The world is collapsing. Inflation is out of control. Money printers go BRRR! People are being forced to stay in their homes. Many skilled workers are losing their jobs.
It’s not a good year for many of us… which is why you might be looking at how to become a copywriter right about now.
Furlough. That’s the word that comes to mind. I’ve spoken with dozens of skilled individuals this year. From teachers to airline pilots to chemists (seriously). They were all stuck at home, in desperate need to find a way to make money fast.
But maybe you’re a lucky one, and you’ve still got a full-time job. Maybe you already have a copywriter career. And you just want the freedom to run your own business, instead of wasting all your sweat and tears making someone else rich.
But learning how to make good money online is tricky. You can’t just call yourself a copywriter and wait for clients to beat down your magical Internet door.
There is a right way, and a wrong way to do this. Go about it the wrong way, and you’ll end up swimming in circles with every poor soul at the bottom of the pool.
And that’s why most freelance copywriters charge ridiculously low project fees… because they end up competing on price. (That’s what happens when you don’t know how to differentiate yourself from the herd.)
And if you’ve thought about competing on pricing, you’re doing it wrong. Why? Because…
There’s always someone who’s willing to go broke faster than you.
With that in mind, let’s look at how you can do this the right way. Let’s also cover what skills you actually need to become a successful copywriter.
What copywriting skills do I need to become a sought-out copywriter?
I’m going to assume you’re already a decent writer. And that you’ve got critical thinking skills. Because if you do, then that saves us a whole lot of time.
See, most people who call themselves freelance copywriters couldn’t write a decent pitch to save their own life. This is bad for the copywriting industry as a whole because it makes potential clients skeptical of pretty much everyone and their dog.
But it’s good news for you. How so, you ask?
Because it means you can eeeeeasily differentiate yourself… with a little effort. By taking the time to identify why someone might want to work with you, you can figure out how to sell yourself.
The problem is that good writing skills doesn’t translate to knowing how to write copy. (Good writers may also not know how to sell themselves. Not their fault. You can get straight A’s in creative writing and English lit., but they don’t teach you any marketing in school.)
So let’s take a quick look at what copywriting actually is. In simple terms, copywriting is writing that sells. That is it.
Some people will tell you it’s writing that persuades, but that’s just a ball of BS. (Isn’t much of good writing technically writing that persuades?)
So if you’re a decent writer, here’s what you do, step by step:
1. Figure out what type of copywriter you want to become
2. Put together a writing portfolio by compiling relevant samples
3. Find out what you want to charge
4. Identify your dream clients
5. Start approaching them for gigs.
If you think I’m oversimplifying it, I’ll confess it all right now, detective. There are a lot of nuances I’m glossing over. (Like how to build systems, how to send out cold emails, how many times you should follow up, and how, and so on.)
So consider this article an overview, but it is a complete overview of how you can start getting clients. With that in mind, let’s move onto Step 1.
What type of copywriting do you want to specialize in?
Many copywriters get caught up with the minutiae of content writing versus copywriting. Some purists even act disgusted and spit on the floor if you mention that you’re a content writer. (As if content writing is something that should be left for fake copywriters.)
Well, guess what?
I love content writing! And not only because it pays a ton. I’ve landed plenty of 5-figure projects on content alone. That’s a common mistake many copywriters make. They assume content writers have to slave away by the word to make ends meet, but that’s just not true.
And btw, you can still call yourself a copywriter, and write content. It’s all fair game. And limiting yourself to only copy or content is limiting the potential zeroes you can add to your bank account!
So, if you know how to write a solid blog post, you can make a ton of money. (But don’t go promoting an affiliate product, or write a guest post for “exposure”, or something like that. That ain’t going to cut it.)
What’s profitable, you ask?
White papers, ebooks, and various other specializations. Let’s think about it. If a single white paper can convince prospects to pour thousands of dollars into a project… then a great white paper writer can make potential clients mucho dinero.
Makes sense, right?
As a copywriter, though, don’t expect to make a fortune writing social media posts or product descriptions. There’s a ton of writing that won’t make you money, and that’s why it’s important to determine profitability first.
(There are many types of copywriting, with profitable niches like email copywriting and landing pages.)
Once you find out what type of copy you want to write, you can move onto the next step.
Understanding why prospective clients hire copywriters
Potential clients will want to hire you because you can make them more money than they invest in you. If they’re about to make hundreds of thousands of dollars from a project, it only makes sense to pay thousands of dollars to hire the right copywriter.
That’s why experienced copywriters can command lucrative rates. These copywriters are incredibly skilled at selling themselves as an investment, not an expense. Their focus is also on how the potential client can achieve X, rather than what they can do for them.
Let’s go over some nuances in client personas. After all, not all clients are the same.
For example, marketing agencies are different to business owners in their reasoning to work with you. Agencies have a ton of overflow, and might need someone who they can bring in for these overflow projects. Unfortunately, this also means you won’t make as much working with them, but the work can be steady.
Another reason? Many business owners and agency owners hate writing copy. They detest it. They stare at their keyboard and screen and pull their hair out. They scream at the top of their lungs and go LALALA I hate this!
Keep in mind, though, I’ve met many agency owners who think copywriters are too expensive. They’d rather waste their time writing dozens of landing pages every day. And they drive themselves mad, I tell ya!
