You’re about to discover copywriting’s definition and purpose in marketing and business. What does a copywriter do and what skills do they need? Read on to find out…
First of all, congratulations!
Since you’ve arrived on this page, you obviously want to know about the weird and wonderful world of writing words for profit.
Well my friends, you’ve come to the right place.
This post will give you everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) you need to know (basics to advanced) – from it’s definition and meaning to it’s purpose in marketing – so you can see for yourself whether or not it’s a good fit.
You’ve probably already heard about the numerous benefits of becoming a professional copywriter, such as:
- Working for yourself on your own terms
- Working with amazing clients and helping them with their business goals
- Working on a multitude of fun projects (sometimes simultaneously!)
- Opportunities for serious earning potential
- And many, many more…
Consider this post is intended as your official Copywriting Guide (and a free online course) for both learning about copywriting and what copywriters do, as well as how to eventually become one if you decide it’s right for you.
And since copywriting is such a broad subject, we’ve broken it down into individual pieces that you can devour one at a time and at your own pace.
So pull up a chair, get comfortable, grab a cup of your favorite beverage, and let’s get busy delving into the wonderful world of copywriting 101.
What is Copywriting?
Alright. It’s time to define copywriting…
The definition of copywriting is “salesmanship in print”.
Copywriting is using words to persuade people to take some kind of action, such as clicking on an ad or purchasing a product.
For this reason, it’s one of the most important aspects of marketing. It’s also why professional copywriters are the highest-paid writers on the planet.
That’s what copywriting means.
That leads me to my next point… the definition of a copywriter…
What Is A Copywriter?
Those ads you see on TV?
An advertising copywriter wrote them.
Those first few entries on any Google search?
That’s copywriting too.
And those emails you get from websites or online stores you buy from?
You guessed it… copywriting!
As you’ve probably noticed, professional copywriting can take MANY different forms but the intent is always the same: to sell a product or service to a target audience.
So with such a broad objective, you might be wondering who exactly hires copywriters?
The answer is simple: Anyone and everyone who wants to sell something.
Whether it’s a massive eCommerce store, a law office, or just a mom and pop local restaurant.
They ALL need copywriters.
Without us, literally, nothing gets sold. We are the oil that keeps the machine running.
What Are The Different Types of Copywriting? And What does A Copywriter Do?
In case you’re not sure what a copywriter does, let’s start with a quick overview of the different types of professional copywriting, some of which you’re probably familiar with.
- Direct Response – What is direct response copywriting? If you’ve ever received fliers or brochures in you mailbox, then you’ve seen direct response copywriting in action. The purpose of direct response copywriting is usually to drum up customers for local businesses. This type of copywriting can also be much more expensive to produce in terms of printing costs and distribution than its online counterpart.
- Online – This is the internet version of direct response copywriting. As you can imagine, production and delivery costs are MUCH cheaper and your audience MUCH wider. This is the most common form of copywriting you will experience today.
- SEO – This is a specific form of copywriting done to get higher page rankings (typically the top 3 spots on Google or Bing’s search result pages). It is content written to include certain keywords that the business wants to rank for when it’s target audience does an online search.
While you may occasionally see some other forms of copywriting out there, most of what you’ll see (and be hired to produce) will fall into one of the above categories.
What are the Essential Elements of Effective Copywriting?
Now that we’ve answered the question of what is copywriting, the purpose and meaning, and discussed the different types, let’s dive into some copywriting tips and see what makes this skill effective.
This is listed first because it’s by far the most important.
You’ve probably had the experience of reading some cheesy, sales-y, no-connection-making garbage designed to get you to buy something (that you probably didn’t need or want).
You might have even felt the need to shower after reading it…
If you were wondering why this piece of copy had such as effect on you, now you know why. It lacked EMPATHY (like The Soul Doctors lacked empathy here). It’s an example of BAD copywriting…
What is empathy?
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes and relate to them as an individual. It means to sincerely care about what problems they’re facing and making your best effort to help solve them.
By contrast, if you’ve ever read something that brought about real emotions in you, it’s because the writer understood empathy and was able to use it effectively.
And when it comes to the art of copywriting, it truly is ALL about empathy.
If you learn nothing else from this monstrosity of a post on what is copywriting in marketing, learn to put yourself in someone else’s shoes when you write copy. In many cases, that alone will get the job done.
I will tell you from personal experience that it’s impossible to write about something you know nothing about… trust me on this.
That’s why research is so important when it comes to persuasive copywriting. You have to know enough about both your product and your target customer to be able to explain exactly how the one will solve the other one’s problems.
So how do you do research?
Other ways include looking at different analytics metrics when it comes to your customers’ purchasing behavior. This includes things such as purchasing trends and buying frequency.
And if those attempts fail… you can also JUST ASK THEM!
Let them know that you care if a certain problem of theirs is actually being solved. If it’s not, you now know exactly where to direct your efforts going forward.
It’s also very important to research your competitors as this will help you craft your own product’s USP that distinguishes it from everything else (more on this soon).
Headlines / Subject Lines
Do you know how long it takes for someone to make a first impression?
Yes, one… two… and you’re done.
That’s how long you have to grab your audiences’s attention.
Believe me, in the age of social media and with most people having the attention span of a hummingbird, this is NO easy task.
But it can be done.
There are certain words and phrases that grab readers’ attention more than others. Words like “How To”, “Simple Steps”, “Free”, and many more resonate with people very strongly (and in some way “demand” their attention).
Learning to craft strategic headlines (for sales pages and web content) and subject lines (for emails) will help you instantly grab your readers’ attention and get them wanting to know more.
(Although there is some debate on how important these factors actually are, I can tell you from personal experience that I was much more likely to read copy with a headline or subject line that was written in a way I could relate to.)
