the field – hearing “non-hypothetical” questions all the time. Again, these are real concerns from real users. And answering these questions throughout your Web site allows you to:

  • Attract higher-converting solar leads that have been “self-screened” based on the questions you’ve address.
  • Receive fewer questions during the sales pitch. Your users are better educated and require less persuasion.

Brief Recap: Buying Solar Sales Leads vs. Generating Leads

Whether to buy solar leads or generate your own ultimately comes down to personal preference.

But as a general rule:

  • If you’re just starting out, buying solar leads is usually the better option. This approach keeps your investment to a minimum as you test the waters and refine your sales pitch.
  • If you’re able to consistently convert the solar panel leads you buy, you can continue with this process indefinitely. But it makes more sense to begin generating your own. Doing so is much cheaper in the long run. And the benefits are cumulative since every asset you publish lives online forever.

In other words, generating your own solar PV leads means the well will never go dry.

Need Help Generating Solar Leads?

By providing you with fresh, persuasive, and SEO-optimized copy, I can help take your solar lead generation efforts to the next level.

If you’d like to discuss your content marketing needs, contact me today for a free consultation.




3 Lessons I’ve Learned As a Professional Solar Blogger

solar bloggerI’ve been a general blogger for about 8 years and a “solar” blogger for the past 4 years.

Over that time, I’ve done long-term projects, one-off posts, and daily writing for a host of solar PV clients around the world.

Each project is unique.  But the most successful campaigns I’ve worked on share some commonalities.

Here are 3 lessons I’ve learned over the years as a solar blogger.

1.  Give Away the Special Sauce – for Free

So many companies are overly protective of their products and services.  They understand the need to offer at least “some” useful information in their posts.  But they try to provide the bare minimum needed to keep people interested and coming back.

This is an understandable reaction.  After all, your competitors are watching, and you don’t want to share too much, do you?

My attitude is – give away the special sauce.  Unless you work in the clandestine services, there’s more benefit to over-sharing than under-sharing.

Here’s why.

You provide value to end-users (i.e. potential customers).  True, your competitors could learn some of your internal workings.  And some might even rip your content, reword it, and post it as their own.

But who cares?  With enough quality content, you establish yourself as a true authority within your vertical.  Everyone else is playing catch-up.  The goal is to keep writing and build up a huge portfolio of useful and relevant content that your target market wants to read.

This is why I freely share my writing tips and methods with the world.  Could other solar energy bloggers end up copying me?  Sure.  Many have.

The bigger danger for someone in my position is the risk of chasing away prospects.  If I teach readers exactly how I conduct keyword research or how I write press releases, this makes it less likely that they’ll ever contract my services.

But for every potential client who decides to use my tips without ever contacting me, I gain 3 or 4 paying clients.  These are readers who like what I have to say and reach out to me the next time they need help.

By freely sharing, everyone is better off.  Yes – even my competitors.

2.  People Actually Read What You Write

It doesn’t matter how niche your industry is – over a long enough time period, someone will eventually read your post.  And that someone could convert to a sale.

Don’t believe me?

Take my site for example.  I’m a copywriter who specializes in solar energy.  It’s hard to get more niche than that.  A Google search of the following keywords reveals:

  • “solar” – 633,000,000 results
  • “writer” – 407,000,000 results
  • “copywriter – 12,600,000 results
  • “solar copywriter” – only 617 results (no zeros in there – just 617 results).

“Solar copywriter” is searched so infrequently that Google doesn’t even have statistics for it in its Keyword Tool.

On any given day, I get about 2 visits for this one search term.  And almost all of these visits are to one of my blog posts – a very old post in fact.

Here’s the thing.

If I get just a 1% conversion rate with that single post, that means I’m getting a new client every 50 days.  A new client from an ultra niche keyword on a long-forgotten blog post that I wrote months ago.

Chances are, your niche is a little broader than mine is.  This means more potential traffic and conversions.  It also means more competition.  But this only highlights the importance of blogging as often as possible so you stand a better chance of outranking that competition.

Where am I going with this exactly?

The point is, blogging does work.  Write it, set it, and then forget it.

