Karen, a virtual friend of mine whom I met on MySpace, asked me a while back for some suggestions on how to become a copywriter. I’ve put it off because to answer that question means to actually take more than the usual 5-10 minutes I spend writing each post. I’m not lazy, just busy. In addition to a very busy schedule at my search marketing agency, I also have a pregnant wife to spend time with and a few side projects already in progress. Blogging is usually the first to be sacrificed.

But since I’m rarely asked for tips and advice, my ego demands that I respond (hey, why not be honest?).

Tip #1: Determine within yourself that it will take 2 years to establish yourself, and that you will do what it takes during those first 2 years.

That doesn’t mean that you won’t have job opportunities before then. Obviously, that will vary from person to person. But be willing to work another job while you write part-time or be willing to work full-time for minimal pay. Each year of experience you get raises your dollar value. But the goal is to take 2 years and create quality work that you will be proud to display to future employers during the initial interview.

Tip #2: As long as the company or content doesn’t violate your morals, don’t turn down any opportunities to write.

The obvious exception would be if you managed to have so many opportunities that you would tear your hair out trying to finish every project on time. These first 2 years are your foundational stage, so look everywhere for opportunities. Volunteer at church, professional or charitable organizations, friends’ small businesses, local businesses, guest writing on other people’s blogs (I’ll let you get your feet wet right here), writing your own daily blog, etc. Whether it’s a one page ad, copy for a website, or text for a brochure, pursue and accept every opportunity. If you don’t make a dime for the first six months, don’t worry. Just get some writing under your belt.

Tip #3: Keep your ego in check.

I learned this lesson the hard way. After six months of professional writing experience, I was acting like hot sh*# to every potential client I spoke with. I ended up losing most accounts before I even got started due to my attitude. The truth was, I was so insecure about my ability to produce quality material that I overcompensated by acting like a professional who didn’t need to negotiate at all. I had an overpriced take-it-or-leave-it attitude that got me nowhere. Most people won’t succeed using this tactic because you get the privilege of being picky by first developing a reputation of excellence and credibility. It’s the people in demand for the reputation as a copywriter who get to turn down work or refuse to negotiate pricing. Granted, there will always be clients who treat copywriting like manual labor. To these people, just politely refuse and move on. As I have learned, you never know how the impression you leave today might open or close future doors for you.

Tip #4: Network, Network, Network

It’s one of the most common pieces of advice because it’s simply that important. I hated the thought and the sound of networking from the beginning. As a person with no substantial work history or street cred, I felt like a fake just thinking about talking to people in the industry. I will tell you this secret: the amount of success I have enjoyed is directly proportionate to the amount of networking I have done. In other words, I’m doing fairly well right now, but I could already be making twice what I make now had I been more productive initiating relationships before taking a full-time position.

Wondering how to get started networking? Three pieces of advice: 1) start a blog and write in it every day; 2) get some business cards printed that include your web address (i designed mine easily online); 3) visit and/or join every local metropolitan writing, marketing, artistic organization that meets monthly, meet people, and hand out your cards. My card was simple. It had my name, blog name, address, phone, email and web address on the front and a bulleted list of services on the back. I like the services part because professionals get so many cards that it’s easy to forget why you should keep a card after a few days.

Tip #5: Develop a specialty

At the beginning, you won’t want to limit yourself by only doing one style of writing. Take notice of what you enjoy doing the most, and always jump at the chance to do more of what you enjoy. Remember, the first 2 years are your foundation. 95% of all copywriters don’t make serious money until they reach 5 years of experience, so you have to know in your head that you are going to have the right attitude and maintain it through your probationary period. The big time head hunters don’t accept any applicants with less than 5 years of experience. But once you’re there, you have the opportunity to break into six figures if you’ve developed a specialty or two.

Right now, I do mostly website copy, press releases, and corporate blogs. I’ve done brochures, the emails, sales sheets, case studies, and several other types of documents I can’t think of right now. Given my choice, I’d probably stick with blogs, given that they’re such a natural method of communication to me. But blogs still have a ways to go before they are valued as highly as they should be in corporate America.

There you have it. My first five tips to becoming a copywriter. If you’d like me to add more specific information, drop me a comment and I’ll take you as deep into this as you want to go. I will add as much or as little information as you need to make it as a copywriter.

Comments are always welcome.

9 responses to “5 Steps to Become a Copywriter”

  1. It’s been almost a year and a half since I wrote this article. After rereading it, I still strongly agree with every point made. I would like to point out, however, that since there are so many different venues to write for, some of my advice might not be geared toward you specifically.

    I would also like to point out that I haven’t really been a “copywriter” for a few years now. I provide copywriting services, but it’s through a group of qualified writers that work with me from time to time.

    I found that writing for other people is NOT my thing. I’m one of those rare birds who so loves the act of writing and expression that I value my name and my words too much to offer them as a marketing tool. I have a very strong prophetic Christian ministry bent, and my personal preference is to limit my writing to that which is completely within my control (for moral, ethical, and personal intergrity reasons).

