How to Become a Freelance Copywriter – The WHOLE Truth

Every day, I fall down on my one good knee and thank my lucky stars that I stumbled into this copywriting thing.

It truly is a spectacular way to make a living. It turned me – a penniless high school dropout — into a millionaire, and it’s doing the same for many other writers I could name.

Nevertheless, not everything every online guru tells you is necessarily the gospel truth. (“DUH!” – right?)

See, these guys are mostly selling a product. They’re also copywriters. And well … let’s just say that sometimes, they can get just a l-i-t-t-l-e carried away when selling their books, courses and conferences.

So let’s take a few minutes to set the record straight by examining the three biggest, fattest lies being told online about this freelance copywriting thing …

Big Fat Lie #1: “If you can write a simple letter, you can become a great copywriter.” Nonsense. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: What we do isn’t about writing. In fact, many of the worst copy cubs I’ve ever had were English majors. The absolute worst was an English professor.

Copywriting is, first and foremost, about persuasion: About persuading prospects to give us their attention and to read our sales messages … persuading them to accept our point of view and to believe that our products really do deliver the benefits we promise … and finally, persuading them to order NOW.

Just do that in your copy – and confine yourself to promoting products that people already want – and you can make a darned good living as a copywriter.

To make a great living – more than $1 million a year — you’ll need to go one step farther: You’ll have to master the art of creating desire for a product or benefit that your prospects have NOT already decided they want.

How do you acquire these skills? Well for starters, you could change your focus: Instead of studying writing, study sales. Better yet, take a night job as a salesperson. Maybe at a used car dealership. Maybe selling insurance or vacuum cleaners door to door.

Learn to anticipate objections and to defuse them. Learn to dimensionalize the value – both practical and emotional — your product brings to people’s lives. Practice minimizing the price and master asking for the sale.

How do I know it’ll help you become a better copywriter? I’ve done it, that’s why! In grade school, I sold greeting cards door to door. In my teens, I sold buying club memberships door to door. In my early 20s, I sold cars for a Chrysler dealership in Tulsa and video production services in Los Angeles.

Believe me: That experience will help you become a better copywriter than any guru’s book, course or conference ever will.

So get your sales chops. The best copy cubs I ever had were mediocre writers. A couple of them were downright lousy at grammar, spelling and punctuation. But they had a knack for persuasion and for creating desire in their readers.

Once you’ve mastered those two all-important skills, you’re 99% of the way home. The rest can be handled by a proofreader.

Lie #2: “Copywriting is ‘the lazy man’s way to riches.'” Uh … come again???

In my not-so-humble opinion, too many folks these days try to sell copywriting courses and conferences by painting vivid mental images of the copywriter as a gentleman or gentle lady of leisure.

No bosses … no office hours … no rules. Get rich writing at home in your underwear or on the beach sipping a mai tai in your Speedos. Start when you want, call it a day when you want, take a day, a week or a month off when you want.

Reality check, PUH-LEEZE!

First off, it takes years of hard work to become a great copywriter – first, learning the ropes … second, selling yourself to a client … and third, applying what you’ve learned in the real world.

Second, the “be your own boss” thing is just nuts. If you’re going to be a freelance copywriter, you’re going to have more bosses than you can shake a stick at – and every one of them is going to want a piece of you.

For one thing, every chairman, president, group publisher, marketing director, marketing manager, compliance officer, secretary and janitor at every company you’ll ever write for is just dying to get his or her itchy little fingers on your copy.

Memorize this – I don’t know who said it first:

The most intense human desire is NOT for air, or water, or food or sex.

It’s one human being’s yearning to change another’s copy.

… But WHY?

My theory: It’s simple office politics. They have everything to gain and nothing to lose by fiddling with your copy.

If a hireling at a client’s company makes a change and your copy does well, they can take the credit. They could suddenly find themselves on the fast track for the big promotion and raise, the corner office, the company car and the uber-hot personal assistant.

… And of course, if they make a change and your copy bombs, they’re covered. After all; you’re the copywriter, so it’s YOUR fault. See? They have nothing to lose!

Meanwhile, as a copywriter, your job is to humor every one of your bosses without allowing them to mangle your sales copy or diffuse its clarity of vision.

And to do that, you’ll have to exercise the patience of a Job, the diplomacy of a Kissinger, and you’re gonna have to smooch mondo buttage.

And when all else fails, you need to have the stones to be as stubborn as a mule and as ferocious as a pit bull on steroids in the defense of your vision.

