What To Do When Your Client is Boring

Clients often contact us hoping we can jazz up their current copy. They’re looking for something a little funnier, a little more out-of-the-box, a little less like the next guy.

No problem, we say. Why don’t you answer a couple of questions for us about who you really are, and we’ll use that information to make your web copy sound more like you? Because we’re sure you’re a really awesome person with an interesting take on your industry and lots of good reasons your business is way better than the competition’s.

We say to our clients knowing very well that they have trouble writing this down. They don’t know the reasons, or they don’t have the ability we have to work them into their own web copy. We know clients struggle with writing fantastic web copy – that’s why they came to us. Stands to reason.

So we’re not expecting killer answers when we ask clients these questions. We’re just hoping for a nice, real person telling us about themselves.

What we get often sounds more like this:

Question: What kind of person are you? Easygoing, professional, casual, authoritative, fun, devoted, covered in bees?

Answer: I am someone who gives 110% to every project. I always go above and beyond the call to make sure my client is satisfied. I am a professional with excellent communication skills. I work well in teams and independently. I am goals-oriented and have great attention to detail.


It Isn’t an Interview

You’re all savvy readers, so I’m sure you recognize the problem here. This sounds like the generic stuff you put on your resume when you’re just out of college and don’t realize that your resume shouldn’t sound like everyone else’s, and also that everyone in the world is lying when they say they are “goals-oriented.”

No one is goals-oriented. Everyone is chocolate-and-sex-oriented. Make a note.

So what the hell do you do when your client gives you answers that makes him sound so boring that you fear committing fraud by writing web copy implying this is a person you would enjoy having a cup of coffee with, much less to whom you should be willing to trust with your money?

You have a couple of options.

Fun Gets Real Answers

Write your client back and explain that this isn’t an audition or a job interview. You aren’t a scary HR person. You’re just a very nice copywriter who wants to make a great human being sound human. You can explain that a few of the things they tell you will wind up in their actual web copy, so you’d love their help to create tone and a realistic voice.

You can then tweak your questions in a way that emphasizes on this point. Instead of asking, “How would you describe your business?” you can say something like, “If your business were a puppy, what kind of puppy would it be?” Except James would never let me ask that. But you get the idea.

Make it fun. Make it obviously not business-oriented. Make it something practically impossible to turn into corporate-speak.

Want a Voice? Hear a Voice

The other option is to call up your client and ask that they talk to you like a human being. It’s almost impossible to talk on the telephone in boring corporate-speak because no one in the history of the world has ever said the following when chatting as two regular people:

“I integrate positive solutions into every customer concern, resulting in an increase in general satisfaction and business productivity.”

No one. Has ever said it.

Why they think they should say things like this to other business folk is beyond me, but there you are. Crack a few jokes right off the bat with your client and the next thing you know, he’ll be chatting away with you like a normal person.

You’ll have a great idea of who this person is and what his business is all about.

Then you can go put that voice into the web copy. See how it works?

If you want your business to have a voice that sounds real, human and jazzed up, contact us today. We know how to give your web copy a voice that reaches readers.

Post by Taylor

Taylor Lindstrom (fondly known as Tei) is a twenty-something copywriter and journalist from Boulder, CO. She’s the team’s rogue woman who wowed us until our desire for her talents exceeded our desire for a good ol’ boys club. She loves the color green, micro-point Uniball pens, and medieval weaponry.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. Real life interviews are awesome for getting that kind of information out of someone. And when it’s person to person they’ll usually tell you a lot more, things that you wouldn’t think to ask and they wouldn’t think to write.

    One of the other great advantages of speaking to them is that the language that they use will often be the keywords that clients are searching on.
    .-= Melinda | SuperWAHM´s last blog ..Why a Business Plan Will Save Your A$$ =-.

  2. Do you know I nearlly didn’t read this because it had the word ‘boring’ in the title. It’s amazing what a powerful turn-off negative words can be.
    I am glad I did read it though.
    .-= Lucy Thorpe´s last blog ..How Chav Hats Became A Playground Craze =-.

  3. I’ve found interviews to be a bizarre ritual where each party tells the other the things they expect to hear–whether they’re true or not. Team player? Sure. (But only if my paycheque depends on it.)

    Those fake words and expectations spread like influenza. You’re *supposed* to sound like that when you talk about business, right?

