10 Things Every Successful Copywriter Needs to Know

Smiling woman sitting in chair with legs up while using laptop and holding coffee mug

Heraclitus of Ephesus was a Greek philosopher known for his doctrine that change is central to the universe. And although you might not recognize his name, maybe you know one of his nicknames: the Weeping Philosopher.

He got the name because he suffered from bouts of melancholy. And because of these on-and-off feelings of sadness, poor Heraclitus wasn’t always able to finish writing out his full thoughts.

That might explain why some of his writings are difficult to understand.

But there’s one of Heraclitus’ beliefs everyone can easily relate to: “The only thing constant in life is change.”

It’s true. Everything in life changes … even the direct-response world we thrive in as copywriters. And that’s why it’s important to stay alert and up to date with the changes that directly impact the way in which you earn your money.

For instance, how embarrassing would it be if you approached a potential client and didn’t know they had stopped advertising on Facebook and moved most of their budget over to email marketing? Or they had reduced the amount of money being spent on direct mail because they didn’t think it was a worthy marketing channel for them? What if the opposite were true and they weren’t engaged in email marketing at all?

The point to all of this is to be a well-informed copywriter. So with that in mind, here are 10 things every copywriter should know:

What You Need to Know #1: Direct mail is not dead. Every so often, rumors circulate that direct mail is dead. But that’s not true. It’s alive and well. According to Sequel Response, a firm specializing in direct mail, direct marketers mailed out 8.7 billion pieces in the second quarter of this year. So far, that brings 2022’s total direct-mail volume to 18.3 billion pieces — an increase of 4.66% from 2021’s first half.

IBISWorld found that so far this year in the U.S., direct-response marketers have spent $9.8 billion on direct mail. They also say the direct-mail advertising industry in the U.S. ranks 25th in the professional, scientific, and technical services industry by market size.

This means you could swoop in and get a piece of the action by offering to write direct-mail letters, flyers, postcards, or brochures for clients that don’t use this channel yet … and for those that do, it’s a chance to get your name on their roster of writers to hire.

What You Need to Know #2: E-commerce isn’t shrinking — it’s growing. It’s no secret that e-commerce has changed the way people shop. Nowadays, you can purchase a car without even walking into a showroom. Most car dealerships have created positions such as internet sales manager just to handle the volume of car buying done online.

And that’s just one example of an industry that has gone digital. The truth is, e-commerce is growing at a rapid pace. Insider Intelligence forecasts that right here in the U.S., e-commerce sales will grow 16.1%, reaching over $1 trillion by the end of this year.

Global e-commerce sales are expected to reach $5.5 trillion worldwide by the end of 2022. And that number is expected to continue growing over the next few years, proving that e-commerce is becoming an increasingly lucrative option for businesses.

This means more people are shopping online. And more people buying online means an almost never-ending supply of copywriting opportunities are waiting for you.

Those opportunities could be writing content for websites, banner ads, social media posts, customer emails, landing pages, order forms … The list goes on and on. There are enough paid projects to keep you busy for months on end.

What You Need to Know #3: Clients need and want ideas — and lots of them. The foundation of a direct-mail letter — or any form of persuasive writing, for that matter — is an emotionally compelling idea. The better you are at coming up with compelling ideas, the more likely it is that clients will hire you.

Think of it this way. All the “A-list” six-figure copywriters you can name — such as Carline Anglade-Cole, Mike Palmer, Jedd Canty, Paul Hollingshead, and John Forde —share the trait of being an idea generator. And that’s what contributes to their success.

If you take a proactive role in presenting ideas to your client that could have a dramatic, measurable impact on their business, what you are really doing is demonstrating your value to them.

They’ll see you not just as a copywriter who has their needs, wants, and desires in mind … but as a writer who wants them to succeed and be a part of that success.

What You Need to Know #4: It’s a big world out there — clients are everywhere. Imagine getting paid $1 million for doing about five minutes of work … It’s “nice work if you can get it.” And although finding that kind of easy work might be a pipe dream, landing high-paying writing projects isn’t.

That’s because clients are everywhere. Your next client could be the small business a few streets down from where you live. Or it could be the midsized business on Main Street in the heart of downtown. Or it might be that large firm with headquarters in New York or San Francisco.

Or you could find yourself working for an international company that does business here in the U.S. and several places abroad.

Because both direct mail and e-commerce are growing by leaps and bounds, there’s really no limitation to where your next paid writing project will come from.

Sure, it’s a big world out there, but the internet now has clients at your fingertips. So don’t be afraid to reach out to businesses large and small.

(What if you don’t know where to find clients? Check out our free tutorial 26 Ways to Find Freelance Writing Clients. There are numerous ways to find clients … and we’ll show you what they are and how to pick the “right” methods for you.)

What You Need to Know #5: Land more paid projects — Be a client magnet. In the 1989 hit movie Field of Dreams, the main character (played by Kevin Costner) is driven to build a baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield. In a dream, voices tell him, “If you build it, they will come.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way in real life … especially not if you want to see your writing income skyrocket. You have to be proactive in promoting your copywriting services.

You can’t just hang out a shingle that says, “I’m a copywriter — hire me.” Nope, you have to do all the things that help attract clients to you, such as building a professional website, sending emails, using social media (especially LinkedIn), and possibly even cold-calling clients.

You have to spread the word about your freelance writing business, because that’s how clients will know you even exist. The more you do it, the more you increase your chances of securing paid writing assignments.

What You Need to Know #6: Know the numbers your client uses to determine marketing success or failure. You’ve gotten a paid writing assignment — congratulations.

The client sends out the sales letter you’ve written, and now they’re just waiting on results. But exactly what determines the success or failure of your letter?

