9 Lessons a “Play-It-Safe” Gal Has Learned (So Far) By Risking It All to be an Entrepreneur

Entrepreneur taking riskFor most of my life, I’ve chosen to live within a nice, predictable box. It’s safe. It’s comfortable. It’s a relatively fear-free zone for me. So why in the HELL am I risking pretty much everything to start a new business?? Something that pushes me so far out of my cozy little box that I literally can’t breathe? Believe me—this question keeps me up night after night. But six months in to this crazy roller coaster of an entrepreneurial adventure, I wanted to take a break in the action to fill you in on some of the lessons I’m learning. They’re helping me become a better businessperson—and just a better person. Hopefully you’ll find them helpful, too:

1. Want to make a difference? Know your “why” and your “who.”

It’s not enough to know what you’re going to offer your customers or clients. You need to know why you’re in business. Using Apple as an example, Simon Sinek does a great job of explaining this in his book Start with Why (affiliate) and in his incredibly popular TED Talk:

“Here’s how Apple actually communicates. “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”–Simon Sinek

Apple’s “why” isn’t about making great computers. It’s about challenging the way things have always been and facilitating our ability to “Think Different.”

You also need to know exactly who you’re targeting with your product or service. It needs to be more than just something like “women 50+.” Instead, your “avatar” should be as specific as this:

“My avatar’s name is Beth. She’s 53 years old and is just now taking the leap to start her own business. Her kids are in high school, so she still has daily ‘mom’ duties. But she really wants to flex her entrepreneurial muscles. The problem, though, is that she’s overwhelmed by all of the information there is about how to launch a business. And, because of that, she just can’t seem to get moving. She needs help getting focused and she needs to find the confidence to take that first step toward building the business—and the life—she’s always dreamed of.”

Now that you know this person so well, you can create products and services that answer “her” specific pain points. In other words, you can provide real value that will result in you having a community of raving fans who look to you for solutions—and who will be willing to pay you a fair fee for them. If you don’t know who your avatar is, you’ll waste a lot of time trying to find ways to connect to your audience. And you can pretty much forget being able to deliver anything of tangible value to them.

2. Be clear about what makes you different and figure out how to communicate it.

Marketing today—whether online or offline—can feel a bit like yelling into the wind on an empty beach. Nobody hears you. More than likely, there’s someone else doing or offering exactly what you’re doing or offering. So you have to find a way to differentiate yourself in order to avoid being completely ignored.

Remember–what makes you different is YOU. No one else talks like you, has the same perspective as you or can establish the same connection as you. So, when you write a blog post, create a video, give a talk, host a webinar or communicate in any way, shape or form about your business, be yourself. We want to hear you. We want to feel like we know you. And we want to believe that you know and care about us.  Also, regarding the product or service you’re offering, make it BETTER than what everyone else is offering.

3. Don’t say, “I think I can.” Say, “I will.”

It’s a scary thing to commit to something. There’s always a chance of being disappointed. What if it doesn’t work out? What if it’s too hard? What if it’s not as great as you thought it would be? But I’m telling you–if you don’t commit 100% to your new venture, there’s little to no chance it’ll ever gain any significant traction or grow in any significant way. Jump in with both feet. Believe in yourself and in your dream. Yes—there will be obstacles all along the way. And some days you’re going to want to shift directions instead of figuring out a way to overcome those obstacles. Maybe you’ll even want to quit out of frustration. But, don’t. Keep going. That’s what successful people do.

4. Beware of shiny objects. They’re closer (and so much more distracting)  than they appear.

I don’t know about you, but my inbox is absolutely overflowing every day with offers to help me earn more, do more, BE more. And everybody has THE solution that you just have to implement (i.e., purchase) or else. Two words of advice for you: Don’t engage. Unsubscribe from every single newsletter or email list of people you don’t have a deep amount of respect for and a great deal of faith in. I can count on one hand the number of “experts” in my industry that I listen to. The rest? They’re just annoying chatter that takes up too much space. So, I’m getting rid of them. At least from my inbox.

One concept that’s really helped me narrow down who and what I listen to is this:

F.O.C.U.S.—Follow one course until success. This simple—yet powerful—idea keeps me productive instead of just busy.

