What never to say on a client phone call

It’s the moment of truth. Your lead magnet did its job – it generated a lead.  (You do have a lead magnet, right?)

You’ve scheduled a phone call with the prospective client. Now what?

Well, first you’re going to do the proper research. Stay tuned a couple of posts from now and we’ll come back to that.

And the next blog post I’ll tell you what you should say on these phone calls.

Today, I want to tell you what not to say.

I haven’t always done this right. But over the past year or so I’ve refined my phone technique, style, and line of questioning.

The result? A closing rate of 57%, my biggest project to date, and some good, ongoing monthly client work.

The top three things you never want to say to prospective clients:

1. “Sure, I can start right away.”

Want to exude an air of desperation? Say this, and you’re basically telling them that you’ve been sitting around waiting for their call.

You have nothing else lined up in the foreseeable future, and no matter what they’re going to pay you, you’ll take it!

Not exactly a position of strength, is it? Okay, so that one’s a no-brainer, and I’ll explain next time what to say instead.

2. “Who is your target audience?”

Wait a minute. This sounds like a legitimate question, doesn’t it? Isn’t asking about the target audience one of the most basic things you should ask?

If you haven’t done your homework, this is a good question. But you have done your research (we’ll cover these two posts from now), and you won’t schedule a phone call like this until you have.

I’ll also share with you a better way to frame this next time.

3. “What is your budget?”

I know I’m going to get some serious flack for this one. Many copywriters would tell you this is one of the first questions you should ask.

The theory is that if they don’t have the money to pay you what you’re worth, why is waste time talking to them? By asking this question, you get a good idea if they’re in the ballpark with what you normally charge, right?


piggy money

Do you really think the prospect is going to tell you exactly what their budget is? No way. That’s like asking them right upfront, “How much would you like to pay me?”

Ask them before you’ve established your value, their need, and exactly how you can help them, and you’ll get a false answer.

If their real budget is $10,000, they might tell you $5,000. Then you’ll structure your proposal to come in right at or slightly under $5,000.

That’s not very creative, you’re leaving money on the table, and it’s doing them a disservice.

Don’t put prospects on the spot by asking this question. There’s a better way to handle it, which I’ll cover in my next post.

There you go. Three things you don’t want to say to prospective clients. Eliminate these, find a better way to frame the conversation (next blog post), and you’ll land more projects.

How about you? What is one thing that you’ve learned not to say to prospects on the phone? I’d love to hear from you, and so would your fellow copywriters.


steve roller pic

About the author: Steve Roller

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

24 replies
  1. Alan Steacy
    Alan Steacy says:

    Hey Steve…great point about establishing our value up front. Long before budget or price is even hinted at, we must first clearly communicate, demonstrate, and answer that one burning question at the top of our prospect’s mind, “What’s in it for me?”

    • Steve
      Steve says:

      Yes, Alan, exactly. Too often we let the prospect dictate the conversation and commodotize our services by talking about price right up front. Never a good situation when that happens. Thanks for reading.

  2. Terri Scott
    Terri Scott says:

    I can’t wait to read the upcoming posts. I really want to know how to gauge a prospect’s budget; I think the “pricing game” is something that many copywriters loathe about the negotiation process.

    • Steve
      Steve says:

      Terri, you’re right, pricing is not easy because every situation is different. Approach it in the right way, however, and it can actually be fun (and lucrative). Really.

  3. Donna Creighton
    Donna Creighton says:

    Insightful and informative! Now I desperately want to read the follow-up posts. Thanks for the good advice, Steve.

    • Steve
      Steve says:

      Thanks for reading, Donna. The next post will help you with creating what I call a “buying atmosphere.”

  4. Don
    Don says:

    Excellent tips. In general, these tips will tend to disqualify and drop very low quality prospects early in the process. The client who demands that you “start right away” with nothing in return tends to be controlling/client from hell material. The client whose existing material
    is so poor that you can’t even infer the target market will probably not
    recognize good copywriting. (I’ll make an exception for startups that
    don’t have marcomm yet.) And the type of client that won’t drop the
    kimono and discuss their business needs tends to be extremely
    “transactional”, focused on zero sum games such as bottom rates.

    • Steve
      Steve says:

      Thanks, Don. Yes, it helps to qualify the prospect and establish good positioning. Stay tuned for the next post.

  5. Alicia Rudnicki
    Alicia Rudnicki says:

    Steve, I think this article is useful for all self-employed people who must pitch their skills.

  6. Roderick Darby
    Roderick Darby says:

    Excellent advice, Steve. These are the kind of mistake many self-employed translators make: we may be good at our chosen languages, but many of us have little experience in selling ourselves.
    Just a small point from a linguist (my Other Language is German): it’s ‘flak’, not ‘flack’. It’s an acronym for ‘FLugzeugAbwehrKanone’

  7. Robert Rice
    Robert Rice says:

    It’s funny… You would think these things might be okay (especially the budget one!). However, when you frame them this way, it’s so clear why they would give the wrong idea. Great article… looking forward to the next!

    • Steve
      Steve says:

      Thanks, Robert. We think about our copy from our prospects’ perspective, but we don’t always think about our questions from their perspective. Stay tuned for more…

  8. Duncan
    Duncan says:

    Thanks for sharing this wisdom based on experience Steve. I look forward to further instalments.

    BTW, on one of your web pages you say: I know I could have shaved years off my learning curve, and gotten my income up to the six-figure level quicker with a “personal trainer.”
    Are you really and truly earning six figures……year in, year out?

  9. Gary J
    Gary J says:

    So, rather than “I can start right away,” what DO you say! (Also, for years I grappled with the budget question and instead of asking for a budget I now say something like, “how does $5,000 sound? or $2000 retainer for the first month?” or whatever number I can be comfortable with. If they blanch, then we just move on. If they don’t know how much something costs why should I waste time and effort trying to land them and then be nickeled and dimed by the “meter running?” And now with SEO writers and the awesomeness of the internet, often the potential clients, after spending $500, $1000, $2000 a month for a number of months on social media and asking people to follow them on twitter for no reason, will come to me and say, “but I have a limited budget now.” Yes, I know.

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