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10 Lies Freelance Copywriters Like to Tell You

Could it really be possible that some freelance writers would lie to you, saying whatever it takes to snag your business, justify their exorbitant fees, and turn you into a submissive client who does whatever they tell you?

Well… yeah.

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.

As much as some freelance copywriters would like to believe it, business owners aren’t stupid. You know when someone isn’t being straight with you. Maybe you just need someone to verify it, and so that’s what I’d like to do.

It’s ironic for me, a freelance copywriter, to be writing on the lies told within our field – but who better to reveal their lies than someone who’s right in the thick of it?

And here’s why: they make the honest ones look bad. Plenty of copywriters operate with full integrity, but when we have to struggle with a reputation given us by less ethical writers… well, it’s time to fight back.

Here are 10 of the most common lies copywriters like to tell. Take a look, so you’ll be ready:

1. “Every project is unique and I can’t quote you until I know more.”

Every project is unique, true, but top copywriters wouldn’t be where they are today if they didn’t have a good idea of ballpark rates and averages. Most top copywriters display their rates in plain view – they have nothing to hide.

Anytime you see this line, you can be sure that you’re dealing with either an inexperienced writer who isn’t sure of what to charge or a sleaze who is out to charge an arbitrary rate based on how much they think they can squeeze you. Either way, you can do better.

2. “I need to know your budget before I can quote.”

Why? So you can take all of it?

Writers who ask for your budget before giving you a quote are usually trying to figure out how much you can afford, or who want to push you just over your budget so they can get more out of you.

The good writers? They’ll either try to find a solution that fits or say they’ll be there to help when you do have the money saved up.

And they’ll never ask you for your budget.

3. “I’m qualified, because I have a degree in English literature.”

While having a degree is nice, those English lit degrees aren’t any measure of quality copywriting. They’re actually pretty useless where copywriting is concerned, because the field has far more to do with sales and marketing than with literature. Truth be told, most top copywriters don’t even have degrees.

Degrees don’t matter. Results do. The good copywriters aren’t going to show you their credentials; they’re going to show you what they’ve achieved for other clients, and they’ll tell you about the results they can get for your business.

4. “I had to quote high because of the time I’ll need to write this.”

Want to know a dirty little secret?

Top copywriters produce fantastic copy in minutes. The actual writing doesn’t take much time at all, and no copywriter worth his or her salt charges on an hourly basis. High rates are high because of the writer’s skills, experience, reputation and ability to get results. Good copywriters charge that much because they’re that good, not because they’re that slow.

A writer who justifies high rates with high hours is trying to make you think he or she is slaving away for days. It might be true, it might not, but the bottom line for you is that you expect results, and a copywriter whining about time doesn’t help you get them.

5. “Your email hit my spam folder.”

This time-stalling trick isn’t just used by copywriters – it’s the perfect excuse for anyone who wants to avoid dealing with you, for whatever reason. Maybe they’re running behind and can’t deliver on time. Maybe they don’t feel like making changes you’ve requested.

Whatever the reason for wanting to stall, the spam folder provides an easy excuse. Your communication disappears as if it never existed, and by the time the copywriter says, “Oops, I’m sorry,” it’s just too late.

The good copywriters? They know business, and they know that regular spam checkups is just part of the routine – no one’s email gets lost.

6. “I’m booked, so I can only squeeze you in if you pay a rush fee.”

This is pure psychological manipulation, and it works very nicely. A perception of being in demand makes you want the copywriter more, thanks to the magic of social proof.

The really in-demand copywriters don’t play these games. They don’t squeeze anyone, because they don’t need to. They have plenty of work, they’re not interested in filling up their plate, and they can afford to tell you that you have to wait your turn. Which you should do – it saves you money, and the results are worth it.

7. “You get what you pay for.”

Meh, maybe, if we’re discussing cars. But when it comes to freelance copywriting, there’s no such yardstick. You’ll find high-priced, poor-quality copywriters ready to take advantage of you and you’ll find just as many low-priced, fantastic copywriters ready to get you results.

Unscrupulous freelancers use this “get what you pay for” routine to elevate themselves and make you feel cheap. This influences you to hire them to show you aren’t a skinflint Scrooge.

But real copywriters? They simply point you to substantial portfolios and testimonials that prove they’re worth every penny. They don’t need to make you feel bad, and they don’t want to.

8. “All you need to make sales is great copy.”

That’s just silly. If great copy was all we needed to make sales, we could do away with websites, marketing campaigns, driving traffic, providing good customer service – there’s just no need!

Uh… no.

The best copy in the world won’t do anything for your sales if you don’t have a clear plan, tools, resources, tactics and strategies in place to draw in potential customers, convey trust and credibility and get their eyes on the page so they start to read. It’s just one piece of a successful business.

9. “This copy will sell anyone.”

Any copywriter worth his QWERTY knows this is a crock. You can’t write copy targeting “anyone” – good copy is crafted to reach specific people with specific problems. It’s laser focused on the ideal customer, and it repels anyone else.

Unscrupulous writers won’t ask questions about your target market, and the result is that they won’t sell much to anyone at all, including your ideal customer. They’ll miss all the crucial elements of good copy, like hitting the right pain point, addressing concerns, providing convincing benefits and drawing in your ideal customer to a sale.

10. “I know what I’m doing, and if you’re smart, you’ll trust me.”

This is meant to position them as an authority, but as anyone knows, people who feel the need to point out they know what they’re doing probably don’t know what they’re doing at all. And frankly, if you weren’t worried before, the statement “trust me” certainly raises an important question in your head: “Can I?”

