what a copywriter is not

What a Copywriter is Not


This is a Public Service Announcement:

Your copywriter is not a business coach.

S/he is not here to answer the hard questions for you.

S/he is not here to figure out who your ideal audience is or why they might buy your thing.

S/he is not supposed to magically figure out your offer, pricing, customer persona, sales funnel strategy, or branding.

S/he does not know whether you should offer a 60 or 90-day money-back guarantee — but if you want an opinion about the Oxford comma, s/he probably has one.

S/he does not know how much you should be charging for your thing — but if you want to know whether you should be using affect or effect, s/he’s your go-to person.

A copywriter is not a brand strategist.

A copywriter is not a funnel expert.

A copywriter is not a webinar expert. Or a publishing expert. Or a launch strategist. Or a social media strategist.*

*Unless they are. In which case, you had better expect to pay for those additional services.

I have to admit, this is why I have almost completely stopped taking copywriting jobs for things like website copy, about pages, sales pages, emails, etc. because the expectations were so often unreasonable, and so often not expressed until we had already gotten into the process.

Honestly, I was starting to feel like the wedding photographer we interviewed who had a clause in his contract saying he was allowed to walk away from the wedding if someone punched him in the face. Like, does this really need to be said?!?

I’m supposed to bring creativity and wordsmithing to your project, new ideas and a fresh angle on how to sell it, but I need some basic information about your business and your product before I can be helpful. And you might be SHOCKED how often people are looking for a copywriter without that information in hand.

So now I very rarely take copywriting jobs unless the client comes pre-vetted by someone I know. Mostly the clients I do take come to me via Public Persona or another business coach — and so I know that they understand what they’re doing and where they want to go.  

And it’s the same reason I am now offering Strategy Sessions first before people can sign up for a ghostblogging retainer. (In this case, I AM a content strategist, and I am happy to provide that service — but it’s not copywriting.)

Because the only times people have been unhappy with my copywriting? Are when they didn’t know what they wanted in the first place.

Like the client who had me rewrite her speaker’s page three times, because she kept changing who her ideal audience was….

Or the early client who cancelled her blogging contract after two months because it “wasn’t working” (after giving me no plan and no idea of how we would know if something was “working”)…

Or the client who wanted me to script a 90-minute webinar for him, with no idea and no outline provided, for the cost of a blog post… (In case you were wondering, the average person speaks 130 words a minute, so a 90-minute webinar comes out to nearly 12,000 words. Most of my blog posts are not quite that long.)

Or the client who was literally weeping on the phone and saying that I had betrayed her after I said that no, I was not interested in running her business for her (for almost no money)…

[P.S. If you need someone to run your business, don’t expect to pay by the word!  That’s not how this works.]

what a copywriter is not

Dammit, Jim, I’m a copywriter, not a psychic magical business omnitool!

And here’s another important fact: The best copy in the world cannot sell your thing if you haven’t put in the due diligence to make sure that offer and audience are aligned. (Believe me; I have tried.)

In an ideal world, the client already knows what’s going to sell her thing… I make it sing.

She already knows what her ideal customer is struggling with… I make them FEEL it.

She’s got the strategy all mapped out… I’m there to execute it with panache.

Again, unless me providing the strategy, or the hook, or the angle, or the research has been priced into the project. But I don’t believe that all of that automatically comes with the deal when you hire someone to “write copy.” (Some copywriters disagree with me on this, and that’s OK. It’s just not how I roll.)

I believe, copy and design should come almost LAST on your list, no matter what it is you’re creating. You’ve got to do all the hard, brain-bending, ego-shattering, self-doubting, eureka-moment pre-work first, and then hire your dream team to bring it to beautiful soul shattering life.

And if a client DOESN’T have all that stuff figured out yet, that’s OK!  No hate here!  Everyone was a newbie at some point.

It just means she needs a business coach.  Or a strategist. Or a consultant.   

But she’s not ready for a copywriter.


No clients were harmed in the ranting of this post.

25 thoughts on “What a Copywriter is Not

  1. HURRAH, Lacy! 🙂 I am giving you a virtual standing ovation for this awesome post.

    Please don’t worry about it being a little controversial, either…the #1 blog post on my site is one where I expressed an opinion that was very unpopular with a small number of my audience members. That post is now consistently bringing in more traffic than any other article on my site! I say, “Good for you! Kudos for being brave!”

  2. Perfect! No you are not too harsh at all – and I’m no copy writer – to which my own copy painfully reveals – but it’s me dressed in all my flaws. I feel your pain. :).

  3. Lacy you rock 🙂 This so needed to be said. It is difficult to sit down and figure out what is going on in one’s business but that is the job of the entrepreneur not the copywriter. It takes commitment and handwork to figure this out but no one know’s your vision like you do. I agree that coaches and branding experts can help one refine and focus who one is, what one offers, and to whom but at the end of the day one has to just put on one’s big girl pants, sit down, and figure it out…do the work and make space to think about one’s business. I passed this post on to a dear friend who is a copywriter who I know will appreciate this. She faces all sorts of client challenges too and has had to make some hard boundaries as well. Thanks for writing this!!! I don’t think this is controversial…well maybe for the frequent offenders, it may be but they are the ones to be educated.

  4. Great post! But is Jim talking to himself? Or is he meant to be talking to Spock? And, sorry, but Jim is some kind of omnitool! He just can’t write as well as you can.

  5. The flip side of this is that starting out, the biggest challenge is to sniff out clients that you can handle vs. ones that you really can’t help. (BTW not sure how I feel about this handscript font.. lol – looks cool but takes some getting used to..)

    1. p.s. Guess it’s okay these days to come out of the closet and freely admit I’m a trekkie! So, of course, love the graphic – glad you took that leap of faith and hit ‘publish’! My attitude these days is that those who love you either won’t care or will support even the most controversial post. The rest don’t matter anyway!

  6. Great post, and something that has irritated the crap out of me, too. Meeting with clients who have no idea who they’re talking to and
    who get “snippy” when the copy doesn’t work the way they want it to. Frustrating, but good reminder to really vet potential clients to make sure we understand what it is they really need. Because I can either give them homework, or send them to someone else, I’m totally ok telling a potential client they don’t need me, if need be. 🙂

  7. Perhaps a price list could s’plain it to prospective clients:
    Creative wordsmithing = x per hour
    Branding, audience identification, marketing strategy and website copy = + x per hour

  8. Hey Lacy,

    It is really very informative as well as interesting post. I have enjoyed a lot while reading from top to bottom. Copywriting is essentially moving words around to sell better. Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience with us.

    With best regards,

    Amar kumar

  9. Is there any service or agency that provides pre-vetted clients for copywriters? Seems like it would be great if clients would show up understanding who their ideal client is, and what makes their product or service unique.

    1. Haha! Not that I know of! The closest I have come in my own business is partnering with business coaches and branding experts who help the clients do a lot of that work up front.

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