Freelance life

How to be a wildly successful copywriter


I was inspired to write this post by a piece on the Valuable Content blog about the need to write content your audience craves.

Craves? Really? Tough ask!

So what is it, I thought, that copywriters crave? Is it how to be a better copywriter? You’d think so. I mean, at first glance it does seem like a pretty good professional goal.

But that’s the problem.

It’s a professional goal. Ad that means it’s an intellectual goal. And THAT means it probably isn’t all that powerful.

Looking back over my own career and aspirations I have to admit that what I crave – have always craved – is attention. Actually, no, not merely attention. Approbation. Praise. Wild cheering and people wanting me to be godfather to their children.

Oh, and money. Lots. So I could buy a Maserati. (I haven’t yet but, y’know, it’s a goal.)

So, love and money. That’s more honest. And also the two most common motives for murder if you’re interested,

They are emotional goals. I have more than enough love and money for any human being to be happy with. But I still crave them. Needy and greedy I guess. They are also not subject to rationalisation.

So maybe other people are also driven by their desires for financial success and the rave reviews of clients and peers. It doesn’t seem like too outlandish a conjecture.

Thus, my post. How to be a wildly successful copywriter.

I will define wildly successful as extremely happy, and rich. There.

First, I must serve up an unpalatable fact. Most copywriters are not going to be wildly successful. This is not snideness or disparagement on my part. After all, most plumbers are not going to be wildly successful, either. Nor are most engineers physicists, teachers, nurses or MPs.

You have a normal distribution for success in any job. Most people occupy the bulge in the middle. They are neither wildly successful not wildly unsuccessful. They get by.

At the extreme left you have the borderline frauds who really shouldn’t be, oh, I don’t know, performing heart transplants, writing novels or teaching maths. At the other end you have the geniuses who win Nobel prizes, Olympic medals and Clio golds.

But let’s assume we have a copywriter, whom we’ll call Claire, who wants to be at that luxe end of the distribution curve. All Gucci typewriters and Porsche pencils. What does she have to do?

First of all, here is the biggest obstacle facing Claire.

Claire does not love what she does. (Which the late Steve Jobs said was the secret.) She loves writing, sure. But she doesn’t love copywriting. Not deep down. Deep down she wants to be a ‘real’ writer. Of novels, perhaps. Or journalism. Or poetry. Or screenplays.

You can tell, because on her website she tells you how much she loves words. How she won a poetry competition at infant school. How she holds a degree in English literature.

Who. Fucking. CARES?

Does Claire think the marketing director of some hyper-competitive global organisation is going to hire a copywriter because they can quote Emily Dickinson?

No. They will not.

So, the first thing Claire needs to do is love copywriting.

To love copywriting means to love advertising. It means to love business. It means to love capitalism.

A real copywriter would never say that their job involves making people buy things they don’t want. They would never tolerate crap advertising. Even if another copywriter wrote it. It’s too important for that.

From this love springs other loves.The most important is to love clients.

To read Twitter, you might be forgiven for believing that most copywriters hate their clients. The various disparaging hashtags clearly show where some copywriters’ sympathies lie. With other copywriters.

A little comradely solidarity is all very well. IF clients are delaying payment. Or being rude to you personally. But having opinions different to yours and having the temerity to express them doesn’t automatically make them wrong, still less, arseholes.

Remember, I am talking about what it takes to be truly successful here. You can be a middling-to-un-successful copywriter with very little effort at all.

Another part of the process through which Claire will  travel is to understand the relationship between what she does and what she is worth.

Because, right now, she isn’t charging enough.

How do I know this?

Well, for one thing, she publishes her rates on her website and, frankly, £20 for a 400-word article is PATHETIC.

For another thing, very few copywriters do charge what they are worth.

Claire does not have a business background. Which is fine. Not everybody does. But f you are going to work in business, especially if you are running your own company, you’d better bloody well  get up to speed.

Her lack of experience, coupled with her self-doubt, leads her to radically underestimate what she “should” charge.