It makes little sense… until you look at their pricing structure. See, some of them have retainer clients. And these clients pay them a fixed sum every month, so hiring a copywriter to write these landing pages is an expense much of the time.
Here’s another thing you should be wary of:
Business owners who think they can write decent copy, or have written their own copy before. What you want to do is approach businesses that already have good copy and content. This way, you know they’re probably more than willing to invest in good copy, because they see the value in doing so.
If their copy is poor, though, there’s a good chance you’ll have to educate them on the value. Hint: That is NOT something you want to waste your time doing. Even if you were to somehow manage to land them as a client, you’d find yourself in a frustrating uphill battle until you go bald. (Just look at me!)
What type of copywriter do you want to be?
Whether you want to be a direct response copywriter or a freelance writer specializing in creative writing, one thing is clear:
You must have an in-depth understanding of human psychology. It’s as important in sales as it is here. And selling is the name of the game, whether you want to accept it or not. (And the sooner you accept it and start loving sales, the better off you’ll be.)
There are many types of copywriters, but it all comes down to one thing:
To become a professional copywriter, you need to understand that you’re about to build a real copywriting business. And like we just talked about, sales is the gas every business runs on.
You don’t need to become a master copywriter to make this work for you. Think of all the famous writers who were masters of their craft, and still died poor. Machiavelli. Herman Melville. Franz Kafka.
The list goes on.
You can be a decent copywriter and still make a killing… if you can learn how to sell yourself.
This means, don’t advertise yourself as a copywriter for hire. Instead, think of yourself as a business owner who is offering copywriting services.
Also, as mentioned earlier, make sure that whatever you choose, it’s profitable. This means, don’t go after things like social media ads simply because there’s tons of them. (Copywriters who write these generally don’t get paid very well.)
In contrast, email copywriting can be lucrative if you get good enough at it. For emails, you can charge from $50 to $100’s of dollars each!
In other words, subject matter experts with lots of experience get paid a lot of dollars. A lot more than your average generalist copywriter who can do it all, anyway.
Putting together a super simple portfolio
You only need 2 to 4 writing samples to get started. And you definitely don’t need a “real” copywriting sample to start landing clients. No one cares if you really worked for Coca Cola. No potential client is ever going to come to you and say, “Oh I am in love with your samples. But since you didn’t really work with Coca Cola, I can’t work with you.”
That’s never happened, and it never will.
What potential clients are looking for is relevant samples for their business. (For example, is your writing style something they can use for their business?)
So if you’re ready to get started, this is exactly how you do it:
1. Identify your position or niche. (A niche is good enough when you’re starting out.)
2. Whether it’s a specialization or industry, start looking for good samples in that area.
3. Create 2 to 4 samples that can “beat” your chosen samples. They can also be of similar quality.
4. Post those writing samples in our Copy & Critiques group for constructive feedback.
Once you get the feedback, revise, and you’re good to go! You’ve got a decent copywriting portfolio, and you’re ready to start landing your first few clients.
Where to find entry-level copywriting jobs
When you’re first starting out, a great place to test out your pitching abilities is on job boards. For Facebook, check out Cult of Copy’s Job Board, as well as the Freelance Copywriter Collective Job Board. (I like ours better. We call out exploiters.) If you’re on Reddit, make sure to check out subreddits like r/forhire and r/hireawriter.
But if you really want to up the ante and get serious right away, invest some time into improving your social media profiles.
If your dream clients are hanging out on Facebook, then make sure your Facebook profile is optimized. What I mean is, when they check out your profile, will they want to contact you? When you reach out to them, they will scope out your profile. Will it appeal to them?
The same goes for LinkedIn and emails. (Eventually, you’ll want a website too. This can help you differentiate yourself further.)
Remember: You want to stand out. You want to grab attention. If you don’t, you’ll just be overlooked as one of many. Don’t be afraid to make a difference. Be the blue Skittle.
The only copywriting book you need to get you started
There are plenty of copywriting courses out there, but you don’t need to invest in any of them just yet. There’s plenty of time for you to shop around. For now, stick to reading books on copywriting that will be cheaper and way more efficient in getting you to where you need to be.
Bob Bly’s “The Copywriter’s Handbook” is an excellent primer. It’ll teach you copywriting basics, and it’s the next best thing to taking a writing class or course online.
By the way, if you want to gain tons of copywriting experience, don’t waste your time hand-copying ads. There are copywriters who advocate learning via these types of copywriting techniques. I am not one of them.
At university, I was trained as an analyst, so maybe I’m biased. I firmly believe the best way to get really good at any type of writing is to analyze, and practice once you’ve got the basics of copywriting down. With practice comes writing experience, and with feedback and reiteration comes improvement.
Anyway. That’s another story. For this topic, I think we’re good. So off you go. Out into the real world. Remember what you learned here. Don’t sit on it. Act.
Knowledge isn’t power. That’s a bunch of hooey. Knowledge + Action, that’s power. So go action what we discussed here today, and hopefully I’ll see you on the other side of this rainbow, eh fellow copywriting business owner?
Need help building your copywriting business?
If you’re a good writer but you’re struggling to figure this out and make it work for you, our 12-week Copywriting Business Builder program was designed just for you.