An Interview With AWAI Member Joanne Sullivan

AWAI “Wall of Famer” Joanne Sullivan shares how she’s found success as a financial copywriter, as well as her top recommendations for building a career in this niche.

CI: How did you become interested in copywriting, and what affect did the AWAI programs have for you?

JS: My youngest had started school full-time, and I was thinking about going back to work. Working in the corporate world again really didn’t seem to fit for me. That’s when I received Don Mahoney’s “Last year I went through a bad divorce” letter about the AWAI program. I was really intrigued by the chance to be my own boss, work from home and the opportunity to make a great income.

What I really liked about the AWAI programs is that they are all about learning and mastering a skill. To me that meant anyone, with any background (even someone who had been on the “mommy track” for close to 10 years) who learned the principles and worked hard could succeed.

CI: Once you decided to become a freelance copywriter, what was your next step? Did you focus on prospects from all industries, or did you know you wanted to go into financial writing?

JS: To be honest, once I finished the basic program, I wasn’t sure how to “become” a working copywriter. The whole self-marketing piece eluded me. And then someone reminded me I couldn’t sit around waiting for the work to come to me – I had to be aggressive about seeking it out.

That’s when I started with the AWAI marketing programs (Selling Yourself – How to Become a Six-Figure Income Copywriter – Bootcamp – mini Bootcamps). I wanted to learn what marketing efforts worked for other copywriters and add my own slant to it. (Why reinvent the wheel?) What I like about those programs is that they really offer very practical tools on how to find prospects.

Bootcamp was key and really pulled it all together for me. At my first Bootcamp, I figured out that focusing on one industry made more sense. (I feel you really need to understand the market well to do the best job on a promotion – it makes the process that much easier.) So I started with some financial spec assignments.

The great part of the Bootcamp Job Fair is that you establish connections with publishing and marketing groups. And your connection with AWAI almost gives you instant credibility when following up with the marketers who are in attendance.

CI: Your first project was with NewsMax. How did you go about landing them as a client?

JS: They had offered a spec assignment at one of the Bootcamps. And it grew from there. I ended up doing a few short email promotions for them.

CI: After you landed your first client, what steps did you take to build up a steady client base and stream of projects?

JS: I focused on companies I wanted to work with – publishing groups that pay well and need a lot of promotional copy. I really got focused and sought them out. Almost two years ago, when AWAI offered a mini Bootcamp with the Oxford Club, I jumped on it. It was amazing. We met with the marketing folks, the editors, and their in-house and go-to freelance copywriters. As part of the Bootcamp, they “broke down” how they approach the copywriting process – what works in financial copy, how their copywriters go about finding ideas, etc. It was amazing. And then we also got to work on a “live” assignment for them.

They liked my idea, and I ended up working with Paul Hollingshead on the promotion. Which was incredibly helpful.

Around the same time I attended my second Bootcamp, I found out that another big financial publisher was looking for full-time financial copywriters. I met with them and, although I wasn’t interested in relocating, I wanted to see if they’d consider me on a freelance basis. They liked my work and gave me a chance. I just finished up an 18-month exclusive arrangement there. Now I’m looking forward to working on special projects for them as well as working with other companies and publishing groups.

CI: What skills do you think are necessary to succeed as a financial copywriter?

JS: You need to know what’s happening in the markets and read as much as possible. Also study successful promotions out there now.

In terms of financial skills, you need to be able to calculate gains or growth, etc. Also, it’s important that you’re comfortable navigating through Yahoo finance and 10-K reports. That’s where you can find some of your best proof and selling points.

CI: What are some of the best ways to develop contacts in this industry?

JS: Find opportunities/programs (like AWAI Bootcamp and mini Bootcamps) to meet marketers directly. And know what you’re looking for. Once I got clear that I wanted to specialize in finance, it narrowed down my world of prospects. Then I narrowed it down further to publishers I wanted to work with. You want to be able to understand their products and their businesses enough so you can position yourself as someone who can help them grow their revenue or their lists.

CI: What are the key points that you must cover if you want to write a successful financial package?

JS: It really starts with a great “Big Idea.” You need to come up with a compelling and different way to connect your offer with your reader. Even if it’s something that’s been written about a lot already (like gold or oil), you have to find a way to say something new and exciting. Maybe it’s a story or an incredible gain or type of investment they’ve never heard about before. The point is you have to say something that will stop your reader in his tracks and make him want to read your promotion.

Then you have to weed through all your research to figure out the best proof and selling points that will sustain and bring momentum to that idea. All of that needs to be followed up with a strong credibility, a strong track record and testimonials.

CI: What advice do you give fellow copywriters hoping to become financial copywriters?

JS: It’s definitely important to know the copywriting process and what works – but just as important is learning how to uncover great ideas.

Where do the best ideas come from? Well, you always have to be on the lookout for them. They could be anywhere … in an article … an interview … a book … and sometimes those ideas are buried in days of research.

Know well the newsletters or services of the companies you want to work with and pitch great ideas. Marketers love great ideas.

[Editorial Note: You can learn more about Joanne Sullivan on AWAI’s Wall of Fame.]

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: June 24, 2008

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