…And The 4 Reasons It Made Me A Better Copywriter and Businesswoman
I looked at the unopened email as if it might contain an electronic-born strain of some vile, poisonous virus. Possibly dark magic. And in a way, it did. My stomach churned. It was from her. I hadn’t heard from her in days and days. Things had got to the point where I think I was hoping she’d just…disappear. Not permanently – no cement shoes here – just off my fricken radar.
We weren’t on the same page. Not even a little bit. As it turned out, Peta was a PITA: Pain In The Arse. I know, I know. It’s not very nice. But it’s an acronym us copywriters use when the time is right.
I knew the dynamic had become untenable. The lines of “I don’t like this” with no further explanation in her revisions. The way she’d edit my active voice and persuasive writing back into passive voice; words which asked permission, because she didn’t want to “sound arrogant”. I realise now, even though she thought she needed a copywriter, she didn’t want one. She wasn’t ready to outsource. She didn’t have a clear idea of how her brand voice should sound. And I should have seen it all.
Here’s the short version what I did wrong:
- I wavered on price where I should have stood firm
- I didn’t have any Terms and Conditions or formal contracts
- I let her get away with a half baked-brief
- My copy wasn’t self-weeding, and I didn’t say ‘No’
The thought of finishing the job made me want to poke myself in the eye. Back to the story…
I stared at that poison email for a good few minutes before I remembered I was wearing my big-girl pants. I opened it thinking, Oh what do you want from me now?!
Imagine my surprise and delight to see what Peta the PITA wanted was for me NOT to be her copywriter. I gave her a pro-rata refund, wished her well, and felt like a million bucks.
I’d never actually been fired before this, and thought it would feel bad. Is it meant to feel amazing?? ‘Cos it freaking did!
And that’s why getting fired was one of the best things to happen to me at that stage of my freelance career.
I learnt so many lessons in that short experience, early on in my freelance days, I almost feel like I should send her flowers. (I’m not gunna. I did say almost.)
How do you know when you’re courting a client who has strong PITA potential? And how do you, the prospect know when you’re waving PITA flats? Let’s demystify this PITA thing.
Here’s my list of ‘red flags’ – danger signs. They stick out like dogs balls now, but back then I only had my spidey senses tingling every so slightly.
A Prospect Is Probably A PITA If They:
- Balk at your quote and offer you less
- Resist filling out the brief and/or give a crap brief
- Take inordinate delays between revisions, then
- Come back close to the original deadline with a change of scope
- Give Useless Feedback: I’ll address this further shortly
- Let an unqualified, unrelated (to their business) party edit your copy: partners, parents, and best friends are prime candidates
- Tweak your copy – during OR after final revisions
As you can see from my Ned Stark meme, I have no patience for copy tweakers.
Please, please, PLEEEEEEEASE communicate during the free revisions process. Resist signing off and then ‘fixing’ it yourself: You’re not fixing it. You’re just undoing hours of work and making sure your copy….sucks.
Useless Feedback, Part 1
The scenario: A client giving perfunctory, useless feedback in the revisions process is like throwing giant road blocks, catwire, and highway spikes in the way of your client-to-copywriter communications. What does unconstructive feedback look like? Here are a few examples.
- “I don’t like this” [Ok. Why?]
- “This doesn’t feel right” [Um, ok. Why?]
The fallout: When I read over the revisions seeing comments like these, I agreed – something did not feel right.
Hear me now: Leaving the writer to guess at what you like or don’t like takes up time copywriters could be using to write the copy. Take some time out and think about what the problem you’d like to copy to solve is. Give a detailed brief, and through revisions, give constructive feedback.
Useless feedback like the bulleted examples above comes across as hostile and makes relations frostier than they should be, considering your copywriter is writing your words. Also, it pisses me off. I’m a good writer, but mind-reading isn’t one of my skills.
The moral: Writers, tell your prospects how you work and what you expect. Ensuring a proper brief is taken/given goes a long way to preventing these sorts of passive-aggressive shenanigans.
Useless Feedback, Part 2
The scenario: Useless, unhelpful feedback can take the form of unrealistic expectations, and prospects not thinking the person they’re paying to write their copy may know more about writing copy than they do. For example:
- “You missed a full stop here” [Really? Well it’s the first draft – what did you think of the copy??]
- “This needs to be expanded” [I love long form copy but the usual answer to this is: No, no it does not. Your clients do not need to know your whole life story]
- “My dad/mum/sister/partner feels we should be doing….insert off-brief and beige copy idea” [Stand by for rant in 3. 2, 1…]
The naked truth: I’m going to be frank here. Unless your dad/mum/sister/ partner (etc) is the second coming of Leo Burnett , I don’t care what they think. I really don’t. Really. And if they’re Burnett the second, why the heck aren’t they writing your copy?? I want you to be a brave woman who can communicate adult-style and make her own decisions about her own business.
What I did then that I wouldn’t do now: Emailed furiously back and forth informing her, probably in a similarly snippy way, how to give proper feedback.
