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Startups are different from other clients

This post was written by TCCS member, Jody Carey


Around the copywriting watercooler, startup clients are often the complaint of the day.

They’re the PITA clients who are the source of much venting and angst.

Many copywriters say “No” to starting a relationship with startups.

And it’s a firm “No”.

I put myself into this group. Of the dozen times I’ve worked with micro startups, only once was a professionally gratifying experience.

But lately, I’ve been wondering if I (and the 94% of copywriters who also say “No”) are missing something.

Are we being too defiant?

And what do the other 6% of copywriters know that we don’t know?

By closing the door to thousands of new companies, are we making a massive business mistake?

Startups can be seductive.

The allure of a new canvas, new opportunities, and the hope we might be working for the next Uber is like a drug.

We want it bad.

But what should we know before jumping into bed with them?


What is a startup?

How you define a startup is an important step in determining whether you want to work with them.

Unfortunately, there’s no straightforward definition.

Someone who wants to turn their passion for flowers or photography into profit is considered a startup. But so is an experienced business owner with funders to back their new idea.

Australia was recently voted one of the best countries to start a new business in. Thousands of businesses are created every year, and all of them need words.

They need a website, brand messages, social media, marketing collateral. and the list goes on. That’s a big market to ignore.


Many copywriters jump at the chance to work with a startup. S

o what do they know that the rest of us don’t?

To find out, I connected with other copywriters to get their take on working with startups.

In a recent poll in The Clever Copywriting Community, 25% of the copywriters said they don’t work with startups full stop.

Another 25% said they loved working with startups.

And the remaining half said they’d consider working with startups if certain conditions were met.


Why some copywriters give startups the cold shoulder

Startups take a lot of time and patience. An underlying problem is their lack of business experience and marketing knowledge.

These clients may not fully understand the role a copywriter plays, and believe a catchy tagline or fancy website is the first step in starting a business.

Moving the project in the right direction can be a painful experience. And the delays, indecisiveness, and excessive changes are draining.

True story: A client needed a simple five-page website. They were a new business, but they knew their target market and product offering.

The estimate for completing the project was two months.

At the six-month mark, they decided to rebrand and change their name.

Almost a year later, they’ve made little progress and take months to respond to emails.

To date, the website outline still hasn’t been approved.

Savvy copywriters team up and subcontract with business coaches to refer clients who need help defining who they are.

If a startup client comes to you too early, you can introduce them to someone who can help.

Startups don’t always know where to turn for help, and may not fully understand what a copywriter does. It’s our job to educate them.



Why do some copywriters love working with startups?

The copywriters who enjoy working with startups are those who aren’t afraid of the challenges that lie ahead.

They understand what it’s like to start with a million ideas swirling around and limited resources.

They enjoy guiding the startup owner, educating them, and holding their hand.

“Yes, they take more time. But when it’s done right they usually become your biggest fans and a great referral source in the end.” — Estelle Fallon.

The enthusiasm of startup owners can be refreshing. And the ability to start with a clean slate to shape a brand is professionally rewarding for many.

If we accept that working with a startup will follow a different timeline and workflow to that of an experienced client, we’ll enjoy the relationship more.

“You get to shape their brand, their tone of voice, and content strategy. You’re more than a copywriter. You’re a business coach, a shoulder to cry on, and a brainstorm partner.” — Kate Toon

For those copywriters who jump at the chance to work with a startup, what’s their trick?

Here is a list of questions experienced copywriters ask before they work with any startup.


What should you consider before working with a startup?

  1. Have they owned a business before?
  2. What experience do they have in their industry?
  3. Do they have a written business, marketing, or strategic plan?
  4. What is their budget?
  5. Have they worked with contractors before?
  6. Do they understand the role of a copywriter?
  7. Are they ready to listen?
  8. Are they prepared to trust someone to help guide their business?


Have you changed your mind?

If you’re someone like me who has always refused to work startup businesses, what would happen if we changed our approach?

What if we gave these clients a little extra attention and guidance to help prepare them for their new adventure?

It might give us the opportunity to shape our ideal client.

A little groundwork and investigating at the beginning of the project, combined with disciplined communication and timeframes, could turn whingeing into success stories.

What stories do you have working with startups?


About Jody Carey

Jody Carey is a Port Macquarie-based copywriter who writes what customers want to hear by focusing on their experience. She’s the mother of two sport-addicted kids and “loves” the sound of basketballs rolling around in the boot.