Lurk on a copywriters’ forum for long enough (about three seconds) and you will come across a post complaining that, “clients don’t respect me”.
The copywriter has slaved over a keyboard for hours, days or weeks to produce something they feel confident meets the brief.
They send it to the client.
Who doesn’t “like” it. And asks for it to be changed.
Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth (and possibly rending of garments).
The usual suspects
So who’s at fault here? Why do so many clients (apparently) wade in and start monkeying around with our sacred text.
There are five people to blame. Here I name the guilty parties.
First of all, Bill Gates.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Bill Gates is a clever man who, despite being as rich as, or probably even richer than, Croesus, spends a great deal of his time and money trying to alleviate suffering throughout the world. That’s good.
This philanthropy doesn’t, however, extend to copywriters.
What Bill Gates did was create and market a piece of software called Microsoft® Word ®.
Which is installed on virtually every business PC in the world.
This allows people who aren’t copywriters to write stuff for themselves (GASP!). This, in turn, creates the illusion amongst said people that they can write copy.
When your copy arrives (and be honest, you send it as a Word document, don’t you?), your client can start to fiddle with it.
The second person in our rogues’ gallery is really a job title more than an individual.
It is successive Secretaries of State for Education.
These meddlers have dictated through the ages that children be taught to write while at school.
So it turns out that our clients arrive in the world of work ALREADY EQUIPPED WITH THE ABILITY TO WRITE COPY.
Nobody insists children are taught to litigate, which is why corporate law is a more profitable profession than copywriting.
However, these two are choirboys and girls compared to the three remaining villains of the piece.
Suspect number three is the copywriter who does any of the following on their website.
a) Has a Contact us page that refers, cutely, to the author’s love of cupcakes, skinny lattes, the Brighton seafront or any other attempt to sound cool, funky or , y’know, totally out there.
b) Says that although they are based in Nowheresville they can serve clients all over the world thanks to Skype. I mean for f*ck’s sake, how do they think people managed before Skype? It’s called the telephone.
c) Have a rubbish photo on the About Us page of them cuddling their dog, or on holiday.
d) Uses their home page to ask, and answer, the redundant question, “Why do you need a freelance copywriter?” Why indeed, if this is the level of business acumen they demonstrate?
e) Uses, as their hero image, a vintage typewriter. Yes, we get it, typewriter = writer. But typewriter also = woefully outdated, clichéd imagery.
Suspect number four is another copywriter. This poor individual suffers from what psychologists call “Impostor Syndrome”.
Their problem is not lack of talent. In fact, they have it in bucketloads.
Their problem is that precisely because they find it easy to be brilliant THEY THINK THEY’LL BE FOUND OUT.
To compensate for this anxiety, they undercharge. The explanation I have heard directly from sufferers is this: “Well, because I find it so easy I don’t think it’s right to charge a lot”.
Copywriting is a skilled trade. But it’s not just a skilled trade like plumbing, despite my many earlier posts comparing the two.
Plumbers will fix stuff that’s broken or install stuff – and both will make you feel good for a while.
Copywriters can alter people’s behaviour, just by writing to them.
If you can do that AND you find it easy, the client is thrilled by the first part and couldn’t care less about the second.
Lastly, suspect number five.
Another copywriter, I’m afraid.
She, or quite possibly he, is what doctors call a whiner.
Now, we all need to let off steam from time to time. Some will rail about unfair treatment to their spouse. Other to their team-mates. Or their drinking buddies.
Our unfortunate copywriter likes to do her acting out in public. In writing.
She contributes to blogs with snarky titles like Things you hear in agencies, or Dumb sh*t clients say.
He Tweets a verbatim account of a client’s feedback, or makes a thinly veiled reference that a Dodo could decode.
Either way, they contribute to a climate in which copywriters are downtrodden serfs, moaning about the lord of the manor.
So. What’s to be done?
Out on parole
Here is my programme to rehabilitate 3, 4 and 5. (I’m afraid there’s nothing much we can do about 1 and 2.
Build trust and respect with clients by
a) Writing fantastic copy.
b) Being able to explain why you wrote what you wrote the way you wrote it.
c) Respecting their opinions and preferences, however much you disagree with them.
d) Pricing your services like other professional people.
e) NEVER dissing clients in writing.
If you have a website, use it to explain why the reader should hire YOU, versus anyone else. NOT to educate them about copywriting. That’s what Wikipedia is for.
Do NOT decorate it with irrelevant photos or flip remarks.
To a client running an engineering business, an e-commerce site or an accountancy firm, being told they’re welcome to pop by for a chat and a cuppa as you know a really brilliant cake shop on the seafront is unlikely to send the right signals.
Whether you find copywriting as easy as falling off a cliché or as hard as pulling teeth doesn’t matter to the client. As long as you can deliver what you promise they will be happy. Or happy enough to pay your invoice.
So please, don’t apologise for your talent or skill with your pricing.
Anything less than £200 for a day’s work or a short email is undercharging. Trust me on this.
Finally, keep your thoughts to yourself about clients. Internal or external they call the shots. It’s what being a client is all about.
I’ve been a client.
And had I come across a social media post from which I could identify myself – or even people like me – I would be ticked off.
Instead, vent your spleen orally – in the pub or that lovely cake shop on the seafront.