Big IdeasCopywritingSelling

How To Get The Ball Rolling With Your Freelance Career. (QnA w. Steve Roller Pt.1)

By 08/14/2013August 12th, 2022No Comments

{Interview with Anton Volney at} steveroller Today, I have Steve Roller with us. He is a direct response copywriter, trainer of copywriters, founder of and all-around interesting guy. Steve’s a world traveler (he’s been to 28 different countries so far) and he’s here to talk to us about how to get more clients as a freelancer, or as John Carlton says, how to get past the shameless whore phase. …Well anyway, welcome Steve, and why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself? Steve: Thank you. Well first of all, I got into this whole copywriting business about nine years ago. My background before that was in direct sales and I had a lot of success in that world, and enjoyed it…but at a certain point I discovered this idea of copywriting and I realized that I could merge this world of selling face-to-face with writing to impact a lot more people. With direct selling, it always came down to me sitting down, face-to-face, one-on-one with a prospect. Well, you can only be in one place at one time. But with copywriting, I was able to sell in many places at once. The main reason I switched was to have a more flexible schedule, and hopefully make a lot more money where it really came down to me being in one place, so about 9 years ago I transferred into this world of “direct response copywriting”, and for about 4 or 5 years, I really dabbled in it, and it was part time. But a little over four years ago, in March of 2009, I decided to take the leap and jump into this crazy world of freelancing. I decided to make a go of it and I absolutely love it. There has been a little bit of a learning curve, especially in the first year or two, and what I’m doing now is helping other copywriters make that transition a little smoother and hopefully help them get up and running to really make a good income as a freelancer. Anton: How does one get on the fast track to getting lots of clients and making a sustainable income?

Tip #1: Start with what you know.

Steve: I always recommend starting with what you know…and who you know. First of all, what is your background? For me, I went back to some colleagues that I had in direct sales, but I’d recommend starting with worlds that you are familiar with. So if you come from some sort of health field, maybe you’ll focus on freelance medical writing, or copywriting for the alternative health world. Or if you were a financial advisor or something like that, maybe you’ll get into some type of financial copywriting.

Tip #2: Start with who you know.

So I recommend starting with what you know…and also WHO you know. The first few clients that I had came before I even had a website or a business card. I just made a comment of Facebook that I was a copywriter and a few people saw that. I also had a breakfast meeting with an old colleague and I told him I was a copywriter. He had a company and he needed a copywriter. In my first year, most of my business came from people that I knew, and just telling them that I was a copywriter, and showing them ways that I could increase their sales. So I do recommend starting with what you know.

Tip #3: Don’t try to start too big, too fast.

I think the mistake that a lot of people make is trying to start too big too fast. People hear these success stories, and it’s certainly possible to make six figures in your very first year of freelancing. And you hear these stories of these big publishing companies hiring some new copywriter and they become a rock star immediately because they write this killer sales letter and it generates millions of dollars in revenue… Well, those stories are out there, and you hear them because they’re pretty rare. I think some people try to go after those big, big companies, and those big copywriting gigs before they are ready. It’s a tough market to break into as a very beginner. So I just think it’s easier to start small but aim big. It’s easier to land smaller projects with smaller clients.

Tip #4: Don’t be afraid to start REALLY small.

And you shouldn’t be afraid to start REALLY small. I’ve worked on very small projects that have since parlayed into bigger things. When I first started, I got a client from Elance who was paying me $120 a month. I did it because I knew it would lead to something else. Well, I’m still working with that client for a lot more money now, on a monthly basis, because they saw what I did, they tested me out, and I delivered results.

Tip #5: Always give people more than they’re really asking for…

I had another very small project. All they wanted me to do was critique some sales copy for a sales letter that they had. Well I over-delivered. I went really in depth with this critique and they liked it, so they hired me to do a landing page, and then they hired me to do a video sales letter. Two and a half years later, that video sales letter is still online generating results.

Tip #6: Don’t wait too long to go after the big projects.

That isn’t to say that you should wait too long to go after the big projects. It’s kind of this balance. You need to make sure that you’re making money with what I call “bread and butter projects,” but go after the same “stretch” projects at the same time. 3 years ago, when I was still fairly new as a freelancer, I had a chance to try to work with a project that Dan Kennedy was working on. If you’re in the marketing world you’ll know that Dan Kennedy is a pretty big player, and a pretty good copywriter. He was looking to hire a couple junior copywriters for a very big project for a very big client (Proactive, which is an acne medication) that has ads all over TV, radio, infomercials, print, etc. Anyway, I was one of a couple copywriters he had hired, and I got feedback from Dan Kennedy, the master himself. But more than anything, that project gave me a huge boost of confidence that I could work on big projects and that I was a pretty good copywriter. I got a testimonial from Dan Kennedy that I use all over the place now of course. So even though I’m saying start small, you don’t want to wait too long to go after the big stuff, just don’t rely on the big stuff. Anton:  Once you get past that “starter phase” what else can you do to get leads and clients?

