What's your copywriting history?

19 replies
Hey guys (and girls - arfa, that's you )

Just genuinely interested in how people around here actually got into copywriting, and why. As an aspiring copywriter, it's nice to share experiences, and also to get an idea of what others have gone through to get where they are today.

So by all means, please share your copywriting past:

-How you got to be a copywriter
-What were the main factors that made you want to be a CW?
-What were you initially worried about?
-What would you say to someone just starting out?

Ben. :p
#copywriting #history
  • Profile picture of the author Russell Barnstein
    I've always been a writer, but my career began early. When I was a kid I was a ward of the state and was often placed in group homes, detention centers, institutions, etc, as there weren't too many places for an 11 year old boy to go. Somehow I started writing poems and letters for other boys to their girlfriends, family and friends on the "outside."

    They paid me with candy (surprisingly, a very hot commodity given the situation) and soda in rare instances, special privileges other times: first in line for chow, a cot in a dark section, underwear without $h#% stains, maybe a little extra meat at dinner.

    I was paid cash for my first piece of writing in high school. I was a natural English whiz and kids started asking me to write essays for them for $20. (I know it's wrong so don't start a bash fest.) I was young and stupid and - more importantly - desperate for the money.

    Eventually this grew into my own personal writing, culminating in a number of books that squandered in my desk for years. Eventually I did other things and forgot about writing.

    I lost my high-paying exec.mgmt job when the market first showed signs of tanking in 2007. (My employer was a "capital venturist") I was devastated because I was fairly certain it would be a long time before I could replace that income.

    During this time I lived off my savings and started work on one of my books again. This somehow led to a random stranger (during a bus-stop conversation) revealing to me that he had heard of people earning a living writing on the web.

    And that's where it all began, really.

    I landed freelance jobs quickly and "wowed" my clients, over-delivering every time. At first I worked for peanuts. I still work for peanuts, in my opinion, but I am a free man.

    Today I employ a large staff of extremely high-quality professionals. I write copy when I want to. When I don't want to write, I don't. I spend a lot of time editing. But mostly, I'm just free.

    Thanks to all of my clients over the years, and all those to come.
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    • Profile picture of the author arfasaira
      Hey Ben

      Here's my lowdown:

      -How you got to be a copywriter

      I was sick of earning a pittance as a content writer...having been published in mainstream fiction before, I knew I had a talent writing and could write exceptionally well...so for me it was a combination of a few things: sick of the rubbish pay, aspiring to be the best and giving me my life back after having kids...and an escape from a crap marriage. So, I decided coaching was best for me and had a superb coach mentor me for 6 months...


      I was at a stage in my life where I felt like I had no control over anything - my marriage was going pear-shaped and I was very unhappy...but with two young children and no job, I had to do something that was going to give me the freedom to work for myself and look after my kids...all while being financially stable to stand on my own two feet...

      ...so copywriting was a natural choice...it allowed me to master words and exert influence and control over prospects who read my copy. It was the only form of control I had over anything when I started out...

      ...and eventually after just 18 months of starting my own writing business, I went from earning a shocking 5 cents per 100 words as a content writer to earning around $500-$1000 a week as a copywriter part time.

      -What were the main factors that made you want to be a CW?

      I'm a good writer and have faith in my writing - it would have been an injustice to myself to have stayed as a content writer...I moved into commercial freelancing (which I still do, although now I do so with added gusto because I have an expert skill clients want and need) before training to become a copywriter.

      Oh that and the desire to leave a very unhappy marriage - which I'm proud to say I finally did in September this year. It's just me and my kids now, much to the shock of my once other half

      -What were you initially worried about?

      That it wouldn't work out - it's always a risk when you try something new, but I had no choice because I had to make it work...it sounds dramatic, but it was either do or die for me...it's amazing what you can achieve when you're backs against a wall. I basically went for it and have never looked back.

      I told myself everyday that I could either die unhappy or die trying...so I opted for the latter

      -What would you say to someone just starting out?

