If you’ve searched Google for “how to become a copywriter,” chances are you’ve noticed that every page seems to give you a different answer.
At first, this may seem baffling since many traditional career paths seem to follow a set of standard requirements you need to achieve to get a job and be successful.
For instance, if you want to practice medicine, there are steps you can take to get into med school and ultimately become a medical professional. If you want to become a lawyer, you would need to attend law school and pass the bar. While there are different branching paths you can take within those fields, you can usually follow a relatively straightforward direction to get you to where you want to go.
The thing about copywriting is . . .
Copywriters don’t always follow similar paths in their careers.
A unifying trait among copywriters is the ability and willingness to adapt to their audience. Beyond that, you may come from a totally different educational or professional background than your fellow copywriters.
While it can help to have a formal education in English or a related field that lets you develop your skills in composition, copywriters gain experience and build their careers in a variety of ways.
The skill sets, experience, and approach you need can also differ in crucial ways from job to job. Do you want to freelance and acquire clients on your own? Do you want to work with a marketing agency? Or would you rather join an in-house marketing team with a specific company?
Do you have a subject matter expertise that makes you gravitate toward certain clients? Or do you prefer to research and write on a variety of subjects? Your approach can make a huge difference depending on your copywriting goals.
To become a copywriter, it’s useful to first look at what a copywriter is and does, some of the common paths copywriters take to begin their career, as well as ways to improve and build sustainable success.
Here’s the tl;dr version: Copywriters create compelling marketing writing that moves their audience through the buyer’s journey, whether it’s to get someone to click on a link, sign up for an email list, try out a demo of a product, or be converted from a lead to a sale.
Copywriting connects a reader with a company that offers a solution to their needs. In other words, as a copywriter, you’re crafting a convincing story about why someone should ultimately invest in a specific product or service.
But outside of this general meaning, copywriting can cover a broad spectrum of formats. The types of projects you complete, also called “deliverables,” will vary depending on the specific marketing needs of the company you’re creating content for at the time.
To name a few, you may produce content that includes:
•physical marketing materials like newsletters and mailers
Everyone from startups to nonprofits to major enterprises can benefit from effective copywriting. This becomes more true every day as online marketing continues to grow, and the digital battleground continues to evolve.
Content writing is only one form of copywriting, though it’s a critical tool in the marketing toolbox. Being able to produce content that ranks at the top of an organic Google search gives companies a major advantage over their competitors—especially considering that less than 1% of pages on the second page of a Google search get clicked on.
Content writing differs from other types of copywriting in several key ways.
Whereas much of copywriting is meant to garner sales in a more direct style of marketing, content writing is meant to educate a reader on a topic they’re interested in. This is sometimes called inbound marketing, or content that grows brand awareness organically by leading an audience to the valuable information they’re searching for.
Copywriting meant to translate to direct sales may be more direct and short form, with a sense of urgency and a persuasive tone. Content writing can come in longer forms and provide more in-depth information on a topic that helps build your brand as a subject matter expert.
Content writers often focus on SEO, or search engine optimization. This means content such as blog posts, webinars, whitepapers, and ebooks are meant to drive organic traffic from Google and help a brand rank as high as possible on key search terms. This is a long-term strategy that takes time to achieve, and differs from other kinds of copywriting that are geared to produce faster results.
Whether you’re thinking of pursuing a career as a content writer or copywriter, there may be no better time than right now. Copywriters are almost always in high demand. Statistics suggest that the market for copywriters will grow by 7.6% in the next four years.
Copywriters come from all walks of life, and no two will have the same background.
Unlike other fields, there is no formal education requirement to becoming a copywriter, and you can develop your skills and portfolio as you see fit. Some may choose to get a two- or four-year degree in a related field or even go to graduate school. Others may seek a certificate through an online program or become self-taught.
While there are many approaches to growing a copywriting career, there are some common threads between each path that we can use to better understand our field as a whole.
Copywriting typically doesn’t require formal education; however, many copywriters earn a college degree in English. There are some benefits an English degree can offer, but it’s up to you to decide if this path is right for you.
While literature courses probably won’t translate directly to the skillsets you need, these degree programs may also offer courses where you can hone your skills by writing in a variety of styles and formats. Even creative writing courses in fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, playwriting, and more can benefit you as you explore your narrative voice and the technical aspects of writing a compelling story. Many universities also offer professional and technical writing programs as majors and minors, where you can learn a variety of writing skills used in business, communications, public relations, documentation, policy writing, and other specialized fields.
In some cases, holding a degree can give you leverage when it comes to negotiating salary at a full-time position, or it can offer you other career opportunities, such as teaching at a university or working in a technical writing position. This can be a good fallback to pay the bills while you build your copywriting experience.
