Mar 13, 2024

Today I read an article that talked about the word “sweaty”… and it’s something you never want to come across as with a prospective client.

I’m not talking about actually sweating (what was that old deodorant ad? “Never let them see you sweat.”)

I’m talking about trying too hard or coming across as desperate.

Apparently, it’s a term from gaming culture, where it refers to players who compete so intensely their controllers become soaked with sweat (ick).

Seems as if that could inadvertently set you up for humiliation and failure.

The same is true in the copywriting world. Of course, it’s tough not to be wanting that big opportunity SO bad, that it’s hard to hide it. But that can cause you to lose out instead.

Case in point: the recent Oscar contenders for Best Actor  

The article mentioned how Bradley Cooper campaigned hard for winning the Best Actor award for his stellar performance in Maestro

At the Oscars, the cameras showed him anxiously awaiting the announcement, only to leave empty-handed. As some snarky Hollywood insiders would say, he was way too “sweaty” for an Oscar.

Compare that to Cillian Murphy, who appeared cool as a cucumber at the Oscars… and who, despite going up against intense competition, took home the award for his brilliant performance in Oppenheimer.

He didn’t seem “sweaty” or overly eager… and thus — perhaps in some people’s eyes — came across as more worthy of being treated with greater respect.

You can’t come across as “sweaty” or overly eager when dealing with prospective clients, either. Yes — even if you’re desperate. 

Clients can smell desperation a mile away… and they’ll either run in the opposite direction (the good ones), or use it to their own advantage (the bad ones).

Years ago when I was first starting out as a copywriter, I had already built a great network during my time working for a top direct response company. It resulted in many referrals coming my way, which helped me stayed booked from the get-go.

But I still remember those conversations with potential clients when I attended conferences and other events. I always held back just a bit, listened more than I talked, and tried to play it as cool as possible — versus shoving my business card into their hands and saying, “I’m a copywriter”. 

(And honestly, asking questions, listening, and showing interest in the potential client is a great “Dale Carnegie” hack that can have them instantly liking you.)

Back then if you were a decent copywriter, it wasn’t too difficult to have a good number of potential clients eating out of your hand. Good copywriters were more of a rarity — and the savvy clients, at least, prized and respected them. 

Nowadays it seems like there are not only a ton more clients (not all of whom value good copy or good copywriters), but also a lot more copywriters. So it can often feel like clients are holding all the cards. 

I’ll never forget going to an event in February 2020 where the organizers had people from companies who were looking for copywriters line up, and then had interested copywriters wait in line to go up to them to discuss their interest. 

I immediately felt like this shifted the power balance from the copywriter to the client… whereas 20 years ago, potential clients would have been the ones lining up and eagerly approaching the copywriters. 

It also meant that these clients would potentially miss out on talking to some really good copywriters (there were many of them there, not just me). 

Some copywriters might feel too shy; others (like me) would find it humiliating to line up just to meet potential clients and appear more hungry than they are — when it really should be on more equal footing from the get-go.

Nobody puts Kimmy in a corner… and makes her look “sweaty”! 

Needless to say, I didn’t get in that line.

So how do you avoid looking desperate or like you’re trying too hard… but also not come across as aloof and disinterested?

You want to give off that quiet confidence that Cillian Murphy exhibited at the Oscars.

And to have that quiet confidence, you need to BE confident.

And to BE confident, you have to be competent.

That means if you write copy for a living and charge people money for it, you have to dedicate yourself to getting really, really good at it.

As I’ve said before, copywriting is job #1.

That’s why you’ve got to put in your reps. If you’re not already busy with client work, you need to be studying successful promos, learning what you can from courses and books, and writing copy every day — even if it’s for practice.

You’ve got to take advantage of as many opportunities as you can to get feedback on your copy — and always be receptive and grateful for it. 

You’ve got to step up to the plate and give whatever opportunities that come your way your very best shot… and if they bomb out, learn everything you can from it.

You can’t just dial things in or copy what everyone else is doing. If you want to find yourself completely replaced by AI, keep doing that.

We are in the business of ideas. Ideas are what get doors opened, get new copy tested, and get huge winners that can put you on the map… earn you bigger fees and royalties… and catapult you to legendary status.

When you focus on getting better all the time — no matter what level you’re at now (yes, the best copywriters out there are still striving to always get better) — your competence — and your confidence — will make you unstoppable.

That’s where it all starts… nowhere else.

I thought I’d share some of the hard-won client secrets I revealed at my LA Boot Camp Intensive when I put it on 7 years ago this month. (Note: you can still get the virtual-only version of this program here at the new regular price, or one of the last few physical copies here.)

Here are just a few tips that I think you’ll find helpful for not being too “sweaty” and getting the R-E-S-P-E-C-T you deserve:

💰 Don’t expect to get paid top dollar until you’re really good. In the meantime, get paid decent fees even if they’re slightly above your “pay grade” while you’re working hard to learn everything you can. Give every project your all.

💰 Don’t do work “on spec”. Only in rare cases does it lead to something good. It’s undignified to do work for free when you are a professional (and not really fair of clients to ask you to do so.) See below for a few exceptions.

💰 Never start “tomorrow”, even if you don’t have any work. Play “hard to get” just a bit. Say you’re booked for the next few weeks but there may be a way you can move some projects around due to a client being behind on a launch. (It may be a “white lie”, but it helps with negotiating your rate. The client feels grateful and you haven’t instantly discounted your value by being available.)

Regarding “spec” work: If you are working with someone you trust and you feel it could open doors or get you a good sample, you might consider it. But I would keep it limited to smaller amounts of copy versus an entire promo.

There’s much more I can write on this topic, and I plan to do so. In the meantime, if you don’t already have my Client Badassery Secrets book, what are you waiting for? I get deep into many of these topics in it, including that 4-letter “spec” word. Go here to get it in print or on Kindle, or here to get access to the e-book version.

Now, speaking of sweaty, it’s time for me to get out and enjoy this unseasonably warm 70-degree weather! 

Yours for smarter marketing,


P.S. One other tip: you may be applying for a job or an ongoing retainer arrangement with a company. It’s become more common these days to screen applicants with short writing projects or have them jump through multiple other hoops.

If you apply for one of these opportunities, you absolutely have to put in your very best work. You need to turn in perfectly-clean copy that’s free of typos and other errors. And most important of all, you have to follow instructions. 

Many of these opportunities I’ve seen have lengthy, detailed instructions — which I suspect are there, in part, to screen out applicants who can’t follow instructions. Make sure you’re not one of them!