Each post lives in perpetuity and will continue generating traffic for months and years to come.  Think of it as an extra fishing line that you throw over the side of your boat and just leave there.  No maintenance necessary.  If you get a bite, great.  If not, you just haven’t waited long enough.

3.  Analytics & Tracking Matter

Ok – so remember when I said to “set it and forget it.”  Well, I just want to revise that statement a little bit.

You can forget about the blog posts that don’t convert.  Just leave them as is.  But periodically, you should go through Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools to research which posts are attracting the most traffic and which ones are converting the most visitors.

  • Traffic is easier to sort out.  Google’s tools can tell you which pages receive the most hits per month.  Google can also tell you the average time that readers spend on each one of your posts.
  • Conversions are a little harder to determine.  You don’t simply want traffic – you want actionable traffic.  Google can help out here as well.  They have a great feature called Flow Visualization that shows you the paths each visitor takes before reaching one of your conversion pages (i.e. contact form, sales page, etc.).

If you know which blog posts attract the most traffic and which ones yield the highest conversions, you can redirect your blogging efforts accordingly.  By expanding upon relevant topics and keywords, you can drive more traffic and achieve higher conversions.

More Lessons I Hope to Learn As a Solar Blogger

With 4 years as a solar blogger under my belt, I’ve learned a great deal.  But I also know that I still have much to learn.  Hopefully this will be an ongoing series as a I periodically update you on recent discoveries, tips, and insights.

In the meantime, happy blogging.

Does Solar Energy Have a Marketing Problem?

Solar Energy Marketing ProblemWe have at our disposal a technology that produces free energy from an infinitely replenishable source.

It’s clean, affordable, and actually boosts the property values of homes.

Oh, and it exists against a backdrop of dirty, increasingly expensive fossil fuels.

The technology is even subsidized in many states, making switching costs almost non-existent for the average homeowner.

And did I mention that prices were falling – rapidly.

How, under these circumstances, could solar energy continue to remain at the little kid’s table?

Solar Energy – Perception vs. Reality

This is not the first time I’ve railed against the marketing challenges facing solar.

In a previous post, I tackled the cost myth in which 97% of homeowners surveyed by SunRun overestimated the cost of installing solar systems on their rooftops (sometimes by as much as $20,000).

In a follow-up post, I outlined how adding a solar calculator to your website could help overcome this perception gap.

But the problems don’t stop there.

In a landmark survey last year, SolarTech and San Jose State University discovered that only 39% of respondents believed solar technology was reliable.

Keep in mind that the survey was conducted in California.  In a region famous for brownouts, what does it mean when residents rate alternative technologies as unreliable?

These statistics only speak to the general industry – i.e. they’re macro problems.

Equally disturbing results emerge at the local level.  In the same 2011 SolarTech survey, 63% of respondents couldn’t recall any nearby solar firms that provide residential installations.

Again – we’re talking about California – one of the most active, solar-friendly markets in the country.  What’s more, the 160+ homeowners interviewed were relatively informed, well-to-do residents of Silicon Valley.

In theory, they should know how reliable solar is.  And you would think that they’d be more price insensitive (not that it really matters given how affordable installing solar panels can be).

I’m personally not in the market for a lot of things – an SUV, designer handbag, Alaskan cruise….  But without even trying, I can come up with at least 2 companies each that supply these things.

SolarTech Director, David McFeely, rightfully points out that, “A lot of advertising dollars are not reaching consumers’ ears.”

Solar Energy Definitely Has a Marketing Problem – What to Do?

It’s fairly clear that the solar energy industry faces some serious marketing challenges.  And these issues seem to trickle down to individual companies as they try to carve out a niche in a sector one can only describe as… well… niche.

It’s a problem that almost defies logic.  Especially when you see what solar is up against.

Every few days, I see natural gas, coal, and oil commercials lauding the benefits of energy security.  Some of these ad spots even present citizens and company spokespeople talking concernedly about environmental protection and corporate responsibility.

Fossil fuel companies have become very adept at spinning the energy debate in their favor.  And this despite having an inferior product that continues to push every known ecosystem into crisis.

Sure, big oil companies have big bucks – often thanks to generous tax breaks and subsidies.  With coffers like these, it’s easy to outspend the green guys and control the conversation.

But you’d think the debate would have shifted by now.

