Copywriters are more in demand today than ever before. A copywriter, in the simplest terms, is someone who can write persuasively. Companies need the skills of copywriters to present their products and services to clients in such a way that makes them want to buy. If you’re interested in knowing how to start a copywriting business, here are just a few reasons why it’s a good idea.
Why is copywriting a good opportunity?
You can do it from home
There are many successful copywriters who work from home for their ideal clients. They no longer have to work for a boss or face the daily commute – they enjoy freedom and flexibility while earning well at the same time. Of course it can take a while to get to that point but it is not as difficult as you may imagine.
The start-up costs are low
The costs of starting an online copywriting business are relatively low. You will need a website with your own domain name to market your copywriting services effectively. A domain name and hosting do not cost much and these are practically your only initial expenses. It is easy to build a website on the WordPress platform and online tutorials show you every step of the process, from choosing a theme to installing plugins. Of course you can always find a web designer to build your website for you but this will cost much more.
There’s a great demand
The demand for good copywriters keeps increasing as more and more businesses develop their online presence. Companies are beginning to realize the importance of copywriters who know just how to increase the response from their potential customers.
You have the potential to earn very well
Copywriting is a skill that can end the problem faced by many writers of how to make a decent living from their writing. You may not be able to charge as much for your services when you are first starting out and your portfolio still has to grow. As you begin to build your reputation, you can start raising your prices. Persuasive writing is in high demand so you can eventually be very well paid to do it.
5 Important starting steps
Before you take any of the steps that follow, I suggest you find out whether you are really cut out to be a copywriter. You can download a free ebook called “How to know if copywriting is right for you”.
Step 1: Learn the skills
I have always loved writing but I only thought about becoming a copywriter in my fifties when I was faced with a few crises simultaneously and needed to start earning money. I was encouraged by the fact that I could do an online copywriting course without even leaving my home. It was just the beginning of an exciting adventure for me and although some people do regard my age as a disadvantage in a field that seems to be dominated by young people, I found clients who wanted the perspective of an older person – I fit the bill for marketing to baby boomers because I can relate!
Since then I have read many books about copywriting, browsed websites of well-known copywriters, listened to podcasts, and tried to absorb as much as I could from every source possible. I would urge you to do the same. Fortunately, the basic skills you need to land a client do not take years to learn. It’s impossible to know everything before you land your first client. You learn more and improve as you go along. Here are some resources that will help you master the necessary skills:
Online copywriting courses abound so you will need to do some research to find out which one suits you best and offers the best value for money. Two courses that come highly recommended are AWAI’s Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting and Blackford Centre’s Professional Copywriting Courses.
For a free 7-day copywriting crash course, subscribe to Matt Ambrose’s The Copywriter’s Crucible.
Copyblogger – helps you to build a solid foundation as a freelance writer and copywriter. You will find many smart tips and plenty of helpful advice on this site.
Top Copywriting Sites – a great resource for newbie copywriters. Experts give advice on every aspect of copywriting.
AWAI (American Writers and Artists Inc.) – offers extensive copywriting training. It’s a great resource for any writer who wants to make a living from their writing. What I like is they do not just teach you how to be a copywriter but also help you with the process of finding the right clients so you can making a good living doing it.
Making a Living Writing – a well-known site run by Carol Tice who is dedicated to helping writers make an income from their writing. This site is for all freelance writers, not just copywriters. I found it helped me to get out of the mindset of undervaluing myself as a writer. (I spent two years writing for content mills so I needed to learn how to up my game!)
Doris and Bertie: Good copy, bad copy – helps you with the business side of copywriting. Start with their article What is a Copywriter? Hint: Writing’s only half the job and you will realize what being a copywriter is really all about.
Copyhackers has some good resources for newbies like The Beginners Guide to Creating Facebook Ads. I love what Joanna Wiebe says – “You’re not selling a product. You’re not selling a service… you’re selling your prospects a better version of themselves”.
Men with Pens is all about writing better copy for better conversion. This site will help you take your business to the next level.
The Copywriter’s Handbook: A Step-By-Step Guide To Writing Copy That Sells by Bob Bly is a good place to start. His ‘features versus benefits’ checklist, including a twenty-two point examination of a pencil drums home a message you’ll never forget.
Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples. This book is recommended by Brian Clark, founder of Copyblogger for its principles that have stood the test of time.
Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath is a guide to understanding why some ideas have staying power and others don’t. If you want to find out how to make your messages ‘stick’, read this provocative, entertaining book.
Words that Sell by Richard Bayan contains more than 6,000 words and phrases with alternatives for each – it will help transform your copy from bland to riveting.
The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman takes you step by step through everything you need to know about making a living as a freelance writer.
Step 2: Choose your niche
There are many different areas in which copywriters are needed and many different types of projects they can work on. The following points will help you to narrow down your choices. However, it may take a while to discover what type of copywriting you really enjoy doing and what kind of companies you want to work for – you may only find direction by trial and error.
Write for many niches or for one
It is possible to write for a variety of companies in different niches and sometimes it helps to have no preconceptions about a topic at all. Many beginning copywriters think they’re supposed to know everything about the product and how to promote it from the get-go. Remember that your clients do not expect you to know everything – all they expect is that you to ask the right questions. One problem with writing for many different niches is that it does require lots of research from you to familiarize yourself with the type of clients and the products.
