3 Key Lessons I Learned Going From Zero to $103,000 in 11 Months as a Writer
Yesterday, I shared the story of how I finally got a paid writing project from the director of a nonprofit company. I want you to know that I’m truly grateful for that project.
The project gave me $500 I desperately needed.
It was my first serious writing assignment. I was thankful.
But, I was mostly grateful for the lesson I learned — it was far more valuable than the $500.
So, if it sounds like I’m griping when I tell you this story, I’m not. :)
Here goes …
The busy nonprofit marketing director was true to her word and gave me a project.
For $1,000, she asked me to write their annual fundraising letter — about 10-15 pages, based on what they had done before.
Their annual efforts for the past few years had been slacking. They needed a boost. She felt I could do the job … but since I was a new writer and didn’t have much experience … and because they were a small organization, she could only pay me $1,000.
50% upfront, 50% when it was approved by the Executive Board.
I jumped in and gave it my all.
To my joy, the marketing director LOVED the letter. She sent me an email telling me how she had cried reading it and wanted to donate to the organization herself.
A few days later, she emailed me back.
“I shared the letter with the Board. One of the Board members is uncomfortable with the opening story you used. Everyone voted to just use the letter we used last year. Sorry.”
I asked about my remaining $500. I had finished the letter, so I should be paid.
“Sorry,” she said, “the rest of the fee was conditional on Board approval. Since they didn’t approve it, we can’t pay you.”
I was furious.
I don’t think I’ve been that angry since I was in high school and found out my best friend was caught kissing my girlfriend!
After a few days of stewing and blaming the director, the Board members, and everyone else under the sun, I calmed down and began analyzing what really happened.
As I thought on it, a quote from a wonderful book came to my mind, As a Man Thinketh, by James Allen.
“Circumstance does not make the man, it reveals him to himself.”
In that same chapter, James Allen also talks about our external life being a mirror of what is happening inside of us.
I thought about that for a long time.
I came to the conclusion that I had no one to blame but myself.
Something I did … something I said … something I wrote … somehow, somewhere I communicated to them that it was acceptable to treat me that way …
So they did.
What’s more …
Something in the way I was marketing myself had attracted that kind of client into my world.
So, I dug deeper. Slowly the picture began to come clear.
You know what I was doing?
I was apologizing … and begging.
I stepped back and read over my website, my direct mail, my emails, my Information Packet … They all had an overtone of …
“Hey, I’m a new copywriter and don’t have much experience. Not sure you want to hire me, but I really need money, so please, please, please save me by hiring me, okay? I practically write for free if you’ll just, pretty please with a cherry on top, hire me.”
No one feels comfortable around a desperate, groveling, pleading guy … let alone confident in hiring them to do a vital task like writing.
Emotionally, I felt like a guy standing on the street corner, holding up a sign saying, “Will write for food” with the word “food” scratched out and “anything … please!” scribbled in.
Man, that had to change … and fast.
So, I woke up one day, looked in the mirror and said,
“You, Joshua Boswell, are a professional writer. You are trained by the best in the world, AWAI. And today and forever, you’re going to act like it.”
I went back into my website and promo documents and removed all the apologetic, needy language.
I inserted bold, confident language.
I revamped my call scripts.
I put confidence and courage into my emails.
No more slinking around and begging for projects.
Then, I erased all the companies in my client “wish list” that were small potatoes. I replaced all of them with Fortune 1000 companies and above. Big dogs … Sony, Corel, Verizon, GM, and so forth … Plus, some of the serious direct-response companies like Agora, Boardroom, and Nightingale-Conant.
Professionals don’t fish for minnows … they go after the marlins, tuna, and swordfish.
So, I went fishing.
And I discovered something amazing …
Bigger clients not only pay better, but they treat you better. And, it turns out that they are just as hard (or easy) to land than little clients.
In other words, the work you’ll do to get a small client is just about the same work you’ll do for big clients.
So, why not go after clients that pay great and treat you really well?
Well, as you might guess, there is a catch …
Big fish don’t hire amateurs.
And this is the third big key I discovered in my first year:
Profitable Key to Success #3: Great clients hire professionals.
When my writing students hear me say that, they say, “GREAT! That’s just great. How am I supposed to ever get clients if I’m a newbie? Newbies aren’t viewed as professionals.”
And here is where I tell them one of the greatest secrets of all times in the writing business …
Yes, new writers can be seen as professional!
Here’s how you do it …
During that first year, I discovered that just about every person on the planet who hires writers has a checklist in their head. Most of them don’t even know they have a checklist, but they do.
The checklist is labeled, “Signs of a Professional Writer.”
You see, there is a magic key to getting clients as a new writer … a “secret sauce” … that people don’t talk about very much.
The key is to discover the “Signs of a Professional Writer” checklist and find a way to check off each point in your prospect’s mind. When you check all the boxes on the list, you’ll be seen as a professional writer (even if you’re new!!!) and your odds of being hired skyrocket.
So, what is the magic checklist?
And, how do you check it off as a new writer?
Glad you asked. :)
The “Signs of a Professional Writer Checklist” has seven major points. They are:
- Good, Likeable Character — Marketing directors have enough to deal with … they don’t need to work with someone who is a pain in the neck. They want to know if they will be comfortable (even delighted!!) working with you.
- Clear, Persuasive Communicator — Can you string a few legible sentences together and move people to take action?
- Business or Hobby? — With so many “writers” out there, are you really in business or just doing this as a hobby? Professionals have systems that show they are in business.
- Writing Skills — This is different from clear communication skills. This is about actual writing skills. Good voice, effective structure, appropriate vocabulary, etc. … You show this with samples.
- Fees — Can they afford you? Every company in the world would love to have Clayton Makepeace or Bob Bly or Carline Anglade-Cole write all their stuff … but not everyone can afford the price tag or to get on their waiting list.
- Relevant Past Experience — What have you done in the past? Do you have a historical track record or ideal job experience that will give them confidence in working with you?
- Social Proof — Have you been vetted by other professionals or businesses? Can they attest to your character, dependability, and skill? (Note: This does not have to be just about your writing … this is third-party validation of all of the above.)
There are a lot of ways to check off the boxes — some easy … some not so easy.
It took me a great while to find a way to do this. I wish I could have had the checklist early on … and I wish I would have known how to present myself so I could check the boxes quicker.
It would have saved me so much pain and I could have made a lot more money, faster.
One of my goals in life is to save you — my fellow writer — the pain of trying to create a system that will easily and quickly check off the list … even if you’re a new writers. That’s why I dedicate my efforts to helping writers like you launch their businesses and get clients who will value them as professionals.
How many of Joshua’s seven points on his checklist do you already check off? Let us know which areas you need more help with in the comments.
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