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What Freelance Copywriters expect from their clients

Love Heart Graffiti – What Freelance Copywriters expect from their clients

In March 2024, I published a post – What design agencies want from Freelance Copywriters

A bunch of Creative Directors, Account Directors, Marketing Directors and agency founders vented their spleens and spilled the beans on their expectations, and what makes a good/bad Freelance Copywriter. I asked three questions:

What’s the best way for a Freelance Copywriter to grab your attention?
What qualities would make you go back to them again after the first commission?
What’s the worst thing they could do when they’re working on your brief?

They came out swinging. It’s well worth a read, whichever side of the fence you sit.

So, in the interests of balancing the universe, I asked a whole heap of grown up, highly respected Freelance Copywriters their opinions on what makes a good/bad client.

These were their three questions (and boy, did I get some answers – grab a bucket of tea and a catering pack of Digestives to go with this one):

a) What rings alarm bells when dealing with a potential new client?

b) What are the three top things you expect from a client when you’re working on their project?

c) What’s the difference between a client you go out of your way for and one you never want to work with again?

And this is what they said, no editing and all anonymous so they knew they could be as frank as Sidebottom:

Freelance lifestyle and music writer:

What rings alarm bells? 
Any client who starts the conversation by bad-mouthing other freelance writers raises a big red flag for me. It’s one thing to go through different writers to find the right fit, but I find it unprofessional to lay into them in front of a stranger and potential freelance colleague. That’s just not cricket and doesn’t score any points with me. 

I’m also wary of clients who approach me with products and ideas but not a scrap of customer data or market research. Not only does it make the writing process feel like a shot in the dark (to quote the almighty Ozzy), but it also reduces my chances of finding real benefits and getting real results from my writing. 

What are the three top things you expect?
1) A thorough brief
2) Great communication and a quick response time
3) To be treated with respect and fairness

What’s the difference between good and bad clients?
My repeat clients treat me as part of the team and give me meaningful, exciting work. They let me manage my own time and trust I’ll deliver by the deadline. Bonus points go to the folk who trust me with wild ideas even though it scares them — they have my whole heart!  

Past clients I’ve vowed to avoid tend to be those who micromanage or make me feel ‘creatively unsafe’ with fickle behavior or poor listening skills.

Freelance B2B Tech Copywriter:

What rings alarm bells?
My red flags are based on experience after being burned in the past (in some cases, quite badly!):

Price hagglers. It signals that you don’t value my skills and I’m likely to have problems getting my invoice paid.
Wanting a timesheet. Historically, this has led to penny pinching when I’ve rounded to the nearest 15-mins (which the clients’ contracts told me to do!) and results in ridiculous and unnecessary admin.
Moving a meeting more than once. It shows me this isn’t a priority for you and working together is going to be a slooooow and painful experience.

What are the three top things you expect?
Some sort of brief. I don’t expect lengthily researched documents (although these are always very welcomed!!), a quick 2-3 sentence email or 5-min call to explain what you want is fine.

All the information upfront. I hate it when I’ve gone through the brief, skeleton and v1 copy to then be presented with a vitally important piece of information that changes everything. WHY?!?!!

Responsiveness. There’s nothing worse than a project that drags on for months. So, when I’ve sent something for review, I expect feedback within a week so we can keep the project momentum going.

What’s the difference between good and bad clients?
As a client, I’ll always go out of my way to make you happy and accommodate last minute requests. But you risk a sacking if you:

Assume you can set my schedule. I’m not an employee, which means in a typical month I’m delivering projects for 3-5 clients. Therefore, you can’t make promises to your customers about when I’m able to deliver copy unless you’ve spoken to me first.

Expect me to work evenings/weekends. Yes, I do work evenings/weekends, but it is my choice. I do have other commitments outside of work and my family, as well as the practicalities of not wanting to perform a briefing during the school run.

Mess me around. I get it, clients can be flaky and things change. But don’t book me in for work and send me a message the night before I’m due to start, to say I’m no longer required, because I’ve likely turned down other billable work for you.

And instant dismissal occurs when you say, “I’m surprised to see you live in a bungalow” because it means you’ve been properly stalking me online (true story!).

Freelance B2B Brand Copywriter/Writing Coach:

What rings alarm bells?
1. Being sent briefs/materials and being expected to start work before contract and payment terms are agreed.
2. Being ghosted after sending a proposal, then being expected to reply instantly when they decide to get back in touch.
3. A faux “urgent” timescale where they’re pushing you to compromise on pricing or quality. 

