Working as an English copywriter is no easy task. It’s challenging under the best of circumstances. It can also be a nightmare when you don’t get the information you need to do your job effectively. There are many challenging aspects to copywriting. These are the three things I find the most challenging about working as a freelance English copywriter in Seoul.

Clients who don’t know their own audience

To be an effective copywriter, you need to connect with the audience. You need to identify their pain points. Then you must show how the product or service you’re writing about will ease those pain points. Even if you have a great product, you won’t sell it if it doesn’t appeal to the audience.

A picture of two gray cats in an automatic self-cleaning litter box.

When I began learning about copywriting, the first thing that resonated with me was that you can’t sell to an uninterested audience. You can’t sell me a self-cleaning litter box, no matter how effective, innovative, or cheap it is. Why? I don’t have a cat. No amount of persuasive prose is going to get me to buy a self-cleaning litter box. But if you can convince me that you can train dogs to use the same litterbox—then you may have a customer. 

The perfect example of this is crowd-funding sites. Thousands of products are marketed daily, but only a handful get funded. I’ve backed a few of these projects—the ones that appeal to me. But I ignore the vast majority of them because they don’t relieve a pain point in my life.

When you get hired as a freelance copywriter, you must understand the client’s audience. If you can’t do that, you can’t do your job. But clients don’t always know their audience. Or they think they do—but they don’t. Without an accurate understanding of the target audience, writing compelling copy is tough.

A picture of a young man, wearing headphones, staring pensively at his Mac laptop.

As a freelance copywriter, you’re often expected to write copy with little-to-no information about the product or the audience. Writing effective copy becomes a real challenge if the client can’t tell you about their audience. 

Furthermore, products and services will likely appeal to different audiences. And what appeals to one audience won’t appeal to another in the same way. This happens even though you’re marketing the same product or service. 

Marketing your self-cleaning litter box as an elegant solution to an unpleasant task won’t appeal to a busy pet owner. But marketing it as a time-saving device that’ll keep their pet healthy and their home odor-free will. Yet the first approach may work with well-to-do clients who see cleaning a litter box as beneath them. 

You have a niche and are used to writing to that general audience (i.e., cat owners). But your new client’s audience may be very different from the broad audience in your niche. If your client can’t tell you what these differences are, you’re going to struggle to connect with the audience.

A picture of the torso of a man wearing a jacket and tie with the index finger of the right hand pointing at the camera.

The worst part is if the client doesn’t like the copy or doesn’t perform, the copywriter will get the blame. You can’t be an effective copywriter without the proper tools.

Clients who can’t explain what they want, or worse, don’t know what they want

Sometimes clients know exactly what they want—but can’t convey it. They know they need to revise their website. They know what’s wrong, but they can’t explain their new vision. After all, they’re likely employing a copywriter since they’re looking for someone experienced in conveying ideas to an audience. If the client could do that themselves, they probably wouldn’t need you. 

Thus, it can be challenging to explain exactly what they want. An excellent way to get around this problem is to produce something—anything. Submit it, but with the understanding that it is only a draft, subject to revision. Then you have a starting point. 

A picture of a young man, looking at some papers in front of a computer while talking on his smart phone.

The client can tell you what they like and what they don’t like. That’ll give you more information on which direction to go in. Even copy that is ultimately rejected is useful. It helps the copywriter understand what approach not to take. And sometimes, it helps the client better explain what they want. 

Often, a client will have a clear picture in their head of what they want, but they can’t articulate it. But they know it when they see it, and they can tell you when you haven’t delivered it.

It’s much easier to critique something in front of you than create something new. I find it much easier to review and edit someone else’s work. Editing my writing after a time has passed is easier than writing something from scratch. 

The danger is that if you submit copy the client is entirely unsatisfied with, they may not see it as progress. They may see it as poor copy and decide to end your agreement. If you encounter a client who complains about “a string of bad copywriters,” proceed with caution. It may be that the problem is with their inability to express themselves or their vision.

A picture of a young woman, sitting on her sofa, with her finger on her chin while looking at her laptop.

