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When Should a Freelance Copywriter Refund a Client’s Money?

Saving Your Sanity When Writing for Impossible-to-Please Clients


Remember when your parents would say, “You can’t please everyone.” Even as a child, you quickly learned that you’d click with some people and others not so much.

The same is true with copywriting. You can’t please every client, despite your best efforts. Writing is subjective and readers bring their own personal experiences and biases to their opinion. Permit me to share an example.

I once had a client, John, who called seeking a restaurant copywriter. He was opening a new eatery and wanted help with marketing, everything from writing the website to the food descriptions on the menu.

restaurant copywriter
The client needed a restaurant copywriter who could assist with menu descriptions, marketing and more.

Task #1 though, was to create a three- to five-sentence statement that would be posted in the kitchen as the company philosophy, which all employees would be asked to embrace. I listened with interest to the restaurateur’s impassioned description of what he had in mind.

Two days later, I confidently sent three written options for John to consider. One option even played off the restaurant’s name, Phat Daddy’s, using words that employed “ph” such as Phabulous! I was proud of each of the statements and thought any of them could work. I honestly believed he’d have a hard time choosing which one was best.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

John called and gone was any semblance of formality or politeness. He was pissed. Not just annoyed or disappointed – emphatically furious. He yelled at me, something no client had ever done to me. I contemplated saying, “Please use your indoor voice,” but didn’t think that would help the situation.

copywriting draft
If a client says your copywriting missed the mark, offer to create a new draft.

Like Gordon Ramsay on a tear, he angrily outlined all the different ways I’d apparently missed the mark in my copywriting. I didn’t agree with his comments but I listened carefully and offered to try again and create a new write-up.

The next day I submitted a new draft of copy. I was slightly less confident this time but believed surely this time I’d gotten it right. When the phone rang a few hours later and the client’s name came up on the screen, I took a deep breath and answered.

If I had thought John was mad before, I should have realized that was merely his warmup. He lit into me in a fit of rage as if I’d just cut him off on the road and forced him into a ditch.

He even claimed to have shared the copy with a friend who said, “I can’t believe a professional writer could make so many grammatical errors.” Seriously? I am 100% certain, the grammar was fine.

I listened, letting John rant, not that I had much of a choice. He gave me no opportunity to jump in. I was taken aback by his over-the-top reaction. I couldn’t remember any client ever talking to me this way.

I wondered what he had expected in the copy. A Shakespearean sonnet? Nobel-prize winning literature? Before I could find the words to defend myself, John said, “I demand a full refund.”

copywriter fail
When a client has unrealistic expectations, the copywriter is destined to fail.

I had a lot of hours invested in this restaurant writing project, but it was clear John and I were never going to agree. The best thing I could do was cut my losses and move on. Otherwise, I was soon going to need some serious therapy to repair my self-image.

John’s check for the full amount went out in the mail the next morning and I resisted the temptation to add a Post-It that said, “Put this toward an anger-management class.”

As for the restaurant, it never opened. I never learned the reason why but John’s way of dealing with vendors and probably employees might have been a contributing factor.

What I learned from the whole situation was that my parents had been right; you can’t please everyone, no matter how hard you try. And sometimes, you’ve got to suck it up, cut your losses and get out of the situation.

As a copywriter, I’ve come to know that much as I try to understand my client’s desires and expectations, I won’t always be successful. There will be occasions when I fall short and sometimes, it’s not me; it’s them. In those rare situations, if I can escape with my self-confidence intact, then I am doing just fine.

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Do you need a professional copywriter to assist in creating marketing materials for your business? Work with a pro. Contact Susan Greene today!

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