Campsite Rule Applies to Writing Clients, Too

Look, there’s something we need to seriously talk about, Copywriters.  I’m finding myself picking up the pieces you left in your wake, and frankly, I’m tired of it.  So, from now on out, the Campsite Rule is in place for client contacts.  Just like Dan Savage (a talented writer and seemingly decent human) long ago declared for human relationships, I declare that you shall no longer leave your clients a wreck.

If you’ve not heard of the Campsite Rule, let me introduce you.  Savage, a sex columnist, coined the phrase in the mid 2000s for relationships where one person is considerably older than the other — but let’s face it, this shit applies to all sorts of situations.  The gist of it is that you’re to leave the other person in at least as good of a condition as you found them, just like at a campsite.  Don’t break them and leave a mess for the next guy.  And, boy, do you Copywriters love to leave a string of bodies in your wake.

You’re Fucking Up Big Time, Writers

If there’s one thing — one thing — that I always advise when it comes to clients, it’s to never, ever fuck them or burn your bridges.  You never know when you’re going to need a reference, a recommendation or simply want to reconnect with them.

This life is too unpredictable to destroy carefully cultivated relationships.  Period.  Your clients are putting their trust in you and their business’s marketing in your hands.  If you can’t commit to that fully, you need to bow out gracefully — not leave them in the lurch.  Let me give you an example.

I know of a guy who isn’t the best client in the world — he’s not going to get any sort of award for being an amazing client, but he’s still an ok guy.  He’s gun shy about working with copywriters because some, a few, have taken his money and never delivered.  Because it’s been small potatoes, he didn’t have much in the way of recourse, other than to become even more defensive and paranoid about the next writer.  I’ve worked with this particular fellow on and off for the better part of three years because he keeps trying to find a cheaper copywriter and keeps running into this problem.

Well, I can hear you say, he deserves it for being such a cheap bastard.  Normally, I’d agree with you, but no… no, you’re wrong.  Super fucking wrong.  No one deserves to be treated like this.  If you feel like you deserve more money, it’s on you for not asking for it or for not finding a client who can or will pay the toll.  It’s NOT on you to rip off a client because you can.

I have another client who is entirely too nice and lets a lot of things slide.  One of her former writers was consistently late, putting her into a bad position with the companies she was cultivating.  She either had to pick up the slack, or more often, deliver late and further damage her reputation.  This is also not cool, people.  Campsite Rule.  You don’t burn down the fucking campground where you’re staying!

Being a Better Human and Copywriter

I work with writers at all levels of this profession, both as Project Manager at Top Shelf Copy and as an independent freelancer who frequently collaborates with others.  When I say all levels, I mean from green behind the ears junior copywriters to 20 year veterans in the field.  These guys earn a huge range of pay, but the ones at the top have a few things in common.  Mostly, they observe the Campsite Rule.

But, since some of you can’t fathom what that even means, I’m going to give you some tips for being a better human, earning more as a copywriter and building a solid reputation that will be worth more in referrals than you can possibly realize right now.

1. Always deliver on time.  Sure, things happen — we all get sick, we all have accidents and whatnot.  You can’t be expected to be invincible.  However, you have to make every effort to deliver on time, every time.  Otherwise, you not only put your job at stake, but the reputation for that person who is taking your delivery.  If you know you can’t deliver, tell your client as soon as you realize it.  Then work out a plan to make sure you hit the deadline.  Collaborating with other writers of a similar skill level is a great solution, as long as the client approves this strategy.

2. Your copy better shine.  That copy you deliver can’t be shit.  I don’t care if you spent all night writing and rewriting and you’re strung up on coffee, you dig down deep, channel your inner beast and you do your fucking job.  Follow the guidelines for the project and then polish that product until it shines as much as it can.  Some are better than others, some days we’re better than other days, but if you give your all, you’ll always be enough.  I can tell when writers phone it in, I guarantee your clients can, too.

3. Do everything you’ve agreed to do.  This is especially important if you’ve taken a deposit or are working on a prepaid project.  You do everything you agreed to do, get it?  Just man up and fucking do it.  I don’t care if the client stopped responding to your questions, you track that motherfucker down and get some answers.  It’s up to you to be the kind of writer who makes a client a better client, for the sake of the entire industry.  Sometimes clients need to be taught how to work with a writer — that’s an implied part of the contract, too.

4. Inspire confidence in clients.  Above all else, give off an air of confidence that is genuinely hard-earned.  Don’t be iffy, be confident.  Even if that means you’re confident you can’t get to those web pages for a month — always be honest, always have integrity and never, ever promise things you can’t deliver.  Inspire confidence that the product will be given the time it deserves, even if that means you need a month.  Be honest and then write like the wind.

5.  When you fuck up, come back swinging.  Everybody fails sometimes.  Don’t make it the story of your life.  When you screw up big time, take a breath to figure out what went wrong.  Are you overworked, do you take on too much, are you poorly organized?  Sort out your shit and then come back swinging.  I promise the time you invest in yourself will pay out in the end.

I know that most of you don’t mean to fuck up.  I really do.  You either want to please everybody, or you underestimate how much time a project will take — or both.  But part of doing this job is learning, every day.  You learn your clients, you learn your projects and you learn about your abilities as a writer.

Learn, motherfuckers, and clean up your fucking campsites.  I’m really tired of finding such big messes.