6 things clients say that are nothing like what they mean

We interrupt this happy-go-kumbaya-filled Freelance Copywriter Month to bring you a quick hit of reality.


Don’t y’just love clients? Except when you don’t. Like, not even a little. Like, you hate dealing with clients so much that you consider quitting freelancing entirely and opening a FroYoGo shop. Ah, the serenity of wiping melted yogurt out of tiny grates and watching kids stick their dirty little fingers into every single topping container. Light years better than dealing with clients.

It wasn’t always this way.

There was a time when you believed in your clients’ excitement – and you felt it, too.

They said all the right things. They laughed at your jokes, and you laughed at theirs. You hung up the phone after the first call, and you told anyone who’d listen just how “cool” and “different” this client was.

But things never stay that way, do they? Turns out: they told you what you wanted to hear.

So today, let’s answer the question: “What did you mean when you said that?”

Drag the slider on each image below to see what clients say vs what clients mean.

“Let your creative juices flow”

Perhaps the most wonderful phrase for a creative to hear! You get to dust off your imagination and pull ideas down from the Too Risky to Bother Pitching shelf of your brain. But what did your clients really mean when they said that?


“A motivated self-starter”

Great, you won’t be micromanaged! Not at all. Not even a little bit. Not until the day before the deadline – the perfect time for the client to chime in.


“Take it to the next level”

Slightly vague, but it could be fun to try to take what you do to the proverbial next level. This should be a real treat!


“Let’s find our brand voice”

Sure, they’ve got a voice in mind. They want to sound like This Big Company They’re Nothing Like That Serves a Totally Different Audience. But maybe you can talk them out of it. Maybe you can uncover a voice that’s really true to them…


“Do it for the exposure”

We all get a little flutter of excitement when emails from marketing managers at big, impressive brands appear in our inbox. We think of how awesome it’ll be to put their logo on our site, to call them a client, to include our work for them in our portfolio. We’d do almost anything to land them… and they know it.


“Try something different”

At last, that beautiful moment when a client encourages you to go down a new path. They’re ready for it. They’re hoping against hope that YOU can see into the depths of their brand’s soul like no one else can. (They’re not gonna pay you more for that skill, of course. But you’ll be measured against it.) So you write something different… and you present it to them…

Did we miss any?

What have your clients told you to get you stoked… only to turn around and mean exactly the opposite?

Share your stories of survival below.


About the author

Jon Lamphier

Jon is an agency copywriter who's dabbled in the dark arts of Freelance Copywriting. He basically has no presence online, but you can find stuff he's written by Googling him or follow him on Twitter here:

  • Sweet. Did you guys custom code the sliders?

  • Made me smile. Do it for the exposure … for free you mean!

  • Attila Fulop

    Great post! I guess I could write it’s sister-post for software projects.

    One note: the sliders were close to unusable on my phone (android/chrome).

  • Lisa Cropman

    Hilarious and all too familiar!

  • Kim Bischoff

    Genius Jon! Wetarter = don’t ask us questions, just read our minds.


    Here’s how I translate some common feedback:

    “Make it punchy” = “Remove all the adjectives”

    “We don’t need so much ‘personality'” = “Use bigger words”

    “This is too casual” = “Remove all contractions”

    “We’re all great writers here, we just don’t have the time” = “They write copy like they wrote their English Lit thesis”

    “We’re on an incredibly tight deadline” = “This is a lie. You will literally never see your copy go live”

    • Damon Gudaitis

      “They write copy like they wrote their English Lit thesis”

      My version of this that I’ve heard several times right before a complete disaster is “I was always a good writer in university.”

    • Meg Harris

      Love the glossary of terms here – I’ll be saving these for future reference.

    • Lucy Smith

      YES. Also:

      “We want to stand out from our competitors” = “Our competitors have done it like this, so we should too”.

      I also hate “work your magic”.

  • Please stop eavesdropping 🙂

  • “Exposure” yeah that

    • Chris Raymond

      My landlord won’t accept payment in exposure.

  • Daniel Davidson

    Great post and list of “red-flag” clients Jon. “Take it to the next level” and “Try something different” are easily the most frustrating types of clients I’ve had the “pleasure” of working with. Over the years I’ve learned to weed out most of these clients through pre-qualification steps and line-items within my contracts. Of course, there is always the “one” who can still sneak through.

    Thanks for the post, enjoyed the illustrations.

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