The answer is… probably not.

Self-confidence in skills and knowledge is something that’s easily communicated and nearly tangible. You don’t have to be told – you can clearly see the copywriter knows exactly what he or she is doing without that person even saying a word.

Does a copywriter asking you to trust them guarantee they are shady?

No, but it’s another red flag. None of the lies we’ve covered here are enough by themselves to condemn anyone, but put several of them together, and it should set off warning bells. The slimiest copywriters use each of these lies intentionally, and having a collection to watch for, it should be easy for you to spot them.

About the author: James Chartrand is a straight-shooting copywriter from Men with Pens.

  1. Gosh James, that is actually quite a scary post! Lets hope that prospective clients will talk to people who have used us in the past and look at examples of our work before they make up their minds. I recently did a couple of paragraphs up-front for a prospective client to see if he liked my style. I hope that kind of honesty will convince him I am not a slime ball.

  2. Well, since I’m not actually a “copywriter” (or, for that matter, a “Canadian”) I can’t say for sure if these really are the lies those folks tell. But they sound pretty familiar, and I use most of them myself on prospective — and current — clients.

    James, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do. How are we going to keep ripping off innocent customers if you pull back the curtain. First, you spilled the beans about your plumbing problems. Then — and I’m still smarting about this — you outed me as not really being as old as dirt.

    Now this. I’ll have to come up with new lies to tell. And ways to piss clients off BEFORE they’ve even become clients.

    Like a current one (God’s honest truth) who yesterday sent me a signed contract where right up above her signature she agreed to a 50% deposit before work started. And then this morning was complaining I had “trust issues” since I wasn’t buying plane tickets and working on her stuff.

    I I’d gotten her check, I’d be in therapy. But my psychiatrist refuses to extend credit.

  3. Egads… I wasn’t expecting this when clicking over!

    “Every project is unique and I can’t quote you until I know more.” Any copywriter that doesn’t have a template to squeeze clients into isn’t good? Or is ‘quote’ synonymous with ‘estimate’ in your book? I’m not a copywriter, though pricing by the hour has saved me many times in the world of freelance web design / dev. The subject of freelance billing is pretty subjective topic and has covered a number of times. I’m sure you’ve read about it on Freelance Switch and the like, so I’d rather not open that can of worms here.

    I agree that an English degree isn’t a selling point nor does it qualify one to be a copywriter, but to call an English degree outright useless isn’t fair. Any copywriter should have a good grasp of the language; why can’t formal education help? And saying “Degrees don’t matter. Results do.” sounds nice on paper… wait! On second thought it sounds pretty cliche.

    “…Top copywriters write fantastic copy in minutes … you can be sure that you’re dealing with either an inexperienced writer who isn’t sure of what to charge … most top copywriters don’t even have degrees…” I was kinda put off by so many statements like these.

    It sounds like you’ve been doing this long enough to come up with a formula that works for you, which is great! While we can probably agree that some of the stuff you describe is slimeball-esc, seems like you’re spitting on others who simply don’t follow your philosophy.

    I read MWP from time to time and am a little surprised to see this article (though the ‘straight-shooter’ part is spot on!). I’m disappointed to see something this opinionated on KISSmetrics.

    • Brian D. Russell Feb 23, 2016 at 10:30 pm

      Yeah, I agree. This sentence right here is so misleading: “Top copywriters produce fantastic copy in minutes.”

      Robert Collier clearly noted in his book working on some pieces of copy for very long periods of time.

      Sure, Ben Settle might spit out a 10 minute email on his email list, but good copywriting doesn’t take minutes.

      And if someone does spend minutes on great copy, good for them, but way too much of a generalization.

      I agree with some parts though. Like why would a copywriter need to know someone’s budget? They should quote their projects or rate without that information.

      • They might have a price in mind but be willing to work with a lower fee if that’s all the client can afford. This article makes way too many generalizations.

        Top copywriters are open with their rates? Okay.. So how much does Gary Bencivenga charge?

      • Brianna Stevens May 28, 2016 at 3:43 am

        Totally agree with this comment. I’m a top copywriter. How do I know? I have a master’s in science journalism, 30 years of experience, have written 4 books and about 2.000 articles, plus countless websites, datasheets, white papers, blogs, and landing pages… and make quite a bit over 6 figures a year doing it. Sure, I can write stunning copy in minutes–about anything I know everything about. But can I write sizzling stanzas about in-memory databases or Russian literature in minutes? Um, hell no. Here’s why–the hard part of writing is the research and planning, which can take days, weeks, or months, depending on the topic. Writing words is easy. Writing cogent, well- researched copy that achieves a goal is challenging and time consuming. And the more research I have to do, the more I charge, and I believe that’s appropriate and fair. Should you pay a deposit up front? Well, if I am going to have to do mountains of reading or competitive analysis or interview you for hours about your high-tech patent first… well, maybe. I feel like your pat pronouncement is oversimplified and a bit condescending. Just sayin.’ Sounds like something only a mediocre copywriter who is all puff and no substance would say.

      • I’ve read this post before… it gets a lot of traction. And I found it irritating, no, downright insulting. I do not rip clients off. But I do ask for the scope of the project. I do submit a quote. And I have now reached the point of asking for a budget because clients can be incredibly unrealistic.

  4. Well done. Sadly, with only a few modifications, this list applies to other service providers as well.

    The employment world is filled with no-results/high web traffic people who hawk their wares but deliver poorly.

