So, you’ve been honing up on your copywriting skills. You’ve written some practise letters for made-up companies. You’ve read the works of Dan Kennedy, David Ogilvy and Joe Sugarman. You’ve spent months posting on writing forums. You’re now ready to start looking for jobs. The question is, how?
Well, I’ve never been a huge fan of step-by-step formulas. I find they tend to oversimplify processes that should unfold organically. But because it would be impossible to list ALL the conceivable ways to find jobs right here on my blog, I’m going to outline a simple process that (I think) would land a budding copywriter some well paying gigs quickly (providing the requisite skills are in place, of course).
1. Put Together A Portfolio.
Since this article assumes you’re starting out with zero experience, your portfolio will of course initially consist of made-up pieces, or pieces you wrote for companies that never actually hired you to write anything for them. It’s not really so important that your portfolio be backed up by references, as that the quality of the work has to be good. So, put a lot of effort into assembling a portfolio, then publish your portfolio online. The website “Writer’s Residence” offers a simple portfolio template you can upload to a web server pretty easily:
2. Write A Solid Resume.
Resumes aren’t ALWAYS necessary when pitching clients, but they often help, and they never hurt. Check out jobsearch.about.com for some excellent tips on how to write a good resume. Remember to mention any writing experience you have, even if it’s just a student newspaper. Any little bit of experience helps.
3. Contact Advertising Agencies First.
I recommend that you start pitching by contacting any advertising agencies in your city, because these places are used to hiring freelance writers and won’t be surpirsed at all at your inquiry. You’re more likely to get a response from these people than from corporate communications departments, so you’ll have better experiences pitching them, which will help build confidence. Approach with a thoughtful cover letter stating your intention (to find freelance writing experience), and include your resume along with a few samples. Try not to be too formal in your approach, because agencies tend to have a fairly “lose” and creative type of atmosphere about them, which they will expect their writers to be able to relate to.
4. Create A Profile On Relevant Freelancing Sites.
The topic of freelancing sites is somewhat controversial among writers. On the one hand, there are writers who praise the readily-available work, fast payments, and guaranteed earnings. On the other hand, you have writers who lament the tendency of freelance sites to drive down wages. I’ll say right from the get go that I get at least 50% of my own work from freelancing sites, and I find them to be an invaluable resource for getting work fast. I also think that most of the claims about “low pay” are overblown; generally speaking, the clients on freelance sites who expect ridiculously low rates from their freelancers are really just looking for SEO fodder, not real content. Most of them also aren’t real businesses, just “weekend warrior” entrepreneurs who read The 4 Hour Workweek. In my experience, most “serious” clients pay rates commensurate with what agencies pay.
So, needless to say, I think it’s worth your while to sign up for Elance and Odesk (the two major freelance sites), upload a few samples, and start applying to jobs. I don’t expect you to make your entire income on these sites, but I do think you should at least keep your eye open for job openings that meet your needs.
5. Create A Website (Ideally A Blog), Publish Articles Regularly
I already sort of touched on this in the “portfolio” section, but I feel it deserves a second mention because there is much more to a good freelance writer’s website than just a portfolio. What you really want is a blog, full of articles that not only show off your writing chops, but also give readers an indication as to your thoughts on subjects like advertising, marketing, etc. This will show clients that you are not only a good writer, but also actively engaged in the world of marketing. Plus, once you get enough articles published, you’ll start getting found in Google, which may lead to you getting some nice leads!
6. Post On Messageboards Relevant To Topics Of Interest To You; Include A Link To Your Website.
Finally, I want to include one last tip that has been INCREDIBLY helpful to me. There are lots of freelance writing boards out there populated with freelance writers sharing tips and tricks on how to land jobs, while also sometimes sharing some nice juicy job leads. Post a link to your website in your signature file and you’re sure to land some jobs. Here are some links to these sites.
The Warrior Forum Copywriting Forum: An internet marketing forum with dozens of copywriters and HUNDREDS of potential clients. Very quick and easy source of jobs.
