Editor’s note: This post was written by Lesa T., a contributing writer at Maker’s Aid with years of experience in copywriting and proofreading.
Before the days of the Internet, and all of the sites, blogs, social networks we take for granted today, Copywriters wrote text for advertising and marketing campaigns to make brands lovable—and sell their products or services.
It was, and often still is, called sales copy when working in an advertising environment, and it usually requires a “call to action.” Basically, you need to entice the reader to take out their wallet and make a purchase.
These days, the term “copywriting” is used more broadly. It can relate to anything from posts on Facebook or Instagram, articles on blogs like Maker’s Aid, how-to guides in the form of downloadable freebies, and any other form of internet content you could possibly think of. It can even refer to ghostwriting fiction and non-fiction books (“ghostwriting” is when someone else is named the author of a text you’re writing).
If creating all of these types of content sounds like an exciting way to spend your workdays and make a living, here’s what you need to know about what it takes to be a good copywriter.
I’ve been doing this for years. And, in this post, I’ve listed what I consider to be the main points to see if you’re a good fit for this role or not.
You Need to Know Your Spelling and Grammar
I know, I know… It seems pretty obvious, right?
But so many people who are just getting started with copywriting believe that they can forget about everything they were taught in English class at school—and rely on Conversion.ai to fill the gaps and Grammarly to correct the mistakes.
While AI tools can be pretty helpful, they still have a way to go before they produce or edit texts as well as a human, and will sometimes offer the most ridiculous outputs and corrections.
Trust me; just like those memes about iPhone’s autocorrect, these tools could make you look pretty silly if you relied blindly on them!
So you need to know your spelling and grammar (or take a refresher course).
Being Attentive to Detail Is a Must
This is another essential requirement as you wouldn’t last in this business for very long if you kept submitting work with errors.
Clients are paying you to get the job done efficiently, correctly, and without them having to spend time pointing out things that you should have noticed instead. I know it’s hard, but you need to train yourself to become your own editor.
I recommend proofreading your work at least twice, and if you have to make amendments, make sure you read it through once more. I remember in one of my first assignments, I decided to change the heading just before sending it. And I made a typo!
I didn’t think to check it once again as it was just a single-line heading, but I was left very red-faced! Of course, the client noticed. Happily for me, they didn’t make that much of a big deal about it, but it didn’t leave them with the best impression of my work wither.
So check, and check, and check again—every single time you write.
Learn How to Google Like a Pro
In most of my jobs, I am given just a title and a few keywords to work with.
Then, I’m expected to research the topic thoroughly before writing about it. If it is a subject that I know nothing about, this can take quite a bit of time—like 3-4 hours for a 1,500-word article!
So you must be prepared to put the time and effort into researching the subject. And you need to boost your skills for looking up information online, whether on Google, YouTube, Amazon, or others.
Another good tip is to select topics that actually interest or inspire you so that you will enjoy reading and writing about them. This way, you get to learn a lot and will be able to hold your own in a wide variety of conversations going forwards.
There’s no point in taking on a job writing about finance and investment, for example, if your passion and interest are in topics like cooking and recipes, gardening tips, or fashion!
Your work just won’t come out as great, no matter how good of a copywriter you are, and by the time you’re done writing, you’ll feel drained and glad that it’s all over. And I don’t know about you (let me know in the comments below), but that’s not a feeling I want to end my workday with.
So always be sure to find out what niche you would be expected to write in. You will always write a better article if it is something you have an interest in rather than it making you yawn!
Develop Multiple Writing Styles
Different clients will want different writing styles.
In most cases, you will receive a brief that will tell you if the client wants it written in the first or second person, whether it should be humorous or serious, and what format and layout they would like.
You will often be provided with instructions relating to the font size for headings and paragraphs, line spacing, and preferred use of punctuation such as Oxford commas and hyphens. In the publishing business, this is called a “manual of style.” It helps to ensure a certain level of consistency when a publication contains pieces written by multiple authors.
The brief will usually also tell you whether it should be written in a casual style like talking to a friend or a more serious and informed tone.
You’re almost expected to have multiple personalities—and be able to switch between them with the snap of your fingers. One thing I like to do is to think about colorful characters I’ve met in my life. So, whenever I need to sound strict and authoritative, I think to myself… “How would my high-school physics teacher open this sentence?”
But most important of all is that your writing should be easy to read and engaging. And that’s something you learn by doing. The more you write (and, remember, the more of your own work you edit), the better you’ll become at keeping your readers’ attention.
Avoid Plagiarism at All Cost
This is a critical one that you absolutely must take note of. Otherwise, it could land you and your client in hot water.
