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This post was written by TCCS member, Brook McCarthy


All too often I hear from copywriters (both newbies and oldies) struggling to manage their business. They fret about clients, set themselves unrealistic challenges and struggle to ‘keep up with the Joneses’. It’s stressful and makes for a lot of unhappiness. (If I am 100% honest – I do all these things myself from time to time.)

That’s why I was delighted when Brook McCarthy offered to share her wisdom on how to run a successful copywriting business and stay happy. Here are her tips on how to attain copywriting bliss.


It’s simple: success at work follows happiness, not the other way around.

Well, at least that’s what author Shawn Achor expounds in his book, The Happiness Advantage. Shaun explains that positivity makes us more successful in business by making us more productive, energetic, engaged, creative, motivated and resilient.

He draws on research to back this up, including one of the largest studies on happiness and potential at Harvard University.

In the seven years that I’ve been self-employed as a copywriter (specialising in yoga and wellbeing), I’ve found it’s not just an upbeat attitude that leads to business success.

My business success has also been boosted by adopting an ethical, kind and conscientious approach to others. Furthermore, I’ve used my ethical values to highlight my point of difference, I’ve remained positive, and I’ve used a strategy called ‘surprise and delight’.


Defining your success

First up, you need to understand what success is if we’re to achieve it.

I feel that too much energy is wasted by self-employed people trying to implement strategies and tactics recommended by a ‘business guru’ as essential.

Remember: nobody else is qualified to tell you what your success is, and defining your idea of success is the first necessary step to achieving it. Some questions to help you define success for your business:

  • How much money do you wish to earn each month? Each year?
  • How much time off would you like, and when?
  • What do you like doing, beyond copywriting?
  • Are you a social person who enjoys meeting new people? Or more of an introvert?
  • Are you keener on telling stories? Or does research and data get you excited?
  • Do you prefer short projects, the regularity of retainer clients, or bigger, more complex projects?
  • What industry do you feel most passionate about and interested in?

If our definition of success is vague and our will ‘bendy’, then once we achieve our defined goal, we’ll just create another, more ambitious goal.

Over time, this kind of behaviour can result in a deep sense of instability as we struggle to recognise if and when we’ve “arrived”.

This is one of the paradoxes of success that we must manage for the sake of our wellbeing and, ultimately, the full potential of our business.

Save your sanity by being clear on what you’re looking for.


In pursuit of expectations

A lot of the skill in client work lies in managing expectations – securing a clear, cohesive brief from the client, educating them on what to expect from us, and offering our best advice to help them achieve their objectives.

The same goes with our expectations.

When we start from a low base and aim high, it’s more likely we’ll end up frustrated, stressed and burnt out. The converse is also true – when your personal and business expectations aren’t sufficiently challenging, we’ll likely end up bored, frustrated and, later, stressed and burnt out.

self-care-6It’s all about setting your expectations so that they’re ‘just right’.

We want expectations and objectives that are challenging but realistic. Start today by looking at one task that you can realistically achieve, but which also challenges your self-beliefs or skills.

Finally, as tempting as it may be to give set client expectations that our work will be super quick, it’s often better to give ourselves a longer deadline. That way you can exceed their expectations by delivering early.

It’s far better to lower clients’ expectations and exceed them than set the bar too high and then fail to reach it – causing ourselves undue stress in the process.

Ethical freelancing

Ethical business is an overused and misunderstood term. Simply put, ethical freelancing is about:

  • being truthful
  • treating others as we’d like to be treated
  • doing what we say we’re going to do.

Now more than ever, we need ethical freelancing if we’re to survive in this competitive copywriting market.

Websites such as Elance, Odesk and Fiverr are putting downward pressure on freelance rates and what the general public deems to be a reasonable price.

Don’t join the race to the bottom – fight it by highlighting and embodying your experience, credibility and trustworthiness.

Word-of-mouth is still the most credible and cost-efficient marketing there is – so guard your reputation as your highest business priority.

Be exceptionally good at what you do, collect testimonials, and monitor your marketing to ensure that it’s highly appealing, while also accurate.

Bring your values front and centre

A business trend that is here to stay is value-driven business – using business values to drive marketing stories. Businesses whose professed values are inconsistent with their practices are swiftly debunked through the power of social media and greater civic transparency.

Get clear on who you are and what you stand for.

Try to disregard the noise of ‘shoulds’, ‘coulds’ and ‘woulds’ and be honest about what personally drives you. Think about how you could tell this story on your About page and throughout your marketing in a way that’s relevant and valuable to your target market.

Furthermore, ask yourself:

  • How could I incorporate these values into my process of doing business?
  • How could I live and amplify these values?
  • How could I collaborate with like-minded organisations and individuals?


Surprise and delight

A little-known strategy in small business and freelance circles is ‘surprise and delight’. This basically means turning clients into loyal fans by catching them off guard (surprise) in a positive way (delight).

To be effective, your surprise and delight tactics must be authentic and not attention-seeking, though you can definitely highlight what you’ve done after the fact.

The art of the humble brag is a highly valuable skill for the freelancer.

Remember, it’s not a surprise delight if you’re setting an expectation beforehand, so keep this off your sales pages.

Ideally, you need an unexpected “wow” factor coupled with a personal touch that makes your campaign memorable and relatable. Gifts that are so individual as to be unique and priceless work best. Your surprise and delight campaign should naturally spark discussion on social media and through word of mouth.

The cart and the horse

Most agree that success at work and in life brings happiness.

But what if we’ve got the cart before the horse?

What if we adapt beliefs and behaviours that put values, positivity and ethical behaviour first, rather than running at a mile a minute trying to implement the business guru strategies?

What if a positive, upbeat attitude, generosity and ethics assure our success?

By focusing on the day-to-day practice of happiness in our business lives, we can help short-circuit our stress and lack of clarity around success.

Neuroscience shows that positivity can be taught. We have more control over our success than we may realise – but only if we recognise and prioritise happiness.


Over to you

Are you a happy little copywriter? What practices have you adopted to improve your happiness at work?


About Brook McCarthy

BrBrook McCarthy has been a self-employed copywriter for seven years, specialising in health and wellbeing. Prior to this, Brook worked in public relations. Check out Brook’s ‘Self-Care for the Self-Employed’ Sydney course.