UPDATED JUNE 7, 2023
Since I started my freelance copywriting business in 2011, lots of people have reached out asking for advice.
So, in this article I wanted to share what I’ve learned and the things that have helped me. I hope you find it helpful.
How to become a copywriter
The truth is, there’s no set path into copywriting and my own story is just one of many.
While some people start out as copywriters, most come into copywriting from other industries and professions.
In my network, there are ex-teachers, ex-accountants, ex-marketers and ex-designers — to name a few. Some of them have used the experience from their previous occupations to carve themselves a lucrative copywriting niche.
Most copywriters I know were already good writers, but didn’t have copywriting skills. They started out by reading books on copywriting, to learn more about the craft, and taking copywriting courses, to practise and perfect it.
Skills and experience
1. Brush up on your written English
Being able to write well is the most basic skill you need as a copywriter. The following tips will help you build your confidence, improve your writing skills and widen your vocabulary:
Try to read a mix of non-fiction books; quality newspapers and magazines; websites and blogs; examples of successful sales letters, press ads and campaigns.
Analyse the copy
Analyse what you’re reading, including the format, sentence structure, use of words and writing technique.
Think about how the copy is working to convey its message and how it’s making you feel.
You should practise writing as often as you can and write a variety of things for yourself. For example, you could write a journal or diary, personal blog articles and social media posts.
2. Develop some complementary skills
It’s always good to add some more strings to your bow — even if it’s only improving your understanding of a different discipline.
The following skills, which I developed in previous employment, have been invaluable to me as a copywriter:
- Public relations (PR)
- Client liaison
- Understanding of design and layout — in print and online
- Web development.
3. Learn copywriting best practice
There are plenty of copywriting courses out there, along with books, ebooks, blogs, articles and exercises.
How you choose to learn is entirely up to you, but look for recommendations or ask other copywriters about the resources they have found most helpful.
I took a course from the Institute of Copywriting back in 2006/7. By then I was already proficient in some aspects of copywriting, but wanted a more rounded introduction to the area. The course provided this, along with mentoring from a professional copywriter.
Personally, I found the course valuable — even though the diploma isn’t a recognised qualification. It gave me insight into the business of copywriting, taught me new skills and helped to build on my copywriting portfolio.
4. Learn how to write Search-engine-optimised (SEO) copy
SEO copy is written specifically for websites and blogs. It helps the search engines to index and categorise websites so people can find them online.
Websites and blogs are always in demand and have made up a substantial portion of my freelance work over the years. If you want to write for them, SEO skills are a must.
As a bare minimum, you should know how to research key words and phrases and where to place them for the best results. You should also understand the best format for web copy that helps people to read it easily.
The following skills and knowledge will give you a more competitive edge:
- Keyword and key-phrase research — the best tools and techniques to use
- Long-tail SEO — how to research and make use of longer phrases
- Competitor research — to differentiate a website from its competition
- Web development — an understanding of how websites are designed and built
- Landing pages — how to write landing pages that convert
- User behaviour — how website visitors find, use, read and navigate websites
- Calls to action — what they are and how to use them
- Google Analytics — how to interpret and use the data.
5. Check out free courses in your area
When I started freelancing full time, a client introduced me to the Leicester Business Festival: a two-week event hosting free workshops and seminars for local businesses.
I subscribed and booked myself onto a number of free events, including a personal mentoring session from a person in my field.
In addition to valuable learning opportunities, local courses provide a chance to network and meet other business people.
Following the business festival I joined my local Chamber of Commerce and enrolled on their Digital Growth Programme. The programme has offered an excellent selection of business workshops and seminars — all fully funded and free for eligible businesses to attend.
6. Build a copywriting portfolio
Many new copywriters struggle to create a portfolio when they haven’t completed any projects, but it actually isn’t that difficult.
