How I Made My First $100 as a Copywriter
My first copywriting project was a nightmare.
But, in my defense, I didn’t know it was a copywriting project. I didn’t even know what a copywriter was.
It was the summer between my Junior and Senior year of college. I had always been interested in making money online. And prior to that summer, I experimented with a few different online projects without much success.
But as I floundered and tried all sorts of different things (like starting a personal blog, creating a website where people could anonymously brag on themselves, and writing an ebook on meditation) I learned a lot.
Namely, that it was very hard to start a product-based business from scratch.
Eventually, I realized that, since I was an English student, I had some minor shred of credibility that might encourage people to pay me to write.
So I took my talents to the one place any experienced freelancer says not to go…
I’ve heard the site has gone legit and that many of the problems from the old days have been mitigated. But when I was there, it was like the Wild West.
I created a profile and started applying to jobs. Eventually, I landed one.
I won’t give away too many details here, but I will say that it was for a legitimately cool company providing a valuable service.
And I was going to write their website copy…
Not $100 per page, mind you. But $100 for the whole project.
And here’s the thing:
I had never heard of copywriting.
I had no idea who Gary Bencivenga or Joanna Weibe or John Carlton were. I just knew that somebody was going to give me real, actual money for the words I wrote.
And I was excited.
So I got to work.
I can’t remember exactly what my process was, but there was one element that doomed the entire project from the very beginning.
I used a Thesaurus excessively, but not in a good way.
Now, for context, I was a college student when I worked on this project. And if you’ve gone through any sort of formal education in the United States, you know the metrics (spoken and unspoken) that are used to grade writing ability:
Length (word count)
Complexity (command of fancy, complicated words)
In general, the longer and more complicated you can make something sound, the better.
Or, at least, that’s what I was led to believe.
So, for the stuff I wrote, I’d check the Thesaurus to find bigger or more complicated-sounding words and use those instead.
My goal was to make this software sound as “business-y” and complicated as possible.
Now, if you know anything about copywriting, you’re probably shaking your head, rolling your eyes, or furiously clenching your fists, because that’s not how copywriting works at all.
Copywriters are paid for their ability to describe things simply and convincingly.
We eliminate unnecessary words. We condense. We write conversationally.
Rarely is it our job to make things sound more complex than they really are. This is called for at times, but I won’t get into it here. In general, simpler is better.
So, as you can probably guess by this point, when I submitted the website copy, it was complicated AF.
I probably used all the business buzzwords in the book. I’m pretty sure the word “turnkey” made an appearance, which makes me want to barf now.
But anyway, I submitted the copy, the client said “thanks,” and showed it to his team.
He messaged me a few days later to tell me the terrible news:
His team LAUGHED at the copy I wrote. They thought it was THAT BAD.
And, looking back on it, I’m sure it was.
To tell you the truth, I’m not sure if I re-wrote the copy or not. But I do know one thing:
That’s how I made my first $100 as a copywriter. :)
…without even knowing what a copywriter was!
I’ve learned a lot since then. And even though people literally laughed at my copy, this project was empowering, because it showed me that I actually could get paid to write.
So what’s the lesson?
Well, I’m sure there are a lot, but here are the key points:
Write like you speak.
Say things simply wherever possible.
And use a Thesaurus to find simpler words — not bigger ones. :)