1-On-1 Conversational Tone
It’s been proven that if you want to engage someone with the written word, the most effect way to do it is to write as if you’re talking to them and NO ONE ELSE.
You are not addressing a crowded square, Congress, or any other large body of people.
You are addressing one person and one person only. Pretend they are the only customer you have any hope of ever getting and that will put you in the right frame of mind.
When I write copy, I often pretend that I’m writing it to just one or two close friends. This keeps my writing short and fun and in a friendly tone that anyone can relate to.
No one wants to be written (or spoken to) as if they’re just another face in the crowd. They want to feel important and that you truly care about their problems.
Remember, your readers are giving you their personal time when they read your copy, so addressing them in a friendly, personal tone is the best way to show them you appreciate it.
Remember that when it comes to professional copywriting in advertising and marketing, your only goal is to engage your reader immediately and explain how you’re going to fix their problems.
You are not Hemingway, or Tolstoy, and your readers won’t appreciate you trying to engage them through a War and Peace-like novel approach.
Get to the point and get to it quick. This is why short, punchy, to-the-point sentences work best.
Remember that in the age of social media, attention spans are short. So when it comes to writing effective copy, BREVITY is your best friend.
Keep it short and sweet at all times. It works.
Look at some of the sections above, how many are just one sentence long and contain one precise point?
That’s no accident my friend…
It’s how you keep a reader engaged and open to what you’re pitching.
When I see copy that is written in large blocks of dense paragraphs, I get tired before I’ve even started reading it. And then I don’t read it at all.
But short copy lets me know that the writer has something important to say and is going to say it quickly.
That gets my attention and it will definitely get your readers’ attention as well.
So again, when writing copy, keep it short and to the point.
Facts Tell, Stories Sell
I’m going to tell you something that might surprise you.
People don’t actually want to learn when they read your copy, they want to be entertained.
I have a little rule I like to keep in mind when I write copy: If it’s fun to write, it’s probably fun to read.
I’ve noticed over the years that the writing I produced that was the most enjoyable to create was also the most popular. While I don’t have any scientific evidence to support this, it’s very clear that emotions can be transferred directly from writer to reader through their words.
I like to say that “enthusiasm transcends copy.”
If you had a smile on your face when writing something, you can bet that the person who read it ended up smiling too.
How can you do this?
Don’t focus on educating your reader, focus on entertaining them with meaningful stories. If your story is meaningful and the reader can easily relate to it, the education will happen on its own.
That’s how you build a connection. And that’s how you SELL.
Benefits Over Features
This is a common copywriting tip that will save you lots of headaches in the future.
It’s important to understand that your audience doesn’t care about the bells and whistles of your product, they only care about how it will BENEFIT them and fix their problems.
Hence, when writing copy, don’t go into a “instruction manual mode” by explaining the ins and outs of your product’s features.
They don’t care.
(The only exception to this rule is if you’re selling a technical product to technical people, who will definitely want to know about the bells and whistles in great detail.)
Just tell them the feature exists and explain how it will directly fix their problems. They’ll thank you for it, often by making a purchase.
I love bullet points.
They’re one of my favorite copywriting tools and I’m sure they’ll be one of yours too.
Their benefit is twofold: they engage the reader and hold their attention and they save me (and soon you) lots of time.
By using them, you are able to hit your target audience with multiple reasons in a row why they should buy your products. Especially if your points are all BENEFITS as we discussed above.
They’re also short, punchy, to-the-point, and effective.
In fact, I might even call them irresistible… (I don’t know why, but there’s something about those little bullets… your mind just demands that you read them!)
In short, bullet points work.
Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
Your USP is the unique quality that separates your product or service from everyone else’s.
Maybe your product is faster, cheaper, more efficient, more durable, etc.
Whatever it is, it’s your competitive advantage.
It’s crucial that you make your USP known when writing copy, otherwise your target audience has no reason to choose your product over your competitors.
So before your start writing, define exactly what your USP is and expand from there. Explain exactly what makes your product better and how it’s going to make your customers’ lives better in ways that no other competing product can.
That’s what your customer is actually buying.
And if you use the tips above on how to write copy so that it engages your reader directly, you’ll have no trouble making your USP as clear as day to your customers.
Credibility, Trust, and Testimonials
Have you ever had someone try to sell you something and you instantly wanted to get away from them?
Have you ever read something and the first word that came to your mind was “slimy”, or “snake oil salesman”, or something similar?
There’s a good reason why you felt this way.
It’s because both that person and their writing had absolutely ZERO credibility.
You knew instantly that you couldn’t trust them and wanted to nothing to do with them or what they were selling.
This is something you want to avoid when writing your own copy.
Trust and credibility are the bedrock of establishing a real relationship with a customer. Without them, you don’t stand a snowball’s chance in you-know-where of selling them anything.
So how do we create trust and credibility?
By establishing ourselves as an expert. By leaving no doubt in our readers’ minds that we have the experience, capabilities, and genuine desire to fix their problems.
But are they just going to take our word for it?
But to ensure that they see us as experts, we’re going to use testimonials that will cement their view that we are someone they can trust (and buy from) because other experts are willing to bless our good name.
You’ve no doubt seen testimonials many times before already.
Look on the inside cover of every new book and you’ll see flattering endorsements from a laundry list of newspapers and other experts singing the author’s praises.
This is no accident. By getting other experts to “cosign” on their new book, the author has established themselves as an expert and someone who’s book is worth reading.
They’re not asking you to take their word for it, just look at all the other successful people who think you should read it too!
And these testimonials work. Even personally, I find that I’m MUCH more likely to read something if someone who’s opinion I trust recommends it to me.
