THIS Is What Clients Want. Are You Delivering It?

Just got off the phone with one of my regular commercial writing clients after a semi-lovefest of good feelings. The Background: She calls me late one Friday and tells me she needs a sales sheet (8 ½ x 11, front and back) for a new program they’re promoting. She apologized for waiting to the last minute (hey, that’s what clients do), but wondered if I could turn around a finished product by early Tuesday. Which meant, of course, that the first draft would have to be pretty much done by EOD Monday. I said I’d be happy to help them out, but that I’d have to charge a rush fee. NO problem at all. In fact, we never discussed money at all. I’ve done enough commercial projects with her that she knows I’ll be fair.

So she sends me all the background info, and there was a good bit. She wasn’t able to send the last (and arguably most important piece) till Monday am. Once I had it all, and had looked it over on Monday am, I had a few questions, left her a voice mail, but got to work. As it was, she wasn’t able to get back to me till around 5:00. By then, I’d proceeded with the project, assuming x, y, and z until I heard differently. She filled in a few blanks for me in that 5:00 call, but it was 95% done by that point.

I sent it off the following morning and we had a call set up for that afternoon to discuss. She says, “The copy is awesome. I really don’t see anything that needs to be changed.” Music to any copywriter’s ear, of course. She went on to say how big a burden I lifted off of her shoulders. I mentioned that the piece had pretty much been done by the time the time we spoke, and she said, “That’s why I love working with you. You ‘get it’ fast, work with virtually no supervision, and make my life really easy.”

Incidentally, one part of the project entailed creating bios on three distinct entities who were part of the service offering being promoted on the sales sheet. Typically, a copywriter might expect to get the source material for such a set of bios from the client, but I knew this client had no time, wanted me to take ownership of the project, and trusted me implicitly to get it done. So, I simply looked up each entity on the Web, and put together the bios myself. Remember: clients routinely look to us to decide how something’s going to unfold. Want to move into the top earning echelons of this craft? Then, become one of those copywriters that takes ownership of projects.

Now. The point of this post is not some self-canonization. It’s to underscore what it is that clients want from writers: receptive to ultra-tight deadlines, a quick study, excellent work, minimal time invested on their end beyond emailing you background/source material, fast turnaround, being easy to work with, yes, taking ownership, etc. And when you give them all this, within reason, money ceases to be an issue. And when that happens, this business gets really fun. You become an incredibly valuable strategic partner to them and they will pay handsomely for your services. All of which is one pretty good answer to the question of how you weather a tough economy. Become invaluable.

Have you had a similar experience lately? If so, care you share?

What value do you bring to your clients that makes money a non-issue?

What have you heard from clients about other writers who don’t deliver?

15 replies
  1. Brian Westbye
    Brian Westbye says:

    Also not to toot my own horn, but my clients are doing it for me…

    Quick turnaround and “getting it” the first time are everything to me. Example: I recently recieved a request on a Tuesday to come up with three treatments of four rotating ads for a community college in Michigan, with all final drafts due by Friday morning. Needless to say, this was accomplished, and I now have a contract through June with me sending invoices by the project. And of course I’m acomplishing all this around the day job. Once I retire into full-time FLCW mode, look out.

  2. peter
    peter says:

    Thanks Brian,

    That’s what it’s all about… 😉 See that folks, he’s building his reputation before he’s even gone full-time!


  3. Alan Stamm
    Alan Stamm says:

    Count me in your choir, Peter — chiming in proudly (though not necessarily on-key).

    A 2009 Communications Strategies memo to a new (half-year) client in November suggested an e-newsletter as one tactic. The president/marketing director (same guy) said he already had been thinking of that and OK’d my fee proposal after one call and one meeting. Q. What type of content would you like? A. Whadda you got? (OK, I paraphrase . . . but not a lot.)

    I had drafted two pages of possible themes, topic categories and publication name ideas. . . which was enough for a go-ahead to write Issue 1 of the new quarterly publication however I wanted. After requesting new product spec sheets, a few other resources and doing online research at their site and trade pubs, a draft was ready and sailed through with next-day approval. It was designed by another independent (and new ally, per PB’s maxim) and went out via Vertical Response e-mails in late January.

