Winning at the Inner Game of Copywriting

"The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear."
– William Jennings Bryan

"Maybe if I just take one more program, I'll be ready."

The next copywriter who says that to me is going to get strangled. You've been warned.

I can't tell you the number of times I've heard that from aspiring freelance writers.

The idea seems to be that if you just soak up a little more knowledge, you'll be ready to launch your freelance business.

Don't let me stop you.

Go ahead and buy another program. Listen to another webinar. Download a special report. Attend another conference.

I'm all for it, really I am.

I've invested thousands, if not tens of thousands, in all those things. And I don't regret a penny I've spent on professional development. Every program or conference I've invested in has paid off eventually in some way.

But all the education and skill development in the world won't make you successful.

AWAI’s Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting won't make you a good copywriter … AWAI’s 2011 FastTrack to Copywriting Success Bootcamp and Job Fair won't help launch your career … Copywriting 2.0 won't turn you into a web copywriting specialist.

Those things will help, for sure, but there's something else.

The missing factor

If you and I talk on the phone or in person, I can usually spot within a few minutes whether you have it yet or you don't.

Clues usually slip out in casual conversation. You may demonstrate lack of "it" by certain buzz words you use.

So what's "it"? What is the key factor?

I believe that 80% of your future success in copywriting depends on having a strong, mental "inner game."

Let me explain.

I've observed four main areas in the "mental game arena" that seem to play a significant role in your level of copywriting success. (Can I call it a "4-legged stool" or is that already taken?)

I have a ways to go on these myself – it's an ongoing challenge, but they're pretty simple objectives:

  • Overcoming unspoken fears
  • Dealing with rejection
  • Building your confidence when you're just starting out
  • Developing a successful copywriter's or salesperson's mindset

Do any of these four inner game objectives sound familiar?

If you're not sure what I mean, I'll describe each one in detail. Then I'll offer you some strategies and tips for improving in each area.

Here's the good news. Just like copywriting is a learned skill, a strong inner game is not something you are born with either. It's something you develop one day at a time.

And here's even better news: No investment required (except exercising your mind).

So let's put aside the technical side of things for now, the copywriting skills, and jump into the inner game of copywriting …

1. Overcoming unspoken fears

These observations are based on a lot of conversations I've had with aspiring copywriters. I call them "unspoken" fears because it's rare that someone actually says these things out loud. But reading between the lines and hearing variations, these seem to be some pretty common fears (and again, I've had them myself):

"I'm not good enough."
"I have no idea how to get clients."
"I'm afraid to take a step back in my career, especially in this economy."
"I've always had a steady paycheck. I'm not sure if I can make it on my own."
"I don't have any experience. Who's going to hire me?"
"I don't have the right connections."
"What if I fail?"
"I'm too old."

Bottom line, "I really don't know what I'm doing, and if I tell people I'm a copywriter, someone is going to find me out!"

Does that about sum it up?

I'll give you some specific steps below to slay this "fear of the unknown" beast.

2. Dealing with rejection

There's no getting around this one. On your path to the writer's life, you'll deal with a lot of it.

Rejection from people who don't want or need your services. Rejection from clients who make you rewrite your copy that missed the mark. Rejection from end-users who reject the copy you wrote by not responding (in which case you'll deal with major rejection from your client!).

Can you get rid of rejection? Of course not. Instead, I'll give you a mental technique for learning to embrace it and working it to your advantage.

3. Building your confidence

Considering the fears and rejection we just talked about, it's only natural that you might suffer from a lack of confidence in the beginning. I still suffer periodic bouts of serious self-doubt. Probably will until I at least double my six-figure income goal.

Okay, so you might be saying, "I'll be more confident once I get more projects under my belt. But it's hard to get projects when I don't appear confident. It's a Catch-22."

I've got a solution for you on this one, too. Exercise your mental muscles and you'll be oozing self-confidence in no time.

And finally, the fourth area, and in my opinion the most important, in becoming a successful copywriter …

4. Developing a successful copywriter's or salesperson's mindset

I can hear you now, "Why a salesperson's mindset? I'm a persuasive writer, not a salesperson."

They're one in the same.

I'm amazed when I hear copywriters disparage other forms of selling.

Last week, a copywriter was telling me about an e-newsletter he subscribes to and a program they were promoting for writers. He said, "They would say that, wouldn't they? They are trying to sell me after all," (as if their claims couldn't possibly be true).

He went on to admit, "Ironic, perhaps, that someone who aspires to being a copywriter is so dismissive of the copy he receives."

Ironic, indeed.

I could write a whole book addressing this one. But I'll give you the short and sweet version below. Do this, and you'll start developing the mindset of the most successful copywriters I know.

Want to win at the inner game of copywriting?

Time to start exercising your "mental chops"! Don't worry, this won't be some mental bootcamp session.

