Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Promises, Promises

Over at the Well Fed Writer blog, I saw a post about an ad for a copywriting program that offers, well, let's just say pie-in-the-sky promises if only you'll pay for their class. This got me thinking about the copywriting career as a whole--and how we're prey to a lot of over-hyped marketing. People with experience just roll their eyes at this stuff. But some beginners may actually buy it. Which is why I feel it's my duty as an elder-sister-in-freelancing to some of you (even though I may not actually be older than you or your sister) to point out promises that you'll regularly see in these programs--that, trust me, are not true.

You don't have to actually know how to write to be a freelance writer! This is one I see kicking around sometimes. That you need only "simple" writing skills to make it as a freelance writer. I disagree. You're not writing novels here, true. But you do need to be a strong writer. You need to understand marketing and how to write in different tones to different audiences. You need to combine good business sense with good writing skills. And you need to UNDERSTAND grammatical rules inside and out to know the effect you're having when you break them--to get a more conversational tone, for instance. And you need to be creative to write catchy headlines and taglines. Granted, you won't necessarily have to write taglines in all jobs--but what copywriting project doesn't involve some kind of headline?

You can make a ton of money right away! This one is everywhere, and it always makes me laugh. Sure, there are plenty of copywriters who make a lot. But there are many more--especially in their first years--who don't make that much. The speed with which you find success depends on your marketing and sales ability, knowledge of your market, existing contacts, ability to differentiate yourself, and the market you're targeting--among other things. It's different for everybody. Granted, I was solvent a month after quitting my job--but I already had been freelancing part-time for a year before quitting and I had VERY low living expenses at the time and zero debt.

There are a ton of businesses just ACHING For a good freelancer! Yes, many different businesses need freelancers. But many of them need convincing as to why they should use a freelancer in the first place. There are plenty of companies who already use freelancers--and they usually have a stable of trusted ones they work with. Not to sound discouraging, but it will take some work to break into your markets. You might luck into a few clients--but the majority of your work isn't necessarily low-hanging fruit.

Work on the beach! Or in the park! Or in a coffee shop! Could you imagine actually taking your laptop to a beach? I'd be petrified the whole time. Of course, you can work in different places--as long as you can find an Internet connection or a plug-in for when your battery laptop dies. And working in coffee shops all the time will definitely run up your tab on lattes. Yes, you will have to worry--because you won't be making six figures in two months, no matter what that sales letter promised. Personally, although I love being outside, I usually find I get more done if I skip the commute and work at home.

There are lots of benefits to this business--which is why it's such an easy job to scam people into believing the dream. Some of that dream is true--but don't get sucked in by extravagant promises. If it sounds too good to be true--it is.


Unknown said...

Totally agree. I can't work in coffee shops. I've tried. I have to get reacquainted with my laptop, wireless mouse, find an outlet, jockey for it with twelve other laptop users, get a connection going, get something to drink, balance it all on a tiny table, and block out conversations that are much more/much less interesting than what I'm working on.

When I want to "get away" I plug the laptop in at the kitchen table. It's a vacation without the commute. :)

P.S. Jones said...

Pretty much. But there are lots of misconceptions about freelancing and writing out there. I think that you learn soon enough as you plow in.

Anonymous said...

So True! When I tell people that I'm a freelance writer, they are convinced they can be one too. I gave one of those "dreamers" a chance to help with some research and ghostwriting. OUCH! For someone who was convinced he could be a writer, his sentences were horrible. And let's not even talk about his plurals with 's. Jessica

LayoutSeed said...

Pretty good post. I just came by your blog and wanted to say that I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

Mike Chen said...

Wait, you mean you can't MAKE SIX FIGURES RIGHT NOW?!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?

Right now, I'm editing a client's project written by a "professional" copywriter and let's just say that I'm showing her why experience and grammar count.