Potential Client's red flags ...

by Raydal
19 replies
You don't have to be offering copywriting services
for very long before you realize that the great
clients are few and far between. That's why when
you get a client who "gets it" you should treat
him with respect and care.

There are many red flags I look out for when someone
approaches me to write copy for their business and
I'll share a few here to which you may want to
add your own.

1. The "I have a lot more work in the future" flag.

If I got a dime for the number of times I heard
this one I would be able to bail out the Grecian
economy! 99% of the time when you get this
line the client is trying to low-ball you.

Isn't it obvious if I make you a lot of money
you'll come back to me for more? So why
state the obvious, other than to reduce my
fees?

2. The "Can you write me a sample page of copy" flag.

Now I know that this one is hotly debated among
copywriters--called writing on spec--but I don't
like the idea of writing with the hopes that I would
get paid. Whenever I write I want to get paid.

3. The "I was not satisfied with another copywriter" flag.

This may seem very flattering at first, but this is usually
a sign that the client is very hard to work with. If he
couldn't get along with his other copywriter he may just
have the same unrealistic expectations about you as well.

I once was invited to meet with a client who had just
prepared an infomercial for the Golf Channel. He had
paid $250,000 for that venture and wanted me to
write the copy for a website. I had a lunch meeting
with him during which he complained about the other
copywriters he had worked with but was not satisfied
with what he got and wanted me to write a "sample letter"
just to be sure he would like it.

He had read my portfolio and was very impressed but
just wanted to make sure. Well, as far as I was
concerned if my portfolio couldn't convince him,
nothing else I wrote would do the trick. I declined
the job and he paid me for the consultation.

4. The "You are the greatest copywriter in the world" flag.

Of course this is pure flattery that is often followed with a
sad story about lack of money and having a great product
that just needs a copywriter to "team up with" and you
can get a share of the profits from the "sure hit" product.

You should be able to distinguish flattery from genuine admiration
but don't trust yourself too much. We copywriters tend to wear
our egos on our sleeves and love them to be caressed.

If I'm the "greatest copywriter" then the best way to respect
this is to pay the greatest fees.

5. The "I usually write my own copy but don't have the time" flag.

This is usually combined with information about the copywriting
courses they have taken and books they have read and the
great result they get from their own copy. This information
is simply intimidation to get you to lower your fees. You feel
guilty charging your usual fees to someone who "can do the
same thing as you".

Don't fall for it. For sure there a many marketers who can
write their own copy but prefer to outsource this work but
they should also be the first to know that a copywriter
deserves his/her just fees.

You may want to add to the list and share your own "red flags"
to avoiding potentially difficult clients.

-Ray Edwards
#client #flags #potential #red
  • Profile picture of the author angiecolee
    I had one this weekend that met one of your flags and one of mine.

    When we first discussed his project, he informed me that he is a start-up in bootstrap mode. I told him that's fine; I've had many clients in the same position. I offer a variety of packages to suit different budgets, and we can look over the work that needs to be done and see if we can work together. Flag number one - talking about limited budget up front.

    He liked that explanation and told me he'd have a description of the project done up by Friday so that I could write a proposal. This description (and the 10 pages of accompanying text) came last night (Sunday) around 10 pm with a request to have the proposal to him in less than 24 hours. Also, he casually threw in "I'm also talking to another copywriter, just to be up front with you".

    What?!

    You have no respect for MY time, but expect me to have respect for yours?

    I sent him a letter telling him I'm glad he took the time to get me the project description. Had I received it Friday, I probably would have had a chance to draft a proposal by tonight. But considering I have other projects already scheduled for today, I can't push him to the front of the line for a proposal.

    I think I just dodged a major bullet.
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    • Profile picture of the author Raydal
      Originally Posted by angiecolee View Post

      Also, he casually threw in "I'm also talking to another copywriter, just to be up front with you".

      What?!
      That's one of the worst lines you can give me. If someone is
      considering other copywriters I don't want to know. How
      does that help me? Again this is simply intimidation--lower
      your fees otherwise you may lose the competition.

      -Ray Edwards
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    • Profile picture of the author Mark Andrews
      Banned
      Originally Posted by angiecolee View Post

      Also, he casually threw in "I'm also talking to another copywriter, just to be up front with you".
      Similarly, I had one just a couple of days ago Angie say to me, "I'm currently getting in touch with lots of other copywriters."

      Instant red flag. Translation... "I'm looking for the cheapest deal."

