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How to make it as a copywriter

How to make it as a copywriter

Love writing? Want to earn your living from words? Or are you already on your way but struggle to find opportunities, particularly in an agency setting? Here, in no particular order, are my tips (and some tasks) to help you get ahead as a copywriter…

Open your eyes to opportunities

Working flat out as a freelance copywriter, I was often surprised when other writers lamented over the lack of work. Lack of work? Really? There’s literally copy everywhere! It’s just a matter of opening your eyes to the opportunities. For example, a glance around my pod right now spies copy on an orange juice label, the ‘Do more of what makes you happy’ postcard from kikki.K, and the wrapper around a stick of Blu-Tack. There are words and messages everywhere – and someone who wrote them. Once you know what’s out there, you can start using Google, LinkedIn and Twitter to find the people to talk to about writing it next time round.

Task: What copy can you see around you? Start a list and keep adding to it. The tag on your electric blanket, the back of the cereal box, the instruction manual for the coffee machine, the billboard selling the hipster glasses to your barista… Write down the companies and the marketing channel, and then get searching for the relevant contacts.

Pick a brain

Find a copywriter and pick their brain. It could be a junior, mid, or senior copywriter in a big agency. It could be a highly successful freelancer. It could be in person, via Skype or in 140-character bursts on Twitter. Whoever it is and whichever way you agree to do it, seek out a copywriter and ask for their advice. How did they get started? What’s their best tip? Who else do they know in the industry that could help you get your big break? We all started somewhere, and most people are happy to share their experiences in exchange for a decent cup of coffee.

Task: Hit LinkedIn or Twitter and find a copywriter or two to invite for coffee. Freelance writers will most likely be easier to nail down, but it’s definitely worth seeking out an agency copywriter as well for a completely different perspective.

Apply for AWARD School

A course about “ideas, creative thinking and processes”, AWARD School was recommended to me by a very successful Creative Director called Barry. Truth be told, I never got around to applying – uni and freelancing got in my way – but I highly recommend you do. Held over 16 weeks across Australia and now in Auckland too, lectures and tutorials are run by industry pros inside selected agencies. And even if you don’t get in, the application process alone will get ideas swirling around your head (the application requires you to complete several briefs). According to Barry, agencies won’t even look at you if you don’t have AWARD on your CV. While this won’t be a hard and fast rule for every industry player, this kind of training will definitely be a big plus on your CV.

Read lots of copy

When you’re reading magazines, don’t skip the ads: read them. Copywriting is all about finding your voice for each project, so get a feel for what different industries and companies sound like, and in/on different mediums. Even after more than 13 years of professional writing, I know there’s still lots I can learn – plus I love reading copy that makes me wish I’d written it! Waiting at the bus stop? Read the bus shelter ad. Flick between radio stations during ad breaks? Resist the urge and listen to the ad copy…

Task: Try rewriting an ad. Imagine the advertiser is your client and you’ve just presented the current ad as a pitch. They hate it. You have to rewrite the headline and the body copy. What would you write?

Get experience

There are plenty of businesses out there in desperate need of help with their communication. Ask around until you find one willing – and grateful – to take you on as their unpaid writer. At the start of your copywriting career, your focus needs to be on building your folio, not on raking in the dollars. The more work – and the more impressive brands – in your folio, the sooner you’ll start getting rewarded financially for your efforts.

Task: Get in touch with local community groups or small businesses to offer your writing services. Ask for a reference in return for your work, as well as permission to include the end results in your folio. Where you can, negotiate a small hourly or project fee that’s manageable for your client. And even though you are doing the work for free or token pay, treat your client like they’re paying you a million bucks – and they’ll soon refer you on to someone else, and someone else… 

Write a Blog

These days, anyone can be a writer or a publisher. While this means there’s more ‘noise’ than ever – more content online for people to wade through to discover the gold – it also means you can be a published writer right now. Simply start your own blog. Head to WordPress or one of the other free blogging platforms and get started. It’s your chance to showcase your writing and researching skills, while looking for paid opportunities. And you never know – your blog might just take off and become your full time job, like it did for Darren Rowse (ProBlogger), Lucy Feagins (The Design Files) and Nikki Parkinson (Styling You).

Do internships

Work experience isn’t just for in Year 10 (lucky for me or I’d be a florist not a writer/recruiter). If you can get your foot in the door of an agency to intern as a copywriter, then snap up the chance! Those big names will really boost your CV, and the experience will be invaluable. And don’t let the fact that you’re no longer a student put them off – years ago, I interned at a major magazine interstate, paying for my own insurance to secure the placement.

Task: Google ‘advertising agency’ and your location to come up with a list of businesses to contact. Be prepared to wait for a placement – many agencies will have a year or more waiting list. Accept whatever timeslot they have available as you can always withdraw down the track if your plans change. Ask to be put on a cancellation list – if someone else drops out, tell them you’ll step in at short notice. And be prepared to buy your own insurance to cover you in their workplace – whatever makes it easy for them to say yes to you.

Do you have some advice for aspiring copywriters? Are you an aspiring copywriter? What works? What do you need advice about? Please share in the comments section below.

If you’re looking for permanent copywriting opportunities, contact Firebrand Talent
If you’re looking for freelance copywriting opportunities in an agency, contact Vitamin T in Sydney or Melbourne
If you’re looking for freelance copywriting opportunities client side, contact Aquent in Sydney or Melbourne

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