It comes down to numbers. And those numbers include the following:

Return on investment (ROI): For every dollar they spent on your sales letter, how much money did they get in return?

Response rate: Of the thousands of people they sent your letter to, how many responded?

Open rate: Of the thousands of readers they sent your sales letter to via email, how many people opened the email?

Click-through rate: Of all those people who opened the email, how many clicked through from the lift note to the sales letter?

Conversion rate: And of those people who clicked to the sales letter, how many of them actually bought the product?

Most clients use these numbers to determine how successful their marketing campaigns are, including using your sales letter. But they might have a few other key performance indicators (KPIs), such as how many emails it took to get people to respond, or how many days they sent those emails to trigger a response.

The best way to know what numbers matter to your client is to ask. And if you’re not sure what each number means, don’t be afraid to ask the client to walk you through each one.

What You Need to Know #7: Pick a niche, and then define what you do. Without a doubt, one of the easiest ways to be successful as a copywriter is to pick a niche and then dominate it.

When you think of the names of “A-list” copywriters like some of the ones I mentioned earlier, what other trait do they have in common besides generating ideas?

Well, they operate in a specific niche. Take Jedd Canty, for example. He’s a seven-figure copywriter, and his specialty is writing financial copy. Carline Anglade-Cole writes specifically for the health industry.

Steve Slaunwhite is an “A-list” copywriter specializing in writing for the business-to-business (B2B) market, and so is Gordon Graham.

So the first thing to do is figure out what industry attracts you. And then from there, determine the thing about your freelance writing service that makes you stand out from others.

Are you an expert at writing emails for B2B clients? Maybe you’re really good at writing content for self-improvement websites. Or maybe you enjoy diving into medical topics, and writing sales promotions for the alternative health market is a right fit.

There are a lot of markets to pick from, so your choices are virtually unlimited.

What You Need to Know #8: Negotiating your way to bigger paychecks. At one time or another on your journey to being an in-demand copywriter, you’re going to find yourself in the position of negotiating with clients.

It could be about the flat fees you charge, whether you will get paid a royalty, or deadlines. Each of these is a matter of having a conversation with your client.

Don’t be afraid to have that conversation. After all, being a freelance copywriter isn’t just an art form; it’s also a business. Sometimes you’ll be asked to sign a contract or agreement to cement the deal. And that contract will spell out all the details, including what you get paid, how, and when.

As for setting fees, don’t be afraid to value the work you do. Many up-and-coming copywriters make the mistake of charging too low of a fee. And that makes it feel like you put in a lot of time and effort for not much money.

Set a fair price for your services. (Use our Pricing Guide to help you.) If clients hesitate to pay that fee, you’re probably working with the wrong client. But you could also be just one conversation away from negotiating a price that works for you and your client.

What You Need to Know #9: Copywriting comes in all forms. It used to be in the good old “direct-mail days,” the only things a copywriter had to write were a sales letter, an order form, and maybe a lift note.

But these days, with the evolution of the internet and digital marketing, copywriters have to be able to write more than just these three things.

That’s because most clients need you to write not just the sales letter but lift letters that get people wanting to read your sales letter. And usually it’s more than just one lift letter … It could be anywhere from three to six.

Then they might ask you to write ads they can use on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. And on top of that, you might be asked to write a landing page, welcome letter, and email autoresponder series that go along with your sales letter.

All of these pieces are considered collateral writing assignments. They have a huge impact on the overall performance of your sales letter. And since they are so important, you’ll want to know how to write each one.

But also, knowing how to properly write each collateral assignment gives you the opportunity to specialize in writing them. You could niche your entire freelance business on writing collateral projects such as emails or ads.

Either way, nowadays understanding how to write collateral material is a must-know for any copywriter wanting to build a thriving freelance business.

What You Need to Know #10: You’re one client away from success. Let’s say you’ve studied AWAI’s “gold standard” program on copywriting. And you’ve even earned a few badges or enrolled in a few of our certification programs.

Now what?

Well, dear copywriter, it’s time to go from learning to doing. It’s time to get those clients, start writing, and get paid for what you do. The thought might make you feel a bit uncomfortable, or a little scared.

It’s no different from being asked to give a speech in front of a large group. Before you speak, your stomach is in knots. You’re not sure if the audience will applaud or boo you off stage.

And in the first few seconds of speaking, your voice squeaks. But then you realize, it’s not that bad after all. You relax into your presentation, and no one in the audience even knows you had any of those feelings.

Once you’ve done one speech, you’re eager to do the next one.

Just remember, you’ve gotten professional training and guidance, which means you are well prepared to enter the world of copywriting.

And in the end, you’re just one client away from success.

The AWAI Method™

The AWAI Method™ for Becoming a Skilled, In-Demand Copywriter

The AWAI Method™ combines the most up-to-date strategies, insights, and teaching methods with the tried-and-true copywriting fundamentals so you can take on ANY project — not just sales letters. Learn More »

Click to Rate:
Average: 5.0
Published: July 28, 2021

1 Response to “10 Things Every Successful Copywriter Needs to Know”

  1. Excellently written article and also very encouraging! Glad I took the time to read this after a long day.

    Terry Day 2021 AWAI member

Guest, Add a Comment
Please Note: Your comments will be seen by all visitors.

You are commenting as a guest. If you’re an AWAI Member, Login to myAWAI for easier commenting, email alerts, and more!

(If you don’t yet have an AWAI Member account, you can create one for free.)

This name will appear next to your comment.

Your email is required but will not be displayed.

Text only. Your comment may be trimmed if it exceeds 500 characters.

Type the Shadowed Word
Too hard to read? See a new image | Listen to the letters

Hint: The letters above appear as shadows and spell a real word. If you have trouble reading it, you can use the links to view a new image or listen to the letters being spoken.

(*all fields required)