Copywriters, how are you feeling? Is your work on point?
To say that marketplaces like Upwork and Fiverr have become overcrowded is a major understatement. With the rise of AI copywriting assistants like MarketMuse and Conversion.ai, lately, we’re even competing against robots.
To get the best clients and win the good gigs, you need to up your game. Luckily, that’s what we’re going to talk about in this post. I’m about to share my 11 steps that will help you become a more marketable and profitable copywriter.
1. Stick to the Point
I hope you’re sitting down for this one. Every time I read a blog post with an introduction that’s longer than one or two paragraphs, my eyes start to glaze over, and I’m tempted to hit the “x” button in hopes of finding something better.
And it’s not just me either. I mean, remember the time when we read (not skimmed through) books? Few of us can stay focused for so long nowadays! Thanks to a large extent to technology, people today have significantly shorter attention spans than they did a few years ago.
So here’s the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given:
2. Write It As You’d Say It
When you’re writing, it’s easy to forget that others will be reading what you have written.
One of the key steps to becoming a better copywriter is learning how to come across as genuine. To get there, you need to find the tone and voice that suit your personality (and all of its quirks).
Some people are naturally good at this, but the reality is that most of us need a little practice. Whenever you’re having trouble writing like yourself, try answering a few questions.
How would someone who’s a natural at this—and who has a similar personality as yours—say this? What’s causing you to want to beat around the bush? Are you worried about expressing a strong point of view? Or a personal story?
We often fall into the trap of self-censorship when we should be typing our hearts out. As Ernest Hemingway never actually said, “write drunk, edit sober.”
3. Explain It to a 5th Grader
The next time you’re struggling to come up with how to explain something, ask yourself, “How would I explain this to a 5th grader?”
Doing so will force you to think from the perspective of someone who’s done less research than you have, and how therefore has less knowledge of the topic than you.
As a general rule of thumb, keep your sentences simple and your paragraphs short. Stay away from jargon and overly technical language wherever possible. Presume your reader knows nothing, then help them see the world the same way as you do.
Think about how you might break your topic into chunks. Start with the most basic concepts and build up from there. Avoid overcomplicating things by adding too many details or information that doesn’t directly contribute to understanding the main idea you’re trying to convey.
There’s a whole movement that advocates for a clear and simple style of writing called “plain language.” Curiously enough, it was started by the British and American governments (read more about it at plainlanguage.gov).
4. Research, Research, Research
As copywriters, we’re sometimes too good at wordsmithing, which gives us an excuse to be lazy about our research. Don’t do this.
Thorough research is the best way to get your facts straight and get into the minds of your reader. At the end of the day, it’s what can help you create compelling, engaging, and helpful content.
So how can you research effectively?
First and foremost, learn to use Google and YouTube like a pro. If you know how to look for information, you can find virtually anything you need on any topic.
Second, refer to Quora and Reddit to get into the heads of your target audience. What questions are they asking each other on the Internet? What are their true frustrations and unmet needs?
Last but not least, use Google Scholar, LexisNexis, and ResearchGate whenever you have to get scientific and factual. With these three tools, you basically have the whole academic world’s knowledge at your disposal. For free!
5. Read More Than You Write
If there’s one piece of advice I can give to aspiring writers, especially those just starting out, it would be this: read as much as possible.
Soak up the dictionary, the expressions, the tone of voice, the style of writing, the way of thinking of others—then take what you like and make it yours. I can’t tell you the number of books, newspapers, magazines, and blogs I’ve read that have helped me become a better writer over the years.
I read so much, I had to start using Amazon Kindle to avoid cluttering my home with so many books that I couldn’t find a place to store them.
I’m subscribed to The New York Times, Barron’s, Cook’s Illustrated. When I have the time, I read Wired, MIT Technology Review, Harvard Business Review…
No, it’s not about being smart. It’s about staying curious and being a lifelong learner. If you want to be a better copywriter, start by reading more—and read as much as possible.
6. Get Your Grammar and Punctuation Straight
Given that professional writers’ job is to create well-written content, it’s surprising how few of them put in the effort to become truly good at it. Fix your grammar and get your punctuation straight.
Not only will proofreaders, editors, and clients in general love you for making fewer mistakes, but you will also become more structured and confident in your writing. To achieve this, pick up an English guide, or better a style guide like the Associated Press Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style, take the time to learn it, and start practicing.
Grammar and punctuation are ultimately about discipline and structure, both of which make you a better copywriter.
7. Use Technology to Your Advantage
My writing has improved outstandingly since I’ve been using Grammarly, an AI writing assistant that helps you correct mistakes and write texts clearly and engagingly.
And I’m one of the early adopters of Rytr, an assistant that generates outlines, ideas for titles, and long-form content for you! Yes, it’s sad to think that these tools (or their descendants) will make human writers redundant someday.
If you can’t beat them, as that old saying goes, join them. Yes, you will need to pay for them (the free plans are too limited). For example, a Grammarly subscription starts at $11.66/month, and Rytr costs $29/month (or $290/year billed annually).
But guess what? They’re worth it.
While your competitors take hours to brainstorm ideas for a piece of content or sit around stuck with writer’s block doing nothing for days, you’re out there churning out angles and ideas with the help of a restless algorithm that’s growing smarter by the minute.
It’s so good, it’s scary.
8. Switch It Up Every Now And Then
Don’t write only about the topics you’re interested in, and in the formats you’re good at. Get out of your comfort zone and try new things.
If your day job is writing news articles for a media organization, try writing a fiction story in your free time. Say that you’re a grounded person who likes real things and doesn’t care much about aliens or the universe. Draft the first chapter of a sci-fi novel, even if you end up deleting it.
In the same way you would try experimenting with what to write, try changing how you write. Challenge yourself to produce a 10,000-word text on your mobile phone. Those of you who are too used to their MacBooks can ask a trad buddy of yours to lend you their typewriter.
I can’t promise you some sort of epiphany in which you’ll come up with the best-selling novel of the next decade. But it sure will be an exciting experience you’ll get something out of.
9. Make a Name for Yourself
Offer to work for free in exchange for testimonials. Ask clients for referrals—and turn your success into their incentive by giving them +1,000 words for free whenever one of their contacts starts working with you.
Reach out to the celebrities, entrepreneurs, and politicians you follow and offer to become their ghostwriter. Be creative, proactive, and think outside of the box.
Focus on clients in one niche and one niche only. Become the go-to copywriter for their needs and turn into the expert that helps them find their voice (while others are pitching their services).
The only way to stand out from the crowd is by not blending in too much. That takes, among other things, plenty of guts and grit.
10. Take a Break From Writing
Sabbaticals are a cliché for a reason: they work.
Though there are ways to get rich from copywriting, it’s a business that generally doesn’t pay that much. Sadly, this leaves many professional writers without vacation and frequently having to burn the candle by working late.
To keep your sanity, take a break from writing every now and then. It will probably take you a little bit of financial planning, as you probably don’t want to max out your credit card while on vacation. But when you come back to work with a clear head and new energy, you’ll know it will have been worthwhile.
The Bottom Line
Did you just scroll down this post because it seemed too long? That’s the point!
I wanted to give as much information as I could on becoming a better copywriter so that busy professionals like you can quickly learn what they need to become more successful at their job.
To recap, focus on being laconic when writing your content; make sure it’s enough for readers of all levels of understanding to get; do thorough research to understand the mind of your reader and the subject matter; and fix grammar mistakes and punctuation errors before you send your texts to the client or editor.
Let me know which of these tips resonated the most with you—or share other ideas on being a good writer—in the comments below.