5 Steps to Become a Copywriter

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.

How I Became a Copywriter: Part Two

As I mentioned previously, I had no prospects for several weeks. I sent out resumes to every web marketing shop and traditional marketing agency in the DFW area. Three months of writing experience isn’t much to go on, and I didn’t get any positive responses back.

Then one day, I received a call from Scott. He and Kevin LaFond and Darren VanLaningham (of Vooka) joined forces to create TuZoom, a new web marketing company. They offered me a contract copywriter / SEO position as their first hire. I took the position and spent the next four months writing copy for their new website and developing META recommendations for their largest client. It was pretty primitive SEO stuff, but I was also cramming a bunch of knowledge into my brain at the same time.

After a while, I felt the need to go out on my own and try freelance copywriting. I had more experience, and landed some freelance work, including press release writing and distribution, articles, web copy, and a brochure. For the most part, though, I tried over and over again to line up work. I cannot tell you how many near-contracts I lost. Most of my problem was my attitude. I didn’t have much experience, but I didn’t want to be treated like a day-laborer. I overcompensated and came on way too strong with most of my prospective clients. I lost at least 10K in deals due to my attitude. It made me sick to my stomach.

I got to the point where I needed work so badly that I applied for all kinds of writing and non-writing jobs in my area. God must have had a plan for me, because I couldn’t even land a position as an assistant manager at the local movie theater. I felt like a total failure.

An old friend of mine, Brad Pratt, offered to hire me on as his personal assistant. He owned 30 rental properties and part of a landscaping company. Grateful for the work and the pay, I worked for Brad for about four months as his property manager. Due to some restructuring in the company, I had to leave, but he gave me two month’s notice to help me find something else.

I went through another round of resumes, contacting every writing opportunity and placement agency I could find. Out of the blue, an ex-copywriting client called me up. I had written nearly a dozen press releases for him the year before, and he had told me that he hoped to be able to hire me when his company was positioned to do so. I had filed that information away and completely forgotten about it. But there he was, on the phone and offering me a job as an SEO Specialist and Copywriter.

Here I am, officially an “SEO Specialist”, but still a writer and strategist at heart. We have a sweet office space in Las Colinas, and I’m moving towards a public relations / social marketing position. It all involves copywriting, so that would be my overarching title. Pretty much anything that is written by the agency passes through my hands at some point, if for nothing other than a quick edit.

This is getting long, so I’ll post again to provide some tips about how to become a copywriter.

Want to Contribute Your Own Writing to CultureFeast?

I’ve seen a decent enough of a rise in traffic over the past month to wonder whether or not these people are getting enough new content to keep them coming back. The truth is, I’m working hard to get into the groove at WebSwank and sometimes it’s hard to spend any extra time near the computer. So, I’ve decided to try an experiment. If you want to write, email me an article/blog post along with a brief bio (nothing fancy – just give me an idea of who I’m dealing with). The way it will work is simple: if I like what I read, I’ll post it. If I don’t like it, I won’t post it. I won’t contact you with reasons why, simply because I don’t have the time. Just send whatever you’ve written to daniel@culturefeast.com.

I’m going to limit submissions to 500 words. If your article or blog is twice that size, try splitting it in half and submitting it as part one and part two. Don’t forget to include the bio. Hey, who knows? Maybe this could turn into a regular thing for one or two of you with nothing better to do than showcase your brilliance to the world. I have already been approached by one person this week looking for a job. This is NOT an opportunity to make money on CultureFeast. I don’t even make money from the blogs I write (not enough to buy a meal, anyway).

So why, then, should any of you waste your time posting your thoughts here instead of creating your own blog? Well, look at my traffic. I’m no SEOmoz or BlogMaverick, but you can get some decent exposure here. I will post your name clearly so that everyone can see who is the genius behind the magical pen! Anyone who gets 50 articles/blogs posted on this site will start receiving links to their own personal blog with each new article/blog they post on CultureFeast thereafter. What do ya think? Anyone interested? If so, drop me a line.

If you have any suggestions, post a comment down below.

Thanks,

Daniel Dessinger