Over the past few months, more and more people have asked me what it takes to start a copywriting career.
I decided early this week that the sheer number of people asking this question means there’s got to be a resource for them to follow and so this blog post is to create exactly that.
If it doesn’t sell, it’s not good copy – Andy Owen
There is only ever one goal when you write copy: To sell a product, service or solution. These could be a car, a website designing service, a new prayer meeting in your local church, a self-help group’s new chapter and so on. If you are writing to promote something, that form of writing is called copywriting. Sounds alot like advertising, doesn’t it?
That’s because it is. Make no mistake, copywriting is an art just like designing and conceptualising. And just like those forms or art, you must practice, evolve and learn.
Below is a list I have put together after many years of writing as well as observing great and not-so-great copywriters. This is not an exhaustive list, and if you are a seasoned copywriter who feels something is missing here, please go ahead and add that in the comments section.
Either enroll yourself in a local or online course on copywriting, or read copywriting guide books. Do not make the mistake of over-estimating your ability with words. Just because you’ve written a million business emails, or write a great, popular blog doesn’t mean you can write good copy. Good copy involves the kind of research and mentality that any professional field of work requires.
When you enroll into any sort of course, there are (hopefully) three major processes that enable attending students: 1) Theory, 2) Practice and 3) Group Discussion.
These 3 processes if done well provide the attending student with a great experience of learning and growth. They allow them to fill any gaps in their knowledge and help them take on board the comments and suggestions of their peers.
Furthermore, a course will usually put you in touch with a presenter, coach or teacher who is an experienced hand at copywriting who can impart knowledge borne from years of experience.
It is the single, most important advice I can give you. Attend a course on copywriting.
2. Internship/ Placement
Many advertising agencies are glad to take interns onto their portfolio. There’s always a lot of work to be done, and to have minions around only helps. Don’t let your ego get the better of you: a paid or unpaid internship is a very good way to learn hands-on from the best in the industry. To sit at the same desk with a great copywriter will show you their day-to-day struggle with words and how they cope with that, as well as what inspires them to write better. You will also learn how they handle clients, particularly difficult ones.
Probably the best thing you will take away from an internship is the knowledge of conceptualising before writing your copy. Many new copywriters struggle with their assignments because they dive straight into writing before actually conceptualising. Conceptualising is the process of doing your research into the industry you are writing for, making a note of the key influencers for that industry and figuring out what phrases and copy styles click for the consumers who belong to that industry. It is the process where you form the idea you want to present in words.
If you don’t read, you don’t learn. I used to think I knew it all when it comes to good language skills or great grammar, however that isn’t all there is to writing copy. When I read great copywriting books like ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King or ‘Ogilvy on Advertising’ I learned the secrets of the trade, from power words to how psychology works in copy.
You must (notice I used the word ‘must’ and not ‘should’) read not just books but newspapers, news portals, industry publications and the like. Why? Because you don’t know what your next assignment will be. Reading multiple sources of content helps you to take stock of industry buzz words, key phrases and the style of writing they employ.
Good books to start with:
“How to Write Sales Letters That Sell” -Drayton Bird
“Tested Advertising Methods” -John Caples
“On Writing” -Stephen King
“Advertising Secrets of The Written Word” -Joe Sugarman
“Web Copy That Sells” Maria Veloso
“The Elements of Copywriting” Gary Blake and Robert Bly
“The Copywriters” Handbook -Bob Bly
“Ogilvy On Advertising”
4. Build a list of power words
Power words are words which are known to be persuasive, influencing and subliminally decisive. Words like ‘provide’ and ‘limited edition’ are employed many times by advertising copywriters for one reason: they work. Benefit-promising words are always effective simply because they speak to the most important element in question: the customer.
A list of power words is here, on a great site run by Gil Carlson.
Always keep this list of power words handy. There are many – including you with your own common sense – who will tell you there’s no such thing as a power word and that customers ignore such over-promising insinuators. Wrong. Haven’t you bought a shampoo or burger recently because the advertisement said ‘incredible hair-strengthening ability’ or ‘remarkably tender meat’?
Find simple copywriting work online or through friends. Look at freelance boards for work that you can do to hone your skills such as flyers or posters for local charities, supermarkets etc. Ask friends and family if they want help writing promotional copy for their endeavours. Many times, small to medium companies don’t mind hiring the services of a freelancer if it means getting the job done cheaper. I don’t mean to use this as a way to cheapen my line of work, but doing smaller assignments will help you build a portfolio to showcase when you want to pitch for bigger assignments with large agencies or corporations.
6. Follow social media gurus on Twitter, blogs and websites
The leaders have done it all and are still at it. They regularly post advice, links and suggestions to help others excel in this role, which means you have nothing to lose and everything to gain! I will be posting a list of gurus in various marketing disciplines soon, so stay tuned for that!
7. Helpful links
Here are some links to great sites that can help you begin your copywriting career. I wish you all the best.
And that, ladies and gentlemen is a short list of how to get started in the copywriting industry. If you have any questions, simply ask in the comments below.
I would also like if you would follow me on Twitter, by the way: @anthonypermal
I want to say a special word of thanks to Andy Owen. The first copywriting course I attended was run by him, and since then I’ve avidly followed his advice not just from that day but also through his website.