Hey Rainmaker, let’s talk about copywriting as a second career…
Today I have a question that came from Rich, about the prospect of switching from his previous career into copywriting.
I think this is a HUGE segment of the folks who aspire to be copywriters.
In a sense, I’m the oddball here. (So, admittedly, I address that angle from a little naivety.) I got my start in copywriting in my early 20s. Many folks pick it up in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond — as a whole new career, or simply a way to retire a little more comfortably, and maintain a very flexible passive income.
While I’m going to give Rich some advice tailored to his specific situation, there’s a lot on the copywriting business here (and building a copywriting career) that’s worth paying attention to, whoever you are.
And remember, Mailbox Monday needs YOU!
Every Monday, I answer YOUR most important questions on marketing, copywriting, selling, business, life, and whatever else.
For that to be successful, I need your questions! Send yours in to [email protected].
On to Rich’s question…
I have owned and operated both wholesale and retail businesses selling high end collectibles for many years. I have done everything including retail and wholesale sales, distribution, marketing, training, business development, financial, purchasing, contracts, web development, consulting, design work and lots of floor mopping :-).
Now I’m looking for a way to generate income that does not require me to be in the public eye so much of the time, and be able to work less structured hours. I also need to be able to make the transition in a reasonable amount of time for financial reasons (same long story).
I took a copywriting course about 9 years ago, mostly so that I could incorporate what I learned into my businesses at the time. It was valuable for that purpose. I also discovered that I really like to write and I feel I can develop the skill. During that time I have also built commercial web sites with content for myself and for others.
Now I’m considering entering the copywriting field.
Which niche would you recommend that I explore?
Is the field overcrowded, or is there room for a capable novice with lots of business background and experience?
I also bring the following:
— I enjoy writing
— I understand business and business development
— I love to learn
— I am Internet savvy
— I am analytical (I “think”)
— I can put myself in my client’s shoes
— I love to help people in business
— My income needs are not extreme
— I am perfect (yeah, right)
And I am very appreciative of everything that you might bring to this that I can use to make a good decision.
Thank you again.
Rich, you’re in a good spot to start your new career in copywriting!
And in fact, I think you’re probably already a bit ahead of many people making the transition (but you’re not focusing on your #1 biggest asset that puts you in the lead).
Copywriting requires 3 BIG skills… And I bet you’re reasonably good at all 3 of them!
A lot of people who come to copywriting do it because it’s a way to make a living as a writer. Me too, to be honest.
And while it’s in the name, it’s probably the least important skill a copywriter can have.
Gary Halbert famously said that he’d rather hire an illiterate, grizzled old salesperson who actually knew how to close the deal and teach them to write… Than to hire an English major and teach them to sell.
The type of copywriting required for copywriting is only hard when you’ve overtrained yourself to write. That is, by the time many writers get done with formal schooling, their writing is so thick and lifeless, it has to get beaten out of them before they’ll ever make a good copywriter.
To be a good copywriter, you really should aim for no more than about a 7th grade writing level. And for the most part, it’s okay to slip a few grades below that. But the higher you get, the more of your prospects you may be turning off because they recognize, subconsciously, that it’s just too hard to read.
End rant. All of this just to say that if you can write about like you talk, you’re good there.
The other two skills though are rare in writers, but common in people who have substantial business background, like you, Rich.
First, is selling. Second, business.
I’ll address the second first.
Remember, copywriting is a business, and your customers are businesses.
First off, about the copywriting business. Many people who come to it to get paid to write don’t treat it like a business. The copywriters who achieve the most financial success do.
And so all the other functions of a business that would be required no matter what other service or product you may be selling still apply here.
The only difference is you can work at your kitchen table in your underwear in this business!
Of all the aspects of a business, the one that you’ll probably find familiar that is most important is… MARKETING!
This should be something that’s familiar based on your previous businesses.
Every business that wants to be successful should have a few goals with marketing…
- Get a steady stream of new customers through the door.
- Get each of those customers to spend the maximum amount per transaction.
- Get those customers coming back over and over again.
Which of those do you think apply in your copywriting business? If you said “All three,” you’re right.
You ought to be as focused on this side of the copywriting business as you are the writing task. While your writing can eventually go on and become an advertisement in itself for your services (like me doing the Titans of Direct Response promo), getting started the selling is on you.
Good news? You already understand this process — or, at least, I hope you do.
Even better news… If you understand it for yourself, you should also understand it for your customers.
Because ALL businesses, including your clients, need these three marketing jobs fulfilled, you’re in good shape. You can actually make this part of what you offer.
And in fact, in most business, they could care less about copywriting. What they really want is the RESULT. They want more customers. Spending more. More often.
If you understand that process — and how to make it happen — you understand something far more important than how to write a headline.
