How I Went From Layoff to Payoff – 3 Steps to Becoming the Copywriter You Really Want to Be

Having survived four layoffs, everyday at work felt like a gamble.

All I could think was, “Will I be next?”

It was Christmas time, and the investment banking firm I worked for decided on a fifth layoff – effectively cutting out 25% of the staff. As luck would have it, my name was on that list.

Fortunately, in October of 2002 – a few months before the layoff – I got a letter from AWAI in my mailbox that read, “Can You Write a Letter Like This One?” Initially, I didn’t give it much thought. But once I sensed things might go south at my company, I decided to order AWAI’s Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting as an “insurance policy.”

And now that I was jobless, the freedom copywriting offered seemed a perfect fit with my love for writing.

To support myself, I did a little resume writing on the side, and took various temp jobs.

I studied copywriting every moment I could … my rise to success was slow but steady. By 2006, I had enough copywriting clients that I felt confident in focusing on copywriting full-time.

What’s more, now I’ve achieved the goal I set for myself at last year’s Bootcamp. To return a year later as a “Wall of Famer”!

Much of my success comes from what I call “WSM.” It’s a system I use to make sure I’m always using my time to do the things that guarantee I’ll achieve the copywriting goals I’ve set for myself.

Here’s what it stands for, and how it can help you achieve the writer’s life:

W = Write
You’re not a copywriter unless you write copy every day. Writing is how you actually gain the skills and find your “voice.” Don’t get caught up in the easy mistake of wanting to learn it all and never finding the time to write. If you don’t have any clients to write for, write spec assignments, re-write any one of AWAI’s promos, or write an article you could submit to a potential publisher or use as a self-marketing piece.

S = Study
In addition to writing, you constantly need to be learning and sharpening your skills. And that doesn’t mean only studying copywriting. Read books on marketing to give you a deep understanding of how this business works as a whole. The more marketing you know, the better copywriter you’ll be … and the more valuable you’ll be to every potential client that comes your way.

M = Market
As soon as you feel competent at writing copy, market yourself! It’s the only way you’ll land paying assignments. And if you’re feeling a little timid about “being a copywriter,” simply fake it till you make it. Although cliché, there’s a profound truth in it.

To market yourself, write a self-promotion selling yourself and send it to companies you’d like to write for. When I started out, I marketed myself to small, local companies. As my skills grew, I went to my local library, and got a copy of Direct Marketing Market Place – a reference book listing companies who use direct mail. Then I picked out a few companies and sent them a promo selling my services.

If the thought of marketing your services scares you, I’d like to make a recommendation that may or may not be for you …

One of the things that helped me overcome my fear of rejection and selling myself was taking a part-time, face-to-face sales job. It gave me the confidence I needed to market my copywriting services.

When practicing the WSM system, make sure you set up your day to devote enough time for each component. You don’t have to divide your time equally across all three. Just make sure you do enough of each, to get closer to your goals.

Once you follow WSM, you’ll be living the writer’s life before you know it.

It worked for me …

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Published: October 13, 2008

52 Responses to “How I Went From Layoff to Payoff – 3 Steps to Becoming the Copywriter You Really Want to Be”

  1. It looks like a lot hard work.

    BackcopywriterAugust 23, 2009 at 7:42 pm

  2. This is a wonderful success story! If the WSM method worked this well for Ms. Thomas, then perhaps it will work for anyone who's willing to put in the same hard work and focus.
    And that's reason enough for me to try it!

    Melissa FSeptember 17, 2009 at 10:06 am

  3. Sounds like great advice, but I imagine the "M" could be harder to master than the "W" or "S"!
    I feel like I've got a long way to go .... but I'm excited about diving in at the deep end!

    CA BritNovember 20, 2009 at 5:20 pm

  4. One more success story to continue my enthusiasm toward a potentiallly potent copywriting career...I am so psyched I was led to this web-site!

    CopyGirlFebruary 27, 2010 at 5:37 pm

  5. I think this is great advice. In the last few years I've really gotten into the idea that we are always marketing ourselves. I also know that in order to grow we have to step outside of our comfort zone. And writing copy for nobody in particular sounds like a great way to practice and at least feel like you're doing something. I'll certainly give it a try.

