12 Things Freelance Copywriters Wish You Knew

There are good copywriting clients and bad ones.

Good clients get better copy in less time.

Bad clients get in the copywriter’s way and slow progress. The client’s “copy” and the copywriter’s copy come together to spawn something meh.

And here’s a little secret — good copywriters can sniff out difficult clients from a mile away.

Want to know how we deal with bad clients?

We throw an inflated quote their way. We quote a project fee so big that we won’t facepalm if they say yes.

Obviously, you want to be the good client that gets the copywriter’s best work, in less time, and without the inflated price tag.

So here’s 12 things this freelance copywriter (and many others) wish you knew coming into a project.

1. This…

One does not simply tweak copy meme

Research is behind every headline, subheadline, paragraph, sentence, and word that I write.

I’m…

  • Combing through surveys
  • Conducting or listening to customer interviews
  • Chatting with your sales team
  • Reading dozens upon dozens of product reviews on sites like G2 Crowd
  • Spying on your customers on social media and in forums
  • Learning how to use your product the way a customer would

I’m uncovering your customer’s sore spots, their deepest desires, and most importantly, the way they talk about these things.

I can justify my copy decisions. You, dear client, need to do the same. Believing that something sounds better, bigger, or more professional is not a reason to undo what’s been done.

And no, citing articles from popular copywriting and conversion optimization blogs does not pass as justification. I read those blogs too. They add tools to my toolbox. But I don’t blindly follow popular advice — I follow the research.

2. There is no long copy or short copy.

Copy is either complete or incomplete. It’s effective or ineffective.

I wrote a lengthy comment about this on Inbound.org in response to an awesome post by Dave Gerhardt from Drift.

The post was about how clients worry that a piece of copy is too long and won’t be read. They worry that today’s customer has an attention span of 140 characters or less.

Yet copywriters have known for decades that more copy usually performs better than less.

Because prospects who really need your product and have the budget to buy it will read your copy if it’s answering their questions, squashing their objections, and in proportion to what you’re asking of them.

You will need less copy to get your prospect to download a free eBook that addresses a huge problem of theirs. You will need more copy to get them to subscribe to your $400/month SaaS product that doesn’t include a free trial period.

Your copy either gets the job done or it doesn’t, and the word count will heavily depend on the ask.

3. Doing the budget dance won’t save you a dime.

I get it, you want more for less. We all do.

So you hold the budget card close to your chest in the hopes that I’ll be naive enough to give you everything you want at basement level prices.

First of all, no.

Second of all, do you really want to entrust your hard earned money with someone who isn’t good enough to command a decent rate?

You have a copy problem that needs to be fixed. You have a good idea of what fixing this problem is worth. Share your budget, and then let me tell you all of the wonderful things I can do with it.

You may even find that I can fix your problem for less than your budget, in which case I’ll suggest ways we can use what’s left to increase revenue even further.

Knowing your budget also helps me scope out a project that can actually be executed.

Because most copy problems have a $2,000 solution and a $10,000+ solution. The $10,000+ solution increases the chances of hitting a home run by eliminating more guesswork than the $2,000 solution. Both are better than what you have now. Let’s focus on the thing we can actually do.

4. A cheap copywriter isn’t an expensive copywriter who charges less.

A cheap copywriter isn't the same as a professional copywriter who charges less.

I honestly don’t care that someone quoted you 25% of what I’m quoting.

I can guarantee that you won’t get the same copy for less money. In fact, much of my business is cleaning up the mess that is discounting, piece-working, not showing upping ‘copywriters.’

Copywriters work at the highest rate that fills their calendars.

That cheap copywriter has found that by charging an abysmal $100 per page, they can stay busy. When they go higher… crickets.

But that cheap copywriter still needs to eat, put a roof over their head, feed mouths, and save for retirement. And some cheap copywriters manage to do this.

How?

By juggling an unfathomable amount of client projects. By skimping on research. By ripping copy from your competition and turning you into a ‘me too’ company.

You either invest on the front end by hiring a competent copywriter who can get you more leads and sales, or you spend on the back end by hiring a bargain copywriter who costs you time and money without results.

5. Be wary of the copywriter who can start yesterday.

If you just want a drink with alcohol in it, you go to the bar without a line. You expect a dingy environment that offers cocktails that barely qualify as cocktails.

If you want the best experience ever, you put your name on a long list for an exclusive speakeasy in NYC and wait, and hope, and wait some more (I didn’t get in).