While we might not be able to get the same caliber of testimonials that famous authors can, we can certainly find other credible people to sign off on our good intentions.
Testimonials work for a reason: No one wants to be the first person to try anything… the complete unknown just has too many risks involved.
That’s why when we see that others have already taken the risk for us, we are much more comfortable following suit.
Who would you rather be, Lewis and Clark, or the guy (or girl) who came along right after them and put up hotels after the trail was made?
That’s why you should literally include quoted, written testimonials of what you’re selling in your copy, or if possible, video testimonials from satisfied customers.
This creates trust and credibility for both you and your copy, and once you have that, you’ve won half the battle.
It’s important to keep in mind that when writing copy, the idea is to systematically remove EVERY potential roadblock in the customer’s mind that could prevent them from making a purchase.
When it comes to trust and credibility, testimonials check both boxes.
And once you get your reader to trust you and feel that you genuinely want to help them, you’ve just removed the largest roadblock of all.
When it comes to writing effective copy, it’s never a good idea to assume.
For example, you might think it would be obvious that at the end of your copy you want your readers to make the purchase…
Well, it turns out that they actually need a little prompting.
That’s where Calls-To-Action (CTAs) come in.
A CTA is a visible part of your copy (usually a button online) that TELLS your readers exactly what you want them to do.
Examples include “Buy Now”, “Sign Me Up”, and many, many more.
You might think readers would scoff at the idea of you giving them orders after they went to the trouble to read all of your copy, but it’s actually the opposite.
They WANT you to tell them exactly what to do so they can gain the benefits of what you’re selling.
Think of your CTAs as that final “nudge” across the sales finish line that will turn a potential customer into a paying one.
From experience, I’ve found that larger, bold-colored (think bright green, blue, or orange) buttons with exact directions inside (such as “Yes, send it to me!”) work like magic if your copy is effective.
Adding a little enthusiasm to your CTAs is often enough to bypass that final bit of resistance to purchasing.
Don’t miss this final step, as it may often be the difference between a new customer and no customer.
Just make sure your CTA is simple and direct and enjoy hearing the register ring.
So, now that you know what the meaning and definition of copywriting is, what copywriters do, and the essential elements of good copy, let’s put it all together into a simple copywriting formula that never fails…
The Official Copywriting Formula (ie. Copywriting For Dummies):
Empathy + Stories + Benefits + Credibility + CTAs = Killer Copy That Sells
This simple formula is what separates the persuasive copywriters from the boring copywriters. It’s makes copywriting for beginners easier too.
Want to sell with every piece of copy you write from now on? Just apply each ingredient in this formula and you can’t go wrong.
Start by writing your copy, then see which of these elements are missing, then add them.
Rinse and repeat.
Do this with your second piece of copy, and your third… and every one you write going forward.
It will never fail you.
What I’ve noticed as I’ve learned to apply this formula is that once you do it a few times, it’s no longer a “formula” that needs application, but more of a “mindset” you get into when you write copy.
It’s like having a “light bulb moment,” where afterward you almost intuitively know what your copy needs to sell like crazy.
Being in this mindset has the wonderful advantage of almost bringing out these ingredients without you having to consciously think about them. It becomes almost automatic.
Once you see how an effective piece of copy seems to magically produce your desired results, these five ingredients just “click” in your mind. From then on, as long as you’re in the right mental state, these ingredients will appear almost on their own to get the job done.
It does take some practice, but once the light goes on, it stays on for good.
What Do Copywriters Do?
Now that we know what ingredients make for effective copy, let’s take a look at some of the actual types of copywriting jobs you can create with your new knowledge.
We’ll go through each one individually so you have a good idea of how each one can be applied.
- Sales Letters – These are often longer-form pieces of copy used to sell individual products. As a general rule, the more expensive the item, the longer the copy needs to be to justify the price. This means more testimonials for credibility, more studies and data that prove its effectiveness, more elaboration of the benefits, and more price justification so the reader knows they are getting value for their money. Sales letters are also one of the highest-paying jobs for professional copywriters.
- Email Campaigns – These are “sets” of emails that are each specifically designed to address customers in each area of an online sales funnel. They are typically shorter, often with one-sentence paragraphs, and may often use the target’s first name in the introduction. Types of email campaigns include: welcome campaigns, nurture campaigns, launch campaigns, cart abandonment campaigns, soap opera campaigns, launch campaigns, and many more. Like sales letters, email campaigns are also one of the highest-paying jobs for copywriters.
- White papers – These are documents that establish your authority in a given industry or niche. They are typically used in B2B industries to evaluate products or services. If you want to establish yourself as a voice of authority on a particular subject, white papers are an excellent way to do this.
- Website content – This could include writing blog posts, product descriptions, About Us sections, or a whole host of other options. Typically targeted more to inform than to sell directly, this type of content is written more to provide information and introduce a brand. As this type of copy often isn’t written to sell directly, it usually doesn’t pay as well as sales letters or email campaigns.
- Video scripts – Unlike the above forms of copy, this type will be heard instead of read. These scripts are written in a video-friendly format and then usually coupled with a whiteboard animation video or a brand ambassador reading the script in an online video.
- Social Media content – This could include Facebook or LinkedIn posts, Tweets, Instagram photos and text, and many others. Being that this content will be viewed on social media sites, the approach is typically a little different as people may not necessarily being in “buying mode” when they view them.
- Direct Response – This could include writing television commercial scripts, radio ads, billboards, printed brochures, and many more. These is a more “traditional” type of copywriting and is generally considered anything that is created for offline viewing.
This is what copywriters do.
What types of copywriting products you decide to write will depend largely on your personal preferences and how much you want to earn.
