Hey there Rainmaker, and welcome to another Mailbox Monday! It’s time to answer your questions…
On copywriting, today! Specifically, about what it takes to start getting PAID as a copywriter.
(Interesting note: I have a short book on the subject that will be available very soon! It’s an edited transcript of an interview I did about the all-important subject of how to turn your copywriting skills into money in the bank. If you’re interested in this, you’ll definitely want to be on the lookout!)
But wait! Before I dig in too deep, our obligatory Monday reminder…
I can’t make Mailbox Monday awesome without YOU, dear reader.
I need your best questions on selling, marketing, copywriting, business, life, or whatever, so that I can answer them here.
Send me a note: [email protected]. Ask away.
I’ll answer your question in an upcoming Mailbox Monday issue!
Okay, on to today’s question…
Knowing what you know now, if you were a new copywriter just getting started, what are 3 important things you would do 1st to start getting paid?
This is a great question, and where an unbelievably large number of “aspiring copywriters” get hung up…
Here’s the thing. It’s easy to buy a book or program or course or whatever on copywriting. Really easy. In fact, you don’t even have to have the money, as long as you have a credit card!
It’s comparatively really hard to start getting paid money for copywriting. First off, you have to overcome your own internal head trash to actually ask someone to pay you to write. Then, you have to actually find someone you can persuade to pay you!
And so here’s the trap way too many aspiring or wannabe copywriters get stuck in…
They spend months, years, even their entire lifetime dreaming about what life will be like when they are a working copywriter…
But they never take any real action to do it!
Yeah, they may buy another book, another course, another whatever that will “help them prepare” for it.
But really, that’s an excuse. An excuse that puts another layer of protection between them and facing the reality of either success or failure in this business.
Succeed, and suddenly you’re in a whole different ballgame — one you’ve never played before, where you don’t totally know the rules. And if you’re really successful, what you’re doing and how you’re getting paid will start to feel very foreign to friends and family, and you risk losing your connection with them (and often there’s nothing you can actually do to prevent it).
Fail, and you start to question whether you’re cut out for it, whether it’s possible, whether you can ever make it. Whether you should just give up the dream and go back to whatever you were doing before.
Both of these are scary possibilities, but both are totally in your imagination. Yes, they may be based on a potential reality. But they’re in your imagination right now — they do not exist in the real world. And if they ever come up they’ll probably be worse in some aspects and not nearly as bad in others, compared to what you imagine.
Either way, you can deal with them when they are real. Until then, recognize that they are not real, and so you don’t have to deal with them yet.
So, Jason, you want three things, let’s get started!
First, listen to Nike and “Just do it!”
I bought two books before I started getting paid to write copy. Which ones don’t really matter. Yeah, I was a writer before that. (But my writing was horribly thick and academic — almost unreadable by my standards today.) And I’d done telephone and in-person selling. But I didn’t think of myself as a salesperson. I didn’t think of myself as a copywriter. I didn’t think of myself as a marketer.
When I discovered copywriting though (back in very early 2005), I decided it was for me. And so I immediately started applying for copywriting jobs, marketing jobs, and any opportunity I could get to write copy.
I’ve written before about my process of getting that first (awesome) marketing job — you can read that article here.
One way that I strongly recommend — as long as it’s a fit for you — is to just get a friggin’ job. Yes, we all want “The Writer’s Life” and it’s a noble aim and maybe 3-year or 5-year plan… But there’s a TON you can learn by working INSIDE a company that you’ll never pick up from being a freelance copywriter.
I worked at that job for almost five years, and had a lot of success, and developed a lot of skills and competencies I still rely on today.
At the same time, I started freelancing on the side. If you want to start freelancing, I recommend making an offer to potential clients which removes all their risk from the transaction. The way you do that is with an irresistible offer letter — read about how to write an irresistible offer letter to get your first copywriting client here.
The idea is you want to give clients a way to test you, without them having to risk anything. Since you’re new and an unquantifiable commodity, they need this. It helps them say “yes.”
The way I did it was to approach a client and offer to work totally for free, unless the letter I wrote for him outperformed his current approach. Then and only then — after I’d already made him money — did he have to pay me.
