Meet Felicia Spahr. A direct-response copywriter and communication consultant who believes that selling and asking for what we want is more than a transaction–it’s about relationships, understanding people, and inspiring action that changes lives. Fel and I connected through some blogs we both follow. I then saw the lovely project she did, Rebels With a Cause, which she calls a “playbook for doing what you damn well please”. It’s a free download ebook with contributors like Chris Guillebeau, Paul Jarvis, Alexandra Frazen and more. I highly recommend you check it out.
Today Fel gives us a great breakdown of her first year as a freelancer, sprinkled with loads of wisdom for others making the jump into freelancing full-time. I asked Fel to expand on what exactly a copywriter does and why you should definitely hire one for your own freelancing business.
How did you get started freelancing?
Here’s what happened:
Dec 2012: Quit job in advertising with no plan. Except that I was getting a personal training certification and traveling around the US.
Jan ‘13: Living at my boyfriends’ parents. Making up ‘what I was doing’ every day. Knew I didn’t want to be a personal trainer.
Feb: Started teaching a short story class and coaching people on creativing writing on the side (I’m a screenwriter/fiction writer by trade). Had SOME money.
March: Lost a client. Didn’t know how to do this sustainable business thing. Then got another client.
April: My class ended–great experience. Client relationship ended–had no income or direction.
May: Hired a business coach. Suggested I do copywriting. Stopped listening to crappy advice about getting clients and started pitching people. BLING! Clients.
June-August: Finally bringing money in. Kept refining my process. Came to the realization that I knew how to be a great copywriter all along, except was deluded into thinking that the writing had to be cute, clever, and sexy. (Bad for conversions, BTW).
Sept-Nov: Profits doubled. Focused on getting better results for clients–that happened. Invested more in educating myself (not on copywriting) but sales, persuasion, psychology–all of the things I’ve LOVED forever but had no idea how they ‘fit’.
So–I didn’t really ‘decide’ to do anything. But I did decide that I was going to do this, and make it successful no matter what.
That’s what happened. 🙂
What exactly is a copywriter and why is it so important for freelancers to hire them or learn about copywriting for their online presence?
This is such an important and great question. I’d love to break it down:
A copywriter is: Someone who gets inside other people’s heads to get a full understanding of what they want, and then goes and writes something designed to inform, persuade, or convince a particular group of people about a product or service.
So, we are actors, psychologists, and salesmen/women, all wrapped into one. 🙂
The kind of copywriting you see on billboards, in magazines, and the like:
That’s called ‘brand awareness’. Meaning, those ads aren’t designed to get you to go and buy something right away. While some stuff is ‘clever’, you should notice that the best taglines and one-liners are strategic–meaning they allow for growth of the business and are easy to understand.
Why that kind of writing isn’t something a freelancer like you should worry about investing in:
No immediate ROI. Brand awareness copywriting is designed to change people’s perception about a brand or company over long periods of time. Unless you have extra money to throw around, that kind of writing is best for more established companies who want to reach a massive audience.
The kind of copywriting I do: Direct-response copywriting is designed to get people to click, buy, and DO something about what they’ve just read (sign-up, fill out a form, et). It doesn’t really matter much whether a copywriter is ‘direct-response’ or not, but what you want to look for is how that copy has gotten people results (given that the client has enough traffic and a marketing strategy in place).
Why THAT copy is important: Copywriting is salesmanship in print, as one of my advertising heros, Claude Hopkins, has said. It’s one of the single best ways to grow your business, because copy is also the emails you write, your sales pitch, how you get people interested in what you’re doing, how you pitch yourself, etc.
How you should hire a copywriter: Vet their results. Ask other people about them who’ve worked with them. Sign-up for their email list, or just send them an email to get a sense for who they are as a human. And have a clear idea of what you want.
For example: A sales page for your service or the launch of your info product. A new about page to reflect what you do and why people should fall in love with YOU. A new landing page that will help get people onto your email list (if having subscribers and turning them into customers is a part of your strategy).
A great copywriter will not mind letting you reach out to people they’ve worked with and working towards nailing down exactly what you need before they book you and will do a lot of research and info-gathering before they start writing.
Are you freelancing full-time or on the side? What is your typical day like?