You’d think renewable energy would be a top priority in this year’s national election.

You’d think that even the most apathetic Californians would be able to recall at least a few nearby solar installation firms.

Perhaps Inbound Marketing Isn’t the Answer to Solar’s Woes

I’m a huge fan of inbound (or permission) marketing.  It forms one of the primary pillars of my entire solar copywriting business.

Provide voluminous, informative content and potential customers will eventually stumble across your site and begin exploring their options.

But perhaps inbound marketing is not the right approach – at least not by itself.

After all, the entire inbound marketing philosophy assumes that people are actively looking for answers and solutions.

And yet the stats outlined above pretty clearly show that people are NOT searching.  They already know what they need to know – i.e. solar isn’t affordable or reliable.  And even if it were, there’s no one nearby who can install the technology.

I still believe that blogs, articles, and press releases are every bit as important.

As an industry, these tools help raise awareness of solar energy’s benefits.  And at the micro-level, you can’t really afford not to regularly publish these materials if you want to remain competitive.

But we clearly need more tools to combat the very serious (and frustrating) marketing challenges hampering solar growth.

I’d love to see more ad spots on TV and radio touting the benefits, costs, and reliability of solar energy.

I doubt whether the average residential solar installer could afford that kind of airtime.  Maybe it’s something we need to explore at the industry level – i.e. we pool resources together to get the message out using the same media that big oil companies use.

As always, I’m open to ideas.  Share your thoughts down below or contact me directly.

 

The Poor Man’s Guide to Finding Solar Images Online

Solar Energy Images - MarketingIn an earlier post, I launched a one-man campaign to encourage greater diversity in the types of solar images that companies use on their sites.

There’s a tendency to use the same solar stock images as everyone else.  This trend makes it harder to differentiate your offerings and market the value of your products and services.

But for many of you, stock images of any kind are sometimes out of reach financially.  Popular sites like iStockPhoto and GettyImages have amazing selections, but if you’re blogging as often as you should, it can get pretty expensive.

I face this problem on a regular basis.  Unfortunately, I can’t shell out the big bucks for some of the terrific images I find on these sites.  Even the smallest, lowest resolution versions are prohibitively expensive given how frequently I blog about solar marketing.

What About Free Stock Image Sites?

There’s no shortage of free stock image sites from which to choose.  But with the vast majority of these, I’ve discovered various setbacks.

Below are 3 of the biggest problems with most free stock photo sites:

  • The photos are free, but the selection is very limited.  This makes regular blogging a real challenge.
  • The photos are free and the selection is solid, but the categorization and search capabilities are terrible.  They may have great images, but good luck finding them when you need them.
  • The photos are free and the search capabilities are respectable.  But you have to read through the licensing agreements of each image to determine if you can use it on your site.

In most cases, the answer is yes, but there are often strings attached.  For example, many images require that you give credit back to the photographer.  Fair enough.  But do you really want to do this on your company’s corporate site?

The Free Stock Image Site I Use for Nearly All My Photos

About two months ago, I stumbled upon a great site that addresses the challenges I outlined above.

It’s called EveryStockPhoto, and it’s a godsend.

Here’s why I love EveryStockPhoto:

  • Many (if not all) the images are 100% free.
  • It has a really wide selection – about 17.5 million free images as of this post.
  • Using the advance search feature, you can limit the results to public domain (non-attribution) images.  This means that anyone can use them for any purpose without having to give credit back to the photographer.  I should protect myself a bit here – “You should still independently verify the licensing agreement of any image you download.”
  • If you’re really lazy, you can even limit your searches to images that don’t require registration.  EveryStockPhoto doesn’t actually house the images – it’s a searchable database of free images hosted elsewhere.

I’ve been using this site for about 2 months and really like the results.  Admittedly, there are times when I can’t find exactly what I want.  But overall, I’m generally happy with the images I upload to my blog.

If you use EveryStockPhoto, I’d love to hear about your experience.

I also recently came across a great stock photography resource that lists over 40 newer directories. It’ll take me some time to get through this list. But if you see any standouts in the meantime – let me know in the comments below.

Do Your Solar Landing Pages Have Too Many Options?

