Copywriting success in 11 clear steps

By 07/07/2013August 12th, 202220 Comments

“Help, I’m stuck!”

Ever feel that way? No matter how well your copywriting business is going, there’s always something you could be doing better, right?

Over the past year I’ve had hundreds of conversations with aspiring copywriting rock stars. I love having these “personal conferences” and helping people get unstuck, whether they’re just starting out or at the six-figure mark and beyond.

(And just for the record, I had an A-level copywriter this week help me get unstuck on something. I think we all need someone to check  in with on a regular basis.)

Anyway, I take notes during every conference, and it hit me this week that almost every “stuck” situation can be traced back to one of 11 clear steps. Do these 11 steps in order when you’re first starting out, and you’ll set yourself up for success. Go back and review them every three months and you’ll continue moving forward. Overlook any of the 11, and you’ll hit a plateau, or worse.

A word of warning: this isn’t a catch-all formula. I’ve probably missed some (and feel free to tell me in the comments below.) And I’m just scratching the surface on explaining each one. I’ll probably develop these 11 into some kind of e-book soon.

For now, take care of these 11 steps and you’ll do quite well. You might even want to print this part off, laminate it, and hang it where you can see it from your desk.

Copywriting success in 11 clear steps

1. Figure out what you’re good at and how you’re going to help clients.

Not just figure it out, but be able to articulate exactly why someone should hire you. For example, “I’m really good at helping businesses uncover their true unique selling proposition and conveying it in a fresh way to help them draw in more customers.”

2. Figure out who your audience is.

Make sure there’s a demand, and if there is, how competitive it is. Better to  investigate upfront to find a lesser-known niche with a huge demand than to follow the masses to an over-saturated niche. By the way, you can always change this, you’re not locked into anything.

3. Make your offering clear.

I like the idea of having three simple packages with fees so prospects know exactly what you’re offering.

4. Now get your website situated.

I see a lot of copywriters put the cart before the horse, spending a lot of time on their website before getting the first three items determined precisely.

5. Create your marketing and sales funnels.

Not sure where to start with this? Dan Kennedy and the Glazer Kennedy Insider Circle (GKIC) are the place to go. A simple framework: Offer something of value for free on your website, build your list, engage your audience, continue offering value, and market to them regularly.

6. Be likable. 

The real reason one copywriter often gets hired over another? The client likes that copywriter more. Plain and simple. It’s not always who has the better website, stronger reputation, or better offering.

Can you learn how to be more likable? Absolutely. Start by re-reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

7. Communicate effectively on the phone and via email. In other words, learn how to sell.

This is probably the biggest reason copywriters don’t make more money. You can be the best copywriter and marketer, but somewhere along the line you have to communicate one-on-one in order to secure a project.

That requires sales skills, something severely lacking these days. I learned it by giving over 10,000 one-on-one sales presentations by the age of 23. I’ll be coming out with an e-book on selling for copywriters next year, but for now, focus on two skills: listening, and the art of asking questions.

8. Make it easy for clients to work with you.

In most cases, a simple, quick proposal should just be a formality after you’ve made the sale on the phone or by email. Some copywriters hide behind their proposal, spend way too much time on it, and make it way too long.

9. Give them a reasonable price.

I can hear the objections already on this one. “I’m going after high-quality clients who will appreciate my services and be able to pay my high fees.”

You can charge whatever you want, but it can’t be more than what you’re ultimately going to deliver. In other words, if you’re not an A-level copywriter yet, you can’t charge Bob Bly-type fees. It also has to reflect the supply and demand of the marketplace, unless you’re in a total non-competitive situation.

I’ve been talking to a lot of copywriters lately who are missing out on keeping a full pipeline of work. Their fees aren’t justified and they’re spending too much time writing proposals.

10. Give the client something extra.

Write two versions of the email letter so they can test them. Provide 20 headline ideas when they only asked for 10. If you’re just writing a home page, give them some quick copy for the about page, too.

11. Follow up.

Review every project with the client once it’s over. Get feedback, suggest further ideas, ask for a testimonial and referrals, and most important, secure the next project.

Use these 11 steps as a checklist to see where you may need to polish your skills or take a different approach.

I’m curious. Which of these eleven is most challenging for you? Which one do you think you have down? Your comments here will help me in the one-on-one work I do with copywriters, and also in developing this into a larger manual of sorts for helping you build your Personal Brand.

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.

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Join the discussion 20 Comments

  • Ed Estlow says:

    Great stuff Steve. Simple. not necessarily easy, but simple.

    Your approach to selling (#7) reminds me of the harry Browne classic, “The Secret of Selling ~ Anything.”

    • Steve Roller says:

      I have to admit I haven’t read that book, Ed. Some other classics: Frank Bettger’s “How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling,” Zig Ziglar’s “Secrets of Closing the Sale,” and stuff by Jeff Gitomer. Also a good book by a local Madison author, Chris Lytle: “The Accidental Salesperson.”

    • Robert says:

      Ed, I had to read that Harry Browne book many moons ago for one of my jobs. It’s the only sales book I’ve ever read where I thought “Gee, I could sell things” after I finished.

      He completely demystifies selling and makes it as accessible as anything. Everyone should give it a read :).

  • Suresh Nair says:

    Excellent suggestions one and all, thank you Steve. I’m going to use them right away. Steps 1 and 2 need to be carefully thought out, in my opinion.

  • Love this post! The pricing thing is SO tricky! I don’t want to be under-paid, but I’ve already had the lovely experience of not getting a job I really wanted bc my prices were way too high.

    Also, I love the point you made about being likeable. I totally believe this is true, and I struggle to remember this bc I always want to focus on how smart or capable I am.

    • Steve Roller says:

      You have to be competent and deliver the goods, of course, but a lot of it really does boil down to being likable.

