Copywriting may be the fastest-growing sector in the marketing industry. Demand continues to outpace the supply. However, a love of writing isn’t enough to succeed as a copywriter.
To be a successful copywriter, one must first be a competent writer with knowledge of copywriting methods. A defining characteristic of the most successful copywriters is empathy, the ability to understand the prospect on an emotional level. Freelancers typically earn more than staff writers.
In this article, I discuss the copywriting profession and the characteristics of successful copywriters who earn six and seven figures annually.
In this article, you’ll also discover cost-effective avenues to learn copywriting and alternative careers for people who love to write.
How to Be a Successful Copywriter
A client or employer will expect a copywriter to know copywriting basics, plus the fundamentals of business and marketing.
Beyond a thorough understanding of the formats and techniques required to write engaging and persuasive copy, successful copywriters share several common characteristics.
Successful copywriters tend to be salespeople who write well. To that end, they understand marketing and how to inspire a prospect to complete the sales process.
The successful copywriter is self-directed but also works well as a team member.
Perhaps most of all, a successful copywriter performs well under pressure. Every project has a deadline, and a copywriter cannot afford to wait for inspiration.
Instead of waiting for the muse to strike, a successful copywriter can create copy on demand that achieves the desired results.
12 Characteristics of Successful Copywriters
Based solely on subjective observations, it appears that many successful copywriters are frustrated novelists and screenwriters.
The same creative drive needed in fiction and film is invaluable in copywriting.
Successful copywriters have the following characteristics:
- They write well
- They have mastered the mechanics of copywriting
- They have the heart of a salesperson
- They empathize with the prospect
- They are imaginative and embody creative intelligence.
- They are disciplined self-starters, and goal-oriented.
- They are enthusiastic researchers and knowledgeable of many subjects.
- They have an aesthetic sensibility, both for visual design and the written word.
- They manage time and tasks well.
- They are good listeners
- They are knowledgeable about standard business practices and client relations.
- They know the market they serve
A Successful Copywriter Writes Well.
The necessity for a copywriter to write well may be apparent. Unfortunately, not everyone understands what it means to write well.
Perhaps because of online courses pitch copywriting like get rich quick schemes, some people think they can make six-figures a year simply because they know how to write.
Knowing how to write, and knowing how to write well are two different things.
Naturally, as a minimum, writing well requires knowledge of composition, vocabulary, grammar, punctuation, and the mechanics of language.
It also requires something more. Some might call it a passion for writing. A less romantic term might be tenacity.
If you were to watch a successful copywriter work, you would surely notice how much of his writing is rewriting and polishing.
The ability to stay with a project until it is right requires tenacity.
A love of language and how words go together is the emotional fuel that drives a copywriter to rewrite until his message is crystal clear.
Not everyone who can write has the necessary fire in the belly, and no copywriting course, no matter how expensive, can give it to them.
A Successful Copywriter Has Mastered the Mechanics of Copywriting.
As a profession, copywriting has been around since at least the mid-1880s with the advent of print newspaper ads.
In the past 140 years, various copywriting formats, formulas, and techniques have proven to be the best way to create persuasive copy that gets attention and achieves marketing objectives.
Success in copywriting requires a thorough understanding of copywriting mechanics and where and how to use them to the greatest advantage.
To learn about the fundamentals of copywriting, read Copywriting Basics.
A Successful Copywriter Has the Heart of a Salesperson.
Copywriting is selling. As a copywriter, you are selling a product, service, idea, or a person such as a politician, actor, or celebrity.
Through inadequate training, most salespeople use brute force and hype to sell.
Likewise, poorly trained copywriters equate copywriting to a form of written jiujitsu. They typically attempt to manipulate the target audience into buying.
That’s not selling. That’s psychological abuse that will be ignored by the prospect.
An amateur copywriter might hype the heck out of a product with copy that screams, “Pay attention. I’m trying to sell you something!”
Copywriting is not a battle of wills, and it doesn’t try to sell to everybody.
In the hands of a professional, copywriting is a graceful seduction that targets a specific audience with a benefit they will find most valuable and appealing.
At its best, copywriting doesn’t look like selling at all.
It’s a story that draws in the target audience and demonstrates the benefits of the product, service, or idea.
The successful copywriter conveys authenticity.
Her copy is truthful and establishes trust while also providing meaningful information that positively impacts the target audience.
Selling is about clearly understanding the needs, problems, and desires of your prospect and then showing how the product addresses these issues.
A Successful Copywriter Empathizes with the Prospective Customer.
Perhaps more than any other ability, empathy is essential to a successful copywriting career.
Without empathy, you can still hack out copy, but it won’t connect with the target audience on the deepest level.
Empathy is the ability to stand in the shoes of your prospect and fully understand his problems, needs, and desires.
Empathy gives the copywriter uncanny insight into how to speak to the prospect and help them see the benefits of your offer.
A Successful Copywriter is Imaginative and Possesses a High Degree of Creative Intelligence.
Copywriting demands creative solutions to meet marketing objectives. Creativity is one of those things that’s difficult to define, yet we know it when we see it.
Remember, “Got milk?” and “Nobody can eat just one?”
Both are ingenious examples of creative copy that is now part of American culture.
The challenge for the copywriter is to write copy that is unique and persuasive. That requires creative intelligence.
Dr. Robert Sternberg coined the term creative intelligence in his Triarchic Theory of Intelligence, which includes three categories: analytical, creative, and practical.
While copywriting requires creative intelligence, copywriting is not art. Art doesn’t inspire the audience to act, copy does.
It’s not enough to be merely creative; copy must inspire and motivate the audience to respond in a specific way.
