The 3 Stages of a Copywriter’s Life

I have been a freelance copywriter for almost three years now. The 3-year anniversary of my start in the freelance world will be June 13, 2008.

As I’ve reflected on my short career (and the careers of others), I’ve recognized three distinct stages in a copywriter’s life. They go something like this…

Stage 1: “If I could just replace my income…”

In Stage 1, the freelance copywriter is mostly concerned with replacing his income. Of course, he wants to make a lot of money; that’s one reason he became a freelance copywriter in the first place.

But the big income is a long-term goal. In the short-term, he wants to be able to get paid to write while suffering no loss of lifestyle. Basically, he wants to make as much as he did in his last job.

Many copywriters never fully achieve Stage 1. In which case, they are either forced into another career or back into a job. If they do fully achieve Stage 1, then they are not far from Stage 2.

Stage 2: “If I could just crack the six-figure mark…”

After a copywriter has some projects in the bag and some testimonials rolling in, his next aspiration is the six-figure mark. He thinks he would be happy if he could make a hundred grand or more a year in copywriting fees.

In a way, the long-term goal in Stage 1 becomes the short-term goal in Stage 2. He has already successfully replaced his income, and earning six figures a year is the next natural target.

To achieve this goal, a copywriter must either raise his fees or take on more projects. Usually, a copywriter will do both. It’s a classic case of earning more while working more.

It’s also a classic recipe for burn-out.

Stage 3: “If I have to write one more sales letter, I swear I’ll…”

As a copywriter, it’s easy to get jaded. You see all the sales pitches, and then some. You witness what goes on behind the scenes. You realize there’s a lot of shady stuff that happens in sales and marketing.

And eventually you see sales and marketing for what it is: giving people what they want, even if what they want is not necessarily in their best interest.

Instead of finding joy in all projects (as you might in Stage 1), the Stage 3 copywriter finds joy in only a select few of the most profitable and most interesting projects. He resents any project he feels compelled to take out of obligation. And he longs for the day when he can stop trading hours for dollars.

Some people have asked me, why is it so hard to find a good copywriter?

That’s because it takes just as much time for a copywriter to get really good as it does for him to become disillusioned with being a full-time freelance copywriter. It is at this point he decides to strictly limit the number of projects he accepts and begin writing copy for himself.

Q: Who makes more money? The copywriter or the person hiring the copywriter?

A: Generally speaking, it’s the person doing the hiring.

Q: What did Claude Hopkins say was the biggest mistake he ever made?

A: Not going into business for himself.

Most freelance copywriters eventually figure this stuff out, take themselves off the market, and finally start earning more while working less. Which happens to be an excellent recipe for happiness and long-term success sans the burn-out.

-Ryan M. Healy

Ryan M. Healy

Ryan Healy is a financial copywriter and the author of Speed Writing for Nonfiction Writers. Since 2002, he has worked with scores of clients, including Agora Financial, Lombardi Publishing, and Contrarian Profits. He writes a popular blog about copywriting, advertising, and business growth, has been featured in publications like Feed Front magazine, and has been published on sites like WordStream.com, SmallBizClub.com, and MarketingForSuccess.com.

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