Being a great copywriter is about being able to write large amounts of high quality content quickly. It means being adaptable in terms of tone and style and it means being able to learn and grasp new subjects quickly.
At the same time though, it also means communicating with clients and knowing how to keep them happy. This is where many writers will often fall down as they let ‘creative differences’ get in the way. When you provide any service, you sometimes need to swallow your ego. This is not the time of place to be a diva.
In fact, sometimes, being a copywriter means selling just a little bit of your soul…
Remember: the client is always right. If you’ve been hired to do a job, you need to execute it in a way that they will be happy with and that will get them the results they want (though these two are not always the same thing as we’ll see!). This sometimes means sacrificing your ‘integrity’ or your creativity in order to do what the client instructs. And that’s normal. This can be frustrating at times – but hey, we’re all in it together.
To help demonstrate what we mean and to help prepare you for some particularly… interesting… types of client you might encounter, we’ve listed here some of the most common stereotypes you’ll likely encounter and how best you should deal with each. Good luck out there!
The Client With Overly Specific Instructions
When you get hired for any given writing job, you will normally be given a set of guidelines or instructions on what to do. This is kind of important, seeing as you need to know what you’re writing about. Sometimes though, these instructions will be specific to the point of taking over for you. You will encounter writers who literally write the whole thing for you and then say ‘kind of like that’.
I have encountered clients who will ask for 500 words on a subject and give me a 700 word description. This begs the question: why bother hiring a writer? Likewise, they might refer you to ‘examples’ of the content they want you to reproduce – which won’t always necessarily be good.
This can be a little painful for you, as it means you’re essentially just proof-reading. Make sure you stick exactly to their guidelines though, as they are clearly of the somewhat anal personality type and will ask for revisions if you omit anything they want you to include.
The Client With Overly Vague Instructions
At the other end of the spectrum is the client with overly vague instructions. For instance, you might get the following instructions:
“Write a welcome page for my business and an about page detailing our history working in design engineering and why our services are better than the competition.”
Things these instructions miss out:
- Word count
- Anything about the nature of the business
- Anything about the specific services the company provides
- Why they are ‘better than the competition’
In some cases you’ll get these vague instructions because the client doesn’t care. It may well be that they don’t even run a design engineering business but they are instead creating a site they hope to sell to another company in the future. Either that, or they’ve just started their new company and don’t have any ‘real’ history just yet. They may know very little about digital marketing, writing or design engineering and thus be happy for you to use your expertise and intuition as a writer.
This is fine, as you can then write vague content:
“[COMPANY NAME] has been in the design engineering industry for many years and in that time has established itself as a leading brand with a sterling reputation.”
This type of content is general enough to apply to any business, while still sounding professional.
But before you go ahead and write content like that, it is generally easier to ask questions first. Ask them if they have any preference regarding word count, or if they have a previous ‘About Page’ you can refer to. Some clients just expect you to be mind-readers and if you send back something generic that isn’t the length they were expecting they’ll be unhappy. By asking these questions then, you can cover yourself against their potential dissatisfaction and avoid having to make any rewrites. There’s a good chance they’ll say ‘at your discretion’ in which case you can go ahead with the vagueness (oh the pride in writing 1,000 words and saying nothing…).
The Stingy Client
Description: “Write me an introduction to the subject of quantum physics. Mention all of the key figures in its history and discuss the potential philosophical implications.”
Word Count: “100 words”
100 words! The client here is clearly hoping you’re going to ‘accidentally’ go over the word count and write them 200 words or 300 words. Either that, or they’re just completely ignorant to how much can be said in 100 words.
Give this client a little more than they ask for. It won’t kill you to write an extra 30 words so that you can include just some of what they’ve asked for. At the same time though, don’t be overly generous or you might find they come to expect it and they keep ordering.
Another type of stingy client is the one who doesn’t pay – or who takes months on end to pay. I once had a client owe me several thousand dollars for over four months. That was a painful time…
The best defense against these sorts of clients is to ask for an up-front payment, though you’ll find that this can sometimes be off-putting for potential clients.
A better option is to ask for up-front payments of very large orders only – this isn’t unreasonable and your clients should understand the reasoning. For small orders by new clients, take payment in arears but if you find they develop a habit of paying late, tell them you’ll need to take payment in advance from then on.
Or better yet, work for a writing agency like TextBoss. That way all the financial side of things is taken care of for you!
Some clients will very clearly speak English as a second language when they hire you. This is actually commendable; at least they haven’t tried to write their own content! At the same time though, it can create some potential problems.
For instance, it creates problems when the instructions they give you sound like this:
“We run brand new 50 year company providing SEO design in automobile industry and great outstanding beneficial feature – extra salience. Our specialty is to WordPress design. Not just WordPress, also the network maintain, update, writing etc. First free website for all automobile industry! Can also set up free wheels, windshield, windpipe. Special offer only lasting 7 days.
Plus, when you ask them to elaborate, you’ll get an equally difficult-to-decipher message the second time. It’s not their fault of course but it does make things difficult. Your only recourse really here is to try your very best after getting as much information as you can. If you can ask them to give you an example though, then this is always a good strategy.
Oh and the one time this is annoying is when they then ‘correct’ your work for you. Yep, this happens more often than you think. I once had a foreign client ‘correct’ everything that was underlined red in Word – they didn’t realize that it was underlined red because they were brand names or it was jargon/terminology that Word didn’t recognize.
Again, the client is always right. The best thing to do is just to smile, nod and make any changes they request.
The SEO ‘Expert’
Some business owners will want SEO articles written to gain traction in the SERPs. This is understandable and fine. The problems though come when those clients have very particular ideas regarding how this should be done and think of themselves as SEO experts despite having read only a few articles on the subject.
These clients will insist that you use keywords every other word, that you force awkward phrases like ‘buys dogs Los Angeles’ into your content and that you use their company name often too.
You are probably well aware that SEO has moved on a lot since those days. But unfortunately, your job is not to advise on your clients’ marketing approach. Your job is to write the content they’ve asked for. So as much as it pains you, do as you’re asked and whine about it to your significant other.
Note: If you’re starting not to like the sounds of having to write content you wouldn’t normally, it can often help to have your own outlet. Create a blog or start writing a novel and there you can let your creative urges loose!
The Impossible to Please Client
Some clients will be impossible to please. These clients will nit-pick your phrasing (‘this sentence is overly long!’) or will expert you to bring expert-level knowledge to subjects that you can’t be expected to learn in-depth. It’s not uncommon to receive your work back but with annotations written in word. Kind of drives you mad.
If you don’t have a thick skin, this can actually get you down and lead to you questioning the quality of your work or whether you’re in the right industry. Alternatively, you might just find yourself constantly working overly hard to try and perfect content that is always going to get thrown back into your face.
To start with, it is ultimately worth your time to make the changes requested. If they end up as a long-term client then a little extra time making ‘corrections’ is worthwhile.
On the other hand though, if you find you are stressed out because of these clients or you are starting to deliver work for your other clients late, then it’s not worth it. At a certain point a client can become more trouble than they’re worth. Don’t be rude but don’t be afraid to tell a client you’re having to streamline your service. You can even refer them to a competitor…
The Excellent Client
Of course it’s not all bad. In fact, the majority of clients you work with will be great to deal with and will give you clear instructions and pay promptly. These are the types of clients you want to hang onto and when you find them, you should make sure that you always prioritize their work. If you can find a few clients that pay promptly, order large amounts of writing and make the process easy and straightforward then you’ll find they can actually form the backbone of your entire business.