Absolute Write: A freelance writer’s forum, mostly dedicated to fiction writing but with some copywriting work going around as well.
Work At Home Moms: You don’t need to be a mom to post on this excellent freelance messageboard. Freelance writing jobs a-plenty can be found here!
Writer’s Weekly: Another great freelance writing board.
OK, so, it’s been… Uh, close to a year since I updated this blog. Since that’s a long ass break at best, or an act of extreme laziness at worst, I feel I should take a minute to explain where I’ve been.
Basically, I’ve been so busy growing my freelance business this past few months that I haven’t really had time for much of anything else. This past year, I went from part time to full time, and to generate more leads and more business to keep me busy, I spent a lot of time pitching clients on freelance sites, job boards, marketing forums, agencies and so on. To put it bluntly, I’ve been busier than a bee. And I’m loving it.
Of course, this actually ties in perfectly with the subject of this blog (copywriting as a career), so perhaps this “extended leave of absence” has been a blessing in disguise, providing me with additional insights to bring to the table.
Anyway, without any further ado, let’s get on to the main subject of this post:
Honing Your Skills As A Copywriter
Out of all the skills people use to start online freelancing businesses, copywriting tends to be the most popular.
Copywriting appears to lie at the intersection of fields that pay well, and fields that a lot of people could get started in with little training.
I don’t think it takes a lot of proof to show that good copywriters can command respectable fees. Anyone can see why effective sales copy is worth a lot of money, and if you’ve snooped around on freelancing sites much, you’ll know that direct response copywriting jobs typically pay a good bit more than other types of jobs.
Copywriting isn’t the only field that pays well, of course.
But what makes copywriting different from the other skills that people typically pay well for, is that it seems like something that just about anybody could do.
After all, YOU know how to write… don’t you?
How hard could it be to learn how to write something that makes a product or service sell?
It’s this line of reasoning that tends to lead a lot of would-be copywriters down the road to disappointment.
Although direct-response copywriting is not a highly technical skill, it is a skill that takes a while to learn. It takes a lot of practice and study to get good at copywriting, and most importantly, it takes an ability to empathize and connect with people that most technically-skilled writers do not actually possess. It’s been repeated many times before, but it bears repeating again: copywriting is selling. In fact, copywriting is so thoroughly and completely a form of selling, that you could almost say that if you’re a stereotypical reclusive “tortured artist” writer of short stories and human interest pieces, you shouldn’t get into it!
… But I’ll stop short of actually endorsing that statement.
The truth is, most people who try to become freelance copywriters fail; not for a lack of effort, but simply because their skills just aren’t there. And to be completely honest, this is a good thing: to build a copywriting business, you need to BE a good copywriter (i.e. good at writing prospecting e-mails and so on), so every copywriter who can’t land a gig spares his would-be clients a bad investment.
In other words, if you’re not landing any copywriting jobs, you probably shouldn’t be landing any copywriting jobs.
The good news is, copywriting is a very learnable skill. And, most of the resources you need to learn it (books and courses) are available for free. I’m not going to list all these resource in one place. But I will offer some tips that, I think, will get you headed in the right direction.
1. Read A Lot Of Ads
Read magazine ads, sales letters, TV commercial scripts… Anything that features quality copy can serve as effective instructional material. Pick up a copy of adweek magazine if you want to see some quality copywriting along with some ideas ABOUT copywriting in one place. If you want to write direct response copy, look at the sales letters for the top performing products on Clickbank.com.
2. Write Even If You Don’t Have Any Jobs Left
Just because you don’t have any jobs yet, doesn’t mean you can’t practice writing copy. Hone your chops by writing copy for imaginary businesses. Or better yet, write copy for real businesses (for free) and offer it to them as a sample. Not only will this get you some much needed practice, it may land you some real jobs down the road!