Solar Landing Pages - Too Many OptionsIt happens all too often.  Solar companies spending thousands of dollars a month on email and AdWord campaigns only to direct visitors to the homepage instead of an actual landing page.

On the one hand, I should be happy.  Common mistakes like these create more business for freelance solar marketers like myself.  Many of my clients come to me specifically for help with landing pages.

But there isn’t much to celebrate when you look at the very powerful solar PR problems hampering continued growth for the entire industry.  Shoddy landing pages may bring me more income, but they also fail to elevate solar to its rightful place in the global energy mix.

But let me back up a bit.  What are solar landing pages and why do they matter?

What Is the True Purpose of a Solar Landing Page?

A landing page is what visitors see after clicking on an ad, call-to-action, or email link.  In theory, it should continue the discussion – the momentum – of whatever interested the visitor enough to click on that ad or email link.

The true purpose of a landing page is to prompt users towards a next action, be it a purchase, request for more info, or an ebook download.

This is why homepages usually make very poor landing pages.  Homepages are chock-full of information that can easily distract visitors from the momentum of your earlier message.

If you’ve just shown an ad for free solar consultations, you should direct your visitors to a page exclusively dedicated to solar consultations.  That page should have a clear next step – usually filling out a contact form.

If you’ve just sent out an email blast highlighting some new solar product in your lineup, the links in that email should direct people to a page exclusively dedicated to that product.

And don’t make the mistake of using your main product page either.  For optimal results, your landing page should be one specifically created for readers of the email blast.

But landing pages need to do more than this (or perhaps less).  Read on.

Removing Options to Boost Solar Conversions

So you’ve wisely decided not to use your homepage as a landing page.  Kudos.

But:

  • Do your landing pages show the navigation menu?
  • Do you still have sidebar options and other widgets?
  • Are there hyperlinks scattered throughout?

Successful landing pages direct people to one singular goal (i.e. the next action step).  If you give visitors too many other clickable options, they’ll be more likely to leave your landing page and not take that next step.

Your landing page should be clean with only 2 real options – go home or move forward.

In a perfect world, you wouldn’t even give them the first option.  But you don’t want to lose a potential visitor altogether, so you need to include a small clickable option that takes people back to your homepage.

The ultimate focus really should be on moving forward:

  • Fill out this form!
  • Take this survey!
  • Participate in this poll!
  • Download this white paper!

Whatever the goal is, make it prominent.  And remove any and all hyperlinks that could distract from this goal.

(Noticeable exceptions to this are privacy policies and disclaimers that you might need to include for legal reasons.  You might also have links to social media buttons, which themselves, constitute a kind of call-to-action).

In the coming weeks, we’ll explore solar landing pages in greater detail.  This first foray was just to tackle the most common landing page errors.

Be sure to check in from time to time.  Until then, feel free to share your thoughts down below.

Every Solar Marketer and Copywriter’s Nightmare: the Dreaded Typo

Solar Energy Writers - CopywritingAs a solar energy marketer, you’re responsible for presenting the best possible case for every product or service under your firm’s brand.

But what happens when you’ve just:

  • Penned a great blog post
  • Sent out an email blast
  • Ordered 10,000 copies of a direct mail flyer

And a typo slips in….

Whether someone points it out to you or you discover it on your own, the humiliation is the same.  You’ve let your team down and potentially chased off some customers.

It happens to all of us.

It doesn’t matter if you’re running a one-man solar copywriting shop, a local PV installation firm, or even a presidential campaign.  So if you’ve made some mistakes in the past, don’t feel bad.  Hopefully your team got a good chuckle and you didn’t lose too much business.

But why do typos happen?  And what should you do?

Why Typos Happen – Even to Copywriters & Marketers

The simple answer is, we’re human.

  • The best pitchers in the world let homeruns slip by
  • The best lawyers lose cases
  • The best musicians go flat

If you do anything frequently enough, you’ll get better and better.  But you also statistically increase chances for errors – simply because you’re producing more.

That’s the simple answer.  But there are other reasons behind this baffling trend of professional copywriters and marketers making silly mistakes.

For starters, writing and editing use two very different parts of the brain.  Actual content creation is…well…creative.  Whereas editing is more analytical.

You’ll notice that the most talented authors in the world usually have editors.  And the most meticulous editors in the world typically don’t pen many books.

