Hey there Rainmaker, today’s question is an interesting one. One with which I admittedly still struggle a bit.
Before I dive in, a quick reminder. Every Monday, I answer YOUR questions here in the appropriately-named Mailbox Monday edition of Breakthrough Marketing Secrets.
YOU are critically important to making this awesome!
I don’t say this every week because I’m lacking for questions. Rather, because if I don’t, I will be. (Maybe a marketing lesson in itself.)
So, let me know how I can help you.
Send your questions on marketing, selling, business, life, or whatever else to [email protected].
Now on to today’s question…
Two wonderful things for you on this beautiful day…
Mailbox Monday Question.
Quick background: Not sure if you remember me, but I told you I was going to get a client about 2 weeks ago. Lo and behold, I did — largely thanks to your book.
Anyway, my client (yay!) ended up having a couple problems differentiating and positioning his product to his target market. I helped him out a bit. No big deal. We came up with alterations to the product and I am waiting for him to finish them before I write the copy.
Now, he keeps asking me for more advice on other things… like marketing strategy, sales funnels, even asking me to critique the copy of other copywriter’s that he had hired.
So my question is: When do you cross the line between being a being a helpful copywriter (giving more than expected) and being a consultant thereby charging for your insights and knowledge?
Thanks Roy. Hope all is well with you!
Direct-Response Copywriter & Internet Marketing Consultant
Tjark, thank you for your question, and congrats on that client!
I keep getting feedback like yours. Folks who are applying the learned-in-the-trenches advice I packed into your FREE copy of The Copywriter’s Guide To Getting Paid… And getting real, take-it-to-the-bank results!
Remember, keep taking action, because that’s what will keep getting you the results you’re looking for.
Now, onto your question…
You’ve discovered a sticky reality of “project” work…
And admittedly, this isn’t something I’m always the best at.
So what you’re going to get from me is what’s worked best whenever I’ve held myself to it. What works best when you do it. But not necessarily what I do every day of the week, with every client.
So what I recommend in my book and elsewhere is that most copywriters should work on a project basis. You get a fee (and preferably a royalty) for a certain amount of work output.
This is usually a good thing. And a way to earn more. Because the better you get, the faster you’ll be able to crank out every project. And so naturally, even before you raise your fees, you’ll earn more.
But here’s the thing — here’s what can happen to you if your client likes you, or thinks you’ve got good marketing advice…
Your client wants more from you than your initial project scope…
And note here. I’m not going to make any judgments on your behavior, or your client’s. I think both of you are interested in getting what you can get out of the relationship.
Here’s the thing though. And this is something you’ve recognized. The more time, energy, and attention you give to this client as part of this project… The less you’ll have to make available for the next project, and the next, and the next. And that wouldn’t be so bad, except most project work is paid on a fixed-fee basis. Which means whether it takes you 10 days or 10 months to complete, you’re getting paid the same amount.
So it may be in your client’s best interest to get the maximum value out of you, but it’s also in your best interest to give the minimum time to the client as part of that fixed-fee project.
With this all in mind, here’s a pretty solid set of recommendations…
Define a scope of work, and a scope of interaction.
In 99% of cases, this problem starts at the beginning of the relationship, not in the middle when you first notice it.
I don’t remember where I heard it, but there’s a saying that, “Whoever controls the time controls the relationship.” Sounds very Dan Kennedy, and I’ll have a related recommendation below, though it may or may not have been him who said that.
From the very beginning of client relationships, you need to do your best to be in total control of how and especially when a client has access to you. This can feel difficult when you’re starting out and especially when you’re approaching them, but it’s critical to understand this distinction and exercise control wherever possible.
Every project should have a set of component parts or tasks. Tied to these parts or tasks, should be a set collection of phone calls or other interactions that give the client direct access to you.
You don’t have to sound like a jerk when laying these out, and you don’t have to sound like a lawyer, but it’s better if you are clear and direct about these, preferably in writing (can be an email, just something with a paper trail). “I’m going to be creating a sales letter for you. This typically includes one 1-hour strategy call, followed by a lead and a phone review of the lead for up to 30 minutes. Based on this, a first draft of the letter is written, and we can talk for up to one hour about your feedback on the first draft. Up to two subsequent drafts can be completed, with email feedback preferred, though a 15-minute phone call is optional.”
