27 Things I Know About Freelance Copywriting

You only have 5 seconds to get someone’s attention.

Long-term dopamine beats short-term dopamine. Short-term dopamine comes from reading pithy articles like this. Long-term dopamine comes from adding value to the lives and businesses of others.

They say writing is an art and good writing is subjective. To that I say copywriting is an art and good direct response is 100% objective.

It is easier to scare people than it is to make them laugh. This is because sense of humor varies more than universal fears and desires. The two most common desires I’ve come across researching direct response? To feel useful and competent and to have control over your own time.

If you write emotionally you don’t have to write cleverly. And if you want to write cleverly you have to be careful not to suck the emotion out of your copy.

If you tell people what they want to hear, it doesn’t matter whether what you say is factually correct. People want you to lead them. Dark but true. This harks back to The One Sentence Persuasion Course by Blair Warren: “People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions, and help them throw rocks at their enemies.”

There’s little to no overlap between those writing top copy and those teaching top copy. Rarely do they happen at the same time in someone’s career. I’ve been careful to position myself more as a “how to freelance” guy than a “how to write copy” guy. But I’ll let you know when I’m ready.

Writer’s block is a reliable sign your big idea is wrong. Big ideas are good ideas. When your big idea is exciting, your fingers fizz over the keys. It’s the driving force, the gasoline. Every time I’ve got stuck it’s because I wasn’t aligned with the big idea.

My (current) definition of a Big Idea: A big idea is a new viewpoint or piece of information that generates enough curiosity and emotional certainty that your product is the way to get the prospect’s job done.

Check yourself. The copywriting arena encourages absurdity, overconfidence, ego, and impatience. Optimize instead for optionality, humility, and the trust of those you work with.

Too many copywriting theories position themselves as facts. The deeper I go, the more I see how little of the copywriting game is factual. Yes, there are laws. Boy, do they bend. It’s down to the interpretations and emotions of human beings.

Good ideas are a byproduct of motion. Everyone from Charles Dickens to Orson Scott Card has loved a good walk. When you walk you feel better. When you don’t you feel worse. And then there’s the titan himself, Friedrich Nietzsche: “Never trust a thought that occurs to you indoors.”

You don’t have to be super smart. On a long enough timeframe, passion, endurance, and character serve you better than raw intelligence.

Copywriting success is when you like what you do AND who you are. In practical terms, don’t write sales pages for fitness influencers pedaling bodyweight exercise programs when they are obviously mainlining Trenbolone.

Reputational velocity is real. The faster you grow your reputation the faster it can be destroyed, and vice-versa.

Always insist on 50% payment upfront for new clients. The perceived value of your work diminishes quickly once you’ve done it. Protect your comp before you perform.

Don’t call it a proposal. Call it an Action Plan. You’re assuming the work is going ahead.

Learn to think visually. Your copy seldom exists in isolation. Develop an aesthetic sense. The relationship between words and pictures – and the spaces in between – impacts the tone, mood, and atmosphere of the buying experience.

Work to a 45-minute timer. It’s ok to work past it. It’s not ok to stop before.

Nothing is more powerful than proof. The easiest sales page you’ll ever write is for a product that gets a specific result and you have a sackload of real testimonials.

You need a good bullshit detector. This is a general rule of life, but it comes into play when talking to business owners. How well do they really know their market? How emotionally compromised are they about their product? How many ingrained assumptions apply to their marketing? And how are you going to gently tell them?

Knowing your audience is one thing. Pandering to them is another.

Watch more comedy. The best comedians are better in tune with how the world works than the best economists. The difference is they want to make you feel happy rather than make themselves feel superior.

The best time to do outreach is when you least need to. Doing sales calls when you don’t need the work is a completely different dynamic in which you hold the cards. Cards are options. Options are power. Try it.

Get moving. 8/10 of my emails are from people who don’t know how to get started. The answer is to get started. Write a sample. Send a DM. Feedback loops are real.

Strong conviction, strongly held. Trust yourself. Not compliments. And certainly not critics. Trust in your INSTINCT about the copy. Your work never makes it to the testing stage if you’re not prepared to defend what you have written.

Whoever you’re trying to beat – including the current version of yourself – your best move is to go and beat the hell out of them.