What Your Copywriting Clients Secretly Think (But Won’t Tell You)

What Your Copywriting Clients Secretly Think (But Won't Tell You)

A lesson I’ve learned from pitching and negotiating with copywriting clients is that they don’t often articulate what they secretly think. Getting hired (and re-hired) largely depends on paying attention, and you need to have enough initiative and intuition to address those thoughts.

They usually make the difference between landing the project and losing the gig.

What are these elusive secret thoughts that clients (or prospects) aren’t telling you? Here are 5:

Hiring a copywriter has been on our to-do list for a while; we just haven’t gotten around to it yet.”

I hear this a lot. My client-hunting routine involves proactively reaching out to businesses to see if they need a writer, and I usually get a response along the lines of, “Perfect timing! We were just talking about hiring a writer,” or, “We’ve been meaning to rewrite our website copy; we just haven’t gotten around to it yet.”

Does this mean I’m a really lucky freelancer with a knack of finding businesses that happen to be looking for a writer? Nope.

Don’t assume that companies aren’t open to hiring writers just because they don’t have a “Help Wanted” sign on display. Be proactive and approach them. Businesses are always looking for ways to improve – especially when it comes to their marketing.

And as we copywriters know, content plays a huge role in that.

Business owners are rarely 100% satisfied with their existing website or marketing collateral. There’s almost always some material that needs to be revised or updated. And while that need exists, it’s not always a top priority.

Knock on their door, remind them of that need and offer to help. Clients are usually happy to hear you out.

“We want you to grill us with questions.”

Some writers are hesitant to ask too many questions because they’re afraid of looking like they don’t know what they’re doing. Don’t be one of them. It may sound cliché, but when you’re getting to know a prospect or client, there are no stupid questions.

What’s stupid is producing content based on assumptions and missing the mark.

So ask away. Even if your questions seem obvious, ask them anyway. You’ll increase the likelihood of getting the job done right the first time, and you’ll impress clients while you’re at it.

See, clients love it when you ask a lot of questions. It shows that you’re thorough and that you care about their business. I always ask loads of questions when clients and I begin a new project. No one has ever asked me to do that, but clients often tell me how much they appreciate my diligence and initiative to learn.

Secretly, they wanted me to ask all those questions. They want you to do the same too.

“Just because we didn’t get back to you doesn’t mean we’re not interested. Follow up.”

This is a prime example of what clients never say aloud but that could make or break a new gig.

Just because someone doesn’t respond to your first attempt at communication, it doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in working with you. Entrepreneurs are busy. It’s all too easy for them to pass over a not-so-urgent message.

If you submit a letter of introduction or a pitch and don’t hear back, make a point to follow up with the client at least once or twice. Following up doesn’t make you pushy or desperate; it signals you’re serious about connecting with the other party.

Some people actually want you to follow up with them. They want you to remind them that they have some content issues that need to be addressed. I’ve had clients thank me for following up, saying that they completely missed the email or that they meant to respond but couldn’t at the time.

“We’re open to negotiation.”

Most clients hardly ever say this aloud, but they’re often actually open to compromise.

Remember that prices aren’t set in stone, so don’t leave money on the table by skipping the negotiation stage. If clients offer to pay a rate that’s lower than your usual, be sure to counter-offer. You’d be surprised at how flexible many clients can be.

Remember too that many clients actually expect to have a negotiation phase, just as they would if they were making an offer on some real estate. They’re not trying to be cheap or insult you. They’re trying to work with you at the best possible price for their business. No harm in that.

And if you can’t agree on a price, try negotiating on other elements of the project, such as flexible deadlines or more commitment on their part. For instance, I’m open to offering small discounts to clients who commit to hiring me for several projects.

“We’re scared.”

Clients can be a bit iffy about hiring you. And who can blame them? They don’t know you. They’re not sure if you’ll be able to do their business justice. They’re scared that their investment won’t pay off.

It’s up to you to quell these fears and reassure them that their website, blog, or newsletter is safe in your hands.

Fortunately, if you’ve already grilled them with questions and showed them that you care about their business, you’ve taken the first step. The second step is to make them feel protected.

Show them that you’re looking out for their interests by drawing up a brief, plain contract detailing the payment terms, deadlines, rounds of revisions, etc.  Personally, I like to reassure clients by giving them unlimited revisions and offering a refund if they’re not completely satisfied, but that’s just me. The choice of what you offer to reassure clients is totally up to you.

Once you’ve landed the client, continue reassuring them by keeping them posted every step of the way. If you’re writing an article for them, show them an outline and gather feedback before fleshing out the entire post. Re-writing their website? Send them a few blurbs or paragraphs to make sure you’re all on the same page before proceeding with the rest of the website copy.

Letting them know you’re taking good care of them – even holding their hand through the process – can go a long, long way for you.

How to approach client mind-reading

Now that you’re aware of some secret thoughts running through the minds of your clients, ask yourself this: have you been addressing these thoughts?

No? Don’t worry; you’re not alone.