    Vetting the vendor is so important to all… both the clients and the good guys. Hope you keep this article active in more places than just writerly sites.

    Rita Ashley, Career Coach

  5. I’m a copywriter, so thought I’d poke my head above the parapet and see what was going on over here. :-)

    The “every project is unique” pricing line is so common. In fact, if you try to google copywriting rates, you’ll find it extremely difficult to find a copywriter who will tell you what they charge on their website and I know this annoys clients who are searching for copywriting.

    Sure, some projects are a bit more involved, but if you have prices on your site for standard types of copy, your customers at least have an idea of what you’re going to charge for something tailor made.

    Something like that though is usually inexperience rather than malicious intent. You could still get a decent copywriter who just hasn’t a clue how to price their services yet, or how to deal with customers (not really something you want in a copywriter though).

    If you’re hearing more than one, it’s not a good sign and I’d shop around.

    As for me, I haven’t lied to a client since I told Tim Brownson I liked his jokes…

    (Of course I’m kidding Tim! :-) )

  6. It’s ok, I know when anybody tells me that they’re lying.

  7. @Tim – Even me, my sharp-souled friend ;)

    @Lucy – It is a scary post, and my hope for it is that people simply find writers with integrity to work with. I’ve had too many people come to me with, “I’ve been burned before,” for me not to speak out.

    @Dick – The question is, will you still like me in the morning?

    @Ted – You have thoughtful comments that I’m happy to respond to:

    1. I’m sorry the tone and style of the post didn’t work for you. I try to please everyone but my voice tends to be fairly straightforward and when I take a stand, even more so.
    2. Copywriters (and designers) don’t need templates, but as Amy mentioned, we all have a general gist of an idea that we can show clients ahead of time to let them know our price range. I’m sure you have a good idea of how many hours it takes to perform X or Y… and you can always give a range on what you’re not 100% sure of.
    3. I’ve taken English in college and university. Not one single course taught me how to write – all formal schools at the higher-education level expected students to already have that good grasp of language and be able to turn in papers easily. Now, that might not be the case for all schools, and some may have specific “how to write” courses, but I haven’t come across any yet. If you know of some, link me up and I’ll check them out.

    Hope that helps clarify!

    @Rita – Yes, sadly, it applies to many other service providers. I wish it was otherwise, truly.

    @Amy – For every writer who asks, “How do I know what to charge?” there’s a client asking, “How do I know what to pay?” It gets very crazy and that’s one reason judging quality by price doesn’t work well on the internet.

    I’ll agree that there are many inexperienced writers, too – that’s why this post is important to them as well, so they aren’t seen as dishonest!

    • Thanks James, I’m clearer on the quoting and pricing issue.

      As per the college degree one, I think we agree on many points. I don’t know of any “how to become a copywriter” classes and did not learn to be a designer in a classroom myself. In the case of writing, I’d tend to think someone with an English background has a strong foundation in writing and language. Not a requirement, but not rubbish either.

  8. John Christian Hager Jul 28, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    All these points seem to come completely from arrogance and arrogance doesn’t sell all that well, does it?

    “Rush fee”? I always thought that meant I should “rush” my business away….

  9. Jessica Albon Jul 28, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Yipes, some of these are really awful (that someone would say them aloud, I mean). And how awesome would it be to be able to avoid scamy copywriters by simply steering clear of all of ’em! ;-)

    That said, I have an objection about budget statements. I ask for a client’s budget so that I know how to break down the project (for instance, if they only have enough to start the ecommerce portion of the site to begin with, and then we’ll do a great blog later out of the profits). When they’re cagey about budget, I’ve often found that’s because they think the project will be magically free, and they only reveal that they have no money set aside (but could “probably get some for the right person”) after asking really intensive questions that take industry-specific research and such. (So, yes, it would be more honest to say: I won’t give you a quote without knowing your budget to make sure your eyes are not bigger than your stomach. But that probably wouldn’t go over nearly as well as a simple, “And what’s the budget you’ve set aside for the project?”)

    Unfortunately for the people doing the hiring some of the really bad copywriters are quite adept at selling themselves. Thanks for rounding up some of the worst offenses, James!

  10. @John – I wish they did come from arrogance only. Sadly, they don’t, and I think it’s best to put the information out on the table.

    @Jessica – I have and do ask client budgets from time to time, but usually in cases where I can see there might be a better solution for a client, or in the case of a custom package where a client needs more than our standard packages, or when I can see the client might benefit from a tighter solution.

    In those times, it’s useful to say, “Our usual package costs X, this add-on is Y and Z… would you mind if I asked your budget, and I’ll see what I can do to help you out?” They usually like that.

  11. Peter Shallard Jul 28, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    I like number 5. It’s always a sure sign that you’re dealing with someone not worth their salt when they draw a line between price and hourly input.

    Real pros sell their expertise… not their time. It’s what I do and its what i’d expect anyone who I hire (for anything really) to do too.

  12. Interesting. I have a theory: to know this much about the scams of copy writing, either you exercised those things above OR you have been scammed so many times, you had to learn what to avoid. Good copy writing does not take a long time? no. VERY long time. WHO made you a crusader for consumer who look for copy writers? Your article is simply a summery/collection of manipulative sales techniques used by all unprofessional sales people. Nothing New.