Why selling matters…
First off, I should point out here that I’m NOT talking about the classic “used car salesman” trope of the pushy salesman.
For the most part, that style of selling is dead.
Does it still work? Absolutely. But it only works when your customers are “one and done,” when you’re okay turning them off so bad that even if you get the sale today, you’re never getting another one in your life.
Today, pushy salespeople are seen as amateurish and disconnected.
What works best today is a salesperson who truly holds their prospects’ and customers’ best interests at heart. Someone who cares about getting their clients the desired result. Who happens to have the solution that will fulfill that goal.
If that’s the case, if you have a solution to a problem your prospect wants, you can approach it with such confidence and self-assuredness, that your presentation (in person or on paper) will be magnetic. People will want to buy from you.
All you have to do is connect the conversation that’s already going on in their head to your product, make an offer, and ask for action.
Do it respectfully, but directly and assertively.
If you understand selling — and if you have a career running businesses, I’m guessing you do — you are in very good shape here.
First, because you’ll have to sell your own copywriting services to succeed. But second, because you know where in the sales process it may help to have copy resources to push the sale forward.
In some businesses, copy does all the selling (most of my clients are this way). In others, it’s simply a tool the salespeople use. Your job is to figure out where compelling words can have a multiplier effect in your clients’ businesses, and help them plug that in.
Regarding your ever-popular questions of “which niche?” and “is the field overcrowded?”…
First off I’ll say that the need for copy is greater than ever before.
For example, those websites you’re building? Well, the web is a printing press that never runs out of ink. And everybody always needs new content to grace the front page of their sites, and to use elsewhere.
There is a much greater need for copy than there are skilled copywriters to fulfill it.
That said, there are some niches (health, financial) which are especially popular due to the numbers of copywriting programs being sold around them, which do make them more crowded and competitive.
The good news about those industries is they have a process for hiring copywriters. The bad news is they have a constant flow of copywriters, so you have to really stand out.
My friends at AWAI — who I’ll see at Bootcamp in 9 days — have consistently said that, “The easiest place to make a 6-figure income as a copywriter is B2B.” And I think they’re right.
The downside of B2B is you can usually rule out royalties. While you may be able to get performance-based compensation on lead generation campaigns, B2B is mostly fee-for-work. So if the dream of big royalty checks drew you to copywriting, you may come up short here.
That said, B2B is very appealing for a lot of copywriters, and I’d think hard about it based on your background. There’s usually less pressure, and the lifecycle for putting out B2B copy is much quicker and puts you under far less scrutiny than high-level direct response. You may be able to complete a 10,000-word white paper project in a week or two, whereas a 10,000-word sales letter could take 3 months or more to see the light of day.
Find clients who have high transaction values themselves, and you may find it easy to charge relatively high prices for your work, if it’s helping them sell more.
And yet, calling B2B a niche is like calling B2C a niche. It’s really not.
One of the best things you can do is to look at all your experience and ask, “How could all this inform the type of copywriting work I take on?”
If you’re able to use your past experience, you’re suddenly not starting from zero. You may only be starting from 1 or 2 or 10, but any head-start at all, and you’re better off than starting from zero.
What connections do you already have in your current/past life that may turn into copywriting work?
What experience (including those websites, etc.) do you already have that makes a great start for pointing to clients and saying, “I do that”?
What do you know about marketing in your business or industry that would be advantageous to people who are still in it?
Some of the folks who are the most financially successful becoming marketing consultants (which sometimes includes publishing information products, doing consulting and coaching, and writing copy or doing other “done for you” services) simply packaged up what they learned in their industry and sold it to their peers.
Joe Polish is very famous for doing this for carpet cleaners. He learned how to build his carpet cleaning business with direct response. Then he sold his system to other carpet cleaners.
There are thousands of less-well-known examples.
What do you know about building websites and other marketing systems for the high-end collectible market? Or, for a broader retail category that would include them?
Is there a market there? Maybe not just for copywriting, but for some type of phone consulting, too?
This has run long, so I want to leave you with this.
I think copywriting is a great choice, based on what you’ve told me about your situation, Rich.
What I’d warn you about is that you might not want to go jumping into one of the big pond industries, while you’re a little fish. Especially if you don’t plan to really build your career there over decades, and you’re mostly just looking for a more flexible way to make a great income for a while.
Find a small pond where you’re at least a little known, or where you have built-in credibility, and see what you can make happen there.
Your most powerful asset, at this point, is your background and STORY.
Find a way to use that to launch your copywriting business.
Oh, and I’d definitely recommend you pick up a free copy of my book, The Copywriter’s Guide To Getting Paid, if you haven’t already. (Just pay a reasonable shipping and handling charge.)
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets