The Business of Copywriting

The “business of copywriting” is easy to overlook while caught up in the excitement of learning how to write successful sales copy.

Talent is important without question. But it’s business sense that defines your financial destiny. And it’s business sense that will catapult you to six figures.

When copywriters ask how I have managed to increase my income to over the income of the average medical doctor, the simple answer is that I have adopted the Nike tagline of “Just do it.” I practice. Promote myself. Get in front of prospective clients. Write proposals. Sell myself. You should know the drill by now. But you have to actually do these things to be successful.

At AWAI’s FastTrack to Copywriting Success Bootcamp in November, I’m going to recommend tips about how you can succeed in the business of copywriting.

In the meantime, here are a few insights about how I keep score from a business perspective. It takes extra time, but as you build your copywriting business, it will help you meet goals and objectives. In addition, it will be enjoyable for you to look back at your progress.

1. Track your income.

I can go back to the first month I struck out on my own and tell you how much I’ve made each month since then. I don’t use any fancy tracking software. For me, an Excel spreadsheet works fine. I have little doubt there may be more efficient ways to track my business, but I like to keep things simple.

I calculate client income by quarter. And ultimately by year. Importantly, I calculate the percent of total income from each client so I see which of my clients are biggest.

2. Pay attention to your historical information.

I have accumulated enough information that I can pinpoint pretty reliably what months tend to be slower from a cash flow perspective. In case you’re wondering, for me February is a month I realize I should take a long vacation, because it’s traditionally slower than any other month.

I have a summary by client, by year, of what I’ve been paid. After nearly 100 clients over the years, it is fascinating to see who has been the biggest. The Pareto Principle, at least for me, holds almost true. About 80% of my income has come from around 10% of my clients. (The Pareto Principle suggests 80% likely comes from 20%.) Knowing this puts into perspective which clients are the ones you should work extra hard for.

3. Know where your business comes from.

I also track the source of each and every client I’ve served over the years. I note on a spreadsheet if the client came about because of a referral, networking, if they read an article I wrote, or heard a speech I gave. In recent years, the number of people who find my website has skyrocketed. Long ago I “optimized” my website – before the term “SEO” became a buzzword – and to this day my website ranks high on organic searches.

I can see, for example, that two different speeches I delivered a few years ago contributed to nearly $300,000 in income for me. Or that an article I wrote attracted another client who has been worth over another $300,000 to me. Or that my persistence calling on another client for three years before they gave me a chance in a test finally yielded over $400,000 in income for me. My website has generated well into the six figures so far.

4. Set goals and plan out how to achieve them.

On New Year’s Day, it’s a tradition for me to spend a few hours planning my goals for the new year. I determine my financial goal. Then prognosticate how much I should make from current clients. And see the difference in dollars that will have to come from new clients.

That’s always scary and thrilling all at the same time. But here’s what gives me confidence: I look back at the past year to see who those new clients have been. They were people I had never met, and often I didn’t know their companies even existed. And I never know who those new clients will be in the next year.

Tracking these various data points is somewhat tedious at the time you’re doing it, but it can also be fun. It’s fascinating to step back after a few years to see where you’ve been and what you’ve accomplished financially. Being somewhat of a data geek, I’ve even put this information into chart form so it takes life visually.

When work slows down, as it inevitably does for every business person, you can take some comfort in looking back at what you’ve accomplished so far and see that ultimately things do work out for you. I say that with the caveat, though, that you’re a great copywriter, you continue to read, study, and participate in events like Bootcamp, and that you take to heart that being a copywriter is being in business.

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The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: September 8, 2008

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