5 reasons you’re not landing high-paying copywriting clients, and what you can do about it

Hiring bad clients can cost you. Are you making these costly mistakes when taking on new copywriting clients?

There are plenty of excellent guides on how to find copywriting clients. This isn’t one of them. 

This article assumes you already know how to find clients. It’s landing one who’s willing to pay you a fair wage that’s your problem. Or maybe every client you’ve had has been a nightmare, from giving you unsolicited feedback on your copy to treating you like they own you.

Let’s go over the 5 most common reasons you’re not landing high-paying copywriting clients consistently, and what you can do about it.

 

 

Reason 1. You’re advertising “affordable copywriting services”. 

If you’re offering cheap copywriting services, you could be putting off your prospects. 

With cheap copywriting rates, you’re not doing yourself any favors for two main reasons:

1. You’re advertising your services by competing on price, instead of value.

When you do that, guess what happens? 

You’re suddenly competing against everyone else who’s offering even cheaper copywriting services. 

2. You might inadvertently be indicating that your skills are cheap.

Think of the Chivas Regal effect (also known as premium pricing). 

Legend goes, Chivas Regal was struggling because the whiskey’s prices were too low (and in turn, their product was perceived as cheap). So they doubled the price, and now they sell like hotcakes. 

 

 

What you can do about it

I’m not saying inflate your rates like Chivas Regal.

I’m saying, the expectations you set with your prospects matter. Potential clients have certain expectations. If you know your target audience well as a copywriter, and your value proposition is aligned with (or even exceeds) their expectations, you’re good.  

But if you’re not there yet, take some time to determine your value. 

What do you have to offer? Do you specialize in web pages or case studies? (Do you have something unique to offer? If you don’t, read up on how to craft your unique sales proposition.) 

But if you already have a USP, let’s look at how to price copywriting services

First, think about how you’re presenting your rates:

Are you charging by the hour? For certain brands, straight-up copywriter hourly rates are unheard of. In other words, when you manage to land a major client like a marketing communications director at a major brand, don’t price yourself by the hour. 

Hourly rates are typically an upsell for freelance copywriters. (You can offer hourly-rate-based pricing for when a project requires additional work that was not covered under the original contract.)

And don’t even dare advertise copywriting rates per word. Freelance copywriters (even freelance writers) advertise a flat rate (per project, with 50% collected upfront, and the remainder to be collected upon project completion). 

 

If you’ve been reading my articles for some time, you know I’m no fan of AWAI. But their copywriting pricing guide is the industry standard, so review their 2020 version here. (Caveat: It’s an email capture.)

 

Reason 2. You’re putting them off with your approach. 

The first mistake you can make when approaching a prospect is to send all the wrong signals. 

This means that while you’re approaching them with that grin on your face à la Dave Skylark, every bone in your body is screaming, “Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

 

What you can do about it

Eradicate the salesperson mentality. You’re not selling anything. Instead, your aim is to determine whether your skills can fulfill your potential client’s needs. 

In other words, Don’t be salesy. I knew someone who was constantly salesy. Even with a weak sense of smell, you could smell his salesy stench reeking from a mile away. 

The easiest way to avoid this is to address your prospect as you would a real person. Don’t feign sincerity. Don’t ask about my wife. I know there are ways to do it, but if you think you’re already experiencing this problem, leave it alone. 

I don’t like small talk. If we’re friends, great. But if we’re not, there are social dynamics at play or there are market dynamics at play. But when the two are forced together, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. 

Also worth mentioning: Don’t be a spam artist.

This means, don’t add me on Linkedin, and then take that as an invitation to email me about your social media marketing services, your SEO copywriting prices, or your web copywriting rates. (I’m looking at you, Patrick.) 

From your email, I can gather you’ve put in zero effort into your research to find out who I am or what I do. 

You know how I know, Patrick?

Because by all indications, you could’ve sent that email to everybody and their sister in Bangkok. (And I bet you did, didn’t you, Patrick?)

 

 

Reason 3. Your copywriting samples aren’t impressive. 

Do you have any great copywriting samples in your portfolio? 

The main reason your prospects browse your portfolio is to gauge your style of writing. This could be a mistake: 

A copywriter knows that the writing style is just a minor part of copywriting. 

It’s crucial to the brand voice and brand storytelling, however, but the main factor potential clients should be looking for is the persuasive elements. (Yes, even when you’re trying to discern if someone can tell a story. After all, a brand story is either about drumming home a point or managing how consumers feel about your brand.)

So how do these ads make me feel? 

Are your ads clever and witty? (So what?) Are they funny? (So what?) Are your words “pretty”? 

Maybe I’m old school, but I firmly believe an advertisement’s purpose is to sell. If an ad doesn’t sell, it’s lost its primary purpose. If an ad just looks pretty, it’s not an ad. It’s art, or shoddy propaganda at best. 

But what if you don’t have any samples to display?

