As a freelancer working with clients, finding great ones is usually a trial and error process
This can be especially daunting with a service such as copywriting
John and Dave team up to talk about their experiences with both good and bad clients.
Especially… what separates them
John talks at length about establishing criteria.
Dave gives some red flags to look for.
In this episode you’ll find battle tested ways to sift through opportunities…
So you get paid.
Create lasting relationships.
Build a fun and fulfilling freelance business.
In this episode, you’ll discover:
- A one-step, pain-free method to steal back relief AND closure from freelance “editing” vampires
- The exact scale John uses to determine businesses who qualify for his services. So you can target and raise your own standards
- One critical mistake all newbie freelancers seem to make. Why you cannot always trust this kind of work, saving you years of frustration
- How clients can change when you charge higher fees.
- 3 short stories from famous entrepreneurs teach who to do business with…and who NOT to!
Intro and outro backing music: Forever More by CREO
Dave Allan: They are certainly not all equal, and when I got into copywriting, of course, people heard the story a couple of episodes ago about Gary Halbert and how I got into copywriting – one of the first things I learned when I started investigating Gary Halbert more in-depth-ly and learned who he was I heard this mantra of “Clients Suck”. He even wore a hat or a shirt to many seminars perhaps, because I haven’t seen them all, with that emblazoned on the hat or the t-shirt. So that was the first time I sort of heard stuff like that but to be honest, in all the different jobs I’ve had over the years, since I started working since I was 17 – then there was definitely very broad strokes between the people you never wanted to deal with again and the people you didn’t mind dealing with almost every day. I think that is something we can talk about here today. How to ward off some of those other people and how to embrace those people who are awesome, that you want to work with for a long time.
John McIntyre: It’s an interesting point actually as I’ve been doing this for the last four or five years – some clients are great, perfectly on time, they don’t care – they’re not fussed, about the total amount, they just really want to work with you. Part of this, the caveat here is that you need to be a good copywriter – if your copy sucks it’s going to be hard to get the really good clients – so let’s assume that you can write good copy – then you’re in a position where lots of businesses could get value, therefore you have lots of people that are going to want to work with you if you market yourself properly. So what’s the difference? Let’s talk – what’s a bad client? Let’s start with that.
Dave Allan: Well, for me, in my experience, a bad client is someone that tend to eat up a ton of your time, they don’t like to pay, certainly don’t like to pay on time or certainly pay ahead of time, that’s for sure and it’s almost scary how close it is because one of the first things I read when I was looking to get into business was the 4-Hour Workweek – that’s where I was at that point in my life, in my early 30’s and looking to start businesses – and in there he talked about the story where he had to fire a large percentage of his customers – he wasn’t a freelancer he was selling supplements but he fired those people anyways – Tim Ferriss this being of course – because only these people ate up so much of his time with useless crap – wasting his time – and didn’t contribute significantly enough to the bottom line that he got rid of them. So when you’re a freelancer…Now at the very beginning it’s often the case that people feel the need to whore themselves out, and in some cases, you know…I’m not you, I didn’t like to do that, I sort of skipped, or tried to skip that phase a bit, but it’s one of those things where the people who are serious who you really want to work with – they’re already on a different level. You know, they have a business – which is a key point – because I run into people all the time who want to start a business and hire you for copy, I ran into this a lot when I started out, and they don’t have a business, don’t really know what they’re doing, or really know anything about it, so the copy isn’t going to work. They could have the best copy in the world and have no traffic running to it, they have no offer, no business, and this shouldn’t even be a conversation and so you have to have a way to filter people out who are serious and that comes from your personality a lot too because you want to work with people that mesh with your personality – When John and I started doing these podcasts together a few episodes ago, when we first talked – and we had emailed back and forth a few years – but when we first talked we kinda just hit it off right away, it was very easy, we got along, joking and stuff, and it’s like sitting down with somebody – I think Tim Ferriss called it the beer test or something – where if you felt like you could sit down with that person, have a beer with them and be okay spending that time with them, you could be in business with them and if you couldn’t, you couldn’t. I think another guy I sort of looked to for inspiration in that regard was a guy named Derek Sivers, and his sort of format for deciding who he was going to work with was – if it was hell yes…or it’s no – If he was super excited and pumped and thought that it was a real awesome thing, then he was in. Anything short of that, he was out. That’s a pretty good way to do it. What about you John? You’ve done this for a long time too now – how have you sort of weeded through some of these problematic people?