I have written extensively on this subject elsewhere and don’t propose to go over it again in detail here. But, for the record? If financial success is your thing, charging less than a painter and decorator is going to hamstring you.

[image of calendar pages being blown away – the months pass]

Welcome back.

Claire looks happy. She is making more money. She loves her job.

Next step in her journey to mega-stardom. She needs to get better at being a copywriter.

That means a hefty dollop of what our colleagues in HR call CPD (continuous professional development) and what we will call ‘learning’.

Claire can learn in various ways and in various places. The four avenues of post-graduate learning generally acknowledged, across all fields of endeavour, to yield the greatest return on investment are attending training courses, being mentored, reading books and going to conferences. Full disclosure: I run courses, publish books, mentor copywriters and attend conferences.

In the past, Claire has baulked at these avenues, citing, variously, the cost, inconvenience and time they demand.

She tweeted her decision not to attend a conference because “who’d give up a day’s wages?”. This despite the fact that her colleagues were meeting new clients at this very event.

She havered about spending money on a book because free e-books on the subject abound.

And she stayed away from a course because it would have meant laying out for a hotel room.

But where else is Claire to go for the chops that will make her more attractive to prospective employers/clients? Infographics? LinkedIn articles? Facebook?

I don’t think so.

The forth plank of our strategy for Claire’s ascendancy involves that dreaded activity for all but a handful of copywriters.


It is a fact commonly acknowledged that the great majority of copywriters actively avoid selling.

Selling is cheesy, grubby; selling is ‘salesy’. Selling is definitely not creative.

Instead, they blog. They post to social media. They dick around with their websites. So people will find them.

And this is true. People will find Claire.

The world is full of people Googling “freelance copywriter”.

These people know nothing about copywriting, which is why they are using Google in the first place.

They have deep needs and shallow pockets. And a real sense of entitlement.

Strangely, they lack respect for the copywriter’s trade and resent paying for their services.

The clients Claire needs to become wildly successful, which, let’s remember, is her goal, do not use search engines to find a copywriter.

They don’t have the time. And they don’t trust the results. For much the same reason as they don’t use search engines to find a heart surgeon, advertising agency or childminder.

Instead, they ask around.

Claire gets herself trained in selling. She hires a mentor. She chugs a handful of herbal tranquillisers and she starts to hustle.

Lo! and behold, she starts to win some serious business.

These clients respect her no-nonsense attitude. To the work, to money, and to business in general.

“At last!” they cry. “Someone who doesn’t want to be writing a novel. This woman loves writing copy. For us!”

Let’s summarise.

Claire loves copywriting. The act of writing words that win orders. She loves the commercial processes that surround copywriting, from winning the job in the first place to getting paid at the end.

She loves her clients and NEVER badmouths them on social media.

And she invests in herself constantly, buying the best she can afford, whether it’s a faster PC, a better desk, a taxi not a tube, or a place on a training course.

She keeps up her blog but she’s also writing an article for a marketing magazine. And she tries to meet at least one group of potential clients face-to-face every quarter.

I suspect she is going to be wildly successful.

Aren’t you, Claire?

2 Comment(s)

  1. Art

    Nice post, Andy! Hard medicine for some to swallow, but necessary. Below are two quotes from an upcoming eBook I’m writing on the mindset of successful copywriters:

    “Most writers will tell you that they have ‘a passion for writing’. Hopefully you do as well, because you’ll need it to become a copywriter. But don’t think that a passion for writing is enough to make it as a successful freelance writer.”

    “I’ve heard advertising referred to as an industry devoted to convincing people to buy things they don’t need. Let’s be honest – people don’t really *need* anything beyond water, clothing, food and shelter. A more forgiving definition of advertising is that it’s there to help people understand why they should want something.”

    I think it’s safe to say we’re on the same page!

    5th March 2015 at 11:48 am | Reply
  2. Honor

    I liked it. I treated it as a tick list to see if I quite measure up. So hard to not be a cliché but I suppose it is our job.

    24th March 2015 at 5:09 pm | Reply

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