Why being a successful copywriter isn’t (just) about writing good copy

Why being a successful copywriter isn’t (just) about writing good copy

Or, the true secret of copywriting success

I’m going to come right out and admit it.

I’m not the world’s best copywriter.

Shock.

Probably not.

I didn’t learn from the great advertising masters. (Yes, I worked at Ogilvy, but David was long gone by then.)

  • I haven’t done a $10,000 copywriting guru course.
  • I never felt cool enough to apply for Award School. (It’s an Aussie thing.)
  • I’ve never been mentored by some dusty genius word hermit.

I didn’t even study writing at university. My degree was all Socrates, John Donne and Caligula – not commas, copy formulas and studying that VW Beetle ad until the wee small hours of the morning.

But, I’ve made a great living as a copywriter.

I’m not really one to wave my financial willy about, but I easily earned around $60k in my first year, working just ten or so hours a week.

As time went on, I earned more. and within three years I’d easily replaced my fancy six figure ‘Head of Digital’ agency salary.

And yes, that’s revenue. But as a lone copywriter working from my kitchen table on a cranky laptop, my outgoings were practically nil. So all that money is mine all mine.

But in all that time, I’d never heard of swipe files, copy formulas or Bob Bly.

So, how did I do it? Well, I believe it all happened because of an important lesson I learned early on.

Are you ready for this?

It doesn’t matter how great your copy is. If the client isn’t happy, you’ve failed.

“What?” I hear you shriek. “Is that it? Is that the ‘big secret’?”

Well, yes, it is. And I realise it might sound like I’m stating the bleeding obvious, but please bear with me.

I’m not saying that learning the copywriting ropes is a bad thing. After all, I set up The Clever Copywriting School to help newbie copywriters.

And I‘m not saying my ignorance of the rules and tricks of copywriting was a good thing. It’s definitely worth taking the time to study, learn, take copywriting courses and read copywriting books.

But it will only get you so far.

I’ve seen far better copywriters than me fall by the wayside simply because they didn’t know how to keep their clients happy.

Even if you’re the most talented copywriter in the world, if you can’t charm a client into working with you then you won’t make a cent.

We need to realise that running a successful copywriting business is about more than writing good copy.

It’s about selling, loyalty, reassurance, thoughtfulness, word-of-mouth and building relationships.

So – how can the average copy beast turn itself into a client-pleasing machine?

That’s why I’m writing this post – to share my six top happy client rules.

Respond quickly

By the time your client gets off their butt to find a copywriter, their need is urgent – not necessarily ‘real world’ urgent, but urgent to them.

They want copy, and they want it now.

That means responding to their email immediately – a few days later won’t cut it. And saying, “I’m busy right now with other client work. Can I get back to you in a few days?” makes them feel like they’re at the bottom of a long list.

You need to respond, and you need to respond quickly.

Solution:

Have a stock email ready to go that includes:

  • A friendly intro
  • A rough ballpark figure (if you have enough details to give one*)
  • Details of when you’re available
  • A link to your samples or portfolio
  • A link to your ‘who you work with’ page or similar
  • A copy of your briefing template
  • A promise to call – at a set time – to discuss the job

And keep it handy (on your desktop, perhaps) so you can quickly send a copy to the client.

(I have a pack of emails for every step of the copywriting process, which is available from the Clever Copywriting School Shop).

I firmly believe the reason I won so many projects wasn’t necessarily because I was the perfect fit, but rather because I was the first to respond.

* Not sure about pricing and ballpark figures? I have an affordable pricing course that will help.

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Get on the phone

So many copywriters fear the telephone – as if it’s some nightmarish devil beast.

But the phone is where most jobs are won (and potentially lost).

It’s incredibly hard to win a client with email alone.

Working with a copywriter can be scary. Clients want to know you’re a normal human being, and want to hear your voice for reassurance.

That’s why you need to communicate with clients the way they want to communicate. You might hate the phone, but if the client loves it, then you need to get over it.

Solution:

  • Display your phone number on your website. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you have to answer your phone 24/7, but it will allow those who prefer phone calls over emails to get in touch with you.
  • Add a field to your Contact page asking the client how to get in touch with them ­­–phone or email
  • Draft a phone script for the first call (or grab my phone script by signing up to the Clever Copywriting School newsletter).
  • Practise that first phone call with friends and family to build up your confidence.