      Don't be discouraged at all and stick it through. When I told my husband I was going to earn money from writing, he laughed at me. Trust me, he isn't laughing now.

      One thing I would say to anyone who is desperate to make it...don't do what I did at the beginning and make a zillion mistakes...a mentor or a coach is often the quickest and BEST way to succeed in no time at all. Coaches guide and inspire and should be seen as an investment and not a cost. If you think of them as a cost, you don't take your own business seriously enough.I had to borrow money from family to do my coaching...and very quickly repaid them with my first two clients.

      My coach is a gem and I owe my success to him completely...that and my stubbornness to succeed

      And here's the other thing - if you make excuses about WHY you can't make it, remember they are YOUR excuses and not reasons. I was a 32 year old stay at home mum with a ten month old baby in tow...who looked after my elderly in laws and my sister in law (with kidney failure and was terribly sick), plus a feisty 6 year old and a crappy marriage (that's a WHOLE story in itself)...and I still did it despite the thousand and one stumbling blocks I had....

      So if I can do it, anyone can....

      I hope this post inspires hope when you feel there isn't any left.
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  • Profile picture of the author onlinebizzz
    I started copywriting in year 2008. And since then i have been on many online marketplaces and forums. And now luckily also have my own site.
    I am very happy to join this never ending business online.
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  • Profile picture of the author The Copy Nazi
    I won't bore you with the full story - and I'm sure many here are sick to death of me anyway but...here's how it started - the short version.

    I ran away from home at 16. True story. But instead of joining the circus (I'm allergic to midgets) I joined an advertising agency - the biggest agency in the world back then - J. Walter Thompson. They had huge multinational clients like Kraft, Ford, Unilever, Pepsi, Kellogs.

    To get the gig I had to write the story of my miserable life - in a thousand words, critique a couple of ads that I picked from a womens magazine - what I thought the worst and what I thought the best - and undergo a days torture at The Institute of Industrial Psychology.

    For the life of me I can't remember what I wrote for the life story - maybe something about growing up with a tribe of pygmies on a desert island or something. But I do remember the ads I picked.

    My "best" was a Colgate toothpaste full pager. My "worst" - an ad for Kelvinator refrigerators.

    The Kelvinator ad showed a smiling housewife handing her brat something from the freezer. I thought it banal and boring and I slammed it.

    Turned out Kelvinator was one of their clients and that spot had been pulling like crazy - the housewives identified with the snot running out of the kids nose or some ****.

    The Psychology report showed that I was a congenital liar with a propensity for fantasizing and had an underlying fear of midgets. In other words I was PERFECT for a career in advertising.

    So they took me on. As an "Advertising Cadet" - read "mail room flunky" and away I went.

    For the first two months I wore my school suit and my black school shoes - teamed with the most outrageous secondhand wide silk ties from the Forties that I found in Opportunity Shops. My favorite was in lime green and shocking pink. Yeah - I was trying to get noticed. And eventually I was.

    I got my break coming up with the concept for - - - - - - - -

    [that'll do you...otherwise the narcs on this forum will start getting their panties in a twist]
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  • Profile picture of the author EricMN
    Couldn't find a job in psychology

    Friend introduced me to internet marketing

    I've been writing all my life (novelist to be)

    "Be a [copy]writer, or be a psychologist?"

    Here I am.
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  • Profile picture of the author travlinguy
    I'm a writer. Before the age of the Internet, I was known as a competent writer. Back in the late 1990's I sold some stuff as an affiliate for Amazon. Then I created my own product. It was a hypnosis course on how to stop smoking.

    And since I'm just a writer, I figured I should just write the copy for the offer. Back then I couldn't have explained the difference between a copywriter and a copy machine. So I wrote the copy for my stop smoking guide and it converted cold traffic at the rate of aroune 4+%.

    Them's good numbers today but back then, before Google owned the whole freakin' planet and had ALL COMMERCE wired to them, 4+ was only decent.

