There are plenty of excellent guides on how to find copywriting clients. This isn’t one of them.
This article assumes you already know how to find clients. It’s landing one who’s willing to pay you a fair rate that’s your problem. Or maybe every client you’ve had has been a nightmare so far, from giving you unsolicited feedback on your copy to treating you like they own you.
Let’s go over the five most common reasons you’re landing poor prospects, and what you can do about it.
Reason 1. You’re advertising “affordable” copywriting services.
If you’re offering cheap copywriting services, you could be putting off good potential clients.
Advertising cheap copywriting rates hurts you for two reasons:
- You’re advertising your services by competing on price, instead of on value.
When you do that, this happens:You’re suddenly competing against everyone else offering even cheaper copywriting services.Do not compete with them.
- You might inadvertently be signaling that your skills are cheap.
Think the Chivas Regal effect (also known as premium pricing).Legend goes, Chivas Regal was struggling because the whiskey was perceived as cheap. They couldn’t understand why, until they increased their low price. Once put on display at a premium price, they began flying off the shelves like hotcakes. (Wow! Flying hotcakes!)
What you can do about it
I’m not saying inflate your rates like Chivas Regal.
I’m saying, the expectations you set with your prospects matter. Potential clients have certain expectations. If you understand your target audience and their needs, and your value proposition is aligned with (or even exceeds) their expectations, you’re a golden goose.
But if you’re not there yet, set some time aside and think about your perceived value.
What do you have to offer? Do you specialize in web pages or case studies? (Do you have something unique to offer? If you don’t, read up on how to craft your unique sales proposition.)
But if you already have a USP, let’s look at how to price copywriting services.
First, think about how you’re presenting your rates:
Are you charging by the hour? For certain brands, straight-up copywriter hourly rates are unheard of. In other words, when you manage to land a five-figure client like a marketing communications director at a major brand, don’t price yourself by the hour.
Hourly rates are typically an upsell for freelance copywriters. (You can offer hourly-rate-based pricing for when a project requires additional work that was not covered under the original contract.)
And if you’re thinking about advertising copywriting rates per word, don’t. Freelance copywriters (even freelance writers) advertise a flat rate (per project, with 50% collected upfront, and the remainder to be collected upon project completion).
A copywriter industry pricing guide
If you’ve been reading my articles for some time, you know I’m no fan of AWAI. But their copywriting pricing guide is the industry standard, so here’s the 2018 version for your review. (Caveat: It’s an email capture.)
Reason 2. You’re putting them off with your approach.
The first mistake you can make when approaching a prospect is to send all the wrong signals.
Sending the wrong signals online is the real-life equivalent to approaching them with a grin on your face à la Dave Skylark, with every bone in your body screaming, “Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”
What you can do about it
Eradicate the salesperson mentality. You’re not selling anything. Instead, your aim is to determine whether your skills are a good match for your potential client’s needs.
In other words, Don’t be salesy. I knew someone who was constantly salesy. Even with a weak olfactory sense, you could catch his salesy stench creeping up a mile away.
The easiest way to avoid this is to address your prospect as you would a real person. Don’t feign sincerity. Don’t ask about my dog. I know there are ways to chit chat, but if you’re already having trouble approaching potential clients, leave it alone.
I don’t like small talk. If we’re friends, great. But if we’re not, there are social dynamics at play or there are market dynamics at play. But when the two are forced together, it’s a disaster waiting to happen.
Also worth mentioning: Don’t be a spam artist.
This means, don’t add me on Linkedin, and then take that as an invitation to email me about your social media marketing services, your SEO copywriting prices, or your web copywriting rates. (I’m looking at you, Patrick.)
From your email, I can gather you’ve put in zero effort into your research to find out who I am or what I do.
You know how I know, Patrick?
Because by all indications, you could’ve sent that email to everybody and their sister in Bangkok. (And I bet you did, didn’t you, Patrick?)
Reason 3. Your copywriting samples aren’t convincing.
Do you have any great copywriting samples in your portfolio?
The main reason your prospects browse your portfolio is to gauge your style of writing.
However, this could be a mistake on the client side (potentially poor prospect):
A copywriter knows that the writing style is just a minor part of copywriting.
Sure, an awesome writing style is crucial to the brand voice and brand storytelling. However, the main thing potential clients should be on the lookout for is persuasive elements. (Yes, even when you’re trying to discern if someone can tell a story. After all, a brand story is either about drumming home a point or managing how consumers feel about your brand.)
So how do these ads make me feel?
Are your ads clever and witty? (So what?) Are they funny? (So what?) Are your words “pretty”?
Maybe I’m old school, but I firmly believe an advertisement’s purpose is to sell. If an ad doesn’t sell, it’s lost its primary purpose. If an ad just sits pretty, it’s not an ad. It’s art, or shoddy propaganda at best.
