It’s a well-known marketing mantra: Only work with your ideal clients. The flip side of this is to say to no to clients who aren’t right for you and your business.

As a seasoned copywriter, I’ve got a checklist of warning signs that let me know when a potential customer and I aren’t right for each other. If you’re a new copywriter, you might be thinking, “Say no to customers? I wish”!

But… it will happen.

The truth is that the wrong copywriting clients will do more damage than good. Why? Because you don’t ‘get’ them and they don’t ‘get’ you, which results in…

  • Spending way more time than you quoted on project management and revisions.
  • A confidence crisis that makes you rethink your copywriting skills and processes.
  • An unhappy client.
  • An unhappy copywriter.

Unless you catch it early, by the time you decide it’s not working you think it’s too late to back out.

Pro tip: It’s actually never too late to back out of a copywriting project. Lose money before you lose your mind.

Your goal as a copywriter is to develop your own early warning system for the wrong type of clients.

Signs you’re talking to the wrong copywriting client

They ask you to do copywriting on a topic you have no experience with

It might be a conversion focused direct mail campaign, a landing page or a newspaper ad. You can embrace these opportunities to learn something new (while pretending you knew all along). Sometimes you don’t want to, or can’t—and then you should walk away.

They haggle with you on your quote

Someone who doesn’t respect your price, doesn’t respect your value. If your price is above your client’s budget but they still want to work with you, reduce the scope of the project before you reduce your hourly rate.

They won’t pay the deposit

If a soon-to-be client won’t pay the project deposit, you can count on spending time chasing up the final payment too. Trust me, make the deposit non-negotiable.

They don’t have time to complete the copywriting brief

You can’t write great copy out of thin air. If a client doesn’t have (or won’t make) time to give you the information you need to write the copy, you can bet the project is going to drag on. And that time is money out of your pocket.

They are rude

This is about personality, and getting along with your copywriting client is just as important as the money stuff. You don’t need to be best friends—but work should fun! For you and your client.

I invite you to add to this list to create your own copywriting client checklist. Hopefully, these points will help you avoid some of the pain I experienced over the years!

But, how exactly do you turn copywriting work turn away?

What about the dreaded famine of freelance life?

Shouldn’t you make hay while the copywriting work is available?

Can I mix any more metaphors?

Two strategies to turn away work without losing face

If you’re feeling uncertain about saying no straight out, you can use one of these two strategies.

  1. Name a ridiculous price. Jack your copywriting quote up so high, they’d have to be a little crazy to say yes. Beware, they might say yes! Hopefully the sweet price you named will sweeten any tough moments along the way.
  1. Name a ridiculous lead time. You can say you’re happy to help, but you can’t get to the project for several months. The danger of course is that they will wait, but you have plenty of time to steady yourself.

If the thought of working with some copywriting clients makes you feel like your gut is filled with bricks and no amount of money or time will help, heed the warning. Just suck it up and say NO.

Now we get to the meat of the matter…

How do you turn work away without burning your reputation?

Is it possible to say no to a client so they actually think you’re amazing?


My magic phrase for saying no, with style.

Are you ready?

“I’m not the right copywriter for your project”.

Say it again with me.

“I’m not the right copywriter for your project”.

You can even add in an apology: “I’m sorry, but I’m not the right copywriter for your project”.

This phrase works so well because:

  • It acknowledges that copywriting isn’t a one-size-fits-all skill.
  • It flatters a client that their project requires the skills of a specialist.

It might be enough to leave it at that. Or, you have to explain why, just use a few phrases such as:

“I think you’ll be more successful with a copywriter experienced in [insert area]”.

“I’m not confident that I have the right skills to achieve your objectives”.

These statements tell the client that you care more about their results than your ego. Even if it’s not true, it’s sounds amazing.

And if it’s about personality—and you’re getting pushed to explain why—just explain it.

“I don’t think we will work well together—and to achieve the best possible results, it’s important that you work well with your copywriter”.

Then you stop talking.

Tips for making this magic phrase work for you

  • Be polite. Always be polite.
  • Be grateful—and thank them for considering you.
  • Refer them to others. That’s right.

That last tip takes you from being a professional copywriter to being an awesome, helpful super-copywriter that this client will refer to their friends. Because the clients you say no to could know your idea client! That’s why it’s worth your time and effort to leave them smiling (even when you’re gritting your teeth).

So remember, when your gut is screaming no, smile and say, “I’m not the right copywriter for your project, but I can refer you to other copywriters who will be able to help”.

Have you got your own tips for turning work away gracefully? I’d love to hear them!


About the author: Belinda Weaver

Belinda Weaver

Belinda Weaver is the founder of Copywrite Matters and copywriter behind The Copy Detective blog. If you want to be the FIRST to hear when her next copywriting master class course (so you can write better copy, faster) get on the master class prelaunch list.

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