      Told him straight up, I'm not interested.

      They're a dime a dozen all these timewasters. No point giving them more than a minute or so of your time. Pass 'em by and let them find whatever they're looking for from other newbies who don't yet know the full score about these warning signals and/or red flags they throw up.

      Intuition is often your best friend. Get any inkling of trouble, cliche comments thrown in without thinking about what they're saying to you and instantly I turn them away. Not worth bothering with in the slightest.

      Sooner or later newbies learn this the hard way. (Not that I'm saying you're a newbie Angie).

      Kindest regards,


      Mark Andrews
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  • Profile picture of the author Steve Hill
    These issues come up a lot in software and web development projects too.

    One red flag is when they say they need to run things by all their partners for approval first. Final approval by committee or by a number of separate reviews can be difficult, since everybody has a different opinion.

    Another is when they put someone other than the decision-maker in charge of everything except final approval, which often means working through at least two consecutive series of reworks and approvals.

    It's always good to know who has authority for final approval and making sure they are involved every step of the way.

    It is understandable why some highly-paid copywriters insist the copy not be changed at all after completion (since cousin Eddie's "improvements" in the copy room infrequently, if ever, actually improve the copy).
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  • Profile picture of the author Czorny
    About samples.

    I used to work both as a copywriter and a client, and what I should say: when I was asked to write a short sample, that was paid. Well-paid. I wasn't much of a newbie, I had a good reputation, and my potential client knew that. And no, that was not in English.

    But now I'm targeting great beginner copywriters, and I just cannot afford a risk of paying for each of those 30-50 samples for each project.
    Why should I? 98% of those "texts" are worth a springtime pile'o'doggy poop.

    They have to pass "sample tests", and they have to do it for free.
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    • Profile picture of the author angiecolee
      Originally Posted by Czorny View Post

      About samples.

      I used to work both as a copywriter and a client, and what I should say: when I was asked to write a short sample, that was paid. Well-paid. I wasn't much of a newbie, I had a good reputation, and my potential client knew that. And no, that was not in English.

      But now I'm targeting great beginner copywriters, and I just cannot afford a risk of paying for each of those 30-50 samples for each project.
      Why should I? 98% of those "texts" are worth a springtime pile'o'doggy poop.

      They have to pass "sample tests", and they have to do it for free.
      I'm gonna call you on your bull**** here.

      If you're engaging newbie copywriters, you can ask for other writing samples to test whether their writing style suits what you're going for. As someone who's done sample work for pay, I think it's ridiculous that you should assume others would have to do the work for free.

      If you're targeting newbies, your flaw is in deliberately going after new people so that you can save money. Anyone that goes into copywriting (with few exceptions) has likely been writing for years, whether paid or not. When I started, I had samples of old school work, articles, things written for personal use or for friends, etc. Anyone that asked me for a sample written specifically for them paid for that time.

      You wouldn't call a carpenter and have him make you a chair just to see if you like his style. You wouldn't call an artist and have her do a portrait of you just to see if you like her work. Why do people think this is OK with writers whose entire goal is to pad your business's bottom line?
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  • Profile picture of the author avalanche
    Originally Posted by Raydal View Post

    5. The "I usually write my own copy but don't have the time" flag.

    This is usually combined with information about the copywriting
    courses they have taken and books they have read and the
    great result they get from their own copy. This information
    is simply intimidation to get you to lower your fees. You feel
    guilty charging your usual fees to someone who "can do the
    same thing as you".
    Great list Ray - good reminders to ensure I don't fall back into any easy but nasty habits with selling services.

    Fortunately we can also turn around some of these negs - for example #5 on the list. That's usually when I'll say, "great then you understand why _______" (and throw in some shop talk about a more technical aspect of why I like to do integrated packages of a landing page + whitepaper + testing elements, etc.) - saying it matter-of-factly and then moving on w/o blinking an eye. I'll close out what I'm saying to give them an easy opportunity to agree with what I'm saying, knowing they painted themselves into a bit of a corner with their claimed expertise. If they take the bait then I've reestablished my expert position w/o anyone having a bruised ego. If they don't - cut bait and move on.


    Originally Posted by Steve Hill View Post

    One red flag is when they say they need to run things by all their partners for approval first. Final approval by committee or by a number of separate reviews can be difficult, since everybody has a different opinion.

    Another is when they put someone other than the decision-maker in charge of everything except final approval, which often means working through at least two consecutive series of reworks and approvals.

    It's always good to know who has authority for final approval and making sure they are involved every step of the way.
    Absolutely - if I as a copywriter find myself in this position routinely, it points to my own process issue rather than the client's fault.... me not doing due diligence with the prequalification phase. Nowadays I flat-out ask if they are the decision maker. If not I don't do the call until that decision-maker agrees to attend as well. Wasted so much time on this my first year it makes me cringe to think about it.
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  • Profile picture of the author ASCW
    If a client brings up X in order to try and lower your fees.

    You're probably better off moving on without them.
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    • Profile picture of the author jimsyyap
      Working through odesk, I get A LOT of clients asking for discounts. Just to get something going, I take on their assignments.

      From experience, those clients that asked for discounts are the more difficult clients to work with.
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      • Profile picture of the author Raydal
        Originally Posted by jimsyyap View Post

        Working through odesk, I get A LOT of clients asking for discounts. Just to get something going, I take on their assignments.

        From experience, those clients that asked for discounts are the more difficult clients to work with.
        Well, a rule of thumb you'll find in this business is that the lower
        your fees you charge the more demanding the clients would be.

        These clients expect to get something for nothing. Even in the
        main forum you see people complaining about quality of articles
        they received from writers and how much they paid for those
        articles? You guessed it.

        I seldom see a complain that they paid $150 for an article
        and was not satisfied with the quality.

        Plus places like oDesk gives the buyer the advantage because
        he can always "threaten" you with those who are willing to
        charge less.

        -Ray Edwards
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  • Profile picture of the author davemiz
    i think you gotta put the shoe on the other foot...

    you're getting paid to write sales copy... but you're really being paid for performance. What if you write, get paid a nice hefty sum, but your copy doesn't perform?

    are you going to reimburse the client?

    Client takes most of the risk here. they have to pay you, pay for the traffic, and hope it converts... if it doesn't, the client is out the money for the writer, the money for the traffic, plus the time/expense it took to setup everything.

    clients are worried about shelling out 5-10k+ for a letter that they believe may or may not work.

    To the writer, its just another job assignment.

    Thats a LOT of cash for most people... they could put a downpayment on a piece of property for that kinda cash (in some cases)

    just a little something to think about from the other side :-)
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    • Profile picture of the author angiecolee
      Originally Posted by davemiz View Post

      i think you gotta put the shoe on the other foot...

      you're getting paid to write sales copy... but you're really being paid for performance. What if you write, get paid a nice hefty sum, but your copy doesn't perform?

      are you going to reimburse the client?

      Client takes most of the risk here. they have to pay you, pay for the traffic, and hope it converts... if it doesn't, the client is out the money for the writer, the money for the traffic, plus the time/expense it took to setup everything.

      clients are worried about shelling out 5-10k+ for a letter that they believe may or may not work.

      To the writer, its just another job assignment.

      Thats a LOT of cash for most people... they could put a downpayment on a piece of property for that kinda cash (in some cases)

      just a little something to think about from the other side :-)

      To address a few points:

      1) No, it's not just another "job assignment" to me. That phrasing implies someone higher up selected this job, which I don't particularly care for, and handed it to me. That is not the case. I actively solicit and build relationships with my clients. This is no fly-by-night operation where I take your $10K and run and deliver some half-assed piece of garbage. My reputation is on the line as much as yours, and frankly if you're that worried about whether my copy will perform, you shouldn't be doing business with me in the first place.

      2) Writing seems to be one of the few professions where everyone thinks it's OK to low-ball or screw over the writer for a litany of reasons, including "it didn't perform" or "I just wanted a sample". As in the above situation where I mentioned carpenters and artists - you just wouldn't do those things to other professionals. Why is this acceptable behavior toward writers?

      My time and income are assets just as valuable to me as they are to you. My expertise, my brain power, my ability to sift through facts, digest a variety of opinions, and frame something in a way that exudes "BUY NOW" - those are skills that have taken time, money, and raw talent to develop. So I'm happy to rewrite something that doesn't perform, as per the terms of our agreement. But refund? I can't get that time back, and neither can you. If I were a restaurant manager, I couldn't hire a bartender and then refuse to pay them if they didn't sell as many drinks as I wanted them to. Or worse, insist they reimburse me for training them.

