Pop culture loves broke writers.
If you see one on screen, chances are she’ll eat cereal for dinner and sleep in a basement apartment. So when Joanna Wiebe, co-founder of Copy Hackers, first realized that she wanted to write, she didn’t really think it was a viable career option.
“I thought writing had to be a hobby, which sucked — it really sucked — because that’s what I wanted to do,” she says.
But today, Wiebe is anything but a hobbyist. From her home office on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Wiebe oversees Copy Hackers, one of the most respected copywriting resources on the web.
Trials and tribulations
Since its launch in 2011, Copy Hackers has offered regular advice and workshops to writers ready to improve their craft, as well as copywriting services to marketers looking for messaging experts. Wiebe has also emerged as an industry leader in recent years, spending a good portion of her work life guesting on podcasts, speaking at conferences, and kindly submitting to interviews like this one.
How does a kid grow up to be a nationally recognized master of digital copywriting?
“A lot of trial and error,” Wiebe laughs. “I wasn’t sure how to make a living, but writing was the only thing I was ever very good at in school. At university I studied English and creative writing, and that was enough to get my first agency job.”
Wiebe’s first copywriting job didn’t pay much, but it offered a valuable opportunity: the chance to fail. A lot.
“I wasted years just stumbling through,” Wiebe says. “When I started, it was very hard to know what worked — A/B testing just wasn’t a thing. I didn’t have anyone in real life to help coach me. I eventually landed on some blogs and books I trusted for guidance, and those helped shape me as a copywriter.”
The student becomes the teacher
After cutting her teeth in the agency world, Wiebe landed a copywriting gig with the financial software giant Intuit. She also worked as a consultant for Conversion Rate Experts and began to see real potential for a sustainable — and perhaps even well-paying — career in writing.
“For a while, my colleagues and I were very active in the Hacker News community, and a lot of tech startups were asking if we could write copy for them. As startups, though, they didn’t usually have money,” Wiebe says. “We realized that even if they couldn’t hire us to write their copy, we could still teach them how to do it themselves.”
Copy Hackers was launched shortly thereafter based on a simple idea: Joanna and her team would focus on publishing advice they had personally implemented and tested.