Who am I?

Before we get going, let me introduce myself. Unlike many people who write articles about ‘becoming a copywriter’, I actually am a copywriter – here’s my Linkedin. I’ve put in the hard yards over 15 years, and I’ve been lucky enough to write for some of the world’s biggest brands, including Audi, Jeep, British Airways, Barclays, Hyundai and KFC.

I wanted to put together this guide, not only to help you gain the right skills and get a job (although I will do that), but also to help you understand what copywriting is really like, for good and for bad.

This isn’t a clickbait article about ‘how to make millions copywriting’. It is for those serious about starting a successful copywriting career.

Table of contents

I’d love you to read the entire guide, but feel free to skip to the sections that appeal to you most.


Copywriting the basics

Creating a portfolio

Building resilience

Picking a niche

Writing tools

Responding to feedback

Writing for new audiences

Getting freelance copywriting jobs

Building a copywriting career


Copywriting: The Basics

THE FUNDAMENTALS OF COPYWRITING


You wouldn’t be alone if right now you were wondering what copywriting even is. In this section I’ll cover:

What copywriting is.

Why it’s important.

How lucrative copywriting can be.

The life of a copywriter.

I’ll also cover the barriers to entry (good news, there are basically none!).


What is copywriting?


Copywriting is the practice of writing ads or marketing material to help sell products.

Why copywriting matters


Copywriting is like the rocket-fuel of the internet. In a commercial sense, copywriting sits between the buyer and the seller making the purchasing decision.

The best way to think about it is that whenever there is a buying decision, some form of copywriting is likely involved. The writing sits at the decision point between buyer and seller.

If the writing doesn’t drive the actual sale, it will likely be involved in triggering an action which might lead to a sale, for example by persuading people to visit a website, or to get in touch with someone about a service.

In the social media world, the copy might be designed to make people follow an account or subscribe to an email list, which then makes other marketing easier.

Copywriting drives online and offline actions


Offline examples include:

  • Billboards / outdoor advertising
  • Print advertisements
  • Product labels / packaging
  • Radio ads
  • Television adverts

Online examples include:

  • Review posts
  • Social media
  • Product descriptions
  • Influencer marketing
  • Blogs

Copywriting has different roles at different times


Here’s an example of copywriting driving an action offline.

Here’s an example of copywriting influencing a buying decision online:

And, it’s not just people that your writing needs to appeal to:

In short, copywriting matters. Here are just a few more examples where great copywriting could make all the difference:

  • Outreach emails
  • Job application cover letters
  • YouTube video descriptions
  • Meta descriptions
  • Video scripts
  • SEO optimised headlines

How lucrative can copywriting be?


Now that you understand how important copywriting is to the selling process, it probably makes sense that the very best writers in any of these writing niches can earn millions of dollars. The ceiling is very high.

However, most copywriters don’t earn anywhere near seven figures – you’d have to be at the very top of your game.

That said, copywriting is still a well-paid profession, and some types of copywriting earn more than others. Going back a few years, those that earned the most were advertising copywriters, as their work reached the most people in the pre-internet age.

To use a fictional example, think of the TV show Mad Men, where Peggy Olsen was breaking boundaries as a female copywriter in the 60s. The show focused on her skill levels to show her overcoming the odds to land a lucrative position.


The Real Peggy Olson – The Hollywood Reporter
Peggy from Mad Men made it as a advertising copywriter

While advertising copywriting is still lucrative, those that get paid the most today will be extremely knowledgable about SEO. Being able to reach a huge audience through free organic search is the number one aim for the biggest organisations.

To give you an idea about what’s realistic in terms of earning, see this chart below from Growth Models.


What's the average copywriter salary in 2021 (in-house and freelance)? -

This example is for a permanent salaried copywriter. The potential as a freelancer is much, much higher, but it’s also a more risky route to go down.

The qualifications you need.


None.

In most cases you can start a career as a copywriter with barely any experience, let alone qualifications.

I have a Bachelor degree, but I’ve never been asked to prove it, even in permanent positions.

However, that’s not to say that a degree won’t give you a head-start, especially if you’re looking for full time jobs.

Here’s a fairly typical copywriter job ad, you’ll notice it doesn’t mention a degree, but does mention a portfolio:

Fairly typical copywriter job ad on Indeed.

The benefits of qualifications

Plenty of companies ask for 2-3 years of experience, plus a degree, in order to get an interview.

