There are many different ways to become a copywriter. While this can be good news for people who value flexibility, the lack of clarity can be tricky for people who prefer structure.
You may need to be prepared to craft your own path into this profession, but if you have the patience to find your way, you will arrive at a career that lets you work with words to make things happen.
What kind of copywriter do you want to be?
This article could easily be a series of books, each covering the different kinds of copywriting work.
As a copywriter, you could be:
- Creating concepts for TV ads
- Drafting case studies or blog posts
- Building a buzz on social media
- Grabbing journalists' attention.
You could also be working on technical writing, user experience (UX) writing, conversion copywriting, content strategy, email marketing or microcopy.
The good news is that the skills and knowledge required for each discipline is roughly the same, although of course you will need a deeper understanding of each format if you choose to specialise.
Do copywriters need training?
Yes, copywriters need training to understand how to use language to get attention and achieve business goals.
The shape and structure of this training varies according to your own interests and intentions. If you're hoping to work in an ad agency, or as an in-house writer, specific training (or a degree) in marketing, communications or advertising will boost your chances of getting hired.
If you're planning to work as a freelancer, then you can use a wider variety of sources to develop your skills, including books, webinars and workshops.
The main reason for this difference is the way that different copywriters are recruited. In advertising and corporate recruitment, your CV is your passport to opportunity. In the freelance world, clients hire based on your experiences, and will rarely (if ever) ask to see a CV. If you want a job, you need a well-rounded CV. If you want a gig, you need a well-rounded portfolio.
Which skills do copywriters need?
As we've discussed above, the job title 'copywriter' can mean dozens of different things, depending on your industry, specialism, and department.
However, there are several core skills that all copywriters need, wherever you choose to work:
Knack for writing
Before you get too alarmed, this doesn't mean you have to be the next Shakespeare, or an expert on grammar and spelling. If you're good at telling stories, sharing jokes, or persuading friends to go to your favourite restaurant, you may have what it takes.
You need to be interested in everything. Because you won't just be promoting the latest cool gadgets. You'll be researching whatever your clients produce. That might be industrial cooling tanks, colostomy bags, or flea treatments. Great copywriters know how to stifle their yawns, roll up their sleeves, and write compelling copy.
Yes, you're creative, but can you be creative on demand, with 30 minutes' notice? Copywriters are often required to turn ideas into words with barely enough time to read the brief.
You'll need heaps of patience to deal with last-minute client requests and convoluted approval processes. You will also need to be open-minded to client feedback, and willing to accept that feedback can often improve the copy you produce.
Don't worry: you don't need a tidy desk or colour-coded socks. But you will need to get good at organising your clients' messages, ideas, benefits and priorities.
How can you gain experience as a copywriter?
Experience is priceless for any budding copywriter. The good news is that this can take any form.
- volunteer to help friends or family promote their business
- work as an intern to gain hands-on experience
- write speculative ads
- create your own brand and website to gain experience of distilling your messages and reaching an audience.
Be sure to tell everyone you know that you're becoming a copywriter and are looking for opportunities to practice your craft. You'll be amazed how many people are working on a project or business and need help communicating their idea and persuading prospects.
Related courses at City, University of London
With many of our short courses running entirely online, you can learn alongside your other commitments.
Resources for copywriters