6 Success Lessons from the Winners of AWAI's Bootcamp 2006 Challenge

Breaking into any new career – including copywriting – can be daunting.

Today, we'd like to introduce you to three copywriters and one graphic designer who, in spite of their fears, took a step towards making their dreams a reality … and were rewarded for it!

Rewind to September 2006…

Everyone coming to the Copywriting FastTrack to Success Bootcamp was given a challenge…

Write a headline and lead for any of the following AWAI products:

  • Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting
  • Monthly Copywriting Genius
  • Freelance Writing Success in a Box.

The writer of the best headline and lead for each product, as determined by AWAI's Board of Advisors, received $1,000 on the spot at Bootcamp (in front of the entire crowd!) and was hired by AWAI to write the full package.

Since I was on the committee, I reviewed all the submissions.

SUCCESS LESSON #1: When we offer opportunities like this, take advantage of them.

You have absolutely nothing to lose, and potentially a lot to gain. You may be telling yourself, “I don't have a chance. I bet AWAI gets hundreds of submissions.” I'm here to tell you that's not so. In this particular case, we had over 250 people coming to the FastTrack program and I don't think I received more than 100 entries – and some people submitted more than one attempt.

SUCCESS LESSON #2: No matter what the assignment … even if it's just a “spec” … put your best self forward.

It was evident from their submissions that the winners not only wrote great copy – they proved to be professional too. They took the assignment… studied the product and all the back-up material… soaked everything in… asked a few intelligent questions… and then came back with a good, solid first draft.

Here, in their own words, is more from the people who took the Bootcamp 2006 Challenge … and won!

Edith Rodriguez: Success … After a False Start

I'm a grandmother of two boys who live near me in the Houston area. I was an accountant for 29 years before getting into copywriting.

I decided to be a full-time copywriter in January 2006. Decided, but didn't actually become one until around May.

To be honest, one of my problems can be finding time to write. If I'm not careful, I'll spend most of my time reading and listening to copywriting and marketing materials. So Bootcamp was a big turning point in motivating me to set up and stick to a schedule.

I received an email about the Bootcamp Challenge from AWAI. At first, I was reluctant to try, but then I felt it was an integral part of my training as a copywriter. Even though I was sure I wouldn't win.

My first choice was "Monthly Copywriting Genius." Second was "Freelance Writing Success in a Box."

I realized later that I'd have time to write only one spec, so I chose MCG. I figured since it is my favorite copywriting newsletter, coming up with a headline and lead would be a breeze.

A week after starting, I was nowhere near copy I was happy with. I tried different angles, different voices. It didn't flow! My intuition said "Let it go." So I did, hard as it was after all that investment of time and energy.

So, I started working on "Freelance Success in a Box" ASAP. And it flowed! It was fun to write. I still went through several revisions, but I was happy with the final version.

As I held the check at the award ceremony, it dawned on me at that moment that I'd become a real copywriter … not just an aspiring one.

I went to the Bootcamp with only two expectations: to learn a lot and have a good time. The Bootcamp exceeded those expectations. I'd say this even if I didn't win. Winning the Challenge was icing on the cake.

SUCCESS LESSON #3: Think about what you want to accomplish this year, and what goals you need to set in order to achieve it.

If you haven't yet started, Michael Masterson offered some useful help to get you started in the year's first issue of The Golden Thread.

Joanne Sullivan: How Does a Mother of 3 Young Children Find the Time?

I live near the Hudson River, about 40 miles from New York City, with my husband and three amazing kids (ages 12, 10, & 8). On any given week, we have pockets of pure chaos – sports practices/games, homework, after-school activities. Copywriting is so great, because I can make my own hours and still be involved in my family's lives.

As you can imagine, I work crazy hours. A lot of days, I get up at 4:00 a.m. and work until 6:30. Then I get the kids to school and work again until lunch. In the afternoon, I do lighter work – editing, organizing, reading. But if I'm really in good writing flow, I just keep going – moving between my office and kitchen, where dinner's cooking and the kids are doing homework.

I finished the AWAI program in early 2005 and then faltered. I wasn't sure how to market myself and how to get my career going. But Bootcamp 2005 became a major turning point for me. It was inspiring, energizing, and just the kick in the butt I needed.

Something else came from that Bootcamp: finding my niche market. I'd been intimidated by the idea of writing financial copy, but I pushed myself to try at least one of the financial specs presented at the Job Fair. I loved it.

Finding my niche helped clarify everything for me … the type of copy I needed to master, my potential customers, the market where I needed to invest my time, understanding, and learning.

I chose the MCG promo to do for the Challenge. I'd read MCG for a while and knew what a goldmine of material it contains every month. It's a product I believe in and knew I could write about.

