Big Ideas

Copywriters: You’ve Been Duped

Want to develop a six-figure business using your copywriting skills?

It’s not easy or quick.

It can be fun, as long as you’re willing to roll up your sleeves first and get to work.

You’ve been sold a bill of goods by the “laptop on the beach” crowd. If you want to work only a few hours a day, then spend the rest of your day golfing, playing with your kids, or watching the sun set with a glass of wine, good luck.

You’re about 15 years too late.

That may have worked in the late 1990s when there were relatively few copywriters out there, and Internet marketing businesses were in their infancy.

That’s when a lot of the current crop of marketers selling systems and programs either broke into the business or were already making it big.

Today? Freelance copywriters and marketers are a dime a dozen. I’ll say it again…

Using your copywriting skills to make good money is hard work

It does pay off, however, if…

  1. You recognize that it isn’t easy, fun, or quick
  2. You out-work your competition
  3. You separate yourself from the herd

Accept the fact that running a successful business is hard work.

Turning your Big Ideas and copywriting skills into a profitable business of any kind is NOT easy.

And I’m not going to sugarcoat it with claims of “Everyone can do it! High fees! Unlimited demand!”

Look, I’m as much of a dreamer, an optimist, and a believer in the power of the human spirit to overcome odds as anyone.

I’m a cheerleader and a champion for anyone who’s trying to improve their lot in life.

If that’s you, I’ll do whatever it takes to help you.

But I’m also a realist.

Sales skills required

Not everyone who tries is going to become a successful copywriter.

Not everyone is cut out for sales. And make no mistake – if you’re an Independent Creative (my preferred term over “freelancer”), you are in the business of selling.

Not everyone who buys a program or attends a big event (or a small retreat for that matter) will parlay that into increased income.

This stuff is hard work.

Aspiring copywriting rock stars ask me all the time, “What’s a good short-cut? I’m willing to work, but what else can I do to move ahead of the competition faster?”

I don’t like to call them “short-cuts,” which implies “easy.”

I agree with Dan Kennedy, who wrote in The Dan Kennedy Letter this month, “Telling you something is a whole lot easier than it is, that’s usually the mark of a charlatan, a con artist, a panderer to your worst self.”

Are you open-minded about different approaches? Willing  to put them into action and work hard?

Here are four concepts that go against the grain of people telling you it’s easier than it is.

Each one can be a challenge and will take time, but if you do these things, you’ll most likely see a return on your investment:

1. Get rid of your “itch for a niche” and Take a Stand for the Brand.

Create a powerful Personal Brand, something I’ve been talking about for a while now. You can identify and declare a niche overnight.

Developing a Personal Brand, however, takes time. If you’re one of the 5% or so of Independent Creatives who actually do it, you’ll probably also eventually be in the top 5% of income earners, too.

Stay tuned as I continue to cover this topic in-depth here.

2. Don’t just tell what you can do. Show what you can do.

A Polished Portfolio is one of the best ways to do this. Average copywriters have an online portfolio tab on their website. You can easily rise above average-level status by also having a physical portfolio. It’s the mark of a true creative professional.

3. Bypass the big clients.

Instead of groveling at the feet of big-name clients who churn through freelance copywriters left and right, focus on small and mid-sized clients that everyone isn’t going after.

I’d rather work for a no-name start-up client and help them get big than be a small cog in the machine of a giant company. Same payoff (or sometimes better), more satisfaction, and less stress.

4. Be your own client!

This is a new concept to many freelancers.

We’ve been told the path to copywriting riches is to get high-paying gigs with big companies that have big budgets. That’s certainly one way, but it’s a very crowded marketplace these days.

Why not develop your own information marketing business? As long as there’s a demand, you can use your copywriting and marketing skills to build your own business instead of someone else’s.

I’m currently doing this with three side businesses outside of the Copywriter Café.

One involves personal relationships, one is targeted to college students, and one is in the high-end luxury travel space. I’ll keep you posted as I develop each one, and I’ll be sharing lessons learned along the way.

Choose the road less traveled

Look, you can believe the claims of “It’s easy! Anyone can do it! Unlimited demand for your services!”

The problem is, when something is easy, a lot of people will soon be doing it. You’ll have a lot of competition, and fees will go down.

If you operate as a typical freelance copywriter, that is the current scenario.