However, there are ways around this, such as having a great portfolio, and writing a better outreach email than other people.

Ultimately, as someone in a hiring position myself, I’m not particularly fussed if you have a degree as long as I know that you can do the job. Your portfolio is far, far more important.

Knowledge is power

The biggest benefit of having a qualification is likely in your skill level.

Studying for a degree and writing thousands of words of well-researched writing will undoubtedly have improved your skills, and make you more employable as a result.

When it comes to copywriting, the biggest benefit of having a qualification isn’t in the certification you can show, but the skills you learned in earning it.


Creating a portfolio

MAKING A COPYWRITING PORTFOLIO FROM SCRATCH


In this section, I’m going to show you how to build your copywriting portfolio. Even if you have no experience. I’ll cover:

Why you need a portfolio.

How to build one.

What to put in it, even if you have no professional examples.

How to order your portfolio.

By the end of this section, you’ll know how to pull together a job-ready portfolio that shows you in your best light.


What is a portfolio


Your copywriting portfolio is a showcase of your best work. It’s designed to show a potential client or employer who you are and what writing experience you have in their sector.

Ideally, your base portfolio should be rounded, so you can tailor it to individual clients. Your portfolio becomes less important over time as you build up your contacts and reputation, but it’s a way of selling yourself for work by presenting yourself in the best possible light.

What if you have no experience or work examples?


There are two answers to this question.

Firstly, there is no excuse for anyone to have an empty portfolio, because there are millions of websites, blogs, clients who would publish your work for free – as long as you’ve been proactive enough to find them.

Secondly, it doesn’t matter as much as you think if your work is spec or proactive work (which is what most students have).

For example, you could take a well-known existing brand and reimagine an advert for them, or rewrite an imaginary blog. There are even awards for this type of thinking. As a client or interviewer I would still be able to see this work and judge it on its merits. I would still know if you had the skills or not.

Getting work published for your portfolio

If somebody came to me and said, ‘Sorry, but I’ve no examples of my work because I’ve never had a job’, I would not employ them.

That’s because it only takes a little bit of proactivity to reach out to a website owner and ask if you can write a guest post for free because you have some level of expertise in their area.

Here is a list of over 300 sites that allow guest posting. Some of these are very high level and competitive but if that’s the case, just find smaller sites in the same niche.

Here is an outreach template you can follow:

Note, if you are outreaching to total strangers, the more personalised you make your email the better. Research what they recently tweeted, or their role in their company.

Keep it short and punchy and eventually you’ll get a couple of guest posts published. It just takes perseverance.

Here’s an example one that I did on Thrive Global.

If somebody approached me with a portfolio that contained multiple guest posts, or reimagined client work that hadn’t run I would actually be very impressed.

In some cases, I’d be even more impressed than if they’d got a list of well-known brands on their portfolio, but no great actual work.

That’s because it shows proactivity. The process for getting a free guest post published contains:

Research > Outreach > Editing > Writing.

That’s a set of skills that I’d be more than happy to work with.

Creating your portfolio

Let’s say that you’ve got some examples of guest posts, real published work and reimagined ideas.

What should you put in your portfolio?

What goes first?

The first piece should be the piece that aligns most closely with your client (or potential employer).

If you have lots of published work from car brands, but you’re trying to work with a shoe brand, then a piece of proactively imagined copywriting work on a shoe brand will likely be of more interest.

Perhaps you could rewrite some of their social posts to be more compelling, or reimagine an ad with a different spin on the copy.

Just make sure it’s good!

What goes second?

The second piece should be any great work that doesn’t relate to the brand, but shows a flair for writing, or has a nice story behind it.

If you’re speaking to a client on zoom, or face to face and can tell a story about a piece of work – from the challenges you faced, to why you’re happy with the end result – that’s a compelling story, which makes for a great conversation.

What goes last?

Any work that has a big brand label attached but really isn’t that great. Don’t be fooled into putting it higher, just because it’s a recognisable name.

If I was to interview someone and they put a piece of work from Nike or Airbnb in front of me, it would still need to be great. If it was no more than a poorly written leaflet or something, I would think:

‘Nice brand, but average work’.

The brands you’ve worked for should be a footnote in your portfolio, unless the work is genuinely your best stuff. Otherwise it’s just name-dropping really.

The rules of creating a copywriting portfolio


  1. Put great work that’s relevant to the client (or whoever you’re speaking to)
  2. Put great work that is less relevant but still shows your skills
  3. Put the brands you’ve worked on.

