Land more clients with better positioning

By 12/14/2014August 12th, 20224 Comments

Quick – what’s the biggest spot where most copywriters fall short? If you said haphazard marketing, a weak sales funnel, or unclear messaging, you’d be partly right.

More than any of those, I see a weak “intake system” as the main reason copywriters don’t land more business.

By intake system I mean your process for handling prospect inquiries on the phone. It’s a challenge because we tend to “wing it,” right?

I mean, how do you plan for a phone call when you don’t know what the other party is going to say?

Copywriters can take a cue from salespeople

My background is in direct sales, so a lot of this comes naturally to me. I’d guess that I land at least 50% of the projects that come my way, mainly because I’ve learned how to effectively position myself on the phone. 25,000+ sales conversations will do that for you.

Want to do the same, without taking the long road of learning the way I did? Here are 10 key positioning factors that will help you land more clients:

1. Know exactly what you’re going to say when someone calls

After your very first few phone calls, you have an idea of what prospects are going to ask you. Now, practice your side of the conversation. Role play with someone. Write out a script if that helps (I have).

You don’t want to sound “canned,” but you also don’t want to come off sounding less than confident.

2. Have a list of questions to ask 

I have two sets of questions. One for the initial phone call when we’re both trying to feel each other out and see if it’s a good match. The other for after we’ve agreed to work together, which is more of an in-depth interview.

This is a good start for your initial questions, and I’ve found the best way is to simply write out your own and find what works for you. Want to see mine? You’ll get all my detailed client questionnaires as part of the Café Writer membership site coming soon.

3. Maintain control of the conversation

You do this with a friendly, yet authoritative, interview style. Take the lead by asking questions, not sitting back waiting for them to ask you questions.

Again, it’s all about positioning. When you’re the one controlling the interview, it keeps the relationship on an even keel, without them feeling like they have the upper hand as they look to hire a copywriter.

4. Create a “buying atmosphere” 

They should feel like they need you more than you need them. You’re letting them feel like it’s their idea to buy, versus “being sold.”

You pull them into the conversation with questions like “What have you tried that’s worked? What hasn’t worked? What options do your customers have? Who’s the competition?”

Don’t push them away with declarative statements like “I’ll get inside the mind of your prospects and write killer copy that will get them to act.” There’s a time for telling them what you can do, but pull them in with questions first (and please, don’t ever use the term “killer copy.” It smacks of unmerited rookie over-exuberance).

More than anything, creating a buying atmosphere means truly not caring whether they buy or not with a statement like, “If we’re a good fit for each other, great, if not, I’ll recommend someone who is.”

5. Use trial closes

Trial closes are simply questions that take their temperature and lead them to a decision.

“If this makes sense for both of us, how soon did you want to get going on it?” or “I’m currently booked up for the next month, but I have some ideas I’d love to discuss further with you. Can we schedule a time to talk further next week after I’ve looked over your information?”

Positive response to your trial closes? Keep moving forward. An objection or clarification question back to you? Back up and slow down, because you probably missed something earlier in the conversation.

Effective use of this technique positions you as a true professional.

6. Convey a sense of controlled enthusiasm

Here’s what I mean. I know some copywriters who play it really cool when they’re talking to any prospect, as if they don’t want to give off any indication that they’d really love to work together. Kind of like playing “hard to get” in a relationship, I guess.

On the other hand, some beginner copywriters have a tendency to get too excited about the possibilities, and give off a vibe of being too hungry for it. “This sounds super exciting, and I could get started on it right away!” is probably not the tone you want to strike.

There’s a good line to walk down the middle.

I have no problem letting a prospect know how I feel. “I love what you’re doing, and if we end up working together…” (there’s that line again) … “I have some more detailed ideas that I think could really work well here.”

Show some energy and enthusiasm, just not too much.

7. Generate ideas and give advice

I said this before in my “5 Questions” post. Even if you don’t land the project, get your mind whirring 100 miles per hour while you’re on the call. Make it a personal challenge to come up with at least two good ideas the prospect can use.

Offer a new marketing method. Share an email list-building strategy that’s been working for you. Come up with a tagline on the spot. It’s amazing the good will that’s created when you start giving away big ideas without expectation of anything in return. And goodwill often becomes a loyal client. Give it a try.

8. Establish a creative, non-intrusive way to follow up

This is not the way to follow up by phone or email: “I was just checking in to see if you had made a decision yet.”  Don’t ever do that! The positioning is obviously terrible.

