In this article, I explain how to become a copywriter and why it's a great career choice.
A copywriter is a great way of earning money from writing. Junior copywriters can earn $400000 to 50000 per year, senior copywriters can earn over $70000 per year, and top-tier copywriters can earn over six-figures per year. A few copywriters, who take a cut of high-performing sales pages, earn even more.
After abandoning journalism, I worked as a freelance copywriter, agency copywriter, and in-house copywriter in the technology industry for over ten years.
In this article, I'll explain how to become a copywriter.
(If you're new to this discipline, this article explains what does a copywriter do).
- 1. Take on Few Clients at A Discount
- 2. Pick a Niche
- 3. Build a Swipe File
- 4. Read Great Copywriting Books
- 5. Take a Copywriting Course
- 6. Work for Agency
- 7. Work as an In-house Copywriter
- 8. Set Up A Copywriting Website
- 9. Hone Your Writing Skills
- 10. Study Grammar
- 11. Learn the Basics of SEO and A/B Testing
- Become a Copywriter: The Final Word
- How To Become a Copywriter: An Interview With Henneke
1. Take on Few Clients at A Discount
A copywriting portfolio is a great way of attracting jobs from high-paying clients. If you're an aspiring copywriter without a portfolio, you don't necessarily have to write for free.
Instead, find some potential clients online who have badly written copy on their website.
Critique this copy and send over suggestions or a writing sample. Propose fixing these issues for a modest fee and a testimonial. Even if they don't reply, this process will help you study the market and get over what most writers fear: rejection.
2. Pick a Niche
If you're starting out as a freelance copywriter, pitch for copywriting jobs across industries so you can gain more experience. This approach will help you figure out your strengths and weaknesses.
It's a good idea to work towards becoming a specific type of copywriter over time. Examples include:
- An E-commerce copywriter
- An email copywriter
- A sales page copywriter
- A direct mail copywriter
Senior and highly-paid copywriters also focus on one industry or niche. This way, they only have to keep up with trends within one industry rather than many. And they can acquire referrals more easily. Examples of profitable niches include:
- B2B technology
- Personal development
3. Build a Swipe File
Effective copywriters study what works. They save clippings of great copy into a swipe file and refer proven copywriting formulae often. In other words, they don't write a sales page or product description from scratch teach time.
Create your swipe file using tools like Evernote, Dropbox, Google Sheets or a dedicated email account. Add items like:
- Sales letters and pages you like that convert
- Effective product descriptions
- Email funnels and sequences
- Hero banners and headlines
- Direct email
Your chosen industry and format determines what goes into this swipe file. When I was working as a copywriter, I regularly saved sales pages, product descriptions, and popular headline formats from my clients' competitors.
4. Read Great Copywriting Books
Copywriting isn't as widely taught as some other types of writing, like literary fiction. You can still learn from top-tier copywriters by reading and applying lessons from the best copywriting books. These books, often contain popular copywriting formulae and advice for novices.
If you're a new copywriter, start with Everybody Writes by Ann Handley. The Ultimate Sales Letter by Dan Kennedy is another good choice.
5. Take a Copywriting Course
If you still want to take an online writing course, the American Writer and Artist's Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting is a good choice. The course includes several interactive ebooks (in the form of PDFS)s, interviews and short audio and video lessons.
It covers everything from finding clients and determining what rates to charge. The course places a heavy emphasis on long-form sales letters, although lessons apply to other formats too.
6. Work for Agency
Content agencies regularly employ content writers to produce articles, ebooks and guides for their clients. Although these jobs don't pay that well and involve long hours, they're a great way of gaining experience rapidly.
Working with an agency also means you'll spend a lot of time in the company of other writers and an editor of some sorts. Feedback from these people will improve your copywriting skills rapidly.
7. Work as an In-house Copywriter
After gaining a few years of experience or enough testimonials, consider applying for a copywriting job in-house at a bigger company. It'll pay more and offer some job security. You'll also get the chance to work with other professionals like an art director or a product marketer.
These vacancies usually appear traditional writing jobs websites as well as on services like Flexjobs.
Employers sometimes give these roles different terms like content strategist or content writer. Although by now, you probably have enough skills to do both.
8. Set Up A Copywriting Website
Setting up a website is relatively easy these days. Add your website to Google My Business and explain clearly on the homepage what services you offer. Provide potential clients with a way of contacting you.
That way, you're more likely to attract enquiries from interested local businesses. When you acquire testimonials, add them to your site too.
If you have the time and inclination, you could also go one step further and write SEO-optimised articles related to copywriter and publish case studies about your work. This type of content should perform well on social media too, increasing your website traffic and
Consider your personal branding too. Do you talk about copywriting consistently across your social media channels of choice. Is your headshot clear and professional?
9. Hone Your Writing Skills
A copywriter is always striving to improve their ability to communicate the benefits of a product or service through the written word.
Alongside great writing books, read popular psychology books so you can master the art of persuasive writing. Start with Influence by Robert Caldini and Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath.
10. Study Grammar
A good writer studies the fundamentals of grammar by reading grammar books. That way, they gain a better understanding of when to follow or break a grammar rule.
If you're pitching clients, check any applications, tests and pieces for grammar errors and typos. I'd recommend using a good grammar checker as well as tools like Hemingway Editor.
11. Learn the Basics of SEO and A/B Testing
More highly paid copywriters understand Google Analytics and how to run effective A/B tests on their copy and on behalf of clients. These are technical skills outside of the written word, but worth acquiring if you intent to write copy online. CXL offers a number of recommended courses in Google Analytics and SEO.
They're also comfortable working with other professionals in different disciplines like design and SEO. Even if you're not a designer, it's still important to be able to speak the language of design as it complements effective copy.
