His eyes bulged out like dinner plates.
It made me laugh.
On Tuesday morning, I sat in a chair in front of a rather large crowd of junior and senior students at my old high school, fielding questions about being a freelance writer for a living.
I was impressed by the questions. The kids seemed to have fun and they really had a genuine interest in writing as a career.
Some kids clearly wanted to be authors. One raised his hand and asked me, “You said you published 6 novels. What novels and books inspire your writing?”
I was frank with him: “I may be the only fiction author that doesn’t enjoy reading fiction.”
You should have seen his face.
He couldn’t BELIEVE what I was saying!
I went on to explain to him that I found most fiction to be boring and full of itself. I actually take more inspiration from episodic TV shows.
And look, I don’t consider myself the Great American Novelist. I think my books are enjoyable, and I’ve been complimented on them in the past. I’m good with that. It won’t win awards.
My point in saying that to him was to get him to see that there are stories everywhere and in everything – and if you can understand storytelling on a larger level, you don’t HAVE to read fiction novels to get inspired.
How many false assumptions are you operating on?
I understand where that kid was coming from.
Many people decide to become authors because they are voracious readers and they love reading.
I love reading too – narrative nonfiction, actually.
But I haven’t read a lot of the “classics”. Most reading lists of the greatest books of all time don’t really excite me.
Everybody he’s come across has talked about great novels.
Yet, plenty of writers DON’T read those novels.
Freelancing is similar.
How many of you are approaching your copywriting careers with false assumptions?
It seems like “everybody” is doing the same things, so those things must be the keys to success!
But they’re not – and often, they are just busywork keeping you away from your goals for longer.
Let’s look at 5 of them…
Assumption #1: You need to be a “great” copywriter
“I’m still studying copywriting. I want to really be good at it before I try to get clients. I need to be able to offer something of value.”
The Truth: Until you get clients, you’ll never be “great” at copywriting.
There is a huge difference between writing copy and writing copy FOR CLIENTS.
Every copywriter thinks they have to dissect the same “They thought I couldn’t play piano until I sat down to play” ad from 50 years ago so they know what great copywriting looks like.
And that’s fine – it is great copy.
But it doesn’t do me any good in the industry I work in.
If I wrote a promo like that for my clients, they’d send it back in a heartbeat. They don’t want it.
I have to learn how to take direction and deliver copy that they want.
The only way to learn how to do that is by getting into the game and trying.
If you study copywriting for 6 months before getting your first client, you’ll spend another 3-4 months getting your copy chewed up and spit out before you’re offering something “of value” (as you define it).
You could go out and get clients now, and get right to those 3-4 months of feedback.
All you’re doing is delaying your career by 6 months and accomplishing nothing.
Assumption #2: You need a brand
“I’m documenting my journey on Twitter and building a following there. That way, I hope to get some inbound clients.”
The Truth: Clients don’t care about your journey. They won’t be following you anytime soon.
When you talk about your journey, you’re just advertising to everyone that you don’t know what you’re doing and you haven’t had any success yet.
Clients will take one look at your profile and run the other direction.
The only people who will stick around and follow you will be other aspiring copywriters.
Clients don’t want to be a part of your journey. They want a copywriter to come in and take work off their plate. Period.
The fastest and most successful way to get clients is to go find some you want to work for and contact them. Tell them you’re a copywriter and you want to help them. Cut a deal. Get paid.
I’ve been in this game for 15+ years and I have never had a client-facing brand. Ever. I don’t even have a client-focused website.
Assumption #3: You need experience
“It would be best if I worked for an agency for a while first, just to get my feet wet.”
The Truth: Clients only care about your writing ability and your likability. Your experience doesn’t really matter that much.
I’ve never worked for an agency in-house. Ever.
In fact, because I have a creative writing degree and not a marketing degree, agencies around here won’t even interview me, despite my years of experience.
The most important thing you can have is a handful of writing samples and a likable personality.
Experience. Doesn’t. Matter.
Assumption #4: You need an outreach strategy that scales
“Yeah, what you’re doing might work. But you could be more efficient if you did XYZ…”
The Truth: Successful people do the inefficient stuff.
While you’re spending all your time trying to optimize your client outreach plan, somebody else is sending 10-20 outreach emails per day manually and getting clients.
Consistency matters more than efficiency.
Plus, you’d be surprised at how much you can make by being inefficient.
Because I do my outreach manually, I can adapt and adjust my game plan on-the-fly.
And I’m consistent, which is how I can make $200K-$250K/year with this strategy.
This is also why I ignore the “you can do so much better” comments. Maybe… I’m HAPPY with my income and my career? Why optimize something that’s already awesome? I have better things to do with my time.
Assumption #5: You need to build an agency
“I’m hoping to get some clients and then scale up to running an agency with writers working under me.”
The Truth: That’s a whole lot of extra work for less profit.
Why do you want writers working under you?
To feel good about yourself?
Because that’s the sign of success in a traditional 9-5?
Who gives a crap?
Most clients don’t care if they hire an agency or a freelancer.
In fact, many prefer a freelancer over a fake agency.
And you get to keep all the profits yourself.
It’s a simpler life, less hours, and more money.
Put things in perspective!
If everybody is doing one thing, you have to start asking “WHY?”
Why are they doing it that way?
Why would that work better for me? Or would it?
Scratch beneath the surface, and you’ll discover that most people do these things based on theory and what they’re being told by others… instead of any success they’ve garnered themselves.
There are plenty of ways up the mountain.
Whether you’re an author writing stories or a copywriter writing stories, the advice is the same.
Most success is about doing simple, inefficient things consistently.
The rest is often just homework to make people feel good.
Me? I’d rather just go make more money faster.
But that’s just me, I guess.
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