Now, about that “work when you want, take off when you want” thing, there are a couple of things you should be aware of …

First: Every month, a disgruntled postal employee stuffs a bunch of envelopes – called “bills” into your mailbox. Each one of them has a due date printed on it. Your job is to get the money to pay each of them before that due date.

That means you’re probably going to have to go to work for it; whether you “feel like it” or not.

Second: Every one of your clients is in love with irritating little things called “deadlines.” A deadline is a date they give you on or before which you are to have your copy done. If you don’t deliver, it bollocks up their promotional schedule – not just this month, but for the entire year.

Blowing deadlines and then explaining that you were enjoying your “copywriter’s prerogative” to work whenever or wherever you damn well feel like it will NOT earn you many repeat assignments.

Bottom line is, producing great copy takes the energy and work ethic of a floor trader and attention to detail and intense concentration of an air traffic controller.

Now, maybe YOU can do all that a few hours a day or while ogling babes on the beach – not me.

A few months ago, my cherished friend Gary Bencivenga dropped an e-mail into my inbox at 4:30 AM – and I responded immediately.

“Isn’t it interesting,” replied The Great Gary, “that two of the world’s most accomplished copywriters are already at their desks at this hour?”

Interesting, yes. Surprising? I’ll leave that up to you.

Lie #3: “You’ll begin making the big bucks right away.” Maybe … but probably not.

Think about it for a moment: As a copywriter, you only make money when you make other people money – right?

But when you’re starting out, you’re most likely going to be COSTING everyone who hires or copy chiefs you a not-so-small fortune.

Sorry – but let’s be honest here: There are only three reasons why anyone would hire a newbie:

1) He’s clueless about what makes for great copy …

2) He’s too cheap to pay what a copywriter with a real track record would charge him …

3) In very rare cases, if the client is a copywriting expert himself, he may see some promise in you and hope that the hundreds of excruciatingly painful hours he or she will have to spend reading, critiquing and editing your copy will eventually make him money.

In any case, your contribution to this process is not worth six figures a year – and it’s sure as heck not worth seven!

To the contrary: If the world were a fair place, you’d be paying for the education you’re getting.

Think about this for a moment …

>> Before becoming a freelance copywriter, Gary Bencivenga worked for years as a junior copywriter – first for David Ogilvy, then for Dan Rosenthal.

>> Arthur Johnson started out as a newbie copywriter at The Franklin Mint – making, I’m sure, a tiny fraction of what he makes today.

>> Jim Rutz, Kent Komae, Brad Petersen and David Deutsch all worked at marketing or advertising agencies as in-house copywriters for years before hanging out their freelance shingles.

>> Carline Anglade-Cole, a marketing director at Phillips Publishing, began by writing sales copy on staff before she set out on her own.

>> Heck – I spent years working as an in-house copywriter at a Los Angeles agency before starting my freelance business!

My advice: If you can’t find a senior freelance writer to copy chief you … get a flippin’ job!

I’m serious. Thousands of direct response agencies and companies are hungry for promising staff writers. You may have to relocate. You may even have to take a temporary cut in pay.

But …

>> You’ll be immersed in copywriting and marketing every working day…

>> You’ll have your copy critiqued by folks who know what they’re doing and who have a lot to teach you…

>> You’ll add tons of real-life promotions to your portfolio that will help you find freelance clients later on and…

>> You’ll make a living wage learning a skill that can be worth millions to you for the rest of your life.

If you’re willing to do all of the above – and if you have either spec assignments or live samples that prove you have promise, I’d start applying for a job at every direct response company and agency I could think of..

Do whatever it takes. It’s worth it!

Well now … ain’t I just a ray of sunshine today …

If I rained on your parade, please forgive me. But the simple truth is, pursuing a copywriting career is NOT a get-rich-quick scheme.

However, the choice to become a copywriter can be the single best idea you ever had.

In 1974, I was a dead broke, out-of-work high school dropout with a wife and two kids. I got a job at an agency and for five years, made a living wage.

My first month on my own, I made more money than I’d earned in a year at the agency.

A couple of years later, I was doing a quarter million a year plus royalties.

Fifteen years later, I was doing a million a year.

Others have done it faster. As I’ve mentioned before, Carline Anglade-Cole made six figures her very first year as a freelance copywriter, and does about $800,000 a year today.

So whatever you do, do NOT be discouraged. If you need encouragement, just look at how far you’ve come; all the stuff you know now that you didn’t know a year ago.

Resolve to do whatever it takes in the short term to reap the long-term rewards. Stick with it. Redouble your efforts. Refuse to accept anything but success.

Take my word for it:

The first time a client wires six figures into your bank account to pay you for two weeks’ work, you’ll be glad you hung in there.