5. Get a coach and/or join a mastermind group. (Maybe even get a great therapist!)

Two things I’ve done this year that are making a HUGE difference in the growth of my business are getting a coach and joining a mastermind group. Yes—they are financial investments. But when you find the right coach who can help you avoid pitfalls and seize opportunities—it’s totally worth it. Also, the mastermind group has been fantastic because it’s helped me realize that I’m not alone in this entrepreneurial world. There seems to be an unwritten code among entrepreneurs that we’re all in this together and we’re here to help each other out. LOVE that!

On a more personal note, I have to say that I’m not a huge believer in therapy. BUT—I found an amazing therapist a few months ago who really gets what I’m trying to do with my life and has proven to be a fantastic source of support during what can be a very trying time during the start-up phase of business. Like my business coach, she’s part of my “team.” She’s helping me move forward toward my goals. But, UNLIKE my business coach, she’s helping me understand the personal changes that I’m experiencing as I grow into my new role. How is it impacting my parenting? What’s the best way to manage my fear and anxiety? How is my perception of myself changing? And let me just say—having her guidance is a significant factor in my ability to take very scary steps forward each day.

6. Stop gathering. Start doing. Now.

My name is Michele and I’m an information addict. There. I admitted it. Maybe you are, too. How can you tell? If you keep collecting information—whether it’s in the form of blog posts, newsletters, courses, books, videos, you name it—but you rarely (if ever) DO anything with it. You don’t implement the tips  you’re given. You keep doubting your readiness to take the first step toward what you say you want. Sound familiar?

One of the major changes I’ve made in how I’m living my life is that I’m becoming a doer rather than merely a thinker or dreamer. Thinking and dreaming are great—and necessary. But they don’t do anything on their own. You have to take action. You’re going to mess up and make mistakes. I certainly have. But I can say that in every single case, I’ve learned something that’s made me better at what I do. And I’ve certainly learned FAR more by doing than I ever have by just gathering.

7. Have a daily plan of attack to kick the can down the road.

Before you turn the lights out each night, write down a list of action items to accomplish the next day. And be specific. Don’t just say something like, “Work on my website.” Instead, narrow it down to something like, “Complete a draft of the copy for my About page.” And if you can’t hold yourself accountable for progress—find an accountability partner who will hold your feet to the proverbial fire.

One thing I’ve seen is that some days I feel like I’m doing a lot of little actions with no results. But, in reality, these “little” actions add up to big results over time. For me, the goal has become to do something specific—no matter how big or how small— every single day to move my business forward. And I do this even when I don’t feel up to it. Because I have seen that this consistent action really DOES make a difference. You sometimes have to be a little more patient than you want to be in order to see the impact.

8. It’s okay to be scared.

One of the toughest things I ever posted in my mastermind group was a declaration of how scared I was that things weren’t going to work out. I did it really late one evening, in a moment of complete despair. And I couldn’t be more glad. The responses I got were so supportive, so helpful and so empathetic. I realized that the way I was feeling wasn’t just something that I alone was experiencing. And that changed everything.

It’s okay to be scared as an entrepreneur. It’s not weak. It’s not cowardly. It’s normal. If you’re not scared—then you’re not pushing yourself hard enough. And you’re not going to make any significant change in your life. I never thought I’d say this, but fear is a good thing. It means you’re doing something very, very right.

9. You’re an entrepreneur, dammit! And that in and of itself makes you AWESOME!

A lot of people talk about starting a business. But very few ever take the leap to do it. (Sort of like all of those people out there who say they want to write a novel—but never put down the first word.) Yes, it’s scary. Friends and family might even think that you’ve completely lost it or that you’re being careless or selfish or unrealistic or any number of other unflattering adjectives. But, DO IT ANYWAY! This is your life—so LIVE IT!

“Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, champagne in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming “WOO HOO what a ride!”— Unknown

One thing I’m learning as an entrepreneur is that there’s really no better way to get to know who you are as a person than by taking this leap into the unknown. It tests you in ways you never thought possible. But it also rewards you in ways you never dreamed of. So—onward we push despite the obstacles and the naysayers and the voices of doubt in our minds. There are so many lessons to be learned, so many new friends to be made and so many adventures to be lived. Let’s go!

Get your FREE copy of “The Prosperous Copywriter’s Toolbox”—as well as ongoing stories and lessons from the entrepreneurial trail— right here!

Learning some lessons of your own as you move forward along the entrepreneurial path? Share them in the comments so we can ALL learn from them!



