12 Tips for Launching and Advancing Your Copywriting Career
Whether you're dreaming of becoming a copywriter, already at your first writing job, or getting your second wind as a writer, here are a 12 time-tested tips from someone who has enjoyed a 30-plus-year copywriting career, writing for print to digital.
1. Gain experience. Nothing replaces experience, so the faster you get it, the better. Volunteer to write for a favorite not-for-profit, church or neighborhood newsletter. Even better, start a blog, promote it and track the traffic. You'll gain experience and samples for your portfolio.
2. Write every day. This is especially important for newbie writers. While the life of a writer sounds romantic, things like staring at a blank screen and meeting deadlines are not. So, get in the habit of coming up with new ideas, writing on deadline and reveling in revisions. This is the life of a writer.
3. Ask (good) questions. LOTS of questions. It lets the people you work with and for know you want to learn more. And the more you know about your topic, product or service, the stronger your copy will be.
4. Meet your mentor. Don't wait for one to discover you, go out and find one. Ask your boss. Network at professional events. Approach a writer whose work you admire. My mentors have included a favorite college professor, two former bosses, a client and, most recently, a mentee. Mentoring is a two-way exchange that benefits both.
5. Become your own editor. Learn to read what you've written with a critical eye and the quality of your writing will improve. As a bonus, you'll reduce the number of client revisions you're asked to make. Here are a couple of editing tips for starters. Sleep on it. Never turn in a project without giving it an overnight rest. Read it aloud. It's a sure-fire way to identify typos, grammar errors, and rough spots you'll hear, but not see. Trust me, it's true.
6. Use a writer's checklist. A checklist is a useful tool to assure you don't miss what's missing in your copy. Download this one.
7. Save samples. Save yours for your portfolio, save those of others for future inspiration. Samples of other people's work you admire can help jumpstart a new project.
8. Have reasons for what you write. Have a rationale for the words you choose, the punctuation you use, even where you place the break on a page or in a headline. When you can explain — not defend — the why behind what you've written, you potentially reduce revisions and gain respect as a professional. (That said, I've learned from experience that just because I had reasons for my writing, that doesn't mean I was right. Always be open to client suggestions.)
9. Use more than your words. Today's successful writers know how to increase reader engagement by incorporating numbers, charts, graphs and links into the words they write.
10. Write for results. Not awards. While it's nice to have your work recognized with a plaque by your peers, if you want to be successful and make the big bucks, write for results. This is why people hire you.
11. Make data your friend, metrics your mantra. Data provides factual insights about how, when, why and where customers buy, search or share. Understanding this data makes your job easier and your copy better. Use metrics (a.k.a results) to demonstrate the effectiveness of your copy, especially when showing samples to prospective clients or asking for a raise. Your case is more compelling when you support copy samples with open rates, sales generated, shares, views, search rankings, and other response measurements. Read more reasons why writers should subscribe to spread sheets.
12. Don't write and drive. Arrive alive. Seriously. If you're like me, it's tempting. Some of your most brilliant ideas come while you're rolling down the road, right? Please pull over. Don't write copy when you're at the wheel. (Full disclosure: I had to do this while working on this article and I'm here to tell the story.)