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Offer reassurance

Keep in mind that working with a copywriter will be an unusual experience for most people: they don’t know how it works or what’s expected of them, and yet they’re trusting you with their brand, their business, and their money.

They want you to be the expert. They want you to take the lead, and make them feel good about their purchase decision.

Solution:

  • Have clear processes, and start explaining them to the client from the very first email or call.
  • Set milestones and dates so that the client knows what they need to do and when.
  • Don’t be afraid of setting boundaries – when and how you’ll discuss the project, what is and isn’t acceptable, and so on. Don’t start grumbling about the client not respecting your time if you haven’t taken the time to explain how you work.

 

Find common ground

One of the quickest ways to win a job is to make the client like you.
I realise it sound a little contrived and manipulative, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s about being human, and thinking of the client as a person with worries and fears, highs and lows.

While you’ll click with some clients straight away, others may take a little warming up.

The warmer the client, the easier the project will be.

Solution:

When calling or emailing the client, take a few minutes to ask how their week has been, or tell them about yours. Keep it short, sweet and positive – no long whingey stuff.

Here’s an example:

Hi Bob,

Did you have a good weekend? My son and I went to Luna Park and I had a near-death experience on the roller coaster.

Client responds

You respond

Anyhoo, back to business – here’s the first draft of your copy…

These tiny nuggets of personal info will help you build a relationship with your client –just like they would with a friend.

Make notes about the client so you can remember them next time you chat ­– the name of their dog, their favourite TV show, the fact they have a morbid fear of hedgehogs.

It all helps built rapport.

Of course, you need to have boundaries. You don’t want to be ‘friending’ all of your clients from day dot. But you can be friendly without actually inviting them over for pizza and a movie.

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Learn when to push back

Part of being a good copywriter is knowing when to push back and when to let go.

Your client doesn’t like the perfect honed Home page copy you spent hours crafting? Tough titties!

Yes, you can whinge and moan for a bit (privately). But then you need to suck it up and look for a solution.
That means working with your client to find out why they don’t like it.

It may also mean you have to swallow your pride and remember this important truth:

When you’re a copywriter, you’re writing words for money, not for your own personal pleasure.

Solution

If the client is vague with their feedback, get to the heart of the issue by asking:

  • “Did I get any factual information wrong?”
  • “Are there any particular words you don’t like?”
  • “Can we read through it line by line, and see if there are any sentences that don’t work?”

Listen carefully to the client, record the conversation if you can (but let them know first), and see if you can use any of their natural language in your copy.

Of course, sometimes the client wants to make changes that are terrible. In these instances, push back – politely. Explain why you wrote the copy the way you did, and why their changes aren’t a good idea.

But do not get emotional, and do not take it personally. Push back once, and then let it go.

Because arguing with your clients is no way to build a successful copywriting business.

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Communicate

One of the worst things about working with a copywriter is radio silence.

How do I know? Because I’ve been on the other side.

As a client, you hope the copywriter is working on your copy. But you don’t actually know. And the amends that were due yesterday haven’t arrived. Should you call?

Lack of communication will make some clients angry, others anxious, and a few will even cheat on you with another copywriter.

Solution:

Ask if they’d like to be kept up to date, and the best way to do it.

Consider sending them a quick email at the start of the day saying something like:

‘Hi, Bob. Just letting know I’m working on your copy today, and I’m on track to deliver it for amends, as planned, on <date>.”

And, if you’re running late, just let them know:

“Hi, Bob. I’m afraid the copy is taking me a little longer than I planned. I’m nearly there, but I want to give it another read through with fresh eyes. I’ll have it to you on <date>.”

A post shared by Kate Toon (@katetoon) on

In summary

Every successful copywriter knows that a client appreciates a pleasant working experience more than a perfectly placed colon.
Here’s a reminder of my six-point client love strategy:

  1. Respond quickly
  2. Get on the phone
  3. Offer reassurance
  4. Find common ground
  5. Learn when to push back
  6. Communicate

With these tips in your copywriting backpack, you can be confident you’re not only writing bum-shudderingly awesome words, but also making sure your client’s bum shudders with delight too.

Over to you

How do you work to keep you clients happy?

Did you like this post?

You might like my book ‘Confessions of a Misfit Entrepreneur | How to succeed despite yourself’ – buy it online here.




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