 

 

What you can do about it

I tried to look for a good guide on how to write copywriting samples. I couldn’t find any, so here’s the tl;dr version of a terribly unpopular opinion:

Copying classic ads by hand is a colossal waste of time.

Yeah, I said it. (I’ve done it too.) In fact, I’ve spent years honing my copywriting skills every which way I can, including wasting my time doing many pointless exercises.

And this little exercise, which so many professional copywriters will swear is the “true” method to learning copywriting (but only if you buy their super-expensive course), has contributed the least amount of value toward actually improving my ability to write copy.

Let’s think about it. 

How in the hell can copying someone else’s work over and over again make you a better copywriter? If you’re after a career as a great copier, you’re livin’ the dream, baby. 

But the three main skills you actually need to develop as a copywriter are:

  1. A solid understanding of persuasion principles and human behavior
  2. The ability to tell great stories that draw your readers in
  3. A critical, patient, thorough, and methodical approach to research 

That last point is of utmost importance. Think of your research phase as laying the foundations for your work. With shoddy foundations, no matter how well written your copy is, it’ll be weak because you didn’t do your due diligence.

So now what have you got?

A poorly understood target audience and their needs. 

Worthless.

That said, you’ve got no idea if your copy is actually well written until you get some of that sweet, sweet constructive criticism. 

After all, Feedback is crucial.

It’s one of the easiest ways you can excel. I’m not saying go find yourself a mentor. (They can get expensive, and the ones who are any good are probably too busy to take you on. But hey, what have you got to lose?

For everyone else, here’s what you do:

Step 1. Read my comprehensive guide on how to get your freelance copywriter portfolio up and running in no time. (If you still have questions, let me know and I’ll try my best to help.) 

Step 2. Join the Freelance Copywriter Collective and post your samples. Plenty of us will offer feedback for free. (And if no one does, PM me. I might give it a look.)

 

 

By the way, if you want to check out some direct mail copywriting samples, do head on over to swiped.co because they’ve got loads of them for you to study.

 

Reason 4. You’re ignoring the obvious warning signs.

Some copywriters enjoy working with small business owners. (I don’t.) 

It’s fine if you do. There are business owners out there who appreciate good copy, and know that writing copy takes more than just writing. 

But in my experience, such copywriting clients are far and few between. If you can find a few who know the value of direct response copywriting and are already investing heavily into testing sales letters, then you’ve struck gold. 

Congrats are in order. 

Even some professional writers who write articles for a living, and have done so for years, can struggle to identify the red flags in a bad client. That’s why you see even really skilled writers taking random jobs here and there all the time, always appearing busy and fishing for work. 

Did you quit your job (or get fired) to become a slave to many businesses, instead of just the one?

I didn’t think so.

 

 

What you can do about it

To give you an idea of freelance copywriter rates, try to aim for at least $50 an hour (and that per-hour rate is for your eyes only). You might be telling yourself this is a lot of money, but it’s really not. 

Again, think about all the research and work that will go into this. And quit devaluing yourself. Critical, analytical, and creative thinking are all skills you should’ve developed over time, so you’re getting paid for all the work you put in, as well as what you’re worth.

As a professional copywriter, you should watch out for

  • Potential clients who haggle
  • People who say they’ve written copy before or work in marketing, know copy, etc. (They’re going to come back with their own opinion, think they know better, etc.)
  • “Businesses that want you to guest post in exchange for exposure or future work. 

Guess what? Exposure doesn’t pay my bills. Money does.

 

 

Reason 5. You’re looking in the wrong places.

Platforms such as Fiverr and Upwork are a marketplace for potential employers. This makes you the product at the market. And what happens at markets?

That’s right. People haggle, because you’ve suddenly become a commodity. No longer are you competing based on your value, but you’re being forced to compete based on price. 

Don’t. There will always be an idiot willing to go broke faster than you. 

Fiverr and Upwork are basically content mills that have succeeded at branding and convincing the world they’re great companies. (They’re not.) 

Does that mean you can’t find success as an Upwork copywriter? (Or even a Fiverr copywriter?) 

Sure. But hey, I don’t know about you, but I’m not in the business of giving my money away. I know what a finder’s fee is, and it sure isn’t 20% (or even 10%), or whatever absurd percentage they’re going for. 

And with Upwork copywriting jobs, for any disputes (which should be expected with any poor client), you’re entirely at Upwork’s mercy. 

 

 

What you can do about it

There is no copywriting platform currently in existence. There are plenty of jobs to find on boards, like the one by Problogger, or even on Reddit’s /forhire sub. 

You’ll find better luck in these places, where you’re also likely to foster a more personal/professional and long-term relationship, rather than a few random gigs off a platform like Freelancer. 

What you can do is, once you get accepted onto one of these platforms (or even several), use your profile as an ad to collect leads. Just make sure it’s clear you dissuade anyone looking for affordable copywriting services. 

And remember: 

Any potential client who’s after affordability instead of value is a sure sign of a nightmare client.

Valerio Puggioni

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