  13. Goodness, what a post! And the feedback is pretty riveting, too!

    I agree with Jessica on the fees front (although I acknowledge your response to her and do the same myself — and I’m more than happy to be flexible and work out ways to keep the cost down if that’s what the client wants). I do list some of my fees on my website, but I certainly don’t think you should be regarded as a dodgy copywriter if you choose not to list any or all your fees.

    And, like Lucy, I also offer a ‘try before you buy’ service.

    The bottom line is that there will always be the unscrupulous few that paint a dark picture of copywriters. But they are, thankfully, in the minority. Most copywriters are good at what they do and, more importantly, genuinely care about their clients — even AFTER they’ve been paid. ;0)

  14. Ooops! Not that I’m saying you’re painting a dark picture, James. Rather, the not-so-well-intentioned copywriters out there. ;0)

  15. @Peter – I believe that once you have the experience under your belt, there’s really no way you could feasibly charge by the hour and make it successful.

    @Shmuck – You’re right – there’s nothing new at all under the sun. But everyone tries their best to bring a new angle or present it in a way that provokes action or reaction (such as your comment shows). Thanks for stopping by to brighten the day!

    @Tracey – Try-before-you-buy can be a cool method that works for all parties involved, definitely, and it shows serious confidence!

  16. Interesting article, and I do like your straightforward tone!

    On the subject of college degrees: most colleges with a reputable liberal arts program have at least one writing class. I’m a college student at the second largest private university in the country, and I know for a fact that every single one of us has to take two writing classes. I’m not talking about classes where students simply turn in papers. I’m talking about classes that teach specific skills. They do exist.

    Also, even if most English programs don’t focus on writing skills, writing about complicated subjects for four years probably can’t hurt. :)

  17. Isn’t it interesting how everyone honed in on the degree thing? Shows how hot a topic the value of education is. :-)

    I don’t usually mention it, but I have a bachelor’s degree in English literature, and I’m also a copywriter. And in my opinion, the English lit degree wasn’t very helpful for copywriting.

    In fact, it might’ve been counterproductive. Academic writing and copywriting are so different that they might as well be different languages.

    When you’re writing an essay about literature, professors look carefully at your research, logic, and understanding of the subtle nuances of the material. They also encourage a more formal writing style with longer paragraphs, big words, and complicated sentence structure.

    Good copy, on the other hand, depends on having a strong personal voice, using emotion to persuade the audience, using words everyone can understand, and writing conversationally. Paragraphs are short, sentences are simple, and it reads like a letter to a friend.

    It’s totally different, and personally, I had to relearn how to write. It took me probably about two years to make the transition.

    Of course, that’s not to imply that the education was worthless. Far from it. I just don’t think it was very useful for this particular profession.

    Maybe some schools are different too. I don’t know. Based on my experience though, I think James is right. If you have a degree, that’s great, but it doesn’t justify higher fees. Only a track record of producing results can do that.

  18. I have encountered with bit another problem. Hired a freelancer content writer and everything was going fine until I manually checked provided article’s copy on net. I was shocked to know that how he (freelancer content writer) just copy and paste exact content from other sources. And from there onwards I don’t much trust on freelance content writer.

    Patel, ple let me know if you know any good and affordable content writer.

  19. D Bnonn Tennant Aug 16, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    Howdy James; your post is pretty spot on, but I think item 2 needs some nuance.

    It certainly can be a warning sign if a copywriter is reluctant to quote before hearing a budget. But equally, it can be a warning sign if a prospect is reluctant to give a budget. Yet very often, the reasons for both parties being reticent about naming figures are quite benign, and very typical in a successful sales process.

    For the copywriter, quoting blind can be a good way to lose sales that otherwise could have gone well. That’s just because often clients have unrealistic expectations. You can manage these correctly and still win the project; or you can manage them badly and scare the client off.

    I almost always ask for a budget up front, because what I’m really asking is how much the client expects to pay. Once I know that, I know how I need to approach the quote. If he gives me a low figure, I can discuss options to scale back the project while still giving him the best value for his dollar; and I can give him options which will upsell without breaking his bank. If his budget is high, I can suggest extra items which would add value to the project, should he want to make full use of his money.

    When clients are reluctant to give a budget, it can mean they’re tire-kickers. But it can also mean that they just aren’t really sure how much they should expect to pay, and they’re looking to you, the expert, for guidance—because they don’t want to appear silly (or be ripped off). In a situation like that, I won’t demand a budget from them; instead, I’ll help them to set a budget by giving them an estimate, and then managing the project scope depending on how they reply.

    Anyway, I realize you couldn’t go into this kind of detail in the article, so I’m not really criticizing; more offering a counterpoint for those reading.

    Kind regards,

  20. Interesting list James.

    I completely agree about your follow-up point that an English degree can actually be counterproductive. As we all know (or some will come to know), copy isn’t about informing. It’s about *influencing*. It’s also creative writing at, some might say (and I might be one of them), it’s most dynamic, since a short story about Joe and the flying saucer might not take you to the next income bracket, but lousy copy over a long period of time WILL (and in the wrong direction).

    I’ll add a couple of points before shoving off, though…

    The bit about “great copy makes sales” is not, in my experience, coming from copywriters. It’s coming from lazy entrepreneurs (talk about mutually exclusive terms that have fused together!) who believe, or rather, delude themselves into thinking that all they need to Think and Grow Rich is sales copy. That they have no business model whatsoever seems to be an inconvenience that can be dealt with “after I start getting some sales.”