If you are specific about these up front, you have something to point to when you have to draw the line. If you are not specific about the parameters of interaction up front, it becomes much more difficult.
Many clients don’t need this, and so I often don’t include this in my agreements. But when I should have but didn’t, it’s always painful.
Make clients schedule access, don’t make it freely available.
This can be huge.
I’ve started using www.TimeTrade.com — and I can’t recommend it highly enough. (That’s NOT an affiliate link.)
For $49 per year, you get an online scheduling system that links in directly with Google Calendar (and maybe some others).
You define a type of appointment, how long it will take, any time that needs to be set aside afterward, when you’re available for that type of appointment, and a whole bunch of other optional things.
When you want to schedule something (or, more accurately, when someone wants to schedule something with you), you simply log into TimeTrade (I keep mine open in a tab in my browser), and copy the appropriate link.
When the person clicks your link, they’re given a calendar with available times that fit within open times on your calendar and the availability windows you pre-defined.
They look at their own calendar, your availability, and they follow a quick couple steps to reserve their time. The appointment shows up automatically in your calendar, and sends out confirmations to both parties.
Here’s why this helps with this scenario.
If you give a client unlimited access to you, they will use it. Whenever they have a question, they’ll email or call. But often, they won’t have thought through it, or even considered if they really need your input on it at all.
This makes them think twice about it. Plus it gives you an extra barrier for when you really don’t want to answer their question right away, or when it’s just not appropriate for you to handle right then.
Making them schedule access (on your terms) reestablishes your control over time and the relationship, and makes them consider whether or not the interruption is something they really need. This will eliminate a lot of needless interruptions, and can force them to consolidate talking points into a single conversation, that could otherwise be spread across eight random calls throughout the week.
Define an hourly consulting fee for “overages” or other out-of-scope requests.
This ties back to the first point.
If you have established a scope of work, you suddenly have a threshold at which you say, “that’s not included.” If a client is asking for this, you’ve already justified it. They wouldn’t be asking for this kind of consultation if they didn’t want it.
But how badly do they want it? How valuable are you perceived to be? What are they willing to pay?
Set a consulting fee that makes sense, based on your project fee, and your income requirements.
When a client asks for time that’s clearly not covered by the initial project fee, simply say, “I would be happy to review that other copywriter’s work, and give my feedback. Because that’s not part of the main project though, it falls under my standard hourly consulting fee of $###. Would you prefer to pay that by check or PayPal, so we can schedule the review?”
For some copywriters, the fourth draft and beyond are even covered by this. You have to decide your line. And once you decide your line, it’s only as firm as you make it. Meaning, if you initially define your project as including three drafts but do five with no additional charge, you’re going to have trouble charging for the sixth. And the 10th.
Be willing to have a “Come to Jesus” talk…
This is never fun, but the faster you do it once you realize it’s necessary, the better off you’ll be.
Sometimes, you have to tell a client that their behavior isn’t working. That you can no longer work in the way they desire. And that they have to shape up or ship out.
This can be difficult, especially early in your career. But it’s absolutely critical.
If you recognize the relationship going sour, it will be absolutely toxic to let it continue to get worse.
You’re often better off giving back their money and figuring out how else you’re going to pay your bills than you are trying to force it to work.
And here’s the reality of the situation. More often than not, the client will actually be much better behaved afterward. They will change to match your requests, and the relationship will improve drastically.
Just be sure to be polite about it, and emphasize that you’re doing it for the best results for everyone. Don’t cast blame, just focus on how things need to be for the best end result.
Finally, a book recommendation…
No B.S. Time Management for Entrepreneurs by Dan Kennedy. It’s all about how to maximize and especially control your time. And though it’s written for entrepreneurs, Dan’s perspective as a copywriter and consultant definitely shows up throughout the book. It is required reading.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets