How I Went From Software Engineer To Copywriter (And Made $150K In Just 18 Months)

Published: December 27th, 2022
Chris Silvestri
Conversion Alchemy
from Winchester, UK
started April 2021
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi, my name is Chris (actually Christopher, but only my mom when she’s mad calls me that). I’m the founder and chief conversion copywriter at Conversion Alchemy. We’re a conversion copywriting agency helping 7, and 8-figure SaaS and E-commerce businesses understand their customers, so they can convert more of the right website visitors into excited buyers.

Typically these are companies with anything between 20 and 100-150 employees that have product-market fit but are either hitting a plateau or need to reposition themselves. They're mostly bootstrapped, but we’ve also worked with VC-funded businesses. Annual revenue is anything between $2M and $8M.

We typically work on website copywriting projects. That involves the research, the writing, and the wireframing (layout of the website). Recently we started including UI design, too, as I noticed a lot of clients struggled to find a reliable designer in a reasonable amount of time, after we worked together. We also offer smaller introductory productized services like website teardowns, usability and AB testing, and consulting/coaching packages.

In the last year in business we’ve made around $8,600 per month ($149,194 since starting out 19 months ago). And we did it with just myself (a non-native speaker writing in English), a virtual assistant - and exclusively on referrals.

Never mind the prison tattoos, I’m a nice person 😊

Unless you know where you’re headed, you won’t make it work. Have an idea of what you want to achieve, what you want to learn, what type of work you want to do, and the type of people you want to deal with. Then focus and go all-in.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I’m Italian and I moved to the UK in 2018. Before, I had been a software engineer in the automation industry for 10 years, programming automatic assembly machines for the biomedical industry. I switched back and forth between my desk and the workshop, where we were testing these robot-like machines designed to replace manual labor and increase productivity in factories. I typically traveled the world 2-3 months out of the year, to install these machines at the client’s site.

At my old job as a software engineer, location: Taiwan

How and why did I get into that? Like most entrepreneurs, initially, you just follow the motions. My technical high school degree said that that was the next step, and I took it. It was pretty frictionless - and comfortable. I’m also a drummer, and at the time, I had a punk rock band. We toured Europe, Italy, and Russia (twice). It was fun, and I would have loved to do more of that. Thing is, I had a full-time job. And one that was tying me to the workplace too. In order to leave for a one or two-week tour, I had to beg for time off, 3 months in advance. It was a pain.

Tour life (in my PTO) with my band

So I decided to take the matter into my own hands. And I stumbled on the online marketing space. For 3-4 years I tried a ton of things. An SEO writing agency, first writing myself and then outsourcing content. Then an Amazon FBA business selling Yoga straps, then a couple (not one) personal blogs, then a Kindle publishing business, and probably more stuff, that I removed from memory. All while learning new skills and making mistakes in the evenings and weekends, with any free time I had.

“Blogging” times, trying my hand at online marketing and content, circa 2014-2015 (from home and from a work trip to Mexico in my hotel room)

Finally, I stumbled on copywriting. From there I was hooked. I loved and resonated so much with the psychology, the decision-making, and the human behavior behind it. But also with the incredible potential all the gurus I was following and studying from promised. And yes, the flexibility of working your own hours, from wherever you wanted. This was back in 2015.

Since that moment I dedicated myself and focused exclusively on the craft and on getting to a level I could see myself starting to work with clients. I jumped on Upwork in 2015 and in one year moved from $15/hour to $100/hour. Then realized that the best clients, the ones I truly wanted to work with, were not on Upwork (no offense). But I kept at it, to gain experience, practice, and a portfolio.

One of my first attempts at writing the homepage for my copywriting website - I had decided for B2B at least!

The unsexy art of hand-copying successful sales letters…

Ultimately in 2017, I decided it was time to take the plunge. I set a date on the calendar for 3 months in the future, and in September I gave my resignation. As if that wasn’t enough, after a couple of months and a combination of factors and lifestyle choices, I decided to move to the UK. I left my job, country, family, my band, and girlfriend (all on good terms!) and started a new life as a copywriter. I only had maybe 1 or 2 projects signed, and 6 months in savings.