I hope that covers the portfolio question. As someone who interviews copywriters all the time, this is what I would want to see. If you’re trying to pitch to sites to get some published work, then good luck!

It’s not always easy but will stand you in good stead for the future, and it will impress anyone you speak with.


Building your skillset

HOW TO BUILD THE FUNDAMENTAL COPYWRITING SKILLS


When starting your copywriting career, you don’t need to be a polished writer. However, you do need to have the basics. In this section I’ll cover the basic writing skills that every copywriter needs, including:

Proofreading.

Flawless grammar.

How to read and understand a brief.

Basic SEO knowledge (optional but preferable).

By the end, you’ll be able to carry out basic competencies, and ask the right questions to ensure you can answer the brief.


What copywriting skills do you need?


In this section, I’ll cover the most important skills you need to be a copywriter. If you don’t have these skills then don’t worry, you can learn them.

However, you’ll struggle to get far without them…

Proofreading

Almost every copywriter has a horror story about proofreading. Having a piece of work go live with a slight error is a stomach-dropping moment.

In today’s digital world it matters less because most copy is online, which means it can be corrected. However, that’s no excuse for not proofing your work.

If you’re aspiring to work in advertising or offline platforms, this becomes more important.

Imagine spotting a typo in a brochure that’s just had a 100,000 print run for a major brand.

Gulp.

Reading the brief

I have worked with some very talented writers who didn’t quite read the brief as closely as they should have.

It was a nightmare.

Conversely, I have worked with writers with less flair who did read the brief and it was a pleasure.

Failing to read the brief almost always means doing the work again, which nobody is ever happy with.


Here are two common areas people sometime overlook when reading the brief:

  1. Misunderstanding the audience. Is it B2B or customer facing? Is it internal or external?
  2. Overlooking word limits, especially on social media. In certain formats, the word and character limits will actually not let you post outside of them, so overshooting word limits means it can’t be published.

Asking questions

Anyone who asks plenty of questions is a joy to work with.

That’s because they don’t start work until they understand 100% what they are meant to be doing, which means they rarely get stuff wrong.

It’s something you develop through experience but always ask the question instead of battling through when you’re unsure.


Different types of copywriting

HOW TO EXPAND YOUR COPYWRITING SKILLSET


In this section I’ll take you through some of the different types of writing that you should try at an early stage, to help you work out what type of writer you want to be, including:

SEO copywriting.

Advertising copywriting.

Social media copywriting.

Script writing.

Blogging.

In my opinion, this is the most important section. There’s a world of difference between long-form SEO writing, and punchy social media posts. Here’s where you discover what type of writer you might be.


The diversity of copywriting


I’ve previously worked at an agency as the sole copywriter. It was an eye-opening experience because it showed what people consider a copywriter’s job.

Newsflash: It’s a fairly broad remit!

In most people’s minds, anything with words involved is the job of a copywriter.

Here are some of the different types of copywriting jobs you might get asked to do.


Headlines

One of the classic jobs for any advertising copywriter is to write a compelling headline. Previously this used to mean print ads, but now it’s more common to write SEO (search engine optimised) headlines.

Print example:

Is Your Copywriting Bent? | Ideaswise Copywriting

SEO example:

How to Write a Strong SEO Title (+ Formulas & Templates!) - Single Grain

Email subject lines

What you write on an email subject line has such a big impact on the open rate of an email that professional copywriters are often tasked with writing it.

Email Subject Line Tips for Musicians – Berklee Online Take Note

Bodycopy (the bit below the headline)

Then bodycopy of an advertisement used to be my favourite thing to write. It’s like Tetris with words, you can be a bit more expansive than in a headline, while still keeping your writing as tight as possible.

Daniel Arsham - Fictional Advertisements, Set of 5 Signed Prints, Daniel  Arsham For Sale at 1stDibs

Emails

Every company sends emails to its subscriber list, trying to make sales, update them on products, apologise for mistakes, clarify an offer. It can be anything. Email writing is a valuable skill to learn.

A Guide to Email Branding (+ Tips on Creating Your Own Guidelines) - Ampjar

UX (user experience) copy

UX (user experience) copy is all the little bits and pieces that help navigate someone around an online platform. It can be a CTA (call to action) or the text in a button. I always think that the quickest way to improve an entire website is through UX copy.

brands are trying to be more and more human in the way they speak, even in their functional copy.