This is why you should put some space between the writing process and the editing process.  Get your thoughts down on paper – let the juices flow.  And then stand back for awhile.

Once you have a bit of distance, you can revisit the piece with greater objectivity.  Let your analytical side take over as you critique your own writing.

How to Minimize Typos in the Future

We’ve already discussed how taking a break between writing and editing can make your copy much cleaner.  But here are some other tips for reducing errors in your solar marketing materials:

  • Spellcheck (obviously).  Pretty much every word processor has this feature.
  • Read the copy out loud.  This will also help you determine if the flow sounds natural.
  • Take breaks in between every reading.
  • Some copywriters advocate printing out the document and reading a hardcopy.  I agree that this works, but I’m a firm supporter of the paperless concept.  As green-collared workers, we should reduce consumption as much as possible.
  • Have others read it.  The more, the better.
  • Use text-to-speech software.  On the Mac, you can choose between male or female – American, British, or even South African (I use Tessa).  It looks like PCs have a similar feature.
  • After every edit, make sure you read through the final version once more.

But even with this multi-step process, typos still slip through.

Shortly after graduating from college, I worked for a jazz record label in New York.  It was a great gig.  I got to listen to Ella Fitzgerald and Stan Getz albums all day while researching and editing liner notes (I even got my name in some of these albums, which was pretty cool).

We had a system in which every member of the team would make corrections before sending it on to the next “editor” in the line-up.  You’d think that with 4 sets of eyes painstakingly combing over every single word, the finished product would be perfect 100% of the time.

Nope.  Mistakes still slipped through occasionally.

Perhaps it was all the music playing in the background.  Then again, the same thing happens with newspapers, published books, and magazines – all of which have:

  • dedicated editors
  • professional copywriters
  • advanced spellcheckers
  • text-to-speech software

How to Correct Typos When They Do Happen

The vast majority of typos are easy to fix.  Most content is online, and it only takes a few seconds to go in, make some edits, and save the revised version.

Sometimes, the content is syndicated on social media or RSS feeds, making it harder to retrieve errors.  But with some persistence and luck, you can usually clean up the mess.

Hardcopies and email blasts are obviously much trickier.  Once a typo is out there, it’s out there.  Your options are to:

  • Recall the materials and send out revised versions – a costly affair
  • Send out correction announcements – also costly, and it brings greater attention to the error
  • Let the typo slide and hope no one notices – pretty risky and not very professional

None of these is terribly attractive.  Prevention is clearly the best alternative.  Before anything goes to the printer’s, make sure you go through the tips outlined above twice, thrice, and four times – just to be safe.

What’s your most embarrassing typo?  Share your thoughts down below.

 

Time to Stop Using the Same Solar Energy Stock Photos

Solar Energy Stock Images - Solar MarketingFirst, let me start by apologizing to LL28.

I don’t know if you’re male or female, but you’re a very talented photographer who continues to make a killing within the solar industry.

The quality of your work is outstanding, LL28 – as evidenced by the countless solar energy firms across the globe that borrow liberally from your online portfolio of stock images.

So why the apology?

The problem is that the industry tends to overuse your images.  This one in particular seems to crop up with unbelievable frequency.

I applaud your work, having used many of your photos in the past.  But the solar image landscape needs to change a bit.  And I’m urging firms to diversify their photos for the greater good.

Why Are Repetitive Stock Images Bad?

I’m not entirely sure that repetitive images are so bad for the solar industry as a whole.  But for individual companies, it makes differentiation harder.

How can a company market the uniqueness of its offerings if its offerings (at first glance) are not so unique?

It’s like wearing the same dress as someone else to a cocktail party.

I acknowledge that with a commodity like solar energy, there are only so many ways you can “re-position” solar panels.  Once you’ve exhausted blue skies, rooftops, sunsets, and installation crews, there’s only so much you can do with a standard PV module.

And let’s be clear – I’m not a photographer and have no images of my own to add.

So what do I propose instead?

Weaning Ourselves Off of LL28’s Solar Image Monopoly

The LL28 stranglehold won’t be easy to break.  Like I said, he/she takes great photos and they’re easy to search.

Below are a few alternatives.