Even worse is when you have a client who doesn’t know what they want. This client will use very vague terms. They’ll use phrases like “and stuff like that,” “like this, but different,” or “you know what I mean.” These clients are the toughest to work for because they don’t know what they want, so they can’t tell you.

They’ll criticize your copy but won’t be able to explain what they don’t like about it. They’ll use vague criticisms like “this isn’t what I wanted,” “this isn’t the kind of copy I expected,” or “this copy isn’t like such-and-such brand.”

Often, these clients have seen copy or a design from somewhere else that appealed to them. Maybe it’s related to their product/service, or maybe it isn’t. But it spoke to them, so they assume it is universally effective and will work for their product/service. 

But since they can’t identify what they like about the copy, they don’t know how it may (or may not) work for their product/service. Clients like this think that slogans like “Just do it!” or “1,000 songs in your pocket” are phrases that any copywriter should be able to come up with on the spot. 

I shudder to think how many iterations, how much money, and how many people were involved in creating those slogans. How much time did those marketers invest in their craft? How many years of experience did they have before coming up with those slogans?

A picture of a man from behind, who's staring at a wall of images, diagrams, and mind maps.

Complicated products or services

This problem is sometimes related to the previous issues. Even when the client knows their audience and what they want, you may not understand their product/service. Some products are easy to understand and have very straightforward uses.

But some products/services are interconnected with other products/services from your client. Getting your hands on the product isn’t helpful if you don’t know how to use it. 

Say you’re writing about tax accounting software for large corporations. If your expertise is in small business tax accounting, the software may be overwhelming. Without legitimate data, you won’t be able to test and understand all the features. If the software ties into government funding, setting up dummy accounts won’t let you test those features.

But what if corporate tax accounting is your niche, yet you can’t test drive this software? You may struggle to comprehend how it differs from other options on the market or how it’s superior. Things can be further complicated if the software is for use in another country. It’s unlikely you’ll be familiar with corporate tax law in that country.

I work for two different SaaS clients. Both of them offer many software options. I do what I can to educate myself about their products. But even after almost a year, I still only have a basic understanding of how people use their products. The software solutions are incredibly complex and detailed—and thus can be challenging to fully understand.

Trying to get a quick yet thorough understanding of a product/service as a freelance copywriter is no easy task. Without a solid understanding of how customers use the product/service, it can be tricky to write copy that lands. 

A picture of a man chatting with a young couple at a large wooden table with the male from the couple gesturing towards the laptop on the table.

This is why so many people gravitate towards a niche. And while that can help alleviate some of these issues, it also limits the jobs you can take. Even if you have a niche, that niche may still be quite varied.

As a teacher of 25 years, obviously the area I’m most comfortable writing about is education. But I spent all my teaching career teaching English as a Foreign Language—most of that at a university. 

Writing about kindergarten, the European school system, and non-language learning subjects is challenging for me. Even choosing a niche doesn’t guarantee you’ll know everything you need to write effective copy for a client.

I still need guidance from my clients. I need information about their audience, the benefits of their product, and their brand images and guidelines. Without those, I can’t do my job.

That’s why the first two things I wrote in this post are so important. If the client doesn’t know their audience and can’t tell you exactly what they want, and you don’t fully understand the product/service you’re supposed to write about—you can see how that is a recipe for disaster.

It’s a different ball game when clients know their audience and can tell you what they want. They give you the information you need to craft compelling, effective copy. Even when you don’t fully understand their product/service, this is possible.

A picture of two men sitting on a sofa in front of a large window. One man is pointing at the screen of the laptop he is holding while the other is laughing.

A challenging job—even more so without the information you need

As a copywriter, it’s my job to do my best to understand the client, their audience, and their product/service as best I can. Initial questionnaires can help—but only if the client knows the answers. For questionnaires to be effective, clients must take them seriously and fill them out in full. Otherwise, you won’t get the information you need.

But even when they don’t answer the questionnaire fully, they still expect you to do a proper job. Experienced copywriters may be able to stick to general themes and formats to write acceptable copy. But it’s unlikely that copy will resonate as well with the target audience as copy that’s crafted with full knowledge of the audience and product and with clear directions from the client.

What are your biggest challenges as a freelance copywriter? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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