How you run your copywriting business determines whether you succeed. That premise applies whether you’re a sole proprietor or operating a copywriting enterprise with multiple employees.
Over the years I’ve developed processes and guidelines that work for me. They may or may not be right for you, but they can provide a good starting point from which to build your own copywriting business. Here then, are some of the key tenets of how I obtain new business, interact with clients and quote projects. — Susan Greene, Freelance Copywriter
“I’m a good writer” is not enough to succeed. Before you begin soliciting clients, answer the following questions written by Eleanor Goold in an article on Copywriting Beginners Bootcamp. “What do you do that is different than the rest? What can you offer that’s special or unique? What magical little extra are you providing?”
I find about 50% of the copywriting leads I get from Google pan out. The other 50% don’t. The reasons are varied, but the most common issues are price (they were hoping for a bargain) or because the client isn’t quite ready to proceed.
As you might expect, I have a much higher conversion rate for clients who are referred by existing clients, colleagues and friends, so I find that cultivating a network of contacts is always a worthwhile investment of my time.
The internet allows people to find service providers like freelance copywriters quickly and easily. That’s good because Google directs customers to your door.
However, it can also be problematic in that you get inquiries from people doing research who aren’t yet ready to pull the trigger on the purchase of your copywriting services. They’re window shopping or price shopping (curious about costs or comparing costs between providers). Determining which prospects are for real can be difficult.
I try to assess them quickly and not invest too much time until I know they’re serious. I keep phone conversations brief and avoid the temptation to educate the client, divulging just enough information for the prospect to realize I know my stuff.
If the inquiry is via e-mail, I have some pat responses I keep in my files. I can copy/paste/reply with just a few minutes’ effort. My reply includes questions for them. Based on their responses, I will get a better sense of whether they’re in the information gathering or buying stage.
Not every client is going to be a fit. You don’t know who you’re competing against nor whether the client has a hidden agenda. Similar to any job search, it would be unrealistic to think that every prospect will decide to hire you.
Don’t beat yourself up about the jobs you don’t get. Stay strong and confident. And, if you think something you said or did was what turned off the client, learn from the experience and then move on.
Some clients are more trouble than they’re worth. While it’s hard to turn down a paying client, there are times when that is the best strategy.
One of the red flags is a client who immediately tries to bargain down your prices. Another can be a client who refuses to pay a deposit or requests that you do a first assignment as a test and, assuming they like it, then they’ll send payment. And another red flag is a client who says they’ve worked with other copywriters in the past and were always disappointed.
You can read more about how copywriters can avoid being ripped off here.
As a service provider, you are at risk of being scammed or ripped off. One time I had one client offer to pay an outrageous amount for a few pages of copy that he needed ASAP. He explained that his bookkeeper was on vacation and so my payment would come after his copy deadline, and that was why he was offering to pay such an inflated rate.
It was a tempting offer, but before agreeing to do the work, I’m so glad I took the time to Google his (fake) name and business. Through a variety of searches I soon learned that he’d stiffed other freelance copywriters. In fact, his entire website had been written and designed by freelancers he’d bilked.
Fortunately for me a few of the copywriters he’d ripped off had decided to post information about their interaction with this client to warn others. If I hadn’t done my due diligence on the client, I would never have known. I would have done the work and been cheated as well. The experience served to remind me that if a business opportunity sounds to good to be true…well, you know the rest.
When a client finds me via the internet (versus a referral), I assume he is shopping around. He has no allegiance to me. I’m just one of many copywriter listings on Google.
So I need to a) act fast to be the first copywriter to respond to his inquiry, and b) impress him with my knowledge and customer service so he stops shopping because he realizes he’s found the solution to his problem – me!
You can safely assume that the way a client first makes contact is her preferred method of communications. If she calls and leaves a message, then I call her back. If she emails me, then I send an email reply. No matter the method, I always respond as soon as possible, before the client has had a chance to find another writer online.
I try to eliminate as many barriers as possible. I create a smooth path for clients to proceed. I make it sound like all they have to do is spend a few minutes talking with me about their business, and then I’ll take the ball and run with it.
I’ll guide them through the process, start to finish, and make it painless for them. Easy peasy, no worries, you’re in good hands, etc.
I know some copywriters use questionnaires to weed out clients who aren’t serious and to get the information they need to begin writing. I find my clients have hired me because they either can’t write or don’t like to write, so asking them to complete a questionnaire becomes a big hurdle, one they might not get past.
I may send a few questions by email, especially if they’re international clients, but more often I’ll talk with them by phone and ask my questions verbally. I’ve found that most clients enjoy talking about their business, even though they may dislike writing about it.
