Attention Aspiring Financial Copywriters:
Advice from Four Seasoned Financial Copywriters
To give you the most insight possible, we went to four of the most successful financial copywriters in the industry and asked them for their advice on breaking into the financial market. Here’s what they told us …
George Duncan: Go to work for a financial company … any job at all, any salary. Just get in the door and work there. And once you’re inside, then worry about edging yourself over toward the copy side of things. But get in the door and learn about it. Learn the business. Learn how it works.
And if you don’t know what you’re interested in most, take whatever comes along, and then figure it out later. I didn’t know I wanted to be in the magazine business when I went to work for Esquire. I found that out later on. But get in there and figure it out later.
Clayton Makepeace: Write. You have to read a lot and you have to write a lot. I was never – in the early going – above writing an audition piece or writing something on spec.
Get on a lot of mailing lists. And that costs money … you’re going to have to subscribe to some newsletters. If you know publishers, or know somebody that works for publishers, get on their lists. Have them put you on. But start getting a lot of direct mail.
You’ll learn from what you read. But equally important, you’ll start seeing some pieces that you’ll think you can improve. I don’t know a lot of publishers that would turn down a writer who walked in the door and said, “Look, I can kick the living daylights out of what you’re mailing right now. And if I don’t do it, don’t pay me.” But if you think you can do it, get the best royalty possible. Because it costs the publisher nothing in a deal like that to have you write a package for him. And then, at that point, he has to decide if he’s going to put money behind it and mail it or not. But if you’ve done your job right, he will. And at that point, your royalty is nothing to him if your package beats the control.
Robert Reger: I’d recommend that you know the basics of personal finance. I think that’s very important. For the financial services industry, there are so many sectors that you always have something to compare to. It’s a great luxury. You can say something is better than mutual funds, or better than bonds, or better than precious metals. But if you don’t know what those things are, you need to learn them.
It’s just like the health industry. If you don’t know what the latest nutritional supplements are and how they can help people, I don’t think somebody can write a very effective package, if they have to learn the entire industry within two weeks.
Jim Rutz: Do a lot of schmoozing. People keep asking me, “How do you get into copywriting?” Well, I got into it sideways. I didn’t wake up one morning and say, “Tomorrow, I’m going to be a copywriter.” You really need to exploit your friendships, your contacts … get a little job here, a little job there … get a feel for what you’re doing, find out if you’re strong at it. And of course, for heavens sakes, if you find you’re not good at it – that you don’t have the basic talent for it – don’t drive yourself nuts. Go do something else. But get in with people who can make proper use of your talent. If that’s a financial publication, fine.
The bigger question is not how to get started, but how to move up the ladder. What I’ve found in my own experience is really kind of interesting. Publishing companies and financial investment firms have their ups and downs. They have cash flow problems like you and me. Frankly, sometimes, they are desperate for a winning package. I even had one financial client say to me one day, “Jim, I realize this is poor tactics, but frankly, price is no object here. We just need a winning package bad.” So, you can name your price on stuff like that, almost.
That’s the kind of situation to look for. You don’t come across them every day, but give your clients some choices. Try to stay in touch with them enough that they know when one of their products is in trouble. That’s when you’ll come riding up on your white charger saying, “I will do something for you.”