I didn't really tell anyone I was submitting it. I wasn't thinking of the assignment in terms of a contest or challenge. I thought of it more as a spec assignment and another sample to add to my portfolio. I felt good about my idea, but I didn't really think about winning.

Winning felt a bit surreal. I had one of those "I'm not in Kansas anymore" moments. However, at that point I felt like everything was starting to come together. And if I continue working at it, I can become successful.

SUCCESS LESSON #4: Work on finding your own niche this year.

Not only will you be more excited about your assignments, you won't have to spend as much time researching your product area as you would if the niche was brand-new to you. Your writing or designing will become easier … so you'll be able to complete assignments much faster.

Tony Sepe: Log Cabin Copywriter

I guess living in a log cabin in a rural Vermont town isn't where you'd expect to find a copywriter. But that's me. I like big cities, but I prefer living here so I can hike, backpack, and enjoy the outdoors more easily.

I've worked as field manager for an environmental company for 20 years. But I decided to switch careers when it felt like it wasn't "my job" anymore. I was overworked and underpaid. And there wasn't enough creativity involved. I've always been a DM junkie, so copywriting seemed like something I'd really like.

I've just finished the Accelerated Program, which took about 2 years. I was driving a lot, so didn't have much chance to work during the day. But I broke my leg last winter. That gave me a chance to study steadily. I'm now doing the Masters Program.

Even though I'm still at my "day job," I write mornings, evenings, and weekends. I motivate myself with Michael Masterson's writings and ETR.

I didn't go to Bootcamp in 2005, but in 2006, I decided I was ready. When I read about the Bootcamp Challenge, it seemed daunting, but I went for it anyway.

I'd originally planned doing all three assignments, but I was on the road a lot. So I ended up doing just the "Copywriting Business in a Box" Challenge. Even then, I had to send it out right at the deadline.

I didn't expect to win when I started or when I submitted it. I had no clue. (Oh man, this is going to sound dramatic.) It was amazing. When I heard my name, I thought it was a different Anthony. I think my eyes bugged out of my head.

Even if I hadn't won, the whole Bootcamp experience was unbelievable. I met so many cool people. It's one of my all-time favorite experiences. I've already signed up for 2007!

SUCCESS LESSON #5: Don't wait for an event like breaking your leg to come along before making the leap from aspiring to professional copywriter.

Make the commitment to do it this year, and then take the steps needed to get there.

We also had a Bootcamp Challenge for our Graphic Designers … to redesign the cover of our bookalog promotion. Cassandra Lee had the winning design. Here's some good advice from her.

Cassandra Lee: A New Career With New Rewards

I admit it. I'm a computer and design junkie. But I also love the outdoors. If I'm not out working in my yard, you will find me fishing or hiking in the woods near my home in Mobile, Alabama.

Design has always been an important part of my life. While some little girls were dressing their paper dolls, I was looking at the textures and patterns of their paper clothes.

As I grew older, I learned how to draw things on the computer before the Windows operating system existed!

But I became a high school teacher and – even though I designed the school newsletter and yearbook – I put graphic design on the back burner. That is, until I learned about the Graphic Design Success Program. That got me back on course doing what I really love.

Some people have trouble finding time to do their freelance work. But instead of trying to "find" time to either write or design, I "make" the time. We all lead such hurried lives that we have to make those things that are important to us a priority. Even if it's just 20 minutes at the end of my day to do a little work, I take it.

When I read about designing the cover of a digest for the 2006 Graphic Design Bootcamp, I jumped at the chance. Why? Because it's something I'd never done.

My family and friends evaluated my design drafts. They were not shy about telling me what changes they thought I should make. Their support helped me look at my work closely and question choices I'd made.

Their criticism and encouragement worked! Being announced as the winner of the Bootcamp Challenge and an "up and coming graphic designer" was one of the most exciting moments of my life.

SUCCESS LESSON #6: Whether you're working through the program, or working on an assignment, instead of working more hours, properly plan how you'll spend the hours you do work so you become more efficient.

The most successful copywriters are absolutely ruthless with their time. They are diligent with planning their schedules and are successful because of it. Spend time each week thinking about what you need to do, organize the order of tasks by their importance, and then plan your time effectively.

Possibly the Biggest Thing Preventing You From Making 2007 Your “Winning Year”

What separates these four Bootcamp Challenge winners from other copywriters and designers?

It's true they followed their own version of the 6 SUCCESS LESSONS above. But they also all did one more BIG thing: They took a chance … even though none of them truly believed they were “ready.”

And, that's the biggest SUCCESS LESSON of them all.

I'm going to take a chance this week on something that I hope will lead me to one of my personal goals. I challenge you to do the same.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

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Published: January 22, 2007

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