Your right to be wrong

Nick Green

PolicyBee LLP

Why do some clients insist their freelance copywriters have professional indemnity insurance and is it something that all freelancers should think about buying? 

We asked Nick Green, head of content at Policybee, to explain what professional indemnity insurance is and why it’s useful for freelancers.

Poorly-written signage in Sainsbury'sEvery now and then, your copy grinds to a halt in a standoff between right and wrong.

Not in a spaghetti western kind of way. In a what’s right and wrong for your reader kind of way.

You know how it is. You’re toying with using a word or phrase you know isn’t technically right, but you’re sure will help smooth a readability road bump.

Take this example:

1. Dos and don’ts
2. Do’s and don’ts

Which one would you use? The correct but slightly awkward first one? Or the incorrect but frequently spotted second one?

Can you live with that incongruous apostrophe? More to the point, can your reader live without it?


In the grand scheme of things, it probably doesn’t matter. They both do the job.

Well yes, they do. But there’s a wider issue to consider here: going with number two opens the door to every grammar know-it-all on social media. The smallest typo in your client’s copy, deliberate or not, is fair game. And the bigger the brand, the harder it falls.

That’s when your choice does matter. Your client hopes and expects your words will get them noticed for the right reasons – they certainly don’t want to be publicly ridiculed for basic grammar howlers, thanks very much.

Money matters

Those hopes and expectations stem from what insurance people call your ‘duty of care’.

In simple terms, as a professional, you’re legally and morally bound to do a good job. You’re an expert with a higher level of ability than the average person in the street, and that expertise is what your clients pay for.

Breaching your duty of care, in whatever way, means your paying client has a right to claim against you for actual or alleged financial losses.

You don’t need a dictionary to know that spells, er, t.r.u.b.b.l.e or something.

Damaged goods

Realistically, an apostrophe in the wrong place isn’t the end of the world. Besides, you’re the best judge of what’s appropriate, and we’re not about to tell you how to do your job …

But we are about to tell you what can happen if you don’t do your job properly.

Because we’re an insurance broker, you see. We’re naturally cautious, and we know small issues spark big problems.

Mistakes and errors alienate those who’re sensitive to them. They distract from the importance of the overall message and have the potential to embarrass your client. These things can seriously damage a campaign’s success, not to mention your working relationship and (perhaps more importantly) your reputation.

To make matters worse, if you’re at fault, you’re liable for fixing what’s wrong. Not just the mistake, but the collateral damage it causes. In our experience, mistakes mean corrections. Corrections mean delays; delays mean missed deadlines, missed print runs, stretched projects, sign-off confusion etc.

Collectively, these things drain your time and your money – two things your business can ill afford to waste.

Danger nous

It’s all about managing your risk. Prevention is better than cure and sometimes you’re right to be right. No one’s ever going to complain you’re too correct.

However, if you think you might be on potentially iffy ground, it’s good practice to get your client to sign off your work before it goes live.

It’s a well-recognised legal precedent that your client takes responsibility for your work after they sign it off. That doesn’t mean you can’t be touched if it all goes south but it does help prove who said what, and when.

And worst case, if you do need to defend yourself, a decent copywriters’ professional indemnity insurance policy should take care of the legal wrangling and the means to pay for it.

Just remember that all policies exclude deliberate or reckless acts.

So please punctuate responsibly.

Image credit: Richard Leeming on Flickr


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