While many journalists are college educated, there are also opportunities to pick up an entry-level position with a news organization and learn through on-the-job experience.
Working as a reporter can teach you valuable skills that translate to copywriting, including working with a team of professional writers and editors, working within tight deadlines, attention to detail and research, and developing an eye for what is most compelling to readers.
It also helps you develop your interpersonal skills by interviewing many different people, which will be an asset when it comes time to communicate with clients and sell yourself.
Copywriting courses online are plentiful. These courses give you the benefit of getting insights from those working in the field, while focusing on the specific technical skills you’ll need to succeed versus the broader, more generalized knowledge you get from traditional education.
However, it’s important to make sure you do your research and invest your money into a legitimate program. An example would be Hubspot Academy, which can provide several certifications and even offers free marketing courses.
Keep in mind that these certifications are geared toward improving your skills to make you more sellable to clients, agencies, and corporations that might want to hire you—they don’t guarantee you a job if you aren’t able to apply the skills they teach you.
Going through any type of education, whether earning a college degree, doing an online certificate program, or working another professional writing job, can only carry you so far. Eventually, it comes down to building direct copywriting experience.
It will always come down to just doing the job. All copywriters are self-taught to some degree, meaning that to succeed you must practice your copywriting skills.
Self-taught copywriters may research the skills they need online or at the library, study examples of different types of content from other copywriters to learn what performs well, and practice writing different types of deliverables.
Successful copywriters come with diverse skills and experience, but there are some common strategies that help the best copywriters reach the top of their game.
This may seem like such a no-brainer that you’re wondering why we would even bother to include it on this list. Yet a common pitfall is to focus so heavily on the broader marketing strategies that the focus on the rudiments of strong writing gets lost in the mix.
Strong writing includes elements such as:
•clear and logical structure
•eliminating grammar mistakes
•nailing the tone and voice for a brand and audience
•breaking up the text with the right amount of white space
•incorporating feedback and making the right adjustments
Strong writing is a matter of practice and accepting criticism both from yourself and others. Honing your composition skills can give you an advantage over other copywriters when competing for a gig, and it will show that you’re professional and take your job seriously.
Keep in mind that, at the end of the day, copywriting is about selling. That means you need the marketing know-how to demonstrate to clients how you’re going to produce results—and then you need to produce results.
Selling yourself effectively means showing companies you understand their expectations and goals and the relationship they have with their customers. You need to come prepared and knowledgeable, showing them that you’re worth every penny of the rate you’re charging them.
Companies you work with will want to see your marketing materials do what they’re supposed to do, whether that’s to:
•improve clickthrough rates
•lower the bounce rate of people visiting their website
•get more people to reply to an email or fill out a form
•other company-specific marketing KPIs
This also means honing the marketing skills that will produce good SEO and help them rank first on a Google search, and what audiences are most likely to engage with at each stage of the buyer’s journey.
Although it’s not required, many copywriters have specific topics they specialize in based on their previous knowledge. This could be either because they studied or worked in a related field or learned about a topic by writing for clients in a specific industry.
Regardless, building a body of work within a topic you know gives you an advantage when seeking similar projects. For instance, if you’ve worked with several software developers and even done some coding yourself, you can demonstrate to clients that you have a proven track record in that industry.
While some copywriters work with only one type of company throughout their career, others may work with clients in vastly different fields, each with their own unique approach to connecting with their customers. One client’s customers may be highly specialized professionals looking for technical information; another client’s customers may be those looking to buy concert tickets online, who only have time to read your copy if it’s short, sweet, and simple.
The main difference when taking on a project in a subject area you’re not experienced in is the amount of time and research you’ll need to put in upfront. So it may be helpful to decide what topics interest you and that you’d like to invest your time learning about.
Even if you already have experience with a certain industry, every company has different needs, and learning to research can help you nail down what will make your content most likely to succeed.
Even in a static copywriting industry, there’s always room to improve your craft. But copywriting isn’t static. The nature of marketing is evolving every day, especially as technology becomes more and more ingrained in our everyday lives. Copywriters must continue to learn new techniques and keep current on the most effective approaches to engaging their audience.
Improving means always being a student of the industry. It means using every experience, good or bad, as a learning opportunity.
Improving as a writer, learning how to sell yourself to clients or grab that sweet staff writing job, and staying current on marketing trends and techniques can all help you grow and succeed in the long run.
At Copywriter Exchange, we’re a group of master content marketing pros who bring their diverse talents and backgrounds to bear on the art and science of creating high-performance content, tailored to your needs. We exist to help copywriters thrive in today’s economy by connecting them with the resources they need to step up their game. Join now to access our templates, guides, and courses to help you grow your career, skills, and network.