John McIntyre: One thing that took a little while to learn – I think at the start you do have to a little less selective depending on the situation you’re in and how good you are at getting clients – You start off and you work with small businesses and eventually you realize in working with these different companies that you want to work with companies that are making at least six figures – I mean they’re doing a few hundred thousand dollars and that’s like on the bottom end ideally – when you think about your average business doing a hundred thousand dollars a year in sales, which is a really, really tiny business in the grand scheme of things – you know if they’re in margins – if they’re doing physical products, e-commerce, average margin is 40%, which means they’re only making $40,000 gross profit off that, and they still have to pay for things their ads, their office if they have one, a staff if they have any, gotta pay their own salaries…after all that they may like a grand or two left over to pay you to write email sequences, which is not much, and then again because their business is so small you’re not really going to be able to help them that much. Whereas on the other side of things, another company that I started a year ago, a different sort of branch, called Re-engagement, which aspired to do email marketing for e-commerce companies that started at two million dollars or more because that was sort of the rough range I figured they’d be able to spend quite a bit on monthly email marketing services. And it did work to a certain point – we ended up dropping it down, I think it’s at $50,000/mo now is the rough minimum we use, but, the larger the company, the better the job you’re going to be able to do – if you increase their sales by 10%, whether this is e-commerce or a guy selling a weight loss product on Clickbank, whoever it is, the better your copy does, the better you’ll help them,the happier they’re going to be – which means the more you can charge as well – Plus, the bigger businesses, because they’re busier and things like that, they want to just give you the money and have a good job done instead of sitting around critiquing your work. Have you ever had a client where you send them stuff in Google docs and they send it back with 50 comments and things to change and they’re not even a copywriter…
Dave Allan: Uh-huh, I have had it happen – we’ve had it all happen and I can tell you because this happened to me on more than one occasion, unfortunately, because when it happened the second time it hasn’t happened since, and basically what I did was when that person sent back the markup like you’re talking about, and I just sent their money back and that was it, and I was just like…No. I’m unapologetic and you know, I think that comes down to how you deal with people, how people take you either seriously or non-seriously. There are so many people, and when businesses come to me, I try to get them to niche down and target specific clientele who are their best customers already – and they don’t even know that a lot of the times – who is this person that actually walks in the door and purchases your stuff – seems to be this big mystery to a lot of companies which shocks me – I keep finding that with people, they’re not exactly sure who that person is and the narrower you can get that down the more specifically you can target them. So you try to find out that information and they’re afraid of finding those specific people because they’re trying to everyone, all the time and you’re not going to sell, chances are, let’s say you’re selling a weight loss product – there aren’t 8 billion fat people – there is a certain percentage of fat people, and there’s a certain percentage of women who are overweight, and men who are overweight, and people who are over 40 who are overweight and you can go down, down, down, down, down and down. So if you’re selling to everyone, you’re selling to nobody and the same thing applies to clientele. You don’t want to have everyone as a client, you want to find those people you can work with the best – that are, like John said, that are serious, the stuff he just talked about, the figures people are putting through their business every month. These are serious people you know, they’re not messing around and I learned the hard way a few times when I first started too of how to differentiate. But you find that in any field you get into – the exact same thing – whether it’s copywriting or street performing, it’s exactly the same, and it’s almost shocking how the same it is because you can just see – I can just talk to somebody for 10 seconds or seem them not laugh at a joke during a street show and I know those people aren’t going to give me any money, I can tell immediately. So it’s very important – there are tactical ways – like for me, for instance, I don’t like to talk to anybody – and this is something I learned from a specific marketer – I don’t like to talk to anybody – I’ll shoot the breeze with somebody, I don’t have a problem with that – but if we’re talking about their business, I’m getting paid. So, and that’s something that I didn’t do at the beginning and I’ve regretted almost every day I didn’t do it – because I heard that very early on and its was lingering in the back of my mind, but again, you have this thing like maybe I haven’t paid my dues or done enough maybe I can’t ask for that and it was horseshit – I could’ve asked for that stuff upfront, wouldn’t have had to deal with any of those people – because the people who won’t go that extra, you know, they just don’t get it and are never going to get it, if you have to go that far…