    Also, I’ll echo a point made above that scoping out a project, at least somewhat, before offering a price/price range is increasingly becoming mandatory. This is not by preference. I’d love to say $$$ for A and $$$ for B and $$$ for C. It doesn’t serve me to distract my prospects with price. But, especially in new media, a harmless little phrase like “web copy” can be something that takes 2 hours (even in super duper copywriting time)or 20 hours.

    It’s different — and easier — when an agency project manager or account manager does the front-end work with the client (of course they take a fee for this, and more power to them). But when working directly with clients and developing projects, it’s becoming very difficult to accurately estimate without at least a solid conversation…sometimes two.

    To that end, I’d say learning how to interview clients and get them to “think” in terms of marketing and sales is probably the most valuable suggestion I’d make to new copywriters.

    Thanks for posting your great article.

  21. Mike Humphreys Sep 09, 2010 at 11:26 am

    Hi James,

    Pretty good article but I will politely disagree a bit with you on points 1 & 2. My view on #2 was stated beautifully by Bnonn so I don’t see the need to repeat their well-thought and accurate explanation of how many ethical copywriters who ask about potential budgets operate.

    Onto the first point.

    When I started my copywriting career, I had a list of services and my normal fee for each one and here’s what I discovered: Prospects and clients would ask for plenty of other types of marketing pieces besides what I already had listed on my site. Since I write both offline and online marketing, we’re talking about a large variety of marketing pieces and even projects.

    As I got different requests, I kept updating my copywriting list of services… until it started to resemble a Chinese restaurant menu. Then I started getting emails where prospects told me they couldn’t find what they were looking for on the menu… and could they get a quote for their specific needs.

    The other thing I discovered was having a list of services really needs its own webpage. Otherwise, you’re breaking up the flow of your salescopy that’s promoting your copywriting business to present the “menu”.

    The other problem with a menu approach is if you offer any type of multi-piece discount for a project. If you try to list every possible combination of “combo meals”, that makes the menu even longer.

    Anyways, that’s been my experience and therefore it’s my opinion as well.

    Take care,


  22. Well, for me, I never ask for their budget. Many will indeed think: Why, so you will know how much to take?

    Or: Why do you need to know this?

    (Actually, I DON’T need to know this.)

    That’s a good way to lose sales.

    I just give them a quote, and then throw in that that if their budget is tight at the moment, we could work out an arrangement.

    I always need to know more before quoting a price. That is common with experienced copywriters who work for major or small businesses.

    I have had to charge a bit more, or I landed up charging less after knowing more about their project.

    Maybe I didn’t read that section right, but,
    I’m sorry, I don’t know where you got that one.

    One has to know more. That is just common sense.

    I do put my rates on my site, but it ranges form $100 up to $1,200.

    That saves from having to have a price menu, that can actually take up a whole page.

    Although I don’t agree with everything, thanks for the read.

  23. This seems like a very long-winded way of saying: “Trust me”.

    And like others here, I think it’s reasonable to ask for a budget. Because every brief is unique – over the last 20-something years I’ve written everything from the back of a cereal packet to a 10-minute corporate film. The first of these I would probably charge by the hour (although it was part of a week). The second, for the whole project (although I was employed full-time at that point – by an agency who took every penny of the budget).

    When talking budgets, I might say: “How good do you want it to be? Just good, really good, or astonishingly good?” Not everyone wants, needs, or has the money for, brand-creating or enhancing language. Sometimes they just want another way of saying: “Two for the price of one”.

    I like the “list of 10”, by the way. It still works.

  24. I have been hiring copywriters for years, owned my own advertising agency for over a decade and was an art director of one of the largest corporations in the world working with a team of copywriters. This article is absurd.

  25. This post is subjective , an programmed by experience of trial an error in human relationship by the original author , and as it is true for him ( subjectively) also might not be true for other . So realy I just can say that beneth all text , there is good information in this post, so to say above 60% so for me this has a value . Thanks for shareing & careing .

  26. Interesting list, James. Not sure how much of it is based in reality, though. As a writer for 30 years, I’ve never said any of these things to a client. I provide a writer portfolio on my website with a basic fee schedule, but that doesn’t change the fact that each writing job IS unique and must be looked at on an individual basis. In particular, how can you know what to charge someone for ‘polishing our web copy’ until you know whether they just need some minor proofreading or a major rewrite (two entirely different jobs)? Clarification helps both parties.

    I’ve never cared about client’s budgets, and never ask about them. I’m a professional – either they can afford me or they can’t.

    On the very rare occasions that I charge a rush fee, it’s not to gouge money out of people, it’s because they expect a 4-day job to be done overnight, and I’m damn sure going to charge them for working until 4:30 am to get their rush job completed.

    As far as degrees go, I think far too many advertisers of writing jobs miss out on exemplary copywriters because they stipulate a degree as a prerequisite – which is totally stupid. A good writer is a good writer, regardless of their university history (or lack of one).

    And though I have never told a client ‘you get what you pay for’, I’ve had several clients hire me for jobs after they’ve had horrible experiences hiring teenage blog enthusiasts or ‘expert English writers’ from Bangladesh or Bhutan. I get called in to clean up the mess, or start all over again and do it properly. So in most cases this ‘lie’ is a true and valid fact of life.

    No doubt there are unscrupulous freelance copywriters out there, just as there are also unscrupulous clients. But lying freelancers don’t tend to last long – there are too many honest ones ready and willing to take their place when clients have had enough.

    Kevin Casey

    • William Fabher Jun 15, 2015 at 11:09 am

      I was going to write a reply, but this one pretty much says everything I wanted to say.

