Interview with a Barefoot Writer: Carline Anglade-Cole
“You don’t have to make six-figures to feel like a six-figure copywriter.”
— Carline Anglade-Cole, Celebrated Health Copywriter
Like most people, Carline Anglade-Cole had never heard of copywriting till she was knee deep in the working world. But when she realized the potential perks it held, she went after it with such gusto that her first year alone brought jaw dropping results.
Carline began her working life as a Customer Service Representative at Phillips Publishing (now Healthy Directions). During her ten years with the company, she transitioned to Marketing Assistant, Marketing Manager, and eventually Director of Marketing. As she puts it, “I was making pretty good money, but with four kids at home … I felt like I was being pulled. My job wanted more hours from me, my family needed more time from me, I just felt like when I was at work I was thinking about home, when I was at home I was thinking about work.”
She laughs, looking back on how different her life was then. “When you start getting like that,” she says, “You’re just not comfortable because it’s a stress that is constantly there. You know you’ve got to make a change. At the time, my kids were young and I wanted to be at home and do things with them.”
That’s when she first considered freelancing. “My husband encouraged me to do something on my own, but I was always a big chicken. I’d say, ‘No I don’t know anything yet.’”
Carline and I chatted on a Tuesday afternoon as she enjoyed lovely weather from her home in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. She tells me how she’d always enjoyed writing and even got a degree in journalism. But it was her job in marketing that first introduced her to sales copy and the concept of the writer’s life. “I had been working with copywriters in my marketing job and saw that most of them were living out of the country or in really exotic places, and they were just turning copy and we’d cut them these huge checks. I thought, ‘Wow! That’s pretty nice!’”
So, she got curious. Her first step was reaching out to the copywriters she’d hired to understand more about what they did and how they did it. Then, as a trial run, she wrote some short sales copy pieces for the marketing company where she worked. Not only was her copy successful, but Carline quickly realized she enjoyed writing. That’s when she decided to take the freelancing plunge. “I put together a plan to pay off some bills so I could take a pay cut and go for it and launch my business. It was really scary, back in 1999. I figured at that point, if it didn’t work out, I had a whole new millennium to make up for it! So January 1, 1999, I officially launched my copywriting career.” But here’s the clincher: “ … and in 14 years, I never made less money than I did when I was working for a company!”
As she puts it, one thing Carline did right is that she didn’t go into the freelance writing business hoping to make a huge income right off. “We figured out if I made half of my income, we had the flexibility that I needed to be home with my kids and have my own schedule, and it would be worth it. Our quality of life would be improved. That way, I didn’t have to go out there and make a huge amount of money. I just needed a decent amount of money and we’d be okay.”
Quality of life, more so than income, was a huge player in Carline’s transition to freelancing. “You don’t have to make six-figures to feel like you’re making six-figures as a copywriter, or to be successful in this career,” she says. “The measurement is not about money, it’s about quality. Whether it’s quality of life with your family or the time you have to spend with whoever you want, or even being able to reduce your stress level. You think there are a lot of things you need money for, but when you’re working for yourself, lots of them drop away. You don’t need the commute, so gas costs drop. My clothing allowance cut down to about zero because I work in my sweats or my shorts and my t-shirt year round. Food, going out to lunch everyday with co-workers and what-not, that adds up. You can cut out all of those hidden expenses when you’re a copywriter.”
She recommends that any new writer starting out as a freelancer asks themselves, “What do I really need?” For Carline, her initial investment in her writing business was less than $500. “I actually bought a used computer off a friend of mine who was getting rid of his. I bought a copy machine and a fax machine and I was in business.”
Cost-cutting plans aside, Carline was hot out of the gate her first year as a freelancer and pulled in six-figures right off. She attributes her lightning-speed success to early connections in the business. “I ended up using a lot of the marketing connections I had to get jobs in both consulting and copywriting. I didn’t realize how much I knew from working in a direct mail company. More importantly, I didn’t realize how little other companies knew about direct-mail until I actually went off on my own. And so some things I thought were basic because I did them all the time as a Marketing Director were things other companies were clueless about. So I kind of stumbled into being more of a consultant in my first year, saying ‘Hey, I can show you how to put together a mail plan. I can show you how to pick good copywriters.’
The lesson here, as Carline was quick to point out, is that a lot of companies really don’t know how to compile targeted mailing lists and reach out to likely prospects. If you take the time to learn even a little of that, you’ll know more about it than most companies, and you can offer your own consulting expertise.
