In my most recent update, I indicated that things are going well for me. And they are. But it hasn’t always been peaches and cream. When I set out to become an English copywriter in Korea, I hit more than a few speed bumps. 

Having spent time on message boards and in Reddit threads, I don’t think my experience was unique. I never thought it would be a simple transition, especially without any experience. But I didn’t anticipate some of the challenges I’d face. I don’t think things could’ve gotten off to a rougher start than my first gig.

Eager to begin my first English copywriting gig in Korea

I was very keen to start my first paid gig. I bid on a gig on Upwork, and after talking to the client, we agreed to work together. I was new to Upwork, and so was he—his first time using the site.

I hadn’t finished authenticating my account, but I was eager to get started. I agreed to begin before our contract had formally been agreed to.

Mistake #1.

We’d agreed to a whopping $35 for this project. I just wanted to get some paid gigs and experience under my belt.

A POV shot with someone completing an online questionnaire on a tablet while a woman smiles in the background.

Being the good, eager copywriter I was, I did things by the book. I sent the client a questionnaire. I inquired about his expectations, brand, and what he liked about his customers. I attempted to learn as much about his brand so I could write in his voice. He completed less than half of the questionnaire, answering “n/a” to over half the questions.

Warning #1.

I checked out his homepage. I checked out his brand’s Instagram feed. I even found a couple of media interviews with him. I created a persona based on the incomplete information I had.

I tried to use everything I’d studied about copywriting. I was determined to succeed as an English copywriter in Korea.

If you can copy—but make it your own

He then sent me some examples of copy from competing brands that he liked. He was drawn to the line “A color for every emotion.” He claimed:

You can see how they create an emotion towards the new collections…Now I understand the meaning behind these collections with the proper description and or captioin…very well described and I understand the meaning behind the creation of this collection.

A picture of several colored pencils arranged to that the points form a heart.

To be honest, I didn’t understand his fascination with the line. But I promised to do my best to capture that vibe for his brand.

After a couple of hours of work, I submitted my first draft. He responded: 

i like what you made but there are too many stops. Too many periods. Can we try being more formal and elegant with the words. And more of sentences not 4 words…so you are on a good path at the beginning. The second half is where you meantion. XXXXXXXX and XXXXXXX made in XXXXXXX, XXXXXXXX to ensure your comfort in style. Just something along those lines in better words and better description.

It seemed like I was on the right path—I just needed to tweak things. No problem. But then he sent me another example from a competitor. 

XXXXXX presents its XXXXXXX collection – a XXXXXX collection of apparel, accessories and collaborative footwear with a focus on custom prints and an updated palette across newly introduced and returning silhouettes for the new season.

A picture of a palette of assorted paints and paint brushes.

He then wrote: 

if you can copy but make it your own. The caption at the top of the link would be amazing for the second half…copy what it says but fix it to my XXXXXXX pieces…but copy that style of language how it is describing the colours and texture.

Again, I didn’t see anything special about the link he provided or how it described the colors or texture. But I said I’d give it a try. Of course, there was pressure to finish quickly.

This has to be done very soon we are making the announcement today and need it done I apprey you thank you.

Warning #2.

Every writer needs to be able to accept feedback and make edits

I sent him the 2nd draft: 

You arent referencing the link I sent you, I am not so happy with this outcome I wouldn’t be using it.can you see how the description is for their new collection…very beautifully written…when you are writting it sounds like you are trying to sell the brand and products. I dont want that. I want a formal and simple written description that gets the message across.

A black and white image of an upset man yelling into the camera.

I replied:

I’m trying to accommodate your requests, but I’m getting mixed messages. You stated you were happy with the first half, but want me to explain the materials and the inspiration in the second half. Not sure how I’m supposed to do that in one sentence. I’m open to suggestions…If we cut the “XXXXXX-….you XXXXXXX” that gets rid of the ‘selling’ aspect.

His reply:

yes take that out. Can we retry completly and forget about the first half and stuff. Now that you know more about this collection. Can you read the reference XXXXX link I sent you and take what they said but rewrite accordingly to my XXXXXX?

I replied and attempted to clarify:

I can try. To make sure we’re on the same page…You want a one-sentence description of your collection, similar to the XXXXXX link? What exact information do you want me to include?

His response:

Yes. two or 3 sentences written very formal words. Include the details of the design (XXXX, XXXXX, XXXXX, XXXXX)

He then listed 6–7 features of his product.

I replied: 

Ok, I’ll see what I can do about including all of that information in 2–3 eloquently written sentences.