9 Simple Ways to EARN More by BEING More than “Just a Copywriter”

To Do List - Make More Money

If you’re a freelance copywriter who feels like you’re EARNING PLENTY, who’s NEVER QUESTIONED YOUR WORTH during projects driven by mid- to upper-level (non-writer) executives, and/or who has COMPLETE CONFIDENCE in the value you bring to your clients—then get back to work and stop reading this post. Because you already know and do the things I’m going to be talking about. For the rest of you, stick around. Your life as a freelance copywriter is about to change in a really good way.

During the 15+ years that I’ve been a freelance copywriter, there have been a lot of new techniques, platforms, systems, and other “shiny objects”  pushed as the silver bullet to becoming a high-income writer. But, frankly, I found the vast majority of them to be distractions rather than income generators. And, after hearing from some of you, it sounds like you’re having the same kind of experience. That can be frustrating and demoralizing—to say the very least. So, what’s the answer when it comes to earning more? You have to see (and present) yourself as being more than “just a copywriter.” That’s where I see so many freelance copywriters getting stuck in the muck of crappy income. What they say (and what we’ve probably all said at one time or another) are things like this:

“But, I just want to write. The business side of things is just too complicated and takes up too much time.”

“I know I’m a good writer. But I can’t charge big fees like  an attorney or an accountant.”

“I’ll do whatever job someone sends my way—even it if doesn’t pay a whole lot. After all, I need the work.”

“All I ever here is that ‘everybody can write.’ If that’s true—which it must be since someone really important and smart said it, why should my clients pay a higher fee for what I do?”

So, what’s the answer when it comes to earning more? You have to see (and present) yourself as being more than “just a copywriter.”

Okay. So, I’ve got one response to all of these things: HOGWASH! And if you ask other freelance copywriters who are making a VERY good living—they’ll say the same thing. But what separates them (the high earners) from you (a potentially low earner)? And how can you join their ranks? Here are nine key things to start doing NOW:

1. Treat your freelance writing business like what it is. A business. If you got into freelance copywriting thinking it was a quick and easy way to bringing in a load of cash…SURPRISE! It’s not. Yes, it can bring in a very handsome living. But, it’s not easy. And it’s not quick. You have to be willing to wear both a writer hat and an entrepreneur hat. You can’t just sit behind your computer focused on writing (or scanning Facebook or sending emails to friends and family) and think your business is going to grow to be anything significant. You have to do things like:

  • Get an attorney to help you set up the right business structure (like an LLC, corporation, etc.), draft agreements, etc.
  • Hire an accountant who can help you navigate the tax requirements of the self-employed
  • Stay on top of your billing (and collections)
  • Execute a focused and strategic marketing plan
  • Understand what your cash flow is—both in and out
  • All kinds of other stuff!

Yes—you’ll do the writing you love. But if you want to grow your business to the level you really want, don’t forget to grow your entrepreneurial IQ.

2. Build your own brand in order to stand out. Why should potential clients hire you instead of the other 50 copywriters who are flooding their Inboxes with emails and constantly calling to explain just how great they are? This is where clearly positioning yourself in the marketplace comes into play. You have to find and communicate your Unique Selling Proposition just like you do when you’re developing promotional copy for a new product or service. What sets you apart? What’s your unique skill set? What value can you bring to the table that no one else can (or at least that no one else claims they can)? You need to figure out what the answers to these questions are and then put your writing skills to use in finding a creative and engaging way of communicating them. If you can’t sell yourself to a potential client, how likely are they going to be to trust you to sell their product or service? The answer to that question is “not likely.” Also, take the time to name your business something that will resonate with your target audience and invest the funds in having a logo designed, getting a website up (including a portfolio section for your work) and having business cards designed and printed.

3. Don’t just be a note taker. Be a difference maker. Speak up! Your clients need to hear what you have to say. Because you’re coming at a project from an outsider’s perspective rather than an insider’s, you have the ability to see gaps that might otherwise be invisible to your client. Never EVER think you’re just there to be a note taker so that you can recite back to your client what you hear in a meeting. That’s not how you provide value. Instead, listen to what’s being said, ask good questions, push for understanding and clarity, and—when appropriate—challenge concepts that you feel are heading in the wrong direction. You can become invaluable to a client when you prove yourself to be someone who really thinks about and processes information in ways that lead to bigger and better solutions.