What are the three top things you expect?
1. For them to respect my process and time. 
2. For them to send me a detailed brief with supporting materials.
3. For them to trust me to do the work without having to be live on Zoom for 8 hours (hate presenteeism). And understand I’m being booked for my experience/expertise, not per hour.

What’s the difference between good and bad clients?
1. I love working with clients who respect me as a consultant/collaborator and don’t force me into their workplace hierarchy.
2. I love clients who value my creativity, intellect and outside perspective, rather than seeing me as a word-cranking machine.
3. Big no-nos are unfair contract/payment terms, being ghosted, and giving unreasonable feedback when the brief was poor.

Freelance Copywriter:

What rings alarm bells?
There are a few. Most are born out of a lack of knowledge and understanding, so a post like this will help.
“Can I get a free sample?”
No harm in wanting to know if a copywriter has the chops or is the right fit, but find out by looking at their portfolio, reviews or case studies. Free samples don’t pay bills. They also take up (a lot of) time we can spend on paid work.
Haggling over rates or ask for a discount
This immediately tells a copywriter you don’t fully value their work. A quote might be outside of your budget, but it’s been well thought (more often than not, we end up undercharging). Lowering it means putting the same amount of work in for less.
“It’s not that much work”
Trust the copywriter to decide how much work is involved. If the client thinks it won’t take long, they’ll likely think you’re taking too long — however long you take.
Continually complaining about other freelance copywriters
It doesn’t always work out and there are some bad experiences, but if it happens a lot, it might not be them.
Not accepting the copywriter’s process or boundaries
• Not signing a contract
• Trying to micromanage from the start
• Calling or texting at unsociable hours

What are the three top things you expect?
1. A good brief (I’m happy to help with that, so long you’re up for answering my questions).
2. The things I need to complete the project, when I need them (replying to emails within 24 hours, not including weekends or holidays).
3. To review the work, provide feedback and sign-off within the agreed timescale.

What’s the difference between good and bad clients?
A client that’s respectful, responsive, pays on time and understands the creative process is a winner.
A client that moves the goalposts (changes the scope of the work), goes silent for long periods, or has you chasing payments is a loser.

Freelance Copywriter/Author:

What rings alarm bells?
Quibbling over costs. No, I can’t do it for any less. The clients that quibble over costs are ALWAYS the ones who turn out to be a giant pain in the arse. Saying they’re going to do something and not doing it. Talking down to me. Bye!

What are the three top things you expect?
Prompt responses, prompt payment, clear communication.

What’s the difference between good and bad clients?
Appreciation really helps. Sounds lame but everyone likes recognition that they’re doing great work and that it’s being recognised and appreciated. I like to be treated as a partner, not a supplier. It’s good to know the client appreciates your advice and recognises your expertise and experience. I’ll always go out of my way for people who are lovely to work with.

Freelance Copywriter/Brand Language Consultant:

What rings alarm bells?
Some of the best projects I’ve ever worked on were with clients with a love of words. All the worst were with clients with a love of their own words. If copywriters, with all their imagination and experience, can’t ever feel entirely certain about a word or phrase, then I have absolutely no trust in a client who is adamant about anything alphabetical.

What are the three top things you expect?
Faith – You asked me to do this, not the other way around. Remember why.
Distance – no shared docs, never ever. You don’t need to see every word fall into place.
Honesty – no tip-toeing, or performing the eggshell-shuffle. Brutal honesty – with sensible reasons – is all we have any use for.

What’s the difference between good and bad clients?
Fun. The clients I work best with are invariably the ones where both us are enjoying the process. If you’re not even a little excited by the brief you’re giving me then it’s going to be a drag for all concerned.

Freelance Copywriter:

What rings alarm bells?
People being vague. When they’re not sure what they want, when they want it or what their budget is. I find that if the initial email is vague, the project continues that way!

What are the three top things you expect?
A good brief that sets out clearly what they want, why, their target audience, deadlines and budget.
Access to key people who can talk to me about the project and provide those all-important quotes, stats and background that will help bring the copy to life.
Communication. Keeping in touch with me throughout the project and letting me know if the scope or deadlines are changing.

What’s the difference between good and bad clients?
Ooh. Good question. I always want to work with people who appreciate the value that a copywriter can bring. Who respect my time, my experience and my input.