John McIntyre: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean it’s sort of like the whole, if you have to try too hard – I mean if you have to go to the point of giving away a bunch of stuff for free…I mean, to be honest, the answer to all these things is …it actually depends. It’s relly hard to give someone a – if you do all these things you will be successful – in some cases people have been very successful doing free work and then using that as a leverage point to get paid work. It is a valuable strategy. However, probably far more people misuse it and end up in this position where they’re doing all this free work and they’re not getting anything back. You have to be very strategic about it. And the other thing that I thought about while you were speaking is – sort of how my journey worked is I started off doing stuff for really cheap and then gradually just increased my prices and over time I’d meet someone who’s like “Man, you need to be charging $5,000 or $10,000 or $20,000 for stuff because that’s how you make real money”. You know, I’d go and do that and see what’s good and what’s bad about that and now four or five years down the line and reflecting on it – you could go and sell something and get paid $25,000 for a sales funnel and it sounds a lot better than getting paid $500 for a similar type of thing, However, they always come with different pros and cons – and the thing is like – I have a friend of mine who runs a search engine agency, they do SEO, paid traffic, stuff like that, and me and him talk about this idea of selling something – he’s got clients paying $500/mo for some SEO stuff, and he’s had them paying $500/mo for three years and they email him once every six months, because to them $500/mo is small enough – it’s not big enough to really worry about as long as it seems to be working, we’ll keep paying it. Once you start to get over $1000/mo, that’s when you have people go “Do we really need this?” – can we get rid of it – let’s talk to them and make sure we’re getting our value from it. If you do charge more you tend to have people who want to get more value for their money because obviously, they’re paying more to get more value but they get to a point where $500/mo for a good-sized business is nothing, they’ll just keep paying it – no questions asked – but when you get above $1000/mo, unless we really, really need this, we’re probably going to get rid of it. If you enjoy managing clients and you have 10 clients paying you $1-2000/mo, and you like that hustle…Do it! Me personally, I didn’t like it, I don’t like managing a team or managing clients in that way probably because I like having more autonomy and freedom where I can just wake up and do whatever the hell I want and not have any phone calls if I don’t want them…but that’s me. Some would rather have the money and would rather sacrifice that freedom for the money because they want to buy more expensive things with it with the money – so it depends – what do you want?
Dave Allan: I think it’s all in the how you set it up too you know. Very early on too, when I first got into copywriting and learning about internet marketing I would try to find as many things to read or watch as I possibly could and I remember stumbling across a lot of Dan Kennedy stuff because it was just very pertinent at the time, like he still is now. But he, and I think we spoke to this before, he set himself up very specifically sort of on that far end of things and I think he does a lot of things right and I see now why he did those things such as being hard to get a hold of, and he’s sort of…he’s not discourteous but he’s like very blunt, uber-blunt, to the point where you kind of don’t want to fuck with that guy, you know, and as a result he attained a level of respect and as we said before when we started this episode, you have to be able to produce the goods, but also the way he handles himself in those relationships, you know you really can’t get away with anything with him. He’s hard to get at, he charges a lot, he’s a kind of recluse and so forth and people are just very happy that he’ll even talk to them. I’m sure it took years to get to that point but it’s a very interesting model to see how he…one of his famous sayings, which I think which even you said last time was that people are walking around with an umbilical chord looking to plug it in somewhere. And that’s sort of how he thinks about it. You’re coming to me, you want me to do this stuff for you, and it’s not that the person doesn’t know anything about it, they just don’t want to do it because they think you can do it better or faster or whatever they believe, so if you set it up. I know for a fact he doesn’t take all those freaking calls – he takes calls only on one day a week or something like that – so he’s not taking calls the other six days – you know so stuff like that. Tim Ferriss did stuff like that where he would only check his email twice a day I think it was – there’s just various ways you can approach it – because I think when people do charge a lot of money they feel guilty themselves. Like I don’t feel guilty when I charge a lot of money because I just don’t care – I know what the stuff can do and I don’t really need – there’s a lot of stuff I could for money – when I was doing street magic and just getting into copywriting – I had the street magic to fall back on if I was about to go destitute or something – because that was bringing in regular money – so I didn’t need to take every client that came in the door and being able to walk away from things is the big reason why some of this stuff works – it’s because you don’t need to take all those jobs, you can pick or choose jobs because they excite you and not just financially