My Story: From Slinging Prose to Selling Words

Content Marketing

In the twilight of 2013, I was sitting at my desk. I was sitting, writing content for the new .au Domain Administration website. Instead of paying the developer to sort it out, that job as Marketing and Communications Officer, settled on me. I leaned back in my chair, daydreamed a little before thinking; You know what? I bet I could do this full time. I bet I could do this full time and make even more money.

A few months later, I quit auDA and started I Sell Words. The End.

Well, not quite.

The long version - from listless seat-warmer to dynamic desk-bound freelancer

I often joke (with love!) that copywriters are failed journalists. Failure is a loaded word, sure - but attending my first Walkley Foundation Conference on Freelance Journalism in 2010 opened my eyes to how dismal freelancing is, especially in an age of declining revenue and stretched attention spans. Almost every panellist said we should have a fall-back position, be it sub-editing, book editing, or even copywriting.

In the thick of my postgrad degree, I set about freelancing anyway. For the most part, I had pieces accepted in a few music and pop culture publications. I did a little bit of website copywriting for a small firm too, for some extra income. The pay was - pay. Couldn't really live on it, but it gave me a buzz.

Those "fall-backs" marinated in my mind for a while. After heading to their 2010 office Christmas Party, auDA offered me that Marketing and Communications Officer job. It was natural grabbing that opportunity.

After a couple of years, I felt frustrated as a Marketing and Communications guy. I had nothing to sell and little to say. Migrating and re-writing that website triggered a memory. Copywriting. If our company needs it, surely other companies need it. I mean, I'd done it before. I didn't do much market research, crippling overanalysis or any other such business training. So I quit and started my own business. Simple. Keeping it simple is key to all good writing, too.

Now the hard part - gaining credibility

My Father (the eternal pessimist he is) near always asks, "What stops someone from claiming they are something just because their business card says so?" Good question, Dad. Did you know people call themselves locksmiths without accreditation or licencing? (That, however, is a story for another day.) My business card says "copywriter" because that's what I do.

I write copy. I write content. I write scripts. I sell them; I sell words. I sell words because my words sell. Great! Excellent! Fantastic! So where's the rub convincing people I do it and do it well?

I'm in a strange position where my product is the advertising. My words demonstrate how well I write words for other people. If my words don't convince people my words are good - rather, fantastic - they won't want me to write any for them. Fair enough, too.

I believe in my business is the best there is. My clients believe their business is the best there is. My job is to close the gap between my client's belief in their product or service and to salve their target customer's fear. They might fear a wrong decision, wasting their money or spend a whole lot of time with nothing to show for it. The challenge is to make my client's belief their client's belief.

That's no easy feat.

It did take a while of stumbling, drawing on my savings and long, frustrating nights for the first few months of I Sell Words. My first Christmas holiday with no magic annual leave pay cheque was hard too.

It was quite easy settling into melancholy since I had few demands on my time. Friends and family said I should just give up and march back into the workforce. I persisted, because I believed what I was selling was good - no, fantastic! So I remembered my journalism training. Ask questions. Get the story. See what others do and apply that to what I do. Expand my beat, talk to people I meet, and walk through open doors.

With hard work and harder networking, I gained some regular clients and ongoing work. I felt excited. I'm writing for a living! Every workday is exciting! It's varied, it's challenging and I always learn something new. Here's one lesson I feel we all must learn:

Excitement is vital, excitement is viral. I think if you're excited, it's easy for others to feel excited too. It gives them licence to feel good about what you do and what they do.

I might sell words, but in essence, my real service is excitement!

What are you excited about?

Tom Valcanis


My name is Tom Valcanis and I'm the proprietor at I Sell Words. I sell words because my words sell! I'm a copywriter and content author with a background in journalism. I write content for web, print and all things that need words. I Sell Words is about writing your words right.

Comments (1)
Lina Barfoot

Lina Barfoot, Editor at SavvySME

Great article! It's always so interesting to read about someone's personal experience and I would agree 100% that to be good at your job you need a balance of hard work and excitement.