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Sometimes Copywriters Have to Play the Hardass

Your Dignity and Self-Respect Are Worth More Than Any Client


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Bending over backwards for your clients is fine, but don’t let them take advantage of your willingness to help.

I’ve been a full-time copywriter for more than 20 years.  During that time, I’ve had my share of good clients and also those I’ll politely call less-than-lovable.

Early in my career, I accepted whatever my clients doled out, no matter how inappropriate or inconsiderate.  I was willing to tough it out for the greater cause: maintaining the relationship and keeping the client on my roster.

In fact, it took me a long time to embrace the concept that my clients weren’t doing me a favor by hiring me to write their copy.   I’m a talented, experienced and hard working professional who provides a valuable service.

I’ve paid my dues.  And I’ve got a track record filled with client success stories as testimony to my expertise.  These days, I don’t put up with any client who treats me poorly or doesn’t appreciate the value I bring to their project.  And it starts from day #1.

Ditch Bad Clients, the Sooner the Better

I’m a lot more selective about the clients I take on now versus when I was just starting out.  Clients who don’t give me the respect I’ve earned and the respect I give to them are quickly dismissed.  I don’t hesitate to lay my cards out on the table.

I’ve learned sometimes  you have to play the hardass, as in the following situation that I recently experienced:

Phone call at 2:00 p.m….

New Client: Hi Susan, sorry I’m running a bit behind.

Susan: You’re 4 hours late for our 10:00 a.m. phone call.

New Client: I know. I had a busy morning. Let’s get started.

Susan: I don’t have time for you now. That’s why I scheduled the appointment for this morning.

New Client: Ok, but my deadline for this project is next Tuesday, so we need to get started.

Susan: I know. That’s why it’s a shame you missed our appointment.

New Client: So, what do you want me to do now?

Susan: Find another copywriter.

New Client: What?

Susan: I don’t work with people who don’t respect my time. Have a nice day. {Click}

Granted, it wasn’t easy blowing off a client who had a substantial project and potential for additional work.  But I was sure that first incident merely a taste of what would have been an unpleasant client relationship.  No thank you.

I was fortunate the client had shown her true colors from day #1.  She probably saved me a heap of aggravation and frustration, not to mention sleepless nights.

A Freelance Copywriter Is a Vendor, Not an Employee

Clients who are contracting a copywriter for the first time sometimes make the mistake of thinking they’re hiring an employee.  They treat conversations as interviews and expect the copywriter to be greatly appreciative of the opportunity to be considered for the project.

If you’re a freelance copywriter, you are not seeking employment.  You are self-employed and operate your own business, much like any other entrepreneur.

When you speak with clients, you are a vendor providing them with a valuable service, one they evidently need or they wouldn’t have contacted you.  You have plenty of examples of your work and a reputation that prove you are uniquely qualified to do their work.

The client who rakes you over the coals in your initial conversations or gives off a vibe that suggests he views you as something less than an experienced professional, is not a client you want.  If you have to work hard to sell yourself versus simply presenting your credentials and having the client recognize your value, cut your losses and say adios.  Ahorra {Now!}!

Here’s an example of a conversation I had with a client who didn’t seem to understand how fortunate he was to have found a professional copywriter who not only had decades of writing experience but also brought to the table broad expertise in his specific industry.

New Client:  Hi Susan.  I was referred to you by our mutual friend John, who spoke very highly of you.

Susan:  Nice to meet you.  What can I do for you?

New Client:  I’m starting a company that will help job hunters get a job.

Susan:  Sounds interesting.

New Client:  I need help writing about 4 main pages for my company website.

Susan:  Okay, no problem.  I can help you with that.

New Client:  Whoa!  Not so fast.  What are your qualifications?

Susan:  I have 25+ years of experience as a professional copywriter, a BS in journalism and an MBA.

New Client:  Yes, but how many websites have you written?