      Regarding most of the “lies” (2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9 and 10), quite frankly, I’ve never heard anyone say anything of this stuff (btw, the spam-folder lie seemed pretty random).

      I certainly do believe that “every project is unique.” I can’t give a blanket price for a 16-bage brochure without knowing what the subject matter is and what sort of brief I’ll be working from. I’ve worked on brochures that require meetings, interviews, tons of presentations to digest, and the need to learn a lot of complex terminology. In contrast, I could write a brochure about hotels and zip through it 10 times faster. If it’s a new client, I want to know as much as possible before I get trapped in a never-ending underpaid project.

      As far as the “booked = rush fee” claim… Well, I wouldn’t put it to the client like that. However, if I’m very busy and someone is asking for a fast turnaround (especially if it’s a new client), of course I’ll ask for top dollar. When working late and on weekends, family life really takes a hit. Someone’s going to pay for that. And I don’t think most clients find it unreasonable when you ask for more money for rush jobs. I’ve had clients propose it themselves.

      Lastly, about getting what you pay for. Although this isn’t always true, I find that it’s very often – dare I say, usually – the case (at least in my experience). When I’m busy, I constantly team up with other freelance copywriters and I struggle with this situation. When a copywriter is good, clients try to work with them as much as possible. As a result, they’re harder to get and they’re more expensive for the simple reason that they can be. If someone is very cheap and always available, more often than not, there’s a reason for it. Good and experienced copywriters are worth the extra money because they save me time and they bring fresh new ideas to the table. I’ve been lucky a couple times and found good copywriters who weren’t expensive yet because they’d just left their jobs and were starting out as freelancers. But this doesn’t last long. If they’re good, clients keep them busy and they don’t stay cheap.

  27. Asking a client for their budget is NOT an indicator of wanting to rip someone off. I asks the question because I do not want my potential clients to walk away from a deal because I quoted too high. If they say their budget is lower than what I charge, I will tell them it costs more but that we can scale back the project to fit their budget.

    Non-price transparency is NOT a sign of inexperience or fraud. Previously, I was a graphic designer and it was industry standard to quote by project. I do the same thing in my business because every project is different. For some projects, the client might need you to work with a committee. This takes more revisions, meetings, and headaches. Thus, I must charge more for it than I would working with one person.

    There were somethings in this article I did not agree with. But, good read.

  28. Throwing your competition under the bus may be an effective tactic for getting business in the short term, but you’re the one propagating lies –such as writing copy actually only takes a few minutes. That flat fees are the only way to go — how do you quote a flat fee when the job is open-ended and involves many unknowns. Any copywriter worth their salt, who knows how important it is to differentiate their client and engage their target audiences, will tell you every piece is customized. We may know estimated costs, we may give detailed proposals, but still clients moan they’re paying too much. May scope creep visit you frequently during the New Year.

    • I agree with you Susan, this was clearly written with click bait- to his site in mind! It uses great copy-writing tactics like generating controversy, which has lead to endless comments which leads to longer page views times, which leads Google to rank it higher and so on.
      Also more social shares by being provocative- and without nuance- which of course brings the ire of pro’s which again serve the author. So well done in that regard!

      Its function to me- is to generate benefit to the author and set him up as being an expert who “exposes” lies in the industry- “lies” which in fact may not be actual or widespread.
      Hopefully potential clients won’t see the whole field of copywriters in a jaundiced fashion as a result of this piece.

  29. Bryan Winchell Mar 24, 2015 at 2:12 am

    This was a fascinating article in its way and well put-together. Thanks for it, James.

    Now…I actually came here via me wondering what kinds of lies copy writers write for clients, not what lies copy writers use to hook clients. But that was interesting in and of itself.

    Maybe someone has written about the whole topic of integrity in the field of copywriting. I was a journalist in the 1990s (until I quit in fall 2000) and have since stuck to only fiction but I have long been fascinated by advertising and PR though never could go into it because I felt I’d face too many issues about integrity.

    The thing I wonder is if a company comes to offering a high fee…but you have to write something that you KNOW is not honest…does that happen? And if so, do you automatically turn it down? What if you need the money to pay for your sick mother’s hospital bills?

    I tend to view a lot of advertising as a misrepresentation of reality (i.e. a lie), especially the base assumption that I, the consumer, NEEDS whatever is being sold to me. But I am going too far with this. Anybody have any thoughts?

    • Knowingly writing false information is against the law. Most copywriters know this, and counsel clients that they while they can write about product and services in a good light, they cannot lie about them.

  30. What have you got against copywriters?

    I have written freelance copy for decades, and speak from massive experience with local and global clients of every size and description.

    Not sure where you have culled your information. Fact is, it is much more likely that copywriters are played by clients than the other way around.

    I have not gotten rich doing this, but my clients have.
    And that is all that matters.

  31. Interesting post.

    I agree the copy can be written fairly quickly. However, its the research that goes into it that takes a long time, especially if you are unfamiliar with the niche.

    Just as in every niche, you have specialists.

    Copywriting in general is a person who can write good. However, if you get a specialist like a Conversion Copywriter then their whole focus is to get you conversions on your specific goal.

    A Conversion Copywriter is paid to convert, to A/B test, to make sales so next time consider who you are hiring and what results they’ve had in the past – though that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you will have the same or better results in your copy.

    As for charging…

    Each client’s business is very different, each client will have their own unique set of problems but charging them is always a difficult part since you never really know how long it will take to research, write and test the copy you’ve written for them.

