The Copywriter's Crucible

Surviving the Vagaries of the Freelance Life

Archive for July, 2009

Why copywriters and clients are a team

Posted by rachelwriter on July 27, 2009

Photo Courtesy: oooh.oooh/Flickr

Photo Courtesy: oooh.oooh/Flickr

I think one of the biggest misconceptions that some clients have about the client-copywriter relationship is that, once they hire a copywriter, the writer becomes—by default—the client’s employee.  On a work-for-hire basis, of course.  But an employee, nonetheless. 

In the worst case scenarios, the client assumes that the copywriter is a subordinate.  An employee who should speak only when spoken to.  Who should do only as he or she is told.  And who should never question and/or challenge the opinions of the “boss.” 


Here’s the reality: the relationship between clients and copywriters cannot, and should not, be confused with that of a traditional employer and employee.  On the contrary, clients and copywriters are a team—from the moment each signs the contract until the moment the final draft of copy is turned in.  And, as such, clients and copywriters must respect each other, and treat each other, like teammates. 

What do I mean by “team,” you ask?

Well, for starters, I mean that the client and the copywriter need to listen to each other.  Copywriters need to know what it is, exactly, that the clients are looking for in terms of style, substance, and overall tone.  Clients need to be open to any suggestions for improvement that the copywriters may have (after all, the copywriters are the experts!).

Working as a team also means living up to each other’s end of the bargain (a point I tried to drive home in an earlier post).  Clients: if you want the copywriter to start working, and meet your deadline, you’ve got to provide him or her with the materials s/he needs to do so in a timely manner.  Copywriters: if you want the client to respect you as a professional and treat you as such, you must provide exceptional customer service and—for heaven’s sake!—never, ever miss a deadline.

Last, but not least, teammates must know how to compromise.  A client may covet what he or she thinks is a totally awesome idea, but if a copywriter advises against it, the client should probably heed the expert’s advice.  Now, if a client really, really, REALLY wants something done a certain way, the copywriter may have to just suck it up and do it anyway (while making it very clear, of course, that s/he doesn’t support the client’s decision–but that’s another post for another day). 

Look, the point is this: clients and copywriters need to meet each other halfway—every step of the way—in order to achieve great results.  Because, in the end, clients and copywriters aren’t all that different from one another.  They’re both working for the same cause.  They both want to achieve the same results.  And they both want to get the job done the right way.  

Wait.  Isn’t there a word for that?  Oh, yeah: team.


P.S.  Got any other examples of requisite teamwork between clients and copywriters?  Share them here!


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What information does a copywriter need from a client in order to start writing?

Posted by rachelwriter on July 20, 2009

Photo Courtesy: San Mateo County Library/Flickr

Photo Courtesy: San Mateo County Library/Flickr

Whenever a new client hires me, one of the first things I do is e-mail that client a Background Material Checklist and a Product/Service Questionnaire. 

What the heck are those, you ask?

Well, the checklist is basically a compendium of all the materials I need the client to gather for me so that I can strategize, conceptualize, and crank out custom, kick-butt copy for that client—things like the client’s current marketing copy, Web site URL, past sales literature, product specifications, and even examples of his or her competitors’ copy.  All the client has to do is review the list, compile the required materials, check ‘em off the list, and send ‘em over to me. 

Badda bing, badda boom. 

The questionnaire forces the client to brainstorm a bit.  It asks him or her to—among other things—explain what problem his or her product solves, describe what that product’s key features are, tell me who the intended audience is, and define what sets his or her product apart from the competition’s.  (Don’t worry: the responses need not be worded perfectly.  And, no, I won’t chastise anyone for any misspellings, grammatical blunders, or plain ol’ bad writing.  After all, there’s a reason they’re hiring me, right?) 

Within the last few months*, I’ve also started having clients use the questionnaire to rate how edgy and creative (versus how formal and traditional) he or she wants the copy to be: does the client want it to read like a scholarly article in a peer-reviewed academic journal, or like the script of an irreverent comedy?  This information is vital.

Anyway, I bring all of this up because experience has shown me that some clients feel like their initial phone consultation with me suffices.  Like they don’t need to provide any additional information outside of what we already discussed by phone.  Like I should have already learned (perhaps through osmosis?) everything there is to know about their product/service.  Like they shouldn’t have to spend anymore of their time on a project they’re paying me to do.

The truth is, though, it’s not my job to have to do all of the research on a client’s product or service.  My only job is to write outstanding copy—hence the title “copywriter.”  And the only way I can write that outstanding copy is if the client provides me with the background information I need to get started. 

