How to become a copywriter

Many of the questions I get asked the most relate to how to become a copywriter. And while there’s no set-in-stone pathway to landing your first copywriting gig, there’s definitely an element of strategising that will help you eventually accomplish your goal.

So to help me answer this question, I decided to pen a post around my own journey into the interesting, sometimes challenging, but ultimately rewarding world of copywriting. OK, that might sound a little self-indulgent – but my hope is that through my own experiences I can teach and encourage others hoping to carve a career out of their prose.

So, let me take you back to my green-eyed early years, with the intention of guiding you on your own journey towards becoming a copywriter.

The journalism dream

I was eleven years old when my English teacher told me to become a journalist. Not at that age, obviously; but he told me it should be my long-term plan – as his had been. Like many other writers I’m sure, I’d always struggled with the logical part of my brain – so maths and physics weren’t my strong points. It was in my English classes where I soared.

Said English teacher picked up on my ability to craft a sentence or two, coming to the conclusion that my plan should be to enter the world of newspapers. From that moment on, whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was simple. I was going to be a journalist. End of.

From there, I did my online research (which in ’99 would have either been asking Jeeves or using Yahoo) to figure out what I needed to do to achieve my goal. This included going to university and either studying English or Journalism. I chose the latter. I was all set to achieve my dream.

Except it wasn’t my dream. It was someone else’s. And because I knew that no matter what I ended up doing needed to involve writing in some way, becoming a journalist seemed like the logical profession.

That was until I studied to become a journalist.

Fact not fiction

Don’t get me wrong, my university years were some of the best of my life so far. But it had nothing to do with what I was learning in my lectures! I learnt very quickly that although I could develop as a writer in journalism, there wasn’t as much room for creativity as I’d hoped. If I was to follow the path of journalism, I would be focusing far more on fact than fiction.

It wasn’t until I finished uni, moved to London and landed my first role as a junior copywriter that I realised there were other career options that involved utilising my love and talent for putting pen to paper. Or, fingers to keyboard at least.

The art of copywriting

What I immediately loved about copywriting was the conceptualisation that occurs before you even write a word. How you can be set a brief, which becomes your canvas to create something that impresses both your client and yourself. I liked the idea of working on campaigns that tell a story; something that allowed me to use my creativity in a way that is still commercial.

Over six years on and my love for copywriting just grows, as does my portfolio of work and list of freelance clients. Currently I’m contracting at one of Australia’s biggest telco companies, while also juggling various projects for clients all over the world. And the best part? I’m getting to paid to do what I love.

Sound like something you’d be interested in? Well, I couldn’t recommend it enough. This might seem strange, seeing as you becoming a copywriter could potentially make you a competitor. But that’s the great thing about the copywriting industry; it’s a warm and welcoming community (must be a writer thang), and there’s plenty of room for everyone. After all, there’s more than enough work to go round!

So without further ado, here’s how to get started in building a copywriting career of your own.

How to become a copywriter

Be good at your craft.

Before you can start calling yourself a professional copywriter, it’s important to at least nail the basics. Obviously it helps to enjoy writing, but you won’t get very far if you’re not actually any good at it. Sounds harsh, but come on – spell check can only get you so far. That said; don’t think just because you don’t have a degree you can’t become a copywriter. So much of what you learn will be on the job, and an eventual wealth of experience will be far superior to your academic achievements.

Figure out the sort of copywriter you’d like to be.

Before the digital age, the options in the copywriting world would have been far more limited. You would have written scripts for TV commercials in an ad agency, press releases, direct mail campaigns, brochures and a few more avenues. While all those options still exist, there’s now a whole new universe of copywriting opportunities. From SEO copywriting to content strategist roles, educate yourself in the choices to figure out the sort of copywriter you’d like to be.

Keep an eye on the competition.

Just because I mentioned how warm and welcoming the copywriting community is, doesn’t mean they’re not still ultimately your competitors. Keep an eye on what other copywriters are doing, whether it’s on their blogs, social media channels or even in their portfolios. It’s never OK to steal ideas, but there’s nothing wrong with gaining a little bit of inspiration – particularly when you’re getting started.

Be prepared to work, work, work, work, work.

Yes, excuse the cliché. And Rihanna reference. But ultimately, all the skill and ambition in the world means nothing if you’re not prepared to put in the hours. And after hours. Becoming a copywriter is one thing, becoming a good copywriter is something else entirely. But with enough practise, determination, networking and willingness to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty, there’s no reason why you won’t be rewarded with a long and successful career in copywriting.

Welcome to the best profession in the world!