how to get hired (especially if you’re just starting out)
Last week, I got a bit ranty about why you shouldn’t offer to work for free.
(refresher: There should always be an exchange of value, whether you’re paying a mentor to educate you/shorten the learning curve, or you’re being paid/trained as a copywriter. Both you and your client/mentor will value your work more.)
At the end of that post I asked a question:
What else do you have to offer?
And so many folks wrote in to ask how to answer that question that I decided a follow-up was in order.
This is where a lot of newer copywriters and freelancers get hung up, often because they’re still stuck in the old “resumes and responsible for” format that fuels the dreaded J-O-B world.
But if I as a prospective client am going to invest time, money, and care into developing your talent as a copywriter… this is the stuff I REALLY want to know:
Do you have experience in (or total geeky fascination with) a particular field or niche?
Experience and passion can take you far in this industry… because passion connects.
And I’m not just talking about passionate copy connecting to customers (although that helps a LOT).
Passion can connect you to your clients too.
Remember – clients have the jobs (and the money) you want, but at the end of the day they’re just people like you.
True story: I once landed a retainer gig from a cold email I sent to a marketing agency. And that’s largely due to the fact that I had done my research (read: stalked the team profiles on their website) and noticed the marketing VP had been to a reunion concert of a famous 90s band.
He mentioned how he geeked out over getting to go, so when I emailed, I led in with a story about how I geeked out over a similar concert. THEN I made the “here’s who I am, here’s what I do, should we connect?” pitch.
Some people are sticklers for keeping “business” and “fun” separate. Call me crazy… I actually LIKE liking the people I work with. And I LIKE wanting to hang out with them and shoot the breeze. And I LIKE that when we get down to business, we make serious money.
When you can show me you have passion, whether it’s about the product I’m selling or some shared interest we have, you immediately separate yourself from the pack. Especially since most of them are sticking to the outdated advice they’re getting from Google searches.
Passion connects. Don’t be afraid to let yours show.
Are you an “accidental expert” at something, or do you have beyond-beginner knowledge?
Often there’s this unspoken notion among freelancers… that you have to reach a certain “level” before you can be considered an “expert”.
And worse than that, there’s always this head trash associated with it, like you can’t actually teach or charge or make money off something you know UNTIL you’ve achieved this mythical status.
I call bullshit.
And I should know. One of my favorite mentors had to call me on that once upon a time.
“Look… you don’t need anyone to anoint you an expert. All you need is to be able to share something you know with someone who doesn’t know what you know. But just in case, you have my Official Permission™ to go out there and be an expert and teach people.”
Something finally clicked when he said that… I stopped holding back and started sharing what I knew whenever I thought I could help someone. And I even shared stuff I just discovered.
There’s actually a benefit to learning something from someone who JUST learned it.
I liken it to hiking up a mountain. Who’s better suited to warn you about what’s ahead and help you avoid obstacles: someone who’s a few steps ahead of you on the path, or someone who’s all the way at the top and has already forgotten what your part of the trail looks like?
Plus, remember that if you love something and/or want to make a career of it, you’ll spend time getting better at it every day. That means in very little time you will be WAY more advanced than the average person who stumbles across your niche.
If you’ve progressed beyond beginner, odds are you’re good enough to get the gig. Give yourself some credit.
Are you good at finding answers?
I think one of my biggest personal frustrations as a Copy Chief is that feeling when someone could have found an answer on their own with a couple seconds’ worth of digging.
I see it happen all the time in copywriter groups – folks asking the same questions without doing a search of past posts. Or folks literally asking a question they could Google.
Don’t be afraid to try and find answers on your own. In fact, I HIGHLY encourage it. I’m much more patient with folks who come to me and say, “hey I tried to find the answer in X, Y, and Z… can you help me?”
There’s a flip side to this coin – don’t be so good at finding answers that you don’t know when to check with the client. I even made this oops myself today when I approved an email to be sent that caused some confusion to the team.
