It's Monday -- that means it's time to open up the mailbox and answer YOUR questions!

It’s Monday — that means it’s time to open up the mailbox and answer YOUR questions!

Want independence?  Freedom?  Higher income?  Maybe you should just get a job…

Today’s Mailbox Monday issue comes from a reader of The Copywriter’s Guide to Getting Paid.

In reading my book, Tony learned that I didn’t just break right into freelance copywriting after discovering it.  But instead, decided to get a J-O-B.

These days, I’ve become fundamentally unemployable.  I’ve spent too much time running my own show, to not be at the top.

But then, it was one of the best decisions I could have made.

First, the question…

Hi Roy,

A question.

In your book and past blog posts, you speak of the marketing job (IT related?) which you helped increase their sales in a few years, before you struck out on your own full-time as a freelance copywriter.

Can you elaborate on your experiences working there? For example…

  1. Were you able to leverage your newfound copywriting skills to gain more responsibility and ultimately higher wages there?
  2. What was your strategy moving forward beyond that position?
  3. How did that experience effect your interaction w/ AWAI and ultimately winning the 10K challenge?

Thanks again for your time.


First, the copywriting mythology…

Many folks who discover copywriting today do it through AWAI.  In fact, AWAI has probably done more to bring new folks into the field of copywriting than anybody else.  For that, I admire them.

However, in order to most effectively sell the dream of copywriting, they have to sell in the same way that anybody else who gains success selling dreams and opportunities does so.

That is, if fulfilling your dream requires you to walk a proven path from A to Z, the sales pitch starts at A, and skips to Z.  It doesn’t show the path in between.

Why?  Because you won’t buy if they walk you through the 24 letters in between.

If they show you the work it takes to reach the top in any opportunity (including copywriting), you’d give up before you even started.

Now, when you start to dive into the programs, you do discover the reality of copywriting.

“Sell them what they want, then deliver what they need.”  A very wise marketer and business-builder once taught me that.

And thankfully for those of us who’ve walked the path and created a career for ourselves on the back of our copywriting ability, we did buy into the promise before we understood the path.

Why am I telling you all this?

Well, because it will seem counterintuitive to most that you would discover copywriting…  Then immediately go out and get a job.

And yet, that’s exactly what I did.

With all the dreams of glory, riches, independence, and freedom…  I chose the 9-to-5.

Why the heck did I take a job?

In short, it was about income and security.

I actually didn’t discover copywriting through AWAI.  I found it first through The Well-Fed Writer.

Same basic promise, though.  Make good money as a writer.  Do it by going freelance, and working for yourself (by selling writing services to clients).

The style of writing proposed was a bit different.  But the idea was the same.

From there, I fell into the rabbit hole.

I became obsessed.

I started studying copywriting.  And especially, direct response.

I picked up every book I could on writing and direct marketing.

I knew I’d found the calling I hadn’t been able to find in college (I was about a year out with a mostly useless undergrad degree in psychology).

I developed an insatiable appetite.

But even though I already knew what freelance copywriting was, I also knew I wasn’t ready to make my go at it.

So, I figured the fastest way to get good — to get real experience — and get paid for it, was to get an entry-level marketing job.

One that would let me keep studying on the job, and applying what I learned.  One where I could practice every day, and start to see the results my marketing could generate.

And so I applied to a handful of marketing jobs in entrepreneurial companies with the promise of “I’ll work harder than those who are more qualified,” and landed one at a $3-million IT training publisher in Eugene, Oregon.

Sidebar: Place was important.  Part of the need for income and security was that I had just gotten married.  My wife was starting a Ph.D. program in Oregon.  And we were moving out there, just the two of us.  So I’d need a gig to pay our rent and take care of most of our expenses (she also had a stipend).

Okay, on to the specific questions…

  1. Were you able to leverage your newfound copywriting skills to gain more responsibility and ultimately higher wages there?

In short, yes.  When I started in-office, I was making about $30k per year.  I very quickly made myself an indispensable member of the team — a member of the “brain trust.”

I kept track of the marketing programs we created.

I tested and implemented better practices.

I managed traffic buying, advertising, and all sorts of marketing initiatives, and was able to prove the effectiveness of what I was doing.

Although it had just been set in motion before I got there, I was key in implementing an online training subscription product that has since basically become the entire company.  While I was there though, we were able to double customer lifetime value and double annual revenues primarily on the strength of our ability to push one-time customers into subscribers.  And a LOT of that was done with my marketing.

Near the end though, I out-grew what the owner considered to be “fair compensation” for a member of the marketing department.  I hit his ceiling.  I was direct response, through and through.  He was not.  He didn’t believe in paying marketing based on sales generated.

So for the last year or so, I moved over to sales.  I spent some time on the phone with customers.  But I spent even more time implementing marketing for lead generation and effective customer follow up.

