6 skills you need to make it as a copywriter (2)Copywriting can be a great additional income stream for writers, and it’s one of the areas of writing about which I’m asked most often – most specifically, “how do I get into copywriting, Al?”

Copywriting is definitely something I do. I write websites and brochures, advertising copy and blog posts. Even so, I decided that to give you the best possible answers to the most common questions about copywriting, I’d take myself off to someone who specialises in copywriting.

Kate Toon is an award-winning SEO copywriter and SEO consultant with almost two decades of experience in all things advertising, digital and writing. She has worked with big brands such as Westpac, The RTA, Curash and Kmart, and is the founder of The Clever Copywriting School, the Hot Copy Podcast and The Recipe for SEO Success eCourse.

She is, therefore, the perfect person to grill about how to be a copywriter.

AT: What exactly does a copywriter do? Is it all about writing ads, like they do in Mad Men?
Kate Toon: “A copywriter generally writes advertising and marketing materials for businesses – things like websites, emails, brochures, adverts and blog posts. We help clients identify their customers, work out their customers’ needs, their fears, desires and preconceived beliefs. Then we generate sales copy, or content that addresses those customer issues.

When I worked at big agencies in Sydney and London, it was a little Madmenish. Lots of arrogant Creative Directors and far too much drinking. But these days most copywriters I know work in their pyjamas at home. so it’s a little less glamorous!

Day to day work involves talking to new prospects, creating proposals and quotes, writing copy, editing, proofing and playing around on social media.”

How do I find copywriting work?
KT: “Personally, I get most of my work via my website. I’m a bit of a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) whizz, so I’ve worked hard to achieve top ranking for around 100 or so phrases that include something to do with ‘copywriter’. People visit my site, check out my service, my portfolio and my testimonials and get in touch.

Copywriters generally get a lot of work through word of mouth, either through previous clients or through networking (online and in real life). I’ve never used any of the listings websites (like Upwork), and I’ve never really advertised my services directly.”

What sort of skills will I need to be a copywriter?
KT
: “Well, the obvious answer is that you need to be able to write. But I know lots of good writers who make terrible copywriters. I think other important skills include:

  • The ability to self-motivate: Most of the time it’s me and the screen in a hut in my back garden – some people struggle without teammates
  • Top-notch organisational skills: I currently have 15 projects on the go – all at various stages of completion. I’m an expert plate spinner
  • The ability to pump it out: With copywriting, there’s no waiting for inspiration to hit, especially when you work for yourself and you have bills to pay. You need to be able to conquer the white page and write – even when you don’t feel in the mood
  • Super-fast typing speeds: The faster you type the more money you make. It sounds dumb, but it’s true
  • Patient people skills: Some clients are shy, some are disorganised, some talk too much and some are giant pains in the bottom. But if you’re a people person, you’ll find a way to make it work and create a good relationship. Working with a copywriter is quite an intimate thing, so getting along with your clients is key.”

What can I expect to be paid for copywriting?
KT: “Rates vary depending on a number of factors:

  • Experience level: Experienced copywriters who have worked for a variety of brands and industries may charge more than junior copywriters
  • Demand: In-demand copywriters may charge more than those just starting out
  • Skill set: Copywriters with a high level of skill in a particular area of copywriting may charge more
  • Location: Copywriters closer to large cities (Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, etc.) may charge more than writers in rural Australia
  • Client status: Copywriters may offer discounts to start ups or charities and charge more to large corporates
  • Turn around time: Copywriters may charge more for a faster turnaround.”

And also it depends on whether you’re charging by the hour or fixed price.

I recently surveyed a large group of copywriters and asked them what were paid. You can read the results here. You can also check out the recommended rates at The Clever Copywriting School website.”

Do I need a marketing background or any kind of qualification?
KT
: “My background is ex-agency, working for the big boys like Ogilvy and Saatchi and Saatchi, but I’m in the minority.  Copywriters come from all kinds of backgrounds. I know ex-accountants, lawyers, IT professionals and landscape gardeners who are now copywriters.

When I ran the survey, about 50 per cent of the copywriters had no formal qualifications, and those who did had learned most of their copywriting skills form ecourses, webinars and online resources.

My advice to budding copywriters is to give it a go. Start with low prices and do work for friends and local businesses. As your confidence and skills grow, so can your rates. And keep on reading and learning; there are so many great resources and blogs out there to help you.”

You can find out more about Kate Toon and her copywriting courses here, and say hello to her on Twitter

13 Comments

  • As a website content writer I agree with this wholeheartedly post. Last week I had to whip up 8 fantastic pages about turf in one day so I could get 4 press releases written the next day! I’m sure this will help lots of newbie content writers!

  • An excellent article, thanks Al and Kate – my main takeout is to be better organised, especially as I’m in the eye of the storm with a big job and looking around at my chaotic desk. Time to get properly organised so I’m able to ramp up the work without imploding.

    • Yep I think it really does help. Being organised stops you getting all sweaty when it’s busy and good processes make busy times easier. Also the better you manage your time the more work you can do and the more dosh you can make! WIn!!

  • What a fantastic post covering so much great information. Thanks for the links, too, Kate. So, relevant and helpful … and I especially loved the alternative career paths in the 2015 Survey. While copywriting is not my primary business it’s amazing what a large percentage of my time I spend writing, editing and proofreading for my clients whether I’m doing web development, blog assistance, WordPress training or social media management. Copywriting just can’t be ignored if you’re going to provide a great service for your clients. Thank you for all the valuable information you so generously share.

    • Ah Robbie, thanks so much for reading – I think so many of us have to Jacks/Jills of all trades these days and everyone does a little bit of writing.
      Yes I loved reading through those alternate careers – interesting the path other folk have trodden to get into the wonderful world of writing.

  • What I’ve loved since joining the copywriting community is how welcoming and open some of the big name copywriters such as Kate, and also Belinda Weaver are. They are generous sharing their knowledge to those just starting out. And copywriting is so much fun. I love what I do!

  • Thank you so much for this post Alison & Kate 🙂 It’s very helpful for me as I’m just getting started as freelance writer and looking at taking a copy writing course. It’s given me amazing insight to what it’s really like in the industry. Especially the skills area is of big interest to me in the post! Thanks again 🙂

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