Just some simple ideas that will complement your technical skills … as long as you put them into action.

1. How to conquer the beast

Fear of the unknown is at the root of it all, isn't it?

There aren't any guarantees, are there? You don't know exactly how it's going to work out. You don't know if you'll make steady or sporadic income. You don't know, frankly, if you're good enough.

These are legitimate concerns. To other objections, I'd say, "hogwash." Now, I'm not by any means telling you to make a rash decision. Don't quit your job and hope for the best. On the other hand, don't let these fears paralyze you into inaction.

I'll give you the same advice John Wood gave in a recent article, "Three Words That Will Change Your Life": No more excuses.Then take action. Start small, and keep plugging away.

But let me take it a step further. Don't try to do it alone, like I did in the beginning. Surround yourself with people who are making it happen. People who will encourage you, give you answers, and guide you in the right direction.

If you're an AWAI member, jump on the forum and ask questions. Find answers in the article archives at Connect with a copywriter who's achieving things you want to achieve. Find out exactly how they did it. Contact me by leaving a comment below – I love to help new copywriters avoid the mistakes I made.

2. Turn rejection into a numbers game

Rejection of your copy isn't a mental thing. The only way to minimize that is to become a better writer.

But how about just facing the rejection from prospects?

The easiest solution to winning the inner game here is to first of all realize that it happens to everyone. Even veteran copywriters. It's part of the deal. When you don't get a prospect you've gone after, let it roll off. Develop thick skin, and move on.

Second, make a game of it. You can track your numbers. In my previous sales career, I knew that it took three presentations to make a sale. Whatever your numbers are, put pressure on increasing your activity.

Also, in today's world, leverage the tools you have available to you. You no longer have to face rejection by going door to door or making cold calls. Rejection happens less and is a lot easier to face when you're promoting yourself through social media channels. I've been doing it the hard way all along, but just recently started implementing ideas from Nick Usborne's How to Make Money as a Social Media Expert.

3. No psychobabble advice here

Nope. I'm not going to tell you to look in the mirror every morning and say five times to yourself, "I'm an A-level copywriter, I'm an A-level copywriter … " You're not, and I don't want to feed any false premises.

So how do you increase your self-confidence when you don't have a whole lot of experience? Because you need to be confident to get good projects, right?

All I can say is this: everyone has to start somewhere. Your small victories will lead to bigger ones. And like William Jennings Bryan said, "The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear."

Do the thing you fear. Get started. Practice breeds confidence. Confidence breeds success. And success breeds more success.

It's that simple, and a big factor in developing your inner game. Finally …

4. How to develop your rock-solid copywriter's mindset

Whether you write B2B copy or B2C copy, your job is to sell somebody something!

You should love the art of selling with words!

If you watch infomercials for fun … if you scan the radio dial in the car looking for good radio ads (and try to figure out how you'd make them better) … if you take notes on the Super Bowl ads and write a blog post about them the next day … if you're the first one to the mailbox every day, hoping there's something good to add to your swipe file … you just might have the makings of a copywriting superstar!

Seriously. Every successful copywriter I know loves all forms of selling, especially the direct-response kind.

They seek it out. They study it. They buy direct-response products themselves. They love the craft of composing a clear, conversational, persuasive message.

My last piece of advice for winning the inner game: emulate the successful copywriters who do all these things. Immerse yourself in the world of selling, and writing A-level direct-response copy will be a natural progression for you.

Don't make the same mistake I did

The fact is, the inner game of copywriting really isn't that difficult. These are simple solutions I'm offering, and they've been put to the test (by me, and many others before you).

I just have one big regret: that I didn't get started earlier.

The first year I registered for AWAI’s FastTrack to Copywriting Success Bootcamp and Job Fair, I cancelled because I felt I wasn't ready.

After I went to my first Bootcamp, it took me a year to get my first client because I felt I wasn't ready.

At some point, you have to stop dipping your big toe in the water.

Dive in the deep end! Call yourself a copywriter. Start acting like one.

Conquer the inner game first, and the results will follow.

I promise.

Make Money as a Social Media Marketing Expert

How to Make Money as a Social Media Marketing Expert

Everything you need to know to become a social media marketing expert, as well as four different ways to make money using that expertise. Learn More »

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Published: June 6, 2011

30 Responses to “Winning at the Inner Game of Copywriting”

  1. Excellent advice Steve. Thanks for the insights.

    John Wood

  2. THANK YOU. I am in love with ordering programs and obtaining knowledge. But deep down I am afraid to put my toe in the water. IT IS TIME to jump in the deep end!


  3. My big toe is so far away from the water it's hiding inside a sock, inside my Skechers, tucked away under my desk. I have to get myself motivated - I so want to succeed at this, but (ugh the BUT)everything else in my life seems like it's such a mess right now. Maybe THIS is the one area I CAN improve, it's time to try going barefoot! Thanks for the inspiration!