      3) No, I'm not getting paid for performance. I'm getting paid for expertise and experience, and therein lies the difference. As mentioned several times throughout my response - this takes time, effort, and skill. You're not paying me for IF I deliver copy, you're paying me to deliver a tangible good that you use in conjunction with other marketing efforts to promote yourself. Are you going to reimburse me if you suck at marketing and can't drive traffic to copy I've written for you? That hardly makes poor conversion MY problem.

      4) You need to stop looking at this as us (internet marketers and entrepreneurs) vs. them (copywriters and marketing/advertising professionals). This is a business partnership. None of my colleagues (copywriters - the PRO ones, at least) or I have any intention of delivering crappy work that reflects poorly on us. We want to have bragging rights to killer conversions just as much as you want that extra money burning a hole in your pocket. You shouldn't be hiring anyone whose capability to "perform" you doubt.

      My writing and ability to reach people are valuable skills that I deserve to be paid for, as does every single other decent copywriter out there. Thus ends my tirade on this subject.
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    • Profile picture of the author Daniel Scott
      Originally Posted by davemiz View Post

      i think you gotta put the shoe on the other foot...

      you're getting paid to write sales copy... but you're really being paid for performance. What if you write, get paid a nice hefty sum, but your copy doesn't perform?

      are you going to reimburse the client?

      Client takes most of the risk here. they have to pay you, pay for the traffic, and hope it converts... if it doesn't, the client is out the money for the writer, the money for the traffic, plus the time/expense it took to setup everything.

      clients are worried about shelling out 5-10k+ for a letter that they believe may or may not work.

      To the writer, its just another job assignment.

      Thats a LOT of cash for most people... they could put a downpayment on a piece of property for that kinda cash (in some cases)

      just a little something to think about from the other side :-)
      And if it does well, you make a LOT of money.

      If you want your service provider to take that kind of risk, you should be willing to pay them a lot more.

      (Not using "you" in a PERSONAL sense.)

      If I could guarantee every letter I wrote worked, I'd be charging way, way more than what I do.

      Clayton himself only "hit it out of the park" 20% of the time.

      On top of that, a lot of product owners have this wonderful habit of never paying royalties owed.

      So although I do work on royalties (aka paid for performance), there are several ground rules I always lay down.

      For a start, I always ensure I get a "kill fee" up front. Maybe only $2 - 3k, but enough to ensure the marketer has some "skin" in the game and is serious about what they're doing.

      It also ensures that they actually will pay me at some point, and have to back up their big talk ("Of course I'd pay you! Why wouldn't I?") with action.

      Also Dave, I'm not sure why $5 - 10k is "a lot of money" in your world - when I work with a new client on a whole promotion it generally takes me a month. $60k a year isn't what I'd call good money for someone who's self-employed.

      Maybe for the guys charging a couple of hundred for a sales letter and pooping them out in a few hours, that seems like a lot of money. For those of us running an actual business and want to make a decent amount, we depend on royalties... which means we have to make sure the stuff we work on is performing like crazy.

      Yet when you mention the royalty deal to the guys who don't want to pay big money up front, they act shocked.

      They expect you to spend a month of your life putting together a killer promotion for $10k... and then ONLY pay if it does crazy well. In short, they want to profit from your work over and over again without paying you crap.

      Yeah... no thanks.

      I've worked hard to refine my skills, and good clients can appreciate that I can do something very few others can...

      Make them a lot of money.

      I'm happy to work my ass off if I'm being fairly compensated. But I'm not okay with being taken advantage of.

      -Daniel
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      • I “get” that clients prefer to pay less than we desire.

        Because everyone wants a good deal.

        But when they understand the exceptional value and results we’ll bring –

        The right deal is very possible.

        Do remember…

        The worst clients are the ones with the worst products or services.

        They (usually) have no intention of improving them and every intention of ripping you off.

        When you see this.

        Always walk away.


        Steve
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        • Profile picture of the author CabTenson
          Originally Posted by Steve The Copywriter View Post

          The worst clients are the ones with the worst products or services.
          You're right...

          I didn't realize that until now...

          It explains so many things...
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  • Profile picture of the author Mark Pescetti
    First of all...

    ...great post!

    Secondly...

    ...We've all heard some sort of variation of these archetypes.

    And as long as you know your worth, your responses should always be the same.

    Likewise...

    It's important to remember for every 10 clients who want to play games...

    ...There are 50 more who are your ideal client, pay you what you want (and what you're worth) and realize the value of giving as much as they can to co-create a successful marketing campaign.

