I am frequently contacted by freelance copywriters regarding how to handle certain situations. Below is an email I received asking how to cope with a difficult client. I’m publishing this private exchange because other freelance copywriters might find it helpful.
I’m writing to you for a snippet of your wisdom.
Something happened with a recent client in my copywriting business, and I’m having a hard time getting past it. I know that I need to just let it go and learn from it. I’m working on that. But I feel like I need your insight on the subject.
About a year ago, I took on a copywriting project with some local clients, a husband and wife team who were started a facility for at-risk youth. They’d been planning the facility for years – it was their dream and now it was finally becoming a reality. They asked me to come in and help them with their website.
I met with them quite a bit through the year, gaining their vision and writing it down. I delivered copy, which they edited quite a bit. I even had them come over to my house so I could explain to them a bit more about web copy and the difference between it and the textbook style they seemed to favor.
The husband was a Ph.D. candidate and was having a hard time not changing my writing to the scholarly. We found a middle ground or so I thought and I moved on with the copy.
In addition to copywriting, I also designed the site in WordPress and gave them what I felt was a beautiful, well-designed, well-written site that clearly communicated what they had to offer to the families as well as the schools who had at-risk youth in the area. I also optimized the copy for SEO to its full potential.
This winter the organization’s newly established team met to discuss their marketing including the website. I wasn’t at the meeting, so I didn’t see their faces and couldn’t gauge their response.
A few weeks later, the wife asked me if her new computer guy could take over the web design of the site for me since he was employed with them now. He went on to change the site around at their bidding. They removed all my copy as well and stuck to the version they preferred.
Just a few days ago, the woman called and asked if they could remove my link at the bottom of the site since I wasn’t the one who wrote it anymore.
Now, I know that this shouldn’t bother me. I should just let it go, as my husband is wishing I would! But, I guess I just want to understand what I did wrong.
The site was beautiful in my opinion. I used a lot of images of people on the home page and incorporated copy that was centered on “that mom” who was at her wits end with her child. I did modify it a bit so that it also catered to judges and school officials.
I feel like I offered them my best and something that would really shine online. I was looking forward to adding it to my portfolio.
They ripped it out and replaced it all with a sub-par site that looks like an amateur created it.
Was there somewhere that I went wrong in not showing them how they could best communicate their mission online?
They paid me tons of money for writing their site and now, my only footprint on it is the theme I installed for them on WordPress. I’m just feeling hurt and frustrated.
Have you ever gone through anything like this? I remember your elephant story and that has helped.
As a fellow copywriter, any other advice you can offer is greatly appreciated.
Always nice to hear from you. I read your letter and was feeling awful for you until I read the following line toward the end, “They paid me tons of money for their site.”
This situation is an easy one for me to offer advice. Let it go. You got paid. You probably learned something from the experience, both about the subject matter and about people. Now push it out of your mind.
I totally get that you worked hard on this site and what you came up with was superior to the crap they ultimately published. However, you will not be able to convince them of that, so stop torturing yourself looking for an angle to pursue.
The people you worked with certainly owe you an explanation but don’t hold your breath waiting for it. Again, it’s best to focus ahead on your next project and try to forget this one. At least you got paid. And that’s huge!
I have two related stories. This type of situation has happened to me, as it has probably happened to numerous other writers.
Story #1 — A tour-guide company in Barcelona, Spain hired me to rewrite their website from scratch. I did, and the owner didn’t like my copy. Believe me when I say it was 1000x better than his copy and was also good from an SEO standpoint. When we discussed the copy, his reasons for disliking what I wrote were ridiculous, although I’m sure he felt they had merit.
In any case, I rewrote the copy from scratch a second time, taking a completely different approach. To my surprise, he still disliked it, even though now he couldn’t explain what he didn’t like about it. Let me point out as well that I lived in Spain as an exchange student in college and was intimately familiar with Barcelona. So it’s not like I had difficulty understanding the subject matter.
The client and I finally parted ways. My copy was never used and the client paid me 75% but not the full amount I was owed, claiming he was over-charged. I should mention too that at the same time as I was working on the copy, he had a freelance designer redesigning the site. I saw the design. It was really nice, far superior to the old site. The client said it “wasn’t right.”
This all took place about 18 months ago. To this day, the old site with the old design and old copy are up because this client was unsatisfiable. I think I just made up that word but you get my gist.
Some people can never be satisfied. And they’ll spend so long trying to create something that’s perfect in their eyes that they’ll never move forward.
I didn’t add the site to my portfolio, and I try not to think about how pissed I am that I did all that work and didn’t even get paid in full.
Story #2 — A Miami company that sells wholesale fabrics for draperies and upholstery hired me to review their website and suggest recommendations. They’d had an SEO company do a lot of work on it, and it wasn’t bringing in leads.
When I looked at the site, it was a jumbled mess, with links that went to wrong pages, an abundance of keywords stuffed into the copy where they clearly didn’t belong, meta-tags that didn’t match the content, and no logical flow. It was clear to me that a foreign SEO company had done the work and used many black-hat (unethical) techniques to try to get ranking, with no regard at all to whether the copy would be effective in converting visitors into customers.
The company liked my ideas and hired me to fix the site’s organization and copy, with SEO being a strong objective. I did what they asked. It took almost two months of back-and-forth with the owners to get the copy approved, about 12 pages. Then it was up to the web designers to put the copy in place and reorganize the site. That took another two months.
Then I got an email from the client saying the job was complete and could I please check all the pages and make sure everything looked good. I went to the site and realized that although it was now well-organized, most of my copy hadn’t been used. In fact, just the first paragraph or two of each page was used. All the rest was missing! Some pages didn’t even make sense.
I emailed the client to say as diplomatically as I could that the web designer must have screwed up because only a few lines of my copy appeared on each page. It was not the version the client had approved.
He wrote back, “No, the web designer didn’t mess up. I looked at a few competitors’ sites, and they had less copy, so I shortened what you wrote. It’s just not necessary to have all that copy when I’m selling fabric. The pictures do all the selling. So, how does the site look? Please review it and let me know.”
Megan, I didn’t even reply. I was so disgusted. I had put in so much work, and the client was simply wrong about not needing copy. But I knew it was an argument I couldn’t win. And in this case, I’d been paid in full. Needless to say, I didn’t add this website to my copywriting portfolio. And I won’t ever work for this client again.
Whew, didn’t mean to go on for so long! As you can see, you struck a nerve.
My advice to you is the same that I give to myself in situations like yours: let it go. It’s a battle you can’t win. And life is too short. Know in your heart that you did the best possible work. If they are too shortsighted to recognize quality, then they are not your ideal client. Not every client is a fit. So move on and do as Taylor Swift suggests, “Shake it off.”
Hope that helps.
You are so special. I have been beating myself up for too long about this website. Reading your comments has brought tears of relief to my eyes. Thank you. And with God’s help, I let it go.
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