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I received an email from an aspiring copywriter who’s currently in an entry-level position with a digital marketing agency and wants advice on how to advance in her career. I’m posting her email (edited to protect her anonymity) and my response in the hope the information might prove useful to other aspiring copywriters.
— Susan Greene
To introduce myself, my name is Julie and I am 22 years old. I read your advice article for those who want to break into freelance copywriting, and I found extreme similarities in our stories—I am currently an account coordinator at a digital marketing agency, similar to your first job. And like you, when you were in that position, I secretly long to be a copywriter.
I have been a skilled writer from a young age, and I attended a prominent university in the field of journalism and received a degree in Strategic Communication. I love the advertising world and the creativity that comes with it, but I have found myself struggling to be passionate about my work as an account coordinator.
I spend most of my time providing administrative and customer service support to the account executives, copywriters, media planners and client services managers. I keep busy but the work isn’t challenging. I feel like in the short time I’ve been here, I’ve already mastered most of the daily tasks.
I thought I wanted to be in accounts since my sophomore year of college, but I’ve realized that I lied to myself; I chose accounts because I was playing it safe. Failure is more evident in creative environments, and I am terribly afraid of failing entirely.
I would like to become a copywriter, but I have no portfolio. I’m trying to freelance online, but because I have no portfolio and no previous copywriting jobs, I am getting nowhere. I have been told time and time again how impressive my writing is, but because my job is not that of a writer, I am not trusted. People just don’t want to take a chance with someone new.
I’ve tried networking locally but haven’t had much success making contacts with potential clients or others in my industry. I don’t see a path toward realizing my dream to be a copywriter, which is why I’m reaching out to you.
As I embark on almost the same journey you did, I would like to know if you have any tips or words of advice. How were you perceived as an account coordinator-turned-copywriter? What was that transition like? Did you try to do some copywriting at the ad agency you were at? I am so curious to know more.
I apologize for the breadth of this email, but please know I greatly appreciate you taking the time to read and respond.
It’s nice to meet you. Sounds to me like you’re off to a good start on your career. You’re 22 and you’re working in your field. That’s more than most recent grads can say. Now make the most of that opportunity.
As you may know from reading my blog, I started as an account coordinator for an ad agency. It gave me an opportunity to learn about the business. I got to work with creative directors, graphic designers and copywriters and see projects go from initial concept through execution. Unfortunately though, for the most part in that first job, my learning was limited to observing others, not doing, which was frustrating, so I understand what you’re going through.
My boss, who was a jerk, kept trying to make me his secretary, pushing me to take on clerical tasks. He was forever asking me to type up his notes, make photocopies or run out and pick up his lunch. Mind you, the company had a secretary but she was lazy and liked to think of herself solely as a receptionist, the person who greeted guests and answered phones, so I get why the boss and others at the agency sought me out for clerical tasks.
In fact, one morning when I came into work, I found a typewriter sitting front and center on my desk. (Yes, I’m old enough that we were using typewriters back then.) I’m 100% certain the boss had purchased this extra typewriter with plans to have me do all the typing that the secretary kept finding ways to avoid. But since he hated confrontations, he’d simply plopped it in my office before I got in and hoped I would accept my fate.
As soon as I saw the typewriter, I knew exactly what was going on. I picked it up and moved it into one of the unoccupied offices we had, saying, “Someone mistakenly put this in my office. It’s not mine. So I moved it here. This way we can all have access to use it as needed.” Fortunately for me, my cowardly boss never said a word to me on the subject, even though I’m sure he very much wanted to. I counted it as a small victory.
The point was, I had gone to a good college, studied journalism to become a writer and done well. I was willing to work hard and put in the hours. I was a go-getter who wanted to learn. Even though everyone says you have to “pay your dues,” there was no way I was going to spend years being underemployed as a secretary when I was capable of doing so much more.
All I really wanted to do was write. In fact, that’s all I’d ever wanted to do my whole life. Because the boss wouldn’t give me those opportunities, I began seeking them out on my own.
I wrote articles for local weekly newspapers and also local monthly magazines. Back then, there was no internet and no blogs, so print was my only avenue. The pay for my articles was paltry but I was building my portfolio, my experience and my professional contacts. I also delighted in knowing that my boss subscribed to some of those local monthly magazines and was probably seeing my byline or hearing buzz around the office from others each time I got published.
