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This post was written by TCCS member, Cal Chikwendu


Are we as ethical as we say we are?

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Buyers are voting with their wallets, favouring brands doing big things for social change.

We ethical copywriters are also doing our bit to produce damn fine personality-fuelled copy for these brands. But how ethical are we really? Are we walking the walk in our own businesses?

If you’ve stumbled over any of these practices, you may not be as ethical as you aspire to be.


1. Charge top dollar, because clients are clueless about cost

Most clients have little idea what stellar copy costs. And most of them probably underestimate how deep we need to dig to produce it. But that’s no reason to gouge them for every last cent you can convince them to hand over.

Charge what you’re genuinely worth as a copywriter.

You might have been a stonking statistician or remarkable manager in a previous life. But does that make you a crackin’ copywriter? Not necessarily.

You may have completed a couple o’ cool copywriting classes. But is it enough?

Be honest about where your skills sit on the spectrum from adequate to awesome, and charge accordingly. By all means, review your prices as your skills evolve. But don’t hike them to the heavens just because everyone’s talking about six figures.

Being ethical means being improvement-oriented. Stay on the learning trail. Fail fast and hard. Get back up. Go again. When you shine as a mind-bogglingly good copywriter, then you can think about charging the big bucks.

2. Scream blue-bloody-murder when the client gives you a bitty brief full of acronyms and brain-boggling jargon.

Sure, they need to join the party and do the legwork so you can do your thing. After all, you can’t pull perfectly formed copy outta your backside.

Words are your bag. But to give them the best bang for their buck you need to work with them. It’s all about collaboration.

Get down and dirty. Get on the blower. Shed some light to help them give you the information you need. Don’t expect them to talk the talk and be a good li’l client when they don’t follow your thinking.

Clever Copywriting School members can watch Kate’s Toon Training 3: The Briefing for top tips.


3. Bill your client for every nanosecond of talk time and email chit-chat

You’re a copywriter, not a cab driver. If your fee meter’s running every time your client calls or your email pings, switch the thing off. Rewarding relationships are built on mutual respect, appreciation, and a damn good dose of chatter and humour.

Be generously spirited, clear and upfront about how you charge for your time at the quote stage. Don’t crack down on the client or raise your fees after the quote’s been accepted just because they need a little handholding.

Be kind with your time. Make a chunk of it free. The return on this generosity-driven investment is priceless. You’ll get the in-depth info you need to write top copy. Relaxed clients who aren’t worrying about the meter whirring will take the time to tell you stuff you need to hear.


4. Never give an inch or an extra round of amends.

Before you shout PITA (pain in the arse) every time a client wants yet another round of amends, slow down. Don’t get stroppy if your client is slow to respond or confused by your processes. Don’t get sulky when negative feedback kicks you in the gut. (For more on this, check out Sara Keli’s blog on how to deal with feedback.)

You and your copy are rarely (if ever) the most important thing in their world.

Outrageous, eh? You might be tempted to send a snotty email when you haven’t had their feedback. Take a breather. Maybe their life is falling apart, or their business is going through tough times. Chances are your needs aren’t even a blip on their overcrowded radar.
Of course you need realistic agreements, good guidelines and healthy boundaries. But giving a little flexibility, a load of patience and a good chunk of emotional intelligence will get you so much more.

If it takes four goddam rounds of edits to get that shit spot on for your client, why not do it?

5. Work with whoever.

Keen to make the big bucks? It’s tempting to grab every opportunity flying your way – even if it’s not the right fit, and likely to either bore you to tears or drive you crazy. Thing is, that grind won’t grip your client or show how you shine.

Instead, hang with your crew. Find clients who rock your boat, and make you excited enough to get your ass outta bed to do your best work.

Choose projects you want to give your full attention to. Deliver the depth, dazzle and creativity your client deserves.

Ignore the rest. You’re not going to be everyone’s cuppa chai latte. And that’s okay.

Refer opportunities that don’t fit you to copywriters who’ll make a great match. Pass them on because it’s the right thing to do for the client, not because you can charge a referral fee.

6. Write fast. Deliver quick. Get to the next one.

Quick ‘n’ dirty isn’t good for anyone.

Instead go for over-delivery. Above and beyond. Create something shit-hot incredible.

Give your clients a heads up from the outset about how you roll and how you want them to roll.

Be generous with what you give – your time, your ideas, your energy, your attention to detail.

Keep your shit real. Be genuine and honest. Be 24-carat legit. Be true to who you are. Be plain speaking.

Stay away from buzzwords and fancy-schmancy flowery fuckery. That kinda language won’t pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.

Do what’s good for your soul, not your ego.

7. Who cares about your core values?

Values, beliefs, guiding ethics, grounding principles, or whatever the fuck you wanna call them. As an ethical copywriter, you probably have a bunch of non-negotiables.

Whatever your hard-and-fast rule is, or what you hand-on-heart believe in, it doesn’t mean a thing unless it drives every aspect of what you do and how you do it.

If you’re not willing to stand up for your non-negotiables there’s a hot chance they’re tokenistic. And not worth the webpage or social media post they’re splattered across.

Do the legwork to live what you say. Accept that everyone screws up. Call it out when you fall short. Celebrate in style when you nail that shit.

Sure, what you stand for may put some folk off working with you. But who cares? When you defend what you stand for, you’ll attract your dream clients and a boatload of bangin’ business karma.

8. Hate the template

Comfortable with clients giving copywriting a go? Why not give them a template?

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Everyone uses templates. They can get the creative juices flowing, and provide inspiration, ideas and a helping hand.

Templates aren’t cheat sheets. Bagging them off for samey same copy or stifling creative flair is coming from a privileged place. Think of the people who don’t speak English as a first language, who have learning difficulties, who flunked school…

Why shouldn’t clients use them too? Sure, they’re not copywriters, so they might miss a trick or lack a li’l love. But a good template can give them a good head start. They can:

  • be accessible
  • be affordable (or free)
  • save time, energy and stress
  • help with consistency, structure and best practice.

Of course, clever copywriters will write original words with extra personality and a sparkly touch. But not everyone has the budget for that.

Check out the templates available at the Clever Copywriting School.

9. Shout about donations and sponsorships

Don’t think underrepresented groups are fooled by lip service, cash contributions, or sponsorships splashed across your platform. More often than not it smells like an afterthought – a token gesture to boost your own ego.

This kind of white saviour shite only reinforces harmful stereotypes and assumptions about other folks’ capabilities.

Want to donate, buy from an underrepresented business or sponsor someone?

Cool. But do it for the right reasons.

Was it one off, or are you in it for the long haul?

Are you taking other action besides this quick tick?

Do you use your platform to make an impact in deeper, more meaningful ways?

Do you partner with, champion and amplify others who don’t have your privilege?

What next…

I’m pitching in to play my part as an ethical copywriter. But I gotta keep checkin’ in on the regular.

How do you take stock of your ethical credentials?


Over to you

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About Cal Chikwendu

Cal ChikwenduCal writes crack-a-lacking conversational, click-worthy copy with a hearty side serve of humour and humanity for ethical, sustainable and purpose-driven e-commerce brands. An eternal optimist | justice activist | cake addict | joy junkie.