Being a copywriter is a pretty sweet gig if you’re good at it. You can work from wherever you want (even if you’re not freelance), you’ll be constantly learning new things or tackling the subjects you love and your wages will only really be limited by how much you can write/how creative you are.
On the other hand though, if you’re not so good at it then it’s not quite such a good deal. If you struggle to write well or write quickly then you can find this a very demanding job and if you don’t have the ‘voice’ then you’ll struggle to find work.
The key then is to make yourself indispensable. You need to be as good as you can be with the best qualifications, skills and expertise possible to ensure that the work keeps coming and your rates keep going up. But what does that take? Read on for the ultimate guide to becoming an ideal hire for any copywriting agency.
Types of Copywriter
The first thing to realize is precisely what being a copywriter entails. Just to clarify a moment, a copywriter is someone who writes copy for websites, businesses and marketing campaigns. This is different from being a journalist as you won’t be writing editorials and interviews – though with the internet the lines are a little more blurred. Basically, the role of a copywriter is to provide text in pretty much any format for businesses to help them communicate with their clients and staff, to describe their products and services and to fill their websites and marketing materials.
Thus the job of a copywriter is a very varied one and the best copywriters will be flexible or they will be highly specialized and work within a specific niche. Often when copywriting is being discussed, it will be general copywriting that’s getting talked about. This includes freelance copywriting and agency copywriting.
If you’re a freelancer, you’ll basically be looking for all kinds of clients and offering a ‘broad but shallow’ service. Your jobs will vary from day to day and one moment you might be writing something highly technical and the next you might be writing buzzfeed-style articles. This type of writing provides you with the most freedom in terms of your lifestyle but is also very competitive and doesn’t provide the same stable income as working for an organization. A lot of this kind of work these days will be online, so having a good understanding of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) can help.
As an agency copywriter on the other hand, you’ll be working for an agency that will have numerous clients and you’ll then be given out work by that agency. How varied your work is will depend on the nature of the agency and it’s also possible to work for agencies on a freelance style basis. You may be able to work remotely, or find yourself in a busy and exciting office environment.
Ad copywriters meanwhile write for advertising agencies. The role here involves coming up with slogans and catchphrases and requires a lot of creativity. You won’t be paid by the word as you will as a freelancer so instead progress is all about coming up with memorable campaigns and working with big clients.
In-house copywriters finally will be copywriters that are employed by a specific company in pretty much any industry to handle their copywriting needs. In these scenarios, you’ll need to be a great writer but just as important is having a deep knowledge of that industry. Almost every type of company has need of some kind of copywriting from law firms to IT companies. It’s only generally the bigger organizations though that can afford to have their own in-house teams.
What Qualifications do You Need to be a Copywriter?
The reason it was important to go over the various types of copywriter first is that the best qualifications vary greatly depending on the type of copywriter you want to be.
As a general rule, any degree in English literature or journalism is going to be a good start as it demonstrates you should have a good grasp of writing generally. It’s actually possible to do degrees and even masters degrees in copywriting specifically – though in most cases that won’t give you much of an advantage over someone who has a degree in journalism from a well-respected institution.
Really in fact, any degree that involves a good amount of writing and comprehension will still help you to find copywriting jobs. Psychology degrees for instance are great because they involve writing essays, thinking critically and also understanding people (which copywriting incorporates a lot of). Similarly, degrees in history or even something like business could give you an edge.
If you want to be an in-house copywriter and work within a specific industry, then of course it’s a good idea to become well-versed in that subject. A degree in law for instance will be very useful for a copywriter who wants to stay mainly in that field. An ideal scenario would be to do a degree in law and follow that up with a masters in copywriting or journalism for instance. Of course if you want to be an advertising copywriter then you’ll want to get a degree in advertising specifically.
The good thing about copywriting though is that you can do fairly well without qualifications. Becoming a freelance writer – particularly on the web – is all about selling yourself and building a portfolio of clients. As long as you can show examples of your writing and you’re willing to work yourself from the bottom up, you can gain experience without needing a degree to begin with.
Of course if you can’t write though, then you’ll probably want to do some kind of course at least to help you polish up your skills. Before you start out, you should have a solid grasp of grammar, as well as how to structure a sentence and arrange an article. Online courses can help in this but generally courses you can attend in person are better as you’ll have someone present to check over your work.
And what if you want to work for a copywriting/advertising agency and you don’t have a degree? Unfortunately, many such positions will require a degree in order for you to send an application. In that case the best thing you can do is to try and work for the company a little lower on the ladder and then to rise through the ranks by putting in extra time and taking on any advancement opportunities as they come up.
Experience and Additional Skills
More important than your degree really is the experience you can get. If you can add some well-known clients/internships to your CV then this will actually take you much further when you’re looking for a job.
In terms of the type of experience you gain, the closer the roles you take on are to the job you eventually want the better they will be. Often the best way to gain experience as a copywriter is to work for free, so try volunteering at copywriting agencies, at advertising companies or even at magazines.
As mentioned, it’s also useful to demonstrate SEO knowledge if you want to be a digital copywriter predominantly. Even if you want to work in an offices, copywriting is revolving more and more around the web every day. A good understanding of technology, of SEO, of social media marketing and even of HTML, web design and WordPress can help you to go much further. If you understand a little about HTML and web design then you’ll be able to offer to write copy for a company and then upload it for them, while SEO knowledge will mean you can optimize that content for them. This will give you a huge advantage over someone who only knows about writing.
As with any job, the secret to success is about understanding what it is that your employers want from you. They want you to write yes but why? What is it that they want to accomplish by hiring you? And what skills, qualifications and experience can you gather to help them do that?
What Does it Take to be a Great Copywriter?
Now you know what type of copywriter you want to be and you should have an idea of how to go about getting there. But what does it take to really succeed and to be great at your job?
While courses, degrees and experience can help you to land a good job, how do you make sure you excel at what you do? To an extent, some of being a great writer is natural – some people have a ‘knack’ for writing and a great voice that makes their content easy to read and that’s very hard to learn. Assuming you’re already starting out as a good writer though, here’s what else you should do:
One thing you can do to get better at writing is to read regularly. The more you read, the more you’ll get the hang of how words should flow from one another. You’ll pick-up good grammar habits and improve your vocabulary too almost through osmosis.
And don’t just read comics – read around the subjects that you’re writing regularly and the topics that affect your industry. That means reading about law/health/engineering when the situation calls for it, as well as staying up-to-date with the latest news about Google’s algorithm updates and social media sites.
Take Pride in All Your Work
Sometimes as a copywriter you’ll be given a job you love – perhaps writing about a subject you find fascinating. Other times though, you’ll be asked to do things you’re not so keen on like selling a product that you think is sub-par. The key here is to remain professional and to give every project your best shot. Even if the topic is incredibly bland you can still be creative and you can still make your writing pop. Remember too that varied work is good for your CV and for improving your range of skills.
This is particularly important if you are going to be a freelancer – a lot of clients will need their work fast and if you can provide a good TAT (Turn Around Time) then you’ll have an edge over the competition. Working fast also means you can increase your turnover thus earning more profit without having to price yourself less competitively.
Listen to Feedback
It’s easy to be defensive of your work as a writer but this is ultimately going to put you at a disadvantage. When you get feedback from a client listen to it and take it on-board. See every criticism as a chance to improve your craft so that you make a better impression on your next job.
The more you practice the better you’ll get. Over time writers get faster and more efficient so don’t worry if you’re not amazing to start with. Just keep practicing, give it time and have the will to put in the groundwork.