Struggling with a difficult copywriting client? Here’s some expert advice:

The final straw came when my client said that although V2 was good, it needed something extra. “Could you,” he enquired, “make the copy dance and sing?”. My head hit the keyboard. Because the dancing and singing comment came after I’d already spent days trying to meet his ever-changing requirements.

Could I make his copy ‘dance and sing’? Alas no, and we parted company. Luckily, this particular client DID agree to pay the remaining 50%, but other copywriters are not always so lucky. From unpaid invoices to clients who want Latin, find out how expert copywriters cope when copywriting projects go South.

When clients haggle over money

When a client learns how much a copywriting project is going to cost, savvy copywriters pay careful attention to the reaction. Julia, the copywriter behind Chocolate and Caviar, sounds the warning bells about clients who immediately start to haggle over prices. She advises,

“Never EVER take work with someone who thinks you’re too expensive, or tries to downplay the importance of your copy for their project. If they don’t understand your value, they don’t deserve to have you.”

Julia also cautions against buying into the ‘great volume’ scheme that some clients try to propose. The one where clients suggest a reduced price for work with the promise of feeding you lots of work further down the line. She says, “How is more work for less pay helping you? It isn’t. And once you do a project for a client at a lowered rate, they will always expect you to lower your rates for them.”

Expert copywriting tips

Image by Mel Fenson

When clients are not what they seem

Occasionally the internet can throw up a rogue – or just plain weird – client, as Geraldine from Every Word Counts found to her cost. Some years ago she received an email from someone local to write three web pages. Geraldine agreed, completed the work and sent it along with her invoice.

Then came radio silence. After chasing, Geraldine eventually received an email (apparently sent by someone on behalf of the client) telling an extremely unlikely tale as to why payment would not be possible. At this point Geraldine started researching the client and discovered that there was little evidence that they existed, and the house number in the address she’d been given was bogus.

Although Geraldine chalked it up to experience, with hindsight she realised that the initial email exchange had not seemed quite ‘right’. Her advice to other copywriters?

“Insisting on a 50% deposit up front helps weed out casual enquirers, and always carry out a background check on potential clients, making sure they are who they say they are and that their business is based where they say it is. But most importantly, always trust your gut instinct!”

When clients (don’t) know best

In some projects, there comes a point when you wonder why a client isn’t just writing the copy themselves. Because they clearly don’t believe you’re up to the job. Hannah Martin, a co-founder of the Talented Ladies Club, experienced this when she worked for a client who described his target audience as ‘very intelligent, sophisticated people’. Hannah has worked for many corporate clients and duly submitted her copy. The client wasn’t impressed. He told Hannah that he’d expected the copy to be full of words he’d never heard of before.

Hannah explained why she thought this wouldn’t be good copywriting, but the client was insistent. ‘Go away and rework it’ was the message. So what did Hannah do? “I sat with a thesaurus and changed every word I could to the most unusual variant I could find. What my client ended up with was unreadable copy that resembled a Latin dictionary. But he was happy.”

This particular story came to an abrupt end when the client sacked the design agency that Hannah was working with and the Latin-esque copy was consigned to history.

When clients won’t pay

Even if a client has agreed to your 50% deposit, if the project has gone sour, there’s no guarantee of the final payment. What to do?

When one of Hannah Martin’s clients refused to pay, even after repeated emailing, she had an idea. Seeing that the small business had an active Facebook page, she posted a message requesting payment. Hannah says, “It was unorthodox, but it worked! They paid that day”.

Geraldine ‘s experience was not so positive. But when one of her clients went to ground and she had no hope of getting paid, she still managed to remain sanguine, “I wrote it off as a bad experience and moved on. Luckily it was only for a small amount of money, so really didn’t warrant losing any more sleep over.”

Other options include sending a solicitors’ letter or using a debt collection agency. Neither of which guarantee payment, but knowing that your dodgy client has received a threatening letter may bring some crumb of comfort?

When parting company is the only way 

When it becomes clear that a copywriting project is heading towards the rocks, most reputable copywriters will do their utmost to find a satisfactory outcome. But there comes a point when the only sane decision is to call it quits.

Henneke Duistermaat from Enchanting Marketing is very clear on this point, “I found that some clients are impossible to work with. If you can afford to get rid of them, do it, because they suck up all your energy.” 

Finally, don’t take it personally

All of the copywriters questioned were clear on one point; the problem wasn’t with the copy, it was with the client. So if you’re dealing with a difficult client, take heart. It’s entirely likely that the problem is NOT with your talent, it’s with your misfortune to have chanced upon an impossible business owner.

And sometimes, no matter how much a client would like you to make the copy ‘dance and sing’, you just haven’t got the right moves and it isn’t going to work. And when that happens? Take Henneke’s wise advice, “The most important thing is not to let it dent your confidence. You’re not alone!”

Over to you

Do you have any copywriting tips (or horror stories) you’d like to add? I’d love to hear the dirt! Tell me in the comments field below.

BioMel Fenson

Mel Fenson is the British copywriter behind Work Your Words Copywriting. She provides smart, straight-talking copy to businesses in Leicester and across the UK.

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