You can have the best lead-generating machine, but every copywriting client project still comes down to one thing. A conversation.

I’ve landed projects just through email, but it’s rare. High-paying projects usually require a phone call. What you say on that phone call can either get you the gig and open the door to more, or close it.

It’s subtle, and prospective clients aren’t going to give you feedback. You just won’t hear from them again.

Last time we talked about what never to say on a client phone call. We talked about three things you don’t want to say:

  1. “Sure I can start right away.”
  2. “Who is your target audience?”
  3. “What is your budget?”

Today let’s talk about what you do want to say instead, and let’s take those three phrases and work in reverse.

1. First, the classic “What is your budget?” line.

The reason I don’t like to ask this is because it boxes you into a corner. No matter what they tell you, you’re pretty much obligated to work within the number they tell you, right?

Instead, why not frame the conversation differently early on by saying something like:

“Before we talk about specifics and numbers, I’d like to ask you a few questions to find out where you are now and what your objectives are. We’ll know quickly if we’re a good match for each other. If we are, I’ll put together some ideas and options. If we’re not, I’ll recommend a few copywriters for you to talk to.”

See the difference?

One, you’re showing that you’re more concerned about their needs than what you’re going to get out of it. Money shouldn’t come up right away at all.

Two, you’re creating what I call a “buying atmosphere.” You’re not immediately selling yourself, in fact, you’re really telling them in a subtle way that they may not even qualify to work with you.

Most important, you’re not asking the same question every other copywriter asks, “What is your budget?”!

In other words, you’re not turning your services into a commodity that can easily be compared and bought. You’re not waiting for them to dictate what they’re going to pay you. You’re setting the terms.

2. Next question: “Who is your target audience?”

Why don’t you want to ask this question? Because it shows that you haven’t done your homework. What if a prospective client catches you off-guard and calls you out of the blue? Tell them you’re on a deadline (you are – a deadline to quickly Google them and check them out), and schedule a time to talk, even if it’s only an hour later.

When you do have a scheduled call, you’ll have already done your homework. We’ll go into exactly what to research in the next post, and I’ll also give you a more detailed description of the first client interview as well.

For now, instead of asking them who their ideal client is, try this:

“From the research I’ve done so far, my impression of your ideal client is that he’s someone who … ” (then describe who you perceive their ideal client to be). Continuing…

“How else would you describe your target audience? (listen) Well,  I like to dig a little deeper than a lot of copywriters on the front end, researching your audience, the marketplace, your product (or service) and your positioning in the market. I’ll also really get into the mindset of your ideal client because that will drive the copy that I write and ultimately make for a much stronger promotion.”

Again, you’ll put this in your own words, but that’s the gist of it. You’re letting them know up front  that you know what you’re talking about, you’ve studied them a bit, and that you plan to invest a lot more time before you ever write a word of copy.

3. Last (for now): “Sure, I can start tomorrow.”

The reason you don’t want to say this is obvious. You’re not desperate! You have a busy calendar full of high-paying clients. Even if you’re not completely booked, you plan ahead and work people into your schedule, not the other way around. Positioning is key.

Keep this simple. I’d recommend:

“I like the sounds of this project, and I have some ideas for future campaigns, too. I don’t know what timeframe you were thinking, but if we agree on terms, I’d be able to start this in three weeks, and I would want to carve out a good four weeks for a project like this. So we’d be finished roughly two months from now. Does that work for you?”

You’re establishing the terms, letting them know you’re busy for the next few weeks, but also that you want to invest the proper amount of time to devote to their project. It shows that you consider them important and that you’re in demand, too.


  • Marketing yourself is important, but it still boils down to an effective conversation.
  • Stand out. Be different than most copywriters.
  • Take the lead, ask questions, and frame the conversation on your terms. Don’t wait for the client to tell you how it is, or to “give you an assignment.”
  • This is part mindset shift, part verbal skills, part listening skills.

We’ll get into full details of a good phone interview in future posts, but when you combine these first three components well, you’ll land more copywriting clients.

For now, write out your own phone scripts before going live, and practice, practice, practice.

What other key question or phrase have you found that works well? Let me know

steve roller pic

About the author: Steve Roller

Steve Roller is a direct response copywriter, world traveler, marketing strategist, and professional speaker. He is a personal trainer to aspiring copywriting rock stars.

3 replies
  1. Phil
    Phil says:

    Steve Roller always makes such good sense. When I read how he would approach issues like budget,

    targets and scheduling, I think “Of course! Exactly right.” And I go forward pretending that’s the way I’ve always done it. Thanks for such good advice, my friend.

    • Steve
      Steve says:

      You’re welcome, Phil, and thanks for the compliment. I’m not good at winging it so I have to think these things through more than most people!

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