That is something I am asked regularly by people who have been bitten by the writing bug and want to embark on a career as a professional copywriter.
There’s lots of advice out there and a few urban myths too, so here’s my story of how I got started.
You need an agency background
This is a common myth banded about.
Agency experience is useful and it may mean you have a few useful contacts tucked away up your sleeve, but it’s not a necessity.
Before starting my copywriting business, I had no previous experience in an agency or in a role as a copywriter. But what I did have was the ability to write clearly, powerfully and in a way that connected with my readers.
Going right back to the beginning, I started out life in the banking industry and spent a lot of time writing to customers on behalf of the branch manager (skill #1 learning to take on the voice of someone else).
After a career break to start my family, I began working for an international Leprosy charity. During that time I produced fundraising material for local campaigns (skill #2 writing persuasively with emotion to get people to take a specific action).
Then I decided to go back to school and embarked on a BA (Hons) degree in English Language and Literature with the Open University (skill #3 self-discipline and the ability to write with clarity).
After I graduated in 2007, a local businessman and friend asked for my help on a project he was working on. He knew I could write and needed some copy producing for one of his clients. I did the work, the project was a huge success and I was bitten by the copywriting bug.
Within a month, I’d set up my business, launched my first website and started learning about Internet marketing and social media.
As a result, about 70% of my new clients find me through my website with the remainder being word of mouth recommendations.
Networking and cold calling will get you clients
I’m sure for many, these options do bring in clients, but in the early days I did neither.
Cold calling is one of my pet hates; it really bugs me when people call me up trying to sell me stuff, so I refuse to do it to others.
As for networking, my initial decision to grow my business online via social media (‘virtual’ networking) came about because I am not a natural networker. Being of a shy disposition, walking into a room of strangers and striking up a conversation is my worst nightmare.
Of course, not everyone is like me and networking will get you in front of the people you need to speak with. So make sure you present yourself correctly. Don’t just way “hello, I’m a copywriter”, sell yourself by telling them “I help companies communicate more effectively with their customers through writing”.
Today, I do some networking, but I’ll never cold call.
You can only write for an industry you know about
Copywriting is about finding the right words to convey the right message to the right people.
Your client is the person who should know everything there is to know about their industry, not you.
As a copywriter, your role is to:
- Study the company and its brand
- Get a good knowledge of the service/product you’re writing about
- Understand their target customers
- Discover what it is that their customers want to know
- Identify the main benefits that will make the customers buy
The client is coming to you because you are an expert in your field not theirs.
You have to charge by the hour
No, no, no, no, no.
Clients aren’t paying for your time; they are paying for your experience and expertise.
You wouldn’t pay a plastic surgeon for the time it takes him to perform your tummy tuck – would you?
You are not just a writer – you are an expert in creating marketing communications that resonate with customers, compelling them to take a specific action.
Anyone can string a sentence together; not everyone can create copy that is powerful, persuasive and that gets results.
That’s a whistle-stop look at how I got started as a copywriter, but there are numerous ways you can break into the industry.
A while ago, I was asked to participate in a couple of The Guardian Online’s forums about being a copywriter. The links to these are below so you can also read about how other copywriters started out.