I was recently contacted by a high school senior who is interested in becoming a copywriter some day. He asked if he could interview me. Below are his questions and my responses, which are relevant whether you’re a student or graduate with aspirations interested in copywriting.
1) What do you do as a copywriter?
As a copywriter, I write marketing copy to help businesses sell their products or services. This can include writing the content for websites, brochures, ads, press releases, data sheets, product packaging, flyers, ebooks, blogs, and social media posts.
2) What are some typical tasks you might do in a day?
Every day is different, based on the projects I’m working on and the clients I’m working with. I typically work on multiple projects at once, all with different deadlines, so my days can look a bit fragmented. As an example, here’s what I’ve been writing this week:
3) What was your motivation for choosing to become a copywriter?
Ever since I learned to read I’ve enjoyed writing. I like the challenge of figuring out how to make a product sound appealing to prospective customers.
Often it’s a matter of taking a complex subject and simplifying it so the reader can see the benefits of buying the product or service. I like the idea of taking the relevant facts and making them sound so compelling that customers reach for their wallet to make a purchase.
4) What’s the difference between a copywriter and a freelance copywriter?
A copywriter works for an employer and gets a weekly salary. The employer may be a marketing firm or ad agency. It can also be a large company that has its own in-house marketing division.
A freelance copywriter is self-employed and often works for a variety of clients. That’s what I do. I have multiple clients, and I enjoy the diversity of working on jobs related to different businesses and industries.
I also like working for myself. I get to control my hours, who I work with, the jobs I accept and my income to some degree (the harder I work, the more I earn). I don’t like letting others control my day or my salary, as is the case when you work for an employer.
What I do isn’t for everyone. Many people want the security of a regular paycheck, not to mention corporate benefits like healthcare insurance and a 401k retirement plan. As a freelance copywriter, those are things I have to obtain and pay for myself.
5) What skills/qualifications do you need to be considered for a copywriting job? Are some skills or qualifications more favored than others?
I have 25+ years of experience as a copywriter. I started my career working as an account coordinator at an ad agency. I worked alongside copywriters to help service their clients. Eventually, I gained experience and moved into the copywriting role.
Educationally, I have a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from Syracuse University, and a Master’s in Business Administration from Southern New Hampshire University. I am continually reading, learning and improving my skills. And much as I was fortunate to have a good education, I would have to say I learned most of my skills on the job.
You can become a good copywriter without a college degree, but you may have trouble getting an employer to hire you.
6) Can you tell me about your background as a copywriter?
As I mentioned, I started at an ad agency as an account coordinator. I would work with the copywriters and account executives to service the agency’s clients.
My work entailed everything from taking notes in client meetings, to contacting vendors we used (i.e. printers, delivery services, etc.), to proofreading copy before it was published.
As a college graduate who’d also done two internships in my field, I felt over qualified for much of the work I did, but it was a foot in the door to start my career and begin learning about business. First jobs can be awfully hard to get; I was happy to have the opportunity.
While working at the agency, I also started a side hustle, freelancing as a writer for a local monthly magazine and also for a few small startup businesses that needed basic marketing materials. It was a way for me to gain some experience and prepare myself for eventually becoming a copywriter full time.
After about two years, I’d built up my freelance copywriting business and felt ready to quit my full-time job at the ad agency. I took the plunge, a risky move as, like anyone else, I had bills to pay. It took a little getting used to not having a paycheck every week but I loved the freedom and control I had over my life.
I have enjoyed being self-employed ever since. And while there have been many changes in the industry to which I’ve had to adapt, my writing skills have always been the key to my success.
7) Do you ever have clients who disagree with or criticize the copywriting work you’ve done for them? How do you respond?
I will make whatever revisions they want. I respect that they know their business better than I do.
However, if I feel they are making a mistake from a marketing or copywriting perspective, I’ll tell them my thoughts in a diplomatic manner. Then they can decide how they want to proceed. In the end, they are the paying customer, and so the decision is theirs. My bruised ego can’t play a role in that process.
If I think a customer is being overly critical, making ridiculous demands or simply can’t be pleased, I will complete the project in question in whatever manner they want and then, in a nice way, decline to take on further work from them.
8) How has your occupation advanced in the years you have been employed?
I explained how I started at an ad agency. Since being on my own, my career has advanced by my working with bigger clients with bigger budgets and more prestige. I also have enough new business coming in that I don’t have to worry if one of my existing clients leaves for some reason or if I decide to drop them because they’re difficult to work with.
Additionally, I have 6 other freelance copywriters to whom I refer work, for which they pay me a percentage. That results in significant passive revenue each month. I like having multiple income streams.
9) How has the industry changed since you entered it?
When I started my career, most businesses promoted their products and services via ads in print media (magazines, newspapers, direct mail, etc.). That was before the internet. Yes, I’m old.
Obviously, nowadays, every business has to have a website and uses vehicles like email, blogs and social media for their marketing. Print media is dying.
10) In the future, how far do you think the nature of your job will change or progress?
The online world is fluid. There’s constantly change. Today I might be writing ads for Facebook; tomorrow it might be some other online platform. Recently, for example, LinkedIn has gained stature and I now have clients asking me to write ads and posts for that medium.
Also, more businesses are realizing that an investment in video marketing is worthwhile. No doubt there will be more change. I try to stay ahead of the curve and keep up to date on new marketing/copywriting trends.
11) Are there other types of jobs that use the same or similar skills in your industry?
Plenty of jobs require good writing skills, even if you’re not a professional copywriter. I believe there are lots of jobs in which I could do well, such as product sales, because I’m an effective communicator.
12) Back when you started your career, if you knew then what you know now, what might you have done differently?
I still would have chosen to be a copywriter because I do love this field. I think though I probably would have taken some courses or read more books about copywriting and marketing post-college that could have accelerated my learning curve.
I had a college degree but I hadn’t learned how to write a brochure, direct mail piece, ad, etc. And that knowledge would certainly have come in handy.
When the internet came along, I would have built my website sooner. Even though mine went up early compared to many other writers, I still could have been an earlier adopter and established my online presence to attract clients. I also would have built a mailing list sooner to be more aggressive in marketing.
13) If someone enjoys writing, would you recommend they become a freelance copywriter?
I might recommend that they become a copywriter, however, whether they want to get a full-time job as a copywriter versus going the freelance route is something they’ll need to figure out about themself.
Here’s why. If you work as a copywriter employee, your employer is responsible for making sure you have work to do. And you get paid your weekly salary whether or not the company is doing well financially.
If you work as a freelance copywriter all of that responsibility is yours. So, a freelance copywriter also must have skills and a comfort level with selling. If you can’t bring in clients, you won’t have work to do. And if you don’t have work, you won’t make money. That’s a scary thought for many people.
I should mention too, that in addition to sales skills, you need to be self-disciplined with a solid work ethic. Nobody is going to be looking over your shoulder making sure you’re getting your work done. That’s on you. If you’re lazy and unmotivated, or feel you need structure in your day, you likely won’t be successful as a freelancer.
14) Do you have any final advice for an aspiring copywriter?
Yes. There’s a popular Chinese proverb that says: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
If you want to succeed as a copywriter in the future, the best time to act is now. Start writing today, even if you don’t feel ready, even if you don’t yet have a high school diploma or college degree. Every page you write improves your skills, bolsters your confidence and brings you closer to your goal.
For more tips, you can check out what I’ve written in other articles for aspiring copywriters here.