Seeking the Golden Client

Welcome back to The Writer’s Life and your “hero’s journey.”

Back in the old days when I worked as a consultant for HP, I had a well-defined job. I sold consulting to HP’s customers, and then delivered or project-managed the consulting engagements. It was pretty easy in retrospect.

Occasionally, I’d run across a difficult project or customer, but even when I had bad days, I knew that I’d still see a nice paycheck every couple of weeks.

Now, a bad day can turn into a bad week, which can easily result in a bad month where my income drops way below where I want it to be. I try to keep that from happening as much as possible, and on Thursday, I’ll give you some tricks I use to keep the pipeline full.

But when you’re first starting out, it can feel like every day is a bad day. Not having paid work is the least fun part of being a freelance writer.

This is one area where the journey of a freelance writer more closely resembles the heroic sagas you grew up reading and watching.

Once the hero passes the initial threshold and steps into unknown territory, he or she is put through a series of tests and trials. There are periods of fun-filled glory where you feel on top of the world, and times when you just want to quit.

As a writer, you will also be tested in your hero’s journey. Most of these tests will be the challenges you face in getting clients. At times, it will feel as though you’re scaling castle walls and fighting dragons, just to get someone to sign on the dotted line.

Just ask any of the heroes of our industry, and you’ll find that they’ve encountered at least one of the following heroic tests when seeking the golden client.

Test #1: “Please show us some samples.”

Every fresh-faced copywriter dreads those words. You’re asked to show samples of your work and you have little or nothing to show.

In my experience, the fear you experience isn’t based on having or not having samples. The fear runs deeper and really asks the question most of us dread the most: “Are you good enough?”


If you’re new, and have few or no samples, a request for samples feels like a sword to the gut. The thing to remember is that they just want to get a warm and fuzzy feeling about your ability to do the job. As Master Copywriter Bob Bly says, having a portfolio is helpful, but not essential. Approaching the situation with confidence is your best weapon.

Plus, as Bob points out, you can always create samples by doing work pro bono or revising existing marketing pieces.

Test #2: “Can you reduce the price? That’s over our budget.”

You’ll get this one quite often when working with small businesses.

Never reduce the price without also reducing the scope of work. If your proposal has enough detail (as it should), then you can simply ask, “What would you like me to NOT do?”

Sometimes they’ll reduce the scope of the project. Sometimes they’ll say they still want it all. And, sometimes they’ll tell you that it’s just too much. In that case, walk away.

Why? The worse clients are ALWAYS the ones who think your price is too high.

Test #3: “We’ve got most of the copy written, so you just need to tweak it a bit.”

Run away. Run away as fast as you can.

Calmly explain that your writing approach requires you to look at everything from a fresh perspective. You’d be happy to use their copy, but it’s not going to affect how you price the project.

Trust me. The amount of time you spend researching and writing won’t change by much just because they hand you a “rough first draft.” In some cases, it makes your job more difficult.

Test #4: “Have you worked with other clients in our industry?”

I just started work with a new B2B client who creates custom flex circuits. I had to look it up, too.

They asked me if I’d ever done work for other flex circuit designers. I said, “No, I haven’t. I’ve been in the high-tech field for most of my adult life. I’ll learn what I need and give you the results you want.”

You’ve got to KNOW that you can do it, and the way you prove it to them is to do some advanced research. Go into the call or meeting already knowing enough about the company and industry to talk intelligently. Then, use your knowledge of persuasion to demonstrate how you can help.

The fact that you’ve never worked with similar clients should never be an obstacle. As a writer, you know that you can write about anything given enough time to learn about the products and the market.

Test #5: “I’m not ready yet.”

That’s your inner gremlin talking. He’s saying that you need to read more, learn more, or start with clients who pay peanuts and expect million-dollar copy.

I know. I’ve been there.

You’re ready when you decide you’re ready. Knowledge and experience help, but they’ll never truly make you ready to work with clients. As with any hero, it’s up to you to decide when you’re ready, and hopefully that moment is right now.

Good journeys. If you have any questions or comments for me about the challenges you face in getting clients, post them below.

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Published: June 1, 2011

7 Responses to “Seeking the Golden Client”

  1. Hey Sid,

    Really good stuff in this article. I'd like to share a little trick I used in the beginning when I was just starting out and didn't have much in the way of a portfolio - but the truth is, I still use it today. It's fast, it's relatively easy and it increases by close rate by about 45%.

    As a ghostwriter, most of the time I sign non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements - which means I can't share my work anyway. So what I do with a new client is tell them that, and then say "Why don't I write you up a sample customized for this project? That way you can check out my writing skills and get a feel for my style. And of course, you're welcome to use the sample at no charge." And of course I always get the sample back to them within 24 hours.

    Cheryl Antier

  2. I have never really done any copywriting before, but I truly believe that I can take a shot at this because I read a lot of books and I keep a journal of my life and goals. So my question is can I be a part of this training and what would be the best course to start with to give me the confidence to do this....


  3. This was a great post for a new copywriter. I am facing challenges finding customers in that I don't know how to attract them or let them know I exist.

    Guest (Kimberly R)

  4. Good suggestions, Sid, which resonate with a lot of non-copywriting experiences I've had in getting start-up operations off the ground. Several successful ones followed your principles. The ones that stumbled or fell apart violated them in specific ways. The worst mistake was shuckin' and jivin' about past experience and successes. The best policy in cases where one is a light-weight in some areas is to be candid, honest, and confident when you KNOW you can produce what they're looking for. And if they don't buy it, believe me, that's probably their loss more than yours.

    Richard Lacey

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