The Best (And Worst) Thing About Writing For Clients

Get your FastPass, because you’re going on a roller coaster.

Yo. My name is Luke, I’m a copywriter, and I’m good at it. On a related note, the best headline I ever wrote was immediately rejected by the client.

It happened roughly 5 years ago. The ad agency that employed me was tasked with promoting a new Angie’s List-like service to young households that absolutely do NOT bother with doing home improvements themselves. This service, much like Angie’s List, hooks up those adorable and clueless homeowners with professional contractors that get the job done on time and on budget. It was my job as a copywriter to make this service immediately compelling to someone who had never heard of it.

The headline:

GO FROM DIY TO “I KNOW A GUY”

Nailed it.

The Best Thing About Writing For Clients

I fist pumped at my desk after I wrote that headline. I knew it was a winner. It was a total rush, and it was sweet validation that this was the career for me. I shared it with my writing colleagues (all of whom were more experienced and talented than me) and they confirmed. This copy was the real deal.

That feeling is easily my favorite thing about this job. To take all the information I know about a service — thousands of words and hours of research — and package it into a memorable and enticing handful of words. It’s obviously a gigantic ego boost, but it’s also deeply satisfying knowing my client is getting something better than they expected. My words, in some small way, will make them happier and help their business flourish. It’s the most wonderful natural high I’ve come across.

The work was sent to the client. I took another victory lap. Then we got the feedback.

The Worst Thing About Writing For Clients

GO FROM DIY TO “I KNOW A GUY” was rejected within minutes. Why? Too sexist. Women can be contractors, too. “I KNOW A GUY” excluded them. So the client passed on the copy because someone, somewhere might take offense.

We explained “I KNOW A GUY” is a common expression people use to refer a trusted contact to someone. They were aware. We asked them to reconsider. You can guess how that went.

And so, the headline was killed. The work got slightly worse. And I was handed a fresh reminder of why I can’t stand this job. I did my job perfectly, I delivered exactly what the client needed, and they didn’t get it. They didn’t see. Once they caught a whiff of exclusion and potential damage control, fear set in. “Gotta play it safe. Gotta protect the brand.”

And that, my friend, is the single worst thing about writing for clients. They ask for gold, you give them gold, then they send it back and remind you that they asked for bronze.

The Good News

If you do any kind of creative work for clients, this has happened to you. It will happen again. Next time it does, remember one simple fact: YOU’RE ONE OF US. You’re doing your job beautifully. So well, in fact, that it scares your clients. That’s exactly where you need your writing to be.

Whenever this happens to you, get in touch and tell me about it. I’m serious. Twitter or Gmail, anytime. We’ll laugh about it, we’ll whine about it, I’ll tell you to have a drink. Then I’ll tell you to grab your pickaxe and keep mining for gold. The right clients will see it and cherish it.

Finally, put that amazing and rejected work in your portfolio and take solace in the fact that you have a new battle scar to share.

This is the job. It’s what you signed up for. Chase the best thing about it and don’t worry about the worst thing.