    IstvanApril 2, 2010 at 7:12 pm

  6. I will take any advice, being a beginner. I have always lived in a comfort zone and have decided to step out. I pray it's the right decision, I love to write but don't publish. I thrive on encouragement, sometimes it's my own. I also hope I don't lose my enthusiasm for this new career so late in my life, although I act like a 25 yr old.

    YorkyMomJune 25, 2010 at 2:21 pm

  7. I enjoyed the article. It was very inspiring.

    RenaJuly 7, 2010 at 11:13 pm

  8. As they say in poker:"I'm all in"!
    I'm excited to have this opportunity & I'm not looking up or back...

    Bryan AucremanneAugust 20, 2010 at 10:12 pm

  9. Thanks Penny, a very, very, inspiring article.
    WSM is what I will be practicing from now on.

    Aussie PeteSeptember 22, 2010 at 1:48 am

  10. This is great advice! If there is anything I have learned over the years, it is that even when we do not realize it we are selling our attributes by our conversation, our appearence or our actions. So we ALL are salesmen without even trying. Just remember....If YOU beleive it, then you CAN convince others to beleive it too!!

    Linda AOctober 21, 2010 at 10:29 am

  11. Success: Slow and steady.
    Write every day.
    Learn and sharpen your skills.
    Market yourself.

    All good advice. Especially self marketing. Treating oneself as a paying client and thinking of self marketing as a representation of one's skills encourages professional results.

    jakeoFebruary 24, 2011 at 12:22 pm

  12. Great advice, Penny! I am trying to take all the advice I can and apply it toward my potential career of being a copywriter!

    Jaykay878February 27, 2011 at 8:38 pm

  13. I've been writing for years but mostly have paid for privilege, not the other way about. I've been getting ads for AWAI for 20 years, but only just this week decided to have a go at it. During this time I've been schemed and scammed and ripped off by companies never heard from again, so I must give dukos to Michael Masterson for his honest and legitimate product, and I'm enjoying doing the exercises. All that graduate work in English Litt isn't so useless after all!

    LowlyWiseMay 13, 2011 at 6:37 pm

  14. This is great advice, I'll be sure to apply this principle in the future to come. Although hard work, what isn't. Thank you for your advice, and I believe we all have the potential to become great successful people.

    SeprohMay 18, 2011 at 8:14 pm

  15. Now I'm serious! I've danced around the idea of writing long enough. I've read this letter dozens of times. No more reading only....Now I Will Write! Thanks for your encouraging words. Watch your rearview mirror....here I come!

    Milt Trosper-B2B WebCopyAugust 20, 2011 at 2:03 am

  16. I'm happy to read this advice. This article gives me tremendous hope that this will be a great way to reach my goals of becoming a great copywriter. As a beginner, I have much to learn and I'm glad I clicked on this link to get concrete suggestions. I can't wait to get out there and market my new-found skills!

    LerenaAugust 20, 2011 at 5:27 am

  17. I got laid off again and decided it was for the last time. Reading your letter gives anyone the confidence to make a change in their lives for the positive.

    timandespenSeptember 3, 2011 at 6:20 pm

  18. Thanks for the enthusiasm. I am really looking forward to having fun with my copy writing adventure. Love sales, need to write consistently and get the marketing road traveled. Thanks to AWAI for the introduction of Penny Thomas. Good to see your heart Penny.

    Tom TDecember 12, 2011 at 7:28 pm

  19. Been following AWAI for years but only now getting serious. I may sound simple saying this: I've been around the daisy chain of e-mail offers for the goose chases, so beyond the content AWAI offers I'm very impressed with the technology used to keep the dates on these embedded letters current to the day. I know technically it must be a simple thing to do but for me, on top of everything else AWAI offers, this little touch puts the sparkle on the package. I'm in the right place.

    MartinApril 7, 2012 at 1:07 pm

  20. I'm excited to be getting started on a new career! I can already give presentations to groups but for now I don't get paid for it. I need a way to make decent money working for myself. I can never go back to working 8-5 for someone else! I looking forward to the adventure!

    Cindi JApril 11, 2012 at 4:01 pm

  21. Write/Study/Market - thanks for insight. It makes sense that in order to be successful marketing (writing copy) for others, one should be confident in marketing themselves (note to self).

    DarMay 25, 2012 at 11:29 pm

  22. There can be no doubt in my mind now that this "rote" learning system does have its merits. Physically writing pieces out really does make it a lot easier for me to recall all of the nuances and techniques used by the original writers.
    Good points well made, Penny!
    Thanks.

