So the life of words is for you and you want to know how to become a copywriter?
Awww, yeah, bud. BUT.
If I can just be frank with you, this stems from a conversation with my friend Jenna last night.
“Jenna, I don’t get it. How do you stop caring?”
I was talking about copying (as a copywriter … ah, meta ????).
Her answer struck me: “It sucks. It’s hard. It took me forever to learn. But it’s on them … I’m doing me, and if I’m going to dwell on it, then I need to address it. But then, I need to move on. Handle it, forgive, and then just put my head down and do the work.”
I’m the first to say curiously familiar copycatting is to be expected when you’re the first-ish in a relatively untapped market … ask Shay Cochrane, right!? That’s capitalism and it’s AWESOME. But while seeing oh-so-similar packages to mine? At first, it made me shake, made me see red … but then made me realize that’s entrepreneur life. I have to cut the energy, put my head down, and trust that my work speaks for itself, and “there’s more where that came from” in regards to my own creativity.
Four emails from sweet, well-meaning women have popped in my inbox this week: “Hi, Ashlyn! I want to be a copywriter. How do I start?”
With a twinkle in my eye and a lot to say grace over here when it comes to a super-fun year 1 in business ownership, YES, I’d love to help you see if this is the industry for you! ????
Here are a few tips I typically dole out when asked how to become a copywriter … or just a paid writer in general.
(Oh, and don’t miss this freebie download … it’s a guide to finding your rates as a freelance writer–oldie-but-goodie I made for the Rising Tide Society last year!)
Pick your niche.
I ???? writer tribes because I realize how many random niches of Midas-touch-writers actually exist. There are beauty copywriters (BirchBox hires from time to time, heads up! ????), beauty beat journalists/editorial writers, fashion copywriters, pet industry copywriters, SAAS copywriters, financial writers, wedding industry journalists/ed writers, curriculum copywriters, grant writers, speech writers … it goes on and on.
Me? I picked copywriting for the female creative, likely-in-the-wedding-industry/Rising Tide Society set.
‘Cause when I decided to quit my last job and go full-time, I’d also had a wedding calligraphy business for 4 years.
And no one was teaching conversion copywriting in that niche.
I’d taken dozens of wedding orders, knew the market, and helping that niche plumb the depths of better salesmanship? Well, it just fit.
So, pick a niche and study it.
Read Steal Like an Artist if you haven’t.
One of my package processes—the one I teach in Copywriting for Creatives—is a trifecta mishmash of:
- what I learned executing messaging excavations in agency land for clients like Synovus Bank
- what I learned through personal reading & study
- what I learned from writing about 12 websites in my niche
It took about that many times to perfect the process.
My heart hurts for all my photographer friends, because now I see what you’ve been dealing with since the wedding industry boom a few years ago: I’ve seen borderline my same packages posted on other writer’s websites. I know they’re mine, because I made up the process.
Listen. There’s nothing new under the sun.
And as Ray Edwards says, “great copy isn’t written … it’s assembled.”
But steal well, and steal like an artist.
Maybe the most famous copywriter’s most famous headline … so good! Courtesy: The Prophet
Flex your noggin and gather a process from your experience, which means you’ll be pulling things you’ve learned in corporate agency, tested on client campaigns, and more.
Perfect a unique writing process and provide a client experience. Watch the wedding industry — they’re really good at client experience and process.
Learn to be obsessed with numbers.
Writers often quip they’re “words people, not numbers,” but not copywriters.
(I’d say editorial writers can get away with this, and it’s kinda nice!)
Data-driven writing is copy, and if you can’t prove something by an A/B test, OTR, CTR, or any other response … then it’s just beautiful prose.
Technically that’s conversion copywriting — a term coined by Lance Jones and Joanna Wiebe — but I’d say the same holds true for any copy that falls under the marketing umbrella.
If you don’t like numbers, learn to change your tune if you want to be a copywriter … I promise it’s more fun when you can prove what you wrote delivers (or, when you learn to tweak it TO deliver!).
Study the art & science of copywriting.
Work on an agency campaigns in your day job. Take an online course in copywriting. Take an in-person class on copywriting. Read (more on that below).
After drafting email marketing campaigns and web copy for Delta Air Lines for a few years, I realized it was my favorite part of overall marketing strategy … so, the second company I worked for as a publicist paid for digital strategy classes at General Assembly … I must’ve taken upwards of 15.
They were worth it.
I’d say actual industry experience is a better classroom, but they’re still worth it.
I teach a copywriting course geared for—again—the creativepreneur/Rising Tide Society/wedding industry set, but I learn a little bit more from every course I take and every book I read, which brings me to …
Read 3x as much as you write … and write often.
Read John Caples, Gene Schwartz, and David Ogilvy, yes, but read business books, too—after all, you need to look at your work as a business owner.
C.S. Lewis said every 5 books, made one fiction—I try to do that, too.
Mom and dad went to hear Ben Carson speak one time back in 2014, and came home saying he read 30 minutes a day about something he knew nothing about.
So, I try to do that, too.
Click here to read what I’m reading (the meta can’t stop won’t stop, eh?).
Learn to chameleon voice.
Sometimes I get tagged for jobs in Facebook groups a la this: “She’s got a sweet, Southern voice! Perfect for you!!”
That’s great! Thanks (truly!!).
But that’s my voice. And consequently my brand voice.
If I can’t change on a dime and be adroit enough to flip voices, I’m dead in the water as a copywriter
I’ve masqueraded as a 30-year-old workout coach … so. many. creative female entrepreneurs … a 50+ year old restauranteur … and lots in between.
Learn to study voice. Learn to get so good at it, they think they wrote it.
So there you have it! I also wanted to get you a list of some GREAT books & articles to read through, and I’ll keep adding to this over time:
- “How to Run a Sustainable Writing Business”
- “6-Figure Freelancer” by Kelly James-Enger
- The Diva List Article by Joanna Wiebe, one of my faves
I hope that helps get you started as a freelance writer. My top two tips? Go after the gap in the market—like new client Katelyn James told me yesterday, I stumbled into a market where I was the only one doing what I did.
Go do that.
Oh, and think of your writing as a business … not as a freelancer.