A few days ago, I received an email from one of my newsletter subscribers. We’ll call him Paul. He’s taking a copywriting course and wondering how long he should wait to start seeking clients.
Here’s my slightly modified response to him. I think it’ll be helpful for any copywriter near the beginning of his career.
Good morning, Paul. Thank you for reaching out.
Let me ask you a question: when you look at a website, email, even a TV commercial do you know — almost instinctively — what the advertiser was trying to do, where he went wrong and how you could make it stronger?
Now, I don’t know you, but I’d be willing to bet that the answer is an emphatic “yes.”
With your studies of Hopkins, Kennedy, etc., you’re probably already good enough to be very helpful to 75% of the business owners in America.
So my answer to your question is, YES, you should begin looking for work now.
Let me share a few thoughts:
1) Copywriting, like any other discipline, requires continual study and learning. You’ll never know it all. So there’s no need to wait until you’re done “studying” to launch out into the deep. Or at least stick your toes in the water.
2) Freelancing can be tough. Don’t get discouraged if you’re not bringing in Bob Bly-level fees in the first year. Realize in advance, strengthen your resolve and go for it.
I spent my first 2 years or so as a moonlight copywriter. I worked as many as 80 hours a week in management at Kmart, then came home to prospect and work on projects. I tell that story in some depth in an interview I did with Michael Zipursky in 2012 –> http://www.consulting-business.com/direct-response-copywriter-and-consultant-interview-with-donnie-bryant.html. If I recall, it’s about 30 minutes long. If you have the time, it might be an encouragement for you. I get lots of good feedback.
3) You’ve probably heard it a hundred times, but you should spend a good chunk of your time promoting your services. 50% promoting, 50% doing client work and improving your craft, or something like that.
4) Most copywriters start out as generalists, but the sooner you find a niche (and maybe you already have experience or deep knowledge of some particular industry) the better. Position yourself as an expert in that niche and focus your efforts there.
5) Get some copywriter friends. I can’t tell you how helpful it is to have the camaraderie. You’ll come to cherish those relationships.
6) It’s also helpful to build relationships with people in other industries. Especially people with bigger audiences and established authority. These are people who can interview you and put you on their websites or in their newsletters, recommend your services to their people, do joint ventures, make valuable introductions, give opportunities for guest blogging, etc. Proactively seek out and nurture those kinds of relationships. If you’re looking to provide mutual benefit (and not just be a self-seeking mooch), you’d be surprised who will be open to connecting with you.
7) Be generous, but do your best not to undervalue yourself or your work.
8) Try to get paid upfront, even if it’s just a deposit. Save yourself from getting burned. And watch out for bad barter deals. Sometimes they’re worth it, but a lot of times you end up frustrated with what you get out of the deal.
9) Start building your email list ASAP. Even if you don’t know how you’ll keep in touch with them. Someday, maybe sooner than later, you’ll be glad you did.
10) Read a lot, but don’t let reading stop you from writing. I suggest reading non-marketing stuff and stuff outside of your area of expertise to continue giving your brain more raw material to build creative ideas with.
Curiosity is one of the characteristics of most, if not all, great copywriters have common.
People are often amazed by the stuff I know. From pop culture to ancient history and from biology to philosophy, I know a lot of random stuff. I have a “swipe file” (if I can call it that) of quotes I like about anything, everything. Never know when a powerful idea will spring forth from one. They make good writing prompts, too.
While you’re reading, please add the Bencivenga Bullets to your list: http://www.marketingbullets.com/archive.htm. Now that I think about it, I’m going to work my way through them again…
Here’s the big one:
10) Almost no one wants a copywriter. Almost no one even knows what copywriting is, as you’ve probably noticed.
That means 2 things: A) look for clients who know what copywriting is and how much it’s worth, and B) don’t position yourself as a copywriter, per se, for people who aren’t familiar with it. Focus on your own benefits versus the “feature” of being a copywriter.
I think that’s about enough to start out.
Thanks again for reaching out. I pray you have more success than you dream of.
What’s your best advice for a starting a successful copywriting career?