but excite you as a project and a long term relationship you can build with this person. That’s another aspect. Lifetime value of a customer – same thing applies to clients – you said your buddy is charging $500/mo going on for three years with very little maintenance, that’s…great. Because that’s regular income coming in for doing basically nothing so you have to look at the total picture not just I’m going to charge x,y. terms and everything come into it. How long is this going to be for, and time committed. I think for me, the thing I try to keep in my mind is and I think it is something Dan Kennedy said was he said that the people the least trade dollars for hours, and the people who are in the middle, who are doing good but aren’t quite at that next level, is that they’re aware that their time is worth a lot more because they bring value, and they base their ideology on their time being worth more, so their still on a time model but they bring a lot of value and are aware of it, and the people who are at the absolute highest echelon, they know it’s not a time thing and it’s only about the value and so that’s something I’ve always kept in the back of my mind because you know, you grow up and you work an hourly job and it’s hammered into you from the word go. But if you’re doing something like copywriting, the amount you charge can be dramatically outstripped by sales and revenue that it produces, you have to get it into your head how valuable this can be when you’re talking to a client because you have to see the potential what they’re going to take from this copy and what’s going to happen. What could it produce? You have got to keep that in mind when you’re charging your fees because I think almost every copywriter I’ve ever talked to, and John maybe you can speak to this in a second, had that sort of moment where they charged $8-10,000 for a sales letter and the person they wrote the sales letter for made a million dollars with it. I have a friend named Mitch Miller, who’s a copywriter, and like a year or two ago he put together a funnel that jumped a guys business from whatever it was to one million dollars a month and said that the amount he charged was an extremely small percentage of that, and the first thing he thought was, “Man, I should be doing this for myself” you know, something to that effect. Maybe that’s something to get into in the future. When you’re a freelance copywriter and you’re looking for clients, but a lot of the best copywriters if you look at their careers they go full circle and they end up working for themselves eventually. So that’s something to look at for people. I have heard people complain they should have started doing that at the very beginning, so you know, it’s one of those things to keep in mind as you advance your freelance career. I wouldn’t say don’t work for clients as I’ve had some awesome people, but you have to get away from the people who are going to waste your time.
John McIntyre: While all of this is great advice, I think where it all really comes back to what you really want? The freedom or do you want to have really high-paying clients? Mix of both? Do you want to end up in your own business and then getting out there and doing it, not just listening to a podcast but going out and getting clients and making mistakes, because you’ll get some bad clients, you’ll do some of the things we mentioned here that you shouldn’t do and that’s okay! You get some bad clients and you can fire them or finish the project and just don’t take any more clients like them. You’ve got to get in that ring.
Dave Allan: I think one thing I would recommend, and this is something that has applied in a few different fields I’ve been in, is I would try to stay away – now you said earlier that some people have parlayed free work into some very successful things happening to them, and that is true – but on the whole from what I have seen and experienced I would say to the people who are tempting you with free work or promising some sort of percentage of the outcome – that can get you into real trouble because that percentage, royalties etc. all fall into that – you may not even be where you’re thinking about that kind of stuff – if someone is approaching with that kind of deal I’d be very cautious unless it’s someone who really checks out. Because I have been burned myself on things like that and I know that a lot of the name copywriters, that are the best in the world at this, have been burned. I remember Gary Halbert in some of his things saying you’re never going to see the royalties, you know, so just be careful, you can always say no if you’re unsure. Your gut instinct always comes into play here because the times I got burned I knew it probably ahead of time and just didn’t act because I wanted to do it or thought this would be another notch on the belt or whatever you want to say, so just keep all that stuff in mind – if you listen to other copywriters they have a lot of these kind of stories – and a lot of success stories too – So just keep it in mind that these things can happen to you and be careful what you get involved with, because almost the worst thing you can get involved with is something that eats up your time, doesn’t pay you very well and makes you miserable.
john McIntyre: Absolutely. Cool, let’s wrap it up there, that’s a good note to finish on. We’ll get the notes, or the links will be in the show notes at themcmethod.com – If people want to look me up and talk to me it’s makewordspay.com? Is that it?
Dave Allan: That’s it, makewordspay.com
John McIntyre: Awesome. Great. Thanks for coming on the show once again, and I’ll see you next time.
Dave Allan: Thank you, John.