It’s one of the questions I get asked ALL.THE.TIME: “Ashlyn, how do I become a copywriter.” And, while there’s no one process on how to be a copywriter, there are some principles I’ve found that certainly help you carve out your own successes—after honing your actual skills as a writer, that is.
Whether you already have your own copywriting business or just want to figure out how to get paid as a writer and set it up with a steady stream of clients and fair, industry-standard pricing, that’s what I’m going to get into today step by step. I’ll dive into some behind the scenes, of my own business.
I’ve built a half-million dollar copywriting business and brought in more than 7 figures in revenue using these strategies, and I’m going to use myself as a bit of a case study. Now whether you’re already a paid and working writer, or if you’ve never gotten a dime in your life for writing marketing copy, my heart hear is that these tips serve you. So we’re going to dive into the actual, tactical steps you need to take in order to guarantee business as a paid copywriter.
(Sidebar … in case you’re a young-gun reading this and wondering what you should study to become a copywriter, I have a Bachelors of Science in Journalism from Samford, and the other writer on my team has the same degree from the University of Florida. So degrees in English, communications, journalism, etc, are all a great place to start, but if you don’t have one of those degrees—a love affair with reading well-written words, second to a mastery of things like grammar, syntax and vocabulary, will get you a long way.)
Alright, now step away from the freelancer mills and marketplaces—here we go.
Step Number 1: Niche down, and then niche again.
We’re going to start right at the beginning of my business. I can remember exactly where I was—turning onto Piedmont Street in Atlanta—when I was listening to a business podcast, and the speaker said the most successful businesses work with very specific clients. Now, I gave him a little mental pat-pat on the head and thought to myself, that’s cute, but I’m doing pretty good writing for anyone and everyone who’ll cut me a check.
TL:DR—he was right: the more I niched down, the more my business grew.
Nowadays, niching down is the first thing I tell students in my courses and clients who hire me for strategy … and now, YOU.
I recently asked on my Instagram story for writers raise their hands and tell me who they were so I could build a list of people to recommend to clients who inquire about services I don’t provide. I can’t tell you how vague some of the responses were! Bud, if you’re telling me you write content and sales copy and website copy and emails and you’re pretty much serving three or more different industries—that’s not serving you.
Instead, the responses that got me really excited? The ones I can actually use to recommend out? They were specific.
I was all emoji-heart-eyes over messages that read like:
“I write blogs and submissions for wedding photographers,”
“social media copy for beauty brands”
“Amazon listings and Amazon brand content.”
True life: those are 3 writers who actually responded to my post. (Shoutout to my ladies if you’re reading this.)
So how can you be the go-to guy or girl to solve a specific problem?
Like so many things in life, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Just because we could write #allthethings doesn’t mean we should.
When it comes to types of copywriters and entrepreneurship in general, I truly believe you’ll get much further by being a specialist, not a generalist.
I recommend creating a horizontal niche first: decide what type of copy you want to write that reaches a wide array of individuals, regardless of industry.
There are SO many types of copywriting and writing needs: Do you want to work in direct mail? Print copy? Website copy? Ad copy? Email copy? Brand messaging? Blog content copy or online article writing? White paper copy? Social media caption copy? Video script copywriting? Quizzes or other lead gen copy? Ghostwriting for books? SEO copywriting, Do you want to move into editing, or public relations writing where you focus on writing for press and pitches?
Again, to use my business as an example, we focus on a few specific things: I’m JUST interested in conversion copy—brand messaging, website copy, email copy, and launch copy needs (ads, funnels, sales pages, landing pages). There are a lot of things I don’t write: no content marketing pieces, no script writing, and I never touch social media copy—aside from ads for launches.
After you pick a horizontal niche, choose a vertical niche, serving a specific audience and their set of needs.
This is where I see a lot of copywriters and entrepreneurs resist niching down. I’ll concede, you don’t have to do this to be successful, I’m just telling you pretty much what I say when people ask how I grew so fast. Become the go-to girl for a specific group of people. (My Day 1 for this biz was in 2016.)
For example, I picked creative entrepreneurs (which typically includes creative types like artists, photographers, designers, makers, wedding pros, visually-obsessed small business owners). I always say come on in … these are my kinda people.
