August 11, 201310 truths a freelance copywriter can tell you

This old post, “10 lies freelance copywriters like to tell you” has been doing the rounds on Twitter again. It’s so inaccurate, it’s deserving of a point-by-point fisk.

1.“Every project is unique and I can’t quote you until I know more.”

Sorry, bud. But it’s true. Every project is unique and every good copywriter will treat it as a unique project — working out who your audience is, investigating your current business and your competitors, establishing a proper tone of voice. This can take days or even weeks.

But most importantly, every project is unique because every client is unique. That’s what a freelancer means when he says every project is unique. He wants to know more about you before he gives you a quote.

How much depth of research will be required? How many drafts? But most importantly this question is sussing out how much of a hardass the client is going to be.

Some clients will be much more particular than others and will take much longer to write for (often a client will know exactly what they want to say and will make you re-draft it until you get it write).

This type of client will take twice as long to please. You’ll know what kind of client you’re dealing with after one or two exploratory emails or a briefing template.

Your first contact with the copywriter, the first couple of emails or calls you exchange, are where you work out how easy you will find it to work together. First impressions count.

The upside? Play your first couple of messages right and you’ll probably end up paying less than you might have paid had you asked for a quote up front.

2. “I need to know your budget before I can quote.”

Again, true. People’s ideas of budget vary enormously from £10 per page to £1000 per day. It’s not always clear what kind of client you’re dealing with. A client willing to pay £1000 will expect a full RFP, proven ROI, a lot of legwork and maybe even a few personal meetings before accepting you’re the right copywriter. That’s covered by his budget. Are you really gonna spend three days chasing a lead that has an hour’s budget to spend?

3. “I’m qualified, because I have a degree in English literature.”

Agreed. A qualification is no substitute for experience. But it’s up to the client to do due diligence — ask for testimonials, see portfolio samples, etc. But being literary and being able to string a sentence together is a good start.

4. “I had to quote high because of the time I’ll need to write this.”

According to, it’s a dirty little secret that the best copywriters can crank out amazing copy in a matter of minutes.

True. But here’s another dirty little secret.

Copywriting is an incredibly frustrating, difficult process sometimes. Sometimes you can hammer out copy first time in a matter of hours and even minutes. Other times you can spend days agonising over a single headline. You can bang your head against a wall repeatedly for days and come up with nothing. That’s the way it goes.

But we’re forced to work with clients who believe the creative process can be likened to a factory line process where so many headlines or hundreds of words of body copy take so many hours. So if you ask us to quote by the hour, we’ll simply use it to arrive at a figure where we won’t end up out of pocket. If you really want an end to this problem, stop treating copywriters like machines cranking out words “by the hour”. Instead, ask for a price per project.

5. “Your email hit my spam folder.”

Yup, we’ve all used this excuse in our work and our personal lives at some point, but it’s pretty rare. Perhaps a personal emergency came up. Perhaps you were feeling sick, had a headache, or were frustrated with another client and needed to take a few hours off. This isn’t about copywriters. It’s about people.

We’re all unreliable occasionally. When it happens consistently, that’s the time to sack the freelancer. But if it only happens once (or once or twice over a number of months), it’s the same as an ordinary office worker taking a day off sick because they don’t feel well.

It happens. Deal with it. If it happens often, you deal with it by sacking the employee, not getting mad at the excuse — which is generally a more socially acceptable way of saying “I’m sorry, but something came up. I am on this now and will do my best to deliver.”

Oh, and by the way — twice last year two emails from clients did end up in my spam folder. Guess what? It happens.

6. “I’m booked, so I can only squeeze you in if you pay a rush fee.”

Any freelance copywriter worth his salt is booked well in advance.

However, he may have absolutely nothing beyond the next month’s work booked in. It’s supply and demand. If you want something in a hurry, chances are your copywriter already has work on his books this week (but may not have any work for the following week or month). Often the money is tempting, especially if we don’t have many projects lined up in the future, so we work longer hours this week. Or work weekends.

Most people who work overtime get paid for it. Your copywriter should be no different.

7. “You get what you pay for.”

If you don’t believe this saying is true, you’re an idiot.

Copywriters, like other service professionals, generally have a very good idea of how much value they add to your business and they aren’t afraid to ask for their fair share. I have seen copy produced by writers at the lower end of the spectrum and copy produced by people at the top of their game and the difference is enormous.

Most copywriters are somewhere in the middle, but generally you do get what you pay for. Bargains don’t hang around for long — because once a copywriter gets a good reputation, he gets more bookings than he can handle and starts to raise his price accordingly.

A cheap copywriter or a copywriter who can start work tomorrow isn’t a great find. It’s the sound of an alarm bell ringing. Think about it — which restauraunt would you pick? The more expensive one that’s overflowing with satisfied customers and a queue out the door, or the cheaper one that’s completely empty, a lean waiter hovering by the door trying to entice people to the tables inside.

You get what you pay for.

8. “All you need to make sales is great copy.”

Agreed. There’s more to sales than great copy. Everything from strategy to design plays a big part too. Copy is only one part of a bigger picture.

But the opposite is also true — sometimes a client comes along belieing that all they need to sell their product is good copy, even when you tell them otherwise. Some of my best copy went onto some of the worst websites I’ve ever seen from a UX and design perspective, and I ended up getting the blame when the sales didn’t roll in… even though I advised the client to spend much more money on a better designer.

It’s a two way street. And it’s made worse by clients who don’t understand that the best work comes from a collaborative approach — designer and copywriter working together. Too often a designer is left to work around copy that’s less than ideal, or a copywriter is told to “fill in the lorem ipsum”. The best copy comes from a collaborative process.

9. “This copy will sell anyone.”

True. There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all copy style that will sell anyone anything. But believe it or not, that’s why a professional’s price may seem high.

Because he’s creating well researched copy that targets the people you want to target — rather than simply cranking out any old words in his own “house style” in the quickest time possible.

If you’re encountering copywriters who are promising “this copy will sell anyone” it’s probably because you’re not looking for — or willing to pay for — a copywriter who takes pride in producing individually researched and targeted copy.

And if you’re looking for the cheapest copywriter possible, the one who doesn’t care if your project is unique (see point 1), you will get cheap shills who tell you their copy “will sell anyone”.

I can’t stress this point enough. Point 1 of Kissmetrics’ article stated that you should walk away when a copywriter says “every project is unique and I can’t quote you until I know more.” Now they’re suggesting you find a copywriter willing to spend time to create copy that’s targeted and unique.

10. “I know what I’m doing, and if you’re smart, you’ll trust me.”

By all means, question. Ask around. But ultimately, trust the professional. If I get a prescription for something I always research it before taking it. But ultimately I trust my doctor, my mechanic, my plumber etc to know more about their subject than me.

Do you question your designer’s every move? Or your developer?

Copywriters only get questioned so much because unlike skills like design that require specialist tools such as photoshop, everyone thinks they can write.

It’s true. Everyone can write. You pay someone to write well.

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