    Naturally, topic lineup for #2 will be sent before requested.

    So yes, Turnkey = The Key. Everyone loves to hear “I can” and d-o-n-e is a four-letter word suitable for all occasions.

  4. Brian Westbye
    Brian Westbye says:

    D-O-N-E is a great four-letter word. P-A-I-D is even better!

    I have to build my rep now, because my goals are rather lofty! My 40th birthday will be 09/12/12. I will state now, in the town square of the world, that my goal is to make that day my first day of self-sufficiency as a FLCW. Mark it down.

    End of only-semi-related tangent.

  5. *Aspiring Writers Want to Know*
    *Aspiring Writers Want to Know* says:

    What *exactly* is a sales sheet, anyway, and how is it different from a brochure (other than the number of pages, of course)?

  6. peter
    peter says:

    A sales sheet is like a brochure in many ways in that it “builds a case” about a particular product or service, but does it on one page (either one- or two-sided). The main difference is that a sales sheet usually focuses on ONE product, as opposed to a brochure, which is more likely to describe a company or some other larger entity. For instance, a building materials company might do a capabilities brochure, which describes who they are and what they do, along with a top-line overview of their product line, and then they might have a bunch of sales sheets, each one showcasing a particular product. You might create a larger brochure with a flap in the back and into it might go various sales sheets, depending on the prospect you’re marketing to and what their stated needs are.

    To see a few samples of sales sheets, visit my portfolio and click on “Tri-fold Brochures/Sales Sheets.”


  7. Star
    Star says:

    Er…good job! Don’t we all give our best advice and fill in blanks (the vaunted copywriter mind reading)? Still, sometimes clients still know what they don’t want when they see it…Or maybe that’s just me. Sounds like a successful project, though.

  8. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Sadly I’m too new to the FLCW world to have one “IT” moment, so I’m going to draw from my freelance journalism days. One afternoon at four p.m., an editor called me in a panic, as one of his other writers had bailed on him. It was for another story in the TV department, which I frequently wrote content for. I was able to turn the article around and have it in my editor’s inbox by 9 a.m. the next day.

  9. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Hi Peter –

    I was the hero and they did love me, for a while. That editor continued to send me work, but when there was a shake-up at the company, the new managing editor got rid of all the contractors and hired a new set. So being the hero is great, but sometimes there are editors who just don’t care.

    – Caitlin

  10. Steve Rainwater
    Steve Rainwater says:

    Hi Peter,

    I just finished up a project that involved one of my long time clients completing a technical article for a trade publication. The publication had contacted my client requesting the article. The only actual writing I did was the original concepting of the article, a high level outline of how it would / should flow, and some response to editor queries on the final edited draft. My main work was to coordinate work between two company executives writing the article, a photographer, and two editors in the magazine. When we submitted our final copy and photos to the publication, I received an e-mail from the President of my client company thanking me for “finishing” the project. Since he is not one to dole out compliments lightly or frequently, I read between the lines “thanks for keeping an eye on this project and making sure I did not have to worry about it getting done well, and on time.”


  11. Amanda L. Sage
    Amanda L. Sage says:

    Peter nailed one thing definitely on the head: listening. I can’t tell you how many clients/colleagues have told me that they have had horrible experiences with writers (and publicists, and designers, and web designers) who didn’t listen to them and never delivered a good product because of it. It’s absolutely vital!

  12. peter
    peter says:

    Steve, thanks for sharing the story. Obviously, you turned his head, which means he’s not always used to such good follow-through. Speaking of clients not being used to things, thanks Amanda for underscoring the importance of listening. It’s such an easy thing to do, but so hard for many. Hey, I’m selfish: I don’t want to spend any more time working on a project than I have to, and if I listen carefully, I’ll get it right the first time AND get hired again. Yet, that eludes many freelancers who just KNOW what the client wants. For them, like the old joke reminds, there are just two modes of communication: Talking and Waiting to Talk.;) And they pay for that…


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