    (The copywriters run screaming…)

    In my experience, people get more formal when they write. It’s something about the medium, something about the official-ness of writing stuff down. An in-person interview doesn’t come with a copy-and-paste option, but it definitely helps get someone out of their drone-like business brain.
    .-= Stacey Cornelius´s last blog ..What burnout can teach you about creativity (or what I did on my late winter vacation) =-.

  4. Hey Taylor,

    I too find that talking to folks on the phone or in person brings out the real person. When they see something interesting, I say, “tell me more.” It’s down, down, down through the layers to get to the real person.

    Great post!

    .-= Giulietta Nardone´s last blog ..Who are your heroes or heroines? =-.

  5. Many people I work with get wrapped up in marketing speak, which is very similar to your example here.

    I hate to say it, but I’m kind of a jerk and I usually end up firing clients like this.
    .-= Nathan Hangen´s last blog ..The Other Side of a Virus =-.

  6. Good article – new reader, but will be back often.

    I do a lot of client “interviews” and I always find the best way to get results is to not mention that it’s an interview or anything. I just call them up and talk about their life or anything that gets them talking outside of their business. Once they open up – then I ask some questions to get real answers about their business. Anytime they are expecting a formal interview – the answers get all “fake” and no one likes that.

  7. Good points…but what if you’re writing copy for a monolithic company and interfacing with multiple people who all have a different opinion and view point on what the company’s personality is or should be?

    I’d love to see you do a follow up blog on that topic.


  8. @Jake – If no one can decide what the company’s personality is, and if it’s not clear immediately, then that company doesn’t have a copywriting problem – it has one serious branding problem, and that needs to be taken care of before anything at all.

    @Eric – (Francophone?) Absolutely. Have a conversation – a real conversation between two people. You’d be surprised what you can get in just 5 minutes.

    @Nathan – WHAT?! You’re a jerk? Dude… oh man, my flowers and unicorns image of you is totally shot now.

    @Guiliette – The magic words in any life situation, not just business. “Tell me more about that.” Awesome.

    @Stacey – I agree. People think they have to impress others when they write, and that stiff is the way to do it. But this is extremely old school and traditional, kind of out of the 50s. It didn’t really work then and it definitely doesn’t work in business now.

    @Lucy – Oooh, see? The perfect example of how words influence our actions. It makes me think of when people sign off letters:

    “Don’t hesitate to contact me.”

    The brain sees DON’T and HESITATE and that’s the end of that. Much better to say:

    “Please feel free to call me.”

    @Melinda – Your comment made me think of what would happen if you and I called each other for this kind of thing… and reminded me to mention that it’s a wise idea to bring a timer and know when to wrap up the call! 😉

  9. Chocolate. Sex.

    Anything else I should have picked up from this post?

    Kidding. This is a great take on the subject Taylor, thank you. So for those of us that don’t do telephones, does the same thing work with emails? I mean usually we fill our humorous texts with smilies to emphasise our mood/point – not so good for business communiques though right?

  10. Melinda – That’s an excellent point. They’re throwing out their own target phrases and they don’t even know it. Has anyone ever searched for a “details-oriented problem solver”? I think not.

    Lucy – Oh, good. That’ll teach us to even mention boring. To think I’ve written so many posts on how not to be boring and I almost killed it with a title.

    Stacey – Pretty much anytime someone says “this is how I’m supposed to do X” I tell them to do it differently. It astonishes me how they think it might make them successful to follow the same rules. I blame high school. And the commies.

    Giulietta – It does make it easier to get to that bounceback question, doesn’t it? See a flash of something interesting in an email and by the time they get your reply, they’ve forgotten their train of thought.

    Nathan – I wouldn’t say that’s being a jerk. I would say that is being a teacher. How else will they ever learn that boring can lose them the people they work with?

    Eric – That’s a good idea, too. Or call them up to ask them a minor question about their specs, and segue into discussing their company and who they are. They think the business part is over and now we’re just two colleagues chatting.

    Jake – I’ll take that suggestion; it’s a good one. See what I can whip up for you!
    .-= Taylor – Men with Pens´s last blog ..What To Do When Your Client is Boring =-.

