Where’s the Ladder?

I’ve received a few questions recently from AWAI Members that seemed likely to be of broad interest and in the minds of many.

This, a question from Mary M., about my upcoming Business of Copywriting Academy and the appropriateness or inappropriateness of her attending – given she has not yet secured her first paid assignment or paying client, and has, instead, been doing unpaid work for charities.

Broadening this, it gets to the whole issue of looking for the ladder. By that I mean, deeply embedded conditioning that “success” is at the top of a ladder, at other end, a bottom rung, and a required getting onto that first rung, then the next, then the next, and so on. I suppose it exists in corporate hierarchies, but in the entrepreneurial world, better to leap than ladder climb.

Everybody’s a fee virgin until they get their first fee. Fortunately, clients care very little about virginity versus tenure; the smart ones – and who wants dumb clients? – care about results.

I have a very funny confession-story about this. In my very first months of shingle hung out, as an advertising agency, I had nearly nothing of my own to show anybody. Although I carried a big, fancy portfolio case in with me to meetings, I tried avoiding ever unzipping it by digging into discussion, critique and suggestion regarding the prospective client’s existent work.

But, at one memorable meeting, I showed a handful of things in my case relevant to the client with detailed explanation of why things were done as they were. None were of my making. I had only collected them. I did not claim them as mine but I did not disclaim them either.

About a month after being retained by this client, I discovered to my horror that one of those pieces I’d shown him and expounded on belonged to a company he had owned about ten years earlier!

Oops. I braced myself for a whipping and raised the issue. He said that, of course, he was aware of it; it didn’t matter because my analysis of it was so insightful; and he admired my balls. No, I don’t recommend that. Call it a youthful indiscretion.

But it does demonstrate the silliness and self-sabotage of being overly concerned with experience or lack thereof, or timidity about leaping vs. ladder-climbing. If you can do the work and produce the results, then get properly paid from the git-go. This is – or should be – a business. Approached in a businesslike manner.

In my 35 years’ helping people achieve stated ambitions in many fields, I’ve watched too many people with extensive knowledge, well developed skills, even talent, who never get out of the starting gate at all, or run in place for decades – laboring for low-end-of-spectrum compensation, with considerable frustration, envy, resentment, befuddlement, while passed by others with far less experience but fueled by the right attitudes.

And I don’t mean simplistic positive thinking. But it is what you decide about yourself, your ability, your value that matters most.

It doesn’t matter that, until now, Mary’s been getting results for others without getting paid. As long as she’s been getting results and can get results. I made over $100,000.00 my very first year, and that started with my first paid gig.

Everybody’s earning capacity begins with the first paid gig. Far more important than the “Before” of that is the “After”; how you position and present yourself, progress to better clients and opportunities, get well-paid for value provided; and develop a real business.

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Published: April 9, 2010

2 Responses to “Where’s the Ladder?”

  1. Great article. I need all the encouragement I can get!

    Dougcopy-part-time writer--full-time payApril 11, 2010 at 5:36 pm

  2. Thanks. It was encouraging to read and gave me good ideas about my attitude and inner thoughts. You are insightful. The ladder isn't necessarily there.....

    RJRMay 25, 2010 at 2:23 pm


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