- Chris Orzechowski is a freelance copywriter who turned his side hustle into a business in 2017.
- He learned skills through online coaching and courses, books, and blogs.
- He gets a lot of clients through his email list, which he’s built by publishing content regularly.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Chris Orzechowski, a freelance copywriter and e-commerce email-marketing strategist based in Westfield, New Jersey. Insider has verified his annual income with documentation. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
I originally became a freelance copywriter to supplement my income as a public-school teacher. I started studying copywriting in 2013, but I didn’t get my first paying client until 2015.
My first idea was to start blogging on the side in hopes that I could monetize a website. I launched a few sites, and nothing worked all that well, but I learned a ton of skills in the process.
My most recent site, in 2013, was a blog that was all about coaching wrestling. It built a decent following and even made a little money through affiliate marketing. But after six months of working five to six hours a night on the website and not making that much money, I knew something had to change.
Around that time, I learned about copywriting and that people would pay you to write ads for them, whether in an email, on a sales page, or in a video. I knew I could write, and I enjoyed it. So I bet that if I spent enough time learning, I could figure out how to assemble a piece of writing that someone would pay me for.
I went on Amazon and bought a dozen books on copywriting, including “Scientific Advertising” and “The Ultimate Sales Letter.” I also started reading blog posts and consuming content from top copywriters including André Chaperon, Frank Kern, and Russell Brunson, and I invested in online courses such as CopyHour and Copy Chief.
Then I started putting myself out there to try to get clients. Eventually I landed my first-ever writing gig. It paid $300, and I wrote a bunch of emails, five website pages, a product insert (an ad that rides along with whatever item you’ve purchased), and a couple other small deliverables. The project took me a good three weeks, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t believe someone paid me to write something for them. Life was never the same after that.
In the past 12 months I’ve made $974,000 in top-line revenue — collected before expenses and taxes — from my copywriting business, and I have clients in more than 30 countries. I put in about four to five hours a day on my business, on average, and spend the other part of my day helping my wife take care of our two young boys.
In 2015, I was at a crossroads
Towards the end of my second year of teaching, I was let go. I was crushed, but my copywriting business had started to take off. I made about $7,000 in project fees that year.
I had two options: I could try to find another job, or go into freelance copywriting full time. I wish I had a cool “burn the lifeboats” story, but I tucked my tail between my legs and found another teaching job.
Could I have sprinted and gotten enough clients to replace my lost income? Maybe, but my girlfriend (now wife) and I were shopping for our first home. I was planning on proposing that summer. I couldn’t risk it. So I told myself I’d work my ass off every single night and weekend to build my copywriting side hustle to the point where it could support me.
My new job was teaching eighth-grade special-education math at a middle school in my hometown. It paid $54,427. I’d work on my side gig on my lunch break and after I’d get home at 4 pm until about 9 or 10 pm On Saturdays and Sundays I’d log anywhere from four to eight hours of extra work. By 2016, I’d made around $52,000 from client work — almost as much as my day job.
I pumped most of the money I made from copywriting back into training, coaching, and business development. One of my biggest expenses was a five-week coaching program called Real Free Life by Kevin Rogers that cost $5,000. I also invested in ongoing coaching with Rogers so I could continue to grow and learn. I subscribed to several other marketing and copywriting memberships and communities — including Ryan Lee and John Carlton — so I could learn from different teachers.
Eventually I felt ready to make the jump
In 2017, at the halfway point in my fourth year of teaching (my second year at my second teaching job), I met with my principal for a midyear evaluation. The first thing he said to me was “Chris, I feel like your head and heart aren’t in this. Unless you turn it around and start showing me something, I’m not going to renew your contract.”
I was making money from my side gig. I had clients — including one on retainer for about eight months at that point — and I had confidence, a portfolio, and a network. My rationale was: Imagine if I had my best 40 hours of the week to focus on the business instead of my worst 40 hours.
A week later, I walked into the principal’s office and handed him my resignation letter. I was free.
When I started copywriting full time, I tried everything to get clients
A lot of people recommended cold-emailing. I did that at first and got almost no response. The few people who responded weren’t serious.
It wasn’t until I shifted to targeting business owners who expressed a need for copywriting help that I started to get traction. I found most of my early clients in various Facebook groups. Sometimes people would post about a project they needed help with or a job opening. Other times people would ask for feedback on their ads and emails, so I’d essentially give people free public consultations. I started filming Loom videos of me going through their copy and giving them suggestions. Then I’d reply to their post with a link to the video.
A lot of other people in those groups would watch these videos and see my feedback. I’d friend as many of these people as possible, and when they needed a writer, I was the guy they’d call.
I also did some other stuff. One time I offered a free one-on-one, 60-minute email-marketing training session in one of the Facebook groups. I wound up giving the same slideshow presentation 24 times in two weeks to entrepreneurs who wanted to learn about email copywriting. It was painful, but it helped me hone my pitch.
As I got more clients, I looked for more ways to market myself
I started noticing trends in what my prospects would ask about, such as how to structure an email launch sequence or how to increase open rates. So I decided that whenever I had a handful of people asking me the same question, I’d write an article answering it.
I posted these articles on Medium because I didn’t have a website. Once I launched my website, I started posting the articles there, in an email newsletter, and on my social-media pages. Eventually I stumbled into some pretty decent SEO, and people started finding my articles and website on Google.
These people would sign up for my email list as well. As my list grew, I started emailing more to establish a relationship with my subscribers. Now I email just about every day. I also hold periodic webinars when I’m launching new products and enrolling new cohorts of students into my coaching programs.
I also create video content for my YouTube channel. All the traffic flows back towards my email list, which I care about more than anything else in my business. My email list is where I get the lion’s share of my clients. It’s where most of my consulting work comes from, and it’s a platform I own.
There are a few things I did to charge — and get people to pay — high fees for my work
First, I made myself “niche famous.” Nobody would ever recognize me on the street, but I’ve become well known in the copywriting space because I’ve been publishing content on the topic every week for more than five years.
Second, I embraced the laws of supply and demand. I’m only one guy, and I get new client leads on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis. I don’t have time to work with everyone, so I can pick the cream of the crop and work only with people I really want to work with, at the fee I want to charge. If a client balks at my fee, that’s fine; I’ve got clients lined up down the block and around the corner.
Finally, I published content about the results I’ve gotten. Whenever I do a launch or email campaign that works well, I break it down so that other people can replicate that success in their own business, and I overwhelm people with proof. People are sold by the time they get on the phone with me.
I don’t spend a second convincing anyone they should hire me. That’s what my content is for.
If you want to make big money as a copywriter, you have to refuse to listen to reason
You have to believe in yourself, even when you know your colleagues, friends, and even your family members think you’re crazy.
During the pandemic, I wanted to quit my business every week for two years straight. I was in a huge phase of growth, and I was reinvesting a ton of capital back into the business — and it felt like the whole world was conspiring against me.
But when I laid my head down at night, I reminded myself why I was doing this. One reason was that my son was born a couple of weeks after the lockdowns went into place. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I knew it was not time to slow down. I wasn’t going to let my family down.
I also knew that a lot of people needed my help. There were people who were just like me, trying to scale their businesses so they could leave their day jobs. There were clients who were trying to make sales to make payroll and keep their lights on. How could I fail them? I couldn’t — it just wasn’t an option. The only path was forward.