Susan:  Well, I’ve never counted, but it’s probably in the hundreds, and definitely thousands of pages of content.

New Client:  Yes, but do you have any experience in the job hunting field?

Susan:  As it turns out, I do.  I co-authored the leading college textbook on job hunting, The Ultimate Job Hunter’s Guidebook.  It’s used in career courses at hundreds of universities around North America. It’s currently in its 7th printing and sells thousands of copies every year.  I’ll send you a link to it on Amazon so you can check it out.

New Client:  Okay, anything else?

Susan:  Yes, as a matter of fact.  I wrote a 257-page ebook titled Job Hunting in a Tough Economy.  It’s for experienced professionals who suddenly find themselves unemployed.  If you’d like, I’ll send you a free copy.

New Client:  Sure, I’d love to see it.  Anything else?

Susan:  Okay, I’ll keep going here.  I own the website Job Hunting Strategies.com.  It has about 30 pages of copy on the subject of job hunting.

New Client:  Is that your only website on the subject of job hunting?

Susan:  Yes. But I’ve written countless articles on the subject posted on numerous job hunting websites and blogs.  Just Google “Susan Greene, Job Hunting” and see all the entries that come up.

New Client: Okay, so it sounds like you do have some of the qualifications I’m looking for.  I’d like to meet and interview you in person to see if you’re the right copywriter for my project.

Susan:  Let me get this straight. We’re talking about writing 4 pages for your website, and you want to meet and interview me further?

New Client:  Right. I need to sit down with you face-to-face to see if you can understand my product and my business. And I’ll be talking with other candidates.  After our meeting, I’ll get back to you and let you know if you’ve been awarded the project.

Susan:  Okay, I see you have a thorough vetting process, which would be fine if I were interviewing for a full-time job. However, I’m not interested in becoming your employee.  I’m a service provider.  If you don’t recognize my value from the 100+ projects on display in my portfolio and the conversation we’ve had, I don’t think this is going to work out.

I highly doubt you’ll find another copywriter with the depth of experience I just happen to have in your industry.  If you can’t see that, then we are definitely not a fit. So I’m going to end this conversation right now.

New Client:  Susan, there are many people who would love the opportunity that I’m considering you for.

Susan:  I’m sure there are.  You need to go find them.  Bye.

Getting Deposits for Copywriting Work

One of the areas in which I used to struggle was in asking for payment, especially deposits before I’d done any work.  I knew as a freelancer it was a necessity to avoid being ripped off but the process made me uncomfortable.

I think some clients sensed my hesitation and tried to take advantage of it. Fortunately, once you get burned a few times you toughen up as in the situation below:

New Client:  We received your proposal. Looks good. We’d like you to write 8 pages for our website.

Susan:  Glad to hear it. When would you like to start?

New Client:  ASAP. Write the copy. We’ll read it. And if we like it, we’ll send you a check.

Susan:  Ha ha ha ha.

New Client:  What’s so funny?

Susan:  You’ll “send a check if you like the copy. ” No professional works that way. So I assume you were joking?

New Client: Um, yeah. Joking.

Susan:  Good. That’s what I thought. As soon as I receive the signed contract and your 50% deposit in PayPal, I’ll start work on your project. Are we good?

New Client:  Yes, we’re good.

Negotiating Copywriting Fees Is Never a Good Idea

Quoting jobs was and still is one of the most challenging aspects of being a freelance copywriter for me, and I suspect for many other writers as well.  I worried about charging too much and losing the project and charging too little and leaving money on the table.

When I was starting out, more often than not, I undercharged for my copywriting services.  And I was a wimp when clients gave me pushback, quickly backing off on my price to get the work no matter the pay.

I think there was a part of me that couldn’t believe I was getting paid to do something I loved and had dreamed about doing nearly all my life. The truth was, I would have been willing to write for free if I didn’t have to somehow pay my mortgage and feed my kids.