There are other Peta the PITA’s out there. Hopefully, my copy and other processes won’t let them through, but if that happens…
Here’s What I would do now: Call the client, talk through the revisions and clarify their expectations. Fire them if necessary, with an appropriate refund.
The lesson learned: As well as terms and conditions, self-weeding copy is a must. It’s what I’ve been working on for a while now. If I’m honest, poor Peta PITA probably thought I was a pain in the arse too.
The Irony: I was frustrated with Peta PITA because I could see she was too scared to show herself in her copy. Here’s the zinger: I ended up with Peta as a client because I was doing the same thing with my own copy. We were a bad match – from my brief, to my bland nicey-nice copy, to the fetters I placed on my own ‘loudness’: nothing about my copy let her know we weren’t suited before we agreed to work together. As I said at the top, it’s on me.
So you don’t have to worry about being an arsehole, or working with PITAs, here’s a breakdown on the 4 mistakes I’ve made. Learn from them: I have.
4 Mistakes I Made That You Don’t Have To
1. Don’t Underquote: You’ll Resent The Job, and Hate Yourself
The scenario: Establishing a good, fair price is hard when you’re new. In this instance, my quote was ridiculously low† anyway, and she still balked. This is a major red flag. Do not – I repeat, DO NOT do what I did and lower your price in exchange for a testimonial. Even if they say they’re a start-up (or especially if they say they’re a start-up‡), not-for-profit, or any other reasons they may have ‘no money’.
The psychobabble: When I agreed to less, I agreed to devalue my skills and my worth. I opened up a vortex of negativity and let the power balance go out of whack. When this happens, clients either think they own you, and/or you’ll resent the job (and them, and yourself) way more than you should because know you’re charging well under what your time is worth.
The moral: Set your prices and stick to them – it’s the first step of self-weeding copy. If you have to hustle to get someone to pay you to write for them, it’s not worth it. Don’t do it to yourself, or the prospect.
† Kate Toon has a great pricing course for copywriters. Do it. If you don’t do it, at least do some research to find out what the accepted rates are for copywriters of different experiences. Yeah, newbie’s can’t charge as much as the seasoned successful writer – that doesn’t mean you need to get on Fiverr and work for buttons.
‡We’ve all gotta start somewhere. And I wanted to help other start-ups so much; perhaps I will in the future. I know a couple of excellent start ups. They can be really difficult though, because they say they don’t have enough money to pay you your worth. This is generally true – but more importantly, some of them don’t know the value of good copy, tone of voice, blogs, the whole shebang. My advice: wait until you find a great start-up, or wait until a growing biz realises they need to fix their copy.
2. Use Protection – Terms and Conditions
Be A Proper Professional: This experience showed me just how naked and vulnerable I was without proper contracts and processes. So I bought a Newbie Copywriter Contract Pack and went on my merry way. I’ve never looked back. Short and simple: get yourself some contracts, and communicate like a professional at all times.
3. The Brief, The Brief, The Brief
The lesson: Apart from being steadfast on my price, a lot of this could have been avoided if I made Peta do a proper brief. Some writers talk it through, write it out, then make the client sight and sign. I use a template, and I like the client to fill it out as much as they can. If they put time into the brief, I know they’re serious about the project. I love the brief because when it’s complete, we both know what’s expected, and where we’re headed. The brief helps prevent both scope creep and change of scope. I want my clients to value the brief. So much so, it deserves its own blog – to be continued!
4. Saying No, and Using Self-Weeding Copy
Just. Say. No. When she balked at my rates, I should have had the confidence to say ‘No thankyou’. (Not ‘I really want to serve you’ – yuck, someone break my fingers next time I type those words.)
Self-Weeding Copy: I’ve mentioned this a few times, because it’s important. This blog is a form of self-weeding copy. If you’ve read this far and you’re thinking ‘Now where does she get off?’, then you’re not my ideal client, and the copy’s done it’s job.
See, for every 20 people who hate it, there will be at least a few who think ‘This is shit hot’ – ‘OMG I love her’ (ok maybe a bit extreme), or ‘I’m a brave businesswoman and I’m ready to abandon boring copy!’
And that’s exactly what I want. That way, we both get to have fun working on something great. I write copy which gives you results, you give me a testimonial (I have a cracker of a blog on testimonials, why copywriters need them, and how to write them here), and we both give brave copy virtual high-fives to each other at the end.
My website is getting chockers full of brave, self-weeding copy too. If you love what you’ve read here, and you want some sass on your page to help your conversions and showcase your strong personality, why not Click This Pink Link and jump on over to see what else I do.
If you enjoyed reading this, you may also love:
Write Drunk, Edit (and Proof Read) Sober – my tricksy tips for those who don’t do what we know we should and hire a proof reader.
SEO – Whoa: An Introductory Guide To The Universe Within A Universe – read what copy queen Jay Crisp Crow described as “…the funnest and funniest blog on SEO I’ve read. Ever.”
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