Instead, try setting the tone up front. You tell them how you work. If it’s not clear by the end of the call that you’re going to work together, say something like:

“John, it sounds like we have more to talk about. Here’s what I’d like to do. I’ll spell out my recommendations to you in detail, and whether we work together or not, I’ll give you a couple good ideas you can implement. I keep a pretty booked-up schedule, so I’ll also let you know when my next opening is, and what the next steps would be. Fair enough?”

Now, that’s no guarantee that you won’t still need to follow up with them, but if you do, you can do it with a much stronger position. If you do it by email:

“John, I’m following up on the recommendations I made last week. As I mentioned, I plan my schedule a month or two in advance to make sure I reserve the proper time for my clients. Should I reserve time for you at this point? Please let me know by Friday, and let me know if you have any further questions as well.”

After that? Leave it alone. Don’t chase clients.

9. Make the phone call itself valuable, whether they hire you or not

I already mentioned this, but give away ideas! Not just in the follow-up proposal (if you need to send one) but while you’re talking.

How do you do this? By getting good at thinking really fast on your feet, asking the right questions, and focusing completely on them and their needs (rather than how much money you stand to make).

“Brainstorming on the fly” is what I call it, and there’s one way to get good at it: Practice. Lots and lots of practice. I’ve done it with dozens of clients since 2008, and this year alone I did it on over 150 copywriter coaching calls.

I can hear the objections now, “But they should pay me for my ideas and advice.” Yes, and they will. A few freebies won’t hurt, and they’ll “prime the pump” for the client wanting more.

10. Be likeable

Surely it’s not that simple, is it? Be likeable!?


I don’t really have any tips on this one, except to be yourself, show that you’re easy to work with, and develop good relationships with people. The reason I said “dozens of clients” above and not hundreds is because I’ve been blessed to work with loyal clients who have used my services again and again.

It’s much easier to grow with repeat business than to always be looking for new ones. Give it a try. Focus on growing small clients into big ones, big clients into bigger ones, and all clients into repeat ones.

Positioning is key

All ten of these tips will help you position yourself in a way that clients will be drawn to you, rather than you having to chase after them.

One last caveat. Don’t ever take a phone call blindly. If you answer the phone and someone asks about your services, get their name and company name and tell them, “I have an appointment coming up in a few minutes. Can I get your number and call you back later today or tomorrow?” 

You do have an appointment – an appointment with yourself to check them out and prepare for your phone call using these ideas!

Once you do, you’ll be in a much better position to direct the conversation the right way.

By the way, Katlynn Blakely and I will be role playing these situations on upcoming episodes of Coffee Chat with Steve & Kat, so be sure to tune in on the first (and sometimes third) Thursday of every month.

Do all these tips make sense to you? Are there any that you’ve used with good success? Any that you still have questions about? Which one do you think is most important?

Let me know here. I’d love to hear from you, and so would my readers.

Steve Roller

Author Steve Roller

I'm a business coach, author, copywriter, world traveler (33 countries on five continents so far), and professional speaker. In addition to helping companies get more customers and make more money, I help other writers create profitable businesses. I offer one-on-one coaching, professional copy critiques, and live, in-person business-building workshops. When I'm not writing, coaching, or speaking, I enjoy nothing more than hanging out with my wife and four kids and planning my next adventure.

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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Christa says:

    Hi, Steve,
    Being outside South Africa poses a practical problem for calling prospects in America.

    I’d love to get into the American market for I’ve got to do so much training for non-direct response companies.

    Do you perhaps know about another system besides Skype that one can make phone calls through that is not so expensive?

    Is it always imporant that I should be able to visit prospects?

    I’m technologically well equipped, but many new clients aren’t.

    Kind regards


    • Christa says:

      …Non-Direct Response companies in South Africa. The consept is very new to most still…

      I don’t mind targeting SA companies too, but if I wanted to step into the overseas markets I’d just want to know if there is a way that isn’t too costly if Skype isn’t an option.

      • Steve Roller says:

        I use Skype for free, calling Skype to Skype. If you Skype to their phone, yes, it’s expensive.

        I know some people who do the majority of their business by email. It can be done, but you have to have a solid foundation first. Let’s chat sometime.

    • Steve Roller says:

      I think you may need to start with offering information products instead of services to overseas prospects, Christa. Or really establish your authority online, develop a “funnel” to take them from initial interest to small purchase to something bigger.

      Also, stay tuned for a webinar Russ Reynolds and I are going to do on using your copywriting skills to build funnels for clients, which is a skill you can then use for your own business as well.

      We’ll talk sometime.

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