You’re reading this because you want to learn how to become a copywriter.
Maybe you’ve heard it’s a great career path for location independence, freedom, creativity, and more money. The good news is these are all true.
But copywriting might not be what you think it is.
I’ve unintentionally been copywriting since 2015. I’ve bootstrapped, bought, and sold many digital businesses. My most recent startup, Ticker Nerd, was acquired in 2021 by an Australian FinTech Company. In the process, I’ve had to wear different hats and one of them was the hat of a copywriter. Over time (and with many mistakes) I started to learn what works and what doesn’t. I’ve even taken various copywriting courses to refine my skills and improve the conversion rates on my sites. Now I offer copywriting services for eCommerce and SaaS businesses.
Whether it was an email sequence, a landing page, or even a Reddit ad I’ve had to learn exactly how to craft effective copy for the right audience.
In this article, I’ll explain what copywriting really is, why I think it’s a great skill to acquire, and how to become a copywriter without any real experience or qualifications.
What is copywriting?
First and foremost, copywriting is a key form of marketing. It is the act of writing persuasively to nudge someone to take an action. I like to think of it as the written version of sales.
The goal is to turn a reader into a customer.
Over the years, it has become critical to the success of online businesses, especially since competition is increasing. Therefore, the demand for copywriters has also increased dramatically (more on this later). Almost everything you read online has been written by a copywriter.
A copywriter can be tasked with many things, their most common tasks will include
- Blog posts
- Sales pages
- Landing pages
- Email campaigns
- Social media posts
- Product descriptions
- Technical white papers
Whilst these are the most common types of copywriting, the scope of work really depends on what a business requires. And it might not always be sales focused.
Below is the homepage of a popular design tool called Figma. This is a great example because the copy is simple, to the point, and compelling. As a copywriter, it’s also likely you’ll need to collaborate with designers or developers who use Figma.
Of course, website copywriting is just one form of copywriting you could specialize in. Below is an example of a Facebook Ad that Figs have run in the past.
It’s almost impossible to open your phone or laptop and not come across something a copywriter has produced. The text you read is either informing you of something or selling you something. This should be a clear signal that copywriting is important.
“Copywriting is one of the most important skills you can have in business and one of the most important skills you can have in life.”Sam Parr, Founder of The Hustle
Why is copywriting so popular?
There are many theories on why copywriting has become so popular. The interest in copywriting has continued to rise since the pandemic. This could be the result of remote work becoming mainstream or the great resignation trend.
Copywriting is a popular option for many people since it offers the following benefits:
- You can work remotely
- The barrier to entry is very low
- It’s very possible to earn six figures a year
- It’s a universal skill that you can apply to your own businesses
- The learning curve isn’t as steep as other skills such as coding
These are all benefits you’re unlikely to get from a standard 9-5 job. Especially if you’re in a developing country.
As a result, people are now searching for more copywriting-related queries, joining copywriting communities, taking courses, and looking for copywriting gigs.
Here’s the growth in search volume for the term “how to become a copywriter”.
The r/copywriting subreddit has even quadrupled since 2020.
My prediction is that the interest in copywriting will continue to grow alongside the trend of remote work.
How to become a copywriter in six steps
The great thing about copywriting is that it’s permissionless.
There are no barriers to entry and you don’t need to sit a long exam to prove you’re competent.
You can practice in your spare time and start taking on clients (or apply for a job) when you’re ready. Here are the six steps to becoming a freelance copywriter without any prior writing or marketing experience.
1. Learn the basics of copywriting
This seems obvious, and it is.
However, you really need to put in the work and actually learn how to write copy. The whole purpose of copywriting is to add value to businesses by helping them achieve their goals. You’ll make your life harder than it needs to be if you can’t write effective copy. Not to mention you won’t get any referrals.
Three popular types of copywriting include websites, emails, and ads. I’ll break them down for you below.
Website Copywriting: This is exactly what it sounds like. Writing the words on a website to help the business achieve a goal. It could be to sell a product, capture an email address or schedule an appointment. Either way, there’s usually one specific goal of the site that you need to optimize for.
Email Copywriting: If you open your inbox right now I’m sure it’s full of junk. Your job as an email copywriter is to write highly engaging emails that don’t get overlooked. eCommerce email marketing is in very high demand right now. Everything from a discount email to an abandoned cart email helps increase revenue for an eCommerce business.
Ad Copywriting: Similar to the Figs example earlier in this article, ad copywriting is all the written text you see on an ad. It could be a Facebook ad, YouTube ad, Reddit ad, display ad, or even a billboard. Ad copywriting usually requires the least amount of text but the most amount of testing to optimize for the best results.
