A freelance copywriter went from making $50,000 to $250,000 in one year by leveraging 3 unique strategies from her career as an actor
Summary List PlacementIn January 2018, Marisa Corcoran, an Atlanta-based freelance copywriter, leveraged her five years of freelance copywriting experience (intermixed with side jobs) and launched her business Marisa Corcoran, Inc., banking $50,000 that year. In 2019, she quintupled her earnings to $250,000. This isn't an ordinary success story for a freelance copywriter — especially when you consider that the average amount that this job title makes is a little over $81,000 a year, according to Glassdoor. Corcoran's background wasn't standard for this line of work, either. Corcoran was trained as an actor, receiving a MFA from Harvard University in 2013. Post-graduation, she settled in New York City with an agent.
"I needed to have a flexible schedule for auditions," Corcoran said. "A friend suggested I could make money writing for people online for blogs, emails, and websites. As I had writing experience from undergrad, I thought I'd be good." To make ends meet, the fledgling freelancer was also auditioning for acting roles, working as a nanny, and had a job in a chiropractic's office. It wasn't until 2016 that she had enough copy work and retainer clients that she could quit her other gigs and focus solely on copywriting and acting. Then finally, in 2018, on the heels of a move to Atlanta and what she described as "a particularly unfortunate audition for 'Winnie The Pooh,'" she stood in her kitchen and decided that she could no longer put up with the constant emotional rollercoaster ride of acting. She was ready to pour herself fully into a freelance copywriting career. Drawing on the spirit of her acting career, she realized that she still had the desire to be a leader and have a significant impact when working with clients. "I didn't just want to be someone's copywriter behind the scenes," Corcoran said. "I wanted to teach, speak about copy, and stand out." That's when she realized that everything she learned at Harvard about being an actor could be applied to her business. Corcoran used the following three-step framework to put her learnings into practice, get noticed in the online writing space, and significantly up her income in just a few short years. Step #1: Give yourself and your expertise a stage In order to stand out and escape what Corcoran described as "the typical done-for-you copywriter life, stuck making proposals and setting hourly rates," she knew she needed to create her own original framework for her business and become what she calls a "copy mentor" as well as a copywriter. "Most of my actor friends (before making it big) created their own work in some way," Corcoran said. "The TV show, 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia,' is a great example of this. A group of friends created the show first before it was noticed and catapulted these actors into movies, other TV shows, etc." This vision led Corcoran to develop "The Copy Chat," an online virtual summit involving interviews with notable copywriters, business coaches, and online strategists that provide her copywriting clients with one doable tip to create copy that helps them attract more clients, comments, clicks, and conversions. By hosting her first two summits, the freelancer was able to balloon her email list from 90 to over 4,500 people in just nine months. Her current email list is around 5,800 — bringing to her doorstep a sea of ideal clients. This allowed her to take on higher-profile copy projects quickly. Corcoran's third season of "The Copy Chat" wrapped with over 3,000 listeners, and in addition to boosting the freelancer's own business, her company raised $13,000 for the charity Headstrong Project, which helps provide post-9/11 veterans and their families with mental health treatment. Because of the success of "The Copy Chat," she then created a group program called The Copy Confidence Society that Corcoran said helps online coaches and creatives "discover what to say and how to say it to magnetically attract their dream clients." While Corcoran's focus on copy coaching was her personal way to build her copywriting business through her own creative channels, she suggested that each freelancer will have their own spin on creating their own work that goes beyond just writing copy. "For other copywriters, your own work may look like a podcast, a five-day challenge, and/or a YouTube channel highlighting your tips, case studies, and strategies, or hosting a workshop or your own virtual summit," Corcoran said. "While it's great to comment inside other people's communities and gain referrals, you'll reach six figures faster by creating your own stage — it's more fun, too!" Step #2: Schmooze with sincerity "When you walk into an audition, a casting director can smell desperation from a mile away. Instead, you have to walk into the room with confidence and as a genuine human," Corcoran said. "I used to walk in and connect on a personal level. There was a casting director who called me in for commercials all the time because we bonded over our mutual love of [the TV show] 'Vanderpump Rules.'" Corcoran now takes a similar personalized approach to connecting with people to grow her freelance business. As an example, she shared that she once reached out to a high-profile online coach and bestselling author who she wanted to participate as an expert on "The Copy Chat." When Corcoran pitched the coach, her email wasn't just the obligatory "I'm a huge fan of your work." Instead, she quoted parts of the coach's book and shared how it had impacted her — and specifically how she had used it with her freelance clients. She also referenced something that she and the coach both personally loved: reality TV. "[The coach] immediately responded saying she was in for 'The Copy Chat' because my pitch was incredibly detailed," Corcoran said. "I've had other experts move their content calendar around to be on the series because my pitch is that good, and go on to hire me for copy projects after being featured as a guest." As a recommendation to other copywriters seeking their own ways to schmooze sincerely and build business opportunities, Corcoran suggested that if there's someone you want to collaborate with or have as a client, you have to make it all about them. She suggested the following three tactics to connect with stakeholders on things that they care about:
Do they host a podcast? What's your favorite episode of that podcast? Reach out and share the exact episode — even better, the exact moment — with them. Did you hear them speak at an event? Direct message them on Instagram and talk about why their keynote had an impact on you. Did you read a blog or article they were featured in? Tell them specifically why it resonated with you, and quote specific parts of the blog or article.
Step #3: 'Beetlejuice' your brand Corcoran explained that when it came time to create the brand for her freelance copywriting business, she decided to put her personality first (and all over her copy), again applying everything she learned as an actor to copywriting. She refers to this approach as "Beetlejuicing" her brand, referencing the fact that Michael Keaton originally had no idea how to play the character, Beetlejuice, and director Tim Burton asked the actor to come up with the character's key traits on his own. "Michael went home and one night decided he would have the wild hair, the 'rotten' skin, the specific voice — he even got a tattered suit," Corcoran said. "When he showed up on set, Tim Burton was so impressed with how specific Michael had made the character, he gave the green light, and that's how this iconic character was born." The copywriter maintains that this is exactly what she does in her business, honing in on the unique twist that she brings to copywriting as a specialist, rather than a generalist, through her acting background. "This helps you stay top of mind, easily remembered and referred, which makes you the go-to," Corcoran said. "You always get paid more money as a specialist than a generalist." She recommended that other copywriters "Beetlejuice their brand" in this way by determining their own unique qualities and specialty area. "Do you want to work on websites? Blogs? Launches? Brand identity? Pick one and claim it," she said. Corcoran also suggested "nitching down" for a specific client. For example, she asked, if you want to work in the online coaching space, what kinds of coaches do you want to work with? Financial coaches or health coaches? It's important to get as specific as you can. As an actor, Corcoran also talks about knowing your intention in a scene and what you want from the other actor on stage. "I teach email marketing like this," she said. "I ask my students: What do you want from the reader? This helps them craft more powerful emails, and it's an approach they won't get anywhere else." She added, "If an actor whose biggest acting claim to fame was a mom in a grocery store Thanksgiving commercial with the line, 'This year I want the best bird for my family … and my wallet!' can go from $50,000 to $250,000 in one year, you can, too." This article was originally published on Insider March 11, 2020.Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: July 15 is Tax Day — here's what it's like to do your own taxes for the very first time
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