Each of the copywriting products above requires different time commitments and slightly different skill sets so it’s best to give several of them a try and see which ones are the best fit for you.
What Are the Different Types of Copywriting Jobs?
Most copywriting jobs fall into three distinct categories: agency, corporate, and freelance.
Each have pros and cons so we will go through each of them below so you can decide which is the best fit for you.
(And yes, we do have a slight bias… I mean “preference.”)
Copywriters who work for an agency get the benefit of working with many different types of clients and testing out many copywriting tools and skills. You also never have to worry about finding new clients as the agency will do most of that for you.
The downside, of course, is that your income and freedom are both capped.
Want to keep more of what you bring in?
Want to work from a beach in Thailand?
Best of luck to you…
Agency copywriting jobs are definitely “jobs” in the traditional sense, meaning you’ll be expected to trade time for money as you learn these skills and acquire experience.
On the other hand, if you’re completely new to copywriting and want to quickly shorten your learning curve and get paid in the process, working for an agency might be a good place to start.
These copywriters work for a specific company and create copy for that company only.
No outside clients or copy allowed.
The upside is that you never have to pound the pavement for new clients.
The downside is that your income is capped and you have no control over who you work with or what you create.
And like agency copywriting jobs, these are definitely “jobs” so plan on having to negotiate for your two-week vacation to Thailand if that’s what you’re looking for.
This seems like the worst of all worlds to me, but you may find that it suits your needs very well (and it may be a great way to build your initial copywriting skills if you actually have a genuine interest in the business).
This is where most people will want to be (and where the magic happens).
All of the great things you hear about the lifestyles of well-paid copywriters exist here, in this arena.
To be brutally honest, working for someone else as a copywriter (or in any profession with a few RARE exceptions) will NEVER get you the money or freedom you desire.
Yes, the time to get established and create a client base is longer.
Yes, you are taking a risk and giving up the security of a steady (but always lower) paycheck.
But… you’re gaining the world as a result.
More on this in the next section… a lot more.
The Pros and Cons of Being a Copywriter
A career in copywriting is different from most traditional careers.
How rewarding and lucrative it is depends entirely on you and what you want.
Most careers have a very narrow spectrum from within which you must operate.
We can work from anywhere, for anyone, on any type of business, and for (largely) any price.
We can exist far, FAR outside the box…
For me, and for many of your reading this I suspect, the lifestyle and ability to take control of your future are two of the largest benefits of becoming a copywriter.
But there are drawbacks too.
Let’s have an honest look at the pros and the cons.
Note: The Pros and Cons below apply almost exclusively to freelance copywriters, as we suspect that is what the majority of you are interested in.
Pros of being a freelance copywriter:
Freedom and Independence
Want to work from your kitchen table in NYC?
I’ve done it.
Want to work from a beach in Thailand?
John McIntyre’s probably doing that right now (note from John: Indeed I am!).
Want to work from the NASA space shuttle?
Not sure if they have WiFi up there but I’m sure it’s not far off.
The point is that with technology and everything now being interconnected online, copywriters don’t have to be location-dependent.
If you take the freelance copywriting route, you can literally do your professional copywriting from home, at any time, and create a substantial income for yourself in the process.
This takes more work up front but the benefits are more than worth it.
The more your skills and client base grow, the more your income will grow in tandem.
How much can you make as a freelance copywriter?
Technically, there is no limit.
There are copywriters out there that make millions per year (like Dan Kennedy). Not many, but it is possible.
And even if you never reach that level (or don’t desire to), you can easily make above the average salary without having to sit in gridlock on the freeway for several hours a day.
(If you’re a horrible driver like me, this alone is worth the career change.)
Choice of Clients
As you progress in your copywriting career, you will find that you naturally gravitate toward certain types of clients/businesses that suit your interest.
As a freelancer, you can choose to work with these companies exclusively.
You’ll also find that the work you create for these clients is much better than work you create for clients that you don’t connect with as well. Since you have a personal interest in the business, you’ll find you also have more enthusiasm to help it succeed.
Learning to Sell
You’ve probably noticed that the employment landscape in general is changing rapidly. Automation and online platforms are rendering many jobs obsolete.
If your job can be done by a machine, it soon will be (and likely already is).
Going forward, if you don’t have a valuable and marketable skill that someone else is willing to pay for, you might find yourself in serious trouble.
But professional copywriters won’t have this problem, and I’ll tell you why.
The two most important skills going forward will be the abilities to: 1) solve problems quickly, and 2) sell effectively.
Copywriting does both. In fact, that’s basically what copywriting is.
No machine will be able to relate to a person like an actual human being. No machine will able to genuinely replicate human empathy.
And businesses will always need someone help them spread their message and sell their products and services. And they’ll need an actual person, not a piece of software.
So not only are copywriting jobs safe from the constantly changing employment and technological landscape, they embody the two most important skills we will ALL need going forward.
That’s why I say that copywriting is literally one of the best career choices out there.
If you’re looking for “job security”, copywriting is about as close as you can hope to get!
But’s it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, even for freelancers…
(Don’t get nervous, they’re actually not that bad.)
Cons of being a freelance copywriter:
Work is Often Solitary
This may not even be a “con” for most people… I personally love working alone as it allows me to focus completely on my work and get more done in less time.
But for some this may be an issue.
Creative work, such as professional copywriting, requires minimal distractions to produce optimum results.
It’s much harder to get in the “copywriting zone” when you have coworkers dropping by your desk and new animal fight videos on YouTube being constantly forwarded to you… not that I watch those.
So if long periods of silence make you uneasy or prone to distractions, this might be an obstacle for you.
Working alone brings about the temptation for easy distractions.
