Successful Copywriters (Or ANY Craftspeople) Don’t Focus on Success; They Focus on This…

The “APPETIZER” Series: The original version of this piece first appeared as an Appetizer course in The Well-Fed E-PUB in February 2017, and was one I wanted to run as a blog post (with minor alterations) in order to get input from many voices.

A friend of mine recently sent around a pithy quote (source unknown) to a larger group of our friends. It struck me as a truism that gets at the heart of what we as commercial writers should aspire to, but don’t always. It said…

“The goal is not to be successful. The goal is to be valuable. Once you’re valuable, you don’t chase success, you attract it.”

I love its clarity. If you say, “I want to be successful,” not only is success an exceptionally nebulous concept that means different things to different people, but, just as importantly, how you get there isn’t at all clear.

It’s this vague state of being, akin, in many ways, to saying, “I want to be happy”—also a vague state, with vague path to completion. But say, “I want to be valuable,” and well, that’s a LOT clearer, no?

And if you know you want to be valuable as a commercial freelancer, then it’s just a matter of figuring out which skills and expertise you need to gather and develop in order to be valuable—to be someone that high-caliber, well-paying clients want and need to hire.

Once you’ve developed those skills—skills that make you more valuable than the average writer—assuming you do a decent job of letting the world know about you and your above-average abilities, you’ll indeed attract success.

Again, it’s like happiness. Trying to figure out what you should do in order to “be happy” can be a frustrating and circular process.

Come to think of it, becoming a useful, and yes, a valuable person—in many arenas of life—might just have you attracting happiness as well as success.

I can tell you this from plenty of firsthand experience: Being valuable is a LOT more fun than fighting it out with a bunch of other writers, when all of you have equal (low) value.

Forgive an Editorial Aside…
I think this little saying is particularly form-fitted to our times: With all the talk today of finding one’s passion and “finding one’s self” (especially for young people starting out), it’s good to be reminded that none of us is owed a life of passion or fulfillment.

We get there by working our butts off for a long time and for little money or recognition, until we eventually develop a skill or talent for something we enjoy and for which others will gladly pay.

If your copywriting practice is going well, what skills did you develop to make yourself valuable to your clients?

If your practice isn’t where you want it to be (or you’ve struggled in the past), was it because you focused on being “successful”?

Have you found that focusing on being valuable has, by any chance, boosted your happiness along the way? 😉


Becoming valuable to my clients has been about a lot of things, but mostly, it’s been about honing my marketing-writing chops across a broad array of commercial writing projects so I can step into virtually any copywriting situation, and quickly know what to and how to do it.

If that sounds like the kind of “valuable” you’d like to offer your clients, I invite you to check out Well-Fed Craft, my new, self-paced course that delivers just that. Click the course name above for full details, testimonials AND a free 10-minute sample.


Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.

8 Comments/by
8 replies
  1. Cathy Miller
    Cathy Miller says:

    Interesting topic, Peter. I agree focusing on being valuable is more productive than some nebulous meaning of success. Clients will also have different ideas on their perception of value. For example, a start-up client of mine valued my 30-plus years experience in my niche as both a resource and guidance on what different target markets value. What I’ve developed is my consulting role as more collaborative than merely following the client’s direction. Sometimes you need to push back (in a non-confrontational way) to give clients a different perspective.

    Another client has much of the same experience as I do so I would say the value I bring to them is reliability and the meeting of deadlines. Projects that may languish in their day-to-day challenges are completed on time and on budget. The benefit I have found from being valuable to my clients is long-lasting business relationships and more referrals that bring new clients to me without me actively pursuing them. And, yes, that makes me very happy. ☺

  2. Peter Bowerman
    Peter Bowerman says:

    Thanks Cathy,

    Good stuff! A few observations on your thoughtful reply… What you’re talking about in your first story is, to my mind, what separates $25-$30/hour writers from folks like us who get $80/$90/$100/$150 an hour.

    I say they’re paying us to challenge them—the smart ones anyway. The presumption, as I see it, is that if they’re going to spend good money to hire a writer, it’s because they realize we have some skill they don’t, and that it’d be a good idea to listen to us (with the caveats, of course, that they’re the boss, and they likely know their target audience better than we do, so that listening MUST be a two-way street).

    If they didn’t want anyone to challenge their thinking, they’d be far better off (financially, anyway, even if not any other way…) to find a “Yes-person” writer who’s just happy to, in essence, take dictation.

    As for your second point, you’re beating a drum I’ve beaten for years, but it’s always interesting (and yes, gratifying…) to hear it affirmed once again: That just doing what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it, will absolutely set you part from the masses, and earn you client loyalty.

    It’s always amazing to me that this is the case, given how unbelievably easy it is to deliver dependability, but hey, I’m never one to turn down easy shortcuts, and this is the easiest one out there. If I can stand out without any superhuman efforts (and yes, it does take more than dependability to build enduring success), I’ll do that all day.

    Thanks for weighing in!


  3. Lori
    Lori says:

    I love this. I think value is what creates excitement, not goals that speak only to us as business owners.

    My business is successful right now. I’ve not had to market in ages, and I do get a lot of repeat and referral business. How I created value — I showed up understanding their industry, listening to them talk, and responding with more than what they expected.

    Like Cathy said, it’s about being reliable and about knowing the industry. It’s a partnership, and asking questions that plant that idea — “What if we try…” cements the idea in a client’s mind.

    To me, one of the greatest tools we have as writers is the ability to listen. If we truly listen and hear what clients are saying, in most cases we can give them what they want.

    Has focusing on my value made me happy? Ridiculously! I’ve cut my work in half by not needing to market so much (I still do — never know when the drought will come!). I’m able to choose what I want to work on. I’m making money without killing myself because my value allows me to charge what I want. This past month, I surprised myself by exceeding my earnings goal despite having to take a bunch of personal time off.

    That’s why we own our own businesses, right? To have the freedom we need and to get that work-life balance.

  4. Peter Bowerman
    Peter Bowerman says:

    Love it, Lori!

    Thanks much for weighing in. And delighted to hear that business is excellent right now. You’re doing everything right, but just as importantly, you know what it takes to become successful, and don’t expect it to just happen with minimal effort.

    Curious… What kinds of clients are you working with and what sorts of projects are you doing for them? Good stuff!


  5. Lori
    Lori says:

    I’m working with a lot of companies right now, Peter — both global corporations and smaller entities. Taking on a lot of marketing writing, article ghosting, blogs, you name it.

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