Unless you're Jesus, I'm assuming at some point you've failed at something in life.
And if you are Jesus, I'm so sorry for the last 36 years of my life. I promise the next 36 will be much better (assuming I get there).
That's why I'm not ashamed to admit the number of times I've failed early in my writing career. Because as any good motivational poster on your office wall will tell you, it's not how you fall, but how you get back up.
So here's an arbitrary list I made that looks at some early mistakes that I learned from. This is writing, but I'm sure the same rules can be applied to any creative position.
1. Not setting boundaries.
I'm not talking about inappropriate boundaries, although those should be set too. The point is when we're starting out, we often feel the need to show people that we can do anything. And that maybe, if we go above and beyond what is asked, people will be more impressed with us.
What ends up happening is that you do more for less money, and then people just think you're gullible.
And people are still not impressed.
One of my earliest clients asked me to do some copywriting work for them. As the project progressed, they asked me to do research on their topic (Scientific advances) and basically asked me to do their work for them. Sorry, but I wasn't trained on how to go through peer reviewed journals, and more importantly, it's not what the assignment originally called for.
Like a boss, I still did the work because I made the mistake of not being clearer about the project up front. A mistake that I'll never....okay try not to make again.
2. Saying yes instead of HUH?
Here's a great tip: Talk to your clients like a 3rd grader.
Wait rewind, let me clarify that. That's not to say you should ask questions like "Do you like ice cream?" It means being completely literal (in the literal sense, not the way millenials use it), and sometimes asking the dumb questions. Dumb questions like "What are you trying to do by sending this email?" You'd be shocked by how many times the easy questions don't have an easy answer.
Here's another good one: "Who is your target audience?". A lot of clients try to cater to everyone. It's not possible. Unless you're selling water. Or money.
I was scared to ask these stupid questions early on, but now I don't mind being the idiot in the room. It helps me do my job better.
3. Don't jump when you can fly, mofo.
If you're like me, you grew up in class always thinking "Please, don't call on me!". But in the creative world, you need to speak up. You are the big idea person. That's why they hired you.
This doesn't mean gluing feathers to yourself and doing the nae-nae on the meeting table (although, that might be crazy enough to work), it just means thinking abstractly. Ask the "What if" questions. Be different.
4. Working for pennies, because that's what I'm worth.
I used to be way too soft on my pay rate. I thought since I was new, I just needed work to show what I could do, then I would increase my rate as time goes on. It sounds great in theory, but it's not realistic.
Copywriting is a tough job. And I don't know about you, but if I'm going to work my ass off, I need to get paid appropriately.
Also, you don't want to start off too low because:
- Your clients will treat you like a starting copywriter and not a serious one. And
- It's much harder to increase your rate once you've set the precedent.
Be firm about what you charge. Your clients, and your bank account, will respect you more.
Tip: Follow @TedLeonhardt on Twitter for great negotiation techniques.
5. Don't let anyone else control your work.
Always present your own work, and always do it in person when possible. People these days do too much work through email. But it's so much harder to present your work via email, because you're not able to emphasize the one thing that your copy is designed to do: Capture emotion.
And never, ever, ever let anyone else show your work without you. That's like having someone else raise your kid for you. Passable, but really frowned upon.
I hope my early failures is a learning lesson to all. And if not, then well, you'll probably be making your own list of screw ups.