  11. Taylor,

    Thanks for writing this- it made me realize that even though I think I write pretty compelling copy for my clients, I’m really boring when describing myself! It’s given me plenty to think about and rework.
    .-= Beau Blackwell´s last blog ..Is Social Media Marketing Right for Your Business? =-.

  12. This totally reminds me of interviewing my clients for their new online dating profiles! Some of them start out all stiff and boring and I joke and jostle them into opening up and being real, which is what comes out in the final product. The main issue people have with writing about themselves is the fact that they don’t see their true self as clearly as they think they do. 😉
    .-= E. Foley – Geek’s Dream Girl´s last blog ..5 Gosh-Honest Reasons Why Your Dating Life Sucks =-.

  13. I always give my clients some unique insights about me that break the ice – it helps draw them out as well.

    The challenge is when you finally devise a truly unique, magnificent site within an overpacked niche…and then the client panics and says, oh me oh my, my other competitors are never this personable online.

    Yes, I know. That was WHY you DID hire me. Sigh.
    .-= Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach´s last blog ..100s of products that offer 100% affiliate commission – how to find them! =-.

  14. Heh, Tei, I love this.

    People try so hard to be robots, when the truth is, no one wants to do business with robots.
    .-= Sonia Simone´s last blog ..How to Get Rich and Crazy on the Internet =-.

  15. I go through this process with my clients, too. Some of the questions I use are weird, which is a great filter because I know pretty quickly if we should be working together.

    I have a really hard time working with very formal “businessy” type people. Sometimes I have to watch a Teletubbies video afterwards just to cleanse.

    Aside from the formal resumé language, I’ve also noticed how people will respond to my wacky questions (in writing) in the voice of their favorite blogger-coach-leader person, or even creepier… me.

    Sometimes I think people are afraid to be loose even in a business phone conversation because we’ve been taught to “negotiate,””keep up your guard,”don’t show your hand.” Ugh.

    Dude. Lady. Just be you. Let’s just talk. I swear I won’t tell any of your fellow MBA program graduates that you used slang. If you slip up and go off your scripted personality, it’s our little secret.
    .-= Sparky Slangpants´s last undefined ..If you register your site for free at =-.

  16. Marc – Hey, good to see you again. Yeah, James always picks up on that stuff too. And uses it to pick out his accompanying pictures, apparently. 🙂 To answer your question, yeah, it can work with emails, but I’ve found sometimes you have to specifically tell them to calm down and act natural. Even then, some people just go auto-formal when they write. It’s a disease.

    Beau – Hey, I’m glad to help. Unintentionally. The best kind of helping is the effortless kind.

    GDG – They may even see their true self, but it’s so obvious to them that they think it doesn’t need to come out in the copy. Forest for the trees, kind of thing. Or vice versa. Or covered in pollen. Or something. BEES!

    Barbara – I love that. I was talking with Naomi about it. She gets a lot of people going, “Your blog changed my life!” and she’s going, “Yeah, I know. That’s why I wrote it that way.”

    Sonia – Except Will Smith. He is gettin’ DOWN to business with the robots.

    Sparky – You may be the first person in the history of ever who watched the Teletubbies to cleanse. I salute you, sir.

    The blogger-mimic thing is also a huge problem, I see that more with smaller businesses, whereas I see the formality problem with bigger ones. It must be terrifying to have someone mimic you, though . . . I’m imagining that happening where someone called me on the phone IN MY OWN VOICE. With my slang and inflections and little phrases that belong to me.

    Great. First time you came around and commented, and now I’m going to have nightmares. Clearly you should visit us more often.
    .-= Taylor – Men with Pens´s last blog ..What To Do When Your Client is Boring =-.

  17. SnottyNozeBrat says:

    “No one is goals-oriented. Everyone is chocolate-and-sex-oriented. Make a note.”

    Your world is small. “Everyone” ???

    I understand some of the power of the press is female in this concern, sad to see you cannot sell your thoughts without resorting to soft porn.

  18. @Snotty – I’m really sorry to hear that you’re not having any sex or enjoying any chocolate. That’s pretty sad. But, to each his own, eh?

    Oh, by the way – that’s not porn, dude. That’s good smut. There’s a huge difference.

    Oh! And one more thing… we don’t sell our thoughts here at Men with Pens. Our blog is free. Because everyone’s entitled to our opinion, mm? 🙂

  19. Yeah, everyone. It is a rare person who does not like chocolate or sex.

    Whereas I have yet to meet the person who gets all ramped up about “details”.