Carline used her consulting angle to secure writing assignments. “I’d say ‘By the way, I write copy, I can write this for you. Let me have a shot at this and try to beat this control for you.’ That’s how I grew my copywriting business. Because once a client trusts you, they’re willing to give you a try in other areas, so that’s a great way to get your foot into the door.”
By her third year of freelancing, Carline was generating a six-figure income from copywriting and royalties. By year five, she could count on a six-figure income just from royalties. “I don’t want to make it seem like it’s that easy,” she says, “Because it’s not. You have to build up to it. When you’re writing the copy, it has to be tested. If it works and they start mailing it, then it slowly grows and grows. Do that for about a year and you’ll actually start to see royalties.”
Her point naturally leads us to the topic of royalties. “I think most clients like the win-win approach that comes with royalties, so if they’re making money from your copy, they’re willing to pay you for the success of that copy. Sometimes you may have to get creative with the royalty arrangement — you may need to be willing to take less upfront. Because again, a new client’s big concern is, will your copy work for them?”
She then offers a breakdown of how a writer might structure a royalty arrangement. “So if you were going to charge maybe $10,000 to write a package, one approach could be ‘Listen, I’ll write that package for $5,000, with a one or two percent royalty on revenue generated if it’s an online campaign or one or two cents per piece mailed via the postal service after 50,000 pieces. The client may say ‘Wow, I don’t take as big of a hit upfront, and if the copy doesn’t work, I’m not out much money.’ But if it does work then most clients, even small clients, are willing to say, ‘This is working, I’m willing to pay the copywriter more.’ All my clients are royalty-based.”
She also shares her secrets to keeping her royalties going and making sure her clients always have strong, fresh packages in the mail. “From day one, I worked royalties,” says Carline. Then she laughs, and says, “I take that back. From day one, I tried for royalties. I would say 75% of my first projects had royalties. I did take flat-fee projects just to get the money and to get my foot in the door. But that ended very quickly. I thought ‘No, I’ve got to stick with the royalties. If I have to adjust my royalties to get the client, I’ll do that.’ … Even if you’re just starting out, you can still structure a deal to include royalties. And if you are working a royalty arrangement, you always offer to ‘tweak’ or rewrite, or create new headlines and leads. Whatever is needed to keep the copy fresh at no charge. Just say ‘Hey, you’re mailing my package. I’ll give you a new headline. I’ll go into the body copy and make changes to keep it fresh because the more you’re mailing it the more money I’m making.’ And the client doesn’t have to pay upfront waiting for those kind of tweaks.”
Carline also has surprising advice on how to pick a winning project. “When I consider a product, I have to really believe it will help the prospect. Earlier today, I had a conversation with a client whom I was scheduled to write for this month and we were going over the product. I had to tell him ‘You know what? I just don’t believe in this. I’m not feeling this, I just don’t like it.’ I was not getting excited about the product, so I had to tell him ‘I don’t want to waste your money or my time.’ If I know I’m not going to do a good job for you, then I don’t want to do it, period. I’d rather you go find another copywriter than write it myself kind of half-hearted.”
It all boils down to picking the projects that most excite you. As Carline says, “When I feel like there’s a really good product out there and it can help people and it gets my creative juices flowing, that’s the project I want to work on. When that combination of good product and good copy comes together, and we’ve got a winner, I feel successful. I’m a successful writer for that moment.”
It also makes it easier for her to be choosy about the work she does. “I only work with clients who offer 100% money-back guarantees. If you’re not going to stand behind your product, I don’t want to work with you. If the customer is not happy for whatever reason and you’re not willing to give them their money back, I’m not working with you.” She goes on to advise, “You kind of pick your clients based on integrity and then that way you’re helping to bring a legitimate product to the market. There’s a lot of crappy stuff out there, and I don’t want to be involved with that. … So I definitely have become a lot more critical of what want to work on, because when I take a good product and I’m excited about it, I’m going to get a winner. And that winner means work I’m putting in this month is going to benefit me for three or four years down the road in royalties.” It’s clear she’s mastered the art of freelancing satisfaction, both in making sure she enjoys what she’s doing and in reaping long-term financial rewards.