3. Be Your Own Copywriter
Here’s a question for you. Other than cold-calling, how do you land copywriting gigs? That’s right, by sending out pitches to clients! Writing pitches is itself copywriting, of course, so the more you pitch and tweak your e-mails, the better a copywriter you become. Talk about killing two birds with one stone!
4. Read “The Classics”
Lastly, as a copywriter, you’d be a fool not to learn from those who came before you. The copywriting field has many established classics that can shortcut your learning curve and save you having to learn the hard way. Here are some good ones to check out:
Advertising Secrets Of The Written Word, by Joe Sugarman
The Ultimate Sales Letter, by Dan Kennedy
Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets, by John Carlton
The Irresistable Offer, by Mark Joyner
Breakthrough Advertising, By Eugene Shwarz
All of these books will serve as great primers on copywriting tactics AND psychology, and are considered the “textbooks” of copywriting.
One Last Note
Before you go ahead and implement the advice in this post, I urge you to check out http://www.copyblogger.com, a website that has TONS of copywriting information available for FREE. This will spare you the expense of building up a library of books before you’re sure copywriting is for you.
Alright, that’s it for next week.
Be sure to check in next week, as I’ll be publishing the second installment in this series on copywriting as a career. The topic for the next section will be “Getting Jobs.”
Right now, I’m getting ready to launch a new blog.
I’m going to be giving advice on building a freelance career.
I’ve been hacking away at this freelance writing thing for several years now, and I think I’ve built up a large enough resevoir of experience to really bring some good insights for people who want to follow this path. One thing that’s clear to me at this point is that there are a LOT of people out there who want to really make freelancing–whether writing or something else–their living, and it’s clear that there is a huge demand for quality freelancing advice that’s not yet being met.
In a lot of ways, this comes down to the economic situation the world is facing these days. It’s pretty clear that some of the consequences of the late 2000s recession are structural, and one of those is the permanent decline in “secure” professional jobs in “developed” industrial countries. I don’t mean that there won’t be good jobs anymore, but rather that the college followed by professional job and marriage followed by retirement life plan is not as feasible for as many people as it once was. I mean, let’s face it: high paying jobs in most countries are NOT becoming easier to get, and MORE people are getting professional degrees at the same time as the number of jobs stagnate. Freelancing and other forms of entrepreneurship are going to become necessary for a lot of people to make a living going forward, and there’s no better way to give when you’ve had success than to share the path you’ve walked.
Hence, my freelance blogging project.
In the coming weeks, I’m going to roll out the first posts on this new blog (tentatively titled “Freelance Forward”).
In the meantime, I’m going to spend the next few days sharing my thoughts on my freelance copywriting career, and the lessons aspiring copywriters can learn from it.
If you’re interested in copywriting professionally, it’s something you’ll definitely want to look at.
I’ll be coming at you Tuesday with the first post in the series, and hopefully wrapping it up by Sunday.
Don’t miss it!
One of the most hotly debated topics in the world of copywriting today is that of video vs. text.
The controversy, it seems, it whether or not video sales letters will ultimately replace long form text sales letters in the world of direct-response marketing.
There are good enough reasons to think this will happen.
After all, video has many advantages:
- Watching a video takes less effort than reading a letter, so people are more likely to actually do it.
- Video engages the senses more than text does (sight and sound vs. just sight).
- Certain types of video sales letters (especially those with a face shot) can have the effect of building trust and personality in a way that text can’t.
Personally, I’m of the opinion that well-done video generally *does* out-pull well written text, provided the quality of the copy is held constant.
I’ve split tested enough sales letters to know that a good video always improves a sales letter’s conversion rate, which is why I’m getting into the habit of offering my clients a brief (1-2 minute) video along with their long form sales letter.
That being said, I don’t really think the era of the long form sales letter is over. In fact, quite the opposite.
As powerful as video is, I ultimately think it works better as a *complement* to text rather than as a replacement for it.
So there’s a stronger case to be made for COMBINING video with text rather than REPLACING one with the other.
