5 Mistakes copywriters make in sales calls

Sales calls.

They’re the bane of our existence as freelancers and small-business owners.

Leading the conversation. Quoting your processes, policies and rates. Speaking with authority. Winning the work. It doesn’t come naturally to most of us.

I, for one, had to learn the hard way.

No one ever sat down and taught me how to have successful sales conversations. I just bombed enough of them that I started trying to learn how to do it, and put what I learned into practice with clients until I had a method that worked.

If I can save you a little bit of the pain I experienced, then writing this 2,000-word post was totally worth it.

(Side note: I’ll refer to “copywriters” throughout this article, but this advice applies to writers of copy and content. Don’t know the difference? Read this, then come back.)

Here are the top 5 mistakes I see copywriters make (and that I made myself!) – and what to do instead.

Mistake 1: Talking Too Much

When you’re having a sales conversation, you need to be actively selling yourself. Right?


The sales conversation is actually about your client. Who they are. What they need. What’s going on in their business. What customers they’re trying to serve.

Copywriters are a dime a dozen. Expert copywriters are the exceptional partners that earn both respect and a bigger paycheck.

Being an expert has little to do with your writing skills, and a lot to do with your business skills.

So step out of the “writer” mindset for a moment and put on your business hat. What do you need to know about the client in order to do a good job for them? Ask these questions … and then …

Shut up.

Stop talking.

Zip it.

Let the client talk.

You will learn so much more by just letting them talk.

Mistake 2: Quoting a Firm Rate Too Early

When a prospect comes to you relatively cold – as in, they aren’t that familiar with your business or brand – often the first question they ask is about pricing. Actually, this question comes up really early for warm prospects, too.

You’ll hear a lot of business experts espouse the importance of packaging your services, or creating distinct service offerings. That can work for a lot of businesses … but it rarely works well for copywriters.

Why is this? Because every project is unique. You’re not baking cupcakes. You’re helping a business make more sales with better copy or content – and that business is unique, and their customers are unique. The time, effort, skills and energy you give to each project will be different.

Get the full context of the project before you start quoting rates. Or at least get as much information as you can so you can write a detailed scope of work in your proposal.

Now, I’m all for having a rate range, but having one single price for a writing service – a price that never wavers – is often a recipe for stress, because some projects will require more from you than others.

Get the full context of the project (in other words, understand the scope of the project) before you quote a rate. And if you can avoid it, try not to give a quote over the phone. Take copious notes, think through the project, and come back to the client with a proposal that includes a thoughtfully constructed rate.

Mistake 3: Making Small Talk a Big Time-Waster

I think it’s a universal rule that the first couple of minutes of any sales call are the most awkward. Maybe that’s why we are so hell-bent on talking about the weather.

“How’s the weather where you are?”

“Getting colder. Feels like fall!”

Oh come on. You know you do it. I still do it, when I don’t catch myself first.

Here’s the thing. Your client is busy. That’s why she called you, a copywriter, to help her out. This writing project – whatever it is – is something she doesn’t have time for.

Sales calls are another thing she doesn’t have time for.

Don’t waste her precious time talking about the weather.

Small talk can also weaken your authority. Taking charge of the call right away sends a clear message that you are a professional – not a nervous amateur (which you may be, but not wanting to come across that way is why you’re reading this post, right?).

Get to the point. Thank her for taking a moment to get on the phone with you, tell her you respect her time and you want to get right to talking about her project, and start asking her about her business and what’s happening there that prompted her to reach out to you.

Mistake 4: Leaving Out These Important Questions

Early on, the first question I would ask a prospective client when we got on the phone was “What can I do for you today?”

I thought it put me in a position of power. I still cringe thinking about it.

That is the worst question you can ask a prospect. They don’t know much (or anything) about you yet. They’re not the expert in copywriting or content marketing – that’s why they’re reaching out to YOU.

Don’t put a prospective client in the position of having to tell you how to do your job.

That doesn’t help anyone. Especially not you.

Instead, ask questions that will get you the information you need while painting you as an experienced pro who can be trusted with the client’s precious project.

