Welcome to Write Bites, an audio series where we discuss writing, marketing, and freelancing during one of my daily walks around the neighborhood.
In Episode #8, I explain what you owe your copywriting clients and, perhaps more importantly, what you DON’T owe them.
Transcript: What Do You Owe Your Copywriting Clients?
Hi guys. Welcome to Write Bites, an audio series where we discuss writing, marketing and freelancing during one of my daily walks around the neighborhood.
So today, I want to answer the question, “What do you owe your clients?” and perhaps more importantly, “What don’t you owe your clients?”
This is one of those things where beginners come in with a wide variety of misconceptions, and depending on how much interaction you have with other freelancers, how much you’re in communication with other people in this business, you might carry some of those misconceptions pretty deep into your career.
And on a topic like this, there are some shades of gray. This is my arbitrary opinion, but I just want to dive into this and paint a little bit clearer of a picture of what to expect when you’re interacting with clients—what you owe them…what you don’t owe them.
Let’s start with what you owe them:
You owe them the deliverables agreed upon in your initial contract.
That’s it. That is the full list of what you owe them.
So, if you tell them, “I’m going to give you A, B and C,” deliver A, B and C.
If you say, “I’m going to do it for this price within this timeline,” do it for that price within that timeline.
If you say, “I’m also going to do this,” do that.
Pretty straightforward. You may find that there are certain elements to those deliverables that you forget to discuss with the client, for example, you may forget to specify that you need certain materials or assets or information from the client in order to provide the deliverable that you promised.
You’ll develop that skill over time, getting that initial contract down more tightly. And by contract, I just mean the agreement. I personally don’t use actual contracts. I just make sure to have one email than incorporates all the details. And I sort of use that as my reference point. But all that to say: What you specify in the agreement that kickstarts the freelancing relationship is what you owe them. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Supplemental to that: Obviously, you want to be a polite and respectful individual. You want to interact in a way that puts a positive light on your brand. But that’s just kind of basic stuff. That’s not specific to what you owe as a freelancer.
So that’s it.
And to dive into where I see freelancers failing here:
One of the big ones is timeline—providing the deliverables within the agreed upon date.
And I just want to say, I’ve been guilty of this in the past as well. I’m not saying this to be preachy, but it is a reality that freelancers can be bad with due dates. In the same way that you wouldn’t want to take a job without locking down what you’re getting paid for that job, you also don’t want to take a gig without locking down what the timeline is going to be for that gig.
Just be aware of that. I think one of the struggles that a lot of newer freelancers make is they don’t specify—or they try to overshoot—their timeline to have a more attractive offer, and that can cause issues. At the same time, I’ve hired many freelancers—I spent about a year building a content marketing agency that ran off of freelancers—and freelancers can just be very fickle when it comes to timelines and promised deliverables.
I don’t 100% know why that is. Again, I’ve been guilty of that myself. But it just seems to be a common thing. So, if you can follow through on the timelines—and you really do need to be following through on those timelines—you’re delivering what you owe the freelancer.
I want to also talk in terms of the quality of the work:
You owe the client your best effort. That’s it.
Getting into what you don’t owe now:
It is not your responsibility to give them a successful campaign.
It is not your responsibility to make their business successful.
It is not your responsibility to cause them to increase their revenue.
You might want to be careful here in terms of how you pitch your services as a copywriter. There’s a lot of copy that you’ll see that copywriters use for their own services that talk about “increase your revenue.”
You need to understand that it’s not really in your power to increase revenue just by virtue of creating a new page. If you’re actually going to be increasing revenue, there’s going to be more to that, typically, than just a copy rewrite—especially when we talk about a lot of these businesses that are barely getting any traffic in the first place—so be aware of that.
When we talk about “Who is responsible for the business’s success?” It’s the owner. Or at a certain size, it’s the VP of Growth or the Head of Marketing. And we’re talking about $80,000, $100,000, $150,000 a year positions. Or we’re talking about the owner, where whatever profit the business makes, the owner makes. So, the level of compensation that goes to people taking responsibility for the final success of the company is vastly beyond what they’re paying you.
Don’t ever put yourself in the position of thinking you owe a business owner a successful business.
You owe the deliverable on your contract.
Do your absolute best at it. Be honest about what resources you need to do a great job. As you develop and learn, you’ll understand more and more the limitations of what you can do as a copywriter and be able to communicate that in a way that positions you more as a consultant.
But again, you don’t owe success to the business.
You owe your deliverable.
Continuing on in that vein of what you do not owe:
You do not owe unlimited time.
You do not owe limited effort and revisions.
You don’t owe two-hour response times.
You don’t owe an ear to listen to emotional abuse, whatever it is.
You do not owe anything past the deliverable. So, if your client is behaving in a way that is unacceptable to you, then communicate your boundaries and enforce them.
That’s really what it comes down to.
And keep in mind that clients are gonna push.
Even if you communicate specific boundaries up front, clients are gonna push those. Not all of them, but a lot of them.
For example, say you get in the retainer and you are supposed to deliver five pages a month. They’re going to come to you in that first month and ask for a sixth page. And what you do from there is going to dictate what they feel they can get away with for the rest of the client relationship.
So, if they come to you and say, “Okay, actually, we need this extra page. Can you get this done by tomorrow?” And you enforce your boundary and say (if that’s actually not part of the deliverable or part of the retainer), “ If you want a sixth page, I’d be more than happy to do this, but for the additional work, I’m gonna need a full week turn-around time, and it’s going to cost X amount.”
Then, that sets this tone for how they approach you in the future with more work.
Either they’re going pay you what you’re asking, or they’re going to be more proactive about banking what they need into the plan ahead of time instead of coming to you spur of the moment.
Or maybe they get upset and don’t want to work with you anymore.
But at the end of the day, you decide what you tolerate for your business, and you do not owe anything past the contract that you’ve agreed upon.
That obviously can cover a very wide range of behaviors and activities and things that can fall in the Do not owe category. Obviously, I can’t think of them all right here and now, but just remember, it’s everything that’s not included in the deliverables.
Be specific about what you’re agreeing to when you start a contract. You’re gonna make some mistakes on this, and that’s okay. You’ll learn from them and you’ll include them in the next round. Just remember:
What you agree to provide is what you owe the client, and nothing else.
Try to make sure you deliver what you agreed upon and then enforce your boundaries and don’t give in on things that are past that. What you do beyond that—what you deliver beyond that—is 100% up to you. If you want to go above and beyond in a certain situation, that’s your choice. It’s your business. If you don’t, don’t. It’s up to you.
I hope that helps, and I will catch you in the next episode.
Share Your Thoughts
I hope this was helpful, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments below.
Plus, if you have a question you want answered on a future Write Bites episode, ask in the comments, and I’ll add it to the schedule.