The revelation that being a copywriter was not so much about selling a product as making a connection was a very welcome one for me. I am no salesperson but I have a real interest in people and what makes them tick. I hated the idea of pushing products but I loved the idea of connecting with the people wanting to buy the product and convincing them how their lives could improve if they bought it. If the niche is already well known to you, you will more easily understand the aspirations and desires of the clients. For example, if you are a pet lover, you are more likely to identify with other pet owners and you can specialize in writing copy for clients in the pet care industry.
Small companies versus large companies
For copywriters who are starting out, I think it’s better to cut your teeth by working for small companies. Don’t fly too high in the beginning or you may just crash and burn. You can always graduate to bigger companies later if you want to. Some people, like me, are happy to keep working for small companies.
Jack-of-all-trades or specialist
Direct mail, newsletters, PR materials, brochures, catalogues – the list of potential projects for copywriters goes on and on. Each type of work requires a slightly different approach and if you find one type that suits you best, you may want to focus on doing only that type of work. Extroverts, for example, may revel in writing for social media. Managing social media accounts for businesses is a big opportunity and the learning curve is not that steep (especially if you are already very active on social media). Once a business hires you for their social media writing, it is possible for you to earn a predictable income every month as they need your input on an ongoing basis.
Step 3: Create your portfolio
Your portfolio offers clients proof of what you can do. You have to provide proof of your skills and convince clients that you are worth hiring. So, how do you overcome the obstacle of not having a portfolio when you first start out?
Use what you already have
I started off by using some of the assignments I had completed for my copywriting course. My coach had critiqued these assignments and I had made changes according to his suggestions.
Offer free copy
My next step was to help friends in business with free website copy, About Me pages, press releases, blogs etc. Each one I did provided an example of another type of copy for my portfolio. It helps that lots of my family own their own businesses too – they were happy to help me.
Rewrite bad copy
Another idea (one I never attempted but I heard was successful for others) was to look for a website with bad copy, rewrite it and then present it to the owner. Ask him to try it and see if it improves his conversion rate – if it does, you have a client!
Portfolio hosting sites
There are many sites where you can host your portfolio. My first one was hosted at Clippings.me which is more of a journalism portfolio site. IM Creator is one of the recommended sites for copywriters to use for their portfolios.
Step 3: Your own website
Without a website with your own domain name (your website URL) and hosting (where your website’s files are stored), it will be difficult for you to stand out from the competition. Having a website is like having your own piece of property. You have total control. You can design it in such a way that the client can see immediately what to expect from you, getting a good sense of your style and your approach to writing. Create a snappy profile with a great image, think about your tagline carefully and tell clients what’s unique about you. You do not have to make things up or blow your own horn. Just present your skills and experience as clearly as possible and they will speak for themselves. Here are the websites of four successful woman writers who all have pretty diverse approaches:
Check out Kirsty Stuart’s simple but effective freelance writing website. She quit her day job in 2012 and became a full-time freelance writer.
Compare this with that of Dawn Mentzer who includes everything her clients need to know on her home page, including her samples, contact details and FAQs.
Kristi Hines does a great job of presenting her skills and testimonials from her clients. Compare her approach with that of Sophie Lizard whose statement on her website “You need words that make shit happen” immediately reveals her no-nonsense style.
Step 4: Find clients
Most beginning copywriters ask: “How will I find clients? Who is going to hire me? I don’t have any experience? How do I get experience if no one will hire me?” This is a vicious cycle and getting out of it depends on you. It is up to you to reach out. I found this part difficult because I am more of an introvert than an extrovert. I learned that you must be open to all opportunities and put yourself in the right place in the right time if you want to succeed. Get connected with people who can help you. Follow influential marketers on Twitter, create a LinkdIn profile, join Google Plus – there’s a community for just about every interest you can think of, write strategic blog posts. Get your name out there in every way you know how.
Job Boards: I found job boards like these very useful as a way to find clients:
Step 5: Keep clients happy
One of the first calls with your client will be to find out everything you need to know about your assignment. At this point it’s important to impress the client with your professionalism. You need to know how to ask the right questions and listen to the answers. Show the client you are serious about your business and about giving the best possible value for money.
Don’t bother the client unless you really need to
Your client can be a great source of information and you need to get as much information as possible in your first briefing. However, its best to keep contact to a minimum after that unless you have a question that only he can answer. Your clients are usually very busy people and they will get irritated if you bug them constantly.
Do your own research
After receiving initial information from your client, you will need to spend plenty of time researching the product and the customers. If you do this right, your copy will be good. If you don’t, there’s a very good chance it will be bad.
Keep to your deadlines
Always deliver your copy on time. Don’t ever make excuses – especially when dealing with a new client.
Be willing to accept criticism
If your client wants to change your copy because he doesn’t think it’s quite right for his clients, listen to him and make the suggested changes. On the other hand, if you really feel his suggestions are counterproductive, explain why you think his promotion would be stronger without the changes. If the client still insists, do it his way.
If you really want to create a favorable impression, check back with your client to see how your copy is performing. If you can convince the client that you are concerned about his bottom line and not just your own, he is more likely to keep giving you work.
Don’t bug your client for more work but try to keep the lines of contact open. Perhaps you could email him something of interest related to his industry.
When I first started out, I found that some clients gave me very small jobs. I would try to do these to the best of my ability and go the extra mile although they only brought in small amounts of money. It paid off for me in the long run as eventually more work started coming my way.
Copywriting can help you to live the life you want to live. Give it your all, put yourself out there, be professional and you will find loyal clients.