So, in the spirit of helping clients and copywriters better understand each other, below is a sampling of the types of questions I ask my clients up front, as well as the types of materials I ask my clients to provide me before I begin writing their copy.  I’ve also included an explanation for why I need that specific information/material.

* * *

What’s needed: Product brochures, data sheets, catalog pages, and/or any other sales literature (both old and new) describing your specific product or service.

Why:  A couple of reasons.  If a client is hiring me to write a new brochure, data sheet, catalog page, or other form of sales copy, chances are good that the client doesn’t want the new stuff to read like the old stuff.  Therefore, I need the old stuff to make sure the new stuff is, well, new.  If, on the other hand, the client would like the new copy to resemble the old copy, then I need the old stuff as a template.  Either way, though, these materials give me a lot of additional information to work with—stuff the client more than likely forgot to tell me during the initial consultation.

 * * *

What’s needed: Consumer product reviews and letters of testimonial from satisfied customers. 

Why: Glowing product reviews and testimonials can have huge selling power because they give the illusion of being more “objective” than traditional advertising copy.  In fact, a consumer product review or testimonial may very well be objective—but, the subjectivity comes into play when I cherry-pick the favorable reviews and testimonials to incorporate into the copy.  Still, customers are more likely to be convinced by “real people’s” experiences than by the company’s sales copy alone.

 * * *

What’s needed: Letters of complaint from customers. 

Why: Seems oxymoronic, doesn’t it?  If I’m writing copy that’s supposed to SELL your product or service, why the heck would I want information that could drive customers away?  Simple: because a skilled copywriter can use that information strategically to downplay the negative and emphasize the positive.  If customers are complaining about a particular color of your product, and your product happens to be available in 12 other colors, let’s drive home the fact that customers can “customize” the product by choosing from an array of colors.  Without the complaint letter, we’d never know the product’s weakness and, subsequently, we might inadvertently highlight that weakness in the copy.

 * * *

What’s needed:  Specific examples of marketing copy, perhaps from another company, that the client would like to emulate. 

Why: Sometimes, it’s difficult for a client to articulate his or her preferences regarding the style, tone, and overall direction of the copy he or she would like.  In cases like these, it’s very helpful when the client comes armed with a series of examples of what he or she considers “good” and “bad” copy.  A competitor’s Web site or brochure is often a good place to start.  Does a client want his or her copy to read just like the competitor’s?  Or 180-degrees differently?  A copywriter will always appreciate having these references on hand. 

 * * *

It’s important to remember that copywriting isn’t just creative writing.  It’s smart writing.  It’s strategic writing.  It’s writing with an intent and purpose.  And, in order to make sure it’s effective, a copywriter absolutely, positively needs ample background information.



*P.S. — So you know, I’ve always asked for information regarding the client’s creative preferences; the only difference between now and a few months ago is that I now have clients write down their preferences instead of just telling me verbally.  Just wanted to make sure we’re clear on that.  🙂

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How to Make Real-Life Connections Through Twitter: The 1st Atlanta Chicks Tweetup

Posted by rachelwriter on July 17, 2009


The 1st ATLChix Tweetup at the St. Regis Hotel in Buckhead

I know, I know: what the heck does Twitter have to do with copywriting, anyway?

Well, allow me to take a brief hiatus from the world of copywriting to share with you some highlights of a super-successful all-women’s networking event—brought to you by me and two of my über cool gal pals, Stephanie Frost and Stephanie A. Lloyd.

On July 16, the three of us hosted the very first Atlanta Chicks Tweetup at the stunning St. Regis Hotel in Buckhead (that’s Atlanta proper’s northernmost neighborhood, for all of you non-Atlantan readers).  The vision?  To create meaningful, real-life relationships out of virtual ones—and to bridge the divide between cyberspace and the here-and-now. 

The result?  A pretty darn kick-ass gathering of professional women from all around metro Atlanta!  And, what we hope will be many positive, lasting connections and friendships with each other. 

Out of a whopping 84 “yes” RSVPs, the total head count was seventy-three!  Wow!  (That, folks, is what I call an awesome turnout.)  And, the best part?  It was the most laid-back, relaxed atmosphere you could ever imagine.  Sure, there was a whole lotta estrogen in the air.  But there was no cattiness.  No brattiness.  No female bravado or bitchiness.  Why?  Because we had nothing to sell.  No ulterior motives.  No strings attached.  No competition to be had.