Addicted To Age Of Chaos

I awake with a start and turn to face the clock. It is 6 am on a Friday morning and I have slept fitfully. My wife and daughter are fast asleep, and my radio alarm is not due to activate for another 80 minutes. And yet I am wide awake and already reaching for my tracksuit trousers and woolly jumper.

On the way to the kitchen I detour to my little office and turn on the PC, pulling the door closed on my way out so that the sound of its many decrepit old fans whirling away does not wake my family. I return 5 minutes later with a mug of steaming sweet coffee . I browse to the Age of Chaos Website and log in to my account.. My alternative life as lord of a small Human settlement in a land of savage beasts and weird creatures begins once more.

Age of Chaos (AoC) is a Massive Multiple Player Online (Turn Based Strategy) Game with no graphics and no map. It’s entirely text based, the player simply interacts with a database, a list of peasants are allocated to tasks, which are basically building or gathering resources and information. Different buildings “blueprints” are purchased using resources, and then over a period of several turns, the empire’s builders gradually complete the chosen building. Each new building brings the empire more options, as simple as a new military unit, new knowledge to research, or a new list of buildings to start on. The winner of the game is the first person to complete the Royal Palace, a building which bestows Kingship, a building so huge that it requires millions of units of resources and takes as much building work as nearly all the other 80 buildings in the game added together. I have been playing AoC for three years, and last game I actually managed to be one of the few players who started the palace.

An hour later I turn on the TV, point the remote to CBeebies and start to prepare a beaker of milk and some tea, toast and orange juice. My addiction satisfied I am ready to face the day as a normal father/husband/IT Professional.

In my lunch break at work I check in to my empire of “ScissorFist” to see if anything has changed. My advisors are pleased to see me, they immediately report that the dirty criminals from a settlement of Orcs have been captured trying to steal from our meagre stockpile of cloth; they managed to get away with several bolts of cloth before they were caught. I have my minions send what remains of our cloth to market to sell it for gold, and I have my mages take a chance and cast a malicious spell upon the foul orcs, the casting of the spell succeeds, and it penetrates their magical defence! The Barren Grounds means that their farmers will find it difficult to make a living from the soil this season, and perhaps their master will think twice before stealing from me again. I notice a large amount of Armour for sale at the market, so I place a sizeable bid on the auction and log out for the afternoon.

AoC is one of many, very addictive web war/strategy games available to play for free on the web. The game is owned by a consortium of the players and the original author. The owners now make updates to the framework each Age. There is now a group of volunteer site Admin’s who moderate the forum and a separate “development team” who discuss the ideas produced by players of the game, and propose balancing amendments to the rules and the data behind the game. All the admin/moderators and group members give their time for free and many of the players pay a subscription fee of £1.10 (US$2) a month to have a premium account, which enables an automated message archive which records our news, such as the war reports of our empires and our seers’ views.

The Premium fees pay the rental on the server and keep the game free for the 700 non-Premium players who enjoy the game but who don’t pay to play. Only Premium members are also allowed play the regular special themed Tournaments. Many of the players donate extra cash on top of their Premium rates in order to offer AoC Scholarships to other players, many of these have gone to some of the gifted youngsters who play but are not able to buy their own accounts.

Late that evening my daughter has been played with, fed, bathed and put to bed, the dinner has been eaten and E.R. is on T.V. entertaining my wife. I slip into my study fire up the beast. My ally has sent a messenger asking me to spy on his enemy. I call in my seers and we scry upon the enemy in question, discovering his military prowess and his level of building. I pass the information to my messengers to return to my ally…who lives in the USA and for whom another day of addiction to AOC is just beginning… I compare the information I have just received from my seers with my own buildings…the enemy in question has far more swords in his army than I have shields…but is a long way behind me in terms of number of buildings.

If he chooses to attack me head on he might win, but he has no way to bypass my walls so he will take a lot of casualties….if he has siege engines they will be destroyed by my Ballistae before they ever breach my walls. He has no fleet with which to sail into my docks… and he has no magical flying beasts with which to fly over my walls. I am safe from him, just as he is safe from my puny offensive army of militia. My Archers and Pikemen offer me very good protection against the elves and dwarves marauding with their armies of Cavalry, Longbowmen, Chaos Spawn and Golems; but I cannot afford to use either troop against my enemies in order to take their land.

The gains would put me in range of my enemies above me, and I cannot yet afford to replace the casualties I would inevitably incur should I take them to battle. I must wait the three days it takes to build up another batch of turns so that I can complete the building of the Rangers Guild, Assassins Shelter and the Embassy, and then my lowly thieves can be trained as assassins to deliver propaganda and drug the soldiers of my enemies. The elite Rangers will serve as a suitable force with which to attack the upstarts below me and hold off the attacks of the larger more powerful military empires above me.

