How to turn prospects into copywriting clients

Can I tell you a shameful secret? I once charged a client £20 for a copywriting job that took 6 hours.

And I hope that made you spit coffee over your keyboard in horror.

But despite doing a fab job, the client never used me again.

Why not? My too-low price did not inspire confidence. He felt there had to be a twist.

So here’s why it’s a very bad idea to quote stupidly low prices, and why a kick-ass sales process can turn uncertain prospects into satisfied, regular clients.

Stay away from the bottom feeders

Crayfish In my non-psychiatrist’s opinion, low prices are often linked to a lack of confidence. If you don’t have a juicy portfolio and gushing testimonials, it’s tempting to go ‘bottom end’ with your pricing.

But all you’ll do is attract bottom feeders. At low, low prices, your self-confidence will shrink even further. It’s really not worth doing. And yes I speak from personal experience (see ‘£20 for six hours’, above).

So take a deep, juddering breath, use the PCN’s suggested rates as a benchmark and put a proper figure on your hourly or daily rate. And if clients baulk at the price? Tough. They’re not the clients for you.

Make the client work for their quote (they’ll thank you in the end)

One reason you might be tempted to quote a low price is because you haven’t got your sales process sorted. The prospective client calls, wants a price immediately, and you blurt something out without having time to think about it.

But it’s ok to make the prospective client wait. Because before the price comes the educating. The wooing if you like. And that’s where the ‘sales process’ comes in. Here’s how mine works.

Get rid of the jokers and get excited by the others

Baseball playersWhen I get a call from a potential client, they usually give me a few sentences about what they want, and then ask, ‘So, how much? Even ballpark will do’. At that point the conversation goes one of two ways.

If my copywriter’s sixth sense tells me they’re a joker who wants six hours’ work for £20 (seriously, I’m still cringing), then I’ll tell them that my prices start from a certain amount.

For some, that’s the end of the conversation right there.

But if it’s a credible call and we’re having a good chat about how to improve their marketing, I’ll start making notes. And then I’ll hit them with tonnes of questions to establish the scope of the project, so I can give them a credible, written copywriting proposal.

Quizzing a potential client is normal if there’s a chance you’ll be working with them. And if you can have some creative ideas on the spot, that reassures them. Remember it’s their baby that they want to entrust to you. You have to show that you’re worthy of their trust.

Send a written proposal. And make it long (but relevant)

Then I send a written proposal. But it’s not just a short note on headed paper. It’s a proper outline of what I can offer, why it’s worth it, what’s included and how much it will cost. It typically runs to 5 or 6 pages, although the last two pages are my T&Cs.

The reason I send a hefty package is that it’s likely to get passed along, or upwards, for approval. And I can’t be sure that the prospective client will sell me to their colleagues/boss in the way I want to be sold. So it’s far better to take control of the sales pitch at this point.

What should you include in a copywriting proposal?

DartboardThe first page is a, ‘Hello, thanks for your enquiry’ type page. It recaps what we discussed, any ideas I may have come up with in the call, my availability (if relevant) and what’s about to follow.

The second page is an outline of how I work. I let the client know that they’ll need to fill out my briefing document and then endure a follow-up call so that I can grill them about all the jargon they’ve used in the briefing doc.

I tell them that there’ll be an agreed deadline for version 1 of the copy, with two revisions included in the price and all revisions to be completed within 4 weeks if humanly possible. And I mention that a 50% deposit is required before any of the above can start.

Talking money and showing off your work

Then comes the actual proposal. It outlines the scope of the project, defines what copywriting involves, explains what I’ll be writing about and what’s included in the price.

And I show a breakdown of EXACTLY what’s included in the price.

Not just ‘copywriting’ but ‘planning, drafting, writing, editing, proofreading’. ‘Features and benefits analysis’, ‘competitor research’ and anything else that’s relevant. It’s too easy for clients to think, ‘Well it’s just a bit of writing, how long will that take, half an hour?’ It’s worth going into detail.

Then I tell them the price, and what to do if they want to accept the proposal.

And when I send the proposal, I include a second PDF with examples of similar work I’ve done for other clients.

Why this sales process works for me

The point of all of the above is threefold:

  • It shows the prospective client exactly what’s involved if they hire me.
  • It underlines the fact that they’re engaging a professional to do a professional job.
  • The copywriting samples show them that I can do the job they’re asking me to do.

It doesn’t work every single time. After all, budgets and expectations can vary wildly.

But clients often tell me that my professional approach helped clinched the deal. They felt able to take the leap of faith and entrust me with their website/brochure/blogging.

Is this all about me blowing my own trumpet?

Trumpet playersNuh uh. It’s my way of entreating you not to be the copywriter who charges £20 for six hours work.

Hopefully you’d never do that anyway.

But just in case you’re starting out and feeling nervous about getting your prices right or winning your next client…take heart. Launch yourself into creating a sales process that will enrapture clients when they call.

And when the phone does ring? Take that deep, juddering breath and start having a friendly chat.

After all, that’s what copywriting is, right? Just a friendly chat to a prospect about why the service you’re selling is awesome, and what it can do to solve the problem they’re facing.

Good luck!

Got tips to share about YOUR sales process? I’m all ears. Add your comment below.


26th January 2016

John Espirian

This seems to be a solid way to start any professional relationship: side-step the timewasters, understand what’s required by genuine prospects, and put some thought into supplying a meaningful quote. I like it.

And I do hope you savoured every penny of that well-earned £20!

26th January 2016

Mel Fenson

Hi John, thanks for your comment 🙂 I still have the £20. It’s framed on my office wall as a reminder to never be so cheap again!

1st March 2016

Anna Stanning

Thanks for this. Very useful. I specialise in PR and we have to work in the same way, education before a quote!

8th March 2016

Louise Crooks

Thanks for sharing your shameful secret – I’m sure we’ve all been there. Okay, okay, you twisted my arm. I’ve been there and I don’t ever want to go back 🙂

6th May 2017

Claire Hawes

I like your approach.

It also makes it clear that you are a business. And as such, you need to be respected as one.

Me thinks I am going to review my proposal template this week. Thanks for the tips!

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