Eventually, I approached some of the copywriters at my agency. When they seemed overloaded with work, I would offer to write a first draft for one of their projects, just something to help get the ball rolling, take something off their plate. If I was busy at work, I had to write those first drafts at home on my own time.
Like you, I was terribly afraid of failing, but I realized the only way I would learn was to stop watching and start doing. Little by little, a couple of the copywriters began to seek me out to take on some of their work. They knew they might have to edit my copy but that was easier than writing from scratch.
I also began talking with everyone I could outside the agency about helping them with any copywriting needs. I spoke to relatives with businesses, workout buddies at the gym and people I met through networking such as at chamber of commerce events. I managed to pick up a few jobs and referrals to contact. They were all small-time projects, but I was getting experience and building a portfolio, not to mention my self-confidence.
Right in the ad agency’s office building were half a dozen other small businesses. No one from my agency had ever made an effort to get to know the people at those businesses. I saw them all as great prospects. I’d pass the owners in the hallway and say hello and start up conversations.
Once I’d gotten to know them, I’d stop in their offices and ask how they were doing. Then I would offer to write copy for anything they needed — sales letters, press releases, brochures, etc. I would quote an extremely reasonable rate and would assure them that if they didn’t like what I wrote, they didn’t have to pay for it. I made it a no-lose situation for them. Several of them took me up on the offer, and I had my first clients, right under my boss’s nose!
I also volunteered at some local charities. I worked on the marketing committee of my local YMCA and got to produce a couple of brochures for them to recruit new members. I also worked with the local United Way, which resulted in me creating some direct mailers for fundraising. And I became a member of a local Women in Business group, eventually volunteering to write their monthly newsletter. The visibility it gave me resulted in several members hiring to write copy (brochures, sales videos, ads) for their business.
Eventually some of the copywriters at the ad agency where I worked moved on and after two years my boss finally, grudgingly, offered me a position as account executive, a client service position that would have included copywriting. Still bent on breaking me for some sick reason, he made sure not to give me the copywriter title or salary. I accepted my new role, happy to have achieved my goal, but only stayed for a few months, as by then I’d already had a taste for working for myself. I left to start my own business and never looked back.
So, what can you do to make the move from account coordinator to copywriter? Consider starting your own blog. Choose a subject about which you’re passionate. Write posts that show off your independent thinking and creativity.
Another option: write guest posts for existing blogs that publish in areas you like. For example, if you’re a pet lover, find some pet blogs. Come up with a few ideas for stories and run them by the blog’s owner. They may not be willing to pay you, but you’ll still benefit from getting experience and being published.
You can also write articles and post them on article directories like ezinearticles.com. You won’t get paid for those pieces either, but you’ll be building a portfolio of published works. And once you have a portfolio, you can then start soliciting work for better pay and building a clientele.
Similarly, start asking everyone you know if they have any copywriting needs. Perhaps you have relatives or neighbors who are small business owners and may need help writing a sales letter, a flyer or website. Maybe you belong to a church that puts out a monthly newsletter and would welcome help with the content. Of maybe there’s a charity that you have supported. Offer to help with their copywriting needs.
At the same time that you’re building your portfolio, keep reading and learning. You’ll find more articles for aspiring copywriters here and, once you get going, more articles for established copywriters here.
But more importantly, start writing. Today. Now. Look for every opportunity to practice your craft even if the writing you’re doing isn’t yet for clients.
I hope that helps. You’re also free to connect with me on LinkedIn if you’d like to stay in touch, https://www.linkedin.com/in/susangreene/.
Good luck in your endeavors.
Thank you so much for your quick and insightful response; I truly appreciate the time you took to address my questions. The resources you provided will certainly be helpful for me as I am starting out.
Your journey from agency to freelance, account coordinator to copywriter, is encouraging and inspiring, and I thank you for sharing that with me. As a young professional I am always eager to embark on new and exciting adventures, but I also must remind myself to be patient.
Again, thank you for the words of wisdom. I will be sure to connect with you on LinkedIn 🙂
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