      The thing on pricing is that it’s hard to find out if they’re shopping around or not, and if they have, what kind of prices they’ve been seeing. It’s pretty easy to “shop around” online, or even just with a few quick conversations. The key is to ask the right questions, position yourself as the solution, and have price be an afterthought.

      At the same time, even if you do that, if it’s a competitive situation, they’re not going to pay too much. Better to get good at what you do so you can write faster while keeping fees reasonable and quality high. Then you can charge a competitive fee and get a lot of work because you’re cranking things out quickly. It’s a fine line for sure.

      More on this topic soon, Jessi. It seems to be the #1 challenge for freelance writers.

      • Thanks for your reply, Steve. I REALLY look forward to future posts about pricing.

        I’m learning that I might have to charge low prices at first just to get the business, and I know that a lot of people make good money with fast-paced high-volume work. Ultimately, though, I’m really not interested in fast-paced, high-volume.

        I know this is all about having patience, getting experience, and eventually connecting with the right people.

        Just for inspiration, do you think you could possibly share some of your own stories? I would love to hear about some of your first copywriting gigs (maybe the not-so-great ones). I’d also love to hear some stories about getting really good gigs or when you started to move from the Beginner’s Bottom to the Not-Brand-New Middle.

        Hope I’m not being a pain! 🙂

        In my first comment, I mentioned that I’d once not gotten a client because my prices were too high. I’ve been hoping that client would change her mind and call me back. It’s been a couple months, though, so I just made her a new, much lower offer. Making that offer hurt my feelings and gave me a knot in the pit of my stomach. Still, I feel like this client could be a real connector, and that’s something I need. Just hope I’m doing the right thing.

        • Steve Roller says:


          I’m going to develop some more training materials about pricing. It seems to come up a LOT with new and experienced writers.

          I’m not into fast-paced writing either, but you will find yourself naturally getting faster. So, you can either keep your rates the same, land more gigs, and squeeze more of them into the same time frame … or you can raise your rates and do the same number of projects and take more free time. Either way you’re always making more money as time goes on.

          Thanks for the suggestion to share my own stories, too. I will do this from time to time. Stay tuned. I have some good examples and bad! You’ll learn from both. 🙂 And no, you’re not being a pain.

          Last thing, Jessica – that was a bold move to go back and offer a lower rate. Risky, but bold. Don’t get in the habit of doing that too often or you’ll lose respect for yourself, in a weird way. Instead, get more prospects coming through your marketing and sales funnels, then you can do more proposals and not worry about the ones that get away.

          Best wishes, and keep reading (and watch for my soon-to-be-published book, “Seven Bright Strategies for Overcoming the Dark Side of Freelancing: Insider Tips You Won’t Hear Anywhere Else.” I’m going for the real short, punchy title that rolls off the tongue easily.

  • Edna says:

    Gee its hard to know which ones are really the toughest.
    #1, and #3. 7 is probably the one I avoid since I sell better face to face. Follow up is also a challenge.

    • Steve Roller says:

      Edna, I think #1 and 3 are the hardest ones to get down, and require the most thought. If you can take your time on those and really get clear in your own mind what you’re good at, how you’re going to help clients, and then how you’re going to package that to present to them, you’re more than half-way.

      Let me know if I can help on these or anything else. We’ll connect sometime I’m sure. Best wishes in the meantime.

  • Sarah Dizney says:

    Love this one too! The ones that stand out as likely to be most challenging to me are the offering and pricing. As a brand, spanking new copywriter (freshly finished the AWAI course on Accelerated Copywriting), I don’t really know what a copywriter at my level (the bottom) charges. I don’t have experience to gauge that yet.

    Also, your tip #3 about the offering is somewhat confusing to me. I feel like my offering is whatever the client needs. I don’t know what different “packages” are that I “should be” offering via my website (yet to be created).

    On another note, I really liked tip #1. Thinking about that, and writing it out, helped me get clear on my own strengths and interest.


    • Steve Roller says:

      Sarah, the pricing is definitely a challenge, even for experienced copywriters. I’ll be writing more about this in the future. I’m glad point #1 helped you.

      What I meant by the offering is not making everything such a consultative approach where you go in, ask probing questions to discover their needs, and then tailor your services to address those needs.

      Too often I find the client doesn’t really know what they mean, and a consultative approach like that is confusing. You don’t have to figure this out now or anytime soon, but at some point down the road, think about what type of projects you’re doing on a regular basis, and formulate those into “packages” that you can easily present. You’ll still ask questions and find out their needs, but this way it gives you a clear-cut solution to offer them, along with a pre-set price.

      Just as a meeting about needs can be confusing to the client, the issue of price is also very confusing. They don’t know if you’re going to come back with a $300 proposal or a $3,000 one. A lot of copywriters lose the project at the proposal/pricing stage. This is another area I’ll address in upcoming blog posts.

  • Sarah says:

    Great reminders Steve. I’m pleased to say being part of your coaching programme this year has meant I’ve got most of these covered – so a massive thanks has to given to you.

    I perhaps would have got their on my own, but certainly never this quickly or with so much clarity. Thank you.

    For me it’s Number 7 that causes me the most problems.

    Probably because I fear I don’t know enough, I’m not good enough, there are so many other, better, copywriters out there that I’ll be overshadowed …

    Pretty much all those ‘normal’ worries of most start-up copywriters.

    So let me know as soon as your ebook for copywriters is out – as I’m definitely in!

  • Great article Steve, as a newbie on the copywriting scene I’m at the point of needing to really sell myself and after finding myself doubting am article and it then being published by a big ezine I had a massive confidence boost. I think as a newbie it’s easy to want to know it all and be perfect, in fact I need to find my niche and work from that.

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