In grade school, long before I started copywriting, I published my first poem. The poem was included in a collection of children’s poetry, a copy of which I still have on my bookshelf today.
Don’t worry. I won’t torture you with an excerpt.
I’ve spent much of my life seeking that thrill of writing, of being published and communicating something of value to others.
Whether my poem “communicated something of value” is debatable . . . but the desire to put words on the page nonetheless led me through an MFA in creative writing.
What people often do with this degree is teach.
But I knew at the time that, while I respected teaching and many of my colleagues taught, I wanted to write. Somehow, some way, I had to be a writer and get paid for it.
I’d already spent a stint as a newspaper journalist. I covered the crime beat. And while the grim subjects I wrote about ultimately burned me out and pushed me out of the newspaper business, that job probably taught me more than any degree ever could about being a professional writer.
That’s because I was working with and learning from fellow writers and editors who were producing professional content every day. The key to good copywriting is much the same: You have to learn from professionals, and from doing the work. Here are some of the lessons I learned on my path to being a self-taught copywriter.
Good Editors Are Great Teachers
When you find a good editor, you’ve struck gold. This is especially true for any professional writer with daily or weekly deadlines.
In academia, we sometimes have the notion of toiling over a piece of writing for a long time, agonizing over where to place a comma or whether to take out an adjective.
Having others criticize our work feels like a personal affront.
Professional writing environments knock that idea out of your head, and a skilled copy editor goes from being your mortal enemy to your best friend in a heartbeat.
When you’ve got assignments flying at you at a constant clip, there’s no time for anguished artistry.
A lot of the heavy lifting happens at the front-end in copywriting: research, adapting to a brand’s voice and client personas, and developing a solid content plan to ultimately grow and convert a company’s marketing and sales leads.
The writing itself needs to have a fairly quick turnaround and hit its marks in a clear, proficient, and compelling way. But you won’t have time to make it extra flowery—nor should that be your goal.
An editor who’s attuned to both your style and your client’s needs can teach you what works and what doesn’t and help you hone your approach to content. If you heed their advice, you’ll soon enough be churning out better and better writing and constantly learning and growing.
This will save you some major headaches down the road by avoiding writing that doesn’t perform well or unhappy clients.
Copywriting 101: Teaching the Self-Taught
Many degrees copywriters hold will qualify you for . . . a job that isn’t copywriting.
For instance, some English degrees may qualify you for teaching at the college level. They teach rigorous research and the ability to synthesize information in a way that can educate and provoke thoughtful conversation. They make you more rounded and well read.
A journalism degree qualifies you to work in the news. You learn to question, think critically about what’s important about a topic, dig deep, and get to the point as quickly as possible.
These traditional degrees hone skills copywriters use in their daily craft. But if you don’t have the track record to show your abilities, you’re unlikely to land many clients by simply waving around an English degree.
Much of copywriting is self-taught and requires you to learn important freelance business skills.
This often means you’re learning to:
· Manage your own business.
· Secure and retain clients.
· Juggle multiple projects.
· Curate existing content and track analytics.
· Keep your finances in order.
· Work with fellow creatives.
· Constantly adapt to new industry standards.
· Hone your craft.
It also means you need to understand what your skillset quantifiably offers your client’s business in terms of reaching their marketing and sales goals.
But it especially means you need to have a portfolio that proves you can do the job you’re pitching.
Copywriting Courses by Those Who Came Before
There are a lot of freelance copywriters out there—meaning many who’ve done precisely what you’re trying to do and can help guide you.
You could start by networking with professionals who have a proven track record helping brands expand their online presence and grow their conversions. And you’ll certainly pick up skills and techniques along the way doing this.
But a successful freelancer may not always be able to help translate their success into yours. They may also be too busy with their own work to give you consistent or thorough guidance.
The solution many copywriters turn to, to fill in their gaps in knowledge are online copywriting courses.
The best courses offer an alternative to traditional higher education learning, and are designed by professionals who not only know the copywriting business but know how to teach it.
The right copywriting course can offer you:
· clear educational outcomes to match your specific learning goals
· the ability to go at your own speed and on your own schedule
· ways to gauge your knowledge retention
· skills to make your copywriting more competitive and effective right away
· tools beyond the page—i.e. managing a freelance business
The best part is that, when you complete a high-quality copywriting program, you’ll earn an actual certificate. You might at first underrate the worth of a digital certificate like this. Does the copywriting world really care that you took an online course?
The answer is often yes. Why? Think about it this way. Many staff writing positions require applicants to pass similar types of exams for writing, editing, SEO, graphic design, and so forth, to prove they can do the job—and the tests must be passed before even the first interview.
Popular job listing sites host certain proficiency tests you can use for multiple applications and add to your profile to pit your skills against other job seekers.
Even CRM platforms like HubSpot see value in offering educational tools for online marketers.
It means something that you took the time to pass a copywriting course. And that meaning will shine through in the very next piece of content you produce.