My suggestion: take the road less traveled as an Independent Creative, doing things the Copywriter Café Way.

I for one am glad that it’s hard slogging. I’m glad that most copywriters aren’t choosing this path.

It means less competition for those of us who do! Let’s put in the time and work necessary to be successful.

Then you can kick back on the beach or watch the sun set with a glass of wine. Unless you’re like me and that really isn’t your scene.

There’s a fork in the road here, my friend. Go down Easy Street and stand in line with the masses, or embrace the road not taken – at least not as often.

The Copywriter Café Way has challenging uphills, indirect side paths, and rugged terrain. But you won’t be fighting the crowds…the views along the way are better…and if you need a guide, I’m here to help any time.

I’d love to hear from you. Tell me which camp you’re in, and why, here.

Copywriter Cafe Way

Steve Roller

Author Steve Roller

I'm a business coach, author, copywriter, world traveler (33 countries on five continents so far), and professional speaker. In addition to helping companies get more customers and make more money, I help other writers create profitable businesses. I offer one-on-one coaching, professional copy critiques, and live, in-person business-building workshops. When I'm not writing, coaching, or speaking, I enjoy nothing more than hanging out with my wife and four kids and planning my next adventure.

More posts by Steve Roller

Join the discussion 36 Comments

  • Boy, Steve!

    Do you have great timing or what? I went this whole week reevaluating myself so that I can establish a firm personal brand. Just the week before, I started calling myself an independent marketer. Like you, I choose to take my time to establish a voice in this industry. I don’t want any shortcuts because this is my life and I want to enjoy every minute of it. I’m glad there are people like you around to enjoy the present with. Stay blessed, Steve.

    Keep writing,


    • Steve Roller says:


      Good timing indeed! Glad to see you’re fully committed to what you’re doing. I think it’s been two years since we first talked, and you’ve come a long way. Can’t wait to see how far you take your business. Best wishes.

  • John Heldon says:

    Hi Steve,
    Copywriting is not for me. I’m a novelist, most happy when writing, and not caring about marketing best sellers.
    I do admire your work helping others in your field.
    I did make you an offer to tour the Metropolitan Museum, the next time you had time in New York.
    It still stands.
    Lunch in the Trustee’s dining room would be on me.


    • Steve Roller says:


      Thanks for your comment. Underneath it all, you know what? I’m discovering I like other forms of writing as much or more than copywriting. Kind of ironic, I’d say. So I get where you’re coming from.

      I’m actually going to be in NYC Nov. 9-11. I’d love to tour the Met on Monday, Nov. 10, if you are available at all that day. Let me know (I’ll send you a private message, too).

      I look forward to meeting you, John! Thanks.

  • Pauline says:

    Great article Steve. You have validated a lot of my thinking here in one place.
    I enjoy writing for start ups and have resisted the advice from more experienced copywriters for me to niche. Now I understand why.
    I am also working on a way for me to use my skills on my own products so I can have more control over my financial future. It sounds like I am on the right track.

    • Steve Roller says:

      You are on the right track, Pauline, based on your comments here! Thanks for writing. Let me know if I can help you in any way, and keep me posted on your progress.

  • James says:

    Yep, the personal bradning aspect is crucial. I’m a weight loss specialist. Why? I shed 80lbs in 2013 and have the photos to prove it. That puts me way ahead of the game.

    Good post Steve.
    Warm Regards

  • Allan says:

    Hi Steve,

    Just finished reading this month’s The Dan Kennedy Letter. Like you, he doesn’t mince words when it comes to doing the work. Dan doesn’t sugar-coat it when he writes, “money is not a slut. She isn’t cheap ‘n easy”.

    What sets you apart Steve is that you don’t sugar-coat the job of becoming a successful “creative independent”. Doing the work is always the critical component of the tactics and strategies you lay out for us, as evidenced by the fact you are obviously “embroiled” in doing it.

    • Steve Roller says:

      Thanks, Alan. I know the 4-Hour Workweek, 80/20, and all that stuff is appealing, but for whatever reason, I really like working! I get a huge sense of satisfaction from hard work that produces results, not just hard work for the sake of work itself. It’s one way I know I can beat 95% of my competition, hopefully.

      I think the Professor of Harsh Reality rubs off on me, too. I’m a huge fan of his.

