5 “Shortcuts” to Success

If you’re a freelance writer – or working to become one – nothing will get you off course faster than a shiny object.

Shiny objects are tips, tricks, or techniques that distract you from your main path. They make you think there might be a better, faster way to succeed.

Many shiny objects come in the form of promised shortcuts to getting what you want.

But, it’s important to understand there are two types of shortcuts:

The first is the distraction kind. For example, you might see another niche or technique for getting to the writer’s life faster and easier. If you buy what they’re selling, you’ll likely get a plan that might work. But you’ll be distracted from your original path and likely never finish anything. Many “shortcuts” are just that – distractions.

The second is the kind of shortcut that works. They can be applied to any situation to increase your effectiveness and decrease your learning curve. Here are five shortcuts I’ve found that work:

1. Pick a Niche

It’s been said many times before, but the best shortcut you can take to the writer’s life is to pick a niche. This needs to be done before you do anything else because your niche will determine many other factors in your business, like your website, potential clients, and marketing message.

Yes, you can learn the basics without a niche. But without a niche, you don’t have a focus. And without focus, you’ll flip and flop from one plan to another without getting any real traction.

Plus, having a niche will give you a huge shortcut when it comes to learning the ropes. If you know, for instance, that you want to be a social media expert, you can ignore all the advice for B2B copywriters because it doesn’t affect you. This will cut back on the material you need to absorb and allow you to take action faster.

I won’t go into how to choose a niche in this article because you can read all about it – and learn how to choose your own niche – here.

2. Invest in the Right Training

Once you choose your niche, you’ll need to invest in a program that will give you relevant advice for that niche. Many of AWAI’s programs tell you step by step how to get from wherever you are now to a successful freelance career – and they’ll be specific to your niche.

Decide on a program, and then make a commitment to go through the entire thing and take the recommended actions before moving on to anything else. When I first started this writer’s life journey, I didn’t know my niche. I floundered about, reading every course and wondering why I wasn’t seeing any progress. If I would have picked any of those programs and actually completed them, I would have seen results right away. Sticking to one path will give you a complete roadmap to success. Don’t discount the value in that shortcut.

3. Get Started Now

So many beginning writers think they have to know everything before they get their first client. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Fact is, you could know just one thing – how to write a great email, for example – and get more than enough clients.

This shortcut is simple – learn just enough get your very first client. Then build your business from that.

If they ask you something you don’t know, say you’ll get back to them, and then look up the answer. You don’t have to know every answer as soon as someone asks the question.

Just remind yourself that no one knows everything, and you can learn what you need to know as you go.

4. Start a Swipe File

A swipe file is a collection of sales letters, ads, and other examples of copy that are eye-catching, successful, or interesting. It’s important to have a library of these promotions to “swipe” ideas from.

Most “A-level” copywriters use swipe files so they can learn from other copywriters and gain inspiration when they experience writer’s block.

I have a virtual file saved on my computer and a physical file next to my desk. I put “direct mail” from my mailbox in the physical file and save screenshots, websites, or emails to the virtual file.

Anytime I see copy that makes me want to buy something, I save it. Later, I can look through my collection to get inspiration and trigger ideas for current projects. Because of my swipe file, I rarely have writer’s block. This alone makes having a swipe file one of my favorite shortcuts to the writer’s life.

Helen Buttery, an experienced marketer, says, “The trick to building a big swipe file is getting your name ‘seeded’ onto mailing lists.” Learn how to do that here.

5. Create Cheat Sheets

I’ve found that there is so much advice floating around that if I try to remember it all, my head might explode. Now, whenever I come across something I want to remember and use often, I write it on a “cheat sheet.” I have one for headlines, one for leads, and one for every type of copy I write. I also start one for every client.

Sometimes, the one cheat sheet turns into a few pages, but it really helps to keep all the information I need in one place. Instead of spending time searching for six articles about headlines, I can glance at my cheat sheet and have all the advice I need.

Keep in mind that your clients aren’t testing you. Just like they don’t expect you to know everything, they don’t expect you to remember everything either. If you need to have cheat sheets and note cards and write friends to ask for help, that’s completely okay and encouraged.

These five shortcuts have worked wonders for my freelance business. While there aren’t any magic pills, there are tips and tricks that make it easier and faster. I hope these shortcuts work for you, too.

What about you? Have you found any shortcuts that work? Comment below to share.

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Published: October 8, 2012

4 Responses to “5 “Shortcuts” to Success”

  1. Thanks so much for flattening the learning curve for brand new copywriters like myself. Your advice is greatly appreciated.

    I worked as a linguist for 25 years before discovering copywriting. The advice or "short cuts" I was given are simple:

    * Leave your ego at the door. It's about the work - not you.

    * Know what you're going to do before you do it. It keeps you on task and prevents you from wasting time. Think of it as scripting your day...

    Thanks again for the tips. See you at Bootcamp!

    RNin2013October 8, 2012 at 9:08 am

  2. Thank you for contributing this article and I really enjoyed reading it.

    As a matter of fact, there are no short-cuts to success, but I understand where you are coming from.

    One of the best things you can do as a copywriter or creative is to broaden your horizons, that is, read widely.

    It also helps to travel and have a first-hand experience about other parts of the world, other cultures and other civilizations.

    In fact, only a handful of Americans manage to step out of their comfort zones in this context.

    A variety of experiences can be catalysts for new ideas in your work.

    Archan MehtaOctober 9, 2012 at 5:29 am

  3. Hello Christina, Thanks for writing this article. If I didn't know better, I'd say that you were spying on me. Copywriting is new to me and like you when started out I still do not have a niche. My focus initially was to get through the Accelerated Program For Six Figure Copywriting before bootcamp, but, then I felt the need to choose a niche – so, I began downloading several programs.
    Still haven't chosen a niche yet, but I will follow your advice and hopefully know which way I'm going very soon.

    A New BeginningOctober 9, 2012 at 6:15 pm

  4. Hi Christina, I am a new Circle of Success member and wanted to know your thoughts on whether you think that Self Help and Health can be considered one niche, as I would like to start concentrating on my niche and this felt right to me. I am asking as you have more of the freelance writing expertise and don't want to complicate things if I don't have to. Thank you so much. JN

    JNDecember 20, 2012 at 1:57 pm


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