1.  Go Internal

My first recommendation is to use internal photography instead of stock images.

True, you probably won’t get the same caliber of photos with the perfect composition and stylistic flare.  But “real” photos add a human element that resonates with many web surfers.

  • If you run a solar installation school, include images of the countless happy students who pass through your doors.  In fact, you can even hand out t-shirts on the last day of training to make the images more uniform.
  • If you’re a professional installer, include photos of the homeowners and businesses you’ve served.  Real smiles from real customers go a long way.
  • If you manufacture PV modules, throw in pix from the company picnic or last year’s Xmas party.  You don’t need solar imagery on all your pages.  Just people being people.

2. Use Other Solar Stock Images

LL28 has quality work, but there are tons of excellent solar stock images online.

iStockPhoto and GettyImages are two of my favorites due to their wide selections and advanced search features.  You can get pretty stunning photos if you limit your searches to “creative” rather than “editorial.”

But don’t limit yourself to these 2 libraries.  Check out this list of alternatives.

3.  Don’t Use Solar Images At All

Most of your visitors get it.  You make, sell, teach, or install solar energy.  There’s no need to bombard your customers at every turn with image after image of solar PV panels and sheepishly grinning installers.

Sure, use some solar photos for your main pages.  But be sure to branch out.  Get creative.

  • If you have a page that talks about incentives and rebates, show images of money, piggybanks, or happy homeowners.
  • If you have a page that talks about solar training and career opportunities, show graduation ceremonies or job interviews.

You get the idea.

Please Don’t Hate Me LL28

You’ve had a great run and will continue to make oodles off of your solar portfolio.  This one post will hardly make a dent in your profits.

But to those of you who actually read this, please please please begin varying the images on your site a bit more.  In a follow up post, I’ll outline a great way to find stock images you can use for free.

In the meantime, share your thoughts down below.

Hiring Solar Copywriters, Part 5 – Which Payment System to Use?

Hiring Solar Copywriters - Solar Energy WritersFor the past four days, we’ve looked at the different payment systems that solar copywriters use, outlining the relative pros and cons of each.

In quick order, they are:

  • By the hour – best suited for ongoing projects such as SEO campaigns or longer writing assignments that have a lot of research involved.
  • By the project – best suited for one-off assignments with a lot of research involved (ex: solar business plans).
  • By the word – best suited for individual, shorter projects like solar-related blogs, white papers, and articles.
  • By performance – best suited for campaigns with measurable results, like SEO, lead generation, or AdWords.  It also helps to have an established relationship with the copywriter.

Keep in mind that with the exception of performance-based pay, all of these payment systems are interchangeable.

There are times when it makes sense to measure solar blog writing in hours.  And there are times when an SEO campaign can be measured in words or by the project.

So which system is best and who should decide?

The Client Decides – the Copywriter Delivers

Ultimately, the client has final say over what payment system will be used.  Most copywriters have a preference, but it’s the client’s project, the client’s money, and thus, the client’s decision.

This doesn’t mean that copywriters must accept your terms.  As independent contractors, they can say “yes” or “no” to any solar copywriting project they want.

For optimal results, you should solicit the copywriter’s feedback and agree on an arrangement that benefits both parties.

Some of the factors that go into the decision process include:

  • The type of project.  As already discussed, certain solar copywriting assignments are better suited for certain payment systems.  It really depends on your goals.
  • Your budget.  If cost is a concern, charging by the hour can potentially get out of hand.  Charging by the word or project gives you greater pricing certainty.  Performance-based pay can reduce your upfront costs.
  • Your relationship with the copywriter.  If you have worked together in the past and can clearly communicate your needs, payment for performance may be a good option for you.  Trust and communication are crucial.

Although most solar copywriters have a preferred payment system, they should be able to provide you with a quote using whatever method you require.

I tend to think in per-word terms.  But I can easily translate this into a per-hour rate or per-project cost.

Minimizing Confusion – Maximizing Results

With all four systems, it is important that you get everything out in the open – clearly defined for both parties.  This is especially true with performance-based pay.

