Practice Landing Your Next Client
With Nick Usborne
(Please check your ‘personal self’ at the door … )

One of the biggest fears new web copywriters have is landing clients. And they’re not alone. Even professional copywriters feel a little fearful from time to time.

Even though you may feel confident that you can write effective web copy, the thought of pitching your services, negotiating your fees, and ultimately collecting your money leaves you feeling anxious.

To help you get past that fear, I’m going to walk you through the process from beginning to end with the help of the best in the business, web copywriting expert Nick Usborne …

Rebecca: I’d like to approach this interview from the perspective of a new copywriter. I’m just starting out, and my confidence is pretty low. How do I get past it?

Nick: You have to separate your personal self from your business self. I’ve actually developed a negotiating stance of “I don’t care.” If you understand how good I am, and you want me to work for you, then let’s go for it. But if you want to negotiate and break me down, and make me hustle for the work, then no thank you. I’ve got more high-value uses for my time.

I know it sounds arrogant, and it’s not really my nature, but it’s a business tool I use.

Rebecca: It’s your professional persona.

Nick: Right, it’s my professional persona. It’s not my natural persona.

Rebecca: What is your natural persona?

Nick: I’m kind of pathetic in that regard! Listen, I’m in the same boat as everyone else. I’m not some fancy millionaire. I go through the same emotions that new copywriters go through when there is a job I want.

A job comes up, and I could really use the income this month. And my personal persona says, “Oh man, I really want this.” And I’m crossing my fingers and saying, “I really, really hope I get this.” That’s how I feel, and that’s really private to my personal persona.

But when I’m dealing with the client, I put on my professional persona. I say, “Hey man, I’m THE Nick Usborne.” And then afterwards I laugh when I look in the mirror, because it’s just me that I see.

As a copywriter, you need to separate those two people: your professional self and your personal self.

When I look in the mirror – I wouldn’t pay that guy $20K to do a whole bunch of web writing! He’s just a middle-aged man with hair coming out of his nose! And if I pitched that guy professionally, well that would be absurd. It’s only by pitching myself as the professional that people perceive that I’ve been able to increase my fees, year by year by year.

Rebecca: OK, so now I’ve got my professional persona on, and I want to pitch myself to a potential client. What is the easiest thing I can do to make the biggest impact for my client’s business?

Nick: Most websites have a money page, or a series of money pages. The homepage is usually the place where you say, “Hi, here’s who we are, here’s what we do.” On the second or third level of that site, there is going to be a page or number of pages that are going to try to make a direct sale. Something like, “Buy this service,” or “Download this software.” Or it may be a lead generation page like, “Please contact us about our financial services.”

The fastest way you can make an impact, or get a company to pay attention to you, is to identify those money pages and then pitch the potential client with: “Would it help you if these pages worked harder?” And the answer, of course, is always yes.

Rebecca: If the money page is the easiest way to get started, what’s the hardest?

Nick: The homepage. Whatever you do, stay away from the homepage. If I approach a company and say, “Hey, I could do a really cool upgrade to your homepage,” I’m getting in a mess. There will often be five or more people involved in the decision, and they’ll all have their own opinions about it. So now you have to persuade five people instead of one. If they haven’t already made the decision to change the homepage, you’re wasting your time.

Any changes you make won’t make a dent to the bottom line that month. The client will be more likely to take a risk on you if you can add more money to his bottom line immediately. And re-writing a page to increase conversions is the easiest way to do that.

Rebecca: OK, so now I have my potential client identified, and I have identified their money pages. What is the best way to approach the client about the project, without making him defensive?

Nick: One of the easiest things to do is to start off writing a letter or an email – simply because it’s easier for them to take. But present it respectfully. I’ve gotten emails before that say, “Hey, Nick, I think what you’ve done here sucks.” And at that point I just delete the email.

Recognize that they’ve done a heck of a job getting to where they are. And without being patronizing, say, “If you’re interested, I specialize in optimizing web pages and increasing conversion rates. I think I can help you improve this page.”

With my first contact, I don’t say, “Such and such page is a fright, and I want to re-write it.” Instead I say, “By the way, I did look at a couple of your pages and found a few that would convert much better if we applied a few best practices to them.”

Do you see how I used the phrase “best practices”? It’s easier to sell best practices than it is to sell your own subjective expertise.

Rebecca: So now the marketer responds and says, “OK, let’s talk.” Now I’ve got a live one on the line … what do I do next?!

Nick: Well, if they respond saying, “OK, I’m interested, tell me more,” then it’s really what works best for you – phone or email. I’m a real scaredy cat on the phone, so I prefer email. I’m a terrible salesperson.

Rebecca: That makes sense. You’re a copywriter and more comfortable with writing. So whether you call or email, the client asks, “What are you thinking?”

Nick: Don’t give away the store. Just point out a few things that should be changed, like maybe certain things about the way the headline is written, or maybe that the format of the page is poor for good conversions. Tell them the areas that need work, but don’t tell them how they can be fixed.

Rebecca: Now the client says, “Great, what’s this going to cost me?”