The company owner’s reaction? That’s cool, just remember to check with me – I’d like to be able to weigh in on strategic decisions like that one.
That just goes to show that no matter how far you go in your career, mistakes will be made. But if they affect the business’s bottom line, better to double-check than to rely on your own intuition.
So it’s a good idea in general to take initiative to find answers and solutions on your own, and THEN escalate once you’ve hit a wall… vs stopping work to ask questions every step of the way.
Can you spot gaps (and figure out how to fill them)?
From the outside, it’s easy to assume all big businesses have their shit together. After all, how else did they become so successful?
But the fact is that teams grow and change, markets shift and change, strategies evolve, and there’s no way a company can try every strategy there is. And that’s an opportunity for you, if you are the kind of person that pays attention.
I’m not talking about being one of those douches that writes to someone and points out all the mistakes they made on their website and then asking for work (seriously bro?). I’m talking about asking questions, observing, and watching for things you can fix.
As another example – I once wrote an email re-engagement campaign for a 9-figure retailer.
They had a loyalty program, an email program, coupons… all kinds of marketing ploys. But no one had thought to try and re-engage with inactive email subscribers until the email marketing manager and I hatched our plan.
And it was a SUPER SIMPLE sequence. Three emails. An offer of reward points that could be spent like cash (i.e. we weren’t giving money away – they had to spend money to save it). And that sequence generated $8.4MM in sales.
Little hinges swing big doors. You don’t have to come in and overhaul somebody’s business to deliver massive value. Just look for opportunities.
Are you a pro?
Do you actually meet deadlines? Do you turn in quality work that you’ve given yourself time to review in order to ensure it’s as error free as you can make it?
Or did you stay up all night the night before, writing feverishly, sliding in a day or so after the promised delivery date because of an unspecified “family emergency”.
Look, I’m not one to tell you how to run your business. Some of you masochistic types thrive on the pressure of last-minute stuff and looming deadlines.
Personally, I like to have confidence that something I send out doesn’t have some glaring error in it that’s going to ruin my reputation. That requires time and scrutiny and attention to detail. And rushing allows for precisely NONE of that.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’re waiting until the last minute… but trust me when I say that one of these days that’ll come back to bite you. HARD.
Do what you say you’ll do, when you say you’ll do it. Even if that means you’re losing money this time around. Next time you’ll know better.
But when people are depending on you to deliver and you drop the ball? Let’s just say word has a way of getting around.
BONUS: Do you already know everything?
Hey, great. Remind me again why you need me?
If your plan is to gain experience working under me… try not to argue with everything I say. Asking questions is great. Constantly pointing out why I’m wrong? Not so much.
If you’re a know-it-all, great. Go know it all somewhere else.
Getting the gig is often just as much HOW you conduct yourself as WHAT you know.
Sometimes it’s even MORE important than technical skill.
I can TEACH you the skills. I didn’t have them once upon a time, and now I do.
But I can’t teach you the attitude. I can’t teach you the enthusiasm. I can’t teach you the passion.
YOU have to bring that yourself.
If you’re an aspiring freelancer who’s working up the courage to leave the day job… good news! I’m sharing all the things I WISH I’d known before making the leap so that hopefully your journey goes a little more smoothly than mine.
This is GREAT advice, Angie.
If you’re a new or new-ish copywriter, this is gold. Value your existing skills, and work to improve the ones you haven’t aced yet. Listen to your mentors & clients, and meet. those. deadlines.
Great point about spotting opportunities to find wins for clients too. It goes beyond ‘just copy’ and, particularly near the beginning of a career, can easily make up for what you may not yet have in terms of writing skills.
Exactly – there’s space for all of us, and it’s OK to start where you’re at. So many people come at it from a bland/blend in angle, or from a diva/full of themselves attitude.
It boils down to genuinely giving a shit, wanting to help, and being relatively easy to work with.
Pearls of wisdom!
Thank you, Sue! I wish I’d known this at the start of my career for sure.