I’ve had a few “careers” over the years. For a while, I did layout and design for the publishing arm of a major accounting firm (I was lucky enough to get fired from that job during the early 1990s recession). I’ve worked as an editorial writer and as a terrible waiter in a Greek restaurant. But there’s only two jobs that gave me real job satisfaction.
Copywriting…and painting houses.
You’d be shocked how many copywriters used to paint houses. What the connection is, I have no idea. But I don’t think that’s an accident. Both careers involve planning and prepping something from the ground up. And leave you with a finished product you can really look back over and enjoy.
But copywriting pays better.
Most copywriters either get paid by the project—say, between $5,000 to $15,000 per sales letter—or, like me, have a retainer deal where you’ll write a certain number of promos per year for a regular monthly payout.
Those who stick to it can make between $50,000 to $100,000 per year, within the first few years. That can go much higher with success and time. At the top of the pack, most make at least $200,000…$300,000…$500,000 in a good year. Plenty of copywriters make over $1 million—sometimes well over—when they’re also selling their own product or they have a piece of their client’s overall business, which is definitely something that you could make happen.
A copywriter is like a shepherd for “mass desire,” a phrase coined the late great copywriter, Gene Schwartz. They write emails, social media and blog posts, sales pages, and they use their writing to get readers to do anything from buying a product, to downloading an e-book, to donating to charity.
One of my favorite aspects of earning as a copywriter is the ability to earn from anywhere. You’ll probably have to meet with your clients occasionally, but for the most part you can live the writer’s life. I’ve written in a rented villa in Venice, a French farmhouse, a beachside balcony, and more. Beats a cubicle any day.
Is it difficult to become a copywriter? No, not at all. In practical terms, it’s like any kind of writing. The more you practice, the more you read, the faster it comes and the better you’ll be. If there are special skills that help, I’d say number one is curiosity. All the best writers I know are question-askers and concept-challengers.
For reasons I can’t explain, a lot of great copywriters are also slight introverts, pretty funny and good with a story, amateur musicians, and—more often than not—no stranger to a cold beer.
That’s not to say that you need any of that last stuff, just that it’s pretty common.
As your own boss, your hours will be flexible…but, of course, you need a routine if you’re going to get anything done. And I have one. I like to write in the morning, for at least four hours. I like to work out at lunchtime. Then I research, answer emails, and use the end of the day for meetings.
We travel everywhere and often with our two young kids, ages 12 and 10. I have a slightly different routine for those trips too. Usually, I’ll get up at 5:30 a.m. or so and work until noon. Then we’ll all go out for lunch and exploring. Sometimes I get more done on those trips than I do at home.
Once you learn how to write copy and get paid for it, you’ve got a skill you can take anywhere. It’s a universal niche that needs to be filled. And you’re not likely to throw your back out—or fall off a ladder—while doing it.
Image: ©iStock.com/Ammentorp Lund
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