Why don’t you intuitively know what I want?

When I asked if Version 4 was more to his liking (I believe he ignored the 3rd draft):

no…forget it…you are litteraly just taking what im saying, im paying for specific language and writting aesthetic.What you wrote i can write at home myself…sorry…thank you for your time you were very quick and responsive but i wont be able to use anything youve proivded as it doesnt fit my standards

A picture of a man wearing a red hoodie, face unseen, showing his hand to the camera in a 'talk to the hand' pose.

I replied:

I’m very confused as to what you want. You’re giving me mixed messages…Initially, you said you liked the first half of my first attempt, but then you wanted to scrap it. You said that you didn’t want me to sell your brand, but in the questionnaire I asked you to complete, you stated the #1 thing you wanted was “I want People to Shop for the most part…” 

The XXXX link you referenced is a very generic description that doesn’t actually provide any information about the line.

You wanted me to include all the information you provided in 3 sentences. I painted a story in the first sentence. I attempted to include all your requirements in the second half as naturally as possible. I’m not sure what else you want.

I never heard back from him. 

A picture of an old phone receiver on an old wooden table.

I did watch his site to see what copy he’d go with. Turns out he didn’t use any copy on his homepage to introduce the collection. The copy on Instagram read: 

XXXX XXXXX XXXXX Collection ranges as our largest collection to date consisting of XXX pieces. With XXXXXX XXXXXXdesigns, the collections purpose is to create a cohesive range that caters to the high end XXXXXX XXXXXX.

I’m not claiming what I wrote was Pulitzer Prize-winning stuff. It wasn’t. It was my first attempt! But I did my best to act professionally and accommodate the client. That effort was not appreciated—nor reciprocated. 

Sometimes gaining knowledge is more important than making money.

And I did learn some very valuable lessons.

1. Never start work on a project until the contract has been officially started on Upwork. 

Sites like Upwork try to protect both sides—clients and freelancers. Clients on Upwork often submit the agreed-upon funds when the contract starts. Upwork holds that money in escrow.

Once the work has been submitted and accepted, the funds are released to the freelancer. The contract often includes an agreed-upon number of revisions and word length. This helps to determine if the task was completed as outlined if a dispute arises.

A picture of two laptop computers. There's a silhouette of a woman on the left screen and a  silhouette of a man on the right screen. They're having a tug of war between the two screens.

We agreed to an amount over chat. Since the contract was never formally started, I had no recourse. If we’d started a contract through Upwork, I could’ve filed a petition.

I could’ve shown the work I’d done along with our chat history. I’m pretty sure I would’ve won that one—even if the client wasn’t satisfied with my work. I held up my end of the bargain. But no contract=no coverage. Lesson learned.

After this initial hiccup, I’m happy to report I haven’t had any issues getting paid. Not on Upwork or any of the sites I use to find work.

2. A client that can’t be bothered to answer 20 short questions about their brand wants you to be a mind reader—and should be avoided at all costs. 

The warning signs were there. But I was eager to get started and prove I could cut it as an English copywriter in Korea. The more I went back and forth with this guy, the more it became clear he didn’t know what he wanted. He certainly couldn’t explain to me what he wanted.

People that want you to read their minds likely won’t be satisfied with what you produce. Furthermore, they won’t be able to provide feedback on how you can make revisions that will please them. 

3. Working for ‘chicken scratch’ was not going to pay the bills. 

I spent over 3 hours on this task. For $35. Of course, I was just starting out and needed to get a few tasks under my belt, but I was going to have to get good—fast. Working for $10–12/hour wasn’t going to cut it. Especially if I never actually got paid!

A close up picture of a laptop keyboard with three American dollars on the palm rest.

Sometimes the school of hard knocks is the best teacher

All in all, it was a good experience. It taught me a lot—about the process and the business. I learned what not to do. Though I didn’t get paid, I went through the steps of trying to understand the brand and the client.

I attempted to craft copy in the client’s voice. We’ll never know whether the failure to do so was down to my lack of experience or his inability to explain what he wanted. But with what I’ve learned since then, I question if anyone would’ve been able to please this client.

For any fellow copywriters starting out, you’re not alone. When reading about people (like myself) who’ve landed good gigs and everything is coming up roses—they probably hit a few potholes along the way.

If you read my first update on this journey, you’ll see that I had to end a contract with a client. The job turned out to be something very different (data entry) than what I was expecting. Another client ghosted me with no explanation.

How’d your first gig go? Got any horror stories? I’ve got a bunch more I’ll share later. Let me know how your first gig went in the comments!

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