The copywriter says no: five unreasonable client requests and how to handle them

Jenny Lucas

Jenny Lucas Copywriting

We’ve all had them. The questions we never want to hear.

And when a client utters those dreaded words, what do you do? What do you say to a) avoid any awkwardness, and b) get the project back on track?

Here are five of the questions we hear too often and some advice on how to answer them without just giving in.

1. Can you do it cheaper?

This question usually comes after you submit your quote.

It can be frustrating. Especially if you’ve taken the time to research the project and give a quote that reflects the value you can offer.

But, it’s not all bad. If a client asks for a reduction, they haven’t automatically gone elsewhere and it shows they’re still interested in working with you.

How to answer…

You could start by setting out, or elaborating on, exactly what you have quoted for and what this entails/includes.

Say that if you reduce the price you won’t be able to do the thorough job their project requires.

Tell them why their project needs thorough research/competitor analysis/SEO etc.

Explain that without those components they’ll be less likely to get the results they want.

2. Can you write a free sample project?

I mostly get this question from agencies, who say they’re looking to build a partnership and want to see if we can work together. It hints that there may be more work in the long term, which sounds appealing, especially when you’re just starting out.

But if the scenario was different, would this still be considered a reasonable request?

You wouldn’t invite a decorator to your house and say “If you do a good job painting this one room for free, we might pay you to do the rest”.

It doesn’t happen. Other professionals wouldn’t stand for it, so why should we?

How to answer…

If you don’t want to work for free, politely decline and say it’s not your policy to provide free samples.

Instead, point them to the work samples in your online portfolio or blog.

Or offer to send them a more relevant work sample — if you have one.

The chances are they’ll just go to another copywriter, but this will leave you free to focus on the valuable clients, who are willing to pay you for your time.

3. Can you just copy our competitor’s website/brochure?

Copying a competitor’s work is a no-no for numerous reasons. For starters, it won’t do your client any favours and it could be seen as plagiarism.

If a client asks this question, there’s usually an underlying reason.

Some clients don’t understand that their content needs to be unique, or why that’s so important. Some clients don’t have the time or inclination to think about their own business in this way. And some clients simply don’t know where to start.

How to answer…

First, try to dig a little deeper and find out the reason they want to copy their competitor.

If they don’t understand, explain to them why this isn’t a good idea and why it’s much better to make their copy unique to them.

If their issue is time, or that they don’t know what to do, you can support them. Do your research, compile a list of questions for them to answer and arrange a meeting so you can go through everything together. This way you’ll get what you need to complete the project and they’ll get a better understanding of what you’re trying to achieve for them.

4. Can you do this now/today/for tomorrow/yesterday?

A client may ask for something at unreasonably short notice or give you an impossibly tight deadline.

If they’re a good client and it’s a one-off, you’ll probably do your best to fit it in.

But what if it’s not convenient? What if you’re already working to a deadline for another client? What if taking on the work means you have to work outside your normal hours? What if it keeps happening on a regular basis?

How to answer…

If it’s genuinely not possible

Be honest and explain why.

You could tell the client you can’t promise to deliver the work on time. Or say, because of the time limitations, there’s a risk it might not represent your usual high standard.

Sometimes this prompts the client to rethink the deadline, or to go back to the person who set the original deadline and renegotiate it.

If you can do some of the work, but not all of it

Tell the client what is achievable in the timeframe and try to negotiate something from there.

If you can do the work by working longer hours

You might decide to do this as a one-off, but if it keeps happening, consider introducing a rush fee to your contract. Rush fees ensure you’re getting adequately paid for your overtime and deter clients from habitually leaving things until the last minute.

5. Can you get our website to the top of Google?

If you offer SEO copywriting as part of your service, you’ve probably heard this question many times before.

For a client who doesn’t know any better, it’s a reasonable question.

How to answer…

Tell the client in no uncertain terms that you can’t guarantee where their site will rank.

Make it clear that no one else can guarantee them a number one spot either and they should be very wary of anyone who tells them otherwise.

Explain that SEO copywriting is a legitimate and proven technique, recommended by Google for achieving a high ranking.

Be clear that this is not the only thing they need to do. Regular updates such as blog articles, social media content and other outside promotions are all equally important.

Final thoughts

Respectfully saying no often shows you have your clients’ best interests in mind.

If you’re unwilling to compromise on quality, or are advising against something that could be detrimental, it shows you care about what you do.

And if you decline working for free, it shows you understand the value of what you do too.

What do you think?

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