So in your first few meetings, be sure to:

  • Outline your exact goals
  • Define the scope and nature of the project (including the target audience)
  • Make your deadlines known to the copywriter
  • Account for contingencies (delays, stops, starts, etc.), whether they originate on your side or on the copywriter’s side
  • Define the payment terms clearly

An experienced copywriter should address these issues without your having to ask.  But good communication is a responsibility shared by both sides.

The more open and honest your discussion, the better the results.

And this concludes our 5-part series on solar copywriting rates and fees.

Hiring Solar Copywriters, Part 4 – Paying for Performance

Hiring Solar Copywriters - Solar Energy WritersWe’ve already looked at the pros and cons of paying copywriters by the hour, by the project, and by the word.

Last in our line-up is performance-based pay in which compensation is directly tied to pre-determined results (i.e. conversions, traffic, sales, leads, etc.).

Whereas the 3 previous systems are fairly interchangeable, performance-based pay stands alone.

Some people love it.  Some people hate it.

My feelings are mixed.  It really depends on the project and yes, the client.

Let’s explore the pros and cons.

Advantages of Paying for Performance

  • Less Risk to the Client

Reduced risk for the client is probably the most obvious benefit of performance-based pay.  You don’t have to hand any money over if your targets aren’t met.  And whatever money you DO pay probably comes from the increased revenues that a successfully completed project brings in.

It’s easy to see the appeal of this approach – especially for solar companies with very tight marketing budgets.

  • Greater Incentive to Produce Results

In theory, a copywriter will work harder if he has a stake in the outcome.  After all, there’s potentially no payoff if he only achieves 99.999% of what you’ve asked him to do.

The logic is sound and can often produce amazing results.  I’ve worked on a few solar copywriting projects using this system and got more than I expected.

But there’s enough literature out there that questions the value of performance-based pay as a motivator.  I’ll let you be the judge.

Let’s check out some of the cons of performance-based copywriting pay.  As you’ll see, most of these downsides affect the writer more than the client.

Disadvantages of Paying for Performance

  • Risk Management for the Copywriter

As a freelance copywriter, I generally don’t have a problem assuming 100% of the risk if I can control 100% of the variables.  But in life, this is usually not how it plays out.

This is why many copywriters shy away from performance-based systems.

Let’s say you hire a freelancer to write a business plan, with the promise that you’ll share a predetermined percentage of whatever funding this plan helps you secure.

The copywriter writes a terrific business plan.  But what happens if:

  • Someone from your management team suddenly leaves the project
  • Your supplier doesn’t deliver, forcing you to delay or shut down
  • An unknown competitor comes out with a newer or better product
  • The financials you provided the copywriter turn out to be way off

There are a million and one things that could go wrong, many of which are beyond the copywriter’s direct control.  But because payment is tied to results, he gets nothing.

  • Difficulty in Tracking

As the client, measuring performance is very easy to do.  You have direct access to sales, analytics, conversions, etc.  But the copywriter must usually rely on whatever information you provide.

9 times out of 10, there’s no problem with this.

But there are clients out there who knowingly fudge the numbers to avoid having to pay.  They tell their copywriters, “we only secured 100 new leads with the landing page you wrote,” when the true number is closer to 200.

One way to overcome this issue (or the perception of this issue) is to provide the copywriter with more access to your tracking methods.

Some clients are uncomfortable with this, and I can certainly understand.  There are sometimes good reasons why you don’t want to open up your books to outside parties.  But unless you can provide unfiltered access, it’s difficult for the copywriter to objectively assess his or her own performance.

  • Prone to Disagreements

This is closely related to the point up above.  But performance-based pay is more prone to disagreements – even when both sides are 100% honest and transparent.

The disagreements usually come from miscommunication or poorly defined terms.  The best way to overcome these challenges is to spell out everything as clearly as possible.

This includes contingencies:

  • If the goal is to secure 1,000 new leads, but you only secure 999, should the copywriter get $0?
  • If the goal is to attract 100 new visitors by next week, but it actually takes 7 days and 2 hours, what do you do?
  • If the copywriter delivers what is asked, but extenuating circumstances beyond his control prevent the desired results, do you have a Plan B?
  • Ethical Concerns

Some copywriting projects are not ideally suited to performance-based pay for ethical reasons.

Grant writers, for example, are discouraged from accepting commissions (i.e. a percentage of the money that a successful grant proposal brings in).