Here are some of the things you can include:
- Written work you produced in your previous employment — get approval from your previous employer first to make sure the work is okay to be used
- Coursework from your copywriting course, if you’ve taken one
- Relevant examples from other studies or courses
- Articles or blog articles you’ve written.
If you don’t have examples, you can create some by:
- Doing free copywriting work for charities
- Writing something for a friend or family member’s business
- Finding sample copywriting briefs online and showing how you would respond to them
- Starting a blog about something that interests you or, if appropriate, something relevant to the field you want to work in.
Equipment and resources
7. Invest in a dedicated laptop, if you can
I have a laptop I use just for my business. Keeping it separate from my personal computer means it doesn’t get clogged up with photos, movies and other things that need a lot of disk space.
The other main benefit is its portability. I can take it anywhere, which is great if I’m going to a meeting or fancy a change of scenery.
8. Get the right software
If you’re going to be a copywriter, you need the right tools for the job. Here are the basics:
- Word processor — for writing, obviously!
- Spreadsheet — useful for creating timed scripts for media including radio, video, animations and presentations (also for simple accounting)
- Photo editor — for working with images
- Calendar — for scheduling meetings, projects, reminders and deadlines
- Accounting software — for running a freelance business.
If you’re on a tight budget, you can download and use open-source software for free.
Apache Open Office creates Microsoft-compatible text documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings and databases.
Google Docs allows you to create and share documents online for free. This is particularly useful for copy editing projects, as it has a separate edit mode.
9. Bookmark a suite of useful online resources
There are lots of free resources online. Bookmarking them keeps them all at your fingertips.
Dictionaries and word finders
- Oxford Dictionary — UK English dictionary
- Thesaurus.com — online thesaurus
- Word Hippo — dictionary and thesaurus
- Cambridge Dictionary — Dictionary and a great resource for idioms
- Rhymer — Rhyming dictionary
- Wordassociation.org — Word association tool.
Free images for blogs and other projects
Website data collection and testing tools
- Google Analytics — if a client has Google Analytics on their existing site, you can use the data to determine what is working and what isn’t
- Google Search Console — provides additional in-depth data
- Page Speed Insights — Checks the website page load speed and advises on how to fix any problems.
SEO keyword research tools
Every copywriter has their go-to keyword research tool. Here are three of the most recommended ones:
Content creation tools
- Answerthepublic.com — enter a keyword for a range of content ideas
- Blog Ideas Generator — enter up to five nouns and Hubspot’s tool will give you ideas for your next five blog posts
- 101 Blog post ideas for your business — a link to my own blog post if you need more inspiration
- Headline Analyser — helps you write more effective headlines for your content
- Canva — a tool to help you easily create visual content
- Google Fonts — more than 800 web-friendly fonts you can download and use for free.
10. Decide on a company name
You can choose a business name or use your own name if you prefer.
If you’re planning to have a website at some point, you should check the domain name is available. You can search for your domain at 123-Reg.com.
If the domain name is available, it’s a good idea to secure it with a payment to make sure no one else does.
You can read more on this in my article: How to choose a business name >>
11. Get some calling cards
You never know when a networking opportunity might present itself, so make sure you’re always prepared, with:
- Traditional printed business cards to keep in your wallet or purse
- A digital business card you can store on your phone
- A LinkedIn QR code to link to your profile.
12. Try networking
There are business networking groups all over the country. Some meet weekly and some monthly. Some are free to join, but most require a joining fee and regular payments.
It’s important to find a group where you feel comfortable and where you feel you can make the necessary contributions — in money, time, introductions and referrals.
Most groups offer free guest introductions, so take these up and try out the different groups before you decide which one to stick with.
Remember, there are also networking opportunities at the free business events and on the free courses I talked about above.
13. Start a blog
Blogging is great for marketing your services and for positioning yourself as an expert in your field. Plus, if you’re a copywriter, the writing part should be easy.
Blog about things you think your potential clients will be interested in and be sure to share your posts on social media and, if necessary, include your contact details at the end of each article.