  • What’s going on in your business that made you reach out to a copywriter?
  • What business goal are you trying to achieve right now that you think copy/content can help with?
  • What is your content marketing strategy right now?
  • What is the purpose of the website / sales page / email project you’re working on right now? What do you want your customers to do after they read it?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • Have you ever worked with a copywriter before? (The answer to this one can be very telling)

Mistake 5: Not Having a Call at All

No one likes to have their time wasted. I know that getting on the phone with a prospective client is not only scary if you’re a newer copywriter, but it can also feel like wasted time if you don’t land the project.

It can be tempting to avoid calls completely.

Let me caution you against that.

  1. You can tell a lot about a person during a verbal conversation. It’s much easier to deduce if you’re a good fit when you hear the client’s voice and experience how they interact with you.
  2. It’s easier to identify red flags over the phone. Information organically emerges as you’re talking through the project in real time.
  3. Hearing your client’s spoken voice enables you to better match that voice in any content you ghostwrite for them. (And most marketing content is ghostwritng. You write the blog, e-book or white paper, and your client puts their name on it.)

If someone reaches out to you via email and you immediately know they’re not a good fit for you, or you’re not a good fit for them, by all means, don’t schedule that phone call.

But if you’re at all interested in the project, get on the phone with the client!

AND! 1 Mistake Copywriters Make BEFORE the Sales Call

We writers can screw up long before we get on the phone with a prospective client. Avoid this mistake in addition to those mentioned above …

Taking too long to respond.

This one actually pains me to write about, because I think it’s so incredibly unprofessional – yet I see copywriters (and other creative professionals, to be fair) do this all the time. They wait a week – or multiple weeks – to respond to a client.

There’s always a good excuse. I was busy! I was at a conference! But there is no reason for you to not conduct yourself like a professional with every client who comes your way.

First, most people have an urgent need when they start reaching out to copywriters for help. I’m not saying you should ignore your fully packed schedule and take on their project right away, but I am saying that the client is feeling pain, and is looking for someone to ease that pain in some way right now. Easing that pain can be booking them for three months from now – or it can be letting them know that you’re not a good fit for the project so they can move on to interviewing other writers. Not addressing this pain in a timely manner leaves a bad impression on the client – and people talk.

Second, the first copywriter the client talks to who sounds like they’d be a good fit is going to get the project. The client isn’t going to sit around and wait for you to email or call back. No matter how popular you become as a writer, these people want their business needs taken care of as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Here’s a case in point. A few years ago, I needed a developer to implement a new design into my Horizon Peak Consulting website. I had the design ready to go – I just needed a good developer to bring it to life. My current site was constantly having problems, and I knew the foundation of it probably needed to be rebuilt during the redesign too.

So I got a recommendation for a good developer from a friend. This developer was super popular at the time, and I was willing to pay whatever she asked to ensure that my new site was done RIGHT.

I filled out the form on her website. I added as much detail as possible, in fact, so she could see what a dream I’d be to work with … and …


For two weeks. Crickets.

In two weeks (actually, it might have been three), I got an email from one of her assistants that the developer was booked until April of the following year. She said I could get on the waiting list if I wanted.

By then, I had spent hours and hours and HOURS doing the development myself, because I was so sick of my site breaking all the time, and I was so sick of trying to find a developer to help me. I told the assistant “Thanks, but no thanks.”

And yup. I told the person who recommended that developer how awful my experience had been. And I told a lot of other people how awful my experience had been. I don’t know if that cost her any business or not, but I wasn’t really concerned about it. I was mad that my time was wasted.

Don’t make your clients wait for your response. PLEASE. For the love of copywriting. Just don’t.

  • If you’re booked up for the next 6 months, let them know that right away.
  • If you’re going to be at a conference, turn on your out-of-office autoresponder so the client knows your “real” response is going to be delayed but you did receive the email.

Your Business Skills Matter as Much as Your Writing Skills Do

There are a lot of great writers in this world. To make your living writing copy or content, however, you need more than great writing skills.

You need business skills.

The ability to have successful sales conversations with prospective clients is one of the most crucial business skills.

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