Nonetheless, I’m happy to say those days of under billing are over.  It took years, but I’m a lot more bold in my pricing these days.  I know my value.  And I don’t let clients dictate what they can pay me.

Here’s an example where I stuck to my guns.  I probably could have been even more forthright but in the end, but the result would have been the same.  I didn’t get the copywriting job, and the truth is, that’s a good thing, because it would have been a lot of work at a bargain basement rate that I resented.

Client:  Susan, I want you to write the brochure we discussed but your price is too high.

Susan:  It’s a complex subject. It will take a lot of time to research and write.

Client:  I think you’re off-base. It should only take you 3 to 4 hours tops.

Susan:  Maybe I write slowly, but I can’t get it done that fast.

Client:  I can pay you half of what you quoted.

Susan: Then I can only do half the work.  You decide which half.

Client:  Okay. How about I write the first draft and then all you have to do is edit it?

Susan:  Half price but you do the research and put in the “3 to 4 hours” to write a decent first draft?

Client:  Yes, sure.

Susan:  You have a deal.

Client:  Okay, sounds good. Give me a couple of days to get it done.

As you probably guessed by now, it’s been many months and I’m still waiting for that first draft.  My guess is he attempted to write it and realized how difficult it was and gave up.  I have no regrets about losing that job.

Hourly vs. Value Pricing

One of the most common questions I get as a freelance copywriter is “What is your hourly rate?”  I used to answer with my rate.  But now I explain that I don’t charge by the hour.  If I did, I’d be making less today than I was 20+ years ago when I started out because I’ve gotten much faster with experience.

I explain to my clients that I quote projects individually and my pricing is based on the value I provide.

There’s a great, old story that illustrates the concept of value pricing.  I can’t say whether it’s true, but the lesson it teaches is worth learning.

The printing presses of a major Chicago newspaper malfunctioned on the Saturday before Christmas, putting all the revenue for advertising that was to appear in the Sunday paper in jeopardy. None of the pressmen could determine what was wrong.

Nearly frantic, the supervisor made a frantic call to the retired printer who had worked with these presses for over 40 years.  The supervisor said, “We’ll pay anything.  Just come in and get the presses working as fast as possible.”

When the retired printer arrived, he walked around for a few minutes, appraising the situation.  Then he opened one of the control panels.

He took a dime from his pocket, turned a screw 1/4 turn, and announced: “That should do it.  The presses will now work correctly.”  And they did.  The pressman was thanked profusely and told to submit a bill for his work.

The bill arrived a few days later, for $10,000!  The supervisor could hardly believe his eyes. The entire repair had taken less than 10 minutes and hadn’t required any new parts.

He told the printer to please itemize his charges, with the hope he might reduce the amount once he had to list his services.

The revised bill arrived: $1.00 for turning the screw; $9,999 for knowing which screw to turn.

Like the retired printer, my prices as a freelance copywriter reflect my life’s work, my unique talent, and the return on investment my clients will experience from my work.

They aren’t paying for the hours I work on their project.  They’re paying for the thousands of hours I put in over the years to be able to do their project today.

Copywriters Are Skilled Professionals

Here’s a little advice from someone who’s been in the copywriting business for more than two decades. If you’re a copywriter who has been putting up with demanding, ungrateful clients or undercharging for your work, you need to change your mindset.

Copywriting isn’t your hobby; it’s your job.  You’re a trained professional who deserves to be treated with respect paid well for your services.

Stop giving away your valuable time or undervaluing your services.  Clients who have the  ability to do their own copywriting don’t need you.  The ones that do must be willing to pay for the skills you bring to the table.

Undervaluing your work as a copywriter will only make you feel defeated and is a fast track to career burnout.

Put a premium on yourself. You are worth it.  And when you believe in your value, your clients will too.

Want more tips to grow your freelance copywriting business? Request my FREE report. Email Susan Greene at FloridaCopywriter@gmail.com and put “Copywriter Report” in the subject line.

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