“Mistaken beliefs” about getting clients

Jan 21, 2022

Issue #150

Sometimes I briefly hop onto Facebook and see what some folks are posting on their feed or in copywriting groups, and I get downright annoyed.

A common reaction for sure when it comes to social media. But in this case, it was a young man I know who’s had great success as a copywriter, and is now coaching others.

He’s someone I paid to write some bullets for a Boardroom promo I was working on when he was still in high school, so I could help him see if he was any good. (He definitely needed improvement, but he showed a lot of promise.)

In this particular case, it was an exchange where he said, “If a client needs samples it means they’re unsure about the copywriter’s ability to perform (aka lack of confidence on the sales call / brand positioning).

Now, I agree when on a sales call with a potential client, you need to come across as confident. Not “sleazy, slimy, hard-selling” confident, but that quiet confidence that demonstrates you’re sure about the quality of work you’re able to deliver.

The problem is, you can’t FAKE that kind of thing… even if someone gives you the sales training. You can change how you talk to yourself (your “self-talk”) and learn how to counter possible objections and lots of other confidence-building and basic sales techniques, but you’ve got to FEEL worthy deep down inside…

And that leads me to what I found particularly annoying (almost as annoying as the next quote I’ll share with you)… that part where he said “If a client needs samples it means they’re unsure about the copywriter’s ability to perform (aka lack of confidence..)” etc.

My response?

“If someone is fairly inexperienced, they need to demonstrate they can deliver. Even when I was far more experienced with multiple controls under my belt, potential clients wanted to see samples. It obviously strengthened my case in those situations, but it had nothing to do with a lack of confidence or salesmanship on my part.”

Here’s the deal… if you want to work with one of the “big dogs” or even a moderately-established company–one that you can count on to actually afford to hire you and follow-through with payment and not be a complete train wreck to work with, you’re going to need to prove you can do the work.

Now, it may be possible to “smooth talk” your way in if you’re really that good at selling… because the client may see that in itself a demonstration of your sales prowess. But selling in person (or over Zoom or on a conference call) is a heck of a lot different from having the ability to sell using the written word.

The more likely scenario–something I’ve seen with people I’ve coached or mentored–is if the client knows that the copywriter is going to have someone like me as their copy chief or mentor throughout the project, they may not require samples (and as I mentioned, my young friend is selling his own coaching program).

But even my own son–who’s starting to do some freelance copywriting and is exploring opportunities with a major direct response company–has had to pony up samples or write sample lifts in order to demonstrate his abilities. (As it should be.)

Any reasonably savvy client who you may want to work with is going to want to see samples. Now, should you rely ONLY on samples? Absolutely not.

Any copywriting coaching or mentoring program worth its salt is going to spend a great deal of time with you showing you how to deal with clients. I put a program together a few years ago with Chris Orzechowski that we now open up only a few times a year that teaches how to close clients and negotiate retainer and royalty deals. And I may be coming out with my own course on client management later this year.

What’s more, I spend a lot of time with my Fast Track to A-List mentees talking about managing clients, negotiating higher fees, avoiding costly hassles with contracts, and more. It’s why so many are able to start working with their dream clients, raise their rates substantially, and more.

In fact, just in the last few days I heard from two of my 2021 mentees with some positive news. The first emailed me to say, “I’m glad to tell you I raised my rates with [major publisher client] again for this year. Your strategy on selling them on a higher fee we discussed during our welcome call still works.”

And the second emailed me with the subject line “Running with the big dogs…” to say, “…thank you for helping me land a retainer contract with [major publisher]. Writing for them was right at the top of my client list, so this feels like a dream come true… Plus [another major client] has finally sent me a contract.”

But it comes down to so much more than learning how to talk to clients, negotiate higher rates, and overcome objections. It all starts with getting better at writing sales copy. That’s the #1 thing that will help you be more confident when closing clients. Because it’s the ONLY way to feel worthy.

And when you have actual samples to show as proof, it boosts your confidence–and the client’s–significantly. It what helps push them over the edge to say “yes” and primes the way for them to accept the work you turn in and be happy with it. (Obviously, you need to DELIVER a good final product.)

Having a client who hires you but doesn’t feel completely confident about doing so can lead to the kind of over-meddling, multiple rounds of copy-requiring, final payment-stiffing client nightmares you want to avoid like the plague.

I mean, if you WANT to believe that all you need is some magic sales process and not any actual samples in order to land high-quality clients… go ahead and believe it.

But it’s a “mistaken belief”… kind of like the “mistaken beliefs” I learned about in a parenting class I took years ago that was inspired by the work of psychologists Alfred Adler and Rudolf Driekers (a great PDF summary can be found here.)

Now, I’m a grizzled veteran who’s seen and done it all over the past 22+ years… not some new-on-the-scene kid–who I’m quite fond of, by the way–who further along our Facebook exchange really annoyed me when he claimed, “It’s a brand new world!”

This was in response to my “let me wrap this up without getting into one of those stupid, time-consuming Facebook arguments” comment: “I’m curious how someone can be sold on your expertise for writing copy without knowing of or seeing previous work… but we can agree to disagree.”

Some things are just timeless… ask any longtime A-Lister or direct marketer who chuckles to themselves when some new-on-the-scene Internet marketer natters on and on about their latest “ninja” technique which is really just “old school” copy or direct marketing applied in a new format or channel.

Do you agree… or disagree? Wanna fight me? (-;

Let’s take it to where an actual serious discussion can happen… click the button below to reply to this post on LinkedIn (extra brownie points if you leave a like or love as well!)

Do you need samples or not to land clients?

Go check it out and leave your thoughts. You’ll find it’s a slightly-shortened version of this week’s issue due to LinkedIn’s aggravating word count limit (yes, you gotta be a Copy Insider to get all of the good stuff!)

P.S. I haven’t formally closed the doors to this year’s Fast Track to A-List mentoring group, but I’m about to. We’ve got a great group of a dozen copywriters and I’m liking the size, make-up, and camaraderie within the group.

However, even though I was going to originally take up to 4 additional people, at this point in time I’ve decided I can only add 1 or 2 more latecomers… but I have to hear from you no later than this Sunday, January 23rd, and you’ve got to convince me why you’re a good candidate for this program to let you in at this late hour (tell me in the short form you’ll see when you click the “I’m in!” button).

You can find out more here before I take this page down and close the doors to this year’s program for good.