    I have no idea what you are attempting to communicate with this phrase: “some of the power of the press is female in this concern”. Perhaps I can help you by writing a post on how to clearly connect your noun to its correlating objective personal pronoun?

    Or we can just give you more soft porn so you can object to it. That might be easier for you.
    .-= Taylor – Men with Pens´s last blog ..What To Do When Your Client is Boring =-.


    Snotty seriously needs to loosen up. Evidently someone needs both some sex AND some chocolate.

    I know a few of us have lost contracts/opportunities because of being fun. It’s slammed into people’s heads that you can’t be in business and have fun for some unusual reason. Yeah right. If I wasn’t enjoying what I do, I’d be looking elsewhere into other things.
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..Code Milky Green =-.

  21. I’m SO glad someone else got the Eddie Izzard reference.

    For those of you who didn’t, here’s the clip. Now you can join us in our love of covered in beeeeeeees! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xs-tl6GBOBo
    .-= Taylor – Men with Pens´s last blog ..What To Do When Your Client is Boring =-.

  22. @Taylor – Can I object to more soft porn? The Twitterverse thinks we need to take it hard core. 🙂

  23. I experienced this as a computer instructor. I’d introduce myself at the start of the class, then ask everyone to tell me their names and a little about themselves.

    People would fumble around for what to say, looking quite uncomfortable. Some it was fear of public speaking I’m sure, but I believe they just haven’t thought about the question that much.

    Great write. Fantastic picture.

  24. @Taylor – I was going to add in the “If you’ve never seen elephants ski…” bit, but I thought it might be overkill.

    @Shane – I think it’s also that we’re brought up NOT to brag about ourselves. So when we get asked that, we go blank.
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..Code Milky Green =-.

  25. @Amy – Unless you’re me. “HI! I’m James, and I’m friggin’ AWESOME – not to sound pretentious or anything, but YEAH!”

  26. This has never been a problem for me… maybe because I have deliberately oddball branding. But they do it to Sparky Firepants! I dunno.

  27. Soft porn? What century? I am female and am not offended by the pic in any way. If the part that makes it soft porn is the FEMALE entity, then PLEASE…show me a chocolate-covered MALE!

  28. *Stares at the sexy chocolate babe*

    Wow, what a post. So awesome and, uhh… oh I’m sorry, James was there actual CONTENT surrounding this chick? It seems to have gone un-noticed. That’s what you get for having such a strong focal point.
    .-= FitJerks Fitness Blog´s last blog ..The Booty Blast Workout =-.

  29. @Melinda – Your comment made me think of what would happen if you and I called each other for this kind of thing… and reminded me to mention that it’s a wise idea to bring a timer and know when to wrap up the call! 😉

    Uh, we finish when the kids get home from school or it ticks past 10.00pm in one of our respective time zones? LOLOLOL

    And yes, there needs to be a time limit set before the call.
    .-= Melinda | SuperWAHM´s last blog ..Why a Business Plan Will Save Your A$$ =-.

  30. “Honey, why are you covered in chocolate?”

    “I have a client call in a minute.”


    “Well, this blog said that you should be naked and cover yourself in chocolate to talk to your boring clients.”

    “Are you sure that’s what it said?”

    “Well, duh. Look at the picture.”

    “Did you actually *read* the post?”

    “What post?”
    .-= Sparky Nopants´s last undefined ..Response cached until Thu 25 @ 17:45 GMT (Refreshes in 20.76 Hours) =-.

  31. You know, I’m sure there’s a series in this. Freelancing, Soft Porn Style.

    We could get two whole weeks’ worth of posts with smut pics. One week per gender. Hm, hm!

  32. Heh, Sparky’s got the right idea.
    .-= FitJerks Fitness Blog´s last blog ..The Booty Blast Workout =-.

  33. OK, so that chocolate-covered chick is a copywriter or a client? Certainly an eye-candy 🙂

    I normally ask what’s the biggest service/benefit he or she can deliver, and then we start from there. Normally when you ask for a profile, you get a monotonous reply wrapped with corporate sauce that can put you to sleep even if you’ve just woken up an hour ago. So just ask, “Why would your customer or client do business with you?” Makes them pause and think.
    .-= Amrit Hallan´s last blog ..How to engage your social media fans and followers =-.