Become a Copywriter: The Final Word
A copywriter is a financially rewarding job. It's a good career choice from any writer who wants to earn a living from the written word and is comfortable using their skills to sell products and services for clients. Thanks to the internet, copywriters can choose from a plethora of opportunities.
How To Become a Copywriter: An Interview With Henneke
Henneke Duistermaat is a copywriter, author and coach.
She has written for top blogs like Copyblogger and KISSMetrics and also published the popular book Blog to Win Business: How To Enchant Readers and Win Clients.
In this interview, Henneke explains how you can become a copywriter, what makes compelling copy and what her life and writing routine is like.
Finally, Henneke recommends a number of books that can help you get started on your journey to becoming a copywriter.
Q. How did you become a copywriter?
I just stumbled into copywriting by accident. My background is in marketing. That is a good background to have.
When I talk to clients, they think they have a copywriting problem but the problem is usually with their marketing.
They don’t really know who their customer is or what value they offer their customer. [Marketing] is a really good ground to understanding what customers want, to asking the right questions and to getting information from clients.
Q. How is copywriting different from other types of writing like journalism?
I copywrite mainly for webpages.
It is quite different because journalistic writing means people will still spend time reading articles. While writing for a website, you have to be much quicker to get your message across.
You have to really work hard to simplify your message and make it as concise as possible to when people arrive. They have to get the information as quick as possible.
Q. Have you had any mentors?
I started studying copywriting when I took Jon Morrow’s guest blogging course. He recommended a few books, and that’s where I got started.
Copyblogger was another main source of information for me. I’ve been very much self educated by reading copywriting books and by studying copywriting.
I also looked at sites like Apple and tried to figure out how they are writing, and studying the theory in the books helped me worked out what they are saying.
Q. Where do you go for advice?
If I am stuck, I ask for advice in Authority.
I’ve not often been stuck though. I’m a very structured person and through my background in marketing and sales, I have understood how to sell something. It is just a matter of putting that into words.
Q. What is a typical copywriting project like?
I have always used a structured process when writing. First I try to understand who I am writing for, by researching online and by asking customers what they want.
Then, the next stage is researching the features and the benefits and understanding what is the most important feature for the customer. And when I read transcripts or surveys or even reviews online, I try to see what people talk about most.
Then, I distill this information into a key message (a value proposition) and decide for each page what is the action people should take and what is required to take that action.
Q. How long does a copywriting project take you?
It usually takes between four and six weeks.
That is not full time. If I have a six week project, the first couple of weeks would be research and then writing the pages.
I usually write a couple of pages at the time and then gain feedback from the customer. Depending on the size of the website, I work in batches. I always stipulate in my contract that there is one round of editing max.
People have to be really clear to me about what’s wrong and what is right. Then I make some final edits and that’s it.
Sometimes I need to do some more research for an About page. We might talk more about the history of the company or I will talk directly to different employees that needed to be featured on that page.
I like to get a sense of personality. If you have a team it’s nice to talk to everyone. I like to let their personality shine through.
Q. What tools do you use to write?
I have a PC. I try to show in a Word document the hierarchy of the content I am writing. I will make the fonts bigger for headlines and subheads. If possible, I will match the colours and fonts [to the site I’m writing for].
There is a little Chrome extension which is called the WhatFont. If you use that, you can hover the text on any webpage and see what font they use.
It is quite basic but it gives the client a better impression. If there is a ‘How To’ section with three different steps, I would create boxes so I will have a feel for how [this page] will look.
Q. What is your writing routine like?
It varies for me but I like to batches. That is why I like to do projects over several weeks. I edit my drafts myself twice. I leave it for 24 hours. Then, I edit it again. Then, I leave it for another 24 hours. I also get somebody to proofread it before I send it to the client.
Q. What advice would you give someone who wants to become a copywriter?
The best advice I can give is to sneak into the head of your reader and really try to understand what they are looking for.
The basis of good writing is empathy.
Q. What is the worst advice you have heard about copywriting?
There are people who say you have to write fast. I think there is an alternative. I am not a fast writer at all. You can also be a slow writer and focus on quality. I don’t think speed is always the way.
Q. What productivity tips can you offer writers?
Just block some time in your calendar. It can be 30 minutes first thing or it can be every Friday afternoon. It really depends on your day and what’s on your to do list.
Some people can write a blog post a week just by spending half an hour first thing every morning writing a headline, the first draft and the second draft.
A lot of people find it easier to be focused for a few hours. If it is a priority, you have to put it in your calendar or you diary. If you don’t block the time, it won’t happen.
Q. How did you get your first clients?
I got all my first clients through guest posting.
I looked for popular blogs that were read by small business owners and business people. I wrote blog posts for them about copywriting. KISSmetrics and Copyblogger were the best for me in terms of referring clients. I still guest post about once a month, but not like before when I would write two or three guest posts per month.
Copywriting Books Recommend by Henneke
Human behaviour and persuasion
Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
Contagious by Jonah Berger
Influence. The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
Brainfluence by Roger Dooley
Switch by Chip and Dan Heath
To Sell is Human by Daniel H. Pink
Drive. The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
Writing and communication
Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples
Wired for Story by Lisa Cron
Resonate by Nancy Duarte
How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey
Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath
Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
The Art of Explanation by Lee Lefever
The Accidental Genius by Mark Levy
On Writing by Stephen King
The Adweek Copywriting Handbook by Joseph Sugarman
Ca$hvertising by Drew Eric Whitman
Content Rules by CC Chapman and Ann Handley
Permission Marketing by Seth Godin
Purple Cow by Seth Godin
How the World Sees You by Sally Hogshead
Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug
The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott
The Tall Lady With the Iceberg by Anne Miller
You can find Henneke at Enchanting Marketing.
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