4. Fall in love with whatever your client wants to promote. (Even if it’s a freakin’ pencil!) Once you accept a project, it’s no longer okay to feel “meh” about whatever your client is promoting. Some things just aren’t that exciting. I get it. Believe me. As someone who’s had to promote electrical transformers in her past, I completely understand. But I also know that—as writers—we are naturally curious beings. And we love to learn new things. Trust me when I tell you that if you are curious enough, there’s always something you can find to love about what your client is promoting. Take the time to get there. It’ll be worth it.

5. Realize your worth—and charge for it! (And it’s typically 3x more than you think.) If you’re always focused on being the freelancer who charges the lowest fees—then that’s what you’re going to get. Ridiculously low fees—which translate into a ridiculously low overall income.  Don’t ever get trapped in the very WRONG idea that you can start off with lower fees to get your foot in the door with a new client and then raise your rates once they see how awesome you are. Not going to happen.

Even though writing comes easily for most of us, it doesn’t mean that our skills are worth less because we don’t see the big deal in what we do. Building a brand story. Engaging customers in ways that sell. Convincing an audience that a particular service is right for them. ALL of these things take talent and skill—just like questioning a witness requires the specific skills of an attorney and preparing complex financial statements requires the knowledge of a CPA. What you do with words and ideas carries significant value. So charge for it! Figure out what it’s worth and provide your estimate to the client with confidence. Oh—and you might think about tripling your estimate before submitting it since many of us tend to underestimate our worth. Yes—be reasonable. But never devalue the work we all do as writers by charging bargain basement fees.

And one more thought about this: Focus on clients who can afford you. Not everyone is going to be the right client for you. But you don’t want to find yourself agreeing to a lower fee just because someone says they can’t pay the fee you’re charging. They’ll find someone else. That’s fine. But—trust me—you’ll be so much happier working for people who value what you do and who can afford the fees you charge.

6. Forget one-offs. Go for repeats.  I see some freelance writers going after any ol’ job they can get. No matter how little it pays and no matter whether they’ll ever see that client again. And it makes me really tired to look at them or listen to their stories of woe. It really must feel like they’re running on a hamster wheel all the time. Here’s a piece of advice: Don’t focus on getting one-off projects. Those that involve a client hiring you for one small job and then they’re done with you. Instead, look for clients who you can develop a long-term relationship with. The ones who understand the value of the work you do and who have an ongoing need for copywriting. The ones who will call you again and again for help. These are the clients you can build a high-income freelance writing business with. And they’re the ones you should focus on.

7. Figure out which projects get the highest fees—and then get MORE of them. I wish I could tell you that there’s a specific type of copywriting project that pays better than anything else. But I can’t. It really depends on the market you’re in. For me, I’ve found that partnering with companies to develop sales training programs tends to be a really high-paying gig. Also, helping ad agencies create pitches for new business development tends to be a really profitable area for me. Others have found that writing white papers or writing video scripts creates an income bonanza. My point here is that you need to pay attention and identify the types of copywriting projects that bring in the highest fees for you—and then go after more of them with all you have.

8. Repeat after me: Specialization. Specialization. Specialization.When you’re just starting out, focusing on a specific industry niche for your copywriting business might not be practical. You’re trying a lot of different things out to see what feels right AND to get that income flowing in. But as you get your freelancing legs under you, I would suggest finding a niche in which you can specialize. Why? Because you can charge more. You’ll become known as the “go-to” person in that industry. Your knowledge and experience will have a higher perceived value. And you’ll be viewed as a more valuable team member. For me, the pharmaceutical industry is where the majority of my clients live. They know I “get” what they do. I understand the goals, the language, the guidelines, etc. And that means they don’t have to spend valuable time bringing me up to speed. Instead, I can jump in with all engines firing. I can add value immediately. I can make their jobs easier. And that makes me more than “just a copywriter.” It makes me a valuable partner.

9. Show up.  Finally, one of the best pieces of advice I can give you is this: Be easy to work with and ALWAYS show up. By showing up, I mean meet your deadlines, be on time for appointments, be flexible, don’t make excuses and find a way to get it done. By doing that, you’re going to move to the top of a client’s freelance list pretty quickly. Easy peasy.

So, there you go. Nine simple ways to kick your freelancing copywriting business up to the next level. Want more info about each area? Well, keep watching The Page-Turner Mission this summer as I roll out a series of more detailed posts about them. If you have other ideas about business building, please share them in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Get your FREE copy of The Prosperous Copywriter’s Toolbox — a comprehensive resource of the tools I’ve used to build a successful freelance copywriting business! Click here.