I’m just like most entrepreneurs. My business lessons learned as a copywriter may be a bit different from others, yet they are also similar. Most people, when reflecting on the lessons learned, wish that they’d known then what they know now. Yet we also recognize that without those challenges, the growth from those lessons may not have occurred.
Tomorrow is August 1, and it holds much significance to me. It was the day I started my business in 2007. To celebrate the occasion, I’m sharing bumps, bruises and valuable lessons learned along the way.
13 Business Lessons Learned as a Copywriter
1. Embrace Your “Geek Zone.”
I started my career in construction in the early ‘90s as a poor college student looking for a job. I found one with a fire sprinkler contractor. I worked for them throughout college, doing administrative work on the one IBM computer that the entire office shared, doing take-offs, running to GC offices to grab blueprints for bidding, and I even spent the majority of one summer working in the field on a retrofit project for an occupied assisted living facility.
After I graduated from college, I moved to Harrisburg to work for the Pennsylvania Builders Association. After that, I worked for the BIA of Lancaster County before starting my freelance content writing business.
During my first few years as a freelance copywriter, I would accept (practically) any work that came my way. I was a freelance copywriter for two local marketing agency and wrote website copy for many different industries. I had several small business clients, continued to freelance for my previous employers and I even worked on a book project (you’ll see my name on page vi)!
A few years into my freelance career, I was feeling incredibly scattered and stretched thin. I joined a Mastermind group, and that business coach was instrumental in helping me realize I needed to focus my energy on the industry I knew and loved.
Since then, I’ve become the go-to copywriter in the construction industry, and there is “Riches in Niches” when you become comfortable in touting your “geek zone.”
2. Focus on Projects You Enjoy
There are a few projects that just make me miserable, despite being good at them. What I’ve learned is to stop taking on projects I don’t enjoy—no matter the pay. While other freelance copywriters probably would gasp at this thinking, I have determined that emotional wealth is just as valuable as monetary wealth.
Instead, I’ve identified the following:
- Type of client I enjoy working with: design/build remodeling firms, custom home builders, specialty trade contractors, building material manufacturers, building industry associations
- Type of work I enjoy the most: email marketing, SEO research and web copy, project success stories/case studies, lead generation materials, like lead magnets and email sequences
The above list is not all-encompassing, and it certainly doesn’t mean that if a company or project falls outside of those parameters, I won’t consider it. It simply is used as my guide to qualify prospects and projects.
3. Email Marketing Works
In my content writing business, my first love is email marketing—because it works. I started my business on a shoestring. I had a website, a logo, some business cards and my connections. I started my email newsletter, Jottings, the first week I was in business and worked hard to grow my readership. That was and continues to be the primary way I market my business.
Additionally, I understand just how worthwhile email marketing is because I see the statistics. I am constantly researching ways to not just grow my list but to also engage subscribers and make the entire experience more valuable for them.
4. Always Keep Growing Your Email List
Your email list is one of the few digital assets you own (the other being your website). When creating your marketing plan, be aware of how much you invest into your own assets versus something you don’t own, such as advertising with Facebook or Houzz.
When I started my business, the “Subscribe to My Newsletter” button on a website actually worked for collecting new subscribers. It doesn’t anymore. You need a lead magnet—a freebie—that you give away in exchange for a reader’s email address. My first lead magnet, 50 Content Ideas for Residential Contractors, generated a huge boost. It grew my list from 70 subscribers to more than 300 in a matter of months, and it still continues to grow my following.
I’ve offered several other lead generation resources over the years, but currently I have two that I’m using:
5. Continually Invest in Your Website Above All Else
The other digital asset I own is my website. I have gone through at least five major updates in 13 years. Why? Because I believe that you should invest in your online real estate first (i.e. email lists and websites) above all else.
Websites should be continually reviewed, refreshed and added to. I admit that there were about three years when I didn’t do much with my website. It happened when my husband was going to college full-time and I was working crazy hours. I don’t regret how we navigated those Tucson years and getting him through school, but my website and online presence did suffer.
Websites aren’t a one-and-done project that you review and update every X years. If you approach your online presence that way, your website will quickly become stagnant (as mine did). Instead, you should view your website as a continuous work in progress. Be strategic about finding ways to drive traffic back to your website (using SEO research) and keep interested parties on your website longer (with SEO tactics). Certainly, this takes time and resources, but everything you do with your website is bettering your business.