    But I discovered that writing sales stuff was pretty simple if you just know what emotional buttons to push. And I learned from the best. I'm not talking about any marquee copywriter. I'm talking about my father's brother. He was/is a sociopath. And I got to watch him work his VooDoo on every man, woman, child and goldfish he ever encountered. And I was lucky because this guy acually liked me and took me under his belt.

    He explained how people get what they want from others. Some of it wasn't very nice. Hell, most of it was repulsive. He once told me to never give a woman the 'good stuff' unless she first gave you a gift. He said, even if it's just a deck of playing cards... Never give her pleasure without getting something first. And then, tell her you're going to need something else after the deed. Cold hearted!

    Now, I don't even come close to subscribing to his ways. But I did learn a lot about human nature listening to this character. And a lot of it translates to writing copy.

    Most of the greats will tell you that it isn't studying the masters that gets you there. It's taking your own experiences in life and applying them to selling that makes you great. Watch people. Pay attention. Notice what motivates them, what drives them, what pushes them away.

    Start off making a study of people and before long, taking in the details will simply come naturally. And if you do this, you'll see what makes them move, and buy... hehehe

    Anyway, my uncle made me do it.
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  • Profile picture of the author Pusateri
    Back during the Cold War I was designing funny t-shirts. That was a boot camp for headline writing. One thing lead to another and I landed a gig writing phone sales scripts for a singing telegram company. Since then, life has been a series of people showing up saying, "Let's start a _______ business. You sell the _______ and I'll do the rest."

    I started selling online back in 1997. It was the Garden of Eden and the wild wild west. AOL message boards were filled with posts asking, "Can you really make a living on the Internet?" Meanwhile, my partner and I were pulling in six figures. Glorious low hanging fruit back then. Especially in the weight loss niche. Four or five incarnations later I'm in a high end publishing niche (physical books).

    Before I started reading this forum last year, I had never heard of any of the big name copywriters mentioned here everyday. I had read (and re-read) Caples, Ogilvy, and Hopkins twenty years ago, but after that I studied poets, retailers, novelists and cognitive psychology/neuroscience.

    My advice to someone just starting out is to learn everything you can about WHY people do the things they do.

    So much advice is focused on HOW...but WHY is infinitely more important and interesting.
    If you know WHY you can figure out a hundred HOWs...probably some the gurus never thought of.
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  • Profile picture of the author Jason Kanigan
    Although I like writing and persuasion, I got into copywriting out of necessity.

    One year, I decided it would be fun to turn failing businesses around. The problem was that these businesses rarely had the cash to pay my fees. So in order to make the money to get my paycheque I had to do whatever was necessary to bring revenue in. If that meant installing a custom wrought iron driveway gate & stair railing, that's what I did. If that meant calling and calling to find work (*nothing* in management is worse than being responsible for a business, and discovering that your workmen have run out of revenue-generating things to do halfway through the day...), or driving around to building sites to get work, I did that. If it meant I had to learn how to advertise and drive qualified leads to my client's business, guess what, I did that.

    Due to this, I'm less interested in a clever turn of phrase than a straightforward method of driving business in--I like what works, even if it's "ugly."

    Advice to new copywriters? Figure out what you love to talk about all day. Find work in those areas and you'll never get bored or discouraged. Charge for your work: never give it away for free. Then raise your rates. You're probably worth a whole lot more than you think you are. Price your work according to the revenue your client projects it to bring in.

    Don't dismiss Ogilvy, Caples, and other "old school" advertising copywriters because they are from before you were born. Their methods work. Their foundation will help you become more effective. Keep reading--read a new book on advertising or marketing at least every couple of months.

    You can get work within HOURS if you have the right mindset and are focused on helping your prospective client.
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  • Awesome responses so far!

    Well, since I made the thread, I suppose I should contribute, although my story isn't anywhere near as exciting as any of yours, and since I've barely begun, there's really not that much to tell! Anyway, the reason I want to do copywriting is quite similar to Arfa's.

