Can I Make It As A Health Copywriter?

by Sarah on August 2, 2013


At the top of my garden is a nectarine tree. We planted it close to six years ago.

Each year we’ve watched with hope . . .  and then dismay . . . as the little nectarines all wither and drop off soon after petal fall when they first form.

Every year we fertilize and prune the tree. Each year we hope that this will be the year we get some fruit. And every year, we’ve ended up trucking over to a local commercial orchard to get our nectarines.

But not this year. This year my husband decided to take our little orchard on with a vengeance. He pruned more aggressively. I ordered a special organic fruit tree fertilizer that we added to our usual doses of manure. And we diligently sprayed with an organic fungicide after every rain.

And guess what? Lo and behold the branches are filled with fruit. Now, it’s not quite harvest time. But we’re within weeks of it and the trees are dripping with nectarines!

It’s taken years of trial and error and patient tending. But finally, our fruit trees are bearing fruit like never before.

And I’ll tell you, it’s a lot like any business. Building a business is an act of faith and perseverance. It takes a mixture of humility and chutzpah. And ultimately, your business will only bear fruit if you keep trying new things out, failing, and going back to the drawing board to figure out what will work.

I don’t know of any successful business that gets it right on the first try.

It’s no different with building a health copywriting business.

Over the last couple months I’ve gotten various emails requesting guidance in getting started with freelance health copywriting. These emails have contained some good questions, ones that I asked myself when I started out.

And questions I thought were better to answer here on the blog than individually since so many of you are struggling with them.

I hope my answers will help you forge forward with more confidence and strategic thinking.

If you’re not a copywriter, but a business owner or marketer, these answers will help you figure out what to look for in a good copywriter and partner in your marketing efforts.

Question #1: Is copywriting for real? Can you really build a profitable business as a freelance health copywriter?

I’ve heard this skeptical question many a time. In fact I heard it dozens of times in my own head when I was starting out and seeing what seemed like fantastical stories of health copywriters getting paid handsomely for their work.

And yes, building a health copywriting business can be profitable. I’m now at a point where I can choose my clients and command very good pay for my work.

But like the nectarines, you can’t just do nothing and expect something to happen. You have to develop your skills and knowledge to be able to provide a service of value to your clients. You have to be able to help your clients succeed. And – just like you will be doing for your clients – you have to sell yourself and market yourself hard. Only then can you succeed.

That being said, don’t be dismayed if you haven’t spent decades in marketing. I didn’t. I had spent years working in health education with non-profits and writing consumer health articles before moving onto health copywriting.

When I found out about health copywriting, I had no clue about selling and marketing. While as an educator I had some skills in the art of persuasion, I still had a lot to learn.

But I did have some insights and a few other qualities that made me a valuable partner for my clients. The first is of these is being an insatiable learner. Which brings us to the next question . . .

Question #2: What do you recommend for courses in getting started?

My first lessons in copywriting came from American Writers And Artists, Inc. (AWAI). Their courses are solid. Thorough. Easy to learn from. Grounded in the real world of selling and marketing. They use only instructors who have been in the trenches and know what they are talking about.

I cannot recommend them enough if you are serious about copywriting. In addition to the course materials, AWAI membership

  • Introduces you to a large community of copywriting students through their various forums and events;
  • Includes great customer service – I’ve asked them all kinds of questions and gotten good responses or referrals;
  • Has helped me get both clients and leads through their course supplements and their Direct Response Job Board:

If you’re unsure about where to start with AWAI’s courses, I highly recommend starting with one of these:

If you’re interested in getting into health copywriting, you can pair either of these courses with my ebook Writing Irresistible Copy For Nutritional Supplements to get the health copywriter angle.

These courses will give you a solid foundation to build on.

But don’t ever stop learning and stretching. I built my foundation with AWAI. But I have also gotten great insights from taking courses and reading blogs written by Clayton Makepeace, Gary Bencivenga, Sandi Krakowski, John Forde, Charlie Page, Dan Kennedy, Brian Clark, Sonia Simone, Heather Lloyd Martin, Paul Myers and more.

Occasionally I’ve rested on my laurels a little. And seen my work suffer. Don’t do that to yourself or your clients.

Don’t ever stop learning. Don’t every believe you know everything you need to know.

Question #3: What are some of the most invaluable insights you learned as you developed your copywriting skills?

I can’t cram what I’ve learned from the dozens of courses I’ve taken into a simple blog post. But there are a few core insights I gained from these studies that have really shaped my approach to building my health copywriting skills and business:

  • The most important piece to writing good copy is knowing your audience. Knowing who you are selling to.