With smartphones, constant internet access, and YouTube (the worst offender in my view), it’s very easy to slip up and not concentrate on your work.
It’s very easy to waste time when you’re not worried about your boss sneaking up behind you and catching you on Facebook or Tinder or whatever.
If your discipline muscle (yes, it is a muscle) is weak, it’s best to strengthen it up before you make a serious commitment to a career in professional copywriting.
(If you’re looking for a resource to help get your discipline muscle in shape, check out Deep Work by Cal Newport. It’s literally turbocharged my copywriting productivity.)
Meeting Strict Deadlines
The words “client” and “patience” do not always exist in the same sentence.
While most clients are reasonable about how creative work may take a little longer, some want things done yesterday and expect you to be able to deliver on a strict deadline.
Depending on how you handle pressure, you may or may not find this difficult to deal with.
Pressure tends to actually motivate me and make me focus better, but for some it causes them to become unglued.
So depending on your own personality and how you handle deadlines and pressure, this may or may not be an issue.
Often Requires Finding Your Own Clients
When you have to get your own clients, it requires more hustle, but it also allows you to be more picky about who you work with and in what capacity.
And I’ve found personally that companies are much more willing to work with freelancers now as it actually saves them money (no training, office space, equipment, vacation time, sick days, etc.). It’s also easier for them to find someone else if you don’t end up being what they’re looking for.
It does require you putting in the effort, developing your networking skills, and facing almost constant rejection when first starting out.
But if you’re willing to do that, the investments you make (both in yourself and in others) will soon pay nice dividends.
(And don’t worry, later in this article I’m going to give you some battle-tested tips on how to start getting great clients with minimal effort.)
What Skills Do You Need to Be a (Well-Paid) Copywriter?
Now that we’re digging deeper into the life of an up-and-coming copywriter, let’s look at the specific skills you’ll need to become a well-paid one.
We’ll dismantle and examine them one at a time:
Obviously. A basic knowledge and understanding of grammar and punctuation is a must. But not just that… I’m talking about good writing.
What do I consider good writing?… Writing that keeps the reader’s attention and leaves them almost salivating for the next sentence.
Good writing is not reserved just for New York Times bestsellers either. Anyone who can make a sincere effort to connect with a reader through their words is capable of good, if not great, writing.
One of the ways to do this is to first become a good reader, as one tends to follow the other.
I tend to devour books, which is probably one of the reasons writing has always appealed to me. And once I learned about copywriting I began to devour good copy as well.
But I didn’t just practice reading it, I practiced writing it as well.
One technique you will find recommended by almost every successful marketing copywriter is to practice writing proven, successful copy every day.
And not just on your computer…
If you want to learn copywriting fast, THIS is the fastest way… hands down (no pun intended).
Yes, there’s something about putting a pen to actual paper that makes you think about each word just a little bit longer.
You’ll start to notice recurring patterns the more you do this. And more importantly, you’ll see how it FEELS to write proven and effective copy with your own hand.
It’s the best free education money can buy. (And don’t worry, later in this post I’ll give you some great resources to start with.)
Understanding Basic Psychology and Decision-Making
As we’ve said, copywriting is writing with the intent to SELL.
It’s important that you have at least a basic understanding of how people are influenced and make decisions. And believe it or not, there is a science to it.
You should also understand the role that emotions play in the buying process. There’s a saying in sales that “people buy with emotions, then justify with logic.” Once you understand this statement, copywriting will become much easier for you.
If you attempt to write only from a position of pure logic and facts, you won’t connect with people on an emotional level, and your copy will fall flat. (To beat a dead horse, EMPATHY helps tremendously with this!)
But if you write to people from a position of addressing their worries, fears, frustrations, goals, and desires, they will instantly feel that you “get” them and want to hear what you have to say.
And once you have this, you have a potential buyer… and the game is yours.
Understand this, and you understand copywriting.
Networking and People Skills
While copywriting is often a solitary skill, meeting and working with clients requires interaction. And since marketing copywriters tend to be introverts, myself included, this sometimes requires an adjustment and stepping out of our comfort zones.
To put it bluntly, if don’t have a basic sense of social skills, that’s the FIRST thing you need to tackle before you embark on your copywriting journey.
Because let’s face it, if you come across as either creepy or untrustworthy, you’re going to put people off and lose opportunities to build relationships.
(If you need help with this, I HIGHLY recommend reading The Charisma Myth. While you may never reach Bill Clinton or Steve Jobs-like levels of social intelligence, you WILL learn to interact with people in a way that helps them feel comfortable working with you.)
As with anything worth doing, you’re going to fail at times in your professional copywriting career.
Potential clients won’t return phone calls.
Clients will decide to hire someone else.
Clients won’t like your work and force you to redo it completely.
Clients will have egregious (borderline tyrannical) demands that no one could possibly satisfy.
Clients will fire you. (I’ve been fired NUMEROUS times, so you’ll be in good company!)
It can happen.
It WILL happen.
So expect it and see it as a learning experience. Don’t blame the client. If you did something wrong, fix it. If they make unreasonable demands and/or treat you like crap, do the best you can and move on.
You must have persistence.
This is a pretty great way to make a living, and if it were easy EVERYONE would be doing it.
So when losses come, and they will, “Take the L” and move on. And instead of being angry, choose to be both a better copywriter and a better person because of it.
How Much Do Copywriters Make? What is a typical copywriter salary?
I’ll be honest, the best answer to questions about copywriter rates is always… “It depends.”
There are so many variables involved (type of copywriter, type of job, type of client, level of experience, etc.) that it’s almost impossible to give a straight answer.
However, what we can do is break down these variables one at a time to let you know both what is possible, and what avenues you should follow to hit your income goals as a business copywriter.
