10 Lies “Men With Pens” writer James Chartrand wants you to believe about freelance copywriters

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.

Bullshit. 

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.”

Um, bullshit. 

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.”

Meh.

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. 

But.

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.

XO
Ashton

The Harvard-backed method for increasing the value of your service—with just your words.

Or... How to write about your business so that you can raise your prices!
(Based on Harvard Business Review research)

So you have a great product. A clever name. Prime customer service (not to be confused with Amazon Prime customer service—has anyone ever had to deal with them? Please no.) 

But you need more cashflow. What can you do to increase the value of your business without changing a single thing about the way you operate?

You change your words. 

How you talk about your business IS your business. Until clients stumble doe-eyed through your front door, all they know about your business is what you tell them. No more. And not a cent less.

What are they learning from the words you slapped on a Weebly site at 3 a.m. while licking Dorito crumbs off your keyboard?

They should be able to understand, within seconds...

    • What you sell (product development)
    • How much it’s worth (pricing & value)
    • Who buys it (customer segmentation)

When your ideal client is slowly twining her mouse cable around her neck in Cubicle 6B, dying for a vacation and reading YOUR website, she’s weighing the perceived value against your asking price.

You have payroll to cover, a mortgage, groceries to buy. Your asking price is only flexible to a certain degree. To win the battle between price and value taking place in Cubicle 6B right now, lowering your price is not the answer. 

But raising the perceived value is the answer.

So what in the name of tequila is perceived value and how do you increase it? 

I’m so glad you asked, friend. Sit down.

 *pats barstool next to me a little too eagerly* 

It’s lesson time. 

An amazing Harvard Business Review article came out in 2016 that—in my humble opinion—should have been on the front page of every newspaper on the planet. 

The argument was: 

What people value in their purchases is not a list of ingredients or features. 

It’s how those features make them feel. But even more importantly, we aren't talking about how they feel about the features.

It’s how they feel about themselves that matters.  

The writers then identified a pyramid of 30 key "Elements of Value" that people love to get from their purchases—things they're willing to pay more money for. Some of the elements are obvious, like quality, saving time, and reducing hassle. Those are the functional elements of value. 

As you climb the pyramid, the elements get more complex—and important. The emotional elements of value include things like reduced anxiety, providing access (private clubs, anyone?), and wellness. 

Taking it a step further? The life-changing elements of value are the ways your clients' lives are transformed by working with you. 

(Hint: this is where your Destination Story gets its power)

All this to say, people don't care about your business. They care about how your business changes them.

All right, lose the righteous indignation. All I’m saying is that everyone is busy. They’re thinking about whether or not the babysitter is judging the contents of their fridge, or whether they’ll be seated next to a single hottie on their next flight. They have jobs, and bills, and family, and friends to think about. 

They simply don’t have time to be worried about your business unless it can help them. 

Here’s an example of this: 

You’re so proud of your 1,157 5-star TripAdvisor reviews. And they’re great for business! But the only reason people actually care about those reviews is that they reduce perceived risk. 

Lots of TripAdvisor reviews make people feel safe, like they’ve made a good purchase (reducing risk) by booking with you. ("If a guy named Noob_3000 can handle this Costa Rican zip line, you better believe I can!”)

One of the world’s top copywriters, Don Miller, argued recently that the more of the Elements of Value you can work into your copy, the higher people will value your product or service.

My recommendation is to work through these Elements like a checklist. Brainstorm ways your business provides these elements to your clients. Then, walk through your website, sales pages, service descriptions, and marketing materials to communicate that.  

I even created a simple worksheet to make it easier.

Important note: you don’t need to use the NAMES of the elements (i.e., “My product reduces risk and provides therapeutic value!”). You simply need to communicate that your product accomplishes these changes for your client. 

The pyramid has four layers, moving from the easiest to provide and communicate (Functional Value) to the most difficult (Social Impact Value).

Most products and services provide several of these elements to customers. They have lots of overlap, so don’t be afraid to layer and combine!

 
Downloaded from HBR.ORG. article by: Eric Almquist, John Senior, and Nicolas Bloch

Downloaded from HBR.ORG. article by: Eric Almquist, John Senior, and Nicolas Bloch

 

Here’s a list with some quick examples of copy that communicates each (or an explanation and link to a brand that does it well).

FUNCTIONAL VALUE

The basic, functional value of your service. (The obvious layer)

For example: You provide an airport shuttle for your guests if requested. Sharing how it saves customers time conveys an element of value in your copy.

Copy: "Don’t spend your travel day at the mercy of a bus schedule! Tell us when your flight is and we’ll schedule a shuttle to get you to Heathrow exactly when you need to be there—no hours at the bus station needed."

Other elements of Functional Value:

  • Informs

  • Sensory Appeal

  • Variety

  • Quality

  • Organizes

  • Integrates

  • Reduces Cost/Saves Money

  • Avoids Hassles

  • Reduces Effort

  • Saves time

  • Simplifies

  • Makes money (If you’re not in B2B, a referral program with cash payouts could be a way to add value here)

  • Reduces risk (hello, travel insurance!)

  • Connects (Think: co-working spaces, networking opportunities)

EMOTIONAL VALUE

Emotional value is SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than you think. Many businesses quit after advertising their functional value, but brands that stick know the goods lie in emotional value.

For example, brands that people will fight you over usually have atmospheric levels of Badge Value. Think Supreme. Vivienne Westwood. People spend more on these well-known brands because they recognize that the business values the same things they do, and that sporting Vivienne Westwood clothes advertises their own concern for Vivienne’s causes.

  • Wellness

  • Therapeutic Value

  • Entertains

  • Attractiveness

  • Provides Access

  • Reduces Anxiety 

  • Rewards Me

  • Nostalgia

  • Design/Aesthetic

  • Badge Value

LIFE-CHANGING

Moving to the more complex—but also more rewarding—level, these elements are ways that your service will transform the person’s life not only for the time they’re with you, but long after. If you can convey (and deliver, obviously) even one or two of these well, you’ll be on your way to a Kayla Itsines-worthy fanbase.

Example: Self actualization is a strong value for groups who offer clients the opportunity to do some soul-searching and reach their goals.

Become the best version of yourself. Join us in 2019 for this life-changing silent retreat to discover your deepest desires and goals—and then reach them.

Other life-changing value adds:

  • Motivation

  • Heirloom

  • Affiliation / Belonging

  • Provides Hope

  • Self Actualization

SOCIAL IMPACT

Social impact is the Illuminati Eye of the Harvard value pyramid. It applies when your group supports  a cause or helps people benefit the world around them, particularly in ways that are more difficult to advertise (i.e., NOT doing it for the ‘gram).

Self transcendence:

Ex. We are all part of the movement toward a more just world—or against it. Join our organization today to help us move the needle faster. 

The more elements of value you can convey in your copy, the more people will happily pay for the opportunity to work with you. Work through them, and you may be surprised at how many your business already provides—and all you have to do? Is advertise that.