I know I lose a lot of business because I can’t start immediately.

I lose this business to copywriters who don’t have the chops to fill their calendars while charging healthy rates.

Look, a good chunk of your company’s success is dependent on pairing your product with copy that sells it.

Why would you gamble on something so important? Why would you choose to get it done now over getting it done right?

Instead, expect a good copywriter to need at least two weeks notice because we’re busy — busy being trusted by clients just like you. And expect the wait to be worth it.

6. A copywriter and a content writer are different things.

Many content writers are in the volume business and charge per word. They get paid to write blog posts and other such assets that hold your attention, teach you a thing or two, and position you as an expert.

Content writers do not write with the singular focus of more leads > customers > renewals > upsells > referrals. They are not in the business of sales. Their words are not meant to hawk your goods 24/7/365 without asking for a raise.

Copywriters do these things.

Copywriters snuggle up to your bottom line. If a new visitor comes to your site, we want them to become a lead. If they are lead, we want them to start paying. If they pay, we want to convince them that paying more or asking their friends to also pay is a good idea.

Copywriters do not charge by the word.

Their formula includes what a solution is worth to you, what you have to invest, and how much work is required to deliver said solution.

Yes, 450 carefully chosen words may cost you thousands of dollars when a copywriter writes them. In return, those 450 words are going to fetch you buckets of money.

7. Ain’t nobody got time for scope creep.

Before we work together, we’re going to agree on what’s to be done and at what price.

You do not get to add a “short free trial signup page” or a couple of “short onboarding emails” without revisiting timelines and budgets.

Why?

Try reversing the situation.

You pay me to write copy for your…

  • Homepage
  • Product tour page
  • 3 free trial signup onboarding emails

I take your money and get started.

Then I say…

So, the homepage is done, the product tour page is done, but I don’t think you need those onboarding emails anymore. The ones you have now are good enough.

Wouldn’t you expect me to discuss this idea with you and then reduce the price if we cut the emails?

Of course.

And so it is with you adding more work to my pile.

More work? More money and time.

8. Never will I ever write copy on commission.

I’ve had this come up a few times and I can see why this might make sense for a client.

Client:

“Ok, big shot. You call yourself a salesman? Then put your money where your mouth is and write copy on commission. If you sell a lot, you make a lot. If your copy falls flat, you don’t. Deal?”

No deal.

Why?

Because you might ‘tweak’ my copy in ways I’d never condone. Your design team might make pretty websites that don’t convert. Your sales team, if your product/service requires one, might scare away would-be customers. Your customer service might suck. There are far too many things that I do not control.

Plus, as a consultant, it feels like it would be a logistical nightmare on my end to make sure that every client is properly attributing sales to me and paying accordingly.

9. No, I can’t edit your copy to add some punch.

This is another attempt to save money.

You’ve already written pages upon pages of marketing drivel — stuff that doesn’t sound like copy at all. It sounds like you talking about a product that you think about all day every day. The passion is there but the punch isn’t.

Your copy is filled with innovatives, world leadings, and bests — the stuff that flies off the fingertips of people who skip customer research and are too close to the product they’re writing copy for.

So, all you need is a copywriter to come in, make some edits, juggle things around, and add a little pizzazz.

Right?

Wrong.

First, I need to assume that you’ve done your research, done it properly, and managed to put your biases aside to pull out the most important sales insights. That is one hell of an assumption.

Then, to keep this project within scope (i.e. editing and not writing), I need to love your writing so much that I’m willing to put my name next to it. Because I’m not comfortable giving you a better version of what you wrote. I want it to read like something I’ve written.

10. Writing copy isn’t something you can do.

You probably aren’t a copywriter.

Please, for the love of all that is holy and profitable, do not make the mistake of thinking you are a copywriter because you wrote v1.0 of your website and a welcome email.

And don’t fool yourself into thinking that writing copy is something you could do if you didn’t have to run your business, schedule tweets, or draft your next blog post.

I’m here to do more than save you time. You’re paying me thousands of dollars because I have a skill that allows me to turn your website visitors and email subscribers into revenue.

I spend all day writing words that sell SaaS products. When I’m not writing, I’m studying the greats. Unless you also do this, I bring more to the table than saved time.

11. I do expect you to be responsive and involved.

I don’t need you to tell me how to write.

However, I do expect you to answer my emails and Slack pings in a timely manner to keep us on pace.

That doesn’t mean answering emails at 11PM on a Saturday (I won’t do this for you). But during the business day, be responsive.

