Copywriting for Freelancers: Choosing the Words that Lead to Better Clients & More Sales

Copywriting for Freelancers When it comes to raising your rates, you’d be surprised at how much a few simple words may be costing you.

If you’re selling services online, you must understand that words rule the web, whether you like it or not.

And since you need to be able to convey to a multitude of potential clients why you are worth your price, it pays to to know a little about copywriting—the art of writing words that sell.

If you’re a design guy/gal and your eyes are starting to glaze over, fear not: great copy mostly hinges on your ability to understand what your customers want. No matter what service you provide, that’s information you can always use more of.

To get you started, here are a few of my favorite copywriting strategies to enhance the persuasiveness of your freelance site and sales pages…

1.) Relentlessly Focus on Value

One of the biggest mistakes that freelancers make when assembling their copy is that they use themselves (or other freelancers) as the main audience.

In other words, they construct messages that showcase their technical skill, rather than speaking to what ‘pain’ the customer currently has.

This results in misaligned motivations where the freelancer and the potential client aren’t speaking the same language.

One of my favorite metaphors that perfectly describes this scenario comes from Brennan Dunn’s Double Your Freelancing Rate:

Consider this: You want to buy a new shiny red sports car. You’re in your 40s, your hair is thinning, and you want to look awesome in a new sports car.

So you pull up to the car dealership in your beat-up Toyota Camry and flag down someone in sales.

She walks you around the lot, and then begins to reel off her sales pitch: “Our factories are LEED certified, our workers are given more time off than legally required, we use an innovative manufacturing process that none of the other major car companies use, and best of all, this car is lighter than most due to an absence of heavy metals.”

There’s a conflict of interest. You want to impress girls twenty years your junior; she wants to tell you about the features of the car and the manufacturing processes that her company employs.

(I’m a huge fan of the whole book, I recommend you pick it up)

It’s okay to speak to your technical prowess and extensive knowledge in your field… after you’ve made your case for how you can solve the client’s problem.

Thus, your homepage should contain copy that clearly explains how you can create a branding solution that will help them stand out from the crowd, and further down the line you can highlight your lengthy experience with multiple graphics programs.

Instead of describing the process, focus on the outcome.

You’re not ‘building them a restaurant website’, you’re ‘tailoring their site to drive more reservations and word-of-mouth referrals.’

If you treat your services like a commodity, that’s how you can expect to be treated in return.

If you focus on value, your rates become based on the problems you can solve, rather than the ‘package’ the client is getting.

2.) Never Use Copy to Compare Expense

Do you think Versace cares what ‘The Gap’ is charging for their T-Shirts?

Then why should you waste your precious real-estate justifying your prices by comparing yourself to this or that alternative?

A fatal mistake that many freelancers fall victim to when setting their rates is making comparisons with their competition… yet I constantly see it happening.

You may wonder why I reguarly harp on positioning yourself for premium prices, and there’s a simple reason: while The Gap may outperform Versace in the long run via mass production, you are one person (or a small team).

To maximize your returns, you have to focus on providing a premium service, as you can’t ‘mass produce’ your way to success if it’s just you doing the work.

In order to achieve these premium prices, you have to take on a premium state of mind, and that means looking at what other luxury brands do, such as:

  1. Never drawing price comparisons with others.
  2. Focusing on going the extra mile instead of competing over bottom dollar rates.
  3. Understanding what premium clients want and what they don’t care about.

I’m always picking on “freelance writers” who use that term when trying to land clients who actually want ‘content marketing’ services, because they are removing themselves from the race before they even begin.

Instead of focusing on how reasonable their freelance rates are (comparative pricing), they should be positioning themselves as a content creator that knows how to produce content that gets results (value-based pricing).

3.) Write with Your Client’s Voice

This one takes some thought, but it’s well worth the effort.

When writing copy for prospective clients, using very specific, highly personal words can result in people tripping over themselves to hire you.

In a nutshell is can be described as the “That’s exactly what I mean!” effect, or taking the words right out of a prospect’s mouth. When you use the same words that they do, you are subtly proving that you ‘get‘ the client’s problem.

A far more eloquent description of this process can be found in The History Boys on what makes the best type of reading:

The best moments in reading are when you come across something—a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things—that you’d thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met. And it’s as if a hand has come out and taken yours.

Grandiose, yet very pertinent to how you write your copy.

Let’s look at marketing services—I remember being really impressed by a consultant who’s sales page boldly asked: “Do you ever feel like your product is invisible? That if people would just give it a chance… they’d wonder how they got along without it.”

You can harp all day long about ‘increasing traffic and conversions,’ but deep down that’s not what people are really saying to themselves if they need marketing help. They feel like nobody is paying attention even when they’ve poured their heart and soul into their product!

This strategy requires paying close attention to current customers and sincere practice putting yourself in your client’s shoes, but it’s really the #1 rule to good copywriting: active, detailed listening.

So don’t just jump to the first buzzwords that come to mind, sit and and think about how your client’s express their problems in their heads (not out loud), as that is the language that will truly resonate with them.

4.) Offering Multiple Services? Tailor Your Copy

Knowing your clients is so important I had to mention it twice!

This time though, I’m specifically referring to those freelancers who offer a couple of different services. If that’s the case, you need to tailor your copy to each of these ideal customers.

A few weeks ago I outlined a simple customer profile template that you can use to create an easy-to-use ‘dossier’ on your typical clients, so you can really understand their biggest problems and what they need from you.

Creating a persona like this helps you answer the following:

  1. Why is my client looking for a service like mine?
  2. What elements of the deal are most important? (Speed of delivery, ROI, creativity, etc.)
  3. Where does this client frequent?

