When Is It Time to Call Yourself a Copywriter?

Colorful sticky notes with I deserve to be, I want to be, I can be, I will be, I am, all on bulletin board

When someone asks what you do, do you say, “I’m a copywriter?”

If you’re like many new copywriters I work with, the answer may be no, despite the fact that you’ve been studying copywriting for a while now and may have even completed a project or two.

You might not “feel” like a copywriter yet …

Well, there is no such thing as a “copywriter feeling,” so my advice would be to separate any and all feelings from your self-promotion — because what you call yourself is the beginning of your self-promotional path. And if you take the wrong first step, it will infect the entire path.

In fact, not calling yourself a copywriter because you don’t yet “feel” like a copywriter is most likely an obstacle that is actually getting in the way of you becoming a real copywriter — it’s a form of self-sabotage, if you will.

Here are some other forms of self-sabotage — see if any sound familiar:

  • You neglect to follow up on leads and other potential clients, especially the good ones that you suspect could lead to actual projects.
  • You don’t finish the program you’re studying, or you bounce from one learning program to another without applying what you’ve learned or allowing yourself to try the tactics in a real-world setting.
  • You wait until the last minute to begin a new project and end up running out of time to do your best work.
  • You engage in unhealthy behaviors like not getting enough sleep or eating poorly so you don’t feel well enough to be creative.
  • You let clutter pile up and it literally covers up the things you really want to do, especially things that have to do with getting more (and better) clients.

This last one was something I noticed very early on in my business (I described it in my interview in Barefoot Writer):

I knew a lot of dancers, actors, and musicians who didn’t have any work. They all seemed really disorganized to me, and I was a little bit more pulled together. I came up with the idea to be a professional organizer. That was around 1988 … The really interesting thing was that all these creative people were using clutter to prevent self-promotion. A lot of things in their piles were covering up marketing opportunities, or growth opportunities, for what were supposedly the things they wanted to do in their lives.

This became the foundation on which my business, Marketing-Mentor, was built, and although I no longer offer “professional organizing” services, I do still find many people avoid marketing their services.

So, if that’s you, you’re not alone!

What is this syndrome?

I have a theory about what may be going on. See if this rings a bell for you:

You are new to copywriting so you may be a bit insecure about the quality of your writing. You don’t yet have many (or any) samples to show or client names to drop. When anyone asks the typical, most harmless question, “What do you do?” you panic and stutter and can’t quite bring yourself to say you’re “a copywriter.” It sounds so official. And there are so many other (and you imagine much better) copywriters out there. How could you really call yourself that? How dare you?

Because if you did, you just know someone is going to “out” you any minute — “Who are you to call yourself a copywriter? What could you possibly do for us? Who have you worked with? Where are your samples?”

With all this activity swirling in your head, no wonder you don’t want to promote yourself. You especially don’t want your prospects to turn into clients, because then you’ll have to — heaven forbid! — do the copywriting work!

So from this point of view, getting a real project from a real client is the worst possible outcome!

Why?

Because — you believe — that client will immediately see that you’re a fraud, and surely think that you can’t write worth a dime … even though all the feedback you’ve received has been pretty good. That’s just a fluke, you are convinced. And even if it’s not, you won’t be able to replicate it, especially not for a paying client. You’d rather work for free, you tell yourself.

But working for free won’t take you far in your new business. Plus, if you are what I call an “experienced newbie,” you actually have a history of expertise and experience that has value.

Where is the confidence that goes along with that history? How do you leverage what you do know to evolve your professional self without being held back by insecurities and old habits?

How do you take what you’ve done in your life and build something new, something that will be satisfying and a good use of your time?

Here are a few ideas:

  • First, you have to be patient and gentle with yourself and get rid of any unhelpful voices in your head. They can actually be very harmful. (Here’s an article on Imposter Syndrome that may interest you.)
  • You must understand how long it takes to learn a new skill. Instead of choosing a self-directed home study program if you find yourself procrastinating, you may achieve more success with a program with built-in accountability and personal feedback. You’ll feel a lot more successful once you finish what you’ve started. And you’ll feel more confident in your abilities if you get expert feedback on your work and can show polished portfolio pieces to potential clients.
  • You need to begin to integrate self-promotion of your new business into your life. That is not easy, but the key is to find a self-marketing method that fits you. (Check out these 26 Proven Ways to Land Freelance Writing Jobs … you’re sure to find a method that feels comfortable for you to start with.)
  • Take the pressure off yourself and, instead of starting with “real” clients, pursue “practice” clients instead, until you are ready for the real ones.

Because it’s true. There is something about a “paying client” that puts the pressure on. That’s why I advise all of the new copywriters I work with to start by looking for “practice clients” — the ones you can make mistakes and practice on without ruining your best opportunities.

You can also practice calling yourself a copywriter. The more practice you get at calling yourself a copywriter and doing the work of copywriting, the sooner it will begin to feel real. And the sooner you’ll feel confident as a result.

Do you have any questions about how to get started (and how to defeat self-sabotage)? Share with us in the comments below.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: May 7, 2019

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