I have some pricing guidelines that are enough to tell clients whether my copywriting rates are in their ball park. Of course, every project is unique so I eventually have to provide a custom quote, which I base on the specific parameters of the project. By that point though, the client shouldn’t be sticker shocked.
Even though I do occasionally run into price resistance, I’m busy enough that if someone won’t pay my rates, I don’t want them as client. Cheap clients tend to also be the most demanding. I’ve found, too, that clients who attempt to negotiate a discount by promising more copywriting work in the future rarely follow through.
Charge new clients a deposit with the balance due upon project completion. Most of my clients are okay with this arrangement. We share the risk 50-50. They take a leap of faith that I’ll do a good job, and I have to believe they’ll pay me the balance when the job is done. Once we’ve established a relationship and some trust, I then consider offering terms, such as full payment due upon project completion or even payment due net 30.
If the client is a large, established company, and it’s clear the deposit will be a deal breaker, I sometimes will settle for a PO number or at least a signature on the project proposal.
As a copywriter, I love words. I wish I could say I felt the same passion for numbers, but math has always been a frustrating challenge for me. So doing invoices is a chore for me. I can find endless reasons to procrastinate. But that’s not how you run a successful business, one without cash flow issues.
“It sounds obvious, but the sooner you send an invoice, the sooner you can get paid,” explains Carie Ferg in an article for Manta. “Make getting paid a priority. Find an easy tool or system that helps you get your invoices out the door as soon as possible.”
Checks sent via U.S. mail used to be the primary mode of payment for services like copywriting, but many more options now exist. And most are much faster and easier to use.
I allow my clients to pay via PayPal (which includes the option of payment via credit card), direct deposit from the client’s bank account to my bank account, and through bank apps like Zelle.
Although rare, I’ve also accepted payments through Western Union and as cash. Make it easy and convenient for your client to pay you they way they want and you’re likely to get paid faster.
If payment is through Paypal, I add 3% as the PayPal fee (6% if it’s an international client) and identify it as such in my invoice. I don’t mark it up. I just charge what it costs me for the convenience of using PayPal versus a company check. Clients rarely object. If they do, I remind them I accept checks but waiting for their payment can delay my start date.
New clients often want to know my hourly rate. I explain that I don’t charge by the hour. That’s because you’re not paying for the hour of writing I do. You’re paying for my 20+ years of experience and my marketing know-how.
With years of practice, I’ve gotten pretty fast at writing. I shouldn’t be penalized for my efficiency and the quality of my work, which translates into fewer revisions. Instead I tell clients to appreciate that I can get them to the finish line much faster than a lesser-experienced copywriter or writing the copy themself.
If a client needs copy that requires technical knowledge of a subject I know nothing about, I pass. The amount of research necessary to get up to speed usually isn’t worth it. If the client seems difficult to please, I pass. I look for red flags like the way the client talks about working with other vendors.
If the client has unrealistic expectations, I pass. Some clients want a guarantee that my copy will deliver hundreds or thousands of sales. Too many other variables of which I’m not in control will affect the outcome for me to make that promise.
If the client is in a business I don’t feel is an ethical fit for me such as promoting cigarettes, pornography or some questionable medical product then I pass.
Just because an existing client or contact has referred someone to me isn’t enough for me to take on the work. While I’m grateful for referrals, the person referring may not know what projects are right for me. I evaluate the prospective client the same as I would any new business lead.
I also have developed relationships with many other copywriters. If a client isn’t a fit for me, I often have a colleague who’d be right for the job.
Often new clients ask me to write just the Home page or About page of their website. The time I will spend familiarizing myself with their subject matter makes it cost prohibitive for me to take on the work. Instead I seek out accounts that are likely to give me on-going work or at least several projects of substantial size.
Throughout the copywriting process, I am giving my client updates. Once I’ve submitted the copy, I follow up to see if revisions are needed. After the client accepts the work, I ask if anything further is needed. If not, I stay in casual touch by sending the occasional email or forwarding articles I think the client would find of interest.
I also try to keep my name in front of clients by occasional posts on social media. The result is often repeat business and referrals.
My goal is to achieve 100% client satisfaction. Sometimes that means making copy revisions I don’t think are good or meeting other demands that I don’t like. I keep my ego out of the process. I’ll offer my advice and even provide an explanation as to why I may disagree with a decision, but I always let the client have the final call.
What works for me, may not work for you. As your copywriting business evolves, you’ll develop your own processes and procedures. The paths to success are infinite. I hope my guidelines help point you in the right direction.
Susan Greene is a freelance copywriter based in Orlando, Florida. She works with clients from around the world to help them market their products and build their business.
Need help copywriting your website, sales letter or brochure? Work with a professional copywriter for best results. Contact Susan Greene today!