I’m going to write later this week about how to get the confidence to do this, but a hint is you have to move forward BEFORE you have confidence. I did that with getting my first marketing gig, and I did it with getting my first copywriting clients. It’s something I continue to do to this day.
If you want to start getting paid, you have to commit to action first and foremost.
Second, write every day.
You need to practice writing for clarity. Write, write, write. In the beginning, you should just focus on getting thoughts down on paper.
Write about marketing ideas you’re learning about.
Write about your clients’ and potential clients’ products and services.
Write about anything.
Practice structuring your writing. So it makes sense. So someone can walk away from it feeling like they’ve learned something, or gotten something.
If you’re going to be a paid writer, you have to at least be able to write fairly clearly — preferably without too many spelling or grammatical errors.
Don’t get me wrong — selling ability is still more important than writing ability for a copywriter. But you have to be able to get a selling approach on paper (or into media) for it to actually be called copywriting.
Then, once you’re practiced in writing for clarity, write for action. Try to write persuasively, so people know what they need to do after reading your writing, and why.
Short emails. Long essays. Entire sales letters. Structure them to deliver a relevant narrative or story, then ask for a relevant action at the end.
This will do a couple things.
First off, it will get you practiced at writing. There is not a champion in any endeavor who does not practice regularly — especially once they’re already a champion. (Damn, that’s a good quote!)
Second, it will speed you up. The more you write, the more you earn. Period. If you’re a novice, writing more novice copy will earn you more than writing less novice copy. If you’re a pro, writing more pro copy will earn you more than writing less pro copy. Yes, the worth of every word will go up through practice, but more words written in a year usually means more money made in a year.
So again, write every day. Even when you don’t have client work to write on. (It’s good to write your own stuff regardless of how much client stuff you have, because that’s where you will develop a compelling voice, through time — it’s very hard to develop a compelling voice as a 100% gun-for-hire copywriter.)
Third, use David Ogilvy’s “Ideal Client List” strategy…
Don’t remember where I heard of this first, but I know David Ogilvy used it to build his advertising agency, eventually getting 45 of his 50 ideal clients to retain him. I also know Chet Holmes taught it as his “Dream 100” client strategy. I’ve used it before, to great success.
Sit down and decide your criteria for a perfect client. (That link is my list, for copywriting work.)
Also, decide what niche you’re going to be working in — what kind of businesses you’d like to work for.
Then, get to researching.
Come up with a list of at least 10 but no more than 100 “ideal” clients for you. Even better if you can come up with a name for their Director of Marketing, or some other leading title within their marketing department. Better still if you can come up with contact info.
Really spend your time getting this list right.
The first time I sat down to do this for my own business, it was non-Agora direct response financial/investment publishers, who I could find to be using long-form sales letters or other copy on their websites. (Non-Agora because most of the financial publishers under the Agora parent company hire in-house copywriter teams, and by this time I was 100% freelance.)
Then, make it a point to start reaching out to these businesses, in a very friendly way.
Play the long game, knowing it can also yield short-term results.
Reach out to your ideal clients, and introduce yourself. Ask them about how they use copywriters, and if you can be of any assistance. If you have literally zero work history, you can send them an irresistible offer letter, though I would do it carefully, one at a time. (You don’t want to be known to all your ideal clients as the person who works for free.)
Then make it a point of staying in regular contact with these businesses, and the individuals in them who work with copywriters. Get to know them, and get to be known by them.
Be helpful, without expecting anything in return.
My friend Brian Kurtz calls this the “100-0” networking strategy. Give 100%, expect 0% in return. You’ll almost always get more than 0% in return — the key is to never expect it.
Over a long enough time, you’ll get 25%, 50%, 75%, 90% of these ideal clients. As long as you play the long game.
And in the short term, one or two will come through with a project for you.
If you’re a copywriter and this article has resonated…
Again, note I have a book coming out on this very topic. It’s probably 95% to completion, and is in the editor’s hands, to create a final print-ready draft.
You’ll be the first to know when it’s available.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Rainmaker for Businesses AND Copywriters, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets