Big Ideas

Are you a freelance writer or a business builder?

By 08/04/2014February 5th, 201865 Comments



That may sound like an odd question, since most of us would consider ourselves freelancers, right?

I would maintain that not only can you be both, you may actually want to move away from the idea of being a “freelance writer” or “freelance copywriter.” It’s a matter of language, yes, but more than that a matter of mindset and positioning. In the long run, it will also make a substantial difference to your net worth.

Let me explain.

Up until now my tagline for the Copywriter Café has been “Personal Training for Aspiring Copywriting Rock Stars.” I’ve done quite a bit of that. I’ve helped a lot of writers move ahead in their business, especially at events like the Ultimate Writing Retreat™ (one of the six I’ve hosted so far is pictured above, in Santa Fe last year).

Yet it’s never been my aim to create A-level copywriters. I’m not an A-level copywriter, so I don’t claim to have the ability to help you become one.

If you want to do that, be prepared to spend the next five years immersed in it, preferably in an apprenticeship or copy cub situation with a master copywriter. It can be done, but it’s like a high school All-Star making the major leagues.

What’s wrong with being a freelancer?

You can certainly make a great living as a copywriter if you’re in the next tier or two down from the pros. I’ve done quite well for myself the past five years as a copywriter for hire, earning accolades from top copywriters and marketers like Dan Kennedy and Mark Everett Johnson, along with a slew of very satisfied clients you probably never heard of.

But here’s the thing. As soon as you stop writing for clients, that income dries up (unless you’re a top-tier writer who commands royalty and profit-sharing deals on a regular basis with your clients – a smart move if you can negotiate it).

I know some very high-level copywriters who really haven’t built a business. They get high fees for writing a promotion, but they don’t have a business they could sell to someone else. Their writing talent alone is what’s being sold.

There’s one other problem with only being a freelancer. Clients seem to have the upper hand. They’re the ones doing the hiring, and they have hundreds, if not thousands, of freelancers waiting for the chance to take on a project.

At the very least, develop a platform with a business name and strategic positioning, things I continue to cover extensively in the Ultimate Writing Retreat™. Consider dropping the word “freelancer” from your title (I’ve used Conversion Writer, Creative Conversion Specialist, and others). Offer a slightly different service than your copywriting colleagues. Sell yourself even more than your services.

Those are all topics I’ll continue to discuss here and in my twice a month Coffee Chat with Steve & Kat. Beyond all that, going forward, I’m going to take…

The copywriting path less traveled

Here’s my plan, and what I’d like to help you do. I enjoy helping businesses make more money by coming up with Big Ideas and writing good copy. I’ll continue to keep a handful of loyal clients who have a great product or service and are fun, visionary, big-thinkers like I am.

Even more, I like coming up with Big Ideas for myself, writing the copy, and building a solid business that actually builds equity.

There’s a big difference between that and being a freelance copywriter. Besides the Copywriter Café, I have two businesses I’m developing where I’m doing just that. One of them is mapped out here, my “Back of the Napkin” business plan I revealed to my Retreat VIP Members a few weeks ago:

Back of the Napkin business plan

If you can read it, it lays out a plan for one of my business ideas.

It starts with a Lead Magnet to a target audience that numbers about 20,000, offering a service that’s in demand and currently under-served (based on my research), and only requires me to capture 1% of the market. If everything plays out according to my highly scientific napkin-business method, over the next five years I’ll build up to a monthly income of $34,800, or $417,600 annually. At that point, I could keep it going or perhaps sell it for somewhere between one and two million dollars.

The beauty is, you don’t have to be an A-level copywriter to write copy for your own business. You have to be good, and develop a few other skills, but not A-level great. As a bonus – a big bonus – you’re building your business, not your client’s.

Does that idea sound appealing to you? If it does, I think you’ll like the new tagline of the Copywriter Café:

Turning Big Ideas and Copywriting Skills into Profitable Businesses

I also think you’ll like a new publication I’m launching this fall called Big Ideas Monthly.

In the meantime, start brainstorming Big Ideas that you’ve had rolling around in your head. Write them down, and let’s plan to chat about them soon.

I’d love some feedback on this idea of using your copywriting skills to build a business for yourself. Just a short “I’m in” or other confirmation would be great. Leave your brief message here.

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 65 Comments

  • Kimi says:

    Great post Steve…I’m SO IN! 🙂

  • Ed Estlow says:

    Steve, you know “I’m in!”

  • Steve it sounds like music for my ears. That “sell yourself more than your business” resonates as a great plan.

  • Chris Fitzgerald says:

    Very refreshing. Sales is sales, no matter what the service/product, and when the selling stops, so does the income. Looking forward to seeing what you have up your poncho.

  • Zafifi says:

    Great post Steve,

    The idea of building businesses seems resonate with mine, as I also managing my own Internet business. It’s moving slowly but hopefully it gains more pace in coming months.

    As I comment here, so ‘I’m in’ !


  • Debra Farrimond says:

    I’m in…..then some!! Enough to spare should anyone need some extra ‘in.’ I’ve been following you for sometime now Steve (not literally!!!) and I think you’re pretty darned close to brilliant. I can’t wait to see what you’ve got in the works.

  • Sounds great Steve. Can’t wait to learn more. I’m in too.

    • Steve Roller says:

      Shelly, you have laid a good foundation so far, from everything I can see. Now it’s time to capitalize on it. Thanks again for the Chat the other day, and Kat and I look forward to doing it again soon. See you in Vermont!

  • Norma Rickman says:

    I’m in. Most of my work is writing launch copy for others and I want more control over my work and life.

  • Dale says:

    When you specify your anticipated monthly earnings like you did, it’s hard not to want to get a piece of the “B.I.M.” pie.

  • edna says:

    I’m in too. This is the direction I need to move, just need assistance getting there.

  • Steph says:

    You BET “I’m IN” Steve! What a genious idea! I will start my list of ideas right away! I look forward to my “Mini-chat with Steve and Kat”, with great anticipation!

  • Sarah says:

    I’m in too! I love reading your articles. They inspire and excite me and make me want to keep pushing on, even when I doubt myself. Looking forward to your Big Ideas monthly publication…

    • Steve Roller says:

      Thanks, Sarah. I’m glad you’re along for the ride. The Big Ideas Monthly is something that’s been rolling around in my head for a year now. Watch for it this fall.

  • Mark says:

    Aside from a few successes here and there, I’ve floundered as a copywriter. I cannot seem to create a stable business. This article helped me to see that maybe I need to steer clear of “freelance”.

    Thanks for this article. The Big Ideas is a GREAT idea! I’m in.

    • Steve Roller says:

      Mark, I’m moving more and more away from “freelance” (the word and the overall concept of it). As I assess the whole copywriting landscape, I’m seeing some underserved areas and some areas where we can position ourselves better. That’s where I’m going, and I’d love to bring a select group of people with me, including you.

  • Alan says:

    It’s gonna be grand or maybe 10x that! Heck yeah , I’m down wid dat.

  • Just ran across your site this morning. I’m in. I’m going to launch my copywriting business this year!

  • hell yeah! This is exactly wht I am doing. I have to, I have a heath condition that means I need to find a way to earn income even when my EDS flares up and I need to watch the lego movie and pop pills for a couple of days. I’ll follow your sucess with interest…

  • Everett Gavel says:

    “I’m in.” 😉

  • Kathleen says:

    Thank you for very thoughtful post. I’m all in and looking forward to my Steve &. Kat chat:)

  • This is awesome, Steve! I’m definitely in!

  • Mary-Josee says:

    I am always looking for ways to create residual income, so generating a business idea like this would be awesome! Love your café writings… so ‘I’m IN’.

  • Alan Steacy says:

    This could be just the ticket Steve. Big ideas…bring it on.

  • Jack Gunter says:

    Well written Steve and I completely understood your point(s). I shared your article on my own site with a few comments:

    I’m in.

  • Andi says:

    Steve, looking forward to the new project. I’m in! Can’t wait to see what you’ve got up your sleeve.

  • Sharon Olson says:

    I’m in, Steve! Your blog posts and the Copywriter Cafe are exponentially inspiring and encouraging, practical and helpful!! Just yesterday, my “business partners,” (my 3 teenagers), and I sat around the table for a brainstorming session. We’re envisioning a business in which we want to position ourselves in the best possible way to create value for people and meet a genuine need. Your ideas, passion, experience and know-how throw gallons of fuel on the fire! So, like I said, I’m in!!

    • Steve Roller says:

      I love it, Sharon, that you’re getting your three teenagers involved! Mine are currently 18, 15, 14, and 11, so I’m in the same boat.

      Thanks so much for reading and being a part of the Copywriter Cafe family. I’m glad you’re here.

  • Melissa says:

    I’m in. On top of all the good reasons posted here, I’m excited to show my kids a different path more suited to the new economy.

    Fired up in Chicago! And thanks, Steve, for all you do.


  • Hi Steve,

    Sounds very interesting to me. Not quite sure exactly what you mean by “I’m in.” But I am certainly open to learning more about how I can do this.

    Sandra Pye

    • Steve Roller says:

      Sandra, I just meant, “Do you like the idea? Then stay tuned, because I have a lot more to come that will help you do this.” Thanks for reading and following here. I’ll keep you posted as I develop this idea in a big way in 2015.

  • Halona Black says:

    Sounds exciting! I’d love to get that magazine! I love being a copywriter, but I’m also building other businesses that will help me to create truly sustainable income. So I love this conversation.

    • Steve Roller says:

      Thanks, Halona. Stay tuned for lots more on the concept of using your copywriting skills to build your other businesses. That’s the direction I’m going with the Cafe. Let me know if I can help you in any way.

  • Michael Hicks says:

    I’m in, Steve. I’m ALL in!

    A quick mention of another benefit your business building
    strategy creates for copywriters based on a time-proven axiom:

    The more successful and independent you are,
    the more attractive you will become to others.

    Writing copy for clients may not be your desire or strong suit.
    But if you write well for your own business, clients
    will come knocking on your door to write for theirs.

    Why? Because you’re proven, you’re self-reliant and
    your business is profitable without outside assistance.

    Speaking psychologically, people need you only when
    you show that you don’t need them. They’ll be curious
    to learn about your success and eager to seek you out.

    Great job as always, Steve. And once again, I’m in!

    • Steve Roller says:

      Thanks, Michael. You’re absolutely right. When you can write well for your own business, you don’t have to try so hard to prove yourself to clients, they will be attracted to you. I’ve seen that the past year again and again in my own business.

      I’m glad you’re in, too. Look forward to seeing you do big things this coming year.

  • Melanie Vestal says:

    I’m in, Steve. It’s what I have been thinking about. Just busy working at a JOB and trying to learn copywriting and stay sane. Melanie

  • Nina says:

    YES, this is what I want to do! I’m already on your mailing list, but still! :))

    • Steve Roller says:

      Nina, thanks for following along and reading what I write! Let me know if I can help you somehow, and hope our paths cross sometime (in person, that is. I travel a lot).

  • Tracey Silla says:

    A little after the fact, but I’m in!

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