This led me to quickly being at or near the top of the sales team, in terms of results generated.  But now, I was getting a commission.  So I was earning even more in sales than I ever had in marketing.

  1. What was your strategy moving forward beyond that position?

It wasn’t long in the full-time job before I was itching to do more.

As I said, I’d actually caught the freelance bug well before ending up the full time job.  But I’d also known I’d be better off getting started somewhere and really learning the ropes.

Well, about a year and a half later, I couldn’t wait any longer.

So I started developing relationships on the side.  I got my first freelance gig.  Which led to my second.  And my third.

Each took a long time.  They weren’t all the time things.

Since I was doing it early morning, evenings, and on the weekend, I wasn’t able to churn out projects that fast.  (And my clients knew I was working full time too, so they were okay with it.)

But I started having some pretty good successes.  And with those, my reputation started to grow.

I actually probably had the momentum to go freelance a couple years before I did.

But I was too comfortable in the job.  My income had kept rising.  My life was good.  We had fun at work.  We ate sushi.  We’d stay late at the office, have beers, and play poker.

I was lulled into staying by complacency.

But at the same time, my inner drive still wanted more.

So I kept working with clients.  I kept building momentum.

Until two things fell into place.

— First, my wife was finishing school, so we were on track to move across the country again.  That meant I could either finally go freelance, or find a job that would probably not have nearly as cool of a workplace as the one I was leaving (this risk was compounded by the fact that we were moving to a city where I knew we’d be for only one year).

— Second, the momentum was already very strong.  I knew I had freelance clients who wanted to work with me.  I didn’t have enough to support me full-time, yet.  I couldn’t replace my income, yet.  But I had the ability to get relatively consistent work.

And I guess there was a third factor.  We’d set aside enough money so that if I didn’t make anything for about three months, we’d be okay.  It was a cushion.  One I hoped not to need.  One I planned not to use.  But it was there if I needed it, which gave me an extra dose of confidence.

  1. How did that experience effect your interaction w/ AWAI and ultimately winning the 10K challenge?

And so, in late 2009 (I’d started the job in 2005), I went to my first AWAI Bootcamp.

I paid out of pocket, and was still working full time so had to take vacation.

I met the folks at AWAI in person for the first time, even though I’d been doing some work for them in the preceding months and years.

We knew each other by voice.  We finally met in person.

From that Bootcamp, I developed even stronger relationships with them.  Plus, I met others in the industry.  Other copywriters, as well as marketers who might want to hire me.

I was like a balloon that was as full of opportunity as I could get.

If I didn’t let the air out and go, I was going to pop.

It wasn’t immediate.  But 3 months and 3 days after getting home from that first Bootcamp, I walked out of my full-time job for the last time.

In the interim, I’d set up a handful of projects.  A couple months’ worth, if I remember right.  And I worked my tail off.

The job had given me income and security while I learned the ropes in marketing and copywriting.  I returned the favor by helping the company grow from about $3 million to more than $6 million per year.

For most of that time, I lived a double life.  I was developing myself as a freelance copywriter and gaining momentum, without having to make it in that world to feed my family.

So when I was going freelance in 2010, it just felt like a natural progression from the last 5 years’ worth of work.

I was taking everything I’d learned from basically running a marketing department, writing copy, and then eventually selling one-on-one…  And applying it in this new context.  A context where I already had at least some experience, because of my side work.

And so in 2010, the year I went freelance and the year I did the most work with AWAI, I sold a ton of their stuff.  My copy was their best-performing that year, and I even broke a company record for selling opportunity products outside the copywriting core.

It was that success — achieved by continuing a path I’d been on for the previous 5 years — that earned me their attention and respect, and their $10K Challenge award and the big check they give you on stage at Bootcamp.

It was all a foundation for what came after…

As I hope I’ve shown, it was all continuing momentum.  From not knowing what copywriting was, to finding an opportunity to get paid to practice.  From that, to really developing the chops I needed to create results.  Then, taking my skills out to freelance clients on the side, where I had the room I needed to succeed.

And on it went.  As momentum built in my full-time job and my side gigs, I knew it was my chance.  All it took was the right set of circumstances before I was able to make the leap and go out “on my own” full-time, which was mere continuation of what I’d already been doing on the side for years.

Not only that, because of my marketing background, I had context for copy that most others didn’t.  I have an understanding of where copy fits in the process.  It gives me a perspective that lets me write better copy, and help the client use it better.

Plus, I get on their side as strategist — not just a “gun for hire” copywriter that puts words on paper.  This justifies higher fees and a bigger piece of the pie.

And now, as I look to the future, I realize my momentum and skills have built to a point where my copywriting isn’t just creating a copywriting career.  I have everything I need to build entire businesses and empires.  Just you wait and see…  😉

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr

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