6. I ❤ SEO Copywriting
Another enjoyable business task is SEO copywriting. It is incredibly rewarding when you can identify the right SEO keyword and then expertly weave that into the content you are writing. I’ve spent these last 13 years investing in courses to better my SEO knowledge and skillset—and there is always something new to be learned and implemented.
7. Project Success Stories Are Important Evergreen Content
Lastly, the other projects I enjoy writing are project success stories. These are especially valuable for design/build remodelers and custom home builders to have on their website as it pairs valuable written content (needed for SEO) with the lovely project photos.
8. Attend the Builders Show
My first time attending NAHB’s International Builders’ Show® (IBS) was in 2015 when I could take a cheap flight from Tucson to Las Vegas, and my registration was $150 as a first-time attendee. I’ve been a part of the NAHB network for my entire career, and yet I was still blown away by the experience.
Every year builds on the previous year and can be a new experience if you plan accordingly. In other words, Year 1 was much different from Year 5. Each year, I pick a different focus so I can get the most out of attending the show. This has become a must-attend event for me now. There is simply too much professional and personal growth available.
9. Keep Learning
There is always something to learn, and every year, I make it a point to pick one big area of focus. This year, it’s refreshing and refining my SEO copywriting skills. I am confident in my SEO copywriting skills, but there is always more to learn, which is why I’ve recently started the Recipe for SEO Success eCourse, where I’ll learn from one of the best copywriters out there, Kate Toon. Throughout the course, she is sharing her tried-and-tested SEO tactics for achieving higher rankings, more traffic and better conversions.
10. Schedule Time for Your Marketing
If you don’t make time for your marketing, it won’t get done. I’ve learned to block out time to write blog articles, my email newsletter and schedule posts for social media each week. This doesn’t necessarily equate to publishing each week. But I still need to work on them weekly, or else they won’t ever get out the door.
This year because my focus is refining my SEO copywriting skills, I am also dedicating time each week to improving my website content. I’m not going to lie; this is a massive project. But I am slowly making headway on which pages and posts I need to rewrite. Through research, I’ve also been pleasantly surprised to learn which blog posts from years ago are driving traffic to my site—still!
11. Diversify Income
Here’s a fun fact: Good writers cannot write for 40 hours a week. There is a lot of energy that goes into each written piece, and it’s exhausting. Over the years, I’ve found that I can only write about four to five hours a day. After a while, the creativity stops, and it becomes counterproductive to try to continue.
This is why I have developed other service offerings, such as content planning sessions and consulting services, SEO research and my newsletter program for remodelers. All allow me to assist my clients in other ways besides writing content. I also have plans to add mini-courses and webinars in the next year.
12. Hire a Proofreader
Early in my career, I tried to be a writer and editor all in one. I was horribly embarrassed when a client pointed out some glaring mistakes. After that, I’ve always used an editor for all of my projects.
But before I send it to my editor, I also have two technology tricks that have helped me catch easy mistakes.
- Read Allow feature in Word (under the Review tab)
13. Be Mindful and Plan Workload Properly
Perhaps the biggest, and most important, business lesson I’ve learned as a copywriter is that burnout is real. It can happen to anyone. There are times when work requires your undivided attention, and there are times when it doesn’t. Be mindful of both, and plan accordingly.
After 13 years of business, I know when my busy times are, so I need to plan accordingly for the workload and also to schedule breaks. As a solopreneur, you only have yourself to rely on, and if you take on too much, your physical and mental well-being will suffer. No one needs (or enjoys) a martyr. Take vacations. Take breaks.
BONUS LESSON: It’s a Good Copywriter Life
Being a freelance content writer and marketing consultant for the construction industry is incredibly rewarding. First and foremost, I get to “geek out” over all things construction. From building codes and stormwater retention solutions to learning about construction best practices and smart home technology (and more), I get so much enjoyment learning about innovations in this industry.
The freelancing life also allows flexibility in my schedule and the ability to work with many different clients across North America. I get to be creative and help others with their marketing efforts that ultimately help them reach their business goals. It’s a good life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.