Many freelance writers miss responding to unspoken thoughts, not just because they aren’t said aloud but because they let their own biases get in the way.

For years I didn’t negotiate with clients because I thought they weren’t open to it and that I’d lose the gig if I haggled. Of course, I know now that my bias is simply not true. I was just projecting my own beliefs.

Effectively recognizing what clients might be thinking requires dropping your biases, remembering that what you believe isn’t always reality, and tuning into what your clients aren’t saying.

Enough with the assumptions. Address each new client with an open mind.

One last thing: while this post gives you a glimpse of some common secret thoughts clients might have, the only way to really grasp what could be going in their heads is to take action and see for yourself. (Tip: asking lots of questions fits in perfectly here.)

So get out there and keep pitching. Hone your communication skills, and get to know your clients better. The rewards are well worth it!

What other “secret client thoughts” have you discovered? Share them in the comments below.

Post by Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio (formerly StaAna) is the founder of CredibleCopywriting.net. She also teaches aspiring freelance writers how to build their portfolio and find clients at Be a Freelance Writer, where you can download her free eBook, 25 Types of Writing Gigs that Pay Well (and How to Find Them).

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  1. Hi Francesca,

    You are absolutely right most especially on the follow up issue. It once happened to me, there was a client I tried marketing an auto product to…..and for almost a week, I thought he was not interested but after I gave a call to him, was astonished to hear him say that he has forgotten totally.

    It seldom happens and one should not just give up.

    Thanks for sharing!!

    • I’m glad you didn’t let your “he’s not interested” assumption get in the way, Dare. I’ve been in similar situations myself and I would’ve missed out on a lot of great opportunities if I hadn’t bothered to follow up.

  2. Dear Francesca

    Really thought proving article, you have given me a few ideas.

    Thank you

    Andrea

  3. Love this! Thanks!

  4. Great post, Francesca, and your point about following up on seemingly stale leads is particularly salient.

    Some clients take weeks, even months to reel in. Some potential clients never commit, but I’ve never known anyone to be offended by continued wooing efforts. I’m a strong advocate of polite pursuit and hope your post gives other copywriters the courage to go after the clients they want.

    I don’t agree with you about unlimited revisions, though. Clients who aren’t satisfied with the second rewrite are rarely satisfied after the fifth. Those who want to play the “just a few more tweaks” game should pay for the privilege.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Katherine! I love the term “polite pursuit” and I think it perfectly describes how we should approach clients. :)

      Regarding unlimited revisions, I definitely see your point and I know that plenty of other copywriters would agree with you. I guess I’m just the type who really wouldn’t mind tweaking the content until the client is 100% happy.

      And so far, my “unlimited revisions” policy has only been put to the test once. While for the most part, I only go through two (maybe three) rounds of rewrites, I did encounter one impossible-to-please client who asked me to revise the content about 5 times. (It wasn’t fun, but at least he was satisfied in the end.)

  5. This is a GENIUS article. I would like to publish it, run to the rooftops, get a megaphone, and declare it to all my nationwide content clients. Or potential clients. Or anyone coming in the door wanting a page. I would add to these items and say that approaching client mind-reading is perhaps an unfortunate must when it comes to the world of a copywriter. You have to face that your client thinks you know what they’re thinking…and can transform that into worlds. Succinctly put, in every point here. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Great points. I do most of the writing for my explainer videos but am not pitching writing as such however I can apply this to my prospects and almost any type of creative service.

  7. Curious.. how would you determine the price of a direct response 1 page long form copy for a client that you’ve never worked with AND is a startup (i.e. might go out of business)?

  8. Really good article, thanks Francesca, and equally true here in the UK

  9. Great article, Francesca. Thanks for sharing. There are certainly clients out there who actually don’t want to hear more from the copywriter and don’t want more questions, but ultimately, those aren’t the ones it makes sense to keep because it will be difficult to please them consistently in the long run.

    I’m with you on this one; better communication makes it easier to deliver the content they want, and that makes for happier clients!

    • “…but ultimately, those aren’t the ones it makes sense to keep because it will be difficult to please them consistently in the long run.” — Yup! I wouldn’t be able to serve clients well if I couldn’t extract the right information, and I honestly wouldn’t want to work with those who aren’t open to answering my questions.

  10. Thanks Francesca.

    Great article. Here’s a few things that I’ve also discovered. A lot of clients are running just to catch up, so everything you said rings true. Add to that, many of them have downsized so the people on staff are often wearing multiple hats. As such, they are looking for help wherever they can get it, and as a freelance copywriter (That would be me.) it behoves me to jump in to help create a mini briefs, focus their messaging, and even do a bit of research as well as write the copy. I think in today’s day and age, it’s go with the territory, and in the long run, will help me craft a more convincing, relevant story for the client.

    • “Add to that, many of them have downsized so the people on staff are often wearing multiple hats.” –GREAT point, Alan. I’ve encountered several clients who are in this exact situation. Hiring freelancers is a really smart and cost-effective move for them, because they are charged on a per-project basis and they don’t have to pay for insurance, equipment, and other full-time employee benefits.