Video alone may out-pull text alone, but a combination of video and text always out-pulls one or the other, hands down.
The case that really taught me this was my Warrior Forum “Warrior For Hire” sales thread (see here: http://www.warriorforum.com/warriors-hire/589913-sales-copy-high-converting-sales-copy-bargain-don-t-pay-full-until-converts.html#post6147333).
I started out with just sales text only, and it initially converted at just 3%.
I then cut out most of the text, using only a video with a few lines to explain how to order. After that, it actually went down slightly, to 2.7%.
Finally, I ran the whole long form sales letter along with a short, punchy video explaining the offer, and the conversion rate went up to 4.5%.
My split-testing was expensive, and I had at least 100 views for each version of the thread, so I can state these conversion rates as pretty definitive.
The question is, why did the long(ish) copy with the short video sell better than the long video with the short text?
The reason, I think, is that the “long form” structure generally works better for text than for video.
Think about it: video is supposed to be engaging and stimulating to watch; the minute it gets boring, you just turn it off.
Text is supposed to be interesting and tell you what you need to know; when it gets boring, you generally just skip ahead.
If you try to sell with just video, you’re losing the main advantage of text (lets readers skip ahead and get straight to the info they need).
If you try to sell with just text, you’re losing the main advantage of video (entertains viewers and reduces bounce rate).
The solution, then?
Short video to bait ‘em in, long letter to give ‘em the proof they need to buy.
Pretty easy, hey?
I bet you’re itching to try this out now, so I’m going to let you stop reading so you can go out and get your hands dirty.
In keeping with my promise to finally start writing posts on a regular basis, I’m going to keep you all posted with a continuation of my thoughts on storytelling.
This week, I’m going to focus less on the advantages and disadvantages of using stories, and more on the “how-to” side of the question.
So, without further ado…
… What Makes A Good Story
Have you ever asked yourself that question?
If your interested in writing at all, you probably have.
Storytelling comes into play in pretty much all forms of writing.
Copywriting, news writing, and of course fiction writing, all have their own characteristic styles of storytelling.
What’s common to all forms of storytelling, is that they all aim to engage the reader, elicit some kind of emotional or intellectual response.
Where they differ is in the specific responses they aim to get, and what they hope to use those responses for.
In journalism, stories are supposedly used to make the reader into an informative citizen (some would say that in practice, the real goal is to make them terrified of the world so they watch more TV news… but I digress).
In fiction, the goal is to create any combination of engrossing feelings that make the reader want to keep reading.
And the goal for direct-response copywriting?
“To Create A Feeling Of Urgent Desire In The Reader So They Place An Order Right Away.”
When you write direct-response copy for a product, your aim is to get the reader to take action right away.
So, any stories you weave in to your copy should serve the objective of creating that urgent desire to “have THIS product NOW!”
Of course, creating that desire is only half the battle.
You need a good close to get the reader to actually act on that desire.
But as far as storytelling is concerned, creating that desire is the main objective.
With that point established, I’m going to offer a few pointers on how to write a great story for your sales letter.
I’ve also got a video blog for you that covers some general ideas about good storytelling; you can check it out here:
How To Write A Great Story For A Sales Letter
Okay, so, you’ve got your sales letter outline ready and you need to write a story.
What do you do?
Well, there’s a lot of disagreement about how to best write a story, but most people would agree that the first step would be to identify the basic elements of the storyline.
Since you’re writing this story primarily to mirror the experiences of your readers and show them that you’ve been through what they’ve been through, you’ll probably want to do some background research and find out what kinds of experiences keep your ideal customer awake at night.
For that, you can easily refer back to your market research and ideal customer profile.
Once you’ve found out what experiences are going to resonate with your readers, you need to create a narrative that shows you’ve been through these experiences.
The best (and most ethical) way to do this is to have actually gone through these experiences yourself.
But if you haven’t, you can always ask someone who buys your products what led them to seek them out.
Once you’ve got the “problem” part of the story out of the way, you need to talk about how you found a solution.
