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Two Common Negotiating Mistakes Copywriters Make, and How to Avoid Them

Aug 17, 2007
This month I'll share two financially ruinous negotiating tactics often made by beginning copywriters. Both recently came from my coaching students.

Financially ruinous negotiating tactic #1 comes from a successful book author who is adding copywriting to his writing skill set. Here, paraphrased, is a comment he made to me:

"My client seems unhappy with the work. I'm thinking of telling her she doesn't have to pay the final 50 percent."

My response:

Copywriting is part science and part art. And the subjective aspect of assessing copy often leads writers to feel responsible when a client is not happy.

However, time and expertise is all the copywriter has to sell. A client contracts for that time and uses it and must respect it with the agreed-upon pay.

Is the copywriter always right to demand payment when a client's satisfaction is unrewarded?

If the copy is indeed poor, then of course the client shouldn't have to pay anything at all. But in the case of my student, a Creative Brief was used, and in fact, filled out by the client herself.

Thanks to the Creative Brief, the Web site copy was on target, and since I reviewed it as a copy chief, I know that first draft copy was very good.

However, the client's email noted that the "voice" was not sufficiently hers, that she did not feel that her positioning as a "rural GP" came through strongly enough, that her bio seemed overly altruistic, and that it was clear that she would have to take the copy in house to finish.

When a copywriter gets this kind of feedback, his immediate response is often one of confusion, and sometimes deep insecurity. These emotions cause him to react defensively,instead of studying the response.

Rather than throw in the towel and lose half the copywriting fee, I advised my student to call the client and offer to add what she perceived to be missing from the copy.

Unless the copy is way off mark,and it shouldn't be if the writer used a Creative Brief,the solution is to make changes and edit until the work is acceptable and meets expectations.

The take-away: DON'T offer refunds or partial payments. DON'T get defensive. Instead, study and analyze a client's response. Get a clear picture of what the client is complaining about, then fix it.

If the client can't specifically tell you what's wrong, then it becomes obvious to both parties that it's the client who is failing in the communication process. Revisions, refinements, and editing are a natural part of the copywriting process. In this case, the small two-person operation exhibited characteristics typical of small business. They were unsophisticated about marketing and its processes and unclear about the value of copywriting. They confirm my timeworn advice to avoid small businesses and seek work from more marketing-savvy mid-size and large companies.

Financially ruinous negotiating tactic #2 comes from one of my recently "graduated" coaching students.

She asks: "Do you always quote based on your time or do you quote based on the value the project has to the client?"

The answer is to always quote based on the value to the client. If your work makes the client many thousands of dollars, or more, then you should be fairly compensated.

In cases where your work is directly linked to leads or sales, it helps to view yourself not so much as a copywriter but as a sales pro. Get the fact that you're a writer out of your head and see yourself in a different light.

Who are the most important individuals in any for-profit entity? Those who bring in the business! Everyone else's salary depends on them. That's why they're usually paid more than anyone else. YOU are in that category.
About the Author
Marketing coach Chris Marlow publishes a free newsletter for freelancers who want to land the high-quality, high-value clients. Sign up at:
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