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I received the following email from a new freelance copywriter. I thought I’d share her question and my response to help others embarking on their freelance writing career.
— Susan Greene
I work in an entry-level position for a media firm where I assist on jobs for clients and help out with related tasks of an administrative nature. My dream is to become a copywriter.
Sadly, my boss doesn’t respect me as a copywriter, despite my best efforts to prove to him I have the writing chops to succeed. His philosophy is that you aren’t a “professional copywriter” unless you’ve had years and years of experience.
Ironically, while I write copy here occasionally as part of my job, they send what I write to a “professional” freelancer to re-write, because they don’t think it’s good unless it’s been passed through someone who can really write.
It’s an issue of contention I’ve had here for a while. I don’t mind critiques, either, I just disagree with the viewpoint that because I don’t have any of big names in my portfolio or a ton of experience, I fundamentally suck.
Any advice on how I can make the jump from what is essentially customer service work to professional copywriter?
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My heart goes out to you. I have been there myself!
It’s called paying your dues, and yeah, it sucks! My first “real” job was at an ad agency. I was hired as an account coordinator, whatever that is. The boss was an ass and felt like it was his mission to “break me,” almost like the army does to new recruits.
He knew all I ever wanted was to be a writer, so he went out of his way to belittle me and even to tell me I had no talent, no chance of ever making it in the field. He said all this although he had never read anything I’d written other than my resume.
I had to keep reminding myself of that so I didn’t buy his b.s. He did everything he could to make me into his personal secretary. He had me typing up memos, making photocopies, filing and running out to buy him lunch, etc.
When after 2.5 years he reluctantly allowed me to become a copywriter, he gave me a small raise that was less than all the other copywriters were making, and he refused to tell anyone I was promoted. It was “our secret.” So naturally I got no respect from the designers and other writers. They continued to regard me as an account coordinator, one who seemed to be overstepping her bounds.
He even finally agreed to order me business cards, which I thought was a major victory until the printed cards came in and he’d listed my title as Account Executive, intentionally not giving me the title I wanted and had earned — copywriter.
All the time I worked for this jerk, I was hustling freelance business on the side. In fact, some of the work was writing articles for local weekly newspapers and magazines. I know he must have seen my byline, as I even intentionally left some of the publications open on my desk, but we never spoke about it.
Getting those first few freelance jobs was really hard, but I kept at it. At about the three-year point, I quit the ad agency to start my own business. I thought I left on good terms but later found out the jerk told everyone he fired me. Nice. Guess that made him feel like a big man. Whatever. I haven’t looked back. But as you can probably tell, some of the scars and feelings of inadequacy remain.
Okay, didn’t mean to turn you into my therapist. Just wanted you to know that most people have stories like this in their background.
Paying one’s dues sucks, but you have to remember it’s a temporary situation. You are fortunate to have a job in your field and one with benefits. Believe me when I tell you so many people would gladly change places with you. So hang in there. Don’t let the doubters get into your head. And keep looking for opportunities to build your career. You will find them.
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