I received the following questions in a series of emails from a graduating senior at Texas A&M University who aspires to be a professional copywriter. If you, too, are considering a career as a copywriter, you might find my answers below of interest.
Yes, you need to build a portfolio. Try to find friends or family who have businesses and may need help with a brochure, newsletter or other copywriting assignment. You can also create your own website. Use a tool like www.weebly.com if you’re not a techie. On the website include some samples of your writing, perhaps from school or volunteer work.
Another option is to write for blogs. Is there a subject in which you’re particularly interested? You can create your own blog. Or, find some blogs on the subject and then offer to write a guest post.
For example, I read a blog on leadership skills. I was speaking to the blog owner the other day and he asked if I’d consider writing a guest post on the ties between leadership and entrepreneurship. I’ve also written some guest posts on copywriting-related subjects for marketing blogs. They get free articles and I get a byline and some visibility (public relations).
Of course, you should always have your eyes open for opportunities among your contacts, including friends and family. Do any of them own a business? Might they appreciate some affordable assistance with their marketing?
There are also bid sites where you can compete for freelance copywriting projects such as www.freelancer.com, www.fiverr.com and www.upwork.com. The work tends to be low-paying but the value is in building your portfolio, gaining some experience and possibly connecting with a client who might have ongoing needs for your services.
Another option is for you to write an ebook. Pick a topic and write about it. Publish it as a PDF. I have one I wrote and published myself, which you can find here, www.JobHuntingStrategies.com.
The bottom line is that you can find places that will publish your work. The writing practice you get will be invaluable and, at the same time, you’ll be building a portfolio to show prospective employers or clients.
If you’re talking about printed newsletters, they’re dead. Anything printed is. Say goodbye to bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble. They will all be gone within the next couple years just as record stores have disappeared. Ebooks are the future.
As far as newsletters, electronic versions may survive but most people these days prefer the blog route in which posts are sent to their subscriber list and also posted online to attract new subscribers and encourage reader comments.
I don’t think direct mail is dead. In fact, these days it’s a way to stand out when so many others are choosing email. Sending a compelling brochure, postcard or direct mailer to a targeted list is a viable marketing strategy.
I make most of my money selling website copy. I do occasionally also write press releases, brochures, ads, packaging materials, technical articles, blog posts, etc. I am able to support myself. However, I know many freelance writers who are not able to do so.
Part of being successful as a self-employed copywriter is learning to market your services. That means finding prospects, persuading them to work with you and negotiating a fair rate. You have to accept that selling is a critical part of your job or you won’t be successful.
One of the most difficult aspects of any type of self-employment these days, not just for freelance copywriters, is paying your own healthcare insurance. I’m sure you don’t worry about such things in that you’re still in school, but it’s a big deal once you’re out on your own, and particularly once you have a family.
If I worked for an employer, my health insurance would likely be provided for free or at a very low cost. Health care is one of the big challenges for freelancers and all self-employed persons, although the situation has improved in recent years thanks to Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act).
Other than health insurance, I strive to keep my expenses minimal. I work out of my home, so I don’t pay office rent, and any employees who work for me are freelancers, so I pay them for their services on a specific project but not a salary and no benefits. I typically don’t meet in person with my clients so I have limited travel expenses. Most clients are not in my immediate area, and the phone, email and instant messaging are usually sufficient for our discussions.
As for office equipment, I have the typical fare — a PC, a laptop, an iPhone, etc. Nothing extravagant. As you can see, one of the benefits of being a copywriter is a minimal investment in the business. And in my opinion, low overhead means low stress.
Keep learning about your craft. You can easily find many blogs devoted to the subject of copywriting. They offer a wealth of information, as do ebooks and traditional books too. Look for opportunities to attend seminars or workshops on copywriting, blogging and marketing. They’ll accelerate your learning curve.
Finally, practice, practice, practice. The best way to improve as a writer is to write. It’s not enough to simply study the subject. Go from observer to active participant. Jump in, get wet and start swimming!
I wish you the best of luck and success in your endeavors.
Orlando, Florida, USA