    That being said...

    Allow me to give my typical responses to your red-flag-clients! (below)

    Originally Posted by Raydal View Post

    You don't have to be offering copywriting services
    for very long before you realize that the great
    clients are few and far between. That's why when
    you get a client who "gets it" you should treat
    him with respect and care.

    There are many red flags I look out for when someone
    approaches me to write copy for their business and
    I'll share a few here to which you may want to
    add your own.

    1. The "I have a lot more work in the future" flag.

    If I got a dime for the number of times I heard
    this one I would be able to bail out the Grecian
    economy! 99% of the time when you get this
    line the client is trying to low-ball you.

    Isn't it obvious if I make you a lot of money
    you'll come back to me for more? So why
    state the obvious, other than to reduce my
    fees?

    "Great! We'll cross that bridge when and if we get there! But let's focus on the task at hand..."

    2. The "Can you write me a sample page of copy" flag.

    Now I know that this one is hotly debated among
    copywriters--called writing on spec--but I don't
    like the idea of writing with the hopes that I would
    get paid. Whenever I write I want to get paid.

    "Nope. The copy I write for you comes after an extensive process of interviewing you, researching, honing in upon your brand and finding the right tone to resonate your offer with your audience. That's what you pay me for. And I can't give you an example of what that'll look like... until we go through the actual process."

    3. The "I was not satisfied with another copywriter" flag.

    This may seem very flattering at first, but this is usually
    a sign that the client is very hard to work with. If he
    couldn't get along with his other copywriter he may just
    have the same unrealistic expectations about you as well.

    I once was invited to meet with a client who had just
    prepared an infomercial for the Golf Channel. He had
    paid $250,000 for that venture and wanted me to
    write the copy for a website. I had a lunch meeting
    with him during which he complained about the other
    copywriters he had worked with but was not satisfied
    with what he got and wanted me to write a "sample letter"
    just to be sure he would like it.

    He had read my portfolio and was very impressed but
    just wanted to make sure. Well, as far as I was
    concerned if my portfolio couldn't convince him,
    nothing else I wrote would do the trick. I declined
    the job and he paid me for the consultation.

    "Really? You had a bad experience with another copywriter? That sucks. But unfortunately, I'm not interested in hearing any stories. The way I work with my clients is different than most copywriters and I require a lot from my clients. So all I need to know is... are you ready to engage in an intense, fun and illuminating co-creative process? Because if not, this obviously won't work"...

    4. The "You are the greatest copywriter in the world" flag.

    Of course this is pure flattery that is often followed with a
    sad story about lack of money and having a great product
    that just needs a copywriter to "team up with" and you
    can get a share of the profits from the "sure hit" product.

    You should be able to distinguish flattery from genuine admiration
    but don't trust yourself too much. We copywriters tend to wear
    our egos on our sleeves and love them to be caressed.

    If I'm the "greatest copywriter" then the best way to respect
    this is to pay the greatest fees.

    "Thanks! I accept massive tips in the form of hundred dollar bills!"

    5. The "I usually write my own copy but don't have the time" flag.

    This is usually combined with information about the copywriting
    courses they have taken and books they have read and the
    great result they get from their own copy. This information
    is simply intimidation to get you to lower your fees. You feel
    guilty charging your usual fees to someone who "can do the
    same thing as you".

    "Awesome! I'd love to see some of your stuff when we're done with the project!"

    Don't fall for it. For sure there a many marketers who can
    write their own copy but prefer to outsource this work but
    they should also be the first to know that a copywriter
    deserves his/her just fees.

    You may want to add to the list and share your own "red flags"
    to avoiding potentially difficult clients.

    -Ray Edwards
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  • One gentleman wanted to hire me. I asked him about the details of his business (which he was still in the process of creating). He told me that he had no idea which direction he wanted to go with it.

    He pretty much wanted me to write a sales letter for a specific type of business so he could build it and create services based on what I wrote in my sales letter.

    Needless to say, I let that fish off the hook.
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  • Profile picture of the author linaO
    @angie holy sh*t, girl! I couldn't have said it any better
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    • Profile picture of the author angiecolee
      Originally Posted by linaO View Post

      @angie holy sh*t, girl! I couldn't have said it any better
      LOL - that made me laugh like a lunatic in the middle of Starbucks.

      Sometimes I forget how high I tend to build my soapbox. Makes for an entertaining show, at the very least!
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