Great things to know, but they become even more important if you have multiple services (let’s say you offer web design and graphic design).

What’s a necessity for one client is a non-concern for the other, so you should create specific landing pages, copy, and client testimonials for each. This is the only time you should ‘split’ your appeal, because it’s impossible to sell different premium services with the same persuasive copy.

I’ve known multiple freelancers that have a ‘Choose Your Need’ style homepage that places people on a landing page specifically built for their problem, such as the “Pick Your Poison” option on Shatterboxx’s homepage.

5.) Using the “So That…” Technique

To keep digging in to tactical advice now that we’ve covered the high-level stuff, one simple copywriting technique you can use is called the ‘So That…’ technique, and it focuses on answering why you do what you do.

Remember that when selling solutions, you can’t just “sell web design” to clients, it has to be outcome-oriented.

So instead of stating ‘I sell web design’ (in so many words), add “so that…” after the end and give your most specific, compelling reason.

In other words, “I sell web design so that…”

  1. …my medical clients have user-friendly sites for their patients.
  2. …my eCommerce clients see increased sales of their most profitable items.
  3. …my startup clients can generate qualified email leads on their blog.

It’s scary to get specific, but as Billy Cosby would say…

I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

—Bill Cosby

You needn’t worry about lost opportunities (which are far fewer than you probably think) when the ideal opportunities you are chasing are solid.

I don’t worry about missing ‘freelance writing’ gigs since I only work for software startups, and Versace doesn’t worry about lost sales to The Gap.

You shouldn’t worry either.

6.) The 2-Step Checklist for Important Copy

Writing a headline or a piece of body copy on your freelance site that you know a lot of people will read?

There’s a 2-step checklist that you can use to make sure it’s up to snuff.

  1. The “What’s in it for me?” test
  2. The “Up ’til 2am” test

Let’s break these down…

When evaluating the What’s in it for me test, you (unsurprisingly) need to spell out what’s ‘in it’ for your client.

Seems easy enough, right?

All semi-decent pieces of copy are going to have this one checked off, but here’s where things get interesting…

The next step is to decide if the information would keep a client up until 2am.

I’m shamelessly stealing this from Jon Morrow, and to further elaborate on this point, I want to list some examples.

Potential eCommerce clients who want a website facelift are concerned with the site looking good, but it doesn’t ‘keep them up until 2am.’

Conversely, losing customers because their site is too confusing or difficult to navigate is a concern that keeps them up at night, and probably has caused a few gray hairs as well.

Answering these 2 questions seems stupidly obvious in hindsight, but most people only get to step 1 (and some don’t even make it there!).

Remember that this applies to everywhere that you are trying to be persuasive: instead of, “Look at our reviews to see what our clients think of us,” try, “We’ve been doing this a long time, and clients just like you have given us some pretty flattering praise.”

One is a command, the other puts you at ease, and it’s easy to see which one best addresses the concern of trust that a client may have before hiring you.

Rescources

We have some great tools available to help you get started. Take advantage of this free copywriting proposal template. If you want a more comprehensive explanation of how a copywriting proposal should be organized we have a free eBook that describes all of the steps involved. Once you’re done with that, fill out our free copywriting proposal worksheet, and get started!

Your Turn

I’d love to hear some of your best advice on assembling persuasive copy for your freelance site!

Leave your thoughts by adding a comment below.

About Gregory Ciotti


Gregory Ciotti loves small businesses & startups and gets nerdy about behavioral psychology on his blog Sparring Mind.

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Jason Boyd

Excellent post Gregory. Great timing too as I’m currently re-writing the content for our website.

Many Thanks.

Rahat

Thanks for recommending the book ‘Double your freelancing rate’. I’ve just purchased a copy :)

Jeff Gilden

Thanks for the post Gregory! This is great information. I am toggling back and forth from this article to our homepage and comparing strategies right now :)

Caleb Mellas

Gregory, thanks for writing about how to better tailor our sales pages and talk to the needs of clients.

As a web designer and consultant, I can definitely relate to the struggle in point 6 of wanting to talk about how “amazing” my websites look. Many clients come to me saying “I need it to look flashy, or I really need to grab people’s attention”. Their real motive is that they want to raise their reputation in their customer’s eyes, and differentiate themselves from the competition.

Again, thanks for posting – I constantly need to be reminded of this stuff.

Kathy Long

Wow, Gregory. This is great! Perfectly said. I’ll be applying this in my new web copy.

Janet

Hi Gregory.

This article, like many of your others, is valuable and filled with specific information to improve your marketing strategies. There are two questions that I always come back to after reading one of your posts, though.

1. First, I want to work up to advertising Content Marketing services but currently I’ve done mainly websites and a few case studies (on the copywriting end). I’ve done quite a bit of writing for ebooks/workbooks/personal profiles, etc. as well. Point is, I don’t want to advertise what I can’t deliver but I want evolve into a Content Marketer, want to attract clients that want the services I offer, and want to gain experience (case studies, blog/content marketing). What do you suggest?

2. Next, what do you suggest as the best step-by-step resource related to content marketing? I don’t want information strictly on how to market myself but how to develop/hone the skills that a content marketing expert should have. One that includes examples of what content marketing looks like in specific cases would be even better. (Thinking of offering a class…???)

I’d love your thoughts.

Janet

Stefn Sylvester

I’d love your thoughts. Gonna apply it.

Sabriga Turgon

The “2 a.m.” question is brilliant re-framing. Am going to a conference next week and will keep this technique in mind for those networking conversations.

Thanks for a timely tip.

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