Questions You Need to Ask Every Prospect
in Order to Land More of the
Copywriting Projects You Quote

Recently, a fellow copywriter emailed me with a very good question: “What do you do when you’ve developed a quote for a potential client, and he or she just doesn’t respond?”

The short answer is that there is no easy solution to this dilemma. Quoting work is part of being a freelance copywriter. And dealing with unresponsive prospects is an unfortunate reality.

But what you can do is minimize the number of quotes or proposals that go nowhere, which in turn maximizes your overall success rate. And you do that by qualifying prospects and projects more thoroughly before agreeing to spend time quoting them.

Here’s how I do it. (By the way, for practical purposes, I’ll use “she” when referring to prospects, rather than “he or she.”)

#1: Learn more about the project.

When a prospect contacts me about a potential project, I want to learn as much as I can about it up front. I ask questions like:

  • Can you tell me more about the project?
  • What’s the actual challenge you’re trying to overcome (if applicable)?
  • What are the consequences of this/these challenge(s)?
  • What are you looking to accomplish?

Based on the prospect’s answers, I then try to determine the following:

  • Is the project well-defined?
  • Is this a project I can do well?
  • Are the prospect’s expectations realistic?
  • Is the prospect approaching the challenge in a logical manner?

Basically, I’m trying to determine if this project is a good fit for me. These questions help screen out projects that will only cause pain and suffering, and they help me focus on opportunities where I can add value.

Here are just a few responses that would concern me:

“Well, we’re not yet sure what we want or need, but our salespeople are desperate for leads.”

This tells me that the prospect probably has no real strategy. More than likely, she just wants leads (meaning potential customers) to magically appear. Which probably means that she has the wrong expectations of what a copywriter can do.

“Our challenge? Well, we haven’t done any marketing for years, so we’re not sure where to start.”

Sounds like the prospect needs more than just copywriting; she also needs some consulting work. That’s fine, but is she willing to pay for it? Maybe, maybe not. I need to dig deeper.

“The last two freelance copywriters we used just couldn’t get our message right, so our CEO fired them.”

Big red flag. Yes, maybe the copywriters they hired were no good. But I’m willing to bet that it had more to do with poor communication within the company. Or maybe internal disagreements about what they needed. Or even a CEO with a constantly moving vision of what she wanted to communicate. (That’s a very common problem with smaller companies where the CEO is also the founder.)

#2: Determine the project’s budget.

I admit it. Budget questions can be tough to ask. But if you’re going to spend time assembling a proposal, you have the right to know if the prospect even has a budget set aside for the project.

If you don’t feel comfortable asking for the project’s budget, provide her with a rough verbal price range for the project she is inquiring about. See if that fits within her budget.

Here are some great budget-related questions to ask:

  • Has a budget already been set aside for this project?
  • If not, will one be made available? When?
  • Have you worked with a freelance copywriter before?

Sample responses that would concern me include:

“Well, we don’t really have a budget now, but I’m trying to make one available.”

This tells me that the prospect is either unprepared, shopping around, or just not very serious about the project.

“We can’t pay much now, but we have a TON of work in the pipeline. So, if you work with us on your fees, we’ll give you all our copywriting work.”

Let me be clear about this, folks. Even if the prospect is sincere, these arrangements hardly EVER work out for the copywriter. So, as tempting as it may be to accept such an offer, don’t do it! Stick to your standard fee ranges.

“No, we haven’t worked with an outside copywriter before.”

This doesn’t mean you should walk, but do proceed with caution. You want to try and work with companies that have worked with a copywriter or freelance writer in the past. Their expectations will tend to be more reasonable.

#3: Find out more about the decision-making process.

Next, it’s very useful to know (and not out of line to ask) how the prospective client will make a decision. These questions can yield important clues as to whether or not this project is worth pursuing:

  • Who will be involved in making a decision on this project?
  • Are you considering other freelancers or firms?
  • How will you make a decision? What will it be based on?

Here again, these questions may come across as a bit aggressive. But the last thing you want to do is waste one or two hours quoting a project for which 10 other competitors will be submitting proposals … or a 14-person committee will make a joint decision.

So be wary of answers such as:

“My boss’s boss will be making the decision. I’m just collecting information for her.”

“We’re also getting quotes from six other copywriters.”

“It’s really going to boil down to price. We have a very limited budget and are looking for someone who will be flexible in that regard.”

#4: Determine the timing of the decision.

Finally, you should ask a couple of questions about the timing of a decision.

  • Do you need a quote for budgeting purposes … or are you looking to move on this soon?
  • When will you make a decision, and when can I expect to hear back?
  • Once I send you my proposal, when should I follow up with you?

Pay attention to the answers you get. For instance, noncommittal answers to “When will you make a decision?” should be a red flag. This tells me that the prospective client either is not that serious or is shopping around for the lowest quote. Or maybe the person inquiring is not the decision maker.

Also, I like prospects who allow me to follow up with them. People who tell me, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” are not usually good prospects. On the other hand, someone who tells me, “Ed, feel free to touch base with me if you haven’t heard from me by next Tuesday” is treating me like a potentially valuable resource.

A couple more tips. First, with all these questions, you need to make sure that you use the right tone and inflection. There’s a way to ask nicely and professionally … and a way to come across as a bully. So practice asking your questions on the phone with a friend. A few practice rounds will help you come across more confidently.

Finally, be realistic. You won’t fully eliminate unresponsive prospects from your life. But spending more time up front qualifying prospects will drastically reduce the time you spend chasing “phantom” opportunities.

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Published: June 24, 2009

2 Responses to “Questions You Need to Ask Every Prospect in Order to Land More of the Copywriting Projects You Quote”

  1. Ed: Thanks so much for this information. I generally read most of what you write and this is most helpful.

    TerrieSeptember 21, 2009 at 2:29 pm

  2. Ed, this is some valuable stuff...thanks for this valuable information and advice. Now, I'll be prepared and wont' be blind sided. I'll be able to ask the right questions to avoid wasted time by insincere clients, etc.

    BrigeetAugust 4, 2015 at 2:32 pm


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