    MartinSJuly 24, 2012 at 11:38 am

  23. Yes indeed, hard work and rote learning always pays dividends. I look forward to completing this course then looking back to see just how far I have progressed. Thank you for sharing your experiences and knowledge.

    CharlesDSeptember 3, 2012 at 3:09 pm

  24. This is just an amazing insight...I LOVE IT!!!....

    AntoniJanuary 31, 2013 at 11:28 pm

  25. All too often I have fallen into the trap of "preparing" to write, rather than actually doing it. Thank you for bring to light just how import it is to act like the professional I want to be!

    wordmakerMay 4, 2013 at 12:53 am

  26. Penny gives us great insight. I've read a lot about recent advances in neuroscience and brain plasticity, the ability of our amazing brain to reinvent itself by practise, repetition, and rote learning. So I believe Penny's WSM system works, and that the science confirms it.

    QuincyMay 28, 2013 at 11:21 pm

  27. As a newbie to this course, I am very excited to learn everything I can from every successful person who has gone before me. Penny's WSM system makes perfect sense and I will begin using it immediately. See you at the top!

    Christine CareyJune 12, 2013 at 9:50 pm

  28. My first day in the course and this sounds like sage advice. I'll put it into practice immediately.

    Jim OBrienJuly 16, 2013 at 5:09 pm

  29. WSM Great advise!! I write every day and have started marketing myself, just wish my current job, as a feature writer for my local newspaper, would lay me off so I would have more time to devote to the study. I'm not giving up. This type of work is for me! I love the accelerated writing program and everything I'm learning.

    Alicia CraigSeptember 14, 2013 at 4:51 pm

  30. Everyone at work comes to me to send out e-mails for company-wide distribution. So, I actually have a way of putting into practice the principles I am learning studying at home. Thanks for the encouragement to begin to write, study, and market TODAY!

    TheophileousJune 24, 2014 at 9:55 pm

  31. Perhaps the hardest part of implementing the WSM strategy is the "M"; like many writers, I prefer being in the background and hate the idea of marketing myself. However, having been forced into the position of having to do just that in my professional business career, I know it can be done. Truer words were never spoken: "Fake it till you make it."

    Shirley RiversAugust 24, 2014 at 10:19 pm

  32. This is, perhaps, the best advice I have EVER read! I realize that I cannot be successful unless I implement all THREE components together. Indeed, the most dreading is the M, or marketing, as I have found myself avoiding marketing like the plague. I realize now that I must market myself or I will never succeed...or be noticed!
    I just put a note on my wall where I will see it daily W-Write S-Study M-Market Truth: "Fake it till you Make it!"

    LaDeneSeptember 11, 2014 at 4:58 pm

  33. The journey begins with the first step and the motivation to take that first step is inspired by this course of instruction. I am only now realizing the benefits of online training and the amount of supplemental reading material can be overwhelming. Very logical advise. Writing and studying will lead to marketing activities.

    DALanceSeptember 23, 2014 at 9:12 am

  34. Well written and concise. I've got the 'S' down pat but the 'W' and 'M' need some serious polishing. I never considered allocating specific time segments for these 3 things. Penny, I can see you've taken your own advice. I'm going to put it on my daily calendar. Thank you!

    Rita MinnerJanuary 7, 2015 at 6:08 pm

  35. I like the structure of planning, and I want the freedom to plan what I want to do on a schedule that suits me. Nice way to remember the structure--WSM.

    J T WinnMarch 29, 2015 at 9:38 pm

  36. WSM is certainly more than a Nashville Radio station whose forte is the Grand Ole Opry. In this gendre it is an important step to copywriting.

    That is why I am writing this comment for the W, I have read the great advise of Ms Thomas for the S, and I am trying my writing skills to introduce myself to the person reading for AWAI.

    Ed ToddApril 20, 2015 at 12:04 pm

  37. Marketing myself is the difficult part for me. I love writing. The studying is. I can easily hand-write copy... over and over - until my arms fall off - if that's what it takes.

    But... Market myself? That's a BIG DEAL!

    I am really going to need to Get a Grip on That.

