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7 steps for keeping copywriting clients satisfied

February 19th, 2014 by Bob Bly

The worst thing about freelance copywriting (or any other type
of writing) is this:

You write a brilliant piece that you are absolutely in love
with. You submit it to your client or editor. And the client
call or e-mails – and to your utter amazement says, “I hate
this. It stinks.”

How can you prevent this unpleasant event and ensure your
clients’ satisfaction? Here are a few ideas that work:

1—Listen and capture.

Often when you ask the client about his business or product, he
will articulate its benefits in a clear and powerful way. Write
down what he says, and incorporate the best of this verbiage in
your copy. Not only is it accurate, but when the client reads
it, he’ll be pleased with how you put things (because it
accurately reflects how he thinks of the product).

2—Create a pre-approved sentence library.

Especially when dealing with a complex or technical subject,
after reviewing the source material, write a bunch of sentences
that express your understanding of the technology, function, and
features as best you can.

Submit these sentences – no more than 6 to 7 or so – to the
client and ask him to review. Incorporate any changes. Now, you
have a library of pre-approved sentences you can use in your

Few things upset clients more than the unpleasant surprise of
reading a first-draft filled with errors, because it puts the
fear into them that you do not understand the product. Using a
library of pre-approved sentences eliminates surprises of this

3—Submit 3-5 headlines.

Come up with 3 to 5 headlines – the strongest you can. Instead
of picking one and submitting your first draft with it, show the
headlines to the client early … and let him pick. That way, when
he gets your first draft, he is already comfortable with the
headline, which is the first thing he sees.

4—Submit the lead early.

As with the headlines, write a 100 to 500-word lead or two,
submit them to the client for review and comment, and then make
any changes. Again, now when he gets the first draft, you are
ensured of no surprises, at least on page one.

5—Use the John Steinbeck writing method.

John Steinbeck said that when you are writing, you must treat it
as the most important thing in the world, even when you know it
is not. This helps you take the job seriously and do your best
on everything you write.

6—Use the Bill Bonner writing method.

Bill Bonner, founder of publishing giant Agora, told copywriter
JF that you must believe in what you are selling – at least
while you are writing the promotion. If you don’t believe and
think the product is hooey, turn down the project. This is why I
just turned down a potentially lucrative assignment to promote a
course on how to make good business decisions based on

7—Do not be a prima donna.

When the client makes changes, don’t pout or grumble, even if
you disagree with them. For instance, in a copy review last
week, the client removed a phrase I thought was really strong –
a reference to the Dire Straits song “Money for nothing.” I
loved it. But I did not argue.

Copywriter Cam Foote always said he considered his first draft a
recommendation – and after that, he would acquiesce pleasantly.
David Ogilvy said, “Fight over your queen; let the pawns go.”


This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 19th, 2014 at 10:17 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

8 responses about “7 steps for keeping copywriting clients satisfied”

  1. Kevin Dawson said:

    I was wondering – what about how we have been trained to fight for our copy? Then at the end, you answer with the Ogilvy quote:

    “Fight over your queen; let the pawns go.”

    Truly a masterstroke. Thanks, Bob.

  2. Susan said:

    You have some great tips in this post! Copywriting can be very finicky and your tip about submitting early and multiple headlines is a great to incorporate into your plan. Thanks!

  3. Susanna Hutcheson said:

    I understand what you’re saying about not being a prima donna but I don’t think it’s being a prima donna to not want a client to change your copy. He knows zip about what sells and with his bumbling changes will likely cost himself a whole lot of sales.

    If I make a factual error, I want to correct it immediately. But after I’ve slaved over copy and selected just the right words and phrases, I won’t back any copy that a client makes a one word change to. Gary Halbert had the same philosophy.

    It’s easier to give in to a client and, at the end of the day, it’s theirs to ruin.

  4. Bob Bly said:

    SH: In this instance, I disagree with you that clients know zip. The client knows more about his product and his customers than we do. But I do agree that if a client makes a change I do not condone and will not back away from it, then I am not responsible for the results.

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