Freelancing Skills: 7 Things I Learned During My First Year as a Copywriter

When I think about my first year as a copywriter, I see in my mind’s eye…

  • The way the screen and keyboard looked, the first time I sat down to a computer to… dun, dun, dun… write a sales letter.
  • Drinking mug after mug… okay… it was actually more like a vat… of coffee, just so I’d have an excuse to get up from my desk.
  • The hours I spent going through all my client’s products… reading the ebooks… doing the exercises… actually getting the result, so I’d know what to write about.
  • Experimenting with all sorts of music, trying to figure out what music was fun and motivating… without squashing my creativity. (Answer? Belly dancing music, on repeat, for hours a day.)
  • The printed pages spread all over my kitchen table and floor… me, holding highlighters in several colors… trying to find out if anything I wrote made sense.

Now that I look back on that first year as one big picture, the feeling that stands out the most for me is sheer panic.

I wanted to be good.

It felt like everything was riding on me proving to myself–and to my clients–that I was actually worth what they were paying me… and hopefully much more.

But the years have gone by and I’ve gotten smarter about what to worry about.

The short version is: Worry about the things that make a difference for getting results. Ignore everything else.

Here’s a brief tour of “cold hard lessons I learned my first year,” starting with…

  1. Verb tenses matter, but only kinda sorta…. because they’re much less important than having a good idea. In my first ever sales letter, I sweated bullets about getting the tenses lined up. I had my “have been” jumbled with my other to-be verbs, but I couldn’t think of a better way to write it. Ultimately, did it matter? No. That sales letter still runs to this day. So, it must be converting.
  2. Monthly income is magical. In my first year, I lucked into a steady client right away, through the power of networking. That steady income gave me the freedom to freak out over all the other first year struggles, while financially staying afloat.
  3. Results matter, but relationships matter more. Were my first letters perfect? No. Were they good enough to get the results I needed for my customer, at a price point she was happy with? Absolutely. I still remember the day she texted me while I was at a jazz festival to say, “Look! The letter is up. Doesn’t it look beautiful?” And it was beautiful. It was a perfect moment.
  4. Automate with simple, free (or nearly free) tools. Anything more than that is overkill and you’ll spend more time managing your tools than managing your business. Calendly for scheduling. Paypal for invoicing. Gmail for email. Google docs for your portfolio. A simple website hosted on GoDaddy. And for the first year, that’s all you need.
  5. Always have a follow-up call with your client to get results and maintain rapport. You never know when those simple, “Hey, it was nice to work with you” calls will come back to benefit you. I got a lead this week from a client I worked with two years ago. It pays to stay in touch with people.
  6. Go make mud. In your first year, write in any niche that catches your fancy. Write all kinds of copy. Slap it all together in your portfolio. You’re just trying to prove the model and find out what you love. You can always “niche down” later.
  7. Commit to only having ONE thing that you’ll accomplish every day. In my first year, I met with my writing biz-builder coach every week, on a group call. I learned more from listening to other people’s problems than I did airing out my own problems. 

The format was: “What’s your win? What’s your challenge? What’s the one thing you’re going to get done this week?” 

Over time, I adapted that format to the daily “one thing.” Don’t get me wrong, I keep a to-do list, as well. But the list only contains one Must Do item. Everything else is playing for “bonus points.”

What to do now: If you’d like to know more about how a former 9th grade Algebra teacher helps multi-million-dollar businesses increase sales with simple “teach for action” techniques, then go to

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