How I feel when clients suck...

How I feel when clients suck…

Hey Rainmaker, I’m a little ticked off right now…

I’ve recommended more than one time that when you’re a new copywriter, one of the best things you can do is go out and get work…  Even if you have to do it on a totally spec basis.

As you may recall, I got my first copywriting client and successful copywriting experience this way.

I wrote a letter that basically said, “I’m going to write you a new sales letter.  You’re going to love it.  You’re going to test it.  And it’s going to beat the pants off your control.  If all those things happen, you pay me.  If any of those things doesn’t happen, we stop there and you’re out nothing.”

In short, I put my time and talents and energy totally at risk for the benefit of the client…

And they would either come out even, or ahead!

It’s an almost-impossible-to-turn-down offer for any smart marketer.

And that’s why it works so well for getting your first client.


(And you knew there was a big BUT coming…)

When clients suck, this strategy can totally backfire!

Which is what I just heard about happening recently, and why I’m so upset.

A copywriter I know had followed this strategy, and wrote a pretty smokin’ hot piece of copy, that has every chance of beating the control.

They worked with the client, for a rather long time, refining the copy and getting it ready…

And then, the client became a total pain in the hiney.

They said they were going to finish up production and test it…  Then they didn’t.

Then they said AGAIN they were going to finish up production and test it…  And AGAIN, they didn’t.

And they’ve said again they want to move forward, but aren’t showing any real signs of progress.

Which means this copywriter risked their time, talent, energy, and a really good “big idea” for their copy…  For a client that may never let their copy see the light of day!

This is “Clients Suck 101” and it’s a reality of the creative business…

I don’t know exactly what’s going on in this client’s company.  I’m too removed from the situation to see that.  But I do know that this behavior is unfortunately all-too-common…  Even if it’s totally unacceptable.

This is the biggest risk of taking on this kind of project on a spec or “beat the control” basis.

If the client sucks, you can invest a ton of time, talent, and energy into writing great copy, and feel like it’s a Sisyphean task to just get your copy out the door.

Gary Halbert famously ranted about the Top 10 reasons copywriters don’t get paid…

  1. Client screws it up.
  2. Client screws it up.
  3. Client screws it up.

…  And so on.  You get the point.

There are so many ways a client can screw up your copy — starting with never friggin’ using it — that it can make the whole career choice seem like a mistake at some points.

So…  What options are there if you find yourself in a similar situation?

First off, recognize that you can always walk away.

If you’re doing work on spec, remember the meaning of that.  “Spec” comes from “speculation.”  You’re doing the work “on speculation” that it might work out between you and the client, it might not.

That’s a two-way street.

If you decide at any point that it no longer makes sense to work with the client, you can respectfully walk away.

And if they’re not being respectful of your time, talent, and energy you’re investing in trying to hand them a risk-free winner, you probably SHOULD walk away.

But that’s the hard choice.

Because you’ve already sunk so much time, talent, and energy into the project, you may feel like you’re losing time to give it up.

In which case, you should consider whether you can re-use that copy.  If no money has changed hands, there may be significant portions of the copy that can be re-used.  For example, if your big idea comes from outside of the product (as most of the best ones do), you may be able to adapt it to another product with another client.

If you find the right client, you may even be able to show them a chunk of copy, and get them to pay you for it to be adapted for their use.

Be careful with this though.  If you signed a contract that says even your spec work is the client’s property, this may not be a viable option.  Not without totally rewriting the copy, at least.  (Copy can protected by copyright, but an idea cannot be.)

Remember this though, whether or not you can take the copy or idea with you…

Sometimes walking away from a situation that’s bringing you down is exactly what you need…

It can be totally freeing and liberating — even energizing — to get out from underneath a project that’s just not working out.

Especially one where there is a client who is not respecting you at the level that you deserve to be respected.

Even if you have to walk away 100%, that might be the best situation for you moving forward.

But remember, do this both assertively and respectfully…

If there’s a clear behavioral problem on the client’s part, you may have to have a “Come to Jesus” talk.

Force them to move to a “yes” or a “no,” and away from a “maybe” or “later.”

If they haven’t been taking action, give them a deadline.

Tell them you just won’t be available to them after that point.  So if they want you to finish the project with them, they will need to do so.  Make the deadline reasonable — if it’s too tight, they’ll just say “goodbye.”  Do it respectfully.  Maybe write it, let it sit for 24 or 48 hours, and edit it before sending.

But don’t hesitate to stand up for yourself and be assertive.

I’ve found that as much as anything else in life, assertiveness and confidence and taking action with it’s hard to do so is what moves you ahead fastest.

Final thought…

If there’s a solution to this problem, it’s this double-edged sword…

As a novice, this is hard advice to take, and even harder to implement.

I give it, recognizing that.

The best way to prevent this is to get paid to show up.

Which is the 180-degree opposite of my recommendation of starting your career on spec.

I know this.

My recommendations are vast.  They contain multitudes.

But the reality is that free advice or work can be quite futile, IF you’re dealing with someone with the wrong mindset.

By forcing someone to pay to work with you, or talk with you, or do whatever with you…  You’re setting up a situation where they’ll automatically value you and your time more.

And, for the most part, the more they pay, the more they’ll value it.  And the more likely they are to follow through and implement.

The tricky part is that when you don’t have much of a reputation or presence in the market, it’s much harder to get paid to show up.

I don’t necessarily have a direct solution, other than to say that you want to move away from the “on spec” model to the “fee in advance” model ASAP.

And for any situation that you might accidentally find yourself in where you’re dealing with this “Clients Suck” situation, be ready to assert yourself and call it as you see it.

You may be surprised with the response you get.

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr

Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets

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