Each Age I spend hours planning my buildings path, my strategies, and how I will deal with the enemies I will encounter. I have played many games, and Age of Chaos is the one I cannot put down. It’s the cheapest, the simplest, the most addictive, and I hope to be able to play it forever.

For the last two Ages I have been playing as Human, my thieves and merchants are good, but I have no early racial warriors with which to attack, so I have to explore (buy) land and then attempt to defend it (rather than conquer it), I am playing the tactics as a slow plodding tortoise. After 6 Ages as a rampaging battle berserk Dwarf this is a refreshing change, but I don’t think my nerves will hold out well enough for me to try it for a third age in a row.

On Saturday afternoon I return from lunch at some friends’ to find that I have still not been attacked, even though I have high land and a relatively low defence. I won the auction for the Armour so I hire as many Archers as I can feed, and I proceed to take my turns building as fast as I can. Some maths comparisons of the scoreboard show me that for my size I am doing very well, but I am falling behind the offensive races 10 ranks above me, whose empires are 80% larger than mine. I decide to detour from my build path and build a few more buildings which I will need later, but which will help the trade of my empire, this is represented in the game by a direct bonus to the output of my merchants.

In the evening I return to my PC to chat to some of the other forum members online about a suite of documents we have been working on for the game. We have updated many of the game information pages, such as the racial descriptions for the game as the rate of development had been high for a few Ages and some of the information was out of date and guides were missing for the aspects of the game like Theft, Diplomacy, Seers, and the new “logical counters” in the military section of the game, such as a Pikemen blocking some Cavalry. Some of these players help the owner and admin’s of the game to keep things running.

The administrator/owner also has a full time job and life away from his PC,so we all help to get the documentation published, decide which changes and enhancements are highest priority each age.

Several days later I have completed the Embassy and Rangers Guild, and built my Ranger army. One of the dwarven empires that has been attacking me regularly is very surprised when he logs in to to find that his soldiers have been drugged in to a stupor, and that I now have better fighting units than him and in one battle have taken back from him as much land as he took from me in three attacks earlier in the game. I also messaged him saying I consider us “even” and have not told anyone else his armies are asleep, but if he visits my shores or battlements again then next time there will be escalated attacks from me, and I will make sure many of his other enemies catch him napping too. Hopefully I will get neither reply nor counter attack from his axemen over the coming days.

Now in real life I have never punched anyone, never stolen anything and never been inclined to take pleasure from another’s misfortune. And yet inside the realm of Age of Chaos I can give full vent to my feelings of frustration with my fellow man, when I first attacked someone I felt very guilty (I played my first 4 Ages as a very timid “Keldis” nation, insular, only buying land and building, never making War), but as I got attacked more and started to realise its OK to do those things in the game, I began to enjoy, even relish, the addictive nature of war and diplomacy and covert operations.

There are several exciting advances being discussed, coded, beta tested and implemented in the game over the rest of 2005 and beyond. By the time you read this article there could be Viking style pillage naval raids for peasants and resources, an all time scoreboard, new buildings and military units, advanced siege tactics, military units gaining power through experience, a log of your empire’s development building by building which can be saved at the end of the age for comparison by the player in future ages….there is even a project underway to allow the same game environment to run multiple games simultaneously, for instance a cut down version of the game for new players to practice in, and even the possibility of taking the game style into to new genres such as 20th Century Warfare, Romans v Barbarians, Sci-fi wars etc.

So another Age passes, again I did not win but this time I was closer than ever, and I managed to help several new players take top 20 positions too. And that for me is one of the keys to AoC, not only is the game fun, absorbing, constantly evolving and ultra addictive, indeed so too is the community who frequent it and the online forum is one of the most nurturing and enjoyable I have found in six years of ardent web surfing. There is an informal network of almost 24-7 support for new players, sharing experiences, tactics and ideas for the game.

Players from all over the world are online day and night forming alliances, making friends and discussing all aspects of life in general in addition to life in AOC. The latest trend seems to be fan fiction, people of all ages writing the excellent (and occasionally poker-faced-fabricated) stories of their empires and the events which unfold for them within the game, and their interactions with over 700 real humans who are managing their empires and striving for the crown and ultimate power in an Age of Chaos.

Every Age the game develops, new interface aspects, new User help features, new buildings, units, spells, logical counters, etc. The beauty of AOC is that it is owned and run by its players, for its players. Copyright Chip 2006 – –Chip 11:04, 4 January 2006 (GMT)