The best thing to do here is to just talk about how you painstakingly pieced together a solution after years of reading, experimenting, and talking to successful people.
The reason this works is because it establishes your credentials, AND shows that you put a lot of work and thought into your solution.
After you’ve established how you built your solution, you can lead into a discussion of the product’s features and benefits, which will also serve as the conclusion of your story.
Of course, this is a highly simplified discussion of the vast topic of storytelling, but if you already have a decent writing style and understand the basics of direct-response copywriting, it will help you write effective sales letter stories.
I’ll be introducing a more in-depth discussion of the topic in my upcoming book, The Seven Secrets Of Successful Sales Copy, due for release in August 2012.
Until then, feel free to browse past installments of my blog for more ideas on research, outlining and writing, for ideas that can help you craft that perfect story.
Alright, that’s it for today.
God, I’ve been busy these past few weeks.
Finishing college, moving, going back to graduate…
… It’s been pretty hectic to say the least.
Thankfully, I’ve got everything straightened away now, so I’m looking forward to getting back to blogging at least once a week.
This week, I’m going to try something different: I’m going to deliver this post in the form of a video blog.
This is something I’m going to do a lot more of in the future, weaving video posts in with supplementary text.
For now, though, I’m just throwing the video out there as an experiment.
So without further ado…
As a copywriter, I naturally have some strong feelings about the advice that other copywriting “experts” give their students.
One popular piece of advice that I have decidedly mixed feelings about, is the idea of doing “DIY” copywriting for your own products.
This is an idea you’ll run into in some of the more popular copywriting handbooks out there, and it is definitely an idea that a lot of internet marketers tend to come up with independently.
The theory behind this advice goes like this:
“As the owner of your business, you understand your products and services better than anyone else; therefore, you will be more able to accurately communicate the benefits of using them than anyone else who is just learning about your business.”
This idea was popularized by one of the world’s most successful copywriters, Dan Kennedy, in his best-selling book”The Ultimate Sales Letter.”
Although I’m a huge fan of Kennedy’s work (he is one of my own top influences), I don’t really like this advice in particular, for three basic reasons:
1. The Style Element.
No matter how well you understand your business, there are stylistic aspects to copywriting that you can’t learn overnight. These include:
- Writing style (engaging and conversational vs. dry and boring).
- Visual style (positioning of text, healines, bullet points, etc).
It takes a lot of practice to learn each of these elements; so, if you need copy now, it’s better to hire someone who knows them, than to try and “DIY.”
2. Some businesses are built around affiliate programs and/or resell rights.
Actually, I think that most people who get into internet marketing get started by taking on affiliate programs, promoting products that they themselves did not play any role in creating.
Now, of course, when you promote affiliate programs, you can always direct your customers to the main vendor’s download page, using their copy to drive your own profits. However, you are going to want website, blog, and e-mail copy to get people interested in the products you’re promoting. When running affiliate campaigns like these, you don’t have any information advantage or special insights into the benefits of your products; so, that’s not going to give you an edge in writing the copy.
3. Even when you’ve made a product yourself, you don’t necessarily know what aspects of it are going to appeal to people.
This is one thing that consistently amazes me when I interview clients who own their own businesses and products. So many times, they have an absolutely fantastic product that they just can’t sell, because they don’t know who the customer is. A great example of this is the Silicon Valley entrepreneur Paul Graham, who didn’t know that his startup was geared toward direct marketers, until well after he had created the main product.
A good copywriter knows how to identify the key benefits of your product that will appeal to consumers. This is something you may need help with, particularly if you’ve developed a product based on a business idea you read somewhere, rather than an industry you have lots of experience in.
Now, before I conclude, I must stresss one thing: this article is not meant to dissuade you from writing copy for your own products. If anything, I recommend that you give it a try, especially if you’re a good writer with sales experience. But remember that in many areas, the “DIY” approach comes with hidden costs, and copywriting is definitely one of these areas.