      Looking forward to seeing your ideas take off, Alan! Copywriting and baseball, what better combination could there be?

  • Davina says:

    As someone who will be spending today (Sunday) working both in and on my business, I can attest to the accuracy of what Steve is saying in this post. Thanks for keeping it real, Steve.

    • Steve Roller says:

      You’re welcome, Davina. I told myself a while back that I was done working on Sundays, but alas, that hasn’t happened yet. I tell Emida it’s not really work, so it doesn’t count.

  • Mark Henderson says:

    Yet another blast of street-smarts from a front line soldier. THANKS, again, for reminding us that the path to becoming a “Barefoot Writer” winds its way through not one but two “four-letter” words….”WORK” & “SELL”. Now if you will excuse me, i have path-less-traveled to catch..

  • Quinn Eurich says:

    We can talk about branding, portfolios, etc., but what I took from this is stated in your first sentence – “six-figure business using your copywriting skills”

    Key word – business!

    That was one of my stumbling blocks – building a business. A business that offered copywriting services.

    Second stumbling block . . . what is the purpose of my business?

    Until I overcame both those roadblocks, I considered myself a copywriter. I “did” copywriting.

    Now I consider myself a writer who owns and is building a copywriting business, plus another writing related business as well.

    Each business has a unifying purpose and a focus, and out of that came the direction I’m taking each of them.

    From there, you can start thinking about strategies and tactics . . .

    So Steve, I agree: lose the itch for the niche.

    Figure out who you are, what’s unique about you, and how you can translate that uniqueness into a business.

    Figure out your purpose. Not only will you need it to give your business a direction to go in, sustain you and motivate you, but it will start you off in the right direction for “taking a stand” for your brand.

    • Steve Roller says:


      I like the way you think. I believe people like you and me are blazing a new trail here…building a solid foundation for a sustainable, profitable business. Press on!

  • Steve, great post as always. I do like your somewhat contrarian approach to marketing yourself, I have done quite a few unconventional things in my copywriting journey as well.

    I do think that you can succeed going either path-easy street or the Copywriter Cafe way. In fact, there are literally endless variations of either method and endless ways to creatively carve out your brand in the marketplace.

    Whatever path people choose, your point about it being hard work is spot on. You have to treat this like a business and put in long hours (at least at first) to achieve success. But I do know this- the work is out there, and if you stick with it and make wise adjustments along the way, this career can give you incredible flexibility and freedom and put you in the top 10% of income earners in the U.S.

    • Steve Roller says:

      Thanks, Paul. I know from our conversations that you’ve figured out a very unique space, and by delivering the goods, you’re doing quite well. Kudos to you.

      Keep me posted on things, and when I get up to the Twin Cities next, let’s grab lunch or coffee.

  • Nice reality check Steve, thanks.

  • Dan Fahlgren says:

    Thanks Steve, for an honest, informative article.
    I like that is encouraging, but realistic. A lot to think about for an aspiring writer.
    All the best,

    • Steve Roller says:

      Thanks, Dan. We still need to connect in Chicago sometime. I’ve got a small group of writers there and it’d be fun to all get together. I’ll keep you posted if we do.

  • Keith Shafer says:

    Wow, great article, Steve and excellent timing for me, personally. You articulated several thoughts I had at a recent bootcamp event in Florida – Where’s the work…and where’s the personal selling? Dan Kennedy was there, BTW, and gave an excellent discussion on branding…although he didn’t call it that. Thanks for telling it like it is.

  • Debra Farrimond says:

    You are my go to man in the morning! I start each and almost everyday with you. You lead me (and my checkbook) from the path of temptation….ie: those get rich overnight copywriting courses.
    Quite frankly, I admire you and your work very much. You do all of us independent creatives an invaluable service by sharing all of the knowledge and the ‘hard-knocks’ you’ve learned along the way and I truly appreciate it more than I could ever express.

    Thank you so very much!!

    • Steve Roller says:

      You’re so welcome, Debra. I appreciate your kind words. Let’s connect sometime on FB, Google Hangout, or Skype.

      Here’s to making things happen in 2015!

  • Scott says:

    I love the fact that it’s not easy.


    Because those of us who do succeed are worth our weight in gold for our clients.