Freelance Copywriter/Communications Consultant:

What rings alarm bells?
It sounds mercenary, but when prospective clients complain about your pricing it rarely ends well. In my younger days I’d bend over backwards to accommodate a slim budget and 9 times out of 10 they just didn’t value the work, and so were a nightmare to deal with generally. There are exceptions, but they are extremely rare.

What are the three top things you expect?
1-Respect for my time – I always adhere to timelines and deadlines and I expect it to work both ways.
2-A clear brief – sometimes you really need to corner a client and repeatedly slap them around the face to get one, but it’s always time well spent – for everyone concerned. Saves a lot of tears in the long run (usually yours).
3-Respect for the craft – I try to work with people who really understand the value of words now, and what it takes to write them well. When people get it, it makes life so much easier.

What’s the difference between good and bad clients?
Compassion, I think. I’ve rarely needed to ask for any leeway with projects due to life stuff, but on the occasions that I have and people have been kind and understanding, it’s been amazing. Ditto for making a small mistake and being able to fess up quickly and fix it without fear of it damaging the relationship. Clients who are happy to take you as a whole person – not just a service – and love you just the same are worth their weight in gold.

Freelance Fintech Copywriter:

What rings alarm bells?
I’m finding this question harder to answer than I thought I would, probably because a lot of the time it’s a gut feeling. You can often tell by speaking to somebody if it’s going to work out or not. That being said, if I had to pinpoint, I suppose it would be:
– Poor communication — they need to be chased repeatedly for you to get basic answers / they seem unclear about what they want or how to work with a freelancer.
– The onboarding process is very cumbersome / intrusive — I won’t provide copies of my passport and bank statements / do a DBS check / sign a 10-page NDA in blood during a midnight ceremony / join your Slack group / use a company email address / join your weekly status meeting, sorry.
– They want to do a lot at once or everything is OMG URGENT!
– Trying to negotiate down my fees.
– Every email is ccd to 20 people — a sign this is going to go by committee.

What are the three top things you expect from?
A clear brief. Actionable feedback. Timely payment. I’m easy.

What’s the difference between good and bad clients?
They respect me, value what I do, and pay on time.

Freelance Copywriter/Author:

What rings alarm bells?
1. A half-formed or inconsistent brief, coupled with a demand for quick results (i.e., reluctant to discuss what should be done, but trying to do it regardless)
2. Request for a free sample
3.Attempt to negotiate on price

What are the three top things you expect?
1. Courtesy. Even if you don’t like what I’ve done, you can still be nice about it.
2. Consistency. For example, if you want me to respect the schedule, respect it yourself.
3. Collaboration. It’s not your thing that I’m working on; it’s something we’re doing together – at least for now.

What’s the difference between good and bad clients?
Good client:
– Appreciates the value you offer, in all its dimensions.
– Negotiates in good faith: open, fair, honest.
– Mainly focused on outcomes (goals they want to achieve).
– Clearly commits to the project, the price and your service.
– Seeks a partner, colleague or friend.
– Asks for advice and follows it, or at least considers it.
– Uses channels and times you both agree on, or flexes to suit you.
– Professional.
– Brief is clear and precise.
– Feedback is clear and actionable.
– Accepts the timescales you propose.
– Pays promptly, early or up front.

Bad client:
– Doesn’t really appreciate how you help them, or has a one-dimensional idea of value.
– Negotiates in bad faith: devious, coercive, deceptive.
– Mainly focused on outputs, denying or ignoring outcomes.
– Seems hesitant, reluctant or ambivalent. Uses uncertainty or unclarity as a tactic.
– Seeks a supplier, subordinate or servant.
– Asks for advice then disputes or disregards it.
– Communicates at odd or inconvenient times (not just due to time-zone differences). Imposes their own choice of communication channel (e.g. insists on phone calls when you prefer email).
– Casual, scatty.
– Brief is vague, ambiguous or confusing.
– Feedback is vague and open to interpretation.
– Tries to impose their own timescale.
– Pays late, when chased or not at all.

Overall, I just want to feel like the relationship was a net positive, in that it gave me something that I wanted, and didn’t just drain my energy. That value could be financial, intellectual, emotional, social or whatever – but I just want to feel like it helped somehow.

Freelance Copywriter/Strategist:

What rings alarm bells?
There are a few behaviours I watch out for. The first when you begin to notice the quality and frequency of their communications with you. For example, an alarm bell goes off pretty quickly in my head if I have to wait days for a simple response to a text or email; ultimately it impacts the pace of the work you’re meant to be delivering for them.