Tip #7: Scout the competition.

Steve: I don’t recommend settling into a niche right at the beginning. I think you need to get your feet wet and find out what different projects are like. I had a lot of different interests. I was interested in writing for travel companies, financial companies, self help companies…And once you’ve gotten your feet wet, I think it’s good to scout out the competition and see what else is out there. There’s really two ways I think you can make a lot of money: 1. You can work in an in-demand niche and become, little by little, a major player in that industry. Let’s say that’s financial newsletter publishing. That’s a huge industry, and copywriters who are in that field are making huge money. Some of them get upwards of $20,000 per sales letter plus royalties for writing the letters in that niche. 2. Finding an unknown niche that’s still in demand that other people don’t know about. There are all sorts of strange niches like that. I know people that write copy for the funeral services industry. If you can find an unknown niche like that, don’t advertise it to the world! You don’t want more competition. You’re not going to be the only person in a particular niche, and you’re probably not going to be the best, but if you can be one of the best then I think you can make a very good living as a freelancer.

Tip #8: Become an authority.

Then you need to convey that online, and in any print materials about your services. That’s when you can start establishing yourself as an authority. And when I say to “become the world’s foremost authority”, it doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily the best copywriter out there, but maybe you’re the world’s foremost authority on writing autoresponder emails for the tech industry…something like that. You can come up with your own title in your own narrowly defined niche. And that comes about somewhat organically. I think a lot of people try to hurry up the process and just settle on a niche because they have some background experience.

Tip #9: Use testimonials.

I think testimonials are a great way to get clients. A good amount of the business that I’ve done over the last four years has come as a result of someone referring me, or because of a testimonial that somebody has seen on my website or my business card. Anytime you do a good job for someone, I recommend that you get a very specific testimonial.  Make sure that it says something specific about what you did for them and the results that they got.

Tip #10: Connecting and networking.

A lot of this business is really about connecting and networking, and I think that people have an old, outdated idea of going to networking events and exchanging business cards and stuff like that, but these days, a lot of that stuff is really online. It’s about connecting on Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, etc. If you’re a copywriter, join copywriting groups LinkedIn and jump into conversations that they’re having on the forums. Same thing with Facebook; we have a group called Copywriter Café. We have a lot of lively discussions on this group, and I also know from asking around, that there are lots of members who have hired other members on Copywriter Café, because they have a business of their own and they’re too busy.

Tip #11: Brand yourself correctly.

Anton: Having been a copywriter for a few years now, I feel like the word “copywriter”  (and this may be similar for people who are just writers, or some other type of freelancer) almost puts you at a disadvantage until you get to the point where you are the foremost expert in a certain niche. Most people need a copywriter, but they don’t have any concept of WHY they need one…So in my humble opinion, advertising yourself as a copywriter can have its pros and cons. You can say, “I’m a copywriter.” And they’ll say, with a confused look on their face, “Oh…that’s nice.” I am experimenting with LinkedIn profile writing, because LinkedIn is huge and there aren’t many people who are doing a good job of selling themselves right now. I can tell you from first hand experience that there’s a much stronger connect when I say, “I am a LinkedIn profile writing expert” because there is a connection between what I do, and what other people want. Steve: Yeah, in general, when I don’t know what somebody does and I need to find out a little more information about their situation, I usually just say that I’m a writer. And then maybe I give them an example I say, “Have you ever seen those online video sales letters on the internet? Well, I write the scripts for those.” You’re right, sometimes just saying, “I am a copywriter” can be a disadvantage too. Especially that word “copywriter” a lot of people just don’t get it. They don’t know what that means. Aside from people in the industry, I’ve kind of stopped using that word.

Tip #12: Do a spec assignment.

Steve: It’s doing an assignment “on speculation” which means you’re not getting paid for it upfront, but if they like it, they’ll hire you and pay for you to do the full project upfront and probably hire you to do more. I don’t recommend it as a blanket strategy, but it’s a way to get your foot in the door. Sometimes, clients will post spec assignments on job boards like, and that can lead to much bigger things…

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This ends part one of my interview with Steve Roller. Part two will answer questions such as, “How do some freelancers get away with charging outrageously high fees?” And, “How do you perfect your craft as quickly as possible?” Read part 2 now!]

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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