  34. I love the “call them up on the phone” suggestion. Normally I ask them to explain their business as they would to their grandparents… that normally gets the client to skirt around corporate boilerplate 🙂
    .-= Matt Burgess´s last blog ..How “Social Media Experts” let Nestle down. Badly. =-.

  35. Merryl Rosenthal says:

    Thanks for a great article.

    Because I’m a regular ham with a sense of humor, interviews have rarely been a problem for me. I put subjects at ease and loosen them up with funny, and always appropriate, comments and brief anecdotes that may or may not have anything to do with the company.

    If my “personality” doesn’t work, I’ll ask subjects a question as simple as “What’s your favorite color?” or “How do you relax?” or “I see from that photo on your wall that you’re a skier” and use the information to get things going.

    If you approach the interview as though you were talking with a friend–respectfully and within professional parameters, of course–you’d be amazed by how much information will come spilling out.

  36. I get this all the time at work. Or demanding clients who want what they want when they want it, but don’t know what they actually -want-. It’s my job as a writer and multimedia specialist to read the subtle cues, give them options, and weed out what they don’t want. It’s part of the challenge and can actually be fun.

  37. Thank you for the excellent article! I don’t know how many times I have been given the “Job Interview” answers from clients. Not only did I laugh a few times from the article, but also learned a few new tactics.
    .-= Ryan Cowles´s last blog ..Amber Stevens New Website Launch =-.

  38. Yup. Been there. Done that.

    I’ve worked with many professional service firms – think accountants, medical practices, and lawyers. Yawnfest. But, they don’t really want to sound like that way. They can’t help it.

    As Jessica Rabbit says: “I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.”

    And lawyers need love too. (Did I just say that? I’ll have to think about whether I really mean it.)

    For the most part, my clients get it when I tell them that they need to have copy that speaks to the layperson and is a little spicier. A lot of them really like the shift. Some are stuck, stuck, stuck and will never escape.

    Now, I can’t get all babe-covered-in-chocolate-sauce since they are often targeting other bad rabbits. But, I can certainly write in a way that is friendly, down to earth, and in alignment with their brand.

    Best, Wendy
    .-= Wendy Maynard´s last blog ..How to Turn Your Twitter Favorites Into Testimonials Using Fireshot =-.

  39. I guess it’s a bit tougher if the client is boring. Even if you don’t want that kind of client, you can’t refuse and you should only see it as a challenge and give yourself a pat on the back if you jazz it up.

  40. Great post Taylor! Getting your client to relax and their thoughts on something other than their work/website/business is a great way to really learn the details that make them unique. Getting that business persona down can be the hardest obstacle.

    “No one is goals-oriented. Everyone is chocolate-and-sex-oriented. Make a note.” I love this! How very insightful. Reminds me of, ‘All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.”
    .-= Heather Villa´s last blog ..Weekend Reading: My fav’s from this week: 3/26/10 =-.

  41. A hot topic. I can relate to this problem. I think the solution is often to be found in the client’s product or service.

    Who was it who said “Interrogate the product until it confesses its strengths”? (I’ve seen it attributed to David Ogilvy, John Hegarty and Robin Wight) Whoever it was, was right. The more you look into that product or service the more likely you are to discover something amazing and relevant which, when turned into an ad, or woven into your copy, will add a bit of chocolatey sexiness to your client’s brand.
    .-= Dean´s last blog ..Are banners an effective ad medium? =-.

  42. You had me at sex and chocolate.
    .-= Nathan Hangen´s last blog ..Podcast: From Blogger to Entrepreneur =-.


  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by glennarcaro: What To Do When Your Client is Boring http://bit.ly/aDqHhJ

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tony Mack, BloggingTweets, Troy Manning, Glenn Arcaro, Mahogany Ltd. and others. Mahogany Ltd. said: What To Do When Your Client is Boring http://goo.gl/fb/FfrK […]

  3. […] What To Do When Your Client is Boring – “No one is goals-oriented. Everyone is chocolate-and-sex-oriented. Make a note.” I figured that would get your attention.   Once you click over there, try not to focus too much on the woman covered in chocolate. Taylor has some great suggestions on how to draw good useful information from your client when all they provide is plain and vanilla answers. […]

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