  11. Thanks, Francesca! I have mostly been approaching medical marketing companies to market my writing services. I do this because it has been easy to ask if they use freelancers or not. I don’t have to explain what I do, or why they need my services. I have been more apprehensive about approaching companies directly. I tell myself things like, “why would they hire me when they can go directly to a well established medical marketing company?” But I will never know if I can be successful marketing directly to medical businesses unless I try, right?

    • That works too, Halona! While I work directly with companies for the most part, I have a couple of contacts with marketing agencies as well, and they usually approach me when they need content for their clients.

      I haven’t put a lot of effort on approaching marketing agencies (I guess I’ve been more focused on going straight to the client), but I do see your point about how you don’t have do a lot of explaining when dealing with them. It’s mostly a matter of asking if they use freelancers.

  12. This is a great article Francesca. I landed myself a job as a resident blogger for a nursery by just asking. I met the manager of a nursery and asked if he had a website. He told me that he did. I checked it out and noticed that he had a blog but there was nothing on it. I sent an email offering to update it. I didn’t hear from him for a while so I followed up with another email. He arranged to meet with me but said he couldn’t afford to pay me. I offered to write a complimentary blog post for him to which he agreed.

    At our meeting I gave him some useful advice about taking his blog forward. To cut a long story short, I wrote the article and liked it. He was so impressed that he asked for my fees and told me that he would make sure it was included in his monthly budget. The article is now published on his blog. It’s the first article there. He’s also written a great bio about me introducing me as the resident blogger and linked it back to my website.

    If I didn’t ask I wouldn’t have got this gig. So you’re right! We need to stop being afraid and just ask. It’s either going to be a yes or a no. :-)

    Thanks for sharing.

  13. Besides its thoughtful points, Francesca, your post displays one excellent reason for your success as a professional writer. Offering clients’ (real or prospective) secret thoughts was a wonderfully effective device to draw reader attention. Sure, probably no one of us felt consciously hidden attitudes would be exposed. But your points were still valid and readers gained by having their attention directed to them. (The great cheekbones were just a bonus.).

  14. As a copywriter who worked in selling big ticket items to companies before I changed career I can confirm that there’s plenty of excellent advice here. I would add that not being afraid to walk away from a deal can also help the client value you more – so long as you don’t appear arrogant or obnoxious when standing your ground.

  15. Thank you for sharing these to us Francesca. I agree mainly on the ‘client is scared’ part. Another reason that some clients are scared is because of bad experiences with other freelancers. Somehow, this leaves them thinking and feeling the same way towards other writers in the industry. Assurance and credibility are important to help the writer land the job and the client to trust again.

    • Hi Shellie, I agree. I’ve had a few clients who started off a bit apprehensive because of their bad experiences with other freelancers. It can take a while to gain the trust of such clients, but as long as we deliver and not let them down, we should be good. :)

  16. Really fantastic article, Francesca.

    I like what you mentioned about drilling your new clients with questions. I think that this point is by far the biggest one that we all need to take heed to.

    I admit being guilty of not wanting to ask too many questions because I didn’t want to seem like I didn’t know what I was doing. However, asking a lot of questions is how you discover what your clients need and how you deliver exactly what they want.

    Following up is a big one too. I think that this is where most freelancers drop the ball. Following up is usually how most people acquire clients that they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, so it’s very important the we follow through with that to ensure we’re not leaving money on the table.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this up and sharing your insights with us. I’ll be sure to share your article with my social circle and on BizSugar.com. :)

    Ti

  17. Here is my favorite (i don’t think your services worth the expanse) address that and you can consider yourself getting a deal.

    • Hey Yassin, some clients do think that. And I would address it by showing them my clips and educating them on the value of high-quality content. If I still can’t convince them that I’m worth it, I have no trouble with respectfully telling them that I’m not the type of writer that they’re looking for.

  18. This helps clarify some of my questions about the writing process and client interaction greatly – thanks for the post! It seems like I get it all down in my head concretely, and then I talk myself out of how to approach this process. It’s just a great reminder of how everything works!

  19. Hi Francesca,
    Yup, I agree with you companies are looking for content writers as it is the most important component of internet marketing although it depend on luck if you get hired or not but sometime just approaching a clients through simple email can built it’s interest in hiring you as content writer

  20. Hi Francesca,
    Great article!
    Since none of us can read minds, I’ve found it’s helpful to learn about personality types to understand how different kinds of prospects behave during the sales and selection process.
    When I put in a bid for writing a sales letter for a certified public accountant, I know I have to be quite detailed…and that my math has to be flawless! I also know that the types of people who end up in accounting often hate to be rushed. But when I’m pitching a crowdfunding campaign to the CEO of a new startup, I know I’m probably dealing with someone who appreciates “big picture,” results-oriented proposals and who is ready to pull the trigger the moment she thinks she has enough information.
    It’s also just as helpful to know your own personality type.

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