There are a number of blogging platforms you can use but the main ones are:
- Blogger — I used this one myself when I started my business — it’s free and offers just enough customisation options
14. Get a website
Most start-ups have a website. It’s not essential that you do, but it does give you another platform to promote yourself, a place for your online portfolio and somewhere to refer potential clients.
You can go to a web designer or build your own website using one of these online platforms:
New websites are currently taking around six months to get picked up by the search engines, so you shouldn’t rely on your new website bringing in business straight away.
15. Get free business listings
Listings in cheap and inferior directories could harm your website ranking, so these are best avoided.
But links from the larger and more high profile directories, like Yell.com, can be helpful.
One of the best ones to have, especially if you’re planning to source your work locally, is a Google My Business listing.
16. Promote yourself for free on social media
Social media is a great free resource. If you use it properly, you can build an engaged following and even find clients.
Research the best ways to use each platform and follow some of the major influencers to see what kinds of things they post. Use your findings to create suitable content.
17. Limit the number of platforms you use
When I first started copywriting and I was trying to get my name out there, I had a profile on all the popular platforms. This was a mistake.
To be successful, you need to create content that is tailored for each platform. This takes time — especially if you are active on multiple platforms.
It’s much better to choose a couple of platforms and engage on them well and often.
If you want to improve your effectiveness on LinkedIn, I recommend taking Eleanor Goold’s Utterly Compelling LinkedIn Content Creator course.
The course taught me how to create content specifically for LinkedIn. Since applying Eleanor’s advice my reach and engagement have skyrocketed. This, in turn, has helped me find new clients and copywriting work.
18. Join copywriter and freelancing groups on Facebook
Copywriters are a sociable bunch and there are a number of groups for copywriters on Facebook. The groups are great for connecting, sharing ideas and asking for advice.
Som examples include:
- The Copywriter Club
- The Cult of Copy
- The Cult of Copy Colosseum — for getting professional critiques of your work
- Freelance Copywriter Collective
- Online Copywriters
- Freelance Heroes — for connecting with other freelancers.
19. Manage your money wisely
Freelancing is a great way to work, but it doesn’t guarantee you a regular income, especially when you’re first starting out. There will be times when the work comes flooding in and times when it dries up completely. We call this ‘Feast and Famine’ or ‘Peaks and Troughs’.
You need to save money during the Feasts to get you through the Famines.
Here are my tips for saving money and staying afloat:
- If you can, start your freelance business while you still have a full time job
- Save as much money as you can before you start freelancing full time
- Save a proportion from each freelance payment you receive towards your yearly tax bill — the amount will depend on the current tax rate
- Find out what expenses you are entitled to when you complete your tax return (e.g. for mileage and equipment)
- Don’t spend money unless you have to — take advantage of everything you can get for free — many free resources are listed in this article.
20. Get a contract that covers you properly
Your contract should cover things like:
- Exact deliverables — this helps to prevent scope creep
- What is included in the price and what will be charged as extras (for example, consider meetings, phone calls, advice, rewrites)
- Timescales and deadlines
- Payment terms, deposits, rush fees, late fees etc
- Number of rounds of revisions permitted and what counts as a revision
- What will happen if the client wishes to change the brief or cancel the project completely
- What will happen if the client stops responding to communications
- When copyright of materials transfers to the client — usually after payment has been made in full
- Reserving the right to use the written work in your copywriting portfolio — unless you have signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) or your client has expressly prohibited you from doing so.
This is just a guide. If you’re unsure of how to put a contract together you should always seek professional legal assistance.
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About the author
I’m Jenny Lucas, a UK freelance copywriter, based in Leicester.
I became a copywriter in 2005 after six years working in design and marketing.
I started my freelance copywriting business alongside my full time job in 2011.
In 2017 the company I was working for went insolvent.
This was when I decided to give up having a day job and freelance full time.
Today I’m a generalist copywriter who specialises in conceptual copywriting and SEO copy for the web.