Astronaut. Firefighter. Catwalk model.
There’s a chance ‘copywriter’ didn’t make it on to your list of ideal careers at school (unless you’re us – but then, we’re very sad people).
The good news is, it’s never too late to see the error of your ways. The even better news? You might already be more of a copywriter than you realise.
You use words, don’t you? And you have hopes, dreams and desires, which in everyday life you try to fulfil by expressing yourself winningly? Sure you do. You’re halfway there.
Perchance we oversimplify. Copywriting is a competitive market, after all. But given that it’s such a creative and flexible way to make a living, why wouldn’t it be?
If you have your heart set on copywriting glory, you can follow our seven-point guide – we call it the CUNNING approach – to becoming a professional, paid communicator.
And should you want to give us a cut of any money you make from your dazzling new career (ten per cent should cover it), that would be absolutely fine…
C: choose what sort of copywriter you’d like to be
There are copywriters and THEN there are copywriters. There are copywriters who write about technology, copywriters who write about finance, and copywriters who write about parking bollards and beer can widgets.
And then there are copywriters who write about all the above and more.
In short, if you’d like to be a copywriter, first consider whether you’d like to be a specialist or a generalist.
If you have a particular niche knowledge area (say, fashion, food or fly-fishing) you might want to focus purely on that, and become one of the go-to voices in your particular field.
On the upside, a specialist can often command higher fees because your knowledge is rarer. The downside? Work can be scarce if you narrow your options too much.
A generalist might not attract such high rates, but your versatility means a comparative torrent of opportunities – if you have the nous to sniff them out.
Next, figure out whether you’d prefer to be a full time, paid-up staffer, or a footloose and fancy free freelancer. Being an employee will guarantee a steady income plus fringe benefits such as pensions and sick pay.
But being a freelancer, while sounding riskier, means the sky’s the limit. You can earn as much as your talents and time allow. Plus you can work from your kitchen table while eating buttery crumpets, and who doesn’t like buttery crumpets?
U: Understand exactly what a copywriter does
We all love a good sound bite. So here’s one. Copywriting is ‘writing to sell’.
Admittedly there’s rather more to it than that, because the roles of a copywriter are as numerous as sandwich fillings.
Here’s just a few (types of copywriting, not sandwich fillings):
- B2B: selling the virtues of one business to another.
- B2C: appealing directly to customers through printed or social media.
- Blogging: writing useful and readable thought pieces (like this one).
- Technical writing: transforming impenetrable jargon into digestible chunks of plain English.
- Ad copywriting: promoting a product or service via powerful slogans and calls-to-action.
- Bid writing: helping companies’ win new contracts by penning bulletproof proposals on their behalf.
- Online marketing: boosting a company’s web profile using SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) to please the Google gods.
And frankly, that’s just scratching the surface. Check out this piece I wrote about different makes and models of copywriter, and see what tickles your fancy.
N: Nail the right qualifications
There’s no one true path to copywriting greatness. A background in maths or engineering, for instance, could set you up nicely as a specialist writer in those fields. Still, copywriters invariably indulge their wordy fetishes with degrees in English, journalism, communications or marketing.
If you’re stuck for study inspiration, why not survey UK marketing courses using a site such as this one? It rates courses based on accreditation, entry requirements, student satisfaction scores and graduates wage levels.
But – and don’t say we didn’t warn you – a qualification alone is no passport to riches. Far better if you can demonstrate your skills by netting yourself a pulsating portfolio.
Speaking of which…
N: Net yourself a pulsating portfolio
Make no mistake. To win work, you need to show that you can waltz words around the page like a Strictly showstopper. Words must be to you what cakes are to Mr. Kipling: something into which you can sink your teeth and derive sweet succour.
Whether or not you’re boasting qualifications, there comes a time to prove you’ve got what it takes to deliver the goods.
One teeny problem. Without a portfolio, how to get those first commissions? And without commissions, how to get that portfolio?
Well, if you’re sufficiently determined, you can hit the ground running.
- The internet has democratised writing. So, start your own blog. It might have a particular angle (travel, relationships, your passion for hot air ballooning) or it might be general lifestyle ruminations.
- See if you can snare some work experience in a marketing department, or with a copywriting agency. Sure, this is free labour, but portfolio pieces are invaluable, no?
- Be proactive. Write to companies directly with your ideas. Receive a poorly written letter, leaflet or email from a business? Excellent! Write back and show them how a copywriter could help.
- Consider bidding for quickie copywriting projects via one of several ‘content marketplaces’. Beware, rates of pay are dispiriting – although the experience might help lure future clients.
Log and stockpile everything you get printed, published or otherwise used. Your portfolio is your passport to bigger paying work.
I: Investigate your industry
Want to get better, faster? Doesn’t everyone!
The quickest way is to read some ingenious copywriting books by those working at the sharp end. There are oodles to choose from, but here’s a handful which bring something extra to the table.
- The Adweek Copywriting Handbook, by Joseph Sugarman – an oldie but goldie written by an industry veteran.
- Made to Stick, by Chip & Dan Heath – the science behind creating catchy ideas.
- Copywriting: Successful Writing for Design, Advertising and Marketing, by Mark Shaw – brilliant insights bolstered by plentiful case studies and interviews.
- The Copywriter’s Handbook: A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Copy That Sells, by Bob Bly – top tips on converting cynics into customers.
- Write to Sell, by Andy Maslen – a masterclass in the art of persuasive writing.
Next, put on your business head.
If you’re freelancing, calculate your preferred daily rate. In reality, this will depend both on your experience and how successful you are at winning projects.
Some people like to pitch themselves as part of a ‘full package’ handling words and images alike. If this is you, consider teaming up with a designer who shares your vision.
Finally, remember that work is unlikely to come looking for you, so you’re going to have to get busy on the emails.
Make sure your CV is up to scratch and if you have a testimonial or two, all the better. Modesty isn’t your friend…
N: Nurture those contacts
‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,’ goes the cliché.
And fortunately, it’s a pile of tosh.
Because even if your uncle doesn’t happen to be the CEO of a global marketing agency, we can all get to know people.
Firstly – advertise yourself. If you can’t promote your own services, how can you hope to sell anything else? Tell people what you’re doing.
Start with social media. Spread the word among friends, and ask them to spread the word to their friends. Although it’s an ever-shifting landscape, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn remain the granddaddies of web platforms. Have a presence – be visible, be vocal. Write.
And although it’s not a prerequisite, consider having your own website. Using a template package such as these will reduce the headache massively.
G: grow your reputation
And now, forget all of the above.
See, you might have guessed already, but the real work starts once you’ve made your contacts and started producing work.
Because you’re going to have to be good.
Every word a wowser, every sentence a stonker, every page a pearly gem.
There are enough wannabe copywriters around that a single half-hearted piece is all it takes for your phone to fall eerily silent.
- Read and fully digest your briefs (so to speak).
- Proofread your work until your eyeballs beg for salty mercy.
- Don’t just hit deadlines – get your work in early so you have time to handle any revisions.
Be useful. Be good value. Be flexible. Be nice. Copywriters are numerous, great copywriters are rarer than resplendent quetzals. Be a quetzal and your career will take care of itself.
That’s our opinion, but what about you? Think our guide is foolproof or full of hot air? There’s more than one way to skin a cat (note, we don’t actually skin cats here) so do share your own experiences below. Go on, you know you want to…
Hugs etc for now,