Can They Pass the “Communication Test”?

Today, I have a tale of two clients to tell you …

“Do you hire outside writers?” I asked Shawn, the marketing director of a small, national non-profit organization.

“Yes. Sometimes. Are you a copywriter?”

“Yes. I have a complete information packet I’d like to send to you. Would that be ok? I just need your email address.”

“That would be great. Send it over. I’d love to review it. In fact, I’ll look at it today and get right back to you. We have some important projects coming up.”

Music to my ears!!!

Being a good boy, I emailed it to Shawn right after we got off the phone.

Then I waited …

Nothing. No reply. No acknowledgement.

Nada … for two weeks.

So, I sent Shawn a reminder email.


So, I called Shawn back. Left a voicemail.

Goose eggs.

Then, I waited another two weeks.


In a moment of final desperation, I called Shawn one more time.

“Oh, yeah, hi Joshua … I LOVED your information kit. Let’s work on a project together.”

Wow … total surprise. I eagerly and willingly jumped on the project.

We discussed the project, set the fee (which was low, but, as Shawn pointed out, it was for a very noble cause … ), and then I got started.

I won’t bore you with any more details … but just know that the project took many months to finish. Each time I needed something from my buddy Shawn, he took 2-3 weeks to get back to me.

In the end, I only received half my fee, and they killed the project. It was a nightmare.

Now, let me tell you about another client …

During a quick call with Cheryl, the VP of marketing for Sony Media, she told me that yes, they do hire outside writers, and yes, she’d like to review my information packet.

I sent it over within a few minutes of our call.

I was surprised when less than five minutes later I received an email back confirming receipt and telling me she needed a week to review it.

A week later, the phone rings. “Hi Joshua, this is Cheryl.” Very nice!

Cheryl explained that she had a project for me, but it would be a few months since she needed to wait for her budget to reset. She promised to keep in touch as we got closer.

And she did!

I ended up doing three major projects with Sony that summer, totaling over $40,000 … and costing me a little more than three weeks of my time. Cheryl was lightning fast at getting me information and was very easy to work with.

Do you see the difference between these two clients?

In short, the first client failed the “Communication Test.” The second client passed it with flying colors.

It’s no coincidence that the company that failed the test paid less, disrespected my time, and was frustrating to work with … while the other company respected me, paid me well, and raised me to a new standard of accountability.

The “Communication Test” is simply this …

They get back to you when they say they will, and they respond to your requests promptly.

You can tell within a few exchanges if a client will pass the communication test. The pattern you see in the first few emails or phone calls will tell you all you need to know.

So, what can you do to attract golden clients that can easily pass the communication test?

Have your own protocol and clearly communicate it.

When clients approach you, they should know exactly what to expect. You should have a document that outlines how you work, that tells them your system.

“When you work with me, here’s what will happen … First, we’ll review the project. Second, finalize the agreement. Third, I’ll do research. Fourth, you’ll get some big idea notes back from me. Fifth, …” etc.

Spell it out for them. Let them know you have a plan. Establish expectations. And, of course, you need to stick to the plan!

When you do this, they’ll see you can be trusted to do what you say you’ll do when you say you’ll do it.

Think of it as a “Systems Overview,” and be sure to include it in your information packet and on your website. You should also have a one-page version of this that you can email new clients to help establish the relationship.

Here’s a suggestion … If you don’t know what your “System” should look like, why not collaborate with other writers? Post some questions in the comments, and let’s get a dialog going.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the third key indicator, the “More or Less Paradox.”

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Published: September 2, 2014

16 Responses to “Can They Pass the “Communication Test”?”

  1. I have a client who is overworked, stressed and never keeps his time commitments to me. Because I'm new to the web writing business, I've tolerated it, considering it a trade off for the experience and portfolio opportunities. But I've been wondering how other writers deal with a client who 1) treats you like you're his employee and 2) doesn't make your job/project a priority, but does apologize all over the place and vows to do better when approached. This is a small business owner and doctor who has a small support staff.

    Ellen BSeptember 2, 2014 at 7:13 am

  2. Hi Joshua, Enjoyed reading your article today and am interested in learning more about the mentioned "systems overview" and information packet. This is the first time I've heard it mentioned and would like to know what format and content these might include?
    Thanks for any insight you can provide.

    Donna CreightonSeptember 2, 2014 at 1:29 pm

  3. Your Shawn is my "Mack". He reached out to me first & we finalized project details for 4 pieces to complete in 5 weeks. That was 8 weeks ago & he still hasn't sent the final piece. When I followed up on piece 3 (a 500 word blog post) after waiting for 5 days with no response he said he 'hadn't even opened my email'. Clearly no respect for my time or business. I'm working out the remaining contract (because its the right thing to do) then moving on. I'm worth so much more.