  4. Hi Steve,

    As a new member of COS I was getting carried away with all the new programs, ideas, special reports - you name it and I was dashing off to check it out, UNTIL...suddenly, last night, I was struck by revelation while I folding the laudry! ;) Feeling a bit harried about all I need to learn, a visual picture of the POWER OF ONE appeared before my eyes and I realized I had to STOP and focus on ONE thing - so I´m making a plan and have committed to getting the 6-Figure program under my belt. This article underlines so much of how I´ve been feeling - thanks! I look forward to meeting you at Bootcamp in October!

    Guest (Jan Marie Mueller)

  5. Steve Roller's article answered the questions I had and it gave me the confidence to persue projects I thought I wasn't ready for or were "out of my league".

    David Adame

  6. Hi Steve, I guess my favourite excuse is "The USA is where the money is, and the Netherlands is where I am, so how can I possibly make it work?". I have done some small business copywriting (in Dutch, even!)but continuity seems to be a problem here.

    This article is truly inspirational, so I would like to DIVE in, but (!?), the deep end seems to be about 3500 miles away. Is there a way to bridge that gap?

    David Freed

  7. Thanks for this article. It popped up at the very moment I needed to hear this message. I'm guilty of trying to go it alone. Surprise, surprise--it's not working. Funny thing about copy writing. Just sitting around dreaming about it doesn't generate income. Duh.

    Well, your article inspired me to dust off my plan, reach out to resources and start pitching some business. Hope to generate some results soon.

    Guest (MRBorl)

  8. Thanks Steve.
    I am British, so I would prefer to write copy in English (UK or US), although I can write in Dutch too. German is a bit beyond me, sadly.
    I would really like to land one or two clients in the States.
    Yes, I am in Amsterdam, and the museums you mention are definitely world classics. Living in Amsterdam is, as you probably already know, interesting (to use a bit of British understatement).

    David Freed

  9. Excellent. That's really useful...the article of course, but especially the dialoge between Steve and David in the Netherlands. I'm in Australia but want to live in France and write for the US market. Not living in the US has been one of my biggest concerns about getting started on my living the writers life dream. Thanks for dashing that barrier for me!!!

    Guest (Susan West)

  10. Excellent. It's great to hear that it's possible to build a business based on clients in the US while living elsewhere. I live in Australia but hope to move to France in the next few years having built an income from copywriting with a US client base. Great to know that what I perceived as a negative can be turned into a positive. Thank You!

    Susan West

  11. Susan, it's amazing how things work! Here I am / was, wondering how to bridge gaps, then Steve talks about how the distance and the background story could actually be an advantage, and then here you are, inspired by the answers to my questions, and here's me, equally inspired by your input. Thanks to Steve, and to you, I am going to find a very high diving board and dive in the deep end. Good luck with your move to France. Maybe we'll 'bump' into each other. Thank you, and Steve too

    Guest (David)

  12. Very clean though processes... I didn't feel at all belittled even though I haven't done a damn thing about becoming a copywriter except spend money. Very good.

    Guest (Lady Sings the Blues)

  13. Steve, thanks so much for the timely and uncomfortably direct article. As a salesman with 35 years of experience and a copywriter (primarily business-to-business) for a decade or more--I quit for awhile and am just getting back to it--I am still finding myself making those excuses. I don't think it ever really goes away. You just, as you say, have to "tame the beast." Thanks for the poignant reminder.

    Guest (Steve Lowe)

  14. Wow - quite an email string, Steve! your message hits target with me, too... and spurs me to action to market myself... but only after i check into that bright & shiny Social Media program first ;-)


  15. Steve, I absolutely cannot wait until your book is out!!! Anyone that has taken 13 weeks off in the past 2 years to travel, writes as well as you and with the insightful wisdom you have will surly have a best seller.

    As far as the mental toughness issue you are dead on. I walk through this everyday in what I do as a author, business owner and balanced life specialist.

    My mental toughness has become as strong as a steel fortress used to hold back Superman. Its been painful yet when I look back it all seems so simple. I never felt that during the pain yet see it now. Dale

    Guest (Dale Suslick)

  16. Steve: I just got done reading your posts and comments and some of your writings here. I am absolutely new to copywriting and learn many things as I read and apply many of the tips given. I have written one book and have sold at least seven copies of it (mainly because I did not learn how to market it), but it is outdated even today from what I have learned since I wrote it in 2005. Much of the ideas I learn from all of you who have been in the copywriting field is invaluable to me.
    Thanks and keep up the good work.

    BTW: May I use some of your articles as trainers for my own system? Again Thanks

    Guest (david - blaze)

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