When the client (a life coach) called just before Thanksgiving, he was filled with urgency and enthusiasm. "We need copy for our website," he said, "and it's got to be ready in three weeks. Can you get me a quote today?"

"Yes," I said. For I like to be accommodating. Especially when I hear from a prospect in distress.

Soon after our call ended, I started putting together an estimate. Sure, I had other things to do, like wrap up some work for paying clients. But Mr. Life Coach needed an answer ASAP. So I placed those other priorities aside and got him a quote that afternoon.

A Lesson in Courtesy

If you run a business, you know how much work is involved in creating a proposal. For a copywriter, it goes something like this:

  • Review the client's website and other collateral.
  • Weigh all the research that would be required (competitive analysis, interviews with key stakeholders, etc.).
  • Consider the subject matter and deliverables to calculate the time needed for writing and revisions.
  • Add up the numbers and arrive at a dollar value.

After all that, I write an estimate, along with some observations and recommendations, in a coherent, thoughtful proposal. Depending on the project size and complexity, this process can take 20 minutes... or two days.

Once the proposal is ready, I email it to the prospect. And then the wait begins. Some clients get back to me within a few hours. Then there are people like Mr. Life Coach. One day passed. Two days passed. No response. Fearful he might have been hit by a bus or something, I checked in later that week. Still nothing. In fact, I haven't heard from him since.

Some ground rules are in order for such situations. In particular: if you request a quote from me, I owe you a timely response. And, in return, you owe me the same. You might think my quote is too high. You might find another writer who's a better fit. That's OK. Either way, just let me know. I'm a big boy—I can take it.

How to Stay Sane

Dealing with prospective clients, including the inconsiderate ones, is just part of the job for many of us. Fortunately, you can make this responsibility a little less frustrating and time-consuming. Here are a few tips.

1. Weed out the tire-kickers

Some clients are willing to pay good money for talent; others, not so much. If you want to do more than just eke out a living, you can't always compete on price. So when communicating with a prospect, try to get a feel for her budget early on in the process. If you discover her expectations are completely unrealistic, move on—pronto.

2. Streamline the proposal-writing process

Have a template ready to go so that writing a proposal takes less time. And track hours on your projects so that you have a sense of how long certain projects take. For instance, if you're a copywriter like me, you should have a rough per-page quote in mind for website copy.

3. Don't give it away for free

Have you ever come across a prospect who keeps asking you for stuff? "What do you think of my current home page?" "How should I reorganize the site map?" "Have any better ideas for a tagline?"

And that's before he's even signed a contract. It's one thing to drop a few nuggets of wisdom if you're trying to close a deal. However, at some point, you have to stop giving free advice and start demanding (nicely) that he sign on the dotted line.

4. Walk away gracefully

If you don't hear back from a client after submitting a proposal, you should initially pursue a response. A couple of emails, a couple of voicemails are fine. But it's kind of like dating—you don't want to come off desperate. So keep your pride and know when it's time to call off the chase. Sometimes, having that kind of confidence can inspire the client to come running back to you. And if not, there are always other fish in the sea.

5. Never take calls from life coaches

(Just kidding.)


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Dan O'Sullivan is a partner at The Hired Pens, a Boston-based copywriting firm specializing in websites and various marketing collateral. You can email him at dan@thehiredpens.com, and check out The Hired Pens' blog.