Some copywriting “gurus” give the dumbest advice…
I’m not going to call this one out by name. But it’s definitely one of the short list of copywriting teachers that most newbies flock to when they discover you can get paid for writing.
And he said that you should never, under any condition, do a spec assignment.
I vehemently disagree.
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I’ve written blogs, articles, promotions, emails, sales letters — many of these for prestige clients. But I’ve never written a long-form sales letter. And I’ve also had a strong career in investment sales. How do I persuade a financial publisher to risk letting me write a long-form sales letter for them?
I’ve got the drive and energy of a race horse, and the curiosity of an FBI investigator. And when it comes to taking honest, probing criticism of my writing, I have the hide of a rhinoceros.
The most important thing you need to know — from your client’s perspective…
Is that YOU are a MASSIVE RISK.
… And I feel this in the most acute way right now, because I’m hiring a small handful of copywriters for projects right now.
(And to head this off: don’t ask if I’ll hire you. Every single one of these copywriters paid me first to train them on financial copy before I hired them. They came to Lincoln, Nebraska for my training. And then and only then did I turn around and consider hiring them.)
Here’s the thing.
Hiring copywriters is a relatively small financial risk to most businesses in our industry. For an investment publisher making millions from selling their subscriptions, paying a new copywriter a few thousand to write a sales letter isn’t a big investment. Even 10 copywriters getting $5,000 each for their first project are likely — on average — to recoup that investment. One $100,000 winner would double that investment. (Yes, I’m ignoring a ton of costs to simplify the illustration, but you get the point.)
Hiring new copywriters, on the other hand, is a giant time risk. Because if you’ve never written a single long-form sales letter — much less a winner — there’s probably a TON you don’t know that you don’t know. You usually have to fail a handful of times before you really start to write things that do okay. And even then, you’ll probably write a few more before you have any real strong winners. You could go faster, but we’re looking at averages here. And yet, every step of the way, that client has to invest time with you to keep pulling you up, and pulling you up, and pulling you up. And for a good copywriter, that’s time they could spend writing their own winning ads.
It’s way less risky to hire someone with 5 or 10 years experience for $20,000 or more because they can go off into their corner (or basement) and write an ad that’s likely to be profitable, if not a big winner, with very little supervision. They take very little time to get the end result.
If you want to get into competitive direct response industries, you need to reduce the client’s perception of risk in hiring you…
And here’s where we come back to the spec assignment argument.
Sure, in most industries, specs are stupid. If you’re a mainstream, image ad agency, and you’re creating entire ad concepts on spec, you’re basically doing your work before getting paid for it (and with no guarantee you ever will).
Even if you’re writing shorter marketing pieces for industries outside of the big health and wealth direct response niches, you probably don’t want to be doing much spec work.
And of course — once you reach a point of experience in your career, you should reject spec work out of hand, because you don’t need it to prove your chops anymore.
But if you want entry into the competitive world of high-end direct response, writing sales letters of 6,000-12,000 words…
The best way in the door is to write specs.
Here’s how I got my start in financial copywriting…
Background: at this point, I’d been in marketing for 5 years. This was late 2010. I’d helped an IT training publisher multiply sales and land a spot on Inc. Magazine’s list of America’s fastest-growing private businesses.
I’d written a bunch of content for AWAI, and had multiple long-form sales letter successes for them and others in the self-improvement and business opportunity niches under my belt.
I had developed the chops.
But I didn’t have any experience with financial publishers. And I knew I wanted to get those gigs.
And so I dug up a spec assignment for a company called Casey Research.
And without any knowledge or understanding that I could get the job, I wrote the first 1,000 or so words of a sales letter for them.
Today, I’d have $10,000 in my bank account before I sent that in.
But then, I did it all without pay, and without knowing if I’d ever get paid for that work.
Probably in part due to all my other experience, my first spec there got accepted. And I got a contract to finish the letter for $4,000.
I wish I could tell you that was a breakthrough promo. It wasn’t. It did okay. Well enough that they asked me back for a three-project deal. This time at $5,000 per project. And it wasn’t until the second of those three projects that I got my first real winner.
That relationship — started with a spec — went on to be worth well into the six-figures for me. (In fact, I just got a big check last Friday that I can directly trace back to doing that spec.) And it launched my financial copywriting career.
Are there other ways in?
Absolutely. My friend Jake Hoffberg actually got started in financial copywriting in a completely different — and admirably creative — way.
He realized that the financial publishers that pay the big bucks for long copy have a lot of additional need for short copy.
They hire big gun copywriters like me to churn out a big promotion. But the longer it runs, the more short copy they need to drive traffic to it. And so they are constantly writing ads, emails, advertorial, and more.
And Jake basically asked if they had any overflow work of this type.
They all do.
So Jake got gigs. And now he teaches others how to get gigs this way. (More info here.)
When I hosted my financial copywriters workshop about a month ago here in Lincoln, Nebraska, it was a recruiting opportunity for aspiring financial copywriters.
I’m following a different process to reduce the risk to me in hiring copywriters for these gigs.
If I do it again, it will be in-part teaching, in-part recruiting. So that’s a way in.
Or, you can choose to uproot your life, pound on some doors, and try to get a full-time job at one of these financial publishers, at least for long enough to get enough experience that they’ll let you go somewhere else and keep paying you.
There’s a TON of money looking for the bank accounts of financial copywriters…
I see both sides of this, almost nonstop.
Clients trying to grab up all the copywriting talent they can get their hands on.
And a ton of copywriters struggling to get any experience, and start getting paid.
Every recommendation I’ve made above is a way to bridge that gap.
If you’ve got the guts to go straight for it, I can’t recommend spec work highly enough.
If you can rise to the challenge, it’s a reliable open door.
That said, as hard as it is to get through the door, expect the work required on the other side to be even harder. Yes, the rewards can make it worth it. But writing at the level necessary to be competitive in the financial publishing industry is sometimes excruciatingly painful.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,