Now that you know the three popular types of copywriting, here are the two popular copywriting formulas I often use.
AIDCA: This stands for attention, interest, desire, conviction, and action. The idea of this formula is to methodically pull the reader in and convince them to take a specific action. You grab the reader's attention by making a bold or compelling claim.
For example, the Ticker Nerd heading is “Wish someone told you about Ethereum when it was $5 instead of $2,500?”. You pique their interest with some more compelling reasons to keep reading. From here you need to translate product features into benefits so the reader desires your product. However, the conviction piece is key in this formula. Unlike other formulas (such as AIDA), this one ensures you have a section to prove what you’re saying is correct and that other people trust you (think of reviews or case studies). From here the call to action (CTA) should be a piece of cake. But remember, you can only have one CTA.
PAS: The PAS formula is a more simple approach. It stands for problem, agitate and solve. The idea is to point out a problem early in your copy, agitate the problem by showcasing why it’s so annoying, and then present the solution. It’s applied frequently since it’s less rigid but still has a guiding method of writing copy.
BAB: The BAB formula stands for Before-After-Bridge, and is mostly used in email marketing campaigns. The method is very simple, you call out the problem or pain point (before) and then you show the reader how great life could be after they fix this problem. The bridge is the action they need to take to solve the problem.
Three actions you can take right now:
- Watch this YouTube video
- Read this beginner-friendly article
- Block out at least 4 hours per week to learn and practice over a 60-day period
2. Learn how to research
Research has been the most important factor in my success as a copywriter.
It’s what separates regular copywriters and amazing copywriters.
Having a superior research process will also do the heavy lifting for you.
I’ve conducted customer interviews where the interviewee has written the copy for me. They’ve described a problem in so much detail that I took the words right out of their mouth and pasted them on the home page.
Don’t believe me?
Here’s a real example from my startup, Ticker Nerd.
In the middle of the interview, one customer said “I just wish someone told me about Ethereum when it was $5”. This is music to a copywriter's ears. We tweaked it slightly and pasted it on our homepage.
The same thing happened with a copywriting client in the PropTech space. After reviewing the customer interview data, we realized customers had also written the copy.
One customer said, “Moving is expensive, I just wanted some more breathing room”. Again, I tweaked this slightly and it formed the copy on the homepage.
Here are five research techniques you should implement for faster and better results.
- Copywriting questionnaires
- Conducting customer interviews
- Uploading your project to User Testing or User Brain for relevant feedback
- Read relevant product or service reviews to help you write more compelling copy
- Conducting customer research using tools such as SubReddit Stats or Statist Brain
Pro tip: The very best copywriters aren’t fancy wordsmiths, they simply know what makes their reader tick. A good research process will help you do this.
3. Practice reading & writing daily
It’s hard to become a copywriter if you don’t read copy. It’s even harder if you never practice writing copy. Therefore, a key component of becoming a professional copywriter is to practice reading and writing copy. Daily.
A great starting point is the Boron Letters by Gary Halbert. Not only are they entertaining, but they’ll also give you a feel for great writing. Copywriting isn’t always “proper” or “technical”. Good copywriting is supposed to keep you engaged. The Boron Letters do exactly that.
Gary Halbert is one of the greatest copywriters there ever was. What makes the Boron Letters so interesting is that they were written to Halbert's son from Boron Penetretionary where he was imprisoned for tax fraud.
The letters describe his copywriting process in detail, they’re also full of actionable advice. I highly suggest reading and handwriting your favorite pieces.
If you want more variety then I recommend subscribing to Sam Parr’s Copy That Newsletter. You’ll receive 10 pieces of copy over 10 days that you’ll need to handwrite. Each piece of copy has an explainer of why the piece is so great. I’ve personally completed this and it’s made a positive difference to my style and flow.
[ Related article: Gary Halbert: 7 Lessons From An Infamous Copywriting Legend ]
Pro tip: Good copywriters know how to translate a product feature into a customer benefit.
4. Build your toolbox (a.k.a your swipe file)
A swipe file is a collection of tried and tested copywriting examples. Most copywriters will never write from scratch. In the same way, software developers reuse and improve code, copywriters leverage their swipe files.
Building up your own personal swipe file is critical. A swipe file will:
- Save you time
- Improve your skills
- Give you new ideas
- Improve your confidence
- Guide your work so you know you’re on the right track
There’s no need to start from scratch though, leverage these websites to build your swipe file:
- Unicord Ads
- Good Email Copy
- Copywriting Examples
- SaaS Headline Formulas
- The Copy Collective Community Swipe File
5. Land your first client or gig
Ever heard of the Pareto Principle?
Where 20% of your effort lead to 80% of the results?