But what do you do if you don’t have any samples to display?
What you can do about it
I tried to find a good guide on how to write copywriting samples. I have failed you, so here’s the tl;dr version of my two cents:
Copying classic ads by hand is a colossal waste of time.
Yeah, I said it. (I’ve done it too.) In fact, I’ve spent years honing my copywriting skills every which way I can, including wasting my time doing many pointless exercises.
And this little exercise, which so many professional copywriters will swear is the “true” method to learn copywriting (but only if you buy their super-expensive course), has contributed the least amount of value toward actually improving my ability to write copy.
Let’s think about that for a second.
How in the hell can copying someone else’s work over and over again make you a better copywriter? If you’re after a career as a great copier, you’re livin’ the dream, baby!
But the three main skills you actually need to develop as a copywriter are:
- A solid understanding of persuasion principles and human behavior
- The ability to tell great stories that draw your readers in
- A critical, patient, thorough, and methodical approach to research
That last point is of utmost importance. Think of your research phase as laying the foundations for your work. With shoddy foundations, no matter how well-written your copy is, it’s resting on weak legs because you didn’t do your due diligence.
So now what have you got?
A poorly understood target audience and their needs. (Sad!)
That said, you’ve got no idea if your copy is actually well-written until you get some of that sweet, sweet constructive criticism.
After all, Feedback is crucial.
It’s one of the easiest ways you can excel. I’m not saying go find yourself a mentor. (They can get expensive, and the ones who are any good are probably too busy to take you on. But then again, what have you got to lose?)
For everyone else, here’s what you do:
Step 1. Read my comprehensive guide on how to get your freelance copywriter portfolio up in no time. (If you’ve still got questions, let me know.)
Step 2. Join the Freelance Copywriter Collective and post your samples. Plenty of us will offer feedback for free. (And if no one does, PM me. I love reading copy.)
Study these samples to improve your copywriting skills
If you want to check out some direct mail copywriting samples, do head on over to swiped.co because they’ve got loads of them for you to study.
Reason 4. You’re ignoring the obvious warning signs.
Some copywriters enjoy working with small business owners. (I don’t.)
More power to you if you do. There are business owners out there who appreciate good copy, and know that writing copy takes more than just writing skills.
But in my experience, such copywriting clients are far and few between. If you can find a few who know the value of direct response copywriting and are already investing heavily into testing sales letters, then congrats are in order.
Anyway. Even some professional writers who have written articles for years can fail to identify certain red flags in a poor prospect. That’s why even really skilled writers take random gigs left and right all the time, always looking busy and fishing for work.
Did you really quit your job (or get fired) to become a slave to many businesses, instead of just the one?
I didn’t think so.
What you can do about it
To give you an idea of freelance copywriter rates, try not to go below $100 an hour (and that per-hour rate is for your eyes only). You might be telling yourself this is a lot of money, but it’s really not.
Again, think about all the research and work that will go into this. And don’t devalue yourself. Critical, analytical, and creative thinking are all skills you will have developed over time, so you’re getting paid for all the work you put in, as well as what you’re worth.
As a professional copywriter, you should watch out for
- Potential clients who haggle
- People who say they’ve written copy before, know copy, etc. (They’re going to come back with their opinions, think they know better, etc.)
- Businesses that want you to guest post in exchange for exposure or future work
Guess what? Exposure doesn’t pay my bills. Money does.
Reason 5. You’re looking in the wrong places.
Platforms such as Fiverr and Upwork are a marketplace for potential employers. This makes you the product at the market. And what goes on at markets?
People haggle, because suddenly you’ve become a commodity. No longer are you competing based on your value, but you’re being forced to compete on price.
Don’t. There will always be an idiot willing to go broke faster than you.
Fiverr and Upwork are basically content mills that have succeeded at branding and convincing the world they’re great companies. (They’re not.)
Does that mean you can’t find success as an Upwork copywriter? (Or even a Fiverr copywriter?)
Sure. But hey, I don’t know about you, but I’m not in the business of giving my money away. I know what a finder’s fee is, and it sure isn’t 20% (or even 10%), or whatever absurd percentage they’re going for.
And with Upwork copywriting jobs, for any disputes (which should be expected with any poor client), you’re entirely at Upwork’s mercy.
What you can do about it
You’ll find better luck in these places, where you’re also likely to foster a more personal/professional and long-term relationship, rather than a few random gigs off a platform like Freelancer.
What you can do is, once you get accepted onto one of these platforms (or even several), use your profile as an ad to collect leads. Just make sure it’s clear you dissuade anyone looking for affordable copywriting services.
Any potential client who’s after affordability instead of value is a sure sign of a nightmare client.