    I'm a regular content writer, and the pay is pretty minimum. Now, I love writing, one of my great passions; if I'm not writing, I'm reading. The problem then is, I feel I'm good enough to be paid a staggering amount more than what I'm getting now.

    In all honesty I started out wanting to become a journalist, but after having spoken to a number of journalists, I found out a few things:
    • Work long, boring hours.
    • Get paid very small time money (that's if you're not one of the leading ladies!)
    • Not guaranteed to travel around the world reporting all the interesting stories. Nope, more likely to be stuck in an office working 8-10.

    To me, that sounds like a nightmare. Stuck in an office with boring work, earning mountains of cash for someone else? No thanks..not my idea of a great career.

    Anyway, I remembered this forum (I'd bookmarked it years ago). Interestingly, I bookmarked it for the self-improvement section, since back then I was a massive junkie for that sort of stuff (still am a bit!). It was a tough time, and I needed a way to make money fast, so I made an account here, posted up a question, and the general response was to sell a service.

    Now, you can see where this is going.

    I began content writing, even created my own shiny little website, and got looking around for clients. I started off working for peanuts, as many who did content at one time all have been through (I think Arfa's record is 50 cents or something), before raising my prices higher.
    Still, with a lack of steady work (due to being beaten over price by the $5 writers, and a lack of funds to advertise myself effectively) and low money from the jobs I was getting, I needed a solution.

    That solution came in the form of copywriting. In the past few months, I've read more copywriting handbooks than I can get my head around. I've printed stuff off and pinned it around the room for help.
    I'm currently on a course with Arfa (helluva good course so far - lucky to be on it! ), and getting help from the Copy Nazi himself as well.

    I have a massive passion for writing (as this post may show) and I reckon this is the perfect job for me.

    So now here I am!
    50% converting squeeze pages, 12% converting WSO's, and more...
    BenPalmerWilson Copywriting
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    • Profile picture of the author RadiniCopywriting
      Originally Posted by CharismaticMannequin View Post

      In all honesty I started out wanting to become a journalist, but after having spoken to a number of journalists, I found out a few things:
      • Work long, boring hours.
      • Get paid very small time money (that's if you're not one of the leading ladies!)
      • Not guaranteed to travel around the world reporting all the interesting stories. Nope, more likely to be stuck in an office working 8-10.
      To me, that sounds like a nightmare. Stuck in an office with boring work, earning mountains of cash for someone else? No thanks..not my idea of a great career.

      So now here I am!
      Sounds familair to me too! I kinda fell into copywriting, after wanting to get into journalism (not too much choice for English graduates). I did some work experience at it and it seemed exactly as you say; long boring work for very little pay.

      After graduating I got a job at a publishers and they wanted to give me some copywriting training. Since then I've done as much as I can of it and I love it. It's definitely what I want to do.

      Fingers crossed there's room for a few more copywriters at the top... the advice here certainly helps.
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      • Originally Posted by RadiniCopywriting View Post

        After graduating I got a job at a publishers and they wanted to give me some copywriting training. Since then I've done as much as I can of it and I love it. It's definitely what I want to do.

        Fingers crossed there's room for a few more copywriters at the top... the advice here certainly helps.

        There's always room! Just gotta find our own space in it! I plan to work extremely hard (already am) at being one of the greats.

        Arrogant? Yes.

        Backed up with a strong work ethic? Hell to the yeah.
        50% converting squeeze pages, 12% converting WSO's, and more...
        BenPalmerWilson Copywriting
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  • Profile picture of the author maximus242
    When I was 15 I decided I wanted to travel the world, so I started learning business. Found out about Halbert, started studying his stuff. That lead me to all the other writers. So I travel the world and make money. Lifes good.

