It was October 2016 when I got into the freelance copywriting game — and — I had no idea what I was doing.
But, before I explain all that, let’s get started with a brief backstory.
For the previous 2 years, I lived in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan. I taught English to more than 65 private students and bicycled to every lesson throughout two small towns.
On days when there was a typhoon, I would insist on being open for business. I expressed my readiness to ride my bicycle and deliver my lessons as agreed in our contract!
This impressed my students, but they always insisted on rescheduling the lesson. It’s no surprise why they called me a Crazy Canadian, but — I’m starting to digress.
When I was under pressure to expand my teaching business and open a real school, I thought seriously about my situation. After downing a few beers at an all-you-can-drink Izakaya, it suddenly dawned on me:
I hate teaching English.
So I quit, then sold my business (i.e., introductions to students) to another teacher who wanted my contracts. Then, I cycled around Kyushu, took a ferry to Okinawa, and bummed around the island before my flight to Taiwan.
I moved into a rooftop apartment in New Taipei, Taiwan. Bed, dresser, desk, fridge, toilet, sink, kitchen — everything was crammed into one little space.
It cost only $375 per month and, since I’m a frugal guy, I knew how to make a dollar last a long time. However, after a month went by, I was chewing through my savings with no money coming back into my bank account.
I asked myself a dire question:
How the hell am I going to survive in Asia, NOT teaching English?
The answer was obvious:
Become a copywriter!
And so, I did.
Life in Taiwan
With my English teaching experience, a few sales jobs back in Canada, and being the manipulative second-born child that I was — this was going to be easy, right?
Since I had a 6-month visa for Taiwan, here’s how I spent my time:
Month 1. Lazy AF
At this point, I still had money in the bank, and the transfer from the guy who “bought” my students just came through. So, I took some trips. Cycled around. And, had a good time.
Month 2. Time to Learn
I bunkered down in my rooftop apartment and studied online marketing, WordPress development, and copywriting. I learned how to host a website and create a store using WooCommerce — I failed.
F***! Why is this so difficult…
Month #3. Signs of Success
By month three, I lost all hope in becoming rich from e-commerce and dropshipping. I just couldn’t give a flying fuck for selling knock-off Nikes on the internet. So, I doubled down on myself and started my freelance business.
Copywriting. Why didn’t anyone tell me about this before?
There are people in the world who are willing to pay you for writing. It’s unbelievable!
I quickly searched the internet for the top resources on copywriting and online marketing. These were the books I discovered:
- The Boron Letters by Gary Halbert
- The Copywriter’s Handbook by Robert W. Bly
- Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins
- Ogilvy on Adverting by David Ogilvy
- The Brain Audit by Sean D’Souza
That first book, The Boron Letters, I read religiously for months. Not only did it provide a strong foundation on copywriting, but it also offers a solid structure for living your life.
Between reading books about copywriting, I got a large pad of paper and practicing re-writer other people’s ads, landing pages, and websites. I searched for the best copywriting on the internet and analyzed the style, approach, and techniques.
In the end, I discovered that copywriting…
…is the art of writing persuasive messages that attract people to products and convince them to buy.
And voila! I was a self-appointed, full-fledged, but never paid, copywriter.
My First Paid Copywriting Job
I was too embarrassed to ask friends and family if they needed a copywriter or knew someone who did.
You see, I come from a working-class family. They’re either working for corporate factories, professional welding companies, or fast food joints like McDonald’s.
So, I did what many first-time freelancers do to find their first paid copywriting job: Upwork.
I tried other platforms, like Guru and Freelancer.com, but I hated their dashboard and the overall feeling of their platform.
Upwork was simple, straightforward, and this was before the update where you have to pay to play.
Anyway, I created a profile and started with an hourly wage of $35. I sent out about a dozen proposals to clients all over the place. I had no strategy. It was all or nothing and I was desperate to get paid.
I got a few bites but the so-called “clients” kept asking for work for free. They said they wanted to “see what I was made of” before they were willing to pay.
Back in Japan, not a single student started their lessons without paying in full at the start of the month. Quite frankly, Japan is the pinnacle of business etiquette. So, there was no way I was going to let some good-for-nothing stranger take away any of my time and money for free — クソばか.
After sending dozens of proposals and filtering through junk responses, I finally got my first freelance copywriting gig for a 400-word article $12 USD.
What’s The Moral?
Well, that depends. Arguably, there could be three conclusions to be drawn here, if not more:
- Failure is fundamental — you don’t know what you enjoy doing or how to get paid doing it without trying.
- Never work for free, ever. Business is business. Charity is charity.
- If you can get paid to do something once, you can get paid to do it again and again.
If you get paid $12 the first time, go for $20 the next, then $35, and so on. Keep going up until you start laughing at yourself when you think back to your first gig because now people are paying what you’re worth, $150 or more for high-quality copywriting.