Copywriters are the people responsible for coming up with the written content (called copy) for different kinds of marketing material, for example ads, brochures, editorial and, of course, blog posts. More often than not, copywriters are also in charge of developing the idea or concept for marketing campaigns.

How to become a copywriter

It’s a fantastically diverse and exciting career path and, if you’re a very creative person with a passion for writing, copywriting might just be a great fit for you.

Whether or not you make a lot of money as a copywriter depends on a couple of things, for example:

1. The quality of your work

2. Your marketability

3. The quality of your work (it’s the most important determinant)

4. Whether you’re a freelancer or you work for an agency

5. Your fees

6. Who your clients are and how many of them you have

Technically, anyone can become a copywriter. Whether or not you become a good one is an entirely different matter.

I’ve been a full-time copywriter for the past 8 years, and I simply couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. Every new writing job that I’m commissioned for is a new challenge and an opportunity to create truly world-class content.

What, I ask you, could be more exciting?

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in copywriting – whether as a full-time occupation, as a freelancer or just as a hobby – then this post is for you.

Let’s cover the essentials first:

You need to be creative

Copywriting is inherently a creative pursuit. You’ll need to interpret clients’ briefs and put a unique spin on it that will make the client’s target audience want to use her product or service.

How to become a copywriter

Your copy can’t be dull or hackneyed; it needs to be fresh, compelling and different.

You need to have a good command of language

Look, you definitely don’t need an advanced linguistics degree to be a copywriter. But you do need to know the rules of punctuation, grammar, spelling (duh) and sentence construction if you want to make it. An extensive vocabulary definitely helps, so it’s a good idea to do plenty of reading.

You need to be able to write conversationally

Everyone has their own unique “voice” when it comes to writing, and you may frequently need to alter your style to suit whatever target audience you’re writing for.

How to become a copywriter

Most copywriting jobs, however, requires you to write conversationally, i.e. how people talk. Try to keep your sentences and paragraphs short, write in the active voice and avoid unnecessary jargon.

You need to be able to work under pressure and meet tight deadlines

Clients of creative marketers are known for being totally cool and understanding when it comes to delivering content.

Haha no. Not that at all.

If you’ve never had your head screamed clean off your body by an irate client, in the words of Pinhead from the Hellraiser franchise: We have such sights to show you!

Some deadlines will be flexible, others will be cast in stone, but you should always do your best to deliver on time. In fact, try to deliver ahead of time so that there is time to implement changes, which there are bound to be plenty of. That’s just the nature of the beast.

You need to be patient

Some client briefs will be so utterly vague and nebulous that the client might as well not have given you one. In fact, don’t be surprised if they don’t give you one!

Many clients operate under the impression that, because they’re paying you, you should be able to somehow devise a campaign based on “just do whatever you think will work”.

Several hundred changes later, you’ll (hopefully) get the green light.

My point is, it won’t do you any good losing your cool, no matter how frustrated you get. Just go to your happy place, even if that involves imagining your client in all of the Saw movies. Actually, that’s probably not healthy. Maybe just have some camomile tea or something.

Okay, let’s move onto the practical stuff. How does one actually become a copywriter?

A formal qualification isn’t a must, but it helps

I did things ass backwards (not intentionally) and became a copywriter before actually studying for it, and I’m willing to bet that there are countless brilliant copywriters out there without a single qualification to their name.

But a course in copywriting – whether a formal degree or an online short course – will help you get a grip on the essentials and hone your craft.

In addition, if you want to work for an agency, chances are they’ll require you to have at least some sort of qualification confirming that you can actually do the job.

There are plenty of excellent online copywriting courses that you can take part-time and that are typically only a couple of weeks in duration.

Build a copywriting portfolio

This can be a bit tricky, since clients often won’t hire copywriters without demonstrable proof of past work.

But don’t let that deter you. Reach out to companies and ask them whether you can do some work for them pro bono as you are looking to gain knowledge and experience and build your writing portfolio.

You have nothing to lose by asking, and everything to gain.

I also recommend checking out my post on building credibility as a blogger.

Visit job boards and apply for freelance writing jobs

Freelancing is a great way to build your portfolio and earn some cash while you’re at it. Companies and individuals are always looking for reliable talent to handle a variety of writing jobs, from regular blog posts to writing a catchy slogan for a new product range.

Pay varies but, the more experience you have and the better the quality of your work, the higher the fee you can expect to get paid.

Market your services

Getting your name out there and promoting your business are a lot easier (and more affordable) thanks to the advent of social media.

Start by creating a good website or blog, preferably one that showcases some of the work you’ve done. Include a short but descriptive biography (on an About page) that tells users who you are and what you do, and be sure to cater for the following pages as a minimum:

  • Portfolio (only if you’ve done copywriting work in the past)
  • A contact page that makes it easy for prospective clients to get in touch
  • A page listing the services that you offer, for example ad copywriting, web content writing, copy editing, proofreading, etc.

How to become a copywriter

Once the website is taken care of, you can create social media accounts for your copywriting business and start inviting friends to connect with you via these platforms. You can use social media very effectively to post links to your blog, show off samples of your work and engage with your audience in order to drive maximum exposure to your brand.

But remember, as with most things in life, quality is key. Don’t bombard your audience with useless or irrelevant content; give them stuff that they can actually use and that showcases your talents rather than your spamming prowess.

Some examples of value-adding content include:

  • eBooks
  • Infographics
  • Interviews with thought leaders and influencers
  • Tips, cheat sheets, hacks and how-to guides
  • Frequently asked questions

Need some more advice to help you get into the copywriting game? Drop me an email at charlm@forourloveofwriting.com, and I’ll do my best to respond.

Posted by Charl Mijnhardt

Charl Mijnhardt is an established freelance writer with a special interest in wellness and mental health. He is also an experienced technical writer with many years’ experience writing for the security industry. He currently lives in South Africa with his wife, Nastasia, and his cat, Gizmo.

Hire him to write engaging copy for your website, blog, e-book, newsletter or marketing communications.

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