Yes, you need to know the product through and through . . .Yes, you need to know the competitive environment . . .

But there is nothing that factors more into your copy working well and selling a product than knowing who you are talking to in your copy. Their hopes, their fears, their desires, their dislikes.

This is where you can breathe a sigh of relief if you felt you needed a zillion years in marketing to be good at this. In the health field, where I specialize, I’m constantly referring to my own experiences and those of my friends and family. I’m online lurking in forums and listening in on Twitter.

You don’t need focus groups and years doing technical market surveys. You need to know the people you’re trying to reach.

Now certainly – not all of us can do this. Some of us are as sensitive and aware of other people’s emotions and motives as a chunk of wood. But on the flipside, most of us have two ears, two eyes, a brain and a heart that can sympathize – excellent qualifications.

This doesn’t mean you don’t need some other skills and experience . . .

  • Always be learning about not just copywriting, but about sales and marketing as well.

Sure you need to be a good writer. But the copywriters who can really help their clients are the copywriters who understand the big picture.  When you can help your client with strategy, you can command higher fees, expand your projects and get clients more easily. When you can write your copy with a sense of the larger scope of business, you can write better copy.

In a sense this brings us back to understanding your audience. Because as a copywriter you have to not only understand your client’s market, you have to understand your own market – your clients.

Which brings us to point number 3 . . .

  • Don’t just look at copywriting as a job where you get paid project by project. Think of it as a business where you’re building equity.

If you go into each project with a deep respect for what your clients are trying to do – and the challenges they face – you will build your copywriting business differently.

You will understand that your clients’ success is what your success is built on.

And you will understand the huge task your copy has to undertake . . . as well as why it can be valued so highly.

Just recently a client of mine – a large national supplement company – told me how incredibly grateful they were that the magalog I wrote for them was beating the control and giving them renewed hope about their direct mail marketing.

When I sat down to work on that project, I was glad to be paid for the work. But bottom line, I knew my success was linked to this project’s success. I knew that if this helped their business, I would do well in the long run too. I would get more work from them and have more good referrals as I sought out other clients as well. So I was intensely focused on getting good results for them.

Sometimes you’ll hit the frustration when client doesn’t implement everything to get a project to work. And you don’t see the the success you were hoping for. That’s where point no. 2 above can help.

But even if the larger mechanics aren’t there, you’ll know no matter what, you gave your client a powerful tool for his/her business. You’ll know when they do use it right it will help them tremendously.

One particular step I’ve taken to gain more understanding in this light has been starting my own online information marketing business Fit Family Together.

Of course my little business is smallfry compared to the businesses of many of my clients. But it has given me the opportunity to experience the frustration when a sales letter doesn’t work as well as I hoped and the excitement when something does.

These 3 lessons only scratch the surface. But they should help you in developing your core copywriting compass as you move forward.

Question #4: How did you get over the hurdle of fear with your first client?

First of all, that fear is a good thing. It means you’ve got some humility and strong concern about serving your client well.

At some level, you should never lose a hint of that fear.

I haven’t. I always have a voice inside me asking me, “Is this good enough?” “Will this do the job?” Any good copywriter should always have that voice inside of them because this pushes you to always do better and learn more as I described above.

Underlying that fear is the smart person’s knowledge that the market is always changing and some things that worked before may not work now. It means you understand the risks in business and what you’re up against.

But certainly, that voice was much louder when I started than it is now.

To help you work through those doubts and fears, consider this:.

If you’ve done what I’ve described above, you’ll be offering your client a very good service. You’ve invested time and money into developing valuable marketing/copywriting skills and insights.

Certainly there’s a challenge to putting them to work. But if you approach each project with the goal of helping your client and understanding what your client’s goals are, you’ll have an easier time doing this well.

    In addition, when I started out, I charged modestly. I focused less on income and getting the job done and more on the opportunity to work on a project deliberately. By charging modestly, you’ll feel more confident that you’re offering value comparable to what you’re charging your clients.

    Most importantly, I knew that – like with my nectarine tree – I’ll have some failures. One of my first clients rejected my copy, paid only half my fee and I never heard from him again. I could have taken his harsh words, “I guess some people aren’t just cut out for this,” and given up.

    Or I could have reminded myself that every successful person I’ve ever heard about has experienced failure. Their success came not in some lucky strike or brilliant streak of genius. It came from their ability to put themselves out there. And then keep pushing forward through the failure to figure out what works.


    Leave a Comment

    Previous post:

    Next post: