This week's Copy Insiders: Best way to prove yourself when starting out

Issue #102—July 31, 2020

After a few weeks of hot, sweltering temperatures mostly in the 90s here in the mid-Atlantic U.S., we're finally getting  a reprieve. A (somewhat) cool rain is falling outside, and it's my favorite kind of writing weather. In fact, let me crack open a window right now. (Okay, I'm back!) In today's issue, I want to talk about what to do as a copywriter to prove yourself "worthy" to clients. By "worthy" I mean, worth paying more money to...worth hiring again and again...and worth recommending to others. Obviously, making more "moolah", getting a steady stream of work, and being flooded with constant requests from potential clients is every freelancer's dream. Yet all too often, when starting out and after landing those first few clients, many copywriters "screw the pooch" (for the record, my dog Pearl objects to that phrase). If you learn from their mistakes (even if they're ones you've made yourself), you can put yourself in the catbird seat to profit. Okay, that's one of my favorite phrases from when I used to write financial promos, but you get what I mean. So let's take a look at those "catbird seat" moves that make clients LOVE you, want to pay you more, hire you over and over, and even FIGHT others over you (okay, maybe I'm taking it a bit far...) Catbird seat move #1: Gain their respect by acting like a professional In every interaction with your client, especially leading up to getting hired, you want to act like a seasoned pro (even if you're not just yet). Don't be immediately available, but "check your schedule" and "move things around" if need be (even if you have no work). Don't give the impression you're just sitting there waiting for the phone to ring or they'll think you're no good. Also, don't feel pressured to give out a quote over the phone (you will likely under-price yourself); instead, tell them you'll email them with it later that day or within the next 24 hours. Avoid giving them a range to tide them over. In my experience, they'll hang onto that number on the lower end of the range like a snarling dog with a bone. Make sure you use some kind of client agreement, even if it's just adding verbiage to your invoice, and especially if it's for an extensive project or there are royalties involved, have them sign it. (If it's the client's own agreement, be sure to review it and don't be afraid to push back if you find anything unreasonable). And never, EVER start doing the work until you receive your advance from a client--even if it's a rush job. That's where the rubber meets the road. You'll find out then if it's really a "Go" if they actually pay you. It's typical for freelancers, even total beginners, to get 50% upfront. If you don't get one, you could end up screwed. Don't worry that you're going to turn off the client simply by acting like a professional. It will set the tone for the entire project, and they'll respect you more for it. (Plus it could save you countless hassles!) Catbird seat move #2: Stick to the agreed-upon schedule One of the easiest ways to impress your client is to actually deliver the copy on time. What a concept! You'd be amazed how often I hear frustrated clients complain about copywriters they hire going off to write the copy, only to seemingly never to be heard from again...or turning in drafts that are days, weeks, or even months late. Your client has a business to run. They need to be able to plan and execute their marketing plans. That's why it's of utmost importance that you deliver your copy on time. Otherwise instead of being an asset to their business, you become a liability. While there may be some flexibility for longer-form promos that typically have a more drawn-out schedule, you should still shoot to be on time, and if you ask for more time, keep it to just a few additional days (like over a weekend). Pro tip: Be sure you negotiate deadlines in advance that are reasonable and workable for you. Always "pad" a little bit, especially if you're newer to writing copy. It will take you longer than you think to get your copy in tip-top shape. Which leads me to this next tactic... Catbird seat move #3: Turn in copy that's as perfect as possible You've worked hard and sweated over every detail of your copy. You may be wracked with fear and wondering: is it good enough? It's good to be concerned. After all, it's your job to make sure your copy is as perfect as possible! So do what you need to do to ensure that's the case. You'd be amazed how many copywriters turn in sloppy first drafts full of typos, missing words, run-on sentences, and other easily avoided mistakes. And that's not even getting to whether the copy is convincing enough or well-constructed or all the other factors that are essential to good copy. If possible, have someone you know read it beforehand. Get feedback on it from a copywriter you trust. Have someone who's similar to your target prospect read it. Have a proofer read it (especially if you're writing for the U.S. market and English isn't your first language). Polish your first draft to perfection as much as possible. Don't leave any of that to the's what they're hiring you for. Never turn it in at the end of a long day of writing. At the very least, sleep on it overnight and then look at it with fresh eyes the next morning. If you find you're still needing to do a lot of editing or reworking, sleep on it another night before turning it in, or at least take a shower and then look at it again. Repeat as necessary (you could get really, really CLEAN in the process) until you can look at your copy and not want to change anything unless it's something minor. The ultimate "catbird seat" move... If you do all 3 of these things for every copy project you work on, you'll prove yourself as a great copywriter who puts in the work and is worth giving another shot to, even if your copy fails the first time. It's true! When I first got some of my big breaks starting out, on three different occasions my initial time up "at bat" with a long-form promo failed to beat the control. But each of those initial clients gave me another chance, probably because I did all the right things to be good to work with. And good thing they did, because on each of those second tries I hit it out of the ballpark and got huge, successful controls. (I talk about these early, invaluable lessons in-depth in my Virtual LA Boot Camp Intensive. It's a 3-hour "crash course" that can give you a huge edge no matter where you are in your copy career). It was through all of these "catbird seat" moves, where I ended up beating the likes of Parris Lampropoulus and the late Jim Rutz, that I really was able to "prove myself". And I never had to worry much about finding good clients after that. By continuously putting in the work and investing in yourself to get better at writing copy, you'll get those big wins someday, too. And it really is the best way to make more "moolah", get rehired over and over again, and have a screaming horde of potential clients trying to squeeze into your schedule. Okay, now it's gone from a tame sprinkle to raining "cats and dogs" outside, which seems appropriate for today's issue. So without further ado, let me get this issue out to you. I've got a client deadline to meet! Meow... Yours for smarter marketing, Kim P.S. I tried looking for a photo of a "catbird seat" but no luck. Though this restaurant in Nashville by the same name came up. It made me wax nostalgic for dining out! The last sit-down restaurant meal I had was in early March... I know, "first world" problems, but anyone who's dined out with me knows I'm a foodie (& "wino" lol). Anyone ever dine at "The Catbird Seat" in Nashville before? Looks wonderful.

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