    So you have to take that into consideration as well. All you have is a approximate time frame, since most clients that I have interacted with do not like to pay hourly rates.

  32. Having spent 20 years in marketing and the last 5 of that freelancing as well as running a social club for freelancers, what I am hearing more from this article is this:

    1) You’re angry at mopping up after shonky copywriters who shouldn’t be writing. Guess what? We’re all a little fatigued about this. But instead of a blog on “thou shalt not say this to a customer” how about writing an article on “here’s what you should work on to be a better writer”? As a copywriter and a freelancer, you’re part of a community. You start throwing hand grenades at us, you only hurt yourself.

    2) You sound jaded and tired. Instead of criticising people for scheduling their work appropriately and using deterrents like rush fees to calm overly clients down, how about you take a holiday before that fatigue gets stronger and ends up being burn out or a serious mental health consequence? Stop blaming other writers for the stress you feel from overwork and deal with the overwork within your processes.

    3) Your anger at the industry is misplaced because you’ve forgotten writing is a subjective art form. The whole idea of getting a writer to do your stuff is so you don’t end up sounding like everyone else. If you’ve got someone who doesn’t get to know the business, judges the scale of the job on every other project and can write the copy based on what’s in their head in seconds, you’re more likely to end up sounding like every other business out there. What you want from a marketing and a writing perspective is to have someone who cares enough to dig deeper and find the way to stand out. That doesn’t happen if you’re using a cookie cutter. You want to treat your customers like a McDonalds conveyor belt, that’s fine. That doesn’t mean the rest of us should be punished. Again, this makes me more worried about how tired and fatigued you are by your career. It’s like the happiness and desire to help has left the building and has been replaced with a Lunch Lady Doris approach to slopping copy.

    Sometimes, it’s not what you say that’s the problem. It’s what you’re trying to justify. Are you still happy writing copy? Because it sure doesn’t sound like it. It sounds more like the dude at work who makes everyone uncomfortable for going the extra mile or helping more than them.

  33. I’m very confused by all these people saying only amateurs charge by the hour. How on earth do you quote for work without factoring in how much time it will take? And how do you make a living by charging arbitrary amounts for work without considering the hours you’ll be spending on it?

    I know dozens of freelance copywriters an designers who all charge hourly rates, and clients expect them to. Whenever I’m asked to pitch for retainer work, I’m asked for an hourly fee.

    All this ‘you’re charging for your expertise, not your time’ stuff is total rubbish. Of course you’re charging for your time! That’s how business works.

    • If you charge your charge hourly rates, will you go to your clients’ office to do the work? If no, how then will he know the exact number of hours you’ll spend doing the job. Even if your client is using one of these web conferencing sofwares to monitor you, how can you factor in the time you’ll spend researching?

  34. I just came across this blather. Clients/businesses who know what they are doing can see right through phony copywriters or other business services. Most of these points can be very legitimate and caring, not shady. Besides, experienced copywriters know that they are not selling copywriting at all. They selling success for the client’s customers. Besides, shady or not, a copywriter has to put words on paper, and guess what happens if the words don’t pay off? They don’t get paid.

    I charge by the project because I am a very fast writer. However, I can also charge by the hour. I have also done both at the same time. If you’re building a rate sheet, focus on results not your efforts, which are as-yet unproven. Give a price for products and services–$ for a trifold brochure, $ to research penguins, $ to call editors and place a press release, etc. That might seem obvious, but clients are not paying for you, they are paying for your results. So you’re not charging for your expertise or your time, you’re charging for the results the client wants. And that also rationalizes the #1 statement above, which is a GOOD thing but it is also something you never have to say out loud, it is simply the truth.

  35. The author of this article hasn’t got a clue about copywriting. Most of the points are inaccurate and little more than strawmen.

    Every top copywriter I have spoken to disagrees with this. If you’re new to this and looking for a copywriter, I suggest you cross reference before buying into this fear mongering.

    Nothing can replace proper research.

  36. I am of the opinion that every project IS unique. Quoting a price before you have all the facts just seems counter intuitive. Throwing out an average for an average job may be irrelevant to a new client’s request, right?

    I did laugh at #4. That sounds like something I would say. If I relied on writing to live I would starve to death. I think a seasoned writer could write a novel in the time it takes me to write a 1200 word blog post.

    Though I did not agree with everything you said, I admire the article for how strongly worded it was. A teacher in grade school always gave me low marks on persuasive essays because I talked about both sides instead of taking a stand on one side of an issue. Even as an adult, anything I write in an attempt to persuasive or divisive turns into a confusing mishmash of point-counterpoint. (I told you I would starve to death as a writer.)

  37. Fun! Now let’s move onto lies B2B service marketers tell you, such as “We need to charge monthly because you get ongoing benefits!” or “We’ll help you lift sales!” At least copywriters are offering a service that people ASK for.

  38. I have been writing for over 30 years, and I take strong exception to your assertion that a top copywriter can turn out brilliant copy in minutes. I know a few pros and they tell me it takes them about 3 weeks to a month to turn out a great DM package.

    I am also mindful of Hemingway, who said this: “The first draft of anything is sh*t.”

    These are some of the truest words ever written on the subject of writing.

    I thought a lot of your other points about tricks that amateurs and hacks play were spot on.

  39. Wow. What a disgusting person. Copywriters are treated like shit. You are why.

  40. His article is so narrow and self serving it robs you of all credibility. I’ve got an idea for a sequel: Lies Business People Tell Copywriters.