This is not an official rule, and you’re usually not breaking any laws by offering a percentage.  In fact, you can find plenty of solar grant writers who have no problem accepting commissions.  But you should still be aware of the ethical concerns involved.

Hybrid Pay for Performance

One way to mitigate some of the disadvantages of performance-based pay is to use a hybrid system.  Essentially, you offer a lower per-word or per-hour rate coupled with a lower commission.

This approach spreads the risk while still weaving in incentives.

Which Solar Copywriter Payment System Is Best?

Now that we’ve looked at the pros and cons of the 4 major payment systems, which one is the best?

Tackling this is the subject of our last and final installment in this 5-part series on solar copywriting payment terms.  So stay tuned.

In the meantime – what are your thoughts on performance-based copywriting payments?  Share down below.

 

Hiring Solar Copywriters, Part 3 – Paying by the Word

Hiring Solar Copywriters - Solar Energy WritersSo far, we’ve looked at hiring solar copywriters by the hour and by the project.

Today, let’s look at paying copywriters by the word (or sometimes by the page).

Paying Solar Copywriters by the Page

This is a pretty useless system because page lengths are so variable.

With the right font type and size, you can fit the entire Encyclopedia Britannica on one page.  You can also manipulate a single sentence so that it fills an entire book.

If you’re gonna go by the page, you need to determine exact fonts, sizes, and margins.

You also need to determine the number of paragraphs, the lengths of those paragraphs, and how much space needs to go in between each section.

It’s easier to simply use a per-word system.

Paying Solar Copywriters by the Word

This is my personal favorite.  Although I can easily convert to per-hour or per-project, I generally think in words.

First the pros – then the cons.

Advantages of Paying by the Word

  • Pricing Certainty

Even before the project begins, you know exactly how much you’re gonna pay.

  • If the copywriter goes a bit over, it’s his or her problem.
  • If the copywriter goes a bit under, you can just ask her to fulfill the order completely (without adding fluff, of course).
  • Common Unit of Measurement

Once you have a working relationship with a solar copywriter, you know (more or less) what future projects of that type will cost before you even ask.

If you have an upcoming article or blog, just multiply the desired word length times the usual per-word rate, and you have a good idea of what you’ll have to pay.

  • Easy to Adjust for Expanding Scopes

Paying by the word makes it easier to expand or contract existing projects.

Let’s say you have a white paper that was originally supposed to be 6,000 words.  But you’ve decided to add in extra sections, making the new white paper 8,000 words.

There’s no need to renegotiate rates with the copywriter.  Just multiply the new word count by the old rate.  This is easy – both for you and for the copywriter.

Let’s look at the cons

Disadvantages of Paying by the Word

  • Factoring in Research

Per word rates make it harder to factor in research, editing, and formatting.

Let’s say you hire a solar copywriter for a straightforward blog article and he quotes you a rate.  The following week, you need a more detailed blog article on a slightly tougher subject.

You’ll probably want to use the same per-word rate as before.  But from the copywriter’s perspective, there’s a lot more work involved.  You may need to renegotiate a new rate.

  • Fluff, Fat, and Fillers

You potentially face the danger of receiving fluff – i.e. filler content designed to push the project closer to your desired word limit.

If you’ve ever read a Charles Dickens novel, you’re probably aware of this danger.  Because he was paid by the word, his books tend to be very “descriptive.”

Any copywriter hoping to attract loyal customers will realize that the short-term gains of fluff aren’t worth it in the long run.  But as a client, it’s sometimes hard to separate quality writers from hacks before the project begins.

My advice:

  • Ask to see samples.  This is easy to do with articles, blogs, and publicly available marketing materials.  It’s somewhat harder with business plans, grant proposals, and other “private” documents.
  • Don’t lower your standards.  If you’re not happy with the finished product, provide feedback and give the copywriter a chance to make corrections.  If this doesn’t work, you shouldn’t be obliged to pay.

You’re the client.

Just keep in mind that if you don’t pay, you forfeit the right to use any of the content provided.  If you bring on a new copywriter to clean up the mess, he or she must start from scratch.

This concludes our per-word rate discussion.  Next time, we’ll jump into performance-based pay.