You’re a copywriter. Maybe the best copywriter in your agency. In fact, everyone says you’re one of the best copywriters on earth!
What happens when you have to write some marketing content for a client? How do you get into that creative flow state where everything seems like magic and most importantly: how can you ensure that your client doesn’t mess it up?
There’s a lot of back and forth in the copywriting process, because that’s how copywriters work. You write something, you submit it to the client for approval, they send back notes. Then you tweak your writing based on their notes. Rinse and repeat until everyone is happy with the final copy.
It’s a tedious process, and it can be easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of wordsmithing.
But sometimes clients changes things that they probably shouldn’t. They add extraneous copy that doesn’t belong. Or they say “I’m not sure this is working for me.” And then you’re stuck. You have a choice:
- You can make the changes on your own and resubmit.
- You can push back, but that may only delay the inevitable, at best.
- You can choose to no longer work with that client in order to protect your copy from being butchered beyond repair, which of course means losing revenue for you and your agency.
This happened to me a few weeks ago and it left me feeling – well, I’ll just say it: less than thrilled with the client. In fact, my brain was so preoccupied with all of these negative feelings that I hadn’t even been able to work on the text yet!
If you’ve ever had this happen to you, I’ve got some advice for you. Here are 7 steps to recovering after the client ruins your copywriting.
Step 1. Allow yourself time to grieve
Copywriters take what they do seriously (which is why we get a little touchy when a client changes our work without asking). So it’s important that you find a way to cope with the feelings that come up when this happens.
After all, you’ve just lost your creative baby – and sadly there really is no way to get it back. So naturally you’re going to feel sad about that at first.
You might also feel resentful toward the client for forcing you into this situation in the first place, which is totally normal.
And lastly, you might feel like a failure because maybe it seems like you didn’t do such a great job with the copy in the first place (you can read more about that here ).
So for starters, I recommend finding some time to let these feelings run their course. Maybe take a walk around the block, or talk to a friend. You don’t have to beat yourself up over this because it really isn’t anyone’s fault – sometimes these things just happen.
Step 2. Figure out who owns the problem (and why)
After you’ve allowed yourself some time to grieve, it’s time to move onto the analysis phase.
So first things first: decide who was responsible for changing your copy without asking . Was it your client? Or was it their agency (if they don’t work in-house)?
If it was your client, think about why they would change something without asking. Were they trying to save money? Or did they just not know any better?
And if it was the client’s agency that made the changes, who do you think is to blame: a junior copywriter? A junior art director? An account person trying to make a good first impression? Whoever it was, they’re the ones ultimately responsible.
Step 3. Figure out what to do moving forward
Your client is either
Clueless/not very bright if they didn’t know that your work needed to be approved first ,
or completely on top of things and therefore can’t be trusted to make good decisions on their own.
Either way, it’s a big red flag and you might want to think about whether or not this is a client you really want to continue working with.
If they’re clueless/not very bright then they’ll probably never learn any better until you stop working with them (which of course is going to cost you money).
You might consider explaining to them why it’s important for their agency to consult with you first about any changes. Also, make sure they understand the importance of keeping your copy intact (i.e., how it can affect conversions, etc.)
If on the other hand your client is completely on top of things and therefore can’t be trusted to make good decisions on their own , then that’s a different story altogether. In this case, you can probably chalk it up to poor communication and an agency/client divide.
You might want to think about how exactly they got approval for the changes made without consulting you first (if it turns out they did get approval). Maybe you just weren’t available when they needed to get your input. Or maybe it’s because you didn’t spell out the approval process in your contract (we’ll talk more about this below).
Or maybe their agency decided to change things without checking with them first simply because they assumed that the client knew what was going on .
If this is the case then you might consider talking to your client about how they get approval for changes moving forward (in case it happens again). You could provide them with some guidelines, like requiring their agency to consult with the in-house person (likely you) before making any changes.
Step 4. Figure out what to do if…it keeps happening
At this point, it’s time to figure out what you’re going to do if this happens again.
Do you want to continue working with your client? If so, then I recommend talking to them about the approval process moving forward. You could suggest that they have their agency consult with you before making any changes (unless of course they ask for something really small and non-essential – in which case you could just let them approve the change themselves).
Or do you want to cut your losses and move on? You might consider putting a clause in your contract that states that changes cannot be made without consulting with you first. If they violate this, then it’s grounds for termination (and if this happens then you’ll want to make sure they’re not allowed to retain the rights to your original copy).
Step 5. Figure out what to do if…it keeps happening and it’s affecting your bottom line (i.e., conversions, ROI)
If this keeps happening and has affected your bottom line, then you might consider putting a clause in your contract that states that any changes made without consulting you first (either directly or indirectly), will be grounds for withholding final payment.
Step 6. Figure out what to do if…all of the above doesn’t work
If none of the above works, then it’s time to find new clients. You might consider putting an ad on Craigslist or Upwork. You might even consider contacting past clients who have given you a positive review and asking them to put up an ad for you on their blog or newsletter (assuming they have one, of course).
Step 7. Follow up with your client/agency
Regardless of whether or not you’re going to continue working with your client, it’s a good idea to follow up with them and let them know that this won’t happen again in the future. You can also send a message to their agency letting them know that they might want to consider putting a clause in their contracts that prohibits them from making changes without consulting with you first.
What’s the best way to communicate your concerns with your client/agency?
In person. Whether it’s in a conference room, at their office or even on the phone, you’ll want to have a conversation about what happened and how they can ensure that this doesn’t happen again. And if possible, I recommend coming armed with suggestions for how they can prevent this from happening in the future.
How can I avoid this from happening in the future?
There are a few things you can do. You could put an ad in your contract or on your website that states that edits or changes need to be approved before being made. If the client asks for small changes, you could just let them approve it themselves. It’s also suggested that you have an approval process in place that dictates how often you need to check with them.
Why should I follow up with my client/agency?
The goal of following up is to make sure that they understand how important it is for them to consult you before making any changes. Plus, it lets them know that what they did was unacceptable and won’t be tolerated going forward.
What if I’m not comfortable talking to my client/agency about it?
If you’re not comfortable with talking to your client or agency then send them an email that’s short, polite and to the point. You can say something like this: “I wanted to let you know that I’m very upset and frustrated with what you did. I felt like my work was disrespected and not taken seriously. Moving forward, I would appreciate it if you consult with me before making changes to any of my copy.”
To Wind Things Up
We hope our 7 steps have helped you recover from a client who has ruined your copywriting. If not, we’d love to hear about any other techniques that work for you in this situation! Please comment below and share with us what worked or didn’t work for you.