How do I become a copywriter?

Right. First things first.

You got PASSION? Well then: read on.

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I had an interesting conversation this week, where we discussed, amongst other things, social media marketing. I asked how he ended up in his field and he asked “How did I become a copywriter?”

Fields featured again in the ensuing chat.

He left me with a concept he’d once been given: social media is like standing in a field, shouting, along with millions of others (big field I know).

Everyone shouting, no one listening, no one communicating properly.

Marketing can be like that – it’s a full-on bombardment, a Saving Private Ryan opening, with no respite – other than to reach for Mute, Delete or Ignore.

I liked the field idea greatly as an astute parallel – because the internet is noise, white noise, people shouting, vying for attention, hollering and shouting.

I’ve not even yet addressed the title and question: “How do I become a copywriter?”

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So I will now answer,  how do I become a copywriter, with a handy list of 10 perceptions.

  1. A degree? I have one in English Studies from 1986 when I sported a mullet and supported my struggling polytechnic local team: Sunderland. No change there. I personally don’t think it’s necessary. It is lovely to write BA Hons after your name in emails and on letters at 21, but you realise later at 22 that it’s a real arsey thing to do, just leave it to headteachers and CEO’s letterheads, to flaunt their qualifications and insecurities?
  2. Passion? Always helps. You need to enjoy writing and not see it as a chore, a burden, a day job, but passion? Renault‘s slogan is “Passion for Life”. Is passion necessary to become a copywriter or just to own a Clio or Megane?
  3. Experience? I’ve written for 48 years – does that count as experience? Writing ‘Stuart’ as a toddler then developing further with trite poems beginning “Traffic makes such a noise, when on the road cross girls and boys.” Hardly Larkin or Keats I know. Do you need experience though? Is writing experience or is life experience more important? Am I a junior writer at 51 because I’ve done it professionally for a few years or a senior copywriter as I’ve taught English from 22 to 50? You tell me.
  4. Skills. How do I become a copywriter if I don’t know a verb from an adverb, a noun from a pronoun, a moron from an oxymoron? You can learn these fiddly bits, just as you can develop copywriting skills for different audiences, different forms, for SEO, social media or print.  Writing skills are needed. An ability to write engaging content, with accurate spelling and grammar is paramount. You can though learn these, if you’re serious about becoming a copywriter. Practise or practice makes perfect? I know – do you? You need too to understand about consumer psychology – what triggers consumer behaviour? More to follow on that below.
  5. Examples? If you ghostwrite for businesses, this can become a sticky issue. I have clients but I am unable to showcase them on my website as they’ve asked for ghostwritten blogs, emails, printed and digital copy. I’d love a Portfolio tab on this website but I can’t really. If you ask me directly how do I become a copywriter without examples, there’s an answer. Read my blog posts, my Facebook reviews, testimonials on LinkedIn and Google Plus and make a decision as to whether I can write. What I would say to any budding writers is don’t let businesses exploit you at the start. Some big marketing companies ask you to submit a blog post to them following their title and brief. Walk away.  When starting out,  you’re often naive and you may say here you go, 500 words for free on the task you set me. My advice is to say to these companies, “No.” Guest blogging for free, with your name attached, is a different kettle of cod. Remember, you don’t ask a plumber to show how they’d fix a leak before you allow him or her or pay him or her to do other work, so don’t allow yourself as a writer, a ghostwriter, to oil others’ business wheels for free. If they are surprised at your refusal, be pleased, no one should expect you to work for free. Value your own work and make businesses pay you to do it. Think plumber, barber, joiner and what you pay them – writing is a skill so expect payment. Don’t do it for free. Feed your own website and social media pages for free, but not others, never – unless your name is up in lights on the guest blog.
  6. Write. Can I be frank? Rhetorical question as I intend to be frank. Copywriters should have a regularly updated blog on their website, on Medium, on LinkedIn, as their voice, as their examples of writing. Not many do though and it irritates me. If you’re a writer show your writing, have a blog tab that exemplifies your passion and skills. I show and tell but others don’t – why not? I run a flooring fitter’s Facebook page – and I regularly update it with photos to showcase his work. Many writers don’t show their own writing – are they too busy? Is it a burden for them? A writer’s blog is internal content marketing – make sure you write for yourself so others can see the quality of your written content.
  7. Read. Writers should read, read constantly. Words and books inspire me. Reading is my mental gym, my workout. Writers should read. I read Paula Hawkins’s “The Girl on the Train” last week, not for any reason, other than it was there on a bookshelf in my home office, my man den ting. It was gripping, inspiring and clichéd, in that I could not put the book down. How do I become a copywriter? Read. Read widely. I wished I could have written that novel. “The Man eating Market Chips In Yarmouth” doesn’t sound that inspiring though?
  8. Web presence. Yellow Pages, Thomson Local may have got window cleaners work in the past, will writers too; but in 2016? It’s all about being online. Any business, any service has to be online and with a presence. I don’t mean Page One, but certainly aspiring to get on or near there. It’s bloody hard work though. How do I become a Copywriter? Don’t give up. It’s a long haul, establishing a business. You need a decent website, you need to engage followers on social media channels, you’re in a nation of 60 million people, with probably about 5000 people operating as copywriters in  the UK alone. Some fancy business cards and a window advert in One Stop won’t cut it. You’re selling your services, not a sofa. You have to make people notice you and they have to be the right people who need your service. Who needs a copywriter? Answer that and you have defined the audience. Engage that audience with information they like and battle two is won. It’s a long haul though, not a quick fix.
  9. Perseverance. You can’t expect to become an established copywriter after a week, a month, a year. I had a frisson of delight tonight (sad I know) that exactly one year after deciding to become a freelance copywriter, one of my keyword mega blogs hit Page 5 of Google. It’s the first time I’ve appeared in the top 5 and it felt great. One year though of writing, reading, feeding Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Medium, StumbleUpon, Scoop It, Webmaster Tools I made page 5 for one search term. Most bloggers jack in after 6 months because they don’t gain success. If you asked me again, How Do I Become a Copywriter, I’d say stick at it. It’s a global triathlon that will need 5 years. Persevere. It’s a feast or famine situation too. You have to be financially and emotionally prepared for lean periods – stick at it, live with troughs and savour the highs.
  10. Have something to say. I love Vanilla ice cream, hate Vanilla writing. Make yours stand out by having something informative or entertaining to say. Develop your voice. I’ve developed mine since leaving education for good – you might like my voice or find it grating, but at least I can hopefully claim it’s distinctive and not Vanilla. I can adopt the voice and tone of a brand when ghostwriting – it’s about changing language and register, which I’ve read aloud in classrooms for 28 years, but my own writing is mine. It’s my voice. I don’t use this voice when writing for others though – I adopt a brand tone. Always.

