Do you fancy yourself as a bit of a wordsmith? Can you make words jump off the page? Find out how to turn a creative passion into a commercial reality with a career in copywriting. Thanks to Kate Naylor for sharing her experience and insights as a freelance copywriter…
By the time you graduate you’ve been writing for years. You’ve been generating intelligent comment, proposing solutions, reasoning your way nimbly through complex arguments, justifying opinions, being the devil’s advocate and communicating the results of research and analysis clearly and elegantly. You’re a master of written communication. Which is an excellent foundation for a career as a copywriter.
Why is today’s climate perfect for budding copywriters?
Commercial writing is a boom industry. It dovetails neatly with digital marketing, another sector that’s growing fast. And it’s mostly down to search engines.
Google and co use sophisticated algorithms to ‘decide’ which websites deserve a place on page one of the search results. The only way they can tell what a web page is about is through words. They can’t recognise images, although they’re working on it. Unless you get the word bit right, Google can’t classify, rate and rank a web page properly. Which means words are absolutely vital for online businesses… and good writers are very busy!
Then there’s the human side of things. Words have to appeal to people too. And we’re a picky lot. Most of us appreciate well-written, intelligent, informative, exciting, inspiring and entertaining stuff. And most of us dislike badly-constructed, badly written communications that don’t give us what we’re looking for. Another reason why copywriters are in such high demand, with no signs of slowing.
All businesses need great words. Which means they need great writers. So copywriters like me get plenty of fascinating writing projects to choose from. And it pays well. If you can write up a storm, you can do very nicely – have a look at some marketing-specific job boards for trainee salaries.
An acute shortage of people who can write well
As a freelance copywriter, my finger is on the digital marketing pulse. About three people a month complain they can’t find a decent writer. I hear it all the time. There are plenty of copywriters out there, but not so many good ones.
You’re lucky. Your head start in further education means you can write in proper English, creatively and rigorously, with flair and attention to detail. And you’re disciplined. You can do deadlines and you’ve learned the fine art of being reliable. Which is half the business battle.
Where’s the work?
This is the internet. You can work anywhere you like. My clients come from all over Britain and Ireland, mainland Europe, India, the USA and the Middle East. Many marketing agencies employ remote staff and there are even more operating without premises, small digital-only communities offering the full range of marketing services. Otherwise there are bricks and mortar marketing agencies in most cities and a few hot spots, London and Brighton included.
What do you need to learn?
You appreciate the importance of structuring a proposition clearly and logically. It’s exactly what you do when you build an essay or dissertation. And you’ve been taught to express yourself creatively and eloquently. What else do you need to learn?
Direct marketing is the bunny. You need to know how to write commercially and direct marketing covers everything you need to know. It’s been around for decades, first used by superstar ad agencies in 1950s New York – think Mad Men and you get the picture – and translates perfectly into the digital landscape.
You can’t beat Drayton Bird for no-nonsense, practical, clear and entertaining advice about direct marketing. He’s written a load of respected and much-loved books on the subject. If you’re broke, pick them up second hand on Amazon Marketplace. You’ll pick the basics up in no time – you’re already in the learning groove.
What about business acumen? You can’t book-learn it but you’ll experience everything you need to know as your career unfolds. The people who employ you won’t expect you to know all the ins and outs and nitty-gritty at this stage in your life.
How to prepare for a career in copywriting
- Set up a blog and write in it regularly – it’ll be your online portfolio, your shop window
- Set yourself projects – get ideas from client briefs on freelancer websites
- Ask marketing agencies to give you briefs and get their feedback – they might be able to anonymise a few client briefs for you to experiment with
- Ask a friendly freelance copywriter to critique your work from a marketing perspective
Freelance and employed copywriting careers
Freelance is great if you can’t find a junior or trainee copywriting job. But it’s best to get a job in the early stages because you learn so much when you’re immersed in the commercial and business side of writing.
Agency life is huge fun, full of strange, weird and wonderful people, little powerhouses of creativity. Client side copywriting is equally good career experience because of the fine business detail it involves. Test drive both for a solid start to an exciting writing career.
When you’ve got enough experience to let yourself loose on the freelance market, it’s a matter of temperament. If you like your own company freelancing is a great way to control your destiny and earn as much as you like. Sociable people find it tough going, but social networks soften the blow!
About the author
By Kate Naylor, a freelance copywriter based in Brighton, UK. Kate, a Graphic Design graduate, has twenty years’ experience in the direct marketing industry, twelve in digital marketing, and has been writing freelance for seven years.