£30k project? No thanks…

Yesterday, I turned down a job worth over £30k.

I want to tell you why – because it says a lot, whether you’re buying or selling services.

It’s a long one, but worth a glance. Here goes…

I got an email last week from a company that runs half a dozen e-commerce sites. They wanted a long-term partner – starting with a whacking great site to promote their main product range.

Now, I wouldn’t take this on personally. I’m more interested in writing ‘funnels’…end-to-end campaigns, with sales letters, emails, landing pages…the funky stuff. But I’ve got a crack team of associates who can do this work on my watch, so I decided to hear these people out.

Turns out, they were idiots.

No brief or sense of direction. They couldn’t even answer basic questions about their product or their customers. Frankly, I’m amazed they’d managed to dress themselves and get to work that morning.

And then came the words that make copywriters shiver:


Meaning, “You write some of the copy for nothing, and maybe we’ll hire you.”

Not. A. Chance.

I explained –

You’ve seen my copy samples. You can talk to my clients. Check my testimonials.

You know I bring results. How I’ve beaten controls online and off, and generated millions.

You also know my work comes with a guarantee of satisfaction. And in 12 years of doing this, I’ve never once been called on it.

Oh yeah – and you know that I turn away 90% of the work I’m offered.

So why in the name of Satan’s mighty buttocks would I write something for you FOC, “just in case”?

Look. You wouldn’t hail a taxi and say “Take me home, and if I enjoy the ride you can drive me to the airport tomorrow.”

You wouldn’t ask a builder to lay the foundations for your new house, on the off-chance that you’ll give them the rest of the gig.

And you wouldn’t accept those terms, if you were the contractor.

So show some respect. Yeah?

Okay – there are copywriters who’d put up with all this. In fact, I dare say most would with such a fat juicy contract at stake. But I gave them a flat ‘NO’ – for 5 reasons:

1 – Writing on spec hands all the power to the client. You’re coming across as desperate. Giving them the upper hand in negotiating fees.

2 – The abuse will continue. If they disrespect your time now, that won’t suddenly change if / when the job goes ahead. They’ll think you’re their bitch. Expect you to jump when they say ‘JUMP!’…when you should be delivering the work on pre-set terms.

3 – You’re investing way more than writing time. To do the job justice, you’ve got a full day’s research (MINIMUM) at the start. Meaning, even if they offer to cover your single page rate, the numbers won’t add up.

4 – You’re writing blind. Clients who ask for this usually have some hidden decision maker higher up the food chain, who won’t contribute to the brief…probably won’t SEE the brief…but still gets the final veto. Crossed signals guaranteed.

5 – They’ll use your copy anyway. If you write a page that sizzles, but they choose someone else on price, your copy will worm its way into the end product – in whole or derivative form. Then you’ll have to get a solicitor…it just ain’t worth the hassle.

Okay. So if the client’s uneasy at the start, what can you do?

Make guarantees, like satisfaction – or unlimited rewrites, within the scope of a watertight brief.

And, for a huge project, give them a get-out clause at the first milestone – allowing you enough coin to cover your research time, and giving them assurance that they’re not in it too deep.

That assurance fell on deaf ears with these particular numpties. But that’s fine – if a client is going to be a nightmare, it’s better to find out early.

Bottom line: whatever your business, there are good clients out there. But you can’t turn a fundamentally bad client into a good one. Square pegs, round holes and all that.

So – the takeaway?

If you’re selling your time, guard it with your life. If someone feels they’re entitled to it, and tries to claim it without reimbursement, they’re a lousy prospect.

No deal is better than a bad deal. So walk.

And if you’re buying someone else’s time, show some respect. Some will give you a small bit of free time, for the two of you to talk turkey and see if the project fits. But then, expect to pay.

They’ve got bills, same as you. And last I heard, Tesco won’t take vague promises of future work in exchange for a tin of spaghetti.

Here endeth the rant.

Agree or disagree, it’s up to you. But for the record, I’m right.

(And if you’re a copywriter, don’t ask me to put you in touch. I’m not against helping you…but I am against helping them to piss other people about).

UK Copywriter James Daniel

James Daniel

You might not know who I am, but no doubt you've read my copy. If you've ever bought a hearing aid, a pizza oven, flat roof or vacuum cleaner. If you've hired a will writer, an IT guy or accountant. If you've been to events on marketing, acting or how to buy a business. There's every chance it started with a bit of my copy - a few simple, chatty, gently persuasive words. Ring any bells?

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