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So how do I become a copywriter with no experience?

You need a few things to set you off:

  • A reliable broadband connection
  • A laptop or desktop
  • A smartphone
  • A pad and pen
  • A passion for reading and writing
  • A back up salary
  • A grasp of the language you’re writing in

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You don’t need formal qualifications to write; I’ve got a degree in English and three decades of teaching under my belt, so I count these as writing qualifications.

You do however need a back up salary, as a copywriter salary is hit and miss. My wife remains as a teacher, leaving to stare into the middle distance and find my muse.

A copywriter salary is zero when you start.

Or at least when you’re freelance.

Let me explain more.

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My outgoings per month as a home-based copywriter are minuscule: there are hosting costs for this website and the occasional splurge on promoted social media posts, but, largely, costs are minimal.

Apart from, of course, the cost of my time.

Now when I began this venture, I got spammed by agencies who messaged and flattered me by inviting to write for them – the payment was derisory, under minimum wage in fact, but I did it to cut my teeth so to speak. Expect an onslaught and learn to say no.

My copywriter salary is nowhere near what I earned as a teacher.

Not yet anyway.

But if I wanted a teacher’s salary, I’d teach.

I write because I want to write, not teach Shakespeare and Steinbeck until I keel over.

Do not believe the emailed bullshit you’ll get telling you can make millions writing.

The nature of freelance copywriting is feast or famine, the three buses turning up at once, or waiting for hours.

Be prepared too to be undercut.

I have been recently, with a contract.

The temptation there may be to lower your bar and match the price that has been offered.

I won’t and I don’t though.

If someone is prepared to undercut me, that’s fine. It’s business. I set a price and I stick to it.

You’ll get other people pitching against you on LinkedIn.

