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Success Story:
How C.A. Defendorf Landed Her First Copywriting Job … for the World's Largest Airline Catering Company

C.A. Defendorf (she goes by "CD") enrolled in AWAI's copywriting course in October 2002. In less than a year, she landed her first assignment, recouped all of her out-of-pocket expenses, and made a healthy profit! We asked CD for a little insight on how she did it – and what she's up to now.

TGT: CD, please tell us something about yourself.

CD: For the past 25 years, I have been a marketing and business development entrepreneur. I've been highly paid to clarify, counsel, cajole, and sometimes compel business owners to organize and manage their time, people, marketing, and goals. I have worked for lawyers, artists, real-estate developers, mortgage- and real-estate brokers, inventors, musicians, and CPAs. I have written their business and marketing plans, handled their public relations and advertising, and have been their "go-to" idea person/problem-solver.

Writing has always been a part of my life. I've kept a daily journal since the age of 10. I have written and published three business books, several articles for trade magazines, and a collection of poems – and I have one wall that's papered with rejection slips for my personal viewpoints/essays on topical issues. I may have to build an addition onto my home to accommodate future rejection slips, because there is no way I'm going to stop expressing my opinion about the issues of our times.

TGT: With all of your writing experience, what attracted you to the copywriting course?

CD: In April 2002, a client referred me to a marketing firm that needed a writer for technical white papers and PowerPoint sales proposals for Hewlett-Packard. Based on a telephone interview, I was hired – even though I had no previous technical writing experience. After six months of steady work, I realized how much I liked business writing. Everything was handled by phone and e-mail. And the money was good. I knew that I needed to develop my native talent into a honed skill and create a complete business plan for being a copywriter – and I figured that there must be a course available to help me do this. A little Internet research brought me to the AWAI website. I liked what I saw and ordered the Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting in October 2002.

In April 2003, I signed up for another course offered by AWAI, Bob Bly's "Selling Yourself As a Copywriter." I have read many of Bob's books and I knew that if I followed his path, I would succeed. His course gave my copywriting career a jumpstart. It laid out exactly what to do and how to do it. And I decided to follow that formula exactly.

TGT: So tell us how you landed your first assignment.

CD: Following Bob Bly's model, I created a one-page sales letter and return postcard. Over the next two months, I went to the public library and photocopied 400 pages from the Standard Directory of Advertising Agencies. I compiled my own mailing list of creative directors – and on June 12, 2003, I began mailing out 10 letters/postcards a day. After 250 letters were mailed, I began to get the postcard responses. By the time I had mailed 626 letters, I had a 1.5% response rate.

The first copywriting assignment I landed came by telephone from the creative director of a large advertising agency – on the day he received my sales letter. He was jammed up with work and facing a deadline for an overseas client. He didn't need to see my portfolio. After only 15 minutes on the phone, he offered to hire me immediately "based on [my] demonstrated ability to write a sales letter."

TGT: That's quite impressive! What was the assignment?

CD: He hired me to write 20 case studies and/or overview sales sheets to be included in a very expensive company brochure for a German client – the world's largest airline catering company. The ad agency did not yet have the formatting finalized, even though they wanted everything finished within two weeks. I figured there was no way all of it could get done in that time, but I said, "Sure, I can do this" – and then used Bob's famous three questions to negotiate how much I would charge. We agreed to a very good project price. I immediately e-mailed a one-page Contract for Writing Services Agreement listing all terms and conditions, and I asked for 50% of the writing fee up front. The signed contract and check were Fedexed to me the next day.

TGT: It sounds like that project was a little complicated. How did you approach it?

CD: I received all background material for this assignment via e-mail, telephone, and Fedex. After two days of reading, reviewing, and thinking about the approach I would use, I called the Group Account Navigator to brainstorm ideas. Since some of the material they sent me was very thin, we agreed that half of the case studies and overview sales sheets could be better handled in-house. This made the original two-week deadline more realistic. I also verified how much feedback and/or editing would come directly from the German client and reminded the agency that up to two rewrites were allowed if assigned within five days of receipt of copy. Finally, I needed the agency to provide me with the final page formatting BEFORE I would begin to write copy. Otherwise, I would be spending too much time redoing my work to fit into another format.

Because I had taken the time to think about this project from beginning to end, the agency was appreciative, the timeline was expanded by one week, and all of my conditions were agreed to. I e-mailed an amended contract to reflect our new agreement. Two days before the three-week deadline, I had completed the assignment. I received the balance of my copywriting fees the following week.

TGT: Did you do anything to prompt such a fast payment?

CD: I e-mailed an Acceptance of Copywriting sign-off sheet and my final invoice the day I completed the project. My invoice indicated that final payment was due and payable upon receipt. I got an e-mail indicating that my check would be processed that day and another e-mail a week later asking if I had received my final check! Who says we have to wait 30 days to get paid?

TGT: A great beginning to a freelance copywriting career! What are your future plans, CD?

CD: I'm going to use the telephone script Bob gave us in the Selling Yourself course to cold-call creative directors on my compiled mailing list. This winter, I will put up a website and develop a monthly e-zine. I continue to write how-to articles, and over the next three months I will begin the process of submitting them to online websites and industry trade journals.

Also, I am going to sign up for AWAI's one-on-one coaching program. I have such an eclectic background of interests and experience that it has been difficult for me to choose a specialty – which I think is vital in order to get into the high-paying markets. I believe that my career will take off with some focused direction from a person who has demonstrated success in what I want to do.

TGT: What advice would you give other copywriting students?

CD: Everyday, life presents us with opportunities and choices – and every now and then, something truly excellent comes along. The Selling Yourself program is a complete, proven, expertly executed A-to-Z methodology for copywriting success. Don't try to reinvent this wheel. Follow it EXACTLY.

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Published: December 1, 2003

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