I am frequently contacted by college students researching a career in copywriting. I publish their questions and my answers in hopes the information will be useful to others as well. Please see below for my interchange with a Brigham Young University student.
— Susan Greene
I am currently an English major at BYU-I and have been interested in copywriting. I’ve decided to put my emphasis on creative writing and was wondering if this is a good career path for me. I would appreciate it if you could answer the following questions for me.
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Copywriters typically write any of the following: websites, brochures, ads, press releases, blog posts, magazine/ezine articles, radio/tv commercials, product labels/packaging materials, direct mailers, technical manuals, textbooks, sales video scripts, etc.
Your question borders on being offensive, although I know you don’t mean to be. Yes, it is mostly professional writing, however, we copywriters would like to believe our work is creative.
In most cases, we have to write copy that engages the reader and persuades them to take action. If the copy isn’t creative, it’s unlikely to achieve those objectives. If by “creativity” you mean writing fiction, then I guess it’s fair to say that copywriting not creative.
Editing plays a role whether you are doing creative or non-creative writing. Most writers create multiple drafts before publishing a finished piece or submitting a piece to a client.
I can tell you that I recently completed copy for a college textbook, for example. I edited my own draft multiple times before submitting it. It then was reviewed by 3 different editors, each one requiring me to do a rewrite of certain passages, before it was finally published.
In most cases, however, you won’t have professional editors reviewing your work. A college text is a unique situation. Usually, you’ll be submitting your work to a client, and if the client finds errors or poorly written prose, he/she will be dissatisfied and may not choose to hire you again in the future.
If possible, obtain an internship in your field while you’re still in school. That will give you some hands-on experience and perhaps also enable you to make a few contacts.
You’ll need to build up a portfolio of writing samples to demonstrate your capabilities before you start sending out your resume. If you’re seeking a job in an ad agency, then most of those samples should be ads you’ve written. If you’re seeking a job in a web design firm, then the samples should be website copy. If you’re seeking a job in a PR firm, then your samples should be press releases and media kits.
Once you have a portfolio, then you’ll need to explore all the traditional methods of job hunting from networking to being active in social media to responding to classified ads online and offline.
Go to Monster.com and other career sites and search for copywriting positions. That will give you an idea of employers. They can be corporations, magazines, blogs, ad agencies, etc.
Additionally, you can consider becoming a freelance copywriter like me, and then you work for a variety of employers, most of whom hire you per project or put you on a monthly retainer fee to be available to do their work as needed.
I love learning new subjects. In order to write about a company’s products or services, I need to understand what they do. I’m constantly learning new things.
For example, this week I am writing a website for a company that makes pet pharmaceuticals, a brochure for a company that is offering leadership training courses to corporate executives, a newsletter for a real estate company selling condos in Miami Beach, and a website for an Italian restaurant.
If you go to my Portfolio section on this website, you’ll see the wide range of clients with whom I work. The variety is what I love.
Also, I should point out that a good part of what I love about being a freelance copywriter is that I’m self-employed. I choose my own schedule. For the most part, I decide what I want to work on. And I even control my income, based on how much work I take on and how well I negotiate my fees. I love my freedom and the control over my daily schedule and long-term destiny.
I wouldn’t say I hate anything about copywriting. But on the business end, I dislike asking for money. Consequently, I sometimes under-price projects. I end up quoting too low or, being an over-achiever, doing more work than was contracted. I am continually working on improving in this area.
The other thing I dislike is working with a difficult client or one with unrealistic expectations. While most customers are a delight, some can be tough to work with.
Example: I was recently asked to write a four-page brochure on a specific topic. As background information, the client gave me a list of 10 bullets, 2-3 words each. That’s it. I somehow was supposed to turn that into about 600-800 words that compel the reader to buy now.
I did a lot of research on the topic and delivered the full brochure content as requested. Instead of being dazzled by my resourcefulness and competence, the client gave the following unconstructive feedback, “That’s not exactly what I had in mind. Please try again.” Grrrrrr!
As previously mentioned, you need to develop a portfolio of work samples. That shouldn’t be a problem these days with all the opportunities to be published online. You can start your own blog or write guest blog posts for existing blogs.
You can submit articles to an article directory like www.ezinearticles.com or www.isnare.com. You can even create your own website. If you are resourceful, you will find many ways to produce samples of work that will help you convince an employer you have talent and skills.
The hardest part of establishing a freelance copywriting business is getting clients. You need to figure out how you will market your services. You can be the best writer in the world, but if nobody knows about you and your skills, you won’t get any work. Determine where and how you’re going to reach your prospects, and you’ll be off to a good start.
Good luck in your endeavors.