Language Is Dead, Long Live UX Copy! | by Janet Manley | UX Planet

Blog posts

Any business that aims for organic search traffic usually has a blog. And the average blog post ranking in the top 10 of Google is around 2,000 words. That’s a lot of demand for long copy!

How to Write Your First Blog Post (58 Best Ideas and 65 Expert Tips)

App copy

Much like UX copy, App copy is almost its own niche. Well written copy can help someone navigate an app easier, which means it can earn you big money if you can do it well!

How to Block Social Media Apps From Yourself

Outdoor ads

It’s a great feeling to see your headline standing out on a 48 sheet poster with hundreds of people buzzing around.

51 Brilliant Outdoor Ads That'll Make You Stop And Notice

Social media ads

With over XXXX posts published every day, there is an insatiable demand for compelling social media post copy. This also include all the promotional copy that goes around each post, such as headlines, descriptors and buttons.

Nike's 'Dream Crazy' advert starring Colin Kaepernick wins Emmy | Colin  Kaepernick | The Guardian

Product descriptions

The world has moved online. Increasingly, buying happens through eCommerce sites, where every product is accompanied by a description to help sell it. In the offline world, these descriptions fill up magazines and newspapers.

How to Write Persuasive Product Descriptions that Sell

What are some of the others?

I’ve listed out just a few examples there that I’ve fulfilled in my career. Other examples include:

  • Legal or technical copy
  • Ts&Cs
  • YouTube descriptions
  • Meta descriptions
  • Product labels
  • Scripts
  • Outreach templates
  • Opinion pieces
  • Linkedin posts

And many, many more.


Writing tools and techniques

COPYWRITING TOOLS TO GO FROM GOOD, TO GREAT


If I’d written this copywriting guide five years ago, I wouldn’t have included this section. Writing, spinning, paraphrasing and AI tools are responsible for millions and millions of trashy articles that are cluttering up the web.

However, times have changed. Many AI writing tools are now incredible. What’s more, some of the biggest companies in the world are now using them.

The purist in me wants to resist, but it really is a case of embracing change, or getting left behind.

I’ll show you the tools that will actually help, and how to use them authentically and ethically to build a bulletproof copywriting career.


What is copywriting?


Copywriting is the practice of writing ads or marketing material to help sell products.


Responding to feedback

HOW A COPYWRITER SHOULD DEAL WITH CLIENTS


One of the most overlooked aspects of a copywriting career is your ability to accept, digest and respond to feedback. What you say matters almost as much as what you write. In this section, I’ll show you how to:

Present your work.

Back up what you write.

Deal with difficult clients.

Stay positive in yourself.

I’ll be honest, a copywriting job isn’t only filled with praise and happy clients. You need to understand how to respond when someone doesn’t like your work, how not to take it personally, and to pick the right battles to fight.


What is copywriting?


Copywriting is the practice of writing ads or marketing material to help sell products.


Copywriting for different audiences

HOW TO CHANGE YOUR TONE OF VOICE


If you want to be a copywriter, you’ll likely work for a wide variety of clients and brands. You have to be adaptable by:

By changing your tone of voice.

Writing for different age groups.

Writing for different purposes – from selling a product to building brand awareness.

Writing on different platforms.

Ultimately, you’d change the way you’d write for a b2b financial brand vs a beauty brand, because they have two very different audiences. You’d all write very differently on Instagram vs Linkedin, because there are different expectations. This section will show you how.


What is copywriting?


Copywriting is the practice of writing ads or marketing material to help sell products.


Landing freelance copywriting jobs

HOW TO GET WRITING JOBS WITH NO EXPERIENCE


So far this article has been about preparing you to be a copywriter. This section is about how you start making money.

Through the platforms you use.

How to pitch for work.

How to be a freelance writer.

Getting repeat clients.

By the end of this section, you’ll be ready start making money as a freelance copywriter.


What is copywriting?


Copywriting is the practice of writing ads or marketing material to help sell products.


Building a copywriting career

HOW TO MAKE A LIVING FROM COPYWRITING


How do you transition from a freelance copywriter to a copywriting career? Or even skip the freelance step altogether? In this section I’ll cover:

Landing a permanent copywriter job.

How to write a copywriting resume (or CV).

The career progression of a copywriter.

What comes next.

This section will teach you how to go all-in on a copywriting career, so you can call yourself a professional copywriter.


What is copywriting?


Copywriting is the practice of writing ads or marketing material to help sell products.