Lessons From My First Year in Business
Before I started copywriting, I had quite a number of business failures/attempts under my belt.
I’ve always been a serial ‘starter’ and not the best ‘finisher’… so getting through my first 12 months as a Copywriter without giving up or getting sidetracked was a serious achievement!
My first year wasn’t smooth sailing. In fact, some parts were pretty freaking hard. But I learnt a heck of a lot. And if you’re just starting out in business maybe you’ll learn something from my mistakes too!
Here’s a snapshot of what I discovered during my first year in business.
Starting My Business
I decided to launch my copywriting business during the first Covid lockdown in April of 2020. Worldwide recession? Massive unemployment numbers? Conditions are ripe!
I had been dancing with the idea of giving Copywriting a shot for about 6 months by then. I’ve always been a naturally decent writer and this seemed like a good way to actually get paid to write.
Before launching my business I had read exactly 2 books on the craft of copywriting and completed 3 self-paced online courses. So obviously I was more than qualified to start calling myself a professional Copywriter.
Fake it til you make it right? Well, it worked!
Getting over my ‘imposter syndrome’ and landing my first client
I started out by cold emailing business owners to pitch my services. I can distinctly remember the first email I sent out (woeful) and the imposter syndrome that followed.
I actually felt physically sick everytime I sent an email out and every time I got a reply. The replies were never mean or critical mind you. Just polite ‘no thank yous’ or ‘we don’t need any work done right now’.
After a week of rejection, I started getting more strategic with who I reached out to. I looked up business experts I admired and checked out the testimonials on their websites. But instead of reaching out to someone as big and successful as Marie Forleo, I reached out to her customers (the people who wrote the testimonials for her website). I figured I had a better shot with someone that was newer to business.
I also hedged my bets by creating a profile on Upwork. This way I could browse the job boards for people who actually needed someone to write for them right away.
Roughly two weeks in, I landed my first client through cold emailing. Now she wasn’t jumping to work with me, in fact as a writer herself she couldn’t see the value in hiring me at all. But she politely responded to each email I sent.
In the end, I decided to just write her a spec email for free. I told her if she liked it she could use it, if not no worries. She hired me on the spot.
Communication with Clients
When you’re not used to receiving feedback on your work it can take a little while to get used to. While the vast majority of my clients love my writing – there’s always the odd one who is less than impressed.
And negative feedback can sting a bit when you’re not used to it. As an extra sensitive soul, it was easy for me to fall into the trap of thinking my client was criticizing me as a person. It took me a while to realize that they weren’t criticizing me, they simply didn’t like the product I produced.
And while I still feel a little bit nervous when I’m sending work to a new client, these days I don’t take bad feedback nearly as seriously. As long as my client can tell me specifically what they don’t like and why, I can easily fix it.
The other major communication lesson I’ve had to learn is how to keep my sass in check.
I’ve had clients give me ridiculous briefs, stand me up on scheduled Zoom calls and received a few crappy reviews from people who genuinely did not know what they wanted to begin with (I shouldn’t have taken them on).
And I’ll admit, I’ve said some things that I wish I hadn’t of. Not once has my sass made the situation any better. If anything, it just makes it worse.
Thankfully these situations are rare and I am doing better at keeping a lid on my frustration as it comes up.
Oof, this was a doozy.
When you’re providing a new service you don’t really know exactly how long it will take you to complete. As such, with some clients I ended up severely undercharging because I didn’t accurately calculate how long a job would take me to finish.
Other times, I would be paid handsomely for projects I could complete very quickly (dream jobs!).
Now that I have better awareness of how much time writing projects take to complete I’m able to quote a little more accurately.
While pricing is still something I’m working on, I’m slowly getting better at it and growing into higher prices.
Burnout, Overwhelm, All the Stress
The good thing about dealing with burnout is that you get to know your limits. The bad thing about burnout is that burnout f*cking suuuuucks.
My first case of burnout came when I was still working full time at my hospo job. Hospo jobs are crap enough to begin with. The wacky hours, being on your feet all day and having to be nice to some absolute a**holes can really wear you down. Then I had to come home and get on with my copywriting work.
I very rarely had a complete day off during this time and some days I’d be working incredibly long hours. My energy levels were shot and as a result the following month my income would plummet because I felt too overwhelmed to pitch anyone new.
When I finally dropped down to part-time hours at my day job the second wave of burnout hit. I was beyond exhausted trying to manage work from up to 8 clients at a time. I had decision fatigue and simple questions directed to me like “What’s for dinner?” often had me reduced to a puddle of tears.
I remember driving home from work one night thinking about everything I had to get done the next day and pulling over to chunder from the stress. Yikes. Not fun.
These days I’m getting better at knowing my limits now and saying no to new job offers when I need to.
To sum up my first year in business…
My first year in business was all about building my confidence in my writing skills, staying open and learning, learning, learning.
Was it hard at times? Yes. Was it worth it? You betcha!
Here’s the thing about being your own boss – the majority of the problems in your business are created by you.
Obviously I’m not talking about outside forces like the pandemic… no-one has any control over that…but I mean things like your schedule, your pricing, and the people you work with. These are all things that you can control.
Don’t like how much you’re making? Raise your prices. Don’t like your clients? Figure out why you’re attracting that type of person. Feeling burnt out? Take a little step back. Prioritize self-care.
And if you’re thinking about launching your own biz…
My advice to you is just do it. Start where you are. You don’t need a fancy website, you don’t need another degree…you just need to start. Be open to working with whoever, you’ll soon learn who you enjoy working with and who you don’t.
Market in a way that feels authentic to you, keep showing up, stay consistent. Do the things.
And if you need help with your writing, you know where to find me!