Carline’s family didn’t have a lot of money growing up. She was only six years old when her mother and stepfather emigrated from Haiti in the late 1960s. “My mom didn’t speak any English when she first came over. She worked as a maid, and she had two and three jobs at times to take care of my sister and me. My stepfather worked as a cab driver when my brother came along. We weren’t dirt poor by any means. I thought we were okay, but I look back now and think, ‘That’s how we lived?’”
Though many freelancers and entrepreneurs struggle with overcoming the income ceiling their parents hit, Carline never let it stop her. “My advice to people who think like that is ‘Stop it — stop it now!’ Stop thinking like that, it’s ridiculous. If you make more money than your parents, then give them some of your money, you know? You make more money than your friends, trust me, they’ll come and get a loan from you when they’re short. So that shouldn’t be a reason not to be successful. I don’t let money have any kind of power over me.”
She doesn’t let other preconceived notions stop her, either. “People always say, ‘Well you’re a woman in a male-dominated industry’ or ‘You’re a minority in a predominately white-dominant industry, how do you do that?’ You know, I just use it to my advantage. When it’s an advantage to be a minority, I’m a minority, if it’s not, I’m not. I just always felt that whatever situation I’m in, I can look at it and say ‘How can I do the best that I can in this situation?’ I don’t let other people’s issues or the feeling of a glass ceiling affect me.”
Here’s how she applies that to copywriting: “So when it came to copywriting, I said the way I’m going to be good at this is to learn from the masters. I am not inventing this career, I stumbled into this amazing field I never knew existed. People have been successful in it, and I got a chance to know and work with the best of the best, like Clayton Makepeace. I have his phone number. I can call him and ask questions. I met him when I was working – he was one of the copywriters at our company and I got to be friends with him and his wife. I also studied his writing style and studied other copywriter’s writing styles and figured out why they did the stuff they did.”
Of course, being organized helps her stay on top of her projects. “Every day, I jot down my to-do list. And I wake up very early, at 5 in the morning.
My creative time is usually right between 6:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. By 2:00, my brain is fried. I’ll do accounting things or I’ll call clients to check on stuff or scheduling, no creative stuff after that time.” She says, “Find when your creative time is and guard it with your life.”
She used her early successes to open the door to bigger clients. “There’s nothing like a control to get the attention of new clients. Once I got my first control, I used that to introduce myself to competitors. I called up companies and told them I was a copywriter. Maybe 20% of the time, I would get through to somebody, but for the most part, cold-calling really wasn’t working. So when I was able to get my first control, it was for a very small company and the product was a male potency product. Which gave me a story to tell. I wasn’t calling somebody and saying ‘Hi I’d like the chance to work for you.’ I was calling and saying ‘Hey, I just want you to know I have a new control that’s mailing right now. What they didn’t know was that my latest control was my only control — and it worked!”
All of Carline’s controls are in the alternative health niche, which has always been her specialty.
“I am a big fan of being in a niche. Being in a niche is where you’ll make the most amount of money. However, I also know when you’re starting off, and that’s how it was with me, you’re just trying to get a job. So when you’re starting off and someone wants you to write an investment letter, or wants you to write about gardening, you take it because you want the money. I was definitely one of those people. But I quickly saw that the health field was where my passion was, along with better income potential. If you niche yourself, you can quickly become an expert. The smaller the niche, the bigger the opportunity to become an expert in that niche.”
Carline also shares a word of caution for any writers hoping to follow her footsteps. “Most new copywriters think they have to go after the large companies. Don’t do it. Because you’re only going to get one or two chances to go after the large companies, so you want to go after them when you can really write. Go for the smaller companies to start, because they can afford to take a chance on you.”
And certainly, the chances Carline has taken over the years have paid off. Some of her most lucrative projects have also been some of her strangest. “I think the most unusual writing project I had was a package on urine therapy. I had a great time researching it. I didn’t even think it was a legitimate therapy at the time. It said I actually had to drink my own urine in order to believe it, but I didn’t do that! And then a couple of years ago, I think I wrote half of my packages on digestive parasites and constipation issues. And they were all working. People made fun of me because of all this talk about poop, but I was like ‘Hey, this poop is paying the bills!’”
To close, she offers this final piece of advice for new writers. “I’m not afraid of competition but it can be a little bit daunting when you’re just starting off. So always remember, you do not have to be the best to succeed in this business. You just have to beat the latest control.”
This interview was previously published in the August, 2013 issue of Barefoot Writer. To read more interviews from fellow Barefoot Writers be sure to check out The Barefoot Writer's Club.
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