Freedom! My “digital nomad” days in 2018 - Venice beach, Los Angeles

At my first retreat with the agency I joined - Thailand

Long story short, I raked up a few clients and left Upwork. Then I started working with a design and conversion optimization agency after meeting the founder Quinn Zeda at a conference in Austin, TX (which btw, I attended only because I was one of the 2 people out of thousands, who won a ticket to attend).

In the 2 years there, I learned everything I now know about UX design and CRO. My learning skyrocketed when we transitioned into a usability testing startup where I was lead UX and supervising our junior copywriter. In March 2021, I decided to take the plunge - again - and go back to doing my own thing.

Goodbye call at the agency before starting Conversion Alchemy

That’s when I started Conversion Alchemy.

I still loved copywriting, even though I found extreme value and pleasure in UX. So after some research, I noticed that there were a ton of conversion copywriters, specifically working with SaaS and E-commerce. But none of them actually pointed out how, especially in those industries, the user experience plays a huge role in increasing conversions from the marketing site to the product experience.

I felt like I could position myself and my services in a unique way, that attracted the right clients. Those who valued the research and the psychology behind this type of work. So I started putting the word out.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

When I started out, I was already familiar with a typical copywriting project, but now I had a lot more weapons and tools in my arsenal. I kept studying and learning with resources and “virtual mentors” like Copyhackers, NNGroup, CXL, Brennan Dunn, Erik Kennedy, and more on the topics of copy, UX, CRO, client management, and sales.

Initially, I put up a simple one-page website with a couple of productized services like usability testing and a website teardown (still live and selling today), plus a custom website copywriting package.

The first version of my website, when the name Conversion Alchemy wasn’t a thing yet

For the custom package prospects had to book a 15-minute call, we were going to see if there was a fit, and then I sent them a proposal with a price. At the time, my minimum engagement rate was $2,500 and a typical project was between that and $6,000. These usually lasted 1.5 months including research, writing, and wireframing. This was my MVP and I just needed to test it and refine it.

Overall, everything, including the website, and a few software tools cost me probably less than $200. I designed the website myself using a free Figma illustration pack (that I still use!) and a visual builder. When I started, I was still self-employed and didn’t even have an accountant.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Everything began with one referral from Quinn, the founder of the agency. It was a cool e-commerce store in Australia, selling Ukuleles. The founder is awesome and I loved the work and the autonomy of strategizing and planning everything around it from the get-go. We started working together not even 3 weeks after I left the agency. And I had my biggest lesson right then and there: I wasn’t doing a good job at explaining what I was doing on my website (and I’m a copywriter!). It’s the curse of knowledge - and also the rush of wanting something quick up to sell myself.

The way that I converted this first client was really just by listening and addressing questions. In particular, he was confused about the different stages of the process. What type of work was I doing compared to a design agency? Where did copywriting fit? What about CRO and UX? So, I outlined my process and methodology in a super rough mindmap, recorded a screencast video of me walking him through it, and shared it. A couple of days after, he signed. We were officially in business. This is a recurring theme throughout my career: “just in time learning”. Spot your weaknesses, address them right away with the action, and get better.

That single project sparked a series of referrals and word of mouth. A couple of other e-commerce store projects (it helped that all the founders were part of a community of business owners) and then the first few SaaS companies from various other referrals in my network.

Referrals start coming in


First happy clients

The word spread, and soon I found myself booked one or two months in advance. I realized I could handle 2 clients at a time and still keep my project work to a max of 25-30 hours a week. The rest of the time I kept learning and working to improve my processes and skills. In retrospect it makes sense. Before even trying to market yourself as a service provider, you have to know exactly what you’re selling, what you can and can’t do, and how you do it. Then, explaining it and persuading prospects becomes easier.

I have to be honest, I didn’t have a solid strategy for generating leads though - for the first 6 or 8 months actually. What I focused on at the beginning, was simply doing the best possible work, offering the most value, and truly curating the client experience at every touch point. If there’s one thing I learned in my years spent on UX, is that the user experience is as important (if not more) than the actual product or service when it comes to sales. People need to feel valued.

