Someone once told me it was reassuring to learn that I am as messed up as everyone else. It’s not my favourite compliment to ever have received, but if you squint at it, it IS a compliment, right? Right???
In an internet crammed with ‘thought leaders’, ‘gurus’ and ‘influencers’ (it’s impossible to write those without using quotes, isn’t it? If you don’t hate yourself, I mean), I guess it would be nice to hear from someone who is still somehow successful despite not being perfect and not having her shit together at all times. And as much as I like to think I do, I definitely don’t. Not always. I’ve got my shit together enough, that’s all.
Although, for the record, none of those other guys have their shit together either. They’re just much better at hiding it. Everyone has moments of doubt. Times when they’ve failed crushingly. Periods when they question their entire existence and what the fuck they’re even doing.
And they 1000% percent had more of them at the beginning of their journeys. Same as me. Same as everyone. At the beginning, you’ll probably kind of suck – but you won’t improve unless you do stuff anyway. And as you do more, you’ll learn more, and you’ll have less fuck-ups. (Fewer fuck-ups? Are fuck-ups countable? I guess they are. But whatever. I hate that stupid grammar rule.)
So yeah: if you want to succeed at something but you feel like you’re a mess and a failure and can’t possibly do this, it’s probably nice to see the rough edges of someone who’s further ahead in their journey than you are. Someone who you aspire to be like. So let’s pretend that person is me and talk about a bunch of times I fucked up.
Oh god. I’m cringing already.
1. I chose a terrible business name
My first freelance writing website was called Deft SEO. I know, right? Look at it. It’s gross. But more importantly, it doesn’t have anything to do with WRITING. You know, that thing I do? What my business is based on?
If I saw that name now, I’d assume it was a marketing agency that specialised in, well – SEO. Weird. I chose it because I started out writing SEO articles. But also, what if I wanted to go into SEO instead of writing?! I have no idea where that thought came from, because jobs that entail being extremely analytical with facts and figures are so not my jam.
Anyway, despite the shitty name, that website worked. It did help me get my business off the ground. Less than six months later, I came up with Untamed Writing and ditched Deft SEO altogether.
2. I said I could write 10 articles in 24 hours
I REALLY WANTED TO WIN THAT CLIENT, GUYS. And I thought it was impressive that I could write ten articles inside a day. And, well, I could have. They were SEO articles, after all, and I’m a fast writer. But fast and cheap isn’t what all clients want, you know? And it’s never what the good-quality, high-paying clients who are a pleasure to work with want.
‘Ten articles in 24 hours‘ screams shit quality. And er, yeah. I mean, they would’ve been well-written technically speaking, but the content itself would’ve been trash. How much research can you do on an article you write in 20 minutes?
Well-written trash. Why even bother? But at this point in my freelance writing career, I was still just writing SEO articles for people, and I thought that was what people wanted.
3. I focused my business on SEO articles
Now, I can’t say this was a fuck-up exactly. After all, it did get me started. But it was not a sustainable way to run a writing business. Aside from the fact that businesses would inevitably stop using SEO articles as a marketing tactic eventually, it was also unsustainable on a personal level. Because writing 500-word articles about utter shit is soul-destroying, especially when you have to churn out several a day.
If I went back to 2012 and was starting my business over again, I’m not sure I would go this route. In fact, I definitely wouldn’t. Not if I had the knowledge I have now, which clearly I would, because that’s how time travel works.
And if I was starting my business TODAY? Christ, no. I don’t even think it was a viable way to rank on Google back in 2012 (though that didn’t seem to matter to my clients). Still, it’s definitely not a useful SEO strategy these days. If you wanna rank on Google? You’ve gotta create good shit.
4. I outsourced something I really shouldn’t have
When I was making the switch from SEO articles to ‘proper’ copywriting, I kept hold of all my SEO-article clients for a while. I just outsourced everything they asked me to do to other freelance writers.
However, at one point I got lazy. Someone asked me to write a long blog post for them for pretty good money and I was all, ‘Hmm, I wonder if I can get away with outsourcing this, too.’ Turns out? NOPE. When people hire you specifically because they want your voice and style – which was the way I had positioned my business by then – it turns out that if you send them something written by somebody else, it doesn’t go down well.
Needless to say, they did not hire me again.
And I never did that again.
5. I targeted the wrong kind of copywriting clients
For a while, I decided my ideal clients were one-person, service-based brands who decided to go into business because they wanted the lifestyle that came with it – not because they were particularly interested in making tons of money. I mean, that’s what I was myself, so surely I could write great copy for others like me, right?
Well, yes, I probably could have. But here’s the thing. Well, two things. Two major issues with choosing these guys as my ideal clients:
1. They don’t have very high budgets, if they have budgets at all
I’d get people emailing me like, OMG HOW CAN I HIRE YOU? I CAN’T AFFORD YOU BUT CAN WE EXCHANGE SERVICES OR SOMETHING? Yeah, all in caps. People were excited, but they couldn’t afford to hire me. Oops.
2. They often want to write their own copy
Mostly, I think this was the case. Many businesses like this revolve around their blogs. They’re usually personal brands, in which the person at the centre of it is the main attraction, and it’s their own ideas, opinions and advice that attract clients – or at least, that’s what they’re hoping for. Whether they succeed or not is another matter. But the case still remains that they wouldn’t dream of hiring someone else to write for them.
It’s fabulous being able to do a damn fine job for the clients you’ve decided to target. That’s a necessary part of the process. But if they can’t afford to hire you or would simply never hire someone to do what you do, it’s all for nothing.
6. I blogged about stuff not relevant to my clients
Eventually, I started teaching a freelance writing course. And following that, I changed what I wrote about on the blog. Suddenly, I wasn’t writing stuff that was relevant to my target clients any more.
Now what I should have done – and eventually did – was move my copywriting services to a separate website. (Another option would’ve been to move the teaching-related stuff to another website, which might’ve been a better option if I’d done it sooner.) But I was reluctant to have more than one website and didn’t think I needed to. I was arrogant and thought that because I was SUCH A GREAT WRITER, I could write whatever I wanted and people would still hire me.
Unsurprisingly, during that period my website was barely any use at all for scoring clients. I’d get the occasional enquiry from it, and sometimes that’d turn into paying work, but mostly my clients during that time came from my network.
Trying to position your website for two entirely different audiences is a headache and it’s confusing for visitors. You should only ever have one audience in mind. If you want to dabble in something else? It’s probably a good idea to create a new website for it, unless it’s something your current audience will also want. But even then it’d have to be closely related to your current skill set, otherwise you risk people thinking you’re half as good at twice as many things. And that = lower pay.
Are you cut out to be a freelance copywriter?
Being a freelance copywriter isn’t easy. But it can be done – and you can make a good living from it (even if you fuck up sometimes).
I’m launching an all-new course that incorporates everything I’ve learned since the last course I created in 2015. It focuses on how to brand yourself as a copywriter people will pay good money to hire and how to attract clients who are a pleasure to work with – and how to avoid all the mistakes I made along the way.
It includes one-on-one coaching with me and there are limited places (only 10) available. It’s suitable for complete newbies or people in the earliest stages of their freelancing careers. Find out more here: How to Become a Freelance Copywriter.