    I admire quality copywriting, however, and applaud those who naturally fit this mold.

    I now function professionally as a senior search marketer for a Dallas-based interactive agency and a writer for several of my own websites.

  2. Hello Daniel – thank you for posting this. I was watching an episode of Nightline on ABC last week which included a segment on “The Poet of Property” (aka Valerie Haboush). This episode sparked something in me that I haven’t thought about in a long time: writing. I’m 36 and work in the corporate world, doing inside sales for a Webhosting company. It’s not what I want and I’ve been trying to find myself for years. In high school (yes, almost 20 years ago) I always got A/B grades in English, which was my strongest subject, but I never explored a career that would capitalize my writing skills. Since then I have had several jobs for personal friends, worked in sales, did not go to college because making money was more important at the time, and here I am. Your information is very helpful as I delve into the idea of “copywriting as a career.” I think it’s what I’ve been wanting to do! When I had my first child 3 years ago I thought I wanted to write children’s books, have looked into transcription among other things involving writing (typing?), but I think this is it! Thank you again. Wish me luck!

    • Wow. Missy, your story excites me! Most of the time, what I write for public consumption has one primary goal – to drive traffic and make money one way or another. But in the process, some of what I write makes a difference in a person’s life and it knocks me over. I wish that money weren’t a concern, for if it weren’t, I would only write to help others.

  3. Hello. I found what you wrote helpful. Only recently, I've begun looking into copywriting as a career. I've done a few things and am wondering what I may use as a strong source in providing insight to this world. I've made bad career choices so I'm looking to do all that I can to prevent it from happening again.

    Thank you.

  4. Hello. I found what you wrote helpful. Only recently, I've begun looking into copywriting as a career. I've done a few things and am wondering what I may use as a strong source in providing insight to this world. I've made bad career choices so I'm looking to do all that I can to prevent it from happening again.

    Thank you.

  5. I'd say the best tip is to never stop doing what you're doing. Really, it applies to any work effort you employ yourself to.
    Never stop. Unless you don't like what you're doing, and lost enjoyment with it.
    All occupations will have their slow times. But you need to seek the reason for the slowing. Was it because you relaxed your feet a bit?
    It's the ones who keep diligently at work that endure. Take for instance the age old story of the ant and the grasshopper.

  6. Your article is a bit aged, but I came across it while searching for information on how to become a copywriter. I love to write, which should be obvious given my interest in the field, and I have a few questions on how to apply my writing skills to copywriting. You make some helpful points, and I like the idea of the business card, but if I do not have experience in any professional writing, what skills should I list that will apply? I am really interested in copywriting as a career, and I have a bachelor’s degree in English, but I feel stumped as to how I can even get my foot in the door of such a field. Should I look into classes specifically geared towards copywriting, and which ones? How do I land an internship, and where? How should I format my resume? These are just a few, and they probably seem like quite a bit, but this career sounds very rewarding, and I don’t mean just financially. Thank you so much for posting this article, and if you have any other help you can offer, I truly would be very appreciative.

    • Colleen, I’m going to give you the same advice that was given to me, because it’s made all the difference. Do TWO things: Invest in a blog and diversify your talents into one other field.

      For me, the secondary field was Search Engine Optimization (SEO). If you do any copywriting for websites, you’ll be a greater asset, and if copywriting work is hard to find, SEO/social media interns and entry positions abound. If you pick SEO, start by reading everything on the SEOMoz.org blog and. If social media is your preferred secondary position, read as much as you can from blogs like SocialMediaExaminer.com, BlueGlass.com, Kommein.com, and Community-Roundtable.com. For copywriting / blogging, get read up on CopyBlogger.com, DoshDosh.com, and OutSpokenMedia.com.

      In order to make it, you’ll need to self-educate, find successful people and network with them (blog comment conversations and Twitter convos), and get some experience in an internship or two.

      Back to the first recommendation: Blogging. Start a blog about something you love and commit to blogging three times a week. Include your portfolio as it grows on other pages of your site. I got my feet in the door through relationships, but I got better jobs because of blogging. I owned a reputation management blog and a personal blog, and both helped me get a position that was was a significant step up. The reason? I displayed my competence publicly. Through blogging and guest blogging, I impressed them with my knowledge, experience, and strategy.

      I hope this helps. If you have any other questions, I’d love to talk further. Hit me up on twitter @danieldessinger.

    • Hi Daniel,

      I have worked in TV production for the last 10 years and looking to make a career change. I have an associates degree in communications.

      I have been writing quality songs for years, some that were released independently. I am interested in copywriting as a new career. Can you suggest some ways to put together a book and exactly how to do it? I want to get a portfolio together, and look for a job. Is an associates degree enough, and are there certificate programs or schooling you can suggest?

      Thanks!

      Dave

      I want to

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.