The second is probably another really common red flag — and that’s when they seem to underestimate how much content creation costs via a bonafide content professional. They may expect rates of £50.00 a blog, but I think that kind of betrays their views on how much they believe in investing in good content. That kind of conversation is always a disappointing one to have.

The third is where you notice how the client ’speaks’ to you; whether that’s by video/phone call, text, or email. Are they respectful and friendly? It’s a simple thing, but who wants to work for a client who talks to you like you’re beneath them? Who wants to deliver work for a client who cuts into your sentences when you’re trying to explain something to them?

What are the three top things you expect?
Good communication – e.g. a clear brief, the kind of relationship where you can exchange honest feedback, and of course, always being paid on time..!

What’s the difference between good and bad clients?
In my 9 years of experience as a freelancer, I’ve come to realise that the best clients don’t feel ‘like clients’. What do I mean by this? I mean that they make you feel like a welcome part of their team, and that your exchanges are like you’re work buddies bouncing around ideas and embracing any challenges from one another. Communication is easy. They always make you feel valued. They pay you on time. One I’d never want to work with again (and I’ve had a few of these, like everyone else) flies in the face of all these lovely things.

Freelance B2B Copywriter:

What rings alarm bells?
1. A wooly brief, by which I mean they don’t know who they’re talking to, what they’re saying—or why. Even worse, when a client commissions a piece of work, not knowing that they need to at least know these things first. It happens at a more senior level than you would think. The tricky part then is to have the confidence to reflect this need back to them—with your rationale and a wider project scope that means you’re in at the start and can help.
2. This brings me nicely onto point two. Being invited into the project too late in the day. I had a call a couple of years ago to get involved in a huge tone of voice project that had already been rumbling along for two years, with a delivery deadline of three weeks’ time. Way to step into a burning furnace and wonder why you get burnt to a crisp. Thankfully, I knew to dodge that particular bullet with grace and a clear “You’ve left it too late, your writer should have been in the room from day one.” All the thinking and insights that will have gone unrecorded… the mind boggles. I’m a firm believer that for a writer to be able to do an exceptional job, it’s only fair that they are there and involved as early as possible. It’s the ‘hand on the doorknob as I leave with a throwaway comment/we’re just grabbing a coffee and having a quick catch up” exchanges that hold the treasure.
3. Timescales. Your failure to plan is not my emergency.
4. Budgets. If my fee is not already a figure within a designated marketing budget, it’s not the job for me.

What are the three top things you expect?
1. Enthusiastic joy. Even in the hefty B2B space. This job is fun.
2. The ability to give constructive feedback… you need a bloody thick skin to do this job at times, particularly if the brief isn’t clear. Working with someone who’s helpful and encouraging and not shaming is the fastest way to a perfect second draft.
3. Realistic budgets and timeframes, and clear communication around both. We all deserve to sleep at night.

What’s the difference between good and bad clients?
See the previous answer about joy. If we’re not swapping Instagram handles and sharing memes and playlists, there’s something wrong.
I have three clients on a blacklist. Why? We were the wrong fit and I didn’t clock it until it was too late. I’ve learned my lesson and now—I hope, because it’s hideous when it happens—I have the self-confidence to see when something’s off and to find a writer who’d be a better fit. We don’t need to take all the opportunities we’re given. Some things are simply not meant for us and that is okay.

Freelance Copywriter/Journalist:

What rings alarm bells?
So many, muhaha. Complaining about other freelancers who seemingly didn’t get the brief. If there’s more than one…they’re not the problem. Bringing up pricing straight away and seeing how much they can squeeze out of you in minimal time. Needing it all doing yesterday. These are all examples of our work/expertise not being properly valued.

What are the three top things you expect?
A clear brief. Now, I understand that not everyone is an agency and might not have all the H2s laid out for you or whatever. But they can’t tell you that you got something wrong if it wasn’t in the brief. So I expect time to discuss the brief, particularly if it’s a little thin. Saves time later.
An idea of approval processes. There is nothing more frustrating than thinking something has been signed off only for Neville from Legal to come over and pull it to pieces.
Fair communication. Please don’t ghost for weeks and then expect something at the drop of a hat. This is a two-way street.

What’s the difference between good and bad clients?
Honestly, if I like them. And there are a lot of things that will make me like you – top banter is a must, but more importantly, understanding the value I bring to your project and being respectful of my boundaries. I’m quite chummy with a lot of my clients and that’s how I like it. Someone I’d never work with again – constant nitpickers, who are invariably the ones with zero budget and want something doing for free. Somebody who makes a mistake and expects you to pick up the pieces. For free. Bitter? Moi? But seriously, most clients are an absolute dream – we just need to be cautious.

