I recently subscribed to Neil Patel’s email list and was eventually directed to this article,“10 Lies Freelance Copywriters Like to Tell You.”
In it, Men With Pens writer James Chartrand outlines 10 ‘Lies’ freelance copywriters have told her clients to coax them away from her shop.
(Yes, James, the owner of Men with Pens, is a woman. Deal with it.)
"It’s sad, but in the years I’ve been in the business, I’ve seen companies burned, stung, robbed, and strung out by unethical copywriters who couldn’t care less about them. To them, you’re just a walking ATM machine, and they lay awake at night, figuring out how to press all your buttons.
I know because my clients have told me. Sometimes, they tell me because the lie worked, and they’re thinking about taking their business away from my firm, but lots of times, it’s the opposite. They know it’s a lie, but they just can’t figure out how."
She says her goal is to verify what business owners already know, and here’s what I think: copywriters with a different process have poached some of her clients, and she wants to show that her process is better.
Maybe it is better for you. Maybe it isn’t.
Many of her points are valid, but some are expressed in a way that could sew distrust unnecessarily, and some are downright wrong.
Here’s the thing:
Every freelancer works differently. Her process is a great fit for some projects, but not others. My process and pricing works perfectly for some clients, but not everyone.
That’s the nature of a personality-based craft like writing and a business model like solopreneurship.
I don’t doubt for a second that James has seen some slimy copywriters in her career—so have I.
But some of the ‘lies’ she shared are over-generalizations that could make great clients run screaming from amazing copywriters, and I want to clear the air.
I feel guilty if I steal a pen from a restaurant, and I use some of the “lies” she shared to genuinely communicate my process and work with my clients.
I LOVE my clients, and my whole purpose in business is to make sure they’re successful. I want to make a living and support my own lifestyle, of course!
But I am never going to that by writing for someone I don’t genuinely want to succeed—If I don’t believe in your business, ethics, or offer, I’m not going to work with you. Period.
And you should accept nothing less from a freelancer whose skill and passion for you will determine how effectively you can work together (especially since you’re PAYING them to help you succeed).
** I step down off my soapbox.**
Here are James’ 10 Lies Freelance Writers Tell You, and my response to each. Some are 100% accurate. Others, not so much, and I want to address them all:
1. “Every project is unique and I can’t quote you until I know more.”
James concedes that each project is different, but claims only inexperienced or sleazy writers use this line.
Many clients know what final result they want, but aren’t quite sure what steps they need to take to get there. Without knowing what preparation or infrastructure your business has, or anything about your business process, it is extremely difficult to quote accurately. I would hate to send you a slapdash quote without enough information. If it turns out to be too low, you’ll be disappointed and I’ll be overworked. If it’s too high, you’ll be shellshocked and I’ll be the dishonest one.
It is an extremely useful business practice to get on the phone with a client to find out more about a project before sending over a clear, honest proposal—usually with a couple of different options to help you, the client, in the best way I can.
James also claims that “most top copywriters display their rates in plain view.” Yes, Ray Edwards does advertise on his site that his starting rate is $150,000 per project to scare away anyone who can’t afford him.
I noticed Men With Pens does not practice that form of fear mongering.
2. “I need to know your budget before I can quote.”
Yep, greedy freelancers and contractors the world over use this to try to snap up all of your budget.
But writers who want to help you find a solution that works within your budget still need to know what it is.
I don’t personally ask about budgets—I am more interested in scope of work. But I wouldn’t necessarily run from someone who is not as comfortable with negotiating and flubs this one.
3. “I’m qualified, because I have a degree in English literature.”
James is right. An English degree is worthless for copywriting.
Being a skilled creative or analytical writer makes it easier to learn the skills required for copywriting, but they don’t translate directly. And literature analysis? Fuck off.
(This coming from ya girl with a degree in English. And another in religious studies, because English wasn’t useless enough).
4. “I had to quote high because of the time I’ll need to write this.”
