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.
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!