How to Be a Well-Paid Copywriter Without Being a Suck-Up

Carol Tice

How to Be a Well-Paid Copywriter Without Being a Suck-Up. Makealivingwriting.comBy James Brown

There are many ways of getting brand-new copywriting clients. However, some of them take a lot of effort and money. Some make you feel like you have to flatter and kiss up to prospects.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. Here is a way I used to get two clients very quickly, sending only ten prospecting emails. You can start right now.

I developed this method after seeing a display ad in my local paper that had a number of issues.

I sent them an email and simply told the truth. No ass-kissing required.

Here is what it said:



I noticed your ad in Metro news and wanted to drop you a line. I’m curious as to what your results are so far?

By tracking your ad, you should have some numbers by now.


I noted a few problems with the ad that you may want to fix in the future.


1. You pay a lot for the ad and a large portion of it contains a picture of two people who may not be your target market. (No benefit here for your target market.)

2. Your headlines are weak. (Concerned about your hearing?)

3. The photo of your staff should be in the top left hand corner where the “open house” is. This will draw your target market’s attention quicker, as people like to see who they are dealing with. Again, I go back to the stock photo…this does not build any rapport with your target market.


If you would like some assistance with your marketing, feel free to connect.


I would like to offer you my free report, “Is Email Marketing Right For You?”  Just let me know if you would like the PDF.
Best Regards,


You might think business owners don’t want to hear how their ad sucks, but I find this straightforward approach works. That email opened a conversation, which led to an immediate writing assignment and likely future work on the website’s newsletter.

Besides the hearing-aid clinic ad above, I reached out to a physiotherapy clinic that had a very ineffective ad in the phone book. By telling the truth and making suggestions, I came away with an $800 assignment.

How to find copywriting client leads

To begin, you need to find some ads to review for problems. The local daily paper is only one source for you.

Pick up any phone book or local magazine and you will see ads that should be burned.

It’s not always the business owner’s fault. Often, they follow the advice of the publication where they are advertising.

Don’t think of it as being snarky. This marketing technique is attention-getting, and these local business owners need your help. You have a valuable service to offer them that will help them get more business.

A current client said to me recently, “I called you because I bought books on copywriting and marketing. Then I realized I don’t have time to learn all this. I have a business to run.”

So starting collecting the postcards and flyers from your mailbox. Clip out the ads from your local newspaper. Put it all together and there is your fast list to contact.

You might even snag a client on the first email you send. A bonus point…if making cold calls scares the crap out you, emailing prospects will be less frightening.

James Brown is a freelance copywriter/blogger with a brown belt in hapkido and copywriting. Learn more by checking out his website or martial arts blog.

Want to learn more creative ways to get clients? Come check out the e-courses in my freelance writer community.

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  1. Amandah

    I recently started email marketing to midsize and large companies. I noticed that some of companies had blogs, but they’re not updated or the content is lackluster. I could branch out and skim through the Yellow Pages and or look at the ads in the newspaper to see if companies need help with their copywriting. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Susan B. Bentley

    What a great tip! I’d been emailing prospects, having found them through local ads, but hadn’t thought of going as far as asking them what the results of their ads had been and how I could help them – will be giving this a go now. Many thanks!

    • James Brown

      Hi Susan,

      There are two schools of thought on this type of contact. I know some very successful copywriters who ask all the polite questions like:
      “How is your ad converting?”

      The problem with that type of question is that most of the business people I contact, do not track their ads. So I avoid the pleasant questions and instead use the idea of pain and pleasure.

      I ask them some painful questions and then give them some pleasure like offering my free report or a brief chat on the phone to give them one new idea. I don’t tell them all my ideas because of course they may try to fix the ad without my help.

  3. Carrie Schmeck

    My variation on this is to say, “I have a few thoughts about your website,” and leave it at that. It is a fine line between helpful and insulting and one never knows how pantie-bunchie a prospect might be. Good idea to have something free to offer at the end. I’ll have to work on that.

    Thanks for the reminder that this method does work. I ended up with a $500 email marketing job with a good chance I’ll get to revamp that awful website copy, too.

    • Carol Tice

      Right on…once you’re in the door with that ad or website critique, hopefully you can keep adding more projects. As you get to know their business you get more and more valuable to them vs ramping a new writer.

  4. Leslie Miller

    Another dumbfoundingly useful post! Instead of tossing all my junk mail, I’m going to start reading it. However, I don’t think I would know all that stuff like the correct placement of the staff photo. Perhaps I need to learn more about successful ads?

    Any suggestions on something or someone I could read to start picking up that info?

    • Di Mace

      I’ve read some great posts on that subject…. at Jeff Sexton Writes… about ads, copywriting and the successful keys to both. Maybe give him a try?

  5. Lucy Smith

    I’ve done this with a piece of direct mail I got from a local electronics store. Admittedly, I didn’t actually get any work off them, though they did say thanks (and that they’d pinned my email to their wall!), but the next piece of mail I got was exponentially better so they’d obviously taken on board my comments. And now they know my name, and will remember me if they ever do decide to get some outside help on anything. I’m happy with that.

  6. Josh Sarz

    Straight up, a nice way to get clients. Pick out what’s wrong with their current copy, tell them about it, suggest ways to improve it and move in for the kill.

    Sounds like an email version of a white paper. Thanks for sharing this method, James.

  7. Chuck Gaba

    Most marketing jobs are high paying that is why i like marketing jobs. `

  8. art williams

    Good article. I come from a direct sales background and I’ll certainly agree that it’s amazing what you can say to somebody and get away with. And I also know that people appreciate honestly, even if it’s self-serving. Business people don’t mind paying for services as long as they think they can trust you. If you can prove you have something to offer (i.e. in the way of ‘smarts’) you’ll get inquires and gigs.


  9. Paolo

    This is good advice I never thought of before. I didn’t realize so many business ads were poorly written until I read this article. I do like to mention you talk about the placement of wordings and pictures on ads. I see how the power of words can make a difference. However, when you mention photos on the ads, does this sound like a background in graphic design is necessary? How does one land a job with little background in graphic design?

  10. Jarvis Edwards

    This is a great post and that tidbit of advice is excellent.

    Although some may think contacting a prospect, and offering tips to improve their copy is giving too much–too soon–for free, but I beg to differ. A brief critique and a free tip passed or rework passed along to the prospect can take roughly the same amount of time as crafting an effective email that tells the prospect to contact you for your idea/consultation.

    Especially when the person takes the advice, uses it, gets positive results, and decides to contact you for more work–since you helped him/her out for FREE! Good stuff.

  11. Hannah R. Winsten

    I love this! I never thought of this approach before. Really a clever way to sniff out copywriting leads. I’ll be giving this a try this week!


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