    I’ve been so burnt, ripped off, low-balled and shoulder checked by businesses, well, I’m going to institute an application process, so I don’t even talk to people who don’t recognize the difference between professional copywriters and others.

  41. Laurence Kendal Jun 07, 2016 at 4:59 am

    Of course copywriters want to know the scope of a project before quoting. It’s like kitchen fitters saying, ‘Yeah, a kitchen costs about three grand’. Then later, when you tell them your kitchen is the size of a football park, he or she has to up the estimate.

    We’d never hire someone without getting a detailed quote from them first. It stands to reason that we can’t expect them to do that for us without sufficient information. Absurd post.

  42. Scottie McFrugal Jul 27, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    Lying Copywriters. I agree: “Men With Pens” pretty well sums it up.

  43. Cindy Dashnaw Dec 15, 2016 at 9:45 am

    There’s another side to this story. At times, what a client deems a “lie” actually stems from miscommunication or changes of direction by the client, who then expects the original quote to still stand. Sometimes clients don’t share things with the copywriter at the outset because a step in their process is so familiar they don’t think about it (“Oh, of course, we always have to have five managers’ approval and revisions before we can publish”) or because they do think about it and just don’t want to pay as much as a good, honest copywriter should charge.

    I’d love to see this post direct people to a “Why a Copywriter’s Lie Could Be the Client’s Fault” post.

    Love MWP!

  44. Good copywriters write good copy in minutes?

    I was just reading Adweek Advertising and trust me, even Joseph Surgarman took weeks sometimes to understand the nature of a product/service, to research into who is the buyer persona and to put everything on paper.

    You can write good copy in minutes if you have tons of experience writing about watermelons or oranges and this is what you did all of your life.

    Even SO, good copy takes time sometimes.
    Sure, some days the pen just flies on the paper, but some days it takes more to spit that concept that will sell.

    About “I know what I am doing”.
    It seems that many business owners feel like they need to tweak the copy and trust me, many copywriters feel frustrated because in the end it hurts their reputation if they publish a lousy copy under their name.
    If you don’t mind your copy being changed by someone who doesn’t understand copywriting, then it sounds like you are the one who is only in the business for money.
    Whatever pleases the CEO, right?

  45. As a whole, this post comes across as virtue signalling to prospective clients by the author. Most of these points are simply ridiculous. “Want to know a dirty little secret? A good copywriter can write good copy in minutes”. As others here have pointed out, that’s some disingenuous BS right there.

  46. Yvonne Pindsle May 04, 2017 at 8:22 pm

    Wow – have to say I found this uninformed. Any writer worth their salt will NEVER provide a price until they know the full scope of the project. It’s called a BRIEF. Sure there are ballparks but they very rarely reflect any resemblance to the final price… Client says I want a page of copy – OK – that’s XXX – but he didn’t tell you he wants that page of copy translated into ten languages and distributed by next week – oh… So you really know the price for that translation upfront? So you really think you’ve got time to do that project, get it signed off and that the translation agency will work miracles for you? This is naive at best – or perhaps just shows you haven’t worked on complex projects … The need to know your budget before the quote is simple …. there is a big difference between a startup and big brands – and the expectations therein. Some copywriters are happy to reduce rates for startups – they may be happy to do all manner of favours for start-ups – a writer may say – look you don’t have much budget but this is what I can do for the budget you have… whereas of course big brands would probably be expected to pay the going rate …actually I’ve just realised I don’t have the time to go through every point … I have over 20 years experience (Senior Copywriter) and I’ve never read such rubbish!

  47. I’m quite shocked at this article. I’m working on a project right now that involves rewriting and editing a 50 page website. Some pages don’t need to change and some do. They aren’t being clear on what exactly they need and the scope of changes they are interested in. I ABSOLUTELY need to know more before I give them any type of quote beyond an hourly rate. It’s the difference between rewriting a fifth of the site or the whole thing.

  48. What a misleading shit post.

    Sure you may have gotten misled by some people before but this is just asinine. MOST copywriters don;t display rates because…every project is different!

    Most GOOD copywriters ask for a budget up front not to screw you but to see if you’re even worth the time.

    For example, if you have a $200 budget for a sales page and I charge $5,000 MINIMUM for one, I only ask up front to see if we’re swimming in the same pool.

    If not, why go through all the hassle if you’re only willing to pay $200?

    Just like ANY INDUSTRY – you DO get what you pay for.

    For better or worse.

    To say otherwise is misleading AT BEST.

    You had some good points here, but most of it doesn’t reflect the reality of the freelance copywriting world.

  49. Michael Keenan Dec 09, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    Whoever wrote this quite a pisser.

    Given their outlook on freelance copywriters, they are definitely, 100% one of those prospects you talk to and rather go broke than work with.

    Red flag. Red flag. Back to pitching for new gigs everyone.

    If they have ever freelanced before, they would know that every project is unique and isn’t the easiest thing to quote. Should a prospect have an issue with my approach, they can gladly go find someone else. No harm done.

    And for the record, I don’t want someones whole budget, fool. I just want to have a working relationship that is beneficial to both sides.

    You don’t know how many times we hear “I have to be honest, we’re a start-up and don’t have a big budget for copy”.

    Well, I have to be honest, I am self-employed and I have bills that need to be paid.

    So if you don’t have the budget, I don’t have the time.

    Sad that this came from a reputable blog like Kissmetrics. What garbage.


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