By Valerie Young
The following article originally appeared in The Changing Course Newsletter. In it, you’ll meet some of the people who teach for the American Writers and Artists Institute as well as some who have taken the copywriting course.
Bootcamp is the place you go for basic training. I can assure you however, there was nothing “basic” about the Bootcamp I just returned from.
For four days in picturesque Delray Beach, Florida, I had the great privilege of joining 100 enthusiastic – and very determined – dreamers. I was there as a guest of the American Writers & Artists Institute’s (AWAI), who had asked me to address the annual (and sold out) FastTrack to Success Workshop.
The people who attended the workshop, affectionately known as “Copywriting Bootcamp,” all came looking to make a major career – and lifestyle – change by training to become professional freelance copywriters. Simply put, copywriters use words to sell products, services, and/or causes.
While plenty of copywriters work for advertising agencies or in the marketing departments of big companies, freelance copywriters thrive on being, well… free. Not only do freelance copywriters get to call their own shots but it’s a portable occupation. As freelancers, they can make their living from literally anywhere in the world with an Internet connection – and they can make an excellent living in the process.
I could tell you about the big name writers who taught the workshop. People like:
- Copywriting guru and prolific author, Bob Bly, who has written a whopping 50 books including Secrets of a Freelance Writer: How to Make $85,000 a Year…
- Or, Michael Masterson, the brains behind the AWAI’s self-paced course called Michael Masterson’s Course in Six Figure Copywriting. Michael is a master at taking popular misconceptions so called copywriting “experts” have about what works and turning them on their head…
- Or, Don Mahoney, the former woodworker who had to stop because the dust and chemicals were killing him. Don never earned more than $12,000 a year that way. In his first year as a copywriter he tripled that. By the end of his second year he was making $80,000 and today Don enjoys $20,000 MONTHS…
- Or, Jennifer Stevens. Jen wrote the AWAI’s Travel Writer Course and is a highly successful freelancer, frequent traveler, and mother of an adorable – and active – toddler named Edward.
I could tell you about some of the special guest speakers… people like:
- Sara Pond, Creative Director at Nightingale Conant, the world leader in personal development who shared the secrets of writing for the self-improvement market as well as why she’d rather hire AWAI-trained copywriters.
- Or, self-promotion expert, Ilise Benum who shared her winning strategies for helping new copywriters land clients… fast.
And I could go on and on about how workshop participants got lots of direct one-on-one feedback on actual in-class writing assignments. Or, how everyone had an equal shot at turning those assignments into their first paid writing job. Or, how if the “winning” participants’ copy outperforms what the client is already using, (known in the business as the “control copy”), that they’ll earn an additional royalty fee each and every time their copy is used. (Royalties are a big reason why copywriting can be so lucrative.)
But I’m a student of dreamers, not copywriting.
So as great as it was, the real story for me wasn’t the course, but the participants who are actively engaged in changing the course of their lives. I learned a ton from Michael, Bob, Jen, Ilise, and all the others. But the real education for me came from getting to know the participants themselves. I got to hear their reasons for taking the course, their aspirations… and their challenges. I think you’ll find their stories as inspiring as I did.
For example, I’d barely arrived at the workshop when I was approached by a soft-spoken woman from North Las Vegas named Linda. “You’re Valerie Young,” she said grinning widely. “I just wanted to say thank you.” “For what” I asked.
Linda paused, and in a voice not much louder than a whisper, she said something I’d hear from a least a dozen people over the next few days: “You’re the reason I’m here.” (I could have sworn she had tears in her eyes when she said it, but then the lighting was not all that bright and after all, what’s there to get emotional about… it’s only a copywriting course, right?)
Linda went on to explain that it was my newsletter that first introduced her to the AWAI. Right now she’s working at a health club as a massage therapist. The money is good but it’s physically demanding. More importantly, Linda says, she’s just really tired of working for someone else. Instead of completely throwing in the towel and massage oil, Linda plans to set up a small private practice but focus primarily on the far less physically taxing business of copywriting.
Then there’s Raymona Abouzeid. Raymona lives in a rural area of Michigan where jobs – even the low paying kind – are scarce. Despite having a B.S. in Human Growth & Development right now she’s working as a cashier. It’s what Barbara Sher would call the “good enough job” – it pays the bills, takes up no more than 40 hours a week, and basically allows Raymona to build her dream on the side.
How does a cashier from Shelby, Michigan, find her way to a copywriting course in Florida? As it turns out Raymona’s mother, Elizabeth, got a packet in the mail on the benefits of being a freelance copywriter. Since her mom isn’t looking for a new career, she tossed it. A while later another envelope arrived. This time, Raymona’s mom decided, “This must be for my daughter.” How right she was. The way Raymona sees it, finding out about this copywriting course was nothing short of “providence.”
Like I said, everyone had their own reasons for signing up for being there. Some, like Kammy Thurman, already run their own freelance writing business. Kammy came looking to add direct mail copywriting to her repertoire.
Kammy also has a more personal goal. Her husband has a job in the mining industry in Billings, Montana, but his real passion is photography. Kammy and her husband are on what I call the Family Plan. They’re both actively supporting one another’s goal of doing work they love while being work-from-home parents to their three young children.
Like a lot of people, twenty-something Raj from Morgantown, West Virginia, sees copywriting as a means to an end. After earning his degree in broadcast journalism from the University of West Virginia, Raj took a job in a recording studio. He likes his job, he says, but his real passion is writing music. What drew Raj to freelance copywriting is the opportunity to earn a good living while freeing up his time to work on his music.
Ditto for Sharon Hetrick from Malibu, California. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to actually meet Sharon at the workshop. But I did receive a lovely card in the mail a few days later. After 15 years in real estate, Sharon told me she was ready to go after her dream of being a playwright. I’ll let Sharon tell you the rest:
“Well, I have quit selling real estate, have started a new business in copywriting – and went back to college… My first play was read by actors last month. It is a wonderful new life. My copywriting career allows me to still feed by family and affords the time to write my plays.”
I was amazed at how many international participants had made the trip. For Brit, David Litton being self-employed is nothing new. After being downsized ten years ago he started his own business conducting training programs for clients all over the world.
Although his business was very successful, at 57, and recently married, Dave was tired of living out of a suitcase. He says he never fancied himself a copywriter but figures he’s done enough writing during his curriculum design days that learning a new way to use words would be an easy stretch. And with that, Casablanca Copywriting Inc., was born!
Dave phoned from England yesterday to tell me he’d double-mortgaged his house and is building a villa on the side of a mountain in Spain where he plans to permanently relocate his family, including his 87-year-old father whom Dave looks after. Despite living in Europe, Dave says he plans to focus on the U.S. market and is busy brushing up on his American slang.
Unlike Dave, Patrick M. says he always knew he wanted to be a writer. While serving with the U.S. military in Germany, Patrick met and married a German woman and decided to make Germany his home. The 29-year-old recently left his job as a government contractor (“too many headaches,” says Dave) and is now living the far more carefree life of a full-time copywriter.
Winner of the “Proactively Planning for a Change Award” has to go to Captain Kim Anderson. At 30, Kim is already a 13-year veteran of the Canadian Air Force. Right now Kim wears a Canadian uniform while stationed in the Pentagon, where she’s a communication and electronic engineering specialist. When she retires from the military on October 31st, Kim figures she’ll be well positioned to transition right into a whole new career.
What surprised me more than the large international contingent, was the wide range in ages. There were probably close to two dozen retirees there, each eager to use copywriting as a means to earn extra income yet still enjoy the independent life. When asked the question, “Why copywriting?” 76-year-old Bud Ingersall, a twice retired computer programmer and consultant from Navaree, Florida put it this way, “I figure I can write letters so I can learn to do this too.”
On the other end of the age continuum is 20-year-old college business major, Anik Singal. Anik is a very enterprising young man who has already started his own on-line business while maintaining a 4.0 grade point average (GPA). Following the advice to “teach what you know,” Anik has written an eBook for high school and college students and their parents outlining study methods he says can easily improve anyone’s grades in half the study time (Learn more about Anik’s eBook.)
I think what most impressed me about Anik though, is his dogged determination to follow his own path, despite stiff resistance from his parents. You see Anik is a first-generation Indian-American who’s eyes light up when he talks about his love for figuring out what makes people tick, writing, and entrepreneurship.
When it comes to choosing a career track however, Anik’s father has other ideas… two to be exact – engineer or doctor. That’s it. (If you’ve seen the summer sleeper, Bend It Like Beckman, just substitute copywriter for soccer player and you’ll get what Anik is up against.) For Anik, the hard part was convincing his dad to let him come to Copywriting Bootcamp. What was clear from talking with him though, is that this very creative and determined young man will have NO trouble succeeding at whatever he puts his mind to.
By far the most exciting part for me was running into people I’d met at last years’ Bootcamp. One participant who was back for a refresher was Beth Erikson. Beth is from rural Minnesota where, like Raymona, jobs are few and far between. Before launching her copywriting career Beth worked at a small department store doing alterations. She earned $7 a hem.
Shortly after completing the copywriting course, Beth got her first paid writing job. When she looked at that $300 check Beth says all she could think was, “Wow! That would take a LOT of hems!” In two years, Beth went from earning minimum wage to becoming, not only a successful full-time copywriter, but a published author and Ezine publisher to boot. Besides launching a whole new career – and life – Beth got something else out of Bootcamp. A chance meeting outside their hotel rooms was the beginning of a now close friendship with another returning participant, Vickie Heron of Denton, Texas. Although they see each other but once a year at Bootcamp, Beth and Vickie regularly review one another’s work and even pass along assignments during busy times. That kind of support can be invaluable when you work alone.
Then there’s 29-year-old Susan Clark. When I met Susan last year she was working as a news writer and producer for the WB television affiliate in Los Angeles. Like the vast majority of Bootcamp attendees, Susan had also been a student of the AWAI’s self-paced learning course (which by the way, she too learned about at Changing Course). Since she was working full time (and as she put it, “wanted to have a social life too,”) it took her about a year to finish the course.
And what a difference a year makes. Remember the assignment I told you about where Bootcamp attendees have a shot at their first paid writing assignment? Well, Susan’s submission beat the control in 2002.
This success led to another assignment and another until, after 12 short months, she had enough work lined up to quit her job and write full-time. Susan says lot of her success has to do with the highly supportive staff at AWAI who helped her line up her first paid writing gigs through Agora Publishing.
Oh yeah, remember those tears I thought I saw in Linda’s eyes? Turns out I was right. Linda and I got to chatting in the ladies room a few days later. She said she wanted to once again thank me for putting the AWAI and their copywriting course on her radar screen. Suddenly Linda started to weep.
After I heard her story, I understood where the tears were coming from. Six months ago this vibrant looking 53-year-old suffered a stress-induced stroke that left her paralyzed on one side of her body. On top of putting in a ton of hours at her job as a massage therapist at a local health spa (ironic isn’t it), she was coping with lots of challenges in her personal life – the empty nest syndrome, the end of an important relationship…
Yet, with her health back and a new career on the horizon, Linda explained at this point that her tears were tears of joy. Although she’d signed up for the AWAI’s self-paced copywriting program months earlier, Linda says she’d never made it a priority. Instead it was something she planned to get to “some day.”
The stroke was her wake up call. That was it. Linda told herself it was now or never. In Linda’s case, the chance to earn a good living without the long hours and the stress that comes with working for someone else is nothing short of a lifeline. Getting herself to Copywriting Bootcamp was Linda’s way of turning “Someday” into Today.
People sometimes ask me why I’m so gung ho on the American Writers & Artists Institute and their copywriting, travel writing, resume business, and other courses. The answer is simple… I’ve seen how these courses can and do change lives.
While everyone had their own reasons for being at the workshop, they all agreed on one thing… the time had come to take control of their life. As the great hockey player Wayne Gretsky once said, “I always miss 100% of the shots I don’t take.” Whatever your dream, your age, your geography, or your circumstances, it’s never too late to take a shot at it.