    Jenn Flynn-ShonSeptember 2, 2014 at 2:13 pm

  4. This is great advice! I am so glad I read this now...before I got started on my copywriting journey.

    Melanie FischerSeptember 2, 2014 at 2:34 pm

  5. Yep, this is an important issue. You could have knock-out skills and still flounder, because success is about teamwork with people who also have the success mindset.

    I have a friend/business owner who I've done work for in the past. He'll call on a saturday afternoon to tell me his excitement about something and how he wants me to work on it. We schedule something, then it doesn't happen.

    I've stopped doing anything on my end. I've made clear my fees and how I work, and I'm happy as a lark not to hear from him, just as I would be if I did hear from him. Letting them know how you roll and then sticking to it is probably the single most important thing you can do to take it to the next level. Thanks Joshua.

    Guest (Scott Marshall)September 2, 2014 at 3:36 pm

  6. This is great information. I've had a couple of prospects who took forever to respond to my questions. They weren't even clients. They didn't become clients either.

    Guest (Karen Cioffi)September 2, 2014 at 3:44 pm

  7. Your advise is very reasonable. This is no different than a parent who is unable to stand firm with the rules they purport to have established with their kids. I'm sure you know of the parent who says "Next time you do time...".
    I do have a problem with this however, as I have not yet completed the copywriting course. I'm sure there is much too the business end of things I have not learned yet and I do not know where to start.

    Guest (Nora King)September 2, 2014 at 6:17 pm

  8. Thanks Joshua. I'm with Donna on this one. What goes into an info. packet, and what format should it follow? As a current student of 6 Figure Copywriting, I am sure that there are clients out there that can use my developing skills, but how and whom to approach is still a mystery. Any help will be greatly appreciated.

    Ed LynchSeptember 2, 2014 at 6:18 pm

  9. Your comments were extremely important for those of us who are new to the field and have no idea how work with clients should proceed. Could you give us a tutorial on how to proceed with clients? I can clueless in contracts and procedures.

    Julie Mac

    Guest (Can they pass the communications test)September 2, 2014 at 6:34 pm

  10. Hi Joshua, Great information to have. I'm a newbie...mostly because I just haven't taken the leap yet. Finished 3 AWAI programs. Look forward to hearing you at boot camp...I just wanted to know if you use a template for your "Systems Overview" or if it's different for every client. I would love some feed back because I need all the help I can get on how to approach clients for the first time when looking for projects. This sounds like a great system that is organized and works,

    Sue MorinSeptember 2, 2014 at 7:21 pm

  11. Hi Joshua! Just reading about Shawn gave me a headache. He reminded me of people I no longer do business with. I am working my way through a program, so as much of a system as I have now is working on it at the same time. I am a time, results and deadline conscious person, who used to be a project manager. My word means a lot to me, so I tend to keep my commitments. When I can't, I let people know as soon as I know! Is there a way to refuse to work with people like that? I would want to!

    KarenBSeptember 2, 2014 at 10:18 pm

  12. Hi Joshua,

    Great advice!

    Writers need to be mindful that the "Communications Test" also works the other way. Clients want to know that the writer will be responsive.

    HerbSeptember 3, 2014 at 8:59 am

  13. Great advice! It is helpful to size up your clients with the info you discuss. Certainly, a document defining the "rule set" that governs interactions is valuable for transparency. I dislike the term "Systems Overview" because that has so many other meanings in technical fields than the purpose you intend. A title that is more appropriate to the business world and the function of the document is a "Standard Operating Procedure" or SOP.

    Guest (Chip Laymon)September 3, 2014 at 10:57 am

  14. Hello Joshua,

    Your insights are well received. Since meeting you at the Bob Bly conference in Baltimore, I pay close attention to your emails and how they apply to B2B copy writing.
    The 'Mores' and 'Lesses' article hit home.

    Thank you,


    Tom Rintelmann September 3, 2014 at 5:47 pm

  15. Fantastic advice Joshua! Thank you for confirming something I already know. In fact, I had a similar experience just after last year's bootcamp. After submitting a spec assignment and following up, the marketer told me that he would make a final decision in two weeks time and let everyone know by email. Of course, he didn't. And to this day, I am thankful. After all, if your actions don't match your words, what good are you?! Am definitely looking forward to my next bootcamp.

    Mark LSeptember 4, 2014 at 9:59 am

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