My copywriting journey.And how it means I can help you with yours.
So you want to be a copywriter, huh?
Well who can blame you. It’s interesting, challenging, fun and, if you do it right, lucrative.
But you have questions.
You can see it’d be a great occupation.
But can it be a great job, too? More than that, could it be a great career?
Can you earn enough money out of it now? And if you can, can you keep that up, month after month? How about year after year?
How can you get started? How do you find clients? How do you convince them to trust you? Will AI kill your career before its even really started? Where do you learn all the things you need to know? Who should you follow? What should you read?
In short, who can you trust?
I get it. It’s a long time ago, but I’ve been a young copywriter.
I came off of a Graphic Design degree in 1981 having spent half of my three years there falling in love with advertising; not with the business of art direction – how the ads looked – so much as with the combination of what they showed with what they said. With the copy.
I graduated with a friend who was funny, handsome and ridiculously gifted, and somehow diverted him from the career he’d yearned for in photography, to a lucrative career in advertising.
We became a creative team – an art director and a copywriter – the universal shape into which the creative talent in advertising agencies was organised.
My friend could draw – a big plus in those days for visualising ad concepts – so he became the art director. As I could write a little, I became the copywriter.
And that was it.
Young & Rubicam in London offered us that year’s standard beginner’s salary to join them, but Hall Advertising, a creative and much awarded agency in Edinburgh, Scotland, offered us significantly more and the deal was done.
I was a professional copywriter.
I spent 18 years being just that – a copywriter, then a creative group head, then a creative guy who was on the boards of the agencies I worked at and, a couple of times, a creative director.
I adored it. Newspaper ads. Magazine spreads. Radio commercials. Outdoor ‘posters’. TV commercials. Movie theatre (cinema) commercials. I wrote them all. I practised and practised and practised. I read every book I could lay hands on.
But those things were all I wrote, because I was an advertising copywriter.
Anything less exciting – a brochure, in-store, direct mail – was what we called ‘below the line’. Other people did that. Usually in other, less glamorous firms.
It was great... until it wasn't.
I won awards. I became visible. I pushed my own PR. I was trusted by the agencies I worked for to help lead their clients. I earned money that, in those days, was huge. Not that seemed huge. That was huge.
Then in 1999, the agency I’d spent 5 years at, fired me.
Why? Because the new creative boss sent in from the US was an idiot who understood nothing about the market he’d come into and cared even less about finding out… and I made my view on this pretty clear.
The good part, though, was that when I got fired, they gave me money. A year of money.
And I decided I was never going to work for anyone else, or get fired by another idiot, again.
The good thing about bad things.
I went home, and thought. Thinking is underrated by people who want to work for themselves. I thought. I researched. I read. I spoke to people. I listened to people.
It took me time, but as the mist cleared it became obvious to me that I should be what I’d always been – a copywriter. Only this time… a freelance copywriter. And, for the last 24 years, that’s exactly what I’ve been.
In that time, I’ve worked with more than 500 clients in over 30 countries on six continents, raised over 2000 invoices, and written websites, landing pages, email marketing campaigns, video scripts; advertising, social media and ppc campaigns; brochures; decks and probably as many more that I’ve forgotten.
I’ve earned a really nice living, and been there, in my home office, day after day while my kids went through school and university and set off on their own, successful careers.
The thing is, when I started my business, I had never written any of the things I’ve listed. (Remember that in 1999 the internet as a marketing channel was still in its infancy, Google had not yet been invented, and Social Media was far, far in the future.)
But I’d never even written a brochure or a sales letter. I’d written ads. For big clients with huge budgets. Yet the clients I was talking to now were small, with small budgets, and they didn’t want TV commercials.
So I learned. I caught up by learning to write the things I’d never written. I learned to write the new online things as they came along by immersing myself in the whole exciting and fast expanding landscape of digital, finding out how it worked, what worked… and what did not.
I learned how to be in business, too. How to set up. How to market myself. How to quote fair prices for work. How to negotiate. How to protect myself. And I learned how to work with clients, from the first contact through to building relationships that, in some cases, have lasted – and earned me fees – for more than a decade.
That’s the good thing about bad things.
They can lead you down new paths to really great things.
You and me.
So… now I’m 64 and I’ve been a copywriter for 42 years. I’m not planning to stop, any time soon. But I’m thinking it’s time to share some of what I know. (You learn a lot about anything if you do it for 42 years!)
I’m not – definitely not – one of those “eight figure income the week after you start as a copywriter knowing absolutely nothing” copywriting gurus the internet now seems to be full of.
I’m a grown up, pro copywriter, who’s already had two fantastic copywriting careers (the freelance one and the agency one), and who still finds new business enquiries in his inbox just about every single day.
I’m even, if you take notice of such things (which I do not), listed by a whole bunch of people as one of the best copywriters… in the world!
So you decide.
If you’re looking for a ‘get rich quick guru’ who’s never written anything at all for real clients, but who’s teaching copywriting formulas and easy to see through hacks, and maybe taking big bucks off people for doing so, then sorry… I’m not that guy.
But if you’d like to do this properly, to learn as you go and get smarter and more valuable as a copywriter, so you can get better jobs, or earn higher fees winning bigger projects from more exciting clients, stay with me.
Sign up for my newsletter. Watch my videos. And maybe, one day soon, there’ll even be a course.
London, UK, October 2023