Let’s start with whether you work for yourself or someone else (freelance vs. agency/corporate).
The average salary for an agency or corporate copywriter usually drifts between $35,000 and $75,000 per year depending on your level of experience. Because you’re working for someone else, the only way to increase your earnings is to increase your position within your company, which will take time.
On a personal note, I will tell you that I’ve been offered numerous senior copywriting positions in NYC (where I live) and have yet to see ANY offer beat $75,000 per year.
If this works for you, excellent, but if you’d like a quicker path to money and freedom, keep reading.
In fact, I’ll give you a direct formula for what I’ve found to be the best of all worlds.
If you’re a freelancer, your range goes from $0 to theoretically infinity…
The exact amount will always be in flux, depending on whether you’re working full or part-time, how much effort you put into drumming up new business, and what types of clients and jobs you take on.
But we’ll get to that in just a second.
In short, the more effort you put in, the more your salary will reach toward the infinity side of the spectrum.
At minimum, I’ve found that $50,000 per year is fairly easy to reach with just a basic level of daily commitment.
But that’s not the only variable.
It also depends on how you charge.
How to Charge for Your Copywriting Services
You can charge by the hour, by the project, or just about anything in between.
(I’ve found that the best way to charge is just whatever makes the most sense for the job, as almost every copywriting job and client is unique.)
By the Hour – If you’re charging by the hour as a complete beginner, start with something between $25 and $50 per hour to start out, with the goal of getting to at least $100 per hour as quickly as possible.
By the Project – If you’re charging by the project, start with your hourly rate and then try to estimate how long you think the project will take in terms of both actual writing and research.
This is more art than science but you’ll find that with experience, you’re able to guesstimate much more accurately as time goes on.
Then there’s the issue of how much different types of copywriting jobs pay…
As we’ve said, the best-paying types of copywriting gigs historically have been sales letters and email campaigns. So if you’re looking for the most dollars for your time, focus as much as possible on those two types of jobs.
As you get more experience, you may want to take on ONLY those types of jobs, which is what most successful copywriters do.
A word of warning early: You DO NOT want to be a generalist copywriter for any longer than absolutely necessary. Taking any and every job that comes your way is the quickest way to frustration, loss of income, copywriting burnout, and potential thoughts of suicide…
As soon as you can, find a niche and one or two types of copy that you most enjoy working on and stick to those exclusively. And of course, then start charging more!
More on niching down your copywriting expertise in a later section.
For now, let me leave you with a general formula to maximize your copywriting income as quickly as possible:
FREELANCE + FULL-TIME + SALES LETTERS AND/OR EMAIL CAMPAIGNS + NICHING DOWN = $$$
Follow that formula for the quickest path to less stress and more copywriting dollars for your time.
What Separates the Truly Great Copywriters (From Everyone Else)?
I’ll be honest, not all copywriters are created equal.
How effective you are depends on several different factors, and we’re now going to address them and let you know exactly what separates the truly great and effective copywriters from everyone else.
The first factor is empathy. Again, without the ability to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and have a genuine desire to fix their problems, you can forget it… copywriting isn’t for you.
But, if you can do this, you will be able to relate to your readers in a way that no one else can and the sales will come flooding in.
This is more mindset than skill, but if you can cultivate it from the beginning, you’re already in the top 10% of marketing copywriters…
Daily Discipline and Practice
Everyone has to start somewhere. In the beginning, you may feel overwhelmed by how much information and work are required to truly master this skill.
But the good news is that if you can just stick with it, you’ll find it doesn’t take nearly as long as you thought.
That’s where discipline and practice come in. Daily discipline and practice.
You can’t learn this stuff over a long weekend… but over the course of a few months to a year, you can be damn good if you make a daily focused effort.
That’s what the greats did, and that’s what you’ll do… and it will be more than worth it.
Willingness to Learn
As Ryan Holiday says, “Ego is the enemy.” He couldn’t be more right.
Never think that there isn’t someone better than you or that there’s nothing new for you to learn about copywriting.
That’s the quickest way to stall your copywriting career indefinitely.
Instead, commit yourself to being a lifelong student of copywriting. Be a sponge, and soak up new knowledge from anywhere you can get it.
Be willing to learn copywriting from anyone and everyone and then apply it to your own work.
Again, the greats all did it and so should we.
How to Learn Copywriting (aka. Copywriting Resources)
I love efficiency.
That’s why this section is designed to get you the most amount of copywriting knowledge in the least amount of time.
(Life is short and I don’t want to waste a minute, so we’re going to get right to the copywriting meat!)
If I were starting our my professional copywriting career today, here are the steps I would take to build my knowledge and skill set as quickly as possible.
1. Blogs, Books, and Copywriter Courses
Let’s face it, you need a certain amount of basic knowledge before you can begin actually putting a pen to paper. To get this knowledge as quickly as possible, below are the blogs, books, and courses I recommend.
Read these and nothing more. Don’t make the classic mistake (that I may or may not have made) of wanting to read every word ever put down about copywriting before I actually started writing any.
Just read these and nothing more, at least for the first few months.
Copyblogger – (Blog) This was my go-to site when I first started and I was lucky to have found it so early. Everything from psychology, to basic copywriting skills, to different techniques and tips are discussed at length in very straightforward language. Also, you can download tons of great content in PDF format so you can read and refer to it later.
Scientific Advertising – This book will gives you an excellent blueprint on how successful advertising works with scientific evidence to back it up. For anyone new to professional copywriting or online marketing in general, this is a must-read.
Ogilvy on Advertising – If you’re going to learn, you might as well learn from one of the best to ever put a pen to paper, and David Ogilvy is certainly one of them. This book gives you a glimpse into how one of the great copywriters both viewed and created copy in an easy-to-understand format. Also required reading.