Though my professional background is in agency and corporate marketing for industries like airline, banking, and restaurants, I did wedding calligraphy on the side for years for fun. I knew what it was like to book and work with brides. I knew what it was like to create art and try to sell it. I know what it’s like to have to sell the pretty and market in a visually-driven marketplace. So when it came to niching, I knew that market well.
Find the “you-sized” hole in the market, and go fill it.
Be okay with not working for everyone. I know it’s hard, I’ve resisted niching, too—I didn’t even want to say I write launch copy, because I felt that was too specific! And, yes, I did fear that the market would run dry if I niched down too far. Guess what, it hasn’t yet.
Bonus tip—niching down helps your ideal client find you when they search on Google—if someone looks up a specific writing need they have, they’re more likely to land on your website if you are more specific.
If people who don’t label themselves as a creative want to come in and learn from me, I’m all for it.
But I focus on creatives in my marketing, from a visual and strategic standpoint. I don’t worry so much about Linkedin, because that’s not where my target market is. I know my audience is on platforms like Pinterest and Instagram, so I know to hang out there.
You want to make sure that when people land on your website they know exactly who you write for and who you don’t. Take a dose of your own medicine—as a marketing writer, this is the kind of stuff you know is true, flip that around and shine the mirror on yourself. Are you being clear about what you write?
Step Number 2: Don’t call yourself a freelancer.
The minute I quit looking at myself as a freelance writer and more as a business owner, I became more profitable. Period.
There are SO many writing mills out there primed-and-ready for freelancers to grab jobs they wouldn’t have otherwise found, but pricing in a marketplace platform becomes arbitrary, and you’re unable to explain the value you bring to the table.
This is a mindset thing. When you see yourself as a business owner, you step into a greater responsibility of things you need to be handling—things like client experience, budget overhead and expenses, marketing and client acquisition or prospecting, managing your time, building a brand.
Packaging and pricing your services is a heckuvalot easier here if you master this mindset shift, too. Putting together packages to service clients—written from a place of what I offer, instead of what they need—was an easier way to bundle and explain the value of all the research I put into my writing services.
Investing in a CRM is KEY here, and I’ve turned to HoneyBook since year one in business. If you’re interested in learning how to craft a perfect proposal, head over there. (Plus, I’ve got a handful of tutorials on my Youtube channel for how I use Honeybook in my business.)
As you’re doing this, I wanted to show you a cool tool that helped me get a base level of work as a writer while I was building up this brand, and that’s Skyword. In this week’s Youtube video, I show you the site on my screen, but I used it to source jobs that fit my wheelhouse and build up my portfolio to ensure I had enough cash flow in those early days.
If you’re wondering about how to build out your working style, you’ll start figuring that out as you continue to serve clients and build out a process. Which brings me to …
Step Number 3: Build a Curriculum
When you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve got to be self-educating.
What does that mean? Welp, there’s no textbook or predetermined curriculum on all this stuff! Instead, you’re gonna find yourself using a mix of direct practice combined with working through a list of recommended books or a specific educational resources.
A few easy tips here? Pick a goal, estimate time required, select your materials, set deadlines, and get to it. Adjust during the weeks as to how you’re doing. (You can set your schedule either top down or bottom up—top down means scheduling a time each week until you get through the educational content, bottom up means setting a deadline for yourself, and then fitting in the material as you work to meet your deadline.)
When it comes to selecting materials, I’ve found that though you DO need a mix of digital and online courses, it’s books that are a better rival to any online education out there. So I’d recommend starting there.
If your heart doesn’t race reading about the basics of direct response or sales, then maybe copywriting specifically isn’t the right writing business for you. There are so many types! (Pssst. One of my favorite books I recommend for anyone that has ever emailed me about starting a writing business is this one!)
It can be a little tough to set a benchmark here for learning copywriting skills, so try to get as specific as possible with a concrete level of action. My friend Justin wrote 100 headlines a day for 100 days, there are also writing challenges out there—National Novel Writing Month comes to mind.
I also love The Copywriter Club’s killer resources—Kira and Rob are my copy big sis and copy dad! They are the best, and boy, I sorta wish they’d been around when I was first starting out, because their insight would’ve been so helpful.
Speaking of helpful, before you run off and start niching down for your biz—and deleting your freelancer accounts—I have a free checklist that explains 28 email templates you need to have for your small business, and it includes a list of templates you need to have ready to operate like a professional writing business. Grab that at the link below, and let’s roll!