    M L McCormickJune 30, 2015 at 5:52 pm

  38. It's a hard enough challenge but I believe it's worth every once of my blood to fight for. You're advice is priceless

    BenOwichAugust 5, 2015 at 12:54 pm

  39. I have enjoyed this very short article. To sum up in one word: Enthusiasm.

    I was plowing along doing the exercises, but as soon as I saw W-S-M, that made me think long and hard. It gave me the extra push to work even harder at becoming the best copywriter, ever.

    I'm one of those people that love to persevere, so I know that I will succeed.

    Thank you, Penny!

    AnneElBeyOctober 13, 2015 at 5:34 pm

  40. Hello Everyone!! Thank you Penny for this fantastic article. It is a fantastic recipe...One I shall employ diligently! I also want to say thank you Jakeo for that fascinating tip in self marketing. "Writing for yourself" as though you were your own client..I LOVE it. When I am ready to pull that trigger, you can be sure this is how I will approach it!!!

    Cathy AdkinsNovember 10, 2015 at 8:44 pm

  41. Congratulations on your success Penny.

    WSM is one of my mottos now.

    Write Study and Market

    Simple, but yet profound recommendation.

    Many thanks!

    Donald C ObiiJune 1, 2016 at 11:12 am

  42. Question...I'm just getting past part one and after reading over this letter I have a bit of confusion going on...If we're just starting the program how do we incorporate writing everyday with studying everyday...what do we write besides the copies in the excersises?

    Taneshia AJune 23, 2016 at 11:02 pm

  43. Yes, congratulations on your success! I LOVE to study, and I LOVE to write! Market myself, not so much. I know that is an area in which I need to improve. I realize it will get easier the more I do it, but—as with so many things—it's taking the first step that's the scariest! I love the advice of setting up my day to hit each component. That will help me track how well I'm doing in meeting my goals and moving toward success. Thank you!!

    Andrea Arthur OwanAugust 11, 2016 at 2:23 pm

  44. Thank you for sharing your success story!
    This is great advice. I am new to copywriting but spent 15 years of my life practicing visual arts. The number one piece of advice given by all my instructors?

    Draw!

    Draw morning, noon, and night. Draw until your hand feels like it's going to fall off! The best artists around me were the ones that practiced the most. This is great for mastering any skill-- language, kung fu, knitting...

    Thanks for the great advice. I'll be sure to heed your words. :D

    Jaia SAugust 22, 2016 at 12:38 pm

  45. Writing, studying, and marketing; absolutely brilliant!!

    What I find hard is the marketing.

    Chris J WilkinsonOctober 17, 2016 at 3:49 am

  46. New to copywriting!
    Old to the business of career hunting.
    Layoff after layoff, and I never missed one of them. Job after job, as the economy tanked!
    I found AWAI in my email and i started to read. It spoke to me, more than any job yet.
    I had to try as I was unemployed, Separated recently, and with a three and a half year old. The quality i saw in the program made me want more, I signed up, hoping this will be what it feels. I will be following WSM and will succeed, watch for my name! In BOLD!

    Tony MApril 1, 2017 at 7:57 pm

  47. I, too, am new to copywriting. But the materials I've been given, the suggestions in articles such as this one,keeps my enthusiasm high. Also makes me willing to keep on learning, doing, and achieving.
    I know this type of career will work for me, and learning is what I do best - and all the time. It can only get better!

    Sheila BOctober 6, 2017 at 3:23 pm

  48. Sound nuggets of truth proven all too often. Time management for the most important components of copywriting can bring life or death. Great advice and confirmation for assuring we are always balanced in our work and play. Thank you Penny

    CJacksonFebruary 15, 2018 at 6:22 pm

  49. Time to give it a shot. At 66 years young its time to do something I've always wanted to do... Write for a living... I've tried everything else, even published a book! But make money with my writing? Ha! Never happen, I thought. Until I saw AWAI... That's when I said, "Hot Damn! I can do this!" AND I WILL!!!

    LoprinzibMarch 29, 2018 at 6:55 pm

  50. I sure enjoyed this true story and loved how Penny Thomas took a hard situation of getting laid off to becoming a successful copywriter! Good for you Penny!!

    Wanda F SewellJuly 11, 2018 at 6:42 pm

  51. Works for me.

    Joe the ThirdJuly 16, 2018 at 12:37 pm

  52. Thanks Penny, I like the ethos and when described as you do I can see that it makes absolute sense. Copywriter career here I come.

    Sunshine Sal September 17, 2018 at 3:55 pm


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