I’ve been in the copywriting game for almost 15 years now…
I’ve been a marketing employee who does copywriting.
I’ve been a freelance copywriter.
I’ve been a copy chief and supervisor — recruiting, hiring, and firing copywriters.
I’ve written about and taught copywriting.
And I’ve come to a damning conclusion:
At least 95% of copywriters need to STOP calling themselves copywriters…
Here’s the thing. There’s a small upper echelon of direct response companies that were started by people who were either part-time or full-time copywriters before starting the business. They know 1. How hard it is to write really great copy, and 2. Just how valuable really great copy is.
They know what to do with good copy. They know how to work with copywriters. They value “copy” by name, and value “copywriters” by extension.
Most of them also have good compensation structures and systems in place to reward copywriters based on the sales performance of their copy. (The ones who have this in place are usually the ones who attract “A-List Copywriters” — whatever that actually means.)
I’m being generous to say that those companies who actually know what a copywriter is and value their work are the ones who hire 5% of all people who call themselves copywriters.
Maybe ad agencies pick up the slack and fill out that 5%, but if you’re a direct response copywriter, you probably don’t want to come within 500 feet of an ad agency. Their definition of what makes a great copywriter and yours are extremely unlikely to mix. Oil and water, my friend… Oil and water.
These direct response companies have been my playground since 2010. They’ve been my clients, and they’re great to work with — if you can cut it in their results-accountable world.
They have very specific expectations and high demands for copywriters. But for anyone who can meet their demands, the world’s your oyster.
But what about the other 95%?
What should you call yourself if you’re not competing in the upper echelons of direct response?
Let me start by completely repositioning your skills and capabilities.
If you’re just a writer, you put words on paper. And there are probably quite a few people who think they’re “copywriters,” but really they’re content just putting words on paper, in the form of articles, ebooks, reports, informational webpages, et cetera, et cetera.
If that’s what you do, I think you should use Peter Bowerman’s title, in The Well-Fed Writer. You should call yourself a “commercial writer.”
Stick “freelance” on the front of that, and anyone who just needs to outsource some writing for their business would have immediate recognition that your services are what they need. If you’re looking for an in-house position at a company big enough to need it, the corporate communications and/or marketing departments will recognize it in an instant.
Being a commercial writer is a decent way to make a living.
But we haven’t even gotten to the “copy” part of it.
If you’re sticking “copy” on the front of “writer,” I imagine you specialize in something more than writing to convey a message. Rather, anyone who writes copy is writing to generate response. You believe in the “selling multiplied” definition of copy, marketing, and advertising’s role — in the lineage of Hopkins, Kennedy (not Dan), and Lasker at the Lord & Thomas ad agency.
You get results.
If you write copy or create messages that get results, you have a freaking SUPER POWER!
This goes so far beyond putting words on paper that it’s not even funny.
If you call yourself a “copywriter” first off you have to overcome the ridiculous question of, “Uh. So you file copyrights? Like, the C in the circle?”
Then you have to overcome the, “Oh I can write… Why would I hire someone to do that?” objection.
And all of that leads to the real value you bring to the potential client or employer, which is…
YOU SELL STUFF!
More leads. More sales. More profits. More sales to past customers. More website traffic. More conversions.
More money in their pockets, with less work!
That, my friend, is a freaking super power in the world of business.
There are a huge number of businesses with great offers that bumble around succeeding in spite of themselves.
They have such a great offer, they succeed through word of mouth, PR, and other things that rely on other people saying good things about them. Or they have a “dial for dollars” sales team on staff that is good at making one-to-one sales, but really has minimal leverage and scale.
You take what they’re not doing well, or not doing at scale, and show them how to do it well and at scale.
You translate proven sales pitches into media that can be multiplied far and wide, bringing in leads and sales in return.
The RESULTS are gold, the WORDS are dirt…
I haven’t met a single business-builder who wakes up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and panic, thinking, “WE NEED MORE WORDS!”
But if they don’t make sales, they don’t make payroll, and the business collapses out from under them, and they spiral into personal bankruptcy and despair.
What do YOU think is more motivating?
What do YOU think earns you the big bucks?
What do YOU think makes the client recognize your super power, and treat you like the freaking HERO you are?
Results. Not words. Not even “copy.” If they need copies, they’ll run to FedEx Kinko’s. Or their 5-in-1 office printer.
The deliverable is invisible, worthless, and a commodity. The results are what make the business world go ‘round.
What do you do with this?
If you’re a “copywriter” selling to the small circle of direct response businesses who value people who call themselves “copywriters,” who make up the 5% of businesses that hire “copywriters” (and are the ones who actually pay well for that skill by that name), keep on keeping on. Call yourself a copywriter. And sell your copywriting services. It’s just shorthand for all the rest of this stuff, and it’s an efficient way to talk about it.
If you’re a writer who got into this wanting the writer’s life and a six-figure income, focus on being the best dang commercial writer you can be, and finding the projects and clients who value really clear and effective, interesting conversation, and who have ample writing needs to fill your days and weeks and months and years.
But if you’re like the huge segment of “copywriters” who are trying to sell your services beyond the traditional direct response niches, and failing to gain traction in even your initial conversations, STOP! Focus on the results you get for clients, and let the copy you deliver simply be a mechanism for getting those results.
I promise that this simple shift in thinking is a huge breakthrough when applied.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
PS: Want more on how to build a successful freelance copywriting business? Check out The Freelance Copywriter’s Independence Package.
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