Nick: Never give them the answer over the phone. You’ve got to give yourself time to think. When you’re just starting out, you’ll most likely blurt out a fee that is far too low. Simply because you’re nervous and you just want the job. Also giving a price too quickly can become a big problem if you don’t first ask about the scope of what’s involved in the project.

Rebecca: How do I respond then?

Nick: Simply say, “I can’t give you a fee over the phone right now, but if you can confirm for me the scope of work – exactly what you want me to do for the project – I will get back to you with a quote in 24 hours.”

Once you get the scope, you think about how long it’s going to take you.

Pricing is always tough, and my temptation is to charge too little. So here’s what I do to make sure I price my projects properly …

First, I get off the phone and think how long this project is going to take me. And maybe I say I could do this for $450. I write that on a piece of paper and put it next to my keyboard. Then I look at it and think to myself, “Nick, you’re crazy.” My professional persona talks to my personal persona, and I say, “You’re right; I’ll change it to $750.”

So I’ll write the new fee on the paper and put it next to my keyboard again. And then that voice says again, “OK, Nick, come on. Be a big boy now.” So I open the client’s website and I think of what the value of writing this page for the client would be. How much money could I make them if I increased the conversion rate by even one percent?

So now I look at my $750 and think, “Nick, you’re such a doofus. Why will you never learn?” So then I change that $750 to $2,500. Because I think, “Hey there’s value there.”

That same project may end up at $5,000. And you know what’s weird? Nobody ever gets back to me and says, “I was expecting $450.”

Rebecca: But what would you say if that client says, “We only budgeted $3,000”?

Nick: Then I’ll pause and look at the job and recalculate my effort to see if it’s still worth it. If it is, I’ll say, “Done, let’s get started!”

Rebecca: What if they only budgeted $750?

Nick: Then I’ll say, “No thank you.” Because I can take those 10 hours and spend them picking up a better client at a higher rate.

I’m constantly asking myself – what is the value of my time? I track how I spend every minute of my time, and what value I got from that time spent.

Rebecca: Now I have my client. What about collecting my fees? Do you do a typical 50% up front, and 50% upon completion?

Nick: It depends. Sometimes when I’m working with a company that I don’t really know, I divide my payments into three. I’ll let them know I want a third up front, a third half way, and a third at the end. Because I know if they’re going to mess with me, it’s going to be on that third payment.

A couple times in my career, I submitted that third invoice, and then came the excuses. So what I learned to do was make sure that the first two payments were enough to make me feel happy about the experience. And if I picked up that third payment, it was like a bonus. You pick up all of these tricks over the years.

Rebecca: That way you’re collecting at least two thirds of your fee, instead of one half.

Nick: Exactly, so I make sure that those first two thirds are what I feel the project is worth. Ninety percent of the time I get paid, I don’t have bad experiences. But it happens. Probably at least once a year I have an issue with somebody not paying.

Rebecca: What do you do in that case? How long do you fight it until you just let it go?

Nick: I’m actually quite scientific about this. I look at the amount involved, and I look at the value of my time. If I spend 10 hours fighting, instead of using that time working on other projects, is it worth it?

The other day someone screwed me out of $2,500. And they expected a huge fight out of me. And yes, it really ticked me off. They didn’t want to pay because my page didn’t outperform the original. So I showed them the agreement where I specifically said I cannot guarantee results, which they agreed to. But they stiffed me anyways.

So I thought to myself: One, “How much time am I going to have to invest in fighting, with only the possibility of winning this money back?” And two, “How much is it going to upset me and distract me from my other work?” And in the end I figured the best use of my time was to write it off as bad debt, and write it off on my taxes. And then I got on with my work.

I know I can make $2,500 by spending my time writing. But if I fight him, maybe I will get the $2,500, maybe I won’t.

People shouldn’t be overly concerned though. Over the course of the past 30 years, this has maybe happened to me 10 or 15 times. I’ve also learned to sniff these people out sooner.

Rebecca: Trust your instincts.

Nick: Precisely.

Rebecca: OK, now I’m ready to go out and pitch potential clients. Any more advice before I get started?

Nick: Just remember to separate your personal persona from your professional persona.

You’re not going to get every job you pitch, trust me. I know what it’s like to start out. I know what it’s like to pitch 50 jobs and only get three. But keep at it.

When you’re pitching, and someone says no … I know it’s hard, but you need to not take it personally. It’s not a rejection of you. It’s a rejection of your business proposal. There can be all kinds of reasons why someone says no – it’s not a reflection of you at all.

Now you can release that fear, because you know exactly what to expect, and how to handle it. So get out there and land your next client with confidence!

And whether you are an aspiring or professional web copywriter, I highly recommend you grab Copywriting 2.0: Your Complete Guide to Writing Web Copy that Converts, read it cover to cover, and then keep it within arm’s reach of your computer. Not only does Nick show you how to identify all of the opportunities that exist for you with a client’s website, he shows you how to fix them. (And then let’s you collect the fees!)

I personally have a copy sitting on my desk and don’t write a single lick of copy without referring to it first. It has everything you need to become a successful web copywriter in 2008.

With less than two months to go until the New Year, it’s still easily possible to launch your freelance web copywriting career this year if you have Nick’s program guiding you. If you don’t have a copy, order one now.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


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Published: November 5, 2008

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