Influence – This is Robert Cialdini’s masterpiece and hailed pretty much across the board by all who’ve read it. Anything and everything you’ll ever need to know about persuasion is covered in detail in this book. In my opinion one of the best books on human psychology out there.
The Boron Letters – Gary Halbert’s letters to his son Bond on how to sell anything to anyone.
Online Courses: (for email marketing ONLY)
Email Copywriting Course – This is John McIntyre’s McIntyre Method Masterclass, a 4-week email copywriting course. By the end of this copywriting course, you’ll know how to write a 10-email autoresponder that you can sell to clients for $200-1,000.
The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing and Autoresponders – This is John McIntyre’s Udemy course. If you’re interested in email marketing, this course is a must. John not only explains the psychology and techniques needed for effective email campaigns, but he actually writes them from scratch during the course so you can see exactly how it’s done.
Autoresponder Madness – This is the legendary email marketing course from copywriting expert Andre Chaperon. It is considered the go-to course among pretty much all successful email marketers. Consider it “boot camp” for your email marketing training
2. Hand Write Proven Sales Copy
I’ll be honest, I was skeptical of this method when I first heard about it, but boy, does it work. While the style of successful copy may have evolved slightly over the years, the underlying principles have not.
There’s also something about writing it out by hand that seems to really integrate the feeling of writing successful copy. It forces you to slow down and really think about how every word and every concept fit together almost seamlessly to create an amazing piece of copy.
And since it’s been proven to sell, you know you’re practicing something that actually works.
The best place to start with this is The Gary Halbert Letter. Halbert is one of the truly legendary copywriters and his site will gives you tons of examples of exactly why.
(Note from John: I started my copywriting journey by handwriting sales letters with CopyHour. It works. CopyHour makes it dead simple – you get a sales letter each day, and you spend at least an hour a day writing it out by hand. Do this for 3 months and you’ll be better than most people who claim to be “copywriters”. More info about CopyHour here.)
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
When it comes to learning copywriting or any other valuable skill, your level of progress and success will be determined almost entirely by the effort you put into it.
When I started out, my rule was to write proven copy by hand for at least one hour per day. This was in addition to reading everything I could find on the subject.
Once you have a basic understanding of copywriting concepts, I think the most effective writing/reading ratio when it comes to improving your copywriting skills is 4:1. This means that for every hour you spend actually writing copy you can spend 15 minutes reading about it.
*Again, this is to be done only AFTER you’ve gotten into a daily routine of actually writing copy.*
This might seem somewhat skewed to beginners who want to devour book after book and learn everything, but the reality is that human beings learn by DOING. At some level, reading is just procrastination for actually writing.
The psychology and sales concepts involved in effective copywriting can be somewhat dense at times, and your brain needs time and review to really integrate it. That’s why it’s best to learn a concept over the course of around 15 minutes and then spend some serious time actually doing it.
Remember, clients are paying you to write and create copy, NOT to read it or regurgitate concepts. That’s why the majority of your efforts should involve a pen in your hand.
Follow this simple process and you will be on your way to becoming a skilled marketing copywriter in the shortest amount of time possible (check out Info Marketing Blog for copywriting examples).
How To Start Getting Copywriting Clients
Ok… let’s talk about how to get started with copywriting… you know, how to actually get out there and get yourself some copywriting clients.
This section will break down exactly how to go about getting not only copywriting clients in general, but well-paying clients.
The first step is understanding the importance of both online and offline tactics.
You will almost certainly want to do both as focusing on just one will leave a lot of clients (and money) on the table.
And that, we don’t want.
Personally, I’ve found that I have better luck meeting my ideal clients face-to-face, although ironically, my highest-paying client ever I met through a random cold email.
So it’s definitely best to take a two-pronged approach when fishing for clients.
(FYI: I’ve already written a very detailed post on this which you can read here.)
Let’s start with online strategies.
Reach out to local digital marketing agencies
This is a great way to get your foot in the copywriting door with minimal effort and get some money coming in right away.
Local digital marketing agencies are always on the look for talented freelancers as it generally keeps their costs down.
I like to call them directly and/or send the top person I can find at the company a message through LinkedIn.
The advantage here is that being a local will almost certainly get you preferential treatment and at least a shot at a long-term working relationship.
If necessary, don’t hesitate to offer to do some initial small jobs for free just to gain their trust and prove you can deliver.
Blog for popular copywriting sites (like The McMethod)
Why go through the madness of trying to start your own blog and make it successful when you can contribute to one that already is and gain clients as a result?
Find some long-tail keywords that will drive additional traffic to the blog and offer to create some content around it. In exchange, these sites will often let you include a link to your own business at the end of your content where potential customers can contact you after reading your posts.
It’s a win-win scenario: the site owner gets additional traffic and you get additional exposure and potential clients.
Now let’s look at some offline strategies.
Attending PAID conferences
I capitalized PAID for a reason. Free conferences, I’ve found are generally a waste of time as they don’t attract the kind of people looking to hire. In fact, there’s a good chance they’re looking to get hired, same as you. And a whole room full of people looking to get hired means everyone is going home unemployed.
So, make sure there is at least some fee required to attend, even if it’s only a few bucks.
Otherwise you’re better off just staying home and sending cold emails…
In my experience, paid conferences are a magnet for potential clients needing a good copywriter to hire. (Not sure why this is, but I literally never fail to walk away with at least one great client at every conference I attend!)
When it comes to conferences, it pays to be as social as you can without being needy. Since you won’t know who needs a advertising copywriter and who doesn’t until you start talking with them, just be as friendly as you can and like a good fisherman, let the 1,000-pound marlin come to you.