They want to feel like you care. It’s not enough to sell them and do the work. You have to confirm to them that they made the right decision, ensuring them and guiding them throughout the process. It’s the difference between being an executer (how most freelancers see and present themselves) and a partner, a consultant.

This also means teaching them. That’s why I always make a point of “installing” my methodology in every business I interact with. So they can keep doing what I’ve done for them, iterate, and improve as the market changes.

Only near the end of the first year, I decided that I needed to incorporate and I formed Live Loud Ltd of which Conversion Alchemy is part.

Where I took the name for my company 😊

That’s when I also started thinking about promotion and marketing, first by sharing my expertise and story on podcasts and writing my newsletters.

Because let’s not forget that even when it comes to referrals - you still have to convince them to buy from you.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

I still had an email list from a previous, pretty generic “mindset/advice” newsletter that I started. It was just 50 people. But I grew tired of it and didn’t have time to write it anymore. So I decided to keep that going, but to pivot to writing about my business and learnings. It worked quite well, mostly as a monthly update for peers and friends. I think it kept the word going about me and the interesting things I was working on (which, in turn, kept me in the minds of people who could refer me). But with 2022 looming, as a goal, I wanted to truly focus more on producing rather than consuming.

So I decided to start a daily email newsletter. Because, why not? From Monday to Friday, I would share my thoughts on copywriting, client management, decision-making, psychology, and everything in between. The audience was SaaS and e-commerce founders. I had the idea for it after following email copywriter Ben Settle for a couple of years. His style is truly unique and it’s always captivated me.

My daily newsletter was born

After a while, I realized that maintaining two newsletters, a monthly and a daily, was way too much. I was spreading thin. So I abandoned the monthly newsletter. But I was determined to keep working on the daily Conversion Alchemy Journal. Why?

A big factor that determines what I do and chooses to work on, is learning and practicing.

Trust me, writing a daily newsletter when your only readers are your local friends and your mom, is not super motivating. My motivation was intrinsic though, which is what lasts.

What I mean by that is that like for most things, I was driven by the process of doing the work and getting better at it. Writing daily was and still is like working out. It helps me get my ideas out into the world and to think about them in a deeper, free-flowing way. I would be doing it even if I had no readers. In fact, the way I launched it was:

I tested it myself first.

The only question I wanted to answer at the beginning was: Is this something I can sustain and that makes me better in any way? So I wrote the first 36 emails privately. Nobody read them but me.

To make sure I was gonna stick with it, I gave myself a couple of constraints:

  • Emails needed to be written in under 20 minutes
  • I couldn’t do any research online
  • I couldn’t add any external links apart from one final CTA link to my services
  • I had to try and sell myself in every single email, but only after teaching, entertaining, or making readers reflect.
  • Emails needed to be under 500 words

These forced me to get creative and methodical. Once I saw it was going well and I enjoyed it, I tested them for 2 weeks with a friend, giving each other feedback as he was also writing his own. Then I launched it to the world. That included my previous Substack list and anyone who signed up when I shared it on social media.

Today at its 193rd issue, the newsletter is still going with ~120 subscribers. I haven’t truly done anything to grow it though, which is a big goal for 2023.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Today I keep doing my best work for clients, my custom copywriting project rates have gone up and now a typical ballpark project ranges between $8,000 and $25,000 for ~2 months of work.

My capacity is still at 2, a maximum of 3 clients every 2 months, but I don’t plan on hiring at the moment. I explored the idea for a bit but had a few pains when trying to find a good junior copywriter. I realized I work best by myself so the plan at this stage is to just get better and better, offer more value, and charge accordingly, so I can do more with my time. Potentially also selling more productized services.

The revenue distribution so far has been:

  • 92% custom copywriting projects
  • 5% recurring consulting
  • 2% productized services
  • 1% paid content

Stripe revenue since starting Conversion Alchemy (not including payments to bank account)

At the same time as mentioned in the intro, I started partnering with a UI/UX designer that will take on my copywriting projects from the wireframes to final mockups. I simply charge a fraction of their work and my clients get the full value from one provider, by signing one proposal.

My current project timeline with design phase included

I also find it hugely valuable to constantly keep an eye out for collaborations. Either with other agencies or freelancers. And giving back when I can. I often recommend other copywriters whenever I’m too busy, with no commission and no attachment. I believe in giving others what you wish they’d give you.



Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

After two years working at an agency, I wasn’t used to dealing with clients and having to sell myself. The founder was doing all of that. I was executing. On the one hand, it was great because it allowed me to exponentially get better at my craft, but on the other hand, it hindered my ability to brand myself and get out there. So, a lot of the inner work I had to do in the past year and a half has been to build up my confidence and business skills.

Because let’s not forget that, even when it comes to referrals - you still have to convince them to buy from you.

From simply jumping on prospecting calls and negotiating, to talking about budgets, scope, deliverables, and outcomes. Often to an entire team on the other side. An important promise I made to myself in the first few months, was that if something scared me, I HAD to do it.

Those calls were responsible for cutting rounds of revisions by 90%. If you do the work, when you walk the client through it, provide the necessary context and go over your decisions one by one, there’s not much anyone can say.

It all carried over to my work, too. I started conducting much better and more insightful customer interviews for my clients. I asked better and deeper questions. And it showed in the results. Ultimately this added confidence is a skill I’ll always carry in my personal life too.

Something I could have maybe done differently is to hire a virtual assistant sooner. You can find a very good one affordably on sites like Upwork. At the same time, it all depends on being clear on what you want and need from them. And to be clear on that, you first have to start doing the work yourself. Figure out which gaps need to be filled and then create systems to fill them.

I also spent a lot of time with my brand and website being just my name “Christopher Silvestri”. I wouldn’t recommend it. When you are your business, spreading the word is harder and doesn’t stick in the minds of your prospects. The trigger that made me think about the Conversion Alchemy brand name was actively looking for promotional opportunities (podcasts, guest posts, etc.). It made me realize that I needed one clear and compelling name to define what I was doing. If I had to go back I would likely start with a brand name right away.

Pro tip: build a media-kit page that you can point people to for podcasts, guest posting opportunities, and partnerships.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I try to keep my tech stack to a minimum. And my main advice here is: find multiplatform tools, if on the same ecosystem (i.e. Apple) even better, and rely on long-standing platforms. Too often it happens that a new software tool comes out, you rush to try it out, and after 4-5 months of use, they go out of business.

You then find yourself having to switch your entire system to something else. It happened to me with a calendar booking app because the one I wanted to use was a bit cheaper than Calendly (the top dog) and I regretted it later on when they got acquired and stopped developing it.

Here are my tools of choice and links to each:

My advice for tools in general: try them and when you find the right one, go with an annual plan. When you start having monthly plans for 20+ tools, it can quickly spiral out of control. This also helps you budget better for the business and saves you some money.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Way too many here to mention but I’ll mention three:


Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Giving unsolicited advice is usually not the easiest thing. That’s because I know that every stage is different and you can easily feel overwhelmed or like what I’m saying is irrelevant to where you’re at.

So if I had to cut my advice to just 3 things, I would go with:

1) Be 100% clear about what you want

It might seem pretty straightforward and you’ll hear it a hundred thousand times, but it’s true. Unless you know where you’re headed, you won’t make it work. Have an idea of what you want to achieve, what you want to learn, what type of work you want to do, and the type of people you want to deal with. Then focus and go all in. Adopt a testing mindset: set a specific goal for a shorter amount of time, but be clear on exactly how it will play out and what the next steps will be. If it doesn’t work out, shift focus.

2) Be who you want to be, NOW

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned recently is that confidence and success are not only the byproduct of experience and years of work. They are the result of the person you are, in every moment and in every decision you make. In the beginning, you’ll fail and will have to learn more than after a couple of years, sure, but it’s all contributing to building the person you want to become. So just remind yourself that you can be your future you, right now with every choice you make. You don’t have to wait.

Be the main actor in your own story.

3) Never stop learning

I’m a learning addict, I admit it. If I didn’t have to actually work, I would spend my time reading, listening to, or watching interesting interviews and stories. But learning is also my superpower, especially “just-in-time-learning”. I believe that you don’t have to know everything. But you have to be good at understanding where your weaknesses lie and how to fill in the gaps, just enough so that you can overcome your next challenge.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can find me everywhere and get in touch here.

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!