Freelance Brand and Tone of Voice Copywriter:

What rings alarm bells?
Usually, if things aren’t running smoothly from our initial interaction, it’s a sign of how things will go throughout the project. I’m talking fee negotiations, unclear requirements, complicated communications. That’s not to say I won’t negotiate or be flexible – of course, things change, timings move, demands evolve. But if it’s all shared in a messy or untimely way – and people within the team aren’t on the same page, it’s unlikely to get better as things progress.

What are the three top things you expect?
1. Respect for my expertise
Why ask me to do the job if you’re going to try to take over and do it yourself (“I’m not a [insert job role] but…!”). Sure, share all your knowledge – I know nothing about your brand compared to you – but that’s the what. Let me deal with the how. It’s why you booked me, isn’t it?
2. Respect for my time
Yeah, I can do a job quickly. But I can do a better job if I have more time. Don’t ask me for a quick favour, or to save you at the last minute because you “gave it a go and got stuck.” And don’t tell me how long a job will take (“should only take you 30 mins!”).
3. Respect for my sanity
You get paid automatically every month – the money just appears in your bank account. You don’t have to think about negotiating and calculating fees, onboarding with finance people or issuing invoices. I get it. It’s not top of mind for you. But it is for us. And most of us hate all that. It drives us mad. Please remember to set us up, raise a PO and approve that payment. Chasing for any of these things to happen is horrid. Time-consuming too.

What’s the difference between good and bad clients?
I’ll go out of my way for a client who makes me feel like part of the team. It helps if we get on (I love it when clients become friends!) but it’s more important that they get what I do and know what they’ve come to me for. I never want to work with anyone who makes anything complicated or confusing. And if they don’t pay on time, they won’t get me again.

On another note, I also never want to work with toxic people. Bad behaviour? I’m out. Recently, I talked to a client about a new member of her team. Very toxic. She said they were all well aware of his actions but there was nothing they could do. I reluctantly declined to work for the brand again – after 12 years of working very happily together!

Freelance Copywriter:

What rings alarm bells when dealing with a potential new client?
• If a client isn’t keen to pay a deposit, or they start quibbling with me over price. That’s an amber flag, at the very least.
• When a client doesn’t want to invest the time needed to firm up a brief and expects me to run with a few bullet points written on the back of a fag packet and no tone of voice guidelines.
• If they’re late for our zoom by over 4mins and don’t bother to apologise. GRR! If they’re over 10mins late it’s game over, man. GAME OVER!
• When they aren’t open to my suggestions. I’m there as a consultant, so I expect my clients to be open to my advice. If they’re marketing up the wrong tree, I’ll tell them what I think. Even if they then ignore it, I expect to be heard and for them to consider my views.

What are the three top things you expect?
• To be given everything I need (tone of voice guidelines, customer avatars etc) in good time, in advance of the project starting. In general, they need to stick to our agreed timelines otherwise my entire diary gets all crumpled up.
• Constructive feedback, including saying what they do/don’t like about the copy but also (crucially) WHY they do/don’t like it. That’s the most helpful steer you can get as a writer.
• To be trusted and left in peace to get on with the work. No micromanagement, please.

What’s the difference between good and bad clients?
Personality is so important. It shouldn’t matter quite as much as it does, but if a client is up for a bit of a laugh on calls, leaves me to get on with the work and is relaxed with me, I’ll forgive minor issues. Pay isn’t as important as rapport for me. In fact my favourite client is my lowest payer.
Dreamy clients – I’ll even self-scope creep sometimes, because I like them.
Screamy clients – if they transfer the stress they’re getting from their boss/the end client onto me, I’m out.

– – –

I counted:

• 23x ‘brief’ (we need one)
• 15x ‘respect’ (two-way please)
• 22x ‘feedback/communication’ (tell us what we need to know and please don’t leave us hanging)
• 32x ‘trust/time/appreciation’ (give us the space to do our thing)
• 12x ‘haggle/quibble/negotiate’ (as in, don’t)
• 16x ‘pay’ (as in, do – on time)

If you commission Freelance Copywriters, you value their input and want to keep hold of them for next time – now you know what to do.

Love and patience. And thank you to everyone who got involved (you know who you are).

Jonathan x

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter.
You can drop me a line here, or email