(If you read my related post that I linked to above, I also share another tactic I use to instantly “meet” everyone in a room at once.)
I’ve had amazing success with BNI and other networking groups in the past. Again, it’s best if they are PAID groups as it tends to attract a higher-caliber of potential clients.
And don’t sweat the money you have to spend. In my experience the first client I meet usually pays back my costs many times over.
Again, with networking groups, it pays to just be social and take a real interest in what other people are working on and the problems they’re having.
I’ve also found that once you gain a little bit of credibility within a networking group, members are MUCH more likely to recommend you to other members or even non-members that they just happen to know need your copywriting prowess as well.
A friend of mine in NYC turned me on to this tactic. If you’re not familiar with WeWork, they are basically remote working offices in major cities that you can “rent” for different periods of time.
The value in joining these offices is that many of the other “renters” are business owners and professionals as well and, you guessed it, are almost always in need of a good copywriter.
And unlike BNI meetups, if you don’t find any potential clients at the moment, you can just grab a desk and get back to work. Talk about efficiency!
Again, with all of these strategies, you’ll get out of it what you put in so don’t expect instant results. But once you gain just a little bit of traction, that’s when referrals start coming in and you can focus more on the writing than on the networking part.
In the end, referrals and word-of-mouth are the absolute BEST way to get and retain new and high-paying clients.
They are the ultimate testimonial and are often much more personal in nature as they come from an established 1-to-1 connection between two friends or business colleagues.
Often, referrals grant you access to clients you never would’ve had the opportunity to even meet otherwise.
Referrals also work the other way. Don’t be afraid to connect two people that you think would like or need to meet each other over a common business goal. These people will often feel indebted to you and look to return the referral favor as quickly as possible.
Follow these simple online and offline networking tips and you’ll never be in need of new clients and will save yourself a ton of wasted time in the process.
How to Find (and Dominate) Your Copywriting Niche
Once you’ve learned copywriting and how to get clients, your final goal is to find one specific area of copywriting that you can dominate completely.
You want to be the go-to guy or gal in that space, where your name is almost synonymous with your chosen niche.
Niching down is very important for several reasons:
- It separates you from the hordes of other generalist copywriters with no specific area of expertise
- It gives you almost instant credibility in your space
- It allows you to charge much more for your services, as they are specialized in one specific area of copywriting
- It keeps the skill of copywriting interesting for you (trust me, writing about things that you don’t give two hoots about gets boring REALLY FAST)
I’ve also found that niching down allows me to build deeper relationships with clients, helping them with areas of their business that I would never have access to if I were just a generalist copywriter.
Niching down has the wonderful effect of making you almost indispensable to your clients. They know that you would be very hard to replace given your specialized skill set, so they have a strong incentive to treat you well.
In short, niching down communicates VALUE to both your current and your potential customers.
It’s also much more fun to write about and work with customers who are operating in a space that you find interesting.
I used to write copy for a company that produced nothing but nursing uniforms. Every conceivable type of nursing uniform you could think of, they made.
Needless to say, I was bored to tears the entire time. Writing about nursing uniforms for hours a day didn’t exactly blow my skirt up (and my sister is an ER nurse so I actually had a personal connection to the industry).
That’s an example of the pitfalls of being a generalist copywriter.
They also ended up firing me later.
So again, as soon as you start getting some copywriting experience, start noticing which areas of copywriting are attracting your attention and then begin pursuing those with gusto.
Otherwise, get used to avoiding your clients’s calls and emails going forward.
But, you might be asking, what if you don’t know what specific area to pursue?
That’s fine. In the beginning, take on as many different jobs as you can just to gain experience. Treat it like an experiment and have fun with it.
If you get a job writing a long sales letter and notice that you start to lose interest after the first page, you might want to concentrate on shorter copy, such as email or video scripts, going forward.
On the other hand, if you find that focusing on larger projects, such as 10,000-word sales letters for very expensive products suits you better, start pursuing those jobs exclusively.
There’s no right or wrong answer for everyone, just what’s right or wrong for you. Much of this will depend on your personality and writing preferences as well as how much effort you want to devout to copywriting in general.
For me, it was a slow process.
I started off writing just website content for anyone who would hire me. Several suicide hotline calls later, I switched to just sales letters which was a much better fit as I generally liked larger projects.
Then I started getting more interested in shorter copy where I could inject more of my personality, which lead me to email marketing which has been the best fit yet. Email fits my personality and writing style better than anything else I’ve found.
Will my copywriting preferences change in the future? I doubt it but if they do I’ll be happy to adjust.
Writing for me has always been a journey, not a destination. So if a new road appears that captures my interest, I’m happy to give it a dance as well.
In my experience, that’s the best way to approach your copywriting career in general. Change is the only thing you’ll find that’s always constant.
And it’s always more fun to embrace the change and run with it than to try and fight it.
So what does copywriting mean?
Nothing more than the simple practice of persuading with words.
You’ve now completed this A-to-Z Guide on the definition and meaning of what copywriting is and how to become a well-paid one, as well as how to make it an extremely rewarding and fulfilling profession as well.
Think about it:
Our job as copywriters is to help spread the word about ideas and products that are going to solve people’s problems and make their lives much, much better.
It’s a noble calling and one we should all take seriously.
Without us, ideas don’t spread, innovation doesn’t progress, products aren’t sold, businesses don’t profit, employees aren’t hired, … I could go on and on.
The point is that copywriters do important work that needs doing. We are not cogs in the wheel, we are the ball bearings that keep the wheel revolving and moving forward.
And on top of that, it’s a hell of a lot of fun!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and look forward to all the rewards and fulfillment that a copywriting career will bring you.
Now go forth and write great copy that will change the world!