I’m full-time! I don’t have a ‘typical day’ because I hate schedules (unless I’m with a client).
But here’s a snapshot of a client day (I only do 1 client a week):
Wake up 2 hours before client call.
Do yoga. Munch. Shower. Have a dance party. Lately it’s been squeezing in an episode of Mad Men to get me going. Review client notes.
Chat with client for 2 hours.
Go into writing hibernation and churn out their copy.
Somewhere in there is a break that might be me going for a walk, going on a shopping spree at whole foods, or practicing a handstand.
Deliver the copy.
The end. (Revisions, etc happen the following days).
And a non-client day:
These are my “R+D” days. I’m teaching myself things that usually have a lot to do with helping me help my clients–lately I’ve been diving into doing more A/B testing, conversion tactics, and advanced marketing strategies.
Or I’m reading a new book, or sending thank you notes (though that can happen any day), teaching workshops, and doing something called ‘Fel’s Office Hours’ on Fridays where I help people for free. Sometimes it’s just a Skype call, or others it’s an in-person meeting. This past Friday I was advising an SF start-up.
How long did you freelance on the side before you made the jump?
I jumped before I had a plan, but I had a special situation. I was living with my boyfriends’ parents, so I wasn’t worried about making money right away. Not a strategy I would suggest, but it worked for me.
What is your favorite part of working for yourself?
I was always one of those people secretly tallying up all the ways my bosses could have done a better job, and now I get to be that critical with myself! Ha.
The truth is I have pretty high standards, and I like meeting them and then setting the bar higher.
And also, having found meaning my work (by creating it) is very satisfying. I always know why I’m doing what I’m doing, rather than people creating that meaning for me.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in working for yourself?
I’ll give you one specific incident and point out all of my flaws:
For the most part, I was getting clients on a relatively consistent basis. Either from my pitching, or getting referrals.
But in August of this year, I didn’t get one. single. client.
Which was scary, considering I live in San Francisco. (Enough said).
And I kept wondering: Why?
I was being proactive and pitching, I was connecting with people–what was the problem?
First flaw of mine: I didn’t want to ask for help yet. Probably because I wasn’t sure what the problem was.
Second flaw: I had changed my services a bit geared towards a market that I wasn’t ready for, and who wouldn’t actually need what I was offering. (Proof that you can be a great writer, and not make sales because you’re not offering people something they want).
Third flaw: Way too much in my head! You can go down a million roads of oh, it’s because it’s ‘August’ and that means no one is buying. (Not true). Or oh, ‘The Universe’ must be sending me a sign. (Stop that).
Solution: At the very end of the month (like Aug 30–I was stubborn) I sat down with my boyfriend (who’s a consultant) and I was like: Look. I need your objective and logical point of view on something. I’m going to tell you everything I did this month, and after that, I’d like to have a conversation and figure out what the problem is.
So I told him everything I’d been doing, and finally, after about an hour he goes: Fel…don’t you think that the people you’re reaching out to don’t need what you’re selling and that (x market) does?
From there, I changed my service and within a day I had a client.
So while I name a few challenges above (I.e.–What happens if you don’t make money one month?) another one can be not having a sounding board–it’s important to be around people who are willing to tell you the truth.
What advice would you give to someone a few steps behind you in their freelancing entrepreneurial journey?
Seek out and learn from the best–even if it’s just a book by someone you trust and who has gotten other people great results or has a proven track record.
Because it’s much too easy to be deluded here online. Remember that you can’t see what goes on behind the scenes. Someone may ‘look’ successful, but they’re selling nothing.
Trust me–this is a thing. I’ve been behind many scenes, and I get appalled when I see someone trying to project an image I know is not true. Beware of people who ‘yell’ online and call themselves experts and don’t have proof. Beware of crappy copy, too. The more cute and annoying something sounds, the farther away you should go.
A great place to start, too, is to learn from Ramit Sethi. If he seems aggressive to you, try and strip that away. He has specific, awesome advice for freelancers just like you who want to make money on the side: www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com
When not writing sales copy and the like for private clients, Fel teaches workshops to entrepreneurs about how to write their own effective sales copy and write persuasive emails to grow their business.