James’ argument here is that "Top copywriters produce fantastic copy in minutes.”
If your freelancer only spends a few minutes on your project, RUN AWAY NOW! They don’t care about your success and are just churning out quantity over quality to make a quick buck.
Great copywriters who truly care about your success will spend time getting to know your brand, your style, and most importantly: your audience! If your copywriter doesn’t spend time getting to know your audiences’ problems, desires, and barriers to sales, then they’re not trying very hard.
ON THE OTHER HAND, if your freelancer is already on the defensive and you’re arguing about the price, you are not well-matched and you should both part ways. Now.
5. “Your email hit my spam folder.”
James’ point is “Don’t deal with people who are always late and making excuses.” She’s right, but here’s a better way to prevent this problem in the first place:
If you want a healthy, productive relationship with any contractor or freelancer, outline response times and expectations in the contract. Don’t leave it to chance! If they turn out to be unresponsive, you are perfectly within your (legal) rights to part ways. Remind them of the contract. If they don’t straighten up, GTFO.
6. “I’m booked, so I can only squeeze you in if you pay a rush fee.”
Yes and no.
Yes, writers have a schedule to keep just like anybody else. The good ones ARE booked up.
But no, efficient and honest business owners probably aren’t going to knock back currently planned projects to squeeze you in. They’ll probably just ask you to wait (unless you’re a favored, long-time, or retainer client, who usually get some perks for loyalty).
Fortunately there’s a very easy way to circumvent this problem: plan your projects well in advance. Reach out to your copywriter in the planning stages. Last minute work is never going to be as good as strategically planned projects.
7. “You get what you pay for.”
You do get what you pay for—but the good ones aren’t arguing with you, they’re backing up their claims with a great portfolio, success stories, and a solid brand.
Don’t use this ‘lie’ as an excuse to go out and pay $5 for an article on Upwork. It’s going to be a waste of time and money, and you’re going to be embarrassed. And you know why? Because they put in $5 worth of work.
8. “All you need to make sales is great copy.”
Great copy is an oft-overlooked key element to a great brand, website, and marketing strategy. Business owners often think all they need are pretty pictures to be successful. That irks writers, and you should see what it does to public relations professionals!
A better way to say this is that copy is an invaluable way to clarify your message and compel your ideal clients to buy—pictures and cool website design alone can’t do that.
9. “This copy will sell anyone.”
Aight, James is 100% right. Say it louder for the people in the back, James!
Great copy is never designed to sell anyone. It’s designed to sell your ideal client who needs your specific solution, they just don’t know it’s you they need (yet).
Any writer who says they can create copy that will sell “anyone” is still operating with an English-lit mentality and, yeah, has no idea what they’re doing. Run away.
10. “I know what I’m doing, and if you’re smart, you’ll trust me.”
Yep, this phrasing sounds manipulative beyond all reason.
If you are working with an expert, trust their expertise. If you, as an expert in something else, fight them on every point, neither of you is going to come away happy.
If you don’t trust this person, don’t work with them. They should be able to show you they know what they’re doing before you start working together. The most successful copywriters on the planet generally have clauses in their contracts that you absolutely cannot edit or change their words. They know what they’re doing, and they know interference won’t help. Trust the experts! (but do your research)
In a nutshell: Trust, but verify.
In my experience, it’s fairly easy to tell when service provider of any kind has your best interests in mind—treat it like a date:
Does she launch into her own spiel without any concern for you?
Or does she ask meaningful questions, listen when you speak, and balance the conversation with her own insight and expertise?
I truly believe in learning more about potential clients before determining if we’re a good fit, what kind of work they need, and what project size (including price) to propose to them.
So much so that my client intro call is named “THE FIRST DATE.”
And yes, this is a shameless plug.
Schedule an intro call here:
All the best to you, my reader.
And to James Chartrand, who is undoubtedly an honest & talented copywriter herself.