Okay, look. Writing isn’t for everyone. That’s just a fact, and it all comes down to how you think. Whether or not you decide to write – or engage in any other creative profession – if you don’t have the correct freelance mindset, you won’t get far.
I don’t want to toot my own horn or anything, buuuuut … oh wait, I’ve almost failed at being a professional writer like a jillion times. The only thing that’s kept me on this long is the insistent belief that I could never be happy doing anything else.
But I’ve learned along the way … really, not everyone should be a writer. If you’re wondering, as many do along the path to career satisfaction, whether you’ll be unhappy once you’re actually doing the thing, well, that’s a good question. If you want to succeed, there are a few basic mindset attributes you’re going to need. And here they are.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m antagonistic and sometimes downright misanthropic. Doesn’t work well in groups is something that cropped up a LOT on my elementary school report cards. But I never let my clients know this. Even when it sometimes feels like I hate working with them, I don’t. Not really. (Except one. You know who you are.) But seriously, if you can’t find a way to work in groups at ALL, you won’t get too far, so I recommend another path.
Yeah, I know. You could say this about any career. But honestly, the sheer mental fortitude sometimes required to get something in on deadline, be creative, glue your mouth shut when someone pisses you off and still find time to put dinner on the table can be brutal.
Did I mention the being creative part? Because that’s often the killer. I sometimes spend hours trying to come up with the perfect “thing” for a client, only to find out it isn’t the “thing” at all. And other times, sure, it flows right out. But don’t expect that.
Although, I should note that I sometimes find myself in the bathtub at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. So, you know, working for yourself certainly has its advantages.
This one seems harsh. Because it IS harsh: a harsh reality that if you can’t write, you probably won’t be very successful professionally.
Now, let me say this next bit in all caps so you’re sure to hear it: THAT DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN’T BECOME A WRITER. Did you get that? Should I pause while it sinks in for a minute or five? Mmkay, come back when you’ve truly absorbed the fact that you absolutely, positively can still achieve that dream.
But friend, you may need some schooling first. Not necessarily a degree. You could take an online course, or several. You can practice writing on your own, join a writing group or hire an editor who can help you learn to edit your own work better. One of my best friends is dyslexic, and she’s an excellent writer, because she knows her limitations and just has others edit her work.
So if you can’t write currently, well then, you probably won’t be landing any gigs tomorrow. But keep working. Assuming you’re willing to work hard and aren’t a serial killer, you’re likely to succeed in this profession if you really, really want it.
And I am a serial killer.
Clients want edits. Much like “smaller things are cuter” and “bacon goes with everything,” it’s just a fact.
Thing is, you can dislike editing, but you must still be able to take it. Do I hate editing? Well, sure. It represents time I’m spending for no extra money, and I would pretty much rather stab out my eyeballs than change sentences I like to fit someone else’s vision.
But most of the time, your vision really isn’t what matters. If a client is paying you, they’ve got the final say. Even if you’ve landed yourself a nice, cushy book deal at a big publishing house, your editor can still wield her power over you. I mean, unless you’re James Patterson or something.
But you’re not, are you? (Unless … hi, James!)
Adaptation is a must. Because see, writing for someone else – which is what I do, when I’m not writing terrible poetry or unpublished novels – requires that you write in their voice. That you switch things up, and try techniques you haven’t tried before, and take a hard look at their words or a hard listen to their voice and just plain change yours.
Especially for those of us who are experienced and adept at the craft, this is difficult. Perhaps you’ve been running your own blog for years and it’s popular, or have been successfully selling short stories. You probably think you’re pretty darn good, in that case, and rightfully so. Clearly you are. But when it comes to writing for others, it really doesn’t matter what you think.
Yes, you get to help shape the writing, and they should treat you like the expert you are. But at the end of the day, it’s them, and not you, who get the final say.
Wait, you’re thinking … won’t my clients give me ideas?
Ideas for topics, yes. Direction, yes. But ideas for jokes? One-liners? Hooks? Calls to action? You need to be able to come up with those on your own, or else you won’t get far. Luckily, this is easier than it sounds. I constantly refresh my wellspring of funny ideas by scrolling through Twitter, listening to comedy, reading and just riffing with my friends and family. Start looking at everything you do as an opportunity, and you’ll soon find that you have more ideas than you know what to do with.
And hey, if these issues continue to be your Achilles heel and professional writing isn’t for you, that’s okay. But if you do want to write, then cultivating the correct freelance mindset is a must from the outset.
Telling others what you do might feel painful for you. You’re a sensitive artistic type, and when Uncle Jerry or That Dude at the Coffee Shop ask you what you do, the urge to curl up into a small ball and peek from between your fingers is perfectly natural.
No, I’ve never done that. This is just what I understand from speaking with lesser souls than I.
The point is you need to get bolder. The freelance mindset is about hustling, about convincing others that what you do is worthwhile, and about convincing a small subset of them that you are worth hiring. How do you do this? By talking about it.
Let’s back up.
As a copywriter, your main job is this: write content that gets your clients’ audiences to trust them. That’s it, plain and simple.
You’ve heard the whole “know, like, trust” marketing adage, right? If not, hear it now: in order to sell, prospects need to know, like and trust. So in order for clients to hire you, they need to know you, like you, trust you. So in your elevator pitch, you have one job: tell clients what you do in a way that assures them you can get their prospects to know, like and trust them.
Be bold. Put it out there. Tell them exactly what you’re good at, and don’t be shy.
You’ll do this on a longer-term basis as well as in the short term. Long-term, the know part is easy. You simply tell people what you do and how you do it. An about page will usually sum this up. Like is pretty easy too, but it takes work and maintenance. A blog, social media profiles or at least some truly unique copy on your website. And lastly, trust. You need to sound like you know what you’re doing.
More than that, you need to be specific so that you can dispense with potential clients who won’t appreciate you. I encourage you not to think of this weeding out process as business lost. I promise you it isn’t. A client who doesn’t love what you do isn’t a client worth having. It’s not the principle of the matter, either. Logistically you will simply regret taking on these clients: They ask for more revisions. They question your expertise. They don’t share your sense of humor or your idea of what constitutes “good” marketing copy.
So avoid the suck by nailing that elevator pitch and being very specific about who you are and what you do. Don’t be shy. Don’t undersell yourself. Don’t refuse to talk about this at Thanksgiving. Hold your head proud, and understand that while not everyone you tell about your business will listen or care, some will. And these people can bring more value to your life than you ever thought possible.
But not if you don’t have the right freelance mindset. So get on it!
Love what you read here? I go more in-depth into freelance mindsets and elevator pitches in my course, Overnight Copywriting. If you’re not quite ready to check that out, feel free to head to the Free Resource Library instead. Get more than a dozen awesome resources to kick you into copywriting hyperdrive.
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