Issue #69—June 14, 2019

One of the hardest things to do as a freelancer is to walk away when you should.

Knowing when to say “BUH-bye” is a combination of know-how, experience, and pure and simple guts.

Ideally this BUH-bye decision happens before a project even gets off the ground.

But that’s not always the case.

Glaring red flags often get ignored in the blissful “first date”-like throes of a new client-copywriter relationship.

You feel wanted, optimistic, and maybe a bit too hungry for the opportunity (and the $$).

But it’s a jungle out there—take it from a 21-year veteran freelancer. There are more snakes in the grass and traps to avoid than ever before.

Obviously not all companies and clients are bad to work with or devalue what we do. I work with many great ones, including some new ones I've added in recent months.

But there are some potential clients I avoid like the plague...

So even if you really need the money—and the opportunity—here are some golden rules of thumb to keep in mind:

1) Work NEVER begins until after your advance (typically 50% of your full copywriting fee) lands in your checking account free and clear.

Aside from an initial informational call with the client to discuss the project before booking your time, and firming up your agreement (more on that in a moment), you must do NADA till the moo-lah is in your hot little hands.

No research. No brainstorming calls. Not a single word of copy (unless you can't help having an idea come to you in the middle of the night and you scribble it down).

Any and all deadlines you agree to must hinge on getting the advance within the time frame you request (I give 7-10 days to hold a slot in my schedule, but many times I get my advance within a day or two. It’s pretty much always possible for clients to do this, even if they try blaming it on the accounting department).

And there's things like wire transfers,Transferwise for international payments, and good old PayPal Friends and Family to get yourself paid in a speedy fashion if the project is one they want you to start on ASAP.

You have to be rigid on the “work begins after the advance is received" golden rule. I’ve seen way too many nightmare scenarios to count when an overly excited freelancer gets rolling right away without hard, cold cash in hand.

That's because sometimes the client's plans change to move forward with a launch. Or their promotional schedule shifts and they don't need your copy for six months. Or the economy tanks or there's some major distracting event.

Or the supplier couldn't come through with the product. Or about 39,586 other things that could go wrong that have nothing to do with you and are out of your control.

Or maybe, the client simply turns out to be an a-hole, which you begin to realize after a few interactions back and forth when they are unwilling to accommodate simple requests or won't agree to reasonable terms or basically FAIL to treat you like a professional.

Meanwhile, if you've already started plugging away--trusting the client would hold up their end of the bargain, you’ve ended up doing work for free, and maybe even turned work away to do so...all of which costs you TIME and MONEY.

It’s a purely one-sided situation that works against you if you start work before you've gotten paid your advance. So simply don't do it. EV-ah. But that's not all...

2) Firm up your client agreement or contract in advance, too.

I confess I was several years into freelance copywriting before I started using my own detailed copywriting agreement with clients (you can get a copy of it in the 3R's program I did with top email and launch copywriter Chris Orzechowski here).

I'd use an "invoice/contract" instead that had the basics on it: the advance, the balance, what copy I'd be writing, payment terms, and details of the royalty arrangement--and have the client sign and and return it to me.

But along the way I realized I needed an agreement that would protect my interests in the oddball event that a project I had started on would get killed or cancelled (for some of the same reasons as cited above, it's not always because the client is dissatisfied), even though I can count on less than one hand how many times that has even happened over my past few decades of copywriting.

Plus I had other things that needed to be spelled out, such as my own liability, what would happen if the copy was used for something else (say converted into a sales page or VSL or direct mail promo), etc. Because things like this--just like a prenuptial agreement--should be discussed and agreed to before you get "married".

Of course, if it's a big company you're working with, they likely have their own contract...which an army of lawyers has carefully crafted to 100% favor their client's interests and not yours. But that doesn't mean terms you don't like can't be negotiated or changed. (In the 3Rs program, I get into these "negotiables" more.)

The main point I want to make here is, go through the client's contract carefully. Decide what you can live with and if there's anything you want to push back on. (If it's your first big-company contract, consider hiring a lawyer to review it with you. Doing this once can be a valuable educational experience.)

And definitely make sure you use your own contract (I like calling it a "copywriting agreement" since it's less threatening) when you work with clients who don't have one. Just send it over along with your invoice for that 50% advance, and have them sign and return it to you.

I guarantee having all these particulars spelled-out ahead of time will save you a world of frustration and pain (and hard-earned money, too!)

3) YOU provide the quotes and estimates for your work...not the client!

Could you imagine talking with a contractor to remodel your kitchen or hiring an accountant to do your taxes, and YOU telling them exactly what you're going to pay them for the work?

Of course not! You might mention what your budget is, of course, but it's not up to you to determine the pricing. You can take or leave what they offer to do the work for, but you have to trust that the contractor and accountant have a much better understanding of the actual costs and value of what they do.

And you're free to get multiple quotes, but it's not always a "lowest cost" decision. You look at experience, recommendations, and other factors.

Beware of potential clients who try to dictate THEIR "fee schedule" on you, as if it's a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. Sure, they may have their budgets---and maybe they can't afford you. Maybe you're willing to come down a bit for an initial project (and perhaps you can structure in a one-time bonus should you get the control).

The point being, there are many ways to make working together a "win/win" agreement. Clients who only want it to be one-sided, and want to treat you like another interchangeable cog in the machine, are probably ones that won't treat you any better down the road no matter how well you do for them. Because they don't value what really great copy can do for their business.

The most successful direct response companies on the planet and throughout recent history have all been willing to pay for good copy---and share the glory and profits with those unicorn-like writers who can bring them those huge winners.

But there are plenty of small, growing companies who also place a high premium on copy that can convert in an increasingly competitive marketplace. And those "apples" are ripe for the picking (I type as I eat my next slice of Honeycrisp apple).

Okay, now that you know these 3 "golden rules" of running your freelance business, I hope they save you future headaches, hassles, and bad client nightmares going forward.

I'm going to need to wrap up shortly, but I just have to mention---if you weren't on the Copywriting Velocity group coaching call this past Wednesday with my A-list buddy Carline Anglade-Cole, you missed a fantastic opportunity.

She and I went to town on critiquing copy that had been submitted...and the result will be dramatically improved promos (not to mention the many "value bombs" we dropped that can be applied to other copy.)

Sidenote: You can still get on the next 2 calls with "Big Jason" Henderson and Lori Haller, plus get the call videos and recordings from the call with Carline and last week with Richard Armstrong here. You're not going to want to miss them. And these call recordings will NOT be shared with anyone else who hasn't signed up for the group calls, so it's your only chance to hear them, or better yet, participate!

Yours for smarter marketing,


P.S. Because getting your copy draft reviewed and critiqued by an A-list copywriter is SO incredibly valuable, I'm kicking around ways to do more of these critiques for people who would like them. When I meet with writers I'm mentoring, some of our most valuable sessions are when we go through their copy with a fine-toothed comb.

If this is something that interests you, email me back at and let me know. I hope to have more details for you soon!

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