Cover your private parts, ladies and gents. This is a rough field to play. But sticking with it can be rewarding in the most unimaginable ways.
I'd love to say my career trajectory was an upward-facing arrow...
Sadly, I'm a stubborn asshole and my path to success looks more like the kind of straight line that would be drawn by a drunk crackhead - it's ALL over the place.
Is it even a line? Who knows?!
So if my bashing-my-head-repeatedly-into-the-wall experience helps even ONE up-and-comer lurking here, I will consider my life's work a complete and total success.
Here are a few hard lessons I've learned from the copywriting trenches:
1) Don't just do research - do the RIGHT research.
A simple Google search ain't gonna cut it. You need to be devouring statistics, fact sheets, discussions in your target market's forums, online reviews, and anything else you can get your hands on. If it's a great angle - FANTASTIC. Make sure it's not just some random blogger or journalist spouting off an opinion.
This isn't mass media. Your clients need to be able to trust your opinions. There aren't on-air apologies a la Brian Williams for this kind of snafu - there are only lost money and a shot reputation. Don't be lazy. Do the research and don't make assumptions.
2) Know when to STOP researching.
On a related note, you have to know when enough is enough. This is the law of diminishing returns - at some point you're going to be doing a whole lot of busy work for not that much more gain.
Interestingly enough, I find that this applies more to beginning career copywriters than mid-level and up. Especially when it comes to gaining experience and finding clients.
We always see people asking for the next best course, the best seminar, the best mentor, etc...
You know who winds up succeeding? The people who don't get stuck in the never-ending self-education loop and get out there and DO. Take what you've learned and apply it. See if it stands on its own. If it doesn't, figure out why.
You'll learn so much more from taking action than you will from studying those who took action.
3) Stop worrying about the RIGHT way to do things and start doing things that FEEL right.
Don't get me wrong - conventional wisdom is all well and good. But recognize that thought leaders became thought leaders because they ACTUALLY THOUGHT. They didn't just regurgitate stuff they've learned from the greats. They took that knowledge, used it, learned from it, reinterpreted it, TRULY understood it.
Everyone loves to tell you that there's a right way and a wrong way to do things. I agree to a certain point. What works today works for a reason - and reinventing the wheel right out of the gate is going to leave you on the side of the road while everyone else is off and running.
Model on success - find something that WORKS, use it exactly like you learned it, and then when you have enough experience to understand WHY it works, go with your gut and your personal goals and tweak it until it works just right for YOU.
4) Be painfully honest.
I love the whole "fake it until you make it" concept. It's gotten me through a lot of jams in life - just look and act like you belong and you'll get by.
There's a caveat though - don't pretend to know something you don't. That's a great way to destroy your reputation and shake people's faith in your judgment. When I've come up against that barrier, I've found that being honest with people is just the ticket.
In the end, people want to work with someone they know, like, and trust (thanks Kevin Rogers). Blowing smoke up someone's ass when they're paying you for expertise you don't have is just bad business.
If you don't have the experience - tell them, and tell them what you'll do to quickly get up to speed and test your work. THIS is how you get paid to learn instead of paying others to teach you. Honesty and hard work.
5) Be yourself.
This goes back to the right way/wrong way to do things.
My dad told me I'd never be employed if I got visible tattoos and had my labret pierced...
I'm sitting in a cushy office drinking fancy coffee and daydreaming about my next big concept.
My friends told me being a pro writer and musician was damn near impossible and I should use my smarts for something guaranteed, like doctoring or lawyering...
You know how many unemployed doctors and lawyers I know? Countless. Yet I'm the one able to pay off her student loans every month.
My colleagues told me my crazy ideas and weird interests would be a detriment to business...
My clients are so loyal that they'll recommend people to me out of the blue after years have passed. They'll come out to my band's gigs just to hang. They'll dig up cash to have me help them brainstorm their next big thing. And best of all, they approach me with weird, crazy projects that I LOVE.
Why? Because I'm me. I like rock 'n' roll, tattoos, and crazy ideas. I'll raise funds for animal rescue or other passion projects and be so amped up that I can barely SLEEP because I'm so happy to be working.
6) Know which advice to take.
Look, I've been given a lot of great advice.
I've also been given a lot of shitty advice from people more interested in their turn to talk than how their words could affect my LIFE.
And if I'd listened to a lot of the advice I've been given over the years, I'd likely still be waiting tables and/or be stuck in a dead-end job, counting the hours until retirement.
This goes back to doing what FEELS right.
Sometimes your gut will be wrong, but often you'll find it's right on the money. Got a pit forming in your stomach at the thought of working with that potential client over there? Ignore the people telling you to take anything that comes your way just to get the experience - instead, avoid the heartache that comes with the shitty client experience your gut's trying to warn you about.
Shared work you're proud of and got someone telling you to quit because you'll never be good enough? **** those guys. Share it with someone you trust and get real workable advice from someone who cares and will encourage you.
7) You are the company you keep.
My last piece of advice is a bit of a cheat - it's conventional wisdom. If you want to be an A-lister, start hanging out with A-listers and ditch the bottom-feeders. 'Nuff said.
Holy brain dump, Batman.
Do with it what you will. But don't let anyone else tell you how to succeed. Only you can do the succeeding for you. So get out there and take some damn action, fall down, pick yourself back up, and keep moving.