It was, plain and simple, a grand ol’ time.  Nearly 75 women—all in one place at one time—meeting, greeting, and mingling.  Oh, and exchanging business cards, of course.  After all, that’s what networking is all about!

Below are a few photos of the evening, which—by the way—ran from 6:30 p.m. to about 9:30 p.m. (10:30 p.m. for some!).  Of course, for “complete coverage” (ah, that phrase is so redolent of my days in TV news….), be sure to check out Stephanie A. Lloyd’s blog, Radiant Veracity, which chronicles the event in photos and video from preparation to finale.  You can also check out CNN’s iReport, where pro-networker Taryn Pisaneschi submitted some of her video from the event.

Thank you to all of the lovely ladies who attended the first Atlanta Chicks Tweetup and helped make it such a success.  And, very special thanks to our generous sponsors, who happily donated some pretty cool gifts for our goody bags: Swoozies, Lux et Stellae LLC, City Dog Market, Jolie Spa, Charming Charlie, Sweet Riot, Amy Hoga Photography, Bang Salon, Kristi G Company, On The Go, and Fuego Mundo.


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Why hiring a professional writer can SAVE you money. And MAKE you money!

Posted by rachelwriter on July 13, 2009

Photo Courtesy: jypsygen/Flickr

Photo Courtesy: jypsygen/Flickr

Paying top dollar for a service as intangible and subjective as professional writing isn’t always easy for clients.  And, you know what?  I can understand that.  It’s far easier to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for something tangible—like, say, a shiny new outdoor grill—because you know right off the bat what you’re getting.  You already know what it looks like (brushed aluminum), what it feels like (smooth, heavy, and metallic), when it’ll be ready for use (as soon as you bring it home and unload it from your car), and what its immediate results will be (delicious, juicy steaks, kabobs, and burgers). 

Professional writing, on the other hand, is a different story.  You’re basically making a hefty down payment on a product you’ve never seen before.  And, one you’ll never really be able to see in advance, touch, or (alas!) cook with.  As a client, you’re paying top dollar for something you hope is going to meet your expectations.

But, remember that not everything you pay for is tangible.  I mean, last time I checked, you can’t just walk into your neighborhood Sears and buy a shiny new jar of legal aid, handmade baskets of financial planning, or squeezable tubes of tax preparation.  Still, when you need those services, you pay top dollar pay for them—no questions asked—regardless of the outcome.  Why?  Because you know that if you tried to meddle in an area outside of your expertise, you’d royally screw things up and probably lose a crap load of money as a result. 

Hiring a professional to write your company’s copy should be no different.  If you’re not an expert in the field, it’d behoove you NOT to give it a whirl on your own.  It’s also not in your best interest to pawn the responsibility off to another non-professional.

Here’s why:

• Businesses lose $225 billion each year as a result of their employees’ poor writing, reading, and speaking skills.  (Source: Reading Connections.)

• Employees with poor writing skills can damage a business’s professional image, slow productivity, and lead to erroneous and costly business decisions.  (Source: Journal of Education for Business, 2007.)

• Less than one-third of college-educated employees at a significant number of U.S. corporations possess adequate writing skills.  It’s estimated that this number is even greater among employees of small and medium-sized businesses.  (Source: National Commission on Writing in America’s Schools and Colleges, 2004.)

• A survey of two-hundred Fortune 1000 companies revealed that more than one-third of their employees’ letters, memos, and reports were poorly written and/or confusing.  (Source: Journal for Quality & Participation, 1995.)

• Many employees say their newly-hired college graduates lack adequate writing and communication skills, noting their inability to organize thoughts on paper and proofread.  (Source: Journal of Employment Counseling, 2005.)

So, what does this all mean for you, the business owner and potential client? 

Well, for one thing, it means the chances are good that very few people in your company know the difference between write/right, raise/raze, they’re/their/there, peek/peak, die/dye, and rein/reign.  It also means they probably can’t construct a complete, correct, and coherent sentence.

But, most important, it means that you could risk losing tens of thousands of dollars just by trusting an amateur to write your company’s copy.  Yikes!

Doesn’t it make more sense to invest $5,000 in a one-time service that will pay for itself a dozen times over, rather than paying $100 for a service you’ll later have to “correct” for $15,000? 

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: you must consider professional writing as a wise investment in your company’s future.  Yes, it’s a bit risky.  Yes, it can be pricey.  But, when the copy’s good, the results will be great.  And that, if you ask me, is far more mouth-watering than any juicy slab of grilled steak.


