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Set Boundaries in Your Copywriting Business

Determining the Do's and Don'ts for Working with Clients


marketing agency

As a freelance copywriter, marketing agencies can be a good source of ongoing work.

Susan,

I’d like to get your take on setting boundaries or rules for a freelance copywriting business. They can be customer rules, project rules or any other rules that you’ve found help you to be successful.

I was listening to another copywriter’s podcast the other day and he recommended setting some guidelines. Examples he listed included things like, “I don’t do work for clients with under $1 million in sales, I don’t write real estate listings, I don’t work weekends, etc.”

I’m just starting out as a freelance copywriter, and I want to do everything right in laying the foundation for my business.

Brad

Hi Brad,

I’ll start with your last statement, “I want to do everything right.” Please, let that thought go. As a copywriter new to the profession, you’re not going to do everything right. You’re going to make mistakes and have countless stumbles. But that’s all part of growing and learning. 

I recently had a junior copywriter say to me, “Susan, you have 20+ years of experience. I have only had a few months. Can you tell me what I should do, what shortcuts I should take and pitfalls I should avoid? I don’t want to spend 20 years figuring it out.”

Even if I wanted to give this copywriter the tricks of the trade — I didn’t — how could I possibly summarize 20 years of hands-on experience? And how could my telling him the things I know possibly be comparable to having done them? Focus on getting experience, not on avoiding challenges. Take risks. Get out of your comfort zone.

With regard to setting boundaries, I don’t know that I have any firm rules. Maybe I do, but they’re not written down. One that comes to mind is:

If a client or vendor treats me badly, I end the relationship.

Example: A new client stood me up for a planned call and then contacted me the next day to talk unplanned and to remind me of the tight deadline on her project. No apology, no explanation. I told her that if her deadline was so tight, she shouldn’t have stood me up. I was no longer available.

Example: I had a client chastise me for a minor error in a brochure draft. He chewed me out like I’d cost him a million dollars. Mind you, the brochure had not gone to print. It was in draft form for the client to review. And it was a minute detail that only someone with experience in that industry would have known. The revision took seconds to make. I finished the project but never accepted another project from that client.

copywriting rules

Business isn’t school. You don’t have to follow arbitrary rules. Be open to new experiences.

I don’t diss this other copywriter’s suggestion to set some boundaries or rules, but I really haven’t put a lot of thought into that aspect of my business.

I’m self-employed and having achieved a certain level of success, I’m able to control my time, my work activities, my income and my work relationships. So even though I have no rules, I’ve created the life I want.

What rules do you have?

Susan

Thanks for sharing, Susan. Right now, my list is short. So far, I have “I don’t do white papers” and “I don’t work Sundays”. White papers sound like torture and I try to protect Sunday as a family/rest day.

I’m also considering adding “I don’t work with agencies,” so I have a question mark on that one. I haven’t had a bad experience with an agency yet, but my gut just tells me I would prefer to work directly with the client.

I like your rule about ending bad relationships. I’m adding that to my list.

Of course, I recognize there needs to be allowance for exceptions and flexibility at times, but I suppose it’s good to have some guardrails.

Brad

Brad,

I work with marketing / digital agencies all the time. I worked with two today as a matter of fact. They’ve been a great source of ongoing work for me. And they’ve introduced me to large clients whom I otherwise would never meet as a freelancer. Bigger companies usually choose full-service agencies.

digital marketing agency

Agencies often have bigger clients than freelancers, so it makes sense to accept subcontract work from them when you can.

I’m not sure why you’d want to blanket-exclude marketing agencies from your business.  Evaluate each on its individual merits. 

Brad, all of the rules you mentioned sound negative to me, things you won’t do. It’s like you’re expecting the worst. You need to be willing to take risks, even if that means occasionally finding yourself in a difficult position.

Until your business is bursting at the seams, focus on what you can do and who you’ll work with. Being picky is not an option when you’re starting out.

copywriting business

Don’t set such hard-and-fast rules about who you will or won’t work with as a copywriter. Being too choosy is not a better option.

When you’re trying to build a business, your only strategy should be designed to get clients and land projects, not exclude any possibilities. 

I have a friend who got divorced a few years ago. When New Year’s came around, she declared that “This will be the year of yes!” She decided she would say “yes” to every (reasonable) opportunity to meet people, try new classes, join clubs and more, even if they were way out of her comfort zone, for a full year.

She’d be the first to tell you that she had some loser experiences, especially with regard to dating, although she ended up with some great stories. But she also had some wonderful times and has kept some of those new adventures she tried in her life such as going hiking and doing yoga. 

As a new copywriter just starting out and trying to establish your business, you need to declare this “the year of yes.” Take on every new assignment, accept every new client, explore every new idea. Try new approaches and see what sticks. 

One more quick story. My favorite fruit is mangos. I grew up in Florida where they were plentiful. When my daughter was young, I tried to get her to eat mangoes. She was stubborn and defiant (I wonder where she got that from!) and refused to even try them. For years she put up an impenetrable wall when it came to eating mangos.

copywriting business

When your copywriting business is new, say “yes” to every new experience, just as you might try new foods.

She recently went off to college where, lo and behold, she had an opportunity (sans mom) to try a mango. She returned from school with a love for mangoes, even going next-level by figuring out some recipes that use them.

She admits now, as an adult, that her prior dislike for mangoes was more about a power struggle with mom and not about the fruit. So what’s my point? You can set hard-and-fast rules and boundaries for your copywriting business if you’d like, but who knows what wonderful experiences you might be excluding?

Susan Greene

Professional Copywriter

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