Jumping off things is hard. Twas ever thus, and if you have a job, but would love to leave it and try your luck writing copy full time, the question of how to do it is a tough one.
The first thing you have to do, in any career or lifestyle change, is look at your situation, and most particularly your overhead, and see what’s immovable. We all have a monthly need to satisfy, and you should know what yours is before upsetting your current apple cart. That’s not to say you shouldn’t upset it, but you do need to know what’s likely to fall off, and how you’re going to attempt to pick it up.
If you’re very young, in a first job after uni, let’s say, your overhead may well be quite modest: not much more than rent, a bit of pocket money and your food and clothing. In that case, you’re in quite a good position. Your cost base is low, your current income is low, so what you need to make in the first few months from copywriting isn’t too daunting. Daunting, maybe, but not too daunting.
If, on the other hand, you’re 35, have a hefty mortgage, a toddler, a second child on the way, and are supporting a partner who is either having the second child, or having a nervous breakdown thinking about you having the second child, you’re likely to have a serious committment every month, and if you decide to walk out of whatever job you currently have that enables you to meet that committment, you’ll need to locate and complete a lot of copywriting, at a good day rate, to make ends meet.
I usually figure that new plans need a year to get going. Of course it can be less, and sometimes it’s more, but a year is a decent time to give yourself to make something substantial, like a career transition, happen.
So think about this. Let’s say you have a £24k job now and, to keep it simple, you have a £24k overhead, but you would like to walk out the door and start a new career as a copywriter. Your best bet will be to ‘phase’ the transition.
Right now you earn £2k a month from the job, and nothing from copywriting. So let’s say that next month, you devoted some evening and weekend time to drumming up some “Can I rewrite your website for free?” kind of work amongst your friends, relatives and other contacts.
You do this simply to begin to get together some samples of real work you’ve done. During the month you make no money from copywriting, but you get your £2k from your job. Let’s say the same happens in month 2. Now. Month 3. Maybe this month you can aim to get one little job to do in the evening or at the weeekend, for which you can charge £200.
So, in Month 3 you make £200 from copywriting and, though you naturally still get all of your £2k from your job, you mentally consider that you needed only £1800 from the job, as you’d earned £200 from writing.
After that, you keep going.
You see whether, by month 7 or 8, you can have got to the point where you can earn £1000 a month froom copywriting. If you can, then you’re now meeting half of your overhead from writing. Don’t be over ambitious, though. If you don’t feel that you can sustain the flow of work, you’re not going to be able to earn your target, so you’d be ill advised to quit the job.
What you’ll be discovering at this stage is the biggest problem facing any solo freelancer, working in any field. Doing the work is enjoyable, and fun: landing the work, month after month, is difficult, and time consuming, and calls for skills which have nothing to do with writing.
Eventually, however, you will come to the point where you feel that you are consistently generating a number of days/evenings work each month, completing it satisfactorily, and that the only thing preventing you from earning your full £2k from copywriting is the fact that your job doesn’t allow you to spend any more time drumming up or completing further projects. And that’s the time when you jump.
It’ll still be scary, but you’ll have made a smooth transition, and optimised your chances of pulling it off.
It will only be smart, of course, to have stowed away what ‘buffer’ you can during your transition ‘year’, so that if you don’t consistently hit your full £2k target in the first tremulous months of your first year as a full time copywriter, you’re at least able to subsidise yourself.
This model isn’t the only way to transition yourself, and you may well feel your own circumstances make this notion laughable. But for a lot of wannabe copywriters, it just could work.