The juicy fruit dangled before you as a copywriter is a long-standing contract and a faithful, trusting client. The goal is to cut down all the ‘learning-curve’ time you spend on the small one-off jobs. How do you protect yourself against the empty promises thrown your way?
Clients, especially those in large companies, have learned to exploit this weakness by dangling a large work contract in front of your eyes. They may say something like “We have six brochures to upgrade PLUS our website PLUS our company presentation. We want a good copywriter with whom we can grow.” And of course the punch line…”What special package price can you give us for all this?”
You think about the number of times you’ve had to invoice for small individual jobs and compare it to the prospect of a substantial payment flowing into your bank account every month and you’re prepare to jump through hoops for this. As a copywriter of over 30 years experience (who has also fallen several times into these traps), I say ‘Beware’:
1) Acclimatization Period
It’s going to take a while until both sides learn to work together, trust each other and recognize each other’s unique qualities. I would say that if you are in close contact with your client (several calls per week) it is still going to take a few months before you can map out where this relationship is going. So don’t rush things too quickly, even if you urgently want to improve your finanancial situation.
2) Manage Expectations
The quality of service you provide may not be what your client has in mind. More specifically, the amount of work detail into which each side enters may be different. It’s worth having a written agreement between you and your client so that as much as possible is stated in black and white. This is also a reason to ‘start slow and small’.
3) Small nibbles before big bites
Even with a large ‘shopping list’ of items to be done and an urgent timetable (“We need to deliver 6 new brochures this month, can you commit to 90 hours this month?”) you should insist on dealing with one or two items from beginning to end first. You have to check how many drafts you’ll have to do and what is the approval cycle within the client’s company. How many people will be contributing their inputsand will you can consistent or conflicting feedback? I have found that an apparently simple job of around 10 hours has inflated to 50 hours because of all these factors.
4) Beware of the ‘Client-Copywriter’
Some clients take your work and reform it in their own style – or add so many amendments that you feel you’re battling against another copywriter on the same job. I find that this is particularly apparent when a job needs to be fitted into a defined space – such as 400 words for a 2-sided flyer. You work hard on the text to trim it down to the required size and then the revision that you get from your client expands the text to 600-700 words again – with copywritten texts that were used before. What are you here? An editor? A proofreader? A quality-control person? Dealing with the ‘Client-Copywriter’ can be very frustrating for you and perhaps lead to you leaving the project in the end. You need to watch out for this.
5) Show goodwill, but with care
The prospect of working on a large contract and over an extended time may prompt you to be generous with your time. You may feel that you should fund some of the ‘learning curve’ yourself in terms of un-billed time. Let’s say it takes 10 hours to review all the company’s old material and competitive information. You might suggest charging for only 5 hours and absorbing the other 5 hours yourself – especially as an additional incentive to get them to sign your work contract. There’s nothing wrong with this – I’ve done it many times and it’s generally appreciated. But I have a proviso.
Don’t include the financial adjustment in the first or even second payment period. Save it for later, when you’re sure that the whole relationship is going the way you hope. If you’re being paid monthly, suggest the financial adjustment at the end of the first quarter. In this way you’ll guard against your client taking all the benefits you offer and then shopping for a better deal after you’ve done all the donkey work.
If all these recommendations help you to put your copywriting business on firmer foundations, I’ll feel that my words have done their job.