    I’ve spent most of this year finding my audience and figuring out my brand. An ever evolving work-in-progress.

    Bringin’ it in 2015!

  • “Life is complex…The journey of life is not paved in blacktop; it is not brightly lit, and it has no road sign. It is a rocky path through the wilderness.”
    – M. Scott Peck, Further Along the Road Less Traveled


    First, I appreciate the ‘reality check’. We may indeed have bought that shiny-like-new ‘bridge in the desert’. And Peck’s lines are the perfect afterthought to your posting.

    Even more, after your sobering and personal ‘come-to-Jesus’ conversation, I, like all of us, need to be ‘functional’ in business and, even more, in life. I am in.

    Thanks for your words and work,
    Chuck Sanders

    • Steve Roller says:

      You’re welcome, Chuck. It was great to connect with you a few months ago, and I hope to follow up with you soon.

      Peck’s opening words to The Road Less Traveled ring in my ears almost daily as inspiration and motivation to get out there and hustle: “Life is difficult.”

      It is, indeed, but the rewards are there for those of us who put in the work.

      Best wishes, Chuck. Talk to you soon.

  • Larry E says:

    I was looking forward to 4:45 PM ET today since you announced yesterday this post would be coming our way.

    While just getting started with my new career of Copywriting Im actually banking on the fact that a lot of the folks, having also recently entered this career path, are of the illusion/delusion that they can sit by the waters edge, as the surf rolls between their toes for four hours a day, and there they will complete all of the endless assignments that will allow them to join the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Only to soon realize it ain’t happening …to quit and go back to whatever they did before they bought into the best persuasive copy ever written… the one that sold them this dream. Make no mistake a lot of new entry’s to this career path really believe it’s going to be a cake walk. I don’t believe that in the least.

    Personally I wish them all the best, but do I really? To a realist as myself I totally understand this profession has become a dog eat dog world. Only those that are capable of selling themselves, and their unique services, will come out the other side having triumphed. You are totally correct.
    This is sales. From us to our prospect/client and from them to their prospect/client.Sales is job 1…period!

    I have absolutely no false expectations or misapprehensions, and plan on using the very same hard work, devotion, dedication, networking and other skills …along with my ability to embrace any obstacles that come in my way to succeed.

    I think it’s important to have much business experience and savvy. I truly believe it is common sense, street smarts, and the situations learned by working with all sorts of people over many years that will allow you to excel.
    These attributes will be even more important than the craft itself though not to take away the importance of learning, studying (and never stop learning and studying) and educating oneself both in what’s required and expected from them.

    Like anything else it’s a relationship business and I’m sure first and foremost someone that expects to do well must already have the necessary characteristics of dealing with people.
    All kinds of people.They must know how to create and work a plan.You need to have the ability to think on your feet and know when to alter or change your plan, because it’s not working, as much as you need to know when not to alter anything at all just give it time to develop.

    Only time will tell if I’m right, but my strong hunch is I’m pretty spot on.

    Feel comfort in knowing you’ve been trying to wake people up from the pipe dreams and misconceptions they have to think this will be any less challenging.But then again in this highly competitive field do I really want everyone to wake up to this reality?
    Let’s just say the opportunity is there for everyone to make out of it as much as they desire and are able to. What each person does or doesn’t do to succeed…well, that’s up to them.

    As John Carlton says…
    Stay Frosty!
    All My Best,
    Larry E

    • Steve Roller says:

      “Sales is job 1…period.” Amen.

      You’re right, Larry. There is a lot of competition, but in a way not really because so few are willing to put in the time and effort required to really make it.

      Good to see that you get it. Let’s make it happen.

  • Wayne Winkle says:

    Steve, I agree with you completely. For several years, I’ve wondered where all those customers with the big bucks to pay me as a freelancer were hiding. But some training companies continue to say there’s a great market out there for every product they push. Thanks for putting into words the reality of our business.

    • Steve Roller says:

      You’re welcome, Wayne. There is a lot of business to be had, but it definitely isn’t as easy to snag it as some training companies make it out to be. Let me know if I can help you in any way.

  • I’ve definitely taken the organic approach with my business and brand.

    But that’s the point. Brand building takes time, and while that’s percolating I’m working on my sales chops.

    The bigger business concept has always been there and from the seeds the shoots are ushing through.

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