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What Does Success Look Like for a Freelance Copywriter?


People define success differently. How you measure it in your life is up to you. Consider the viewpoints below.

define success as a copywriter

Create your own definition of success as a freelance copywriter.

Do you ever get to a point where you realize you’ve mastered copywriting skills and you feel you know enough?

I recently watched an episode of the news show “60 Minutes.” The story was about Paul McCartney. After citing how wealthy he is (over a billion dollars!) and all that he’s accomplished in his 76 years (32 Billboard #1 songs, 21 Grammys, sales of over 200 million singles and albums), the reporter asked him, “Why are you still working so hard?” And he replied “I’m trying to get better.”

The reporter said, “But you’re a Beatle!” McCartney replied “Just like anyone else, you have insecurities, no matter how high and great and wonderful you get, there’s always something that makes you worried.”

The reporter asked who he was trying to impress. He said, “Everyone, I suppose. It’s impossible but it doesn’t stop me from trying.” And then he added, “I quite like thinking I’ve not done good enough yet.”

So, what’s my point? If Sir Paul McCartney isn’t yet good enough at his profession, then how can mere mortals like you and me say we’ve ever reached our peak?

How do you stay motivated?  Do you have to be self-disciplined since you’re not working toward a promotion or a raise and nobody is keeping an eye on your productivity other than yourself?

I tend to be self-disciplined. That’s my personality. I have a strong work ethic; I’m driven. Some might even say I’m a bit of a workaholic. I get things done. I make things happen. I like the feeling of accomplishing something, of completing what I start and perfecting my work down to the last detail.

Many people think that when you’re self-employed, you get to sleep in and take days off whenever you want. The truth is you’ll probably work more hours than for an employer. But you’ll do so happily because it’s helping you increase your income.

Having said that, whether you’re a copywriter or in some other profession and want to going into business for yourself, you must be self-disciplined and self-motivated or you won’t be successful.

What is the most important advice you could give someone considering becoming a full-time, self-employed professional copywriter?

Be sure you love to write. Just because you received an “A” in Freshman English or your grandma raved about the letters you sent her from summer camp when you were 10 doesn’t mean you should be a copywriter. Also your ability to edit someone else’s copy doesn’t make you a good copywriter either. 

Writing is hard work. There are many times when I’ve struggled with an assignment and thought, “Ugh! My life would be so much easier if I just sold widgets!”

Writing is about making something out of nothing. Creating isn’t everyone’s calling. If it feels overwhelming to you, a chore you find ways to avoid, then you might want to go in another direction career-wise.

For me, writing is what I’ve always loved and excelled at. In fact, I can’t think of anything else that even comes close in terms of my skills.

I’ve been having a love affair with words since I learned to read at age 5. I like the idea of creating something out of nothing. I write every day, whether on client work or some personal writing task. And nothing makes me feel more confident and accomplished than successfully completing a writing assignment.

The writer Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing; I love having written.” I totally get that.

The prolific author Isaac Asimov was once asked in an interview with Barbara Walters, “What would you do if you only had a year to live?” He said, “Type faster.”

If you’re nodding your head “yes” because that sounds like you, then I’d say you’ve got a good start on a successful writing career.  Just remember, a true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.  So get to work!

What is something you know now that you wish you had known starting out? 

I alluded to this earlier. Have the guts to take risks. Say “yes” even when you’re unsure of yourself.

I remember turning down some writing jobs because I had limited experience and lacked confidence. They were outside my comfort zone. I was afraid of failing.

Later I’d see the finished project, handled by another freelance writer, and think, “I could have done that.” I stopped saying no just because something was unfamiliar to me. Read the story below and you’ll see how to approach new types of work and overcome your fear of failure.

Say Yes Now, Figure It Out Later

One of the copywriters to whom I refer my overflow does a lot of writing in the beauty industry, mostly for skincare products. One of the first gigs I sent her was a skincare company that wanted us to write copy for its label. She panicked and asked me to please refer the client to someone else because even though she’d written websites and brochures for  skincare companies, she’d never written label copy.

I said, “Go to your bathroom and get a bottle of moisturizer right now.  Then come back. I’ll wait.”

She returned a minute later. I asked, “Did you get the bottle of moisturizer?”

She said, “Yes.”

I said, “Now read it. I’ll wait.”

After about a minute she said, “Done.”

I said, “Good, now you know how a label should read. I’m referring the client to you.”

Ever since then, I’ve probably sent her 30+ clients requesting label copy. She loves those gigs because they’re small, easy jobs with a decent profit margin. Forcing herself to go outside her comfort zone and learn something new opened a door to new kinds of projects she could accept and therefore new sources of revenue.

Get the picture? Whatever the client wants, say “yes” and then figure it out. 

Freelancers have different definitions of success (full-time income, supplemental income, family time, freedom to explore other interests). What’s yours? 

I come from a long line of entrepreneurs/small business owners. From the time I was little, my goal was to work for myself. In my early jobs for employers, I didn’t like that someone else controlled my time, my activities and my salary. So for me, success as a freelance copywriter meant making enough money to never have to go back to working for an employer.

What’s one of the mistakes you made along the way to becoming a successful freelance copywriter or perhaps something you wish you’d done differently?

I wish I’d hired a copywriting coach in the early days. I tried figuring out everything on my own – how to get clients, what to charge, how to position myself competitively, what business model to use, how to be a better writer, etc. It was a slow process and I made plenty of mistakes.

A coach, someone who’s already traveled that path, could have helped me shorten that learning curve. I could have been more successful sooner.

Is there a copywriting coach you’d recommend today?

Two coaches come to mind. I’ve followed their careers online, read their books and subscribed to their blogs. If you’d like their names and contact information, email me and I’ll provide it.

Is there anywhere you can recommend where I can get more information about becoming a copywriter?

On my blog, I offer a great deal of information for aspiring copywriters and also established copywriters.

tree wisdom

Plant the seeds now for a successful future.

If you were to give one piece of advice to a freelance copywriter just starting out, what would it be?

A popular Chinese proverb says: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”

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