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 copy.
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 nature.
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 astrology.
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.”
Bob Bly is the author of “World’s Best Copywriting Secrets” and has written copy for more than 100 companies including IBM, Boardroom, Medical Economics and AT&T. He is the author of more than 75 books and a columnist for Target Marketing, Early To Rise and The Writer. McGraw-Hill calls him “America’s top copywriter”.