And I do want you to teach me about your product. I do want you to tell me what you’ve done in the past, what’s worked, and what hasn’t worked. I want to see the research you’ve done and the sales notes you’ve collected. And I’d love to talk about your niche and competitors.

But please, let me be your conversion copywriter — not an extremely expensive typist.

12. Show up to meetings because you’re paying for them anyway.

This doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a client will schedule a meeting and then put it off because something “came up.”

I take that as:

I scheduled a meeting with you, but then something came up that is more important than the chunk of time you blocked off and won’t get back.

Now, I’m not unreasonable. Things do come up. But if it becomes a habit, or if you’re trading our commitment for another work commitment, the one-hour meeting will still cost you, even if it doesn’t happen.

And believe it or not, I dislike making money for nothing. I’m sure that you, the client, don’t enjoy paying me for a meeting that doesn’t happen. I prefer clients give me money with a smile on their face.

Treat us like the professional you hired

This is really what it comes down to. I’m always amazed when clients fork over so much money and then do everything in their power to extract as little value as possible from their freelance copywriter. Hire a copywriter you are confident in and then let us follow our proven process. We know when and in what capacity to get you involved.

Let us be copywriters.

Clients, what do you wish copywriters understood about working with you?

Fellow copywriters and freelancers, what would you add to this list?

  • Joel Zachariah

    You know I’m starting a similar journey today, and this blog post has truly been inspirational :).

    • Hey, Joel — happy to hear you found this post inspirational.

      Inspiration is a good start, but success as a freelancer requires much more. It’s a lot of work. It can be a rollercoaster. But, if you’re really good at what you do, treat your business like a business, and take control of projects — you’ve got a fighting chance.

      Best of luck on your journey.

  • I’m not so sure clients are that useless at identifying customer sore points. They’ve often been dealing with customers every single work day for years. What’s important is that these insights come from careful observation of customers, rather than the client just trying to put it all together in their head. That’s a thing to deal with before writing anything – something’s gone wrong if it’s being dealt with as a revision.

    • Absolutely, clients are good at identifying pain points, otherwise they wouldn’t have a business.

      It’s why I love getting my hands on things like sales notes when possible. No one knows pain points and objections like the sales team.

      Where clients tend to suffer is communicating their understanding of the pain points in a way that doesn’t alienate their customer. And more importantly, they struggle to communicate the solution in a way that focuses on the benefits. When they are so close to their product, it’s natural to think features and believe the benefits are obvious.

      Hope that clarifies things.

  • Pingback: How to Market Yourself as a New Freelancer, But Also Get a Decent First Gig | Lauren Patton, Freelance Copywriter()

  • I’m relatively new to freelancing. Recently I worked with a client that kept insisting on meetings, then would show up to them late every time. Once it was time to pay, he would tell me it was in the mail, his assistant forgot to mail it, is wife took the check by mistake…Eventually he insisted on meeting at his sketchy rental house and didn’t show up. After three weeks of telling him to just pay me electronically, he finally sent my payment through Facebook messenger. He fancies himself some sort of business guru, and I have to laugh at the cheap advice he’s constantly doling out on Facebook.

    I wish people understood that freelancers really do need to be paid in a timely manner.

    • Hey Ashlee, thanks for sharing your experience.

      The easiest way to combat this is to require a 50% deposit before you start doing any work. And make sure the deposit comes via your desired payment method (I suggest e-transfer/credit card via Stripe). This way you know your client is more than capable to pay via your preferred method and on time.

      For smaller project fees that aren’t worth the hassle of making two payments, I would require 100% of the money up front.

      Any client that isn’t willing to make a 50% deposit throws up a red flag. It’s standard practice.

      On top of this, getting the important parts signed off on in the form of a contract gives you an extra layer of protection.

      • Thanks for the reply! I will be asking for half or all up front from now on. And I won’t be taking any more jobs from him!

  • Reading your stuff Josh. Love this post! I am new to the copywriting game though I have been producing content for a long time. Some really good points here

    • Hey, thanks for popping by. It’s good to hear you’ve enjoyed this post — I should write waaaay more than I do, I know. Stay tuned… :)

  • Oh Josh-this post is just great! Thank-you so much for this rant and the clarity you’ve given to a hot topic….just new to you and your “words” “work” but promise to be back…

  • netc23

    Hahaha just tonight I was re-composing my LinkedIn summary, in my mind, to say something similar. Love this.