Let’s start out today with a reminder: Just because someone is loud, doesn’t mean they’re right. Also, just because something is prevalent, doesn’t mean it’s correct. We can agree on those, right?
Okay, good. Because today we’re going to bust some very prevalent myths and debunk some very popular pieces of advice. Why? Because not only are they wrong, but they’re actually much more likely to significantly hinder your copywriting career than to advance it.
So let’s dig in!
1. You need to choose a niche to be successful, and you need to choose one immediately.
Here’s why that’s dead wrong: When you are first starting out in copywriting, you don’t know yet which industries you want to work in or which types of writing you’ll enjoy. You might love travel, but find that writing copy for the travel industry isn’t your thing. And you just can’t know until you do it. You also don’t know for sure which narrow niches have enough work to support you!
And here’s another thing: If you choose a niche and fill your portfolio up with samples applicable to that niche, if a creative director or hiring manager from a different industry comes to your portfolio to evaluate your skill, they’re going to think you won’t want to (or, worse, can’t) write for a different industry—even if that’s work you’d love to get!
Choosing a niche when you’re just starting out unnecessarily limits your opportunities.
When you’re new to copywriting, you need to create a portfolio with as much depth and breadth as you can to showcase how flexible your skills are. Then, later, after three or four years as a professional copywriter, you can choose a niche if you want to. But also, you never have to choose a niche if you’re not feeling it.
2. You should use job bidding sites like Upwork to find clients.
Here’s why that’s a bad idea: I get it. It seems like the perfect solution for finding work! Someone who wants copy work done goes on these sites and posts their jobs and then you just respond that you’re ready and willing to do it! So easy!
But that’s not really how it works. What actually happens is that someone posts a job and then you have to spend time putting together a decent, personalized proposal. The problem is, of course, that anywhere from a handful to dozens of other copywriters are doing the same thing. And, because of that competition, people are bidding as low as they can and you end up having to decrease your standard rates just to be competitive.
People who post jobs on sites like that are looking for decent skill at the lowest price they can get and spending your time crafting proposals to try to get work like that is a recipe for disillusionment.
The ratio with sites like these—one job for many copywriters—is bad for you. Instead, you need to switch the ratio around—one copywriter (you) with many opportunities—by taking control of the process. Proactively pitching potential clients (clients who, by the way, want you to pitch them) allows you to control both your rates and your workflow, two keys to being successful as a copywriter.
3. You should create one good pitch email and send it out to a ton of companies to save time.
Here’s why that’s a waste of time: If the last point sold you on pitching instead of blind-competing for work, great, you’re headed on the right path. But if you’ve heard another piece of advice, that you need to create one pitch letter and send it out to as many companies as possible, you’re following the wrong advice.
In a way, yes, it is a numbers game; the more good pitches you send out, the higher the chances of getting positive responses. But I’m talking about good pitches: Pitches that are personalized, pitches that demonstrate an understanding of the company/brand, pitches that offer ideas that prove your expertise. Mass email pitches don’t contain any of those things. They’re lazy. And they’re easy to spot—which also makes them easy to delete. (And easy to mark as spam!)
Plus, why do you need to send out hundreds of emails at a time? Even if you (somehow) got a response from 5% of them, you wouldn’t have the bandwidth to talk with them!
You’ll get so much better results from crafting good, personal pitches and sending a handful out a day consistently.
4. You should offer to work for free to build your experience.
Here’s why that’s is such a huge mistake: When you’re first starting out, you don’t have a lot of samples—or a lot of confidence. And that leads some copywriters to offer to work for free to prove their skills. But instead of demonstrating confidence in your abilities, you’re devaluing them.
Your potential client isn’t thinking, “Wow, she must be really good—she’s willing to work for free!” Instead, she’s thinking, “How good can she be if she’s willing to work for free?” It makes it clear that you’re very new and very inexperienced, and, in your would-be client’s mind, this likely equates to “not very good.”
Also, if you start out your sales pitch by offering to work for free…why would anyone pay you? Or, at least, why would they pay you a good rate? You’ve already told them that you are more than happy to work for free. It would be ludicrous for them to say, “No, no, let me pay you $50 an hour instead.” At the very least, they’re going to feel like they’re doing you a favor by offering to pay you $10 an hour.
You didn’t get into a good-paying career to work for free! First, make sure that you’ve got the skills to write copy well. Then, create a portfolio with spec ads that demonstrate your copywriting skills even before you’ve gotten many (or any) paid clients.
There’s no need to work for free when you’re good at what you do. New surgeons don’t work for free just because they haven’t operated many times! Prove yourself with great spec samples in your portfolio and then command a reasonable rate.
Your turn! What other “advice” about copywriting have you heard that’s got you wondering if it’s true? Let me know in the comments below!