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How to become a copywriter

So you’re thinking of becoming a copywriter. You might be a recent graduate looking to begin your career, or you’ve worked in other jobs and have decided it’s time for a change. Perhaps the recent pandemic has opened your eyes to the benefits of working remotely and you’re wondering how to become a copywriter online.

Whatever your circumstances, breaking into any industry can be a challenge, especially during such a volatile time for employment and the economy. If you succeed, however, copywriting can be extremely rewarding work. Here are our top tips for getting started on your path to become a copywriter.

How to become a copywriter

Education

Back of a graduate wearing a cape & mortarboard

Many people ask: do you need a degree to become a copywriter? Education is never a bad thing, but while a degree is advantageous, it is not strictly necessary.

Relevant subject areas include journalism, English, communications and marketing. These will teach you some of the important skills such as good grammar, conducting research and meeting deadlines. There are also offline and online courses to become a copywriter, giving you a qualification to show you have an awareness of the industry and its techniques.

However, if you have an aptitude for writing and can prove your ability, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve studied or not. Most employers will be far more concerned with your experience and attitude than your education.

Experience

We also get asked: Do I need writing experience to become a copywriter? Truth be told, we all have to start somewhere, and some form of writing experience is essential for securing any type of copywriting role. The first thing you should do is start a blog covering an area that is of interest to you, for example fashion or music.

To get some more hands-on experience, local marketing or PR agencies will usually welcome the opportunity to take on apprentices. If you haven’t managed to get anything published, you can always do some speculative copywriting. Choose a product (real or imaginary) and invent a strapline and some compelling product copy.

Portfolio

To get any copywriting work you will need a portfolio of your best writing. Note that this should be copywriting experience specifically, not a news piece you did for your local paper, so this is where speculative writing can come in handy.

There are plenty of copywriting portfolio examples you can use for inspiration, but you can follow our portfolio tutorial here if you’re unsure how to start.

You should always be adding to and adapting your portfolio as you gain more experience, and what you include should be tailored to the job you’re applying for.

Web presence

Overhead shot of a man planning with laptop & phone

An absolute must-have for any copywriter is having your own website. This should be professional, specific to your copywriting work, and not linked to your personal web presence in any way.

Similarly, you should have completely separate social media for your professional work (and make sure your personal accounts are completely private if there’s anything on there you wouldn’t want a potential employer to see!).

LinkedIn and Facebook profiles are always professionally useful, and you can use any social media to link back to your website.

Getting work

Now for the hard part. You’ve got the skills, you’ve done the preparation – now you want to get the work. If you’ve not been lucky enough to walk into a copywriting job after completing an internship, this can seem a daunting process.

The most obvious route to having a career in copywriting is to become a staff writer for an ad or marketing agency, or for an in-house corporate creative department. This is where the above advice comes in handy – if you can confidently sell yourself, while providing solid examples of good work and a comprehensive internet presence, you’re in with a good shot. The rest is down to circumstances and luck.

Unfortunately, the stars are not always aligned in our favour, and no matter how talented or well prepared we are, getting that first staff job can be nigh on impossible. The Balance recommends:

Don’t be afraid to work outside of your job goal. Get hired, and then learn everything you can. If you’re unable to move up within that particular agency, you can still use the experience to get a job somewhere else.

Think outside the box too. In 2021, the writing opportunities are endless and not limited to ad agencies. Private medical clinics, radio stations, startups, e-commerce ventures, arts venues, gyms, hotels and more all need copy – especially with the momentous move to online that happened during the pandemic – so keep an eye out for content, digital or marketing roles in these industries.

Of course, if you’re keen to just get started or want to control the kind of work you take on, there is another option…

Going freelance

Man sat at desk typing

There are many reasons for going freelance as a copywriter, it might be because you’re unable to secure a full-time position or that you just prefer the freedom and flexibility of working on your own terms.

Successful freelance copywriters build a base of clients through hard work and determination. Start by looking for small local businesses in your area, price your services competitively, perhaps even offering a sample page or blog post for free. Deliver your work on time and to a great standard to retain customers and generate great reviews. View every new acquaintance as a potential contact; you never know where you might find an opportunity.

As well as the advice above, the internet is a major avenue for finding freelance work. Optimise your own website with SEO and online marketing such as paid search ads to find leads. To boost your income, you can take advantage of freelance content sites such as Copify, which can also help you gain vital experience in different niches.

If you’re just starting out, it might make more financial sense to have another job while you build up your network and portfolio. When you do take on freelance work, be sure to agree on a brief and payment terms before you begin a project. It’s also standard practice for freelancers to ask for 50% of your fee upfront and 50% on completion.

Perseverance

So, is it hard to become a copywriter? Well, as the old saying goes, nothing that is worth having is acquired without effort. You’re unlikely to have success right away, and if you’ve been rejected it can be hard to pick yourself up again. But don’t be put off!

If you can prove yourself to be determined and tenacious then you’ll be putting yourself on the path of that perfect opportunity. Whether it’s applying for that in-house position, or finding clients to do freelance writing for, once you do get the ball rolling you’ll be well on your way to a fulfilling career!

Image credits

Main image: Photo by Paige Cody on Unsplash

Embedded: MD Duran, William Iven, Tyler Franta 

Wendy Woodhead

Wendy is the Account Director at Copify and a qualified copywriter and proofreader. She has spent six years copy editing and copywriting for B2B and B2C clients and has experience in freelance and in-house arts marketing and digital content creation. Wendy likes to write about language and literature, digital marketing, history, current affairs, and arts and culture. In her spare time she enjoys yoga, reading and writing fiction.

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