June 22, 2018

5 Red Flags Every Copywriter or Consultant Needs To Know


One of the things I remember from my childhood is my mom’s frequent sayings. One of them was that things have a way of happening in threes.  It might something like celebrity deaths… births in your extended family… and sometimes even things that pop up in business.

Take this week.

I have a list of red flags potential clients will say or do that are frequently a tip-off on how the project will go if I agree to accept the project.

I’ve got 17 of these red flags that I’ve confirmed and several others which are lobbying for contention to join my esteemed list.  I’ve seen and heard these red flag phrases so many times that it’s become instinctual for me and I immediately recognize them when they pop up.

Within 3 days, I spoke with two different potential clients who unknowingly said red flag phrases during our initial conversations.  During the same three days, one of my copywriting students emailed me to ask for my take on a conversation they had with their own prospect… and you got it. What their prospective client was telling them was another red flag phrase.

Obviously, it would be in poor taste for me to share any of these conversations with you.

But here’s what I can do: In one of my paid info-products, Offline Consulting Secrets, I cover all 17 of these red flags as part of the full training.

So for the first time ever on this blog, I’m going to post an excerpt from Offline Consulting Secrets and share the first 5 of these red flags.  (Note: This is an excerpt from my own paid product so I am not giving anyone permission to use it as part of their own paid product or service.)

Okay, onto the red flags…

5 Red Flags Every Copywriter or Consultant Needs To Know (Excerpt courtesy of “Offline Consulting Secrets”)

“You have to realize your billable time represents a very real amount of money that you could be putting into your pocket. If you’re spending too much time talking to people who shouldn’t be clients of yours or aren’t ready to become clients of yours, you’re taking money out of your pocket.

The quicker you can prequalify a prospect, the faster you can eliminate the bad or unqualified ones. Not knowing these red flags will put you on the fast track to feeling burned out. It’s going to leave you feeling frustrated with your clients, because you’re working with clients who drive you nuts. Maybe it’s somebody who is calling you 17 times a day or e-mailing you 40 times a day with every little thing rather than sending you one e-mail a day with all their questions.”

“Ultimately, the time you waste on red flag prospects is the time you could have spent getting the types of clients that you want, doing client projects or even doing your own projects. Rather than just rattle off a list of red flags, I’m going to explain my rationale behind each one. I don’t claim to be a psychologist. I’m basically going to give you my observations and observations that colleagues of mine have seen over the years.

These red flags aren’t necessarily etched in stone, but they do apply the majority of the time.”

Red flag number one: “Decision by committee”

“If you hear the decisions being made by committee or more than one person, this means you can expect long delays in the entire process in how long it takes you to hear from them and how long it takes to get paid.

More likely, you’re going to get conflicting information. With some companies, it’s unavoidable, but if you can force them to stick with one point person, it’s going to make your job as consultant a lot easier.”

Red flag number two: “It takes days or weeks to review your proposal”

“That’s going to lead into the next red flag I want to share with you and that is they tell you they’re still reviewing your proposal.

When I hear that, I make it a point to tell them that the proposed delivery date for their project is not final until my proposal has been accepted and I have received their payment to start work.

At that point, I will give them a firm deadline. I have learned to handle it this way because when they tell you that they’re reviewing your proposal, chances are they will still want you to hit their deadline, even if it means you have half as much time as you originally thought you did for the project.

As cruel or cold as it may sound, it doesn’t bother them if you have to put in 20-hour work days to meet their deadline because they were late in making the decision. So rather than put yourself through that kind of time crunch and that type of stress, when you quote for projects, give them a proposed deadline.

Here’s when I could start it assuming I got your payment today, and here’s how long I would need to deliver it.

If it’s more than one piece, I could deliver this part of the project this day, this part of the project that day and so forth, but countless times, I have seen other copywriters or consultants lock themselves into a time frame. The client takes their time reviewing the proposal or getting the check out in the mail, and then suddenly the consultant finds themselves with half or a quarter of the time they need for the project.

They have to rush and try to get it done, working around the clock and dropping all their other projects and so forth. Don’t do that to yourself. You deserve to work in less stressful environments than that. There are clients out there that won’t treat you that way.”

Red flag number three: “We need your project quote right now.”

“This is a sign of someone that is a poor planner in my opinion. Don’t let their poor planning mean you’ve got to move mountains to meet their deadline, a deadline that will probably be short notice as well.

Here is a case in point. Two weeks ago I had a prospect e-mail me at 3:30 on a Sunday afternoon, who wanted to launch his info product on Wednesday of that coming week, so about three and a half days later, and was just getting around hiring a copywriter. To top it off, he told me he had no money and wanted to know if I would work for an IOU. Obviously, I turned down the project. There was no way I could have met the deadline, and I don’t work for IOUs.

My mortgage company doesn’t take IOUs. The other bills that I pay as part of daily living don’t take IOUs, so I don’t take IOUs and you shouldn’t either.”

Red flag number four: “Unrealistically short deadlines”

“I’m leading right into red flag number four where they’re looking to launch their product or service in two days or a week, or whatever the short deadline is. It’s a sign of poor planning. It means either they don’t understand how you work as a consultant, or they don’t value the type of work that you put into creating that marketing for them.

For example, you may be building them a website and you try to build the website properly and cover everything their business has to offer. Say it’s a retail store and they want a different page for each product that they sell with a description. They might have 50 different items in the store that they sell, so that might be 50 different pages that you need to build. You would literally have to work around the clock to get that done in a couple of days or a week for that matter.

Even using a basic template for building pages, it’s very time consuming, and especially if you’re not charging peanuts to deliver high quality work.

Have I ever done a rush job for an existing client? Yes, but I charge them 50% more for it. To date, more than 80% of my clients have paid the rush fee, and then they schedule the next project ahead of time.

They realize they’re going to pay a premium if I’ve got to take time away from my family, if I’ve got to work on a Sunday to meet their short deadline.

I suggest you do the same thing yourself for your consulting business. Even if you don’t have a lot of business yet, don’t take short deadlines. It’s bad news in my opinion.”

Red flag number five: “This should be a quick, simple and easy job for somebody who knows what they’re doing.”

The truth of the matter is, it doesn’t matter if it’s creating a blog, search engine optimization, or copywriting. It’s rarely as simple, easy or quick as the client thinks.

When it turns out that the job is not as quick and easy as the client says it is, then they’re going to say we must be at fault because it shows we don’t know what we’re doing after all, when the reality of the situation is that they didn’t give us all the information up front in terms of the scope of their needs because they gave us inadequate information that makes it more difficult to do the work for them.”

Okay, so that’s five of the most common red flags I’ve seen and heard as a copywriter and marketing consultant.  It’s not the only ones, but odds are if you are a service professional then sooner or later you’ll hear every single one of these red flags and more.

That’s all for now. If you have any feedback or comments, please feel free to share them with me below.

Until next time,



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