AWAI Member Jim Mcgovern Tells How to Use Your First Assignments to Build a Strong Portfolio

When Jim McGovern started AWAI's accelerated copywriting course, he had no idea he'd consider himself a professional copywriter in six months. But that's exactly what happened.

We interviewed Jim to find out how he used his restaurant assignment to make that leap … and to start building his portfolio.

TGT: Jim, tell us a little about your background.

JM: I graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1983. I've been flying as a commercial airline pilot for about 14-15 years.

I have no real background in copywriting or marketing. So most of what I'm learning about copywriting – especially about writing to stir emotions – is new to me.

TGT: What attracted you to copywriting?

JM: The airline industry is in turmoil right now. I wanted to develop a more business-oriented skill that I could use in addition to flying. And the ability to earn a substantial residual income from rollouts of control packages definitely appealed to me.

TGT: How does copywriting fit into your schedule?

JM: Typically, I work 1-3 days at a time. Then I have 1- 4 days off. My time off allows me to pursue other things – like copywriting.

TGT: You sent AWAI your restaurant assignment for the accelerated copywriting course several months ago. What happened after they reviewed it?

JM: I wrote the letter about an Italian restaurant I visited. I got a good critique from AWAI, so I thought the restaurant might be interested in mailing it.

However, before I got a chance to approach the owners, my wife and I went to a different Italian restaurant for dinner. This restaurant was very impressive – the food was excellent.

One of the owners mentioned that they were new owners and were trying to expand the business.

A light went off. I thought, "I've already got a sales letter for an Italian restaurant. All I have to do is change the names, polish it up based on the critique I received from AWAI, and maybe they would be interested in using it for their restaurant."

I came back and showed the owner the letter. I explained to her that I would tailor it to their restaurant and make the letter even stronger.

And I told her I wouldn't charge them for it. All they had to do was cover the printing and mail it out. It was a win-win situation. They would get a positive advertising medium and I would gain experience.

I came back with the revised letter. She and her husband were really happy with it! They just wanted me to shorten it a bit and change a few parts to fit their marketing focus.

When my wife and I returned to present the final letter, they gave us dinner on the house.

Although I didn't get paid for this letter, I now consider myself to be a professional copywriter because they're using it to promote their restaurant. And – more important – I have a real sales letter in my portfolio.

TGT: What did it feel like to work with the owners?

JM: One of the interesting things was the different perspective they brought to the letter. This illustrates my point: I like Italian food quite a bit … but not fish. However, they're really proud of their fish menu and how fresh the fish is. They wanted me to emphasize that more.

TGT: Did you learn anything that you can use on future projects?

JM: I learned the value of the copywriting education. Some of the owners' comments on the letter were valid – it is their business, after all. But some of their suggestions violated principles I'd learned and would weaken the letter. I explained why it wasn't the best way to go, and they understood. So I learned that just because people are good at their business doesn't mean they are good in their marketing and advertising.

I also learned that you have to be proactive. You have to seize opportunities as they come. You never know where success will pop up.

TGT: I know you're just getting started, but where do you want to be 1, 2, and 5 years down the road?

JM: I'm determined that within a year I'll have my own business up and running.

In 2 years, I want to have enough consistent copywriting income to make it possible for me to pare back flying so I don't have to be away from home as much.

Five years from now, I would like to earn the bulk of my income from copywriting and fly just enough to maintain my proficiency.

TGT: Any last words?

JM: Keep at it. Don't give up on your dream. And look at everything around you as an opportunity to write. Look at me. I haven't even finished the course, and I've already started building my portfolio!

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Published: December 20, 2004

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