… Because I Didn’t Like Being an Employee
I’m pleased to write to you again today.
If you were with me yesterday, you’ll recall how when I started copywriting I began in what turned out to be the wrong direction.
I told you then I fell into writing for the financial niche. I didn’t feel comfortable or competent in it, but I stuck with it way too long. As far as I was concerned, financial was the best game in town, so to speak. Then I discovered alternative health. I felt I’d discovered my place in the copywriting world.
However, looking back, I wish I’d known what I know now about niches. And I really wish I’d known the man I interviewed for today’s Writer’s Life.
Steve Slaunwhite is the recognized master of Business-to-Business (B2B) copywriting. And a marvelous teacher. Had I known Steve when I was struggling in financial, my career could have taken a much different – and lucrative – path.
But Steve’s more than just a master B2B copywriter/trainer. He’s a multifaceted person with many interests.
Steve loves cycling. He told me he loves to point his bike in an interesting direction and just go – for two or three days. This summer he plans on cycling around Lake Ontario. That’s a 620-mile jaunt!
Steve also classifies himself as a serious movie fan. As a young man, the Norman Jewison School of Film accepted him to study. But he decided not to go in favor of what he describes as the “safer” choice of business school. He did tell me he has some regrets about his decision. I, for one, am glad he chose a course that brought him to B2B.
So, enough chatter. Let’s listen to Steve personally about his career.
“ … Because I didn’t like being an employee"
Will: Let me start by asking, have you always been a professional copywriter?
Steve: Like 90% of people in our field, copywriting is a second career for me. My first job was in sales and I stayed in that for about 10 years.
I liked sales, but I hated being an employee. I desperately wanted to be self-employed and control my own destiny.
Originally, I considered starting a sales training business, but when I discovered copywriting I realized it was going to be a much better fit. And, of course, it was.
Freelance copywriting was my ticket, and I’ve been a freelance copywriter for nearly 20 years now.
Will: When you started copywriting, what niche or niches were you in? Did you enjoy writing in those niches?
Steve: My last sales job was in the building materials industry. So when I started copywriting, those were the type of companies I targeted. I admit, my early prospecting efforts were clumsy at best. It took me a while to get a handle on the types of companies that were good prospects for my copywriting services.
By the way, that’s the key to successful prospecting: keeping refining your approach!
One niche that worked very well for me early on was software companies. I didn’t know much about software at the time, but I learned fast.
The same thing for transportation/logistics companies. I’ve done a lot of work for UPS over the years.
A niche that did NOT work well for me was advertising/design agencies. I didn’t like the way they treated freelancers. Working with them, I felt pushed around and treated like a temp employee. One day I decided never to work for agencies again – and I never did. It was the best decision of my career.
Will: How did you get started in B2B? Who or what got you started? Did you connect with the niche right away or did you have to “grow into it?”
Steve: I didn’t pick B2B. It picked me.
When I started as a copywriter, I imagined myself writing direct mail sales letters for publishing companies – just like my copywriting heroes did. But I kept getting calls from B2B companies asking me to write websites, email campaigns, short-copy direct mail packages, etc.
Soon working with B2B became my specialty.
Will: Did you have any formal B2B training?
Steve: When I started out in the mid-1990s, there was no internet and no training programs that I could find. The best I could do to learn the craft was read copywriting books – and there weren’t many of those either!
So, yes, I learned by the seat of my pants.
If there were training programs available back then, I would have signed up for them all. That would have saved me a lot of time, helped me get more successful faster, and steered me clear of all the mistakes I made. (I made a LOT of mistakes when I started out.)
Will: You are now a master B2B copywriter as well as an expert trainer. Why do you enjoy writing B2B so much?
Steve: Where do I start? I like the variety. One day I get to work on a white paper, the next day an email campaign. I like the fascinating products and services, especially the new stuff. I particularly enjoy working with business owners. (I focus on smaller companies specifically so I can work with business owners.)
I get a lot of satisfaction writing for companies and seeing my work get good results for them.
And … the pay is good … very good!
Will: If you had to start your career over, do you think you would start with B2B or would you start in another niche and then move into B2B?
Steve: There’s no question about it. I would start with B2B.
Will: You’re an expert B2B trainer. I’ve seen you at Bootcamp, and you seem passionate not only about the niche, but also teaching other people about it. Why do you enjoy teaching about B2B so much?
Steve: Next to writing for companies, teaching is my passion. I love developing and delivering workshops. Every time I discover something new that helps my business, I want to teach it to others.
The downside is that I’ve created a lot of competitors! But I don’t mind. Nothing pleases me more than when someone says I’ve helped them build a successful copywriting business. The way I see it, the more top-notch B2B copywriters there are in the marketplace, the better it is for all of us.
Will: Do you think B2B is a good entry niche for new copywriters?
Steve: I do. Two reasons: One, there are thousands of B2B companies, so a copywriter will never run out of opportunities.
Two, there are dozens of niche markets within B2B. So chances are, a new copywriter will find an ideal niche.
Will: What about copywriters who’ve been writing for a while; do you think B2B is a good niche for them to “reinvent” themselves?
Steve: Definitely. In fact, experienced copywriters have a head start because they’re already solid writers and understand marketing well. The number one thing I hear from B2B clients is, “There are a lot of copywriters around. But it’s tough to find a GOOD one.”
Will: How long would it take the average copywriter to learn the ropes of B2B?
Steve: Depending on how much work you put into it, two or three months. That’s the time you need to learn the fundamentals of B2B copywriting and also learn the specifics of writing the key marketing pieces: websites, emails, blogs, white papers, case studies, etc.
Of course, your learning accelerates when you start work on actual client projects.
Will: Could both entry level and experienced copywriters make a decent living starting out?
Steve: Copywriting is like any of the other traditional “self-employment” businesses. (Consultant, real estate agent, massage therapist, life coach, that sort of thing.) It takes work and determination to succeed. You have to learn copywriting, set up your business, and promote and hustle to land your first few clients.
But … it’s worth it. There’s nothing better, in my opinion, than a copywriting business with a loyal base of great clients. It’s worth the work to get there.
That being said, how long it takes depends on many factors. But if you work diligently, you should be able to make it into the high five figures in the first year, and break six figures in your second.
Will: Could you tell us about your greatest B2B triumphs?
Steve: I wrote a direct mail sales letter for UPS that got more response than any other direct mail package they tried. That was certainly good for my ego!
I also helped launch a company by creating their company name and writing all their key marketing materials. They are now the number two player in their (very competitive) niche.
Will: Is there anything I haven’t covered that you’d like to share with our readers?
Steve: B2B copywriting is a great business. But like any business, it takes work to succeed.
That being said, I’m about to pack up my laptop, go to my favorite café, and write an email campaign for a client. Life is good!
I really enjoyed chatting with Steve the other day. His comments are making me reconsider the direction of my career. So, I’m looking forward to what he has to say on Thursday when he writes to us directly.
Tomorrow, I’ll give you more details of what B2B copywriting is and why it’s potentially such a great way to grab hold of the writer’s life.
I look forward to seeing you then!
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