Again this can initially irk but you win some and lose some.

A copywriter salary can be from a few thousand a year to much much more, but it takes time to establish yourself, particularly when freelance.

I could choose the employment route and go for Agency Copywriting or work within a Marketing firm, but I prefer being at home and managing myself and not being managed.

You know how bosses are?

Yes.

Say no more.

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What’s the other thing that is vital if you asked me How do I become a copywriter?

An understanding of the psychology of a consumer.

It’s knowing what triggers buyer actions.

Knowing that your copywriting, your website, your brand, your products, your services have to go through these stages of consumer psychology:

  1. RESEARCH
  2. RELATIONSHIPS
  3. CONTENT MARKETING
  4. DESIGN
  5. SOCIAL MEDIA
  6. PRICING

RESEARCH. Consumers have information like never before. At the tap of a smartphone, they can see testimonials, visit a company website, evaluate social media offerings. If a consumer is making a major decision, like buying a new computer, a car or selling a home, that research takes longer. Your company needs to figure in the research process and leave a positive impression. If not, you will be discarded as an option early on.

RELATIONSHIPS. We do business with people we like, people we have a relationship with. Focus your sales process on building valuable relationships. The sales funnel is a dated simplified tool. Funnels get blocked and diverted. Focus on positive relationships. Make your brand trustworthy and a place to go to for support, advice and information. Stop thinking me and focus on we and what your consumers want and need, not in 5 minutes, or 5 days, but longer term. Build positive relationship marketing strategies. A good copywriter can craft words that will build trust – a blogging strategy is an inexpensive but incredibly effective relationship marketing strategy.

CONTENT MARKETING. Becoming the thought leader in your business, making people use your business for information as they trust it. Not sell, sell, sell, not shout, shout, shout – there’s thousands doing that it in that field. Amuse, entertain, inform, have a copywriter who can put “content tilt” on your marketing – a new way of looking at something. I read an article the other day where someone was asking a Twitter marketing expert why their cat’s Twitter account had more engagement than the business one. You guessed it. The cat account had better content, that engaged an audience, the business one didn’t. A great content marketing strategy can be delivered by web designers, social media strategists and copywriters. It takes time though to establish yourself so people flock to you to listen in that crowded field (flogging that metaphor to death I know).

DESIGN. A copywriter is not necessarily a designer. A good copywriter though understands about the psychology of design on customers – example, what colour should action buttons be in email campaigns to maximise hits and what shapes? I know. I’ve blogged about it.

SOCIAL MEDIA. It’s great having consumers find your website and contact details online easily but how do you tap into their social browsing behaviours on the platforms they use? Do you go for broad brush strokes and feature on all major social media platforms? Would your business see a better ROI on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram? What are you going to post? When? How often? How do you measure impact? Your web content written by an a agency or freelance copywriter will have negligible impact unless you tap into consumer behaviour patterns on social media.

PRICING. We can all choose to go to Lidl or Aldi. We can choose between Waitrose and Sainsbury’s. Tesco and Asda. Skoda or Audi? Dacia or Renault? Why do we choose? For supermarkets, is it pricing, convenience, product quality, the staff, store layout that makes us go to one or more? Pricing is a key aspect of consumer psychology. It’s what makes your business profitable or unprofitable. But is it the be all and end all, or wouldn’t we all be driving Dacia Dusters?

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So, how am I doing?

My new career as a freelance writer, and social media marketer, is going well.

I thought long and hard about how to get into copywriting and now I’m in it, it’s great.

I’ve got thousands of virtual friends to add to my one hand of real friends and they suffice when I’m in the solitary confinement of the man den. I have no bosses, no one to manage, no office politics and, best of all, no meetings.

I’ve spent over half my life in department meetings, staff meetings, senior leadership meetings and I don’t ever intend spending another minute in one. They’re boring, pointless and a living death.

Finally, I may have left educational settings, but I’m always keen to help others become writers – in the next few months, I intend to launch online lessons, webinars I think they’re called and Facebook Live sessions to pass on my Renault Espace Passion for copywriting.

If you need any other advice on “How Do I Become a Copywriter”, get in touch with me today.

Twitter, Instagram @stuartrwalton

Facebook: @stuartwaltonwriter

Mobile: 07462923476

Or just shout in the field opposite my house.