This is particularly important when it comes to landing your first client. You’re most likely to land your first client by leveraging your network. As a result, this is where most of your effort should be focused.
You might find this uncomfortable but you’ll never become a professional copywriter without clients or paid gigs. At some point in your journey, you’ll need to deprioritize practice exercises and start landing real clients.
I won my first gig by simply reaching out to someone I knew whose business could do with a new website and some updated copy. I eventually landed the job for a complete website redesign and copy upgrade.
In a previous article, I wrote about the various ways you could find copywriting clients quickly. Whilst I think asking your network for work or referrals is the most effective, here are seven other ways.
- Leverage copywriting job boards & marketplaces (such as Pro Blogger Jobs or Contra)
- Submit guest posts on high-traffic and relevant sites
- Invest in search-engine-optimization (SEO) to bring in leads
- Become a thought leader on social media (check out Andrew Write Copy)
- Cold email outreach
- Join a business community
- Growth hack your way to your first client
Three actions you can take right now:
- Reach out to your network and let them know you’re taking on clients
- Create and optimize your LinkedIn profile so it looks professional
- Create a basic website that showcases your services
[ Related article: How To Find Copywriting Clients Fast: A Tactical Guide For Beginners ]
6. Build processes and feedback loops
The next step is to create bulletproof processes.
There are two specific resources that have allowed me to manage client work and my own personal tasks. Without these resources and processes, I wouldn’t be able to grow my client base.
Google doc sprint tracker: A sprint is a project management term for a two-week block of tasks that usually isn’t changed until the sprint is over. I work on two-week sprints to ensure the workload is manageable and keeps me accountable. It’s also great for documenting tasks and referencing previous blocks of work.
Hello Bonsai: This is a tool specifically designed for freelancers. It mostly takes care of the administration side of things. When you’re first starting out you probably won’t have a process for sending an invoice, creating a project plan, tracking your work, or asking for feedback after a project. Hello Bonsai makes this easy. Here’s an image from their site that sums it up perfectly.
Is copywriting for you?
You’re might feel overwhelmed reading this article since there’s a lot to take in when you first start copywriting. However, you’ll feel the same about starting anything new. There’s a learning curve you need to get over before you’re comfortable.
If you’re still deciding whether copywriting is for you then you can ask yourself these questions:
- Can I commit to this for at least six months before I give up?
- Can I block out 5-10 hours each week to learn copywriting?
- Am I in this for the long run or do I just need a quick buck?
- Do I enjoy reading and writing?
These are the fundamental questions you need to ask yourself. If your answer is no to any of these then copywriting isn’t for you.
There are misconceptions people have about copywriting that I also want to debunk.
❌ You need a college degree or formal education to get started
❌ Copywriters write the disclaimers of websites
❌ Copywriting means you need to be a great wordsmith
❌ English needs to be your first language
I've learned from copywriters who have no formal education and English isn't their first language. So don't let these common misconceptions stop you from pursuing a copywriting career.
Freelance vs Agency vs In House
When you first decide you want to become a copywriter it’s essential to understand how you want to work. You could be a freelancer, work at an agency, or in-house for a company. It’s mostly a personal preference, however, I prefer the freelancer route. Below are the key differences.
Freelancer: This is someone who is self-employed. You have the freedom to do what you want when you want. If you have another job and you want to write in your spare time then I suggest freelancing. Successful freelance copywriters can easily earn six figures since they don’t have a cap on the rates they charge or the number of clients they can sign. The only downfall is that you’re 100% responsible for finding clients and delivering the work. You eat what you catch.
Agency: Working for an agency is great if you want to learn copywriting (and marketing) very quickly. You’ll likely be thrown in the deep end and your learning trajectory will be far greater than your freelancing counterparts who are on their own. You’ll be exposed to a variety of clients and you might even build a client base through these connections. I’ve worked for two agencies in the past and they’re fun, however, the work can be intense and there’s a cap on the amount of money you can earn.
In-house: These copywriters are employed by a company that requires them to handle all their copywriting needs. You only get exposure to one company and industry. For instance, you could be an in-house copywriter at Webflow which means you’ll only be writing copy about web development and design. Your earning potential will also be capped since you’re an employee.
Copywriting is all about turning a reader into a customer. It makes such a great side hustle or freelancing option because it gives you the ability to be location independent, build your own schedule, and be creative. You could even earn a six-figure income if you apply yourself. In order to be successful though, you need to commit to learning, practicing, and landing clients. Don't expect results overnight!
If I were a new copywriter starting today I would immediately start practicing, create a website and optimize my LinkedIn profile. I would then reach out to my network and try to land a client, regardless of how small. Everything else would be an afterthought.