3 freelance copywriting jobs to avoid

When I was  freelancing, I was often a bit too keen to tackle a challenge.

It’s painful to say ‘no’ to work, but I learned the hard way that there are some jobs a copywriter is better off saying ‘no’ to. These 3 examples are all based on real jobs that I wish I had said ‘no’ to.

1.  “I’ve never used a copywriter before but…”

A typical ‘say-no’ job starts with a phone call or email from someone you don’t know who saw your website or LinkedIn profile, and wants to brief you on writing a really urgent little job. They’ve never hired a copywriter before but they have a vague idea that you can do the concept, writing, design as well as the printing. Say no. They most likely have no idea how much they’ll need to pay to have you write and manage the job. Because you’ll be subbing out the design work and printing, you’ll carry the risk of the client not paying you or your suppliers.

Bottom line: Don’t do work for amateurs. You don’t have the resources to educate them. Don’t even waste time doing an estimate (which will probably not be accepted). Just say no.

2. “I’ve got this brilliant idea for an app…”

An entrepreneur with his own start-up company calls. He has a really great idea for a healthcare app that’s going to make squillions. He sounds so enthusiastic that you’re keen to learn more. You spend a couple of hours meeting with him and his software company trying to work out what they need and then preparing an estimate. Because it’s a start-up, you offer a discount copywriting rate. Yes, yes, he likes everything you’ve proposed, please proceed. He explains that the software company has to send it all to India to get coded in a week’s time. You promise to have the work done on time. You work late into the night to finish the first part of the job and send the copy in, requesting feedback. Nothing happens. Next day you phone and get voicemail. Hmm. The deadline looms. If you don’t keep going with the job you’re not going to make it….
This is a disaster in the making. All you can do is try and get the message through that you can’t proceed without feedback and explain that your delivery timeline depends on it. And then go and kick yourself for being dumb enough to accept it in the first place.

 Bottom line: Don’t work for start-ups – and especially not at a discount. They may have a brilliant idea but that doesn’t mean they know how to manage a team. And it’s quite likely they don’t have the cash to pay you, or anyone else who’s working for them.

3. “This job is really simple but I need it for Monday…”

Carla from the Drugs-Are-Us ad agency calls late on Friday afternoon. You like Carla but her jobs have a habit of going pear-shaped. This time she’s dropped the ball on a training program for pharmacy assistants. She sounds desperate. She needs a copywriter who can have it written in time to present to the client on Monday. You sound cautious. ‘Don’t worry,’ she says, ‘It’s only a few hours’ work.’ A training program that’s only a few hours’ work? That would be a first. You agree to look at it, but explain that you’ll need to keep in close contact with her to answer any questions that crop up. No problem, she says. You quickly realise that there are some critical questions she’ll need to get answered by her client before you can proceed. You also realise that the job will have you burning the midnight oil if it’s going to be in shape for Monday. You’ll have to cancel a Sunday lunch and your dog will miss out on his trip to the park. At 10 to 5 you call Carla back, only to be told she’s already left for home. At this point you sensibly bail.

Bottom line: Be ruthless about turning down jobs that are disasters in the making. With some jobs no amount of copywriting brilliance is going to compensate for lack of time or an inadequate brief.


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