Many people think that if they copy bits and pieces from other websites and combine them into a new document, this will be fine—it absolutely isn’t! Apart from being extremely lazy and cheating your client, it may also infringe copyright laws, which could result in a cease and desist letter or, in extreme cases, a lawsuit.
Just imagine the damage this could do to your reputation in the industry.
This is why it’s always best to research your topic thoroughly and then write from your head to create a unique piece of work. Fortunately, there are several plagiarism checkers out there that you can use just to make sure something didn’t embed in your mind that you then unwittingly used.
Since the Maker’s Aid editorial team uses Grammarly, I use Grammarly’s Plagiarism tool whenever we work with new teammates, and I’m on editing duty. It’s easy to use, and I find it to be highly effective.
So be sure to use your creativity and put your own unique take on things.
Deadlines Are Part of the Business
There will always be deadlines expected of you, so make sure you are fully aware of when the work is required.
Be sure not to overstretch yourself and miss the deadline, as this will be a big mark against you. Be realistic with your timings and communicate clearly with the client.
You don’t want to be sitting there at 2 a.m. with your head in your hands, wishing you had never taken the job on! And you definitely don’t want to keep doing this consistently (or, sooner or later, you’ll face burnout).
As convincing as I am, burnout is part of the work, and each of you will, unfortunately, experience it at least once or twice.
Here’s one of the best videos I’ve seen on the topic to help you recover:
Know Your Chances of Getting Work
I won’t lie; copywriting is a pretty saturated industry these days, especially with more and more people working from home and becoming freelancers. That said, it is by no means impossible to get well-paying work. But it will require determination and the ability to take a few knockbacks.
It’s a good idea to write several pieces to build a portfolio that showcases your writing ability. Get your friends and family to read it and ask for honest and constructive criticism. Use a variety of styles ranging from humorous to serious, but most of all, make sure they are engaging.
Inject your own personality into them so that they are unique. Start a blog of your own and publish them on it! It won’t necessarily matter if you have a portfolio of stuff that hasn’t been published, as long as you can demonstrate your ability and skill.
Plus, if you like reading about marketing and learn about the art and craft of writing content that ranks high on Google, also known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO), you could turn your blog into a good source of leads for your copywriting business.
To start out, you could join one of the many freelance websites out there that allow you to bid for jobs. In my experience, the “best” ones are Upwork, Freelancer.com, and People Per Hour. As a beginner, you’ll have to be prepared to work for a very low rate, but as you build your profile and get good feedback from clients, you can then start to up your rate.
The only downside with these sites is that quite often, there are literally thousands of writers all doing the same thing, with some of them living in lower-wage countries. So make sure you stand out and bid low to get your first couple of projects secured and then start earning your stripes.
Do You Need a Certain Personality to Be a Copywriter?
This depends on what type of writing you will be doing. If you are an extrovert, you would be well-suited to advertising and marketing as these require lively personalities with bold ideas.
Introvert personalities also make good Copywriters as it can be quite a solitary heads-down job, especially as it is more and more often being done from home. As long as you feel passionate about the topic and you can keep the reader interested in what you have to say, you will do well.
Analytical personalities will be great at the research side of things, provided you can then take away what you have learned and turn it into an informative piece. Maybe white papers and professional documents for finance, medical and legal industries would be a good choice for you.
I have a friend who’s also a Copywriter. She majored in English, but since she grew up in a family of lawyers, she also seems to have an innate ability to understand (and write about) law. As you can imagine, she makes a lot of money doing what she does.
So think about any topics where you have a competitive advantage that’s so big; it’s kind of unfair to your peers.
The Cons of Copywriting
I think the biggest surprise for me was the amount of time spent researching. You get asked to write a 2,000-word document about Anaerobic Exercise vs. Aerobic Exercise, for example. Unless you are already an expert in the subject, it can literally take you 6 hours to research it thoroughly and write something semi-articulate.
Also, some jobs will ask for 2,000 words on a subject that you may find impossible to write more than 500 words about.
I had to write a 2000-word article once on “Do Sparrows Have Teeth,” seriously! It can be extremely difficult to do this without repetition, so you really have to be creative but manage to stay on topic at the same time.
The Pros of Copywriting
The pros of being a Copywriter are many.
Still, the key ones for me are learning new things, exercising my creativity, injecting my personality, and writing about a diverse selection of topics.
The other real advantage of being a freelance Copywriter is that I can work from anywhere in the world, as long as I have a good connection to the Internet. I have even worked from beach huts in Thailand and Goa, and it was amazing! The flexibility it can offer is fantastic as I can work at whatever time of day I like as long as I meet those deadlines!
So I hope that this has given you a clear picture of what would be required of you as a Copywriter and has highlighted some things you weren’t aware of.
If you feel it is for you, I wish you the best of luck and enjoy your opportunity to shine!