    Out and about in China at the moment. Think ill head to the Caribbean soon though, the beaches here suck. Plus I love sailing, my fav. Girlfriend wants to go to India but I think I need a break from Asia for a while. Anyways thats about it yayy

    xResponsive Advertising Agency | Direct Marketing | Online Advertising | Create Breakthrough Campaigns for Your Business http://xresponsive.com

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  • Profile picture of the author abugah
    I got into copywriting:
    1. To learn selling. It is the highest paying profession in the world.
    2.To escape from my day job. Now I work from the sunny beaches, my house overlooking a national park or from hotel rooms and airport transit lounges.
    3. To be a better leader. You can't be an effective leader if you can't express yourself well in writing.
    4.To understand human psychology. Now I know what 'house money ' is and why people buy a BMW X5 when a small Toyata saloon car would suffice.
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  • Profile picture of the author Raydal
    The most powerful and concentrated copywriting training online today bar none! Autoresponder Writing Email SECRETS
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  • Profile picture of the author EricMN
    I actually watched the video Ray posted a few weeks ago.

    Very interesting stuff, I very much enjoyed your story and how you got to where you are now. Impressive library!
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  • Profile picture of the author DougHughes
    Much like Russell and Mal I started off hustling as a youth.

    I was always looking for greener pastures and fast cash.

    I've spent a lifetime selling one thing or another from Kirby vacuum cleaners and $2000 water purifiers door-to-door to hawking timeshares and vacation packages in telesales boiler rooms.

    I used to respond to all the great "grass is greener" ads like "Make a fortune fishing in Alaska (only to find getting work hustling the docks was harder than it seemed)" to "Travel the world for FREE as an international air courier," to one of my personal favorites which I look to for inspiration time-and-time again - Bill Bonner's ad for International Living (which you can find here (30 year control) https://orders.internationalliving.c...1/landing.html) and which I consider a true direct response masterpiece.

    To get to the next level I ended up roommates with one of the most incredible salesman I've met to date (rest his soul) "Jay the Jew." Jay introduced me to Tony Robbins and took me to the "Walk on Fire." He encouraged salesmanship in me and showed me a salesman only suffers himself.

    Somehow, I stumbled into a furniture making business and began selling to boutiques around LA and Orange County.

    I started dabbling with EBay when it first came out in 93' or 94' and found I could sell the heck out of things with just a good little story. It was amazing and before I knew it I had a retail gallery. Then the market tanked and I was overextended.

    Somehow I ended up back in school. People kept telling me I should be a writer so I went to grad school for communications. But...my real passion was in selling! Not just any selling - direct response.

    I happened to land a gig with another brilliant marketer and quickly earned a reputation writing blockbuster landing page copy during the internet's wild-wild-west (before the FTC and all the lawyers staked their claims).

    When pressure forced us to redirect I found myself at a crossroads. I had no clients and a decent load of bills each month. Did I care? No - I went to work like a mad dog, and before I knew it I was getting work.

    Did I make a lot of mistakes? Absolutely. Here's a funny story. One of the first campaigns I did I got a client willing to pay me $200/hr. Yeah, I thought it unbelievable too (I have yet to find another like that) to write him a grievance letter to his landlord. Not exactly my specialty.

    Anyhow, when I was first on my own I was desperate and took a number of jobs in the $30/hr range. My advice and experience tells me if you're good and have what it takes you are doing everyone a disservice by asking low rates.

    There's a book "The Power of Now," for newbie copywriters there should be a book called "The Power of NO." You have to take this on faith. Say no and you'll position yourself better.

    Final advice after this stupidly long drunken rant. Don't do anything on equity. Bill for your time and get half upfront. Rules of the game.

    Good luck.

    I write copy. Learn More.>>

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  • Profile picture of the author LetterCraft Inc.
    There's no better pleasure than persuading someone to buy a product that they had no intention of buying when they first landed on the page. You kind of feel powerful in a sense. The kind of power words have is often underestimated and having such power in your hands can make you feel Godlike, if I may.
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  • Profile picture of the author EvanBeck
    I learned to write out of necessity while working in the advertising world. Funny thing is most of the best writers I have come across over the years were not trained as writers in school, journalism, etc. They were just people that understood the human condition.
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