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How writers (and clients) can avoid getting screwed out of money. And time.

Posted by rachelwriter on July 6, 2009

Photo Courtesy: jk5854/Flickr

Photo Courtesy: jk5854/Flickr

Okay, so, here’s the thing: as a professional writer, I take deadlines very, very seriously.  Why?  Because if I don’t meet my deadlines, you (my clients) may not meet your deadlines.  Oh, and also because lateness is  unprofessional, inconsiderate, and just plain unacceptable. 

Anyway, I pride myself on my ability to turn in projects on time—sometimes even ahead of schedule.  This helps develop a trusting relationship between my clients and me.  Indeed, I’m a woman of my word.  I strive to meet or exceed expectations.

But, what happens when clients don’t meet their deadlines?

Wait, clients have deadlines, too, you ask?

Yep.  ‘Tis true.  In fact, the first one’s spelled out in plain English smack dab on the front page of that contract you read thoroughly and then signed.  (Uh, you did read it thoroughly before signing, right?) 

First, there’s the part that says your deposit is due within three business days of the contract’s effective date (which is noted in the very first sentence of the contract, by the way).  If you don’t pay the deposit on time, I can’t begin working on your copy.  And if I can’t start writing, you won’t get the copy by your deadline. 

Then, there’s the part that says the balance is due as soon as I submit the first draft.  No, not the revised, second or third drafts.  The first draft.  You may not particularly like this idea (which I can understand), but it’s a precaution I must take in order to avoid having my payments held hostage.  And, until I receive the balance, I cannot begin working on your revisions.  Unfortunately, that probably means you won’t get your copy when you need it.

I could continue, but the point is this: in order for me to meet my deadlines, my clients have got to, got to, got to meet theirs.  Sure, clients hire me to provide a service for them.  But we’re still a team.  And we need to work together.  If one of us doesn’t live up to his or her end of the deal, both of us get screwed out of money and time.  Not to mention, we both want to throttle each other’s necks.  Which is never a good thing.

So… Tips for ensuring both writers and clients get their time, money and money’s worth?


• Be sure to go over the contract thoroughly.  Read every line.  Heck, read every line twice!  Know and understand your responsibilities.  If you don’t agree, don’t sign.  But, don’t think other professional writers won’t have similar stipulations.

• Once you’ve signed the contract, for Pete’s sake, FOLLOW THROUGH with your end of the bargain!  Be a team player.  Help me help you.

• If you sign the contract blindly (not recommended), don’t get all huffy-puffy and moody-attitude-y with me once you realize what you’ve gotten yourself into.

• Mark all relevant deadlines in your Outlook calendar, in your Blackberry or iPhone, and on that corny aquatic life-themed calendar that your Aunt Betty bought for you.  As a writer, I have all of my deadlines noted in multiple places.  With constant reminders, you’ll never miss a beat—and your project will stay on schedule.

• Don’t try to coax me (or any other writer, for that matter) into starting work on the copy with lines like, “Oh, you know I’m good for it!”  Or, “I’ll get the check out as soon as Accounts Payable gets to it; they’re just swamped right now!”  Or, “I promise I’ll send payment as soon as I can, but, in the meantime, can’t you just do me a favor and get started? I really need this!”  ‘Cause you know what?  I really need my money, too. 


• Make sure your contract clearly defines and explains (in plain English—not legal mumbo jumbo) what your client’s responsibilities and deadlines are.  You may even want to have him or her initial each stipulation that applies directly to deadlines.

• Stick to your guns!  Don’t cave to a pushy client who insists that you start work on his or her copy before you receive payment.  It’s not worth it.  Don’t put yourself in a position where you can get screwed.  If your client is a business owner, ask her: could she even imagine accepting a similar proposition from one of her clients?  Her answer will probably be a big fat NO.

• Offer clients the option to pay by credit card.  This comes in handy when a client says his Accounts Payable department is too “busy” to cut you a check.  If you can’t afford the credit card fees, opt for a service like PayPal, which lets you send instant invoices and receive instant payment (which is what I do).

• Don’t feel badly.  There will come a time—if not several times—when a client will yell at you, argue with you, and accuse you of being a wretched person and a terrible writer because you wouldn’t start working before receiving payment.  This, my friend, is not your problem: it’s the client’s.  No need to apologize.  In the end, you’ll be known as a strong and respectable business person—not some easy, breezy pushover.


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