Creative intelligence is the ability to generate unique and intriguing solutions to marketing challenges. It’s the capacity to connect various unrelated ideas, images, and topics in new ways.
A copywriter with a keen sense of creative intelligence can process multiple thoughts at once to assimilate vast amounts of information into new patterns.
A Successful Copywriter is a Self-starter and Goal Oriented.
Successful copywriters tend to be energetic self-starters who are meticulously goal-oriented.
The irony is that, by their nature, the best writers are often introverts and typically not self-starters or goal-oriented.
Introverts tend to be low energy and deeply self-reflective. They like to stay well within their comfort zone. Some people might accuse them of overthinking.
In my experience, introverts make the best writers and copywriters because they generally have keen imaginations and sincere, heartfelt empathy for others.
These two characteristics give the introverted copywriter a considerable advantage.
However, it can be challenging for an introverted copywriter to succeed if they cannot motivate themselves to work unsupervised and to meet deadlines and sales goals.
A Successful Copywriter is an Enthusiastic Researcher and Knowledgeable of Many Subjects.
The best copy begins with research.
Before a writer types a word of copy, she thoroughly researches the product, the target audience, and competing offers.
She becomes an expert on the product or service she’ll promote. She also knows the problems, needs, and desires of her target audience.
Research starts with going through previously published material about the product, including all the information from previous ads, pamphlets, technical papers, press kits, and catalog entries.
If the product is new and doesn’t have a marketing trail, there should still be an abundance of pre-market information.
Companies do not develop products in a vacuum.
The best business practices start with an identified market and then develop the product. Records of the development process are a goldmine of useful information.
A good copywriter is first a good researcher.
They know that the more information they have about the product, the target audience, and competition, the stronger their copy will be.
A Successful Copywriter Has an Aesthetic Sensibility.
The successful copywriter is aware of aesthetic patterns, the rhythm of the written or spoken word, and the appeal of visual design.
This aesthetic sensibility is akin to an internal radar that intuitively knows when something works or doesn’t.
Ultimately, the test of a marketing campaign is the results it produces. A copywriter with a sense of what is pleasing to the ear and eye is invaluable to the client.
This sensibility can get a campaign closer to the target before launch, so there’s a higher probability of success, thus saving the client from the expense of trial and error.
Ultimately, a copywriter with such an aesthetic awareness makes more for the client and subsequently will earn more too.
A Successful Copywriter Manages Time and Tasks Well.
It may shock you to discover that freelance copywriters in the United States earn an average of $20,000 annually.
There are a few possible reasons for this low average income, most notably is that copywriting may only be a side gig for most freelancers.
However, it might also be that the average copywriter doesn’t manage time or tasks well.
A copywriter wears many hats from researcher to market consultant and, of course, writer. To get it all done, the copywriter must have a system to manage time, distractions, and tasks.
The professional copywriter treats their business like a business with a structured workday and consistent work habits.
Professionals have a designated place to work, preferably an enclosed studio. However, many successful copywriters admit to launching their business in a closet or on a kitchen table.
They typically will have a legal business name and business checking account.
The point is the successful copywriter separates their workspace, time, and finances from their personal life.
A Successful Copywriter is a Good Listener.
The successful copywriter pays attention to detail. As Bob Bly writes in The Copywriter’s Handbook, “specifics sell.”
Copywriting isn’t about the writer. It’s about achieving marketing objectives. And, the professional copywriter knows how to get results.
Often, it’s the detail no one else noticed that makes the difference. The capacity to listen and observe are crucial to copywriting success.
It all comes back to understanding your product, the target audience, and the competition. This knowledge comes from research, keen listening, and observation.
A Successful Copywriter is Knowledgeable of Standard Business Practices, Marketing, and Client relations.
The copywriter, even a freelancer, is part of a marketing strategy that ultimately should lead to higher profits for the company.
To this end, the copywriter will interact with business and marketing types. They must understand the philosophy and language of profit-motivated enterprises.
The same is also true of non-profit organizations.
Non-profits are driven by financial goals the same as any other organization that hopes to survive from one fiscal year to the next.
A Successful Copywriter Knows the Market They Serve.
The copywriting arena is enormous and includes writing copy for advertising, direct marketing, the internet, sales communications, public relations, customer communications, branding copy, fundraising, business to business, and more.
And, within each of the above categories are countless subcategories where a copywriter can specialize.
With every assignment, a professional copywriter will strive to master the market he serves.
He knows the competing products and companies, and he knows what buyers in that market expect.
The Anatomy of Successful Copy.
Because copywriting has a specific structure and format, the basics are mechanical, yet there is ample room for creativity.
Once a writer understands the anatomy of persuasive copy, they can employ their creative genius to produce something original.
At the most basic level, compelling copy achieves the following:
- Gets attention
- Focuses on the target audience/prospect
- Sells Benefits
- Separates the offer from the competition
- Builds belief in the product
- Justifies the price
- Inspires the target audience/prospect to act
Copywriting formulas such as Bob Stone’s Gem and The Approach Formula guide a writer through each essential element of persuasive copy.
The more well-known formula, AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) is useful but not as specific as the two formulas mentioned above.
Who are Copywriters?
Go online or look around you; the odds are that within minutes you’ll see a bit of marketing, an ad, sales page, video, or headline trying for your attention.
Do you ever wonder who wrote it? Somewhere behind the message is a human being.
They could be a slick professional in a thousand-dollar suit with an office in a New York ad agency or a corporate marketing manager in San Francisco or a freelancer working from home in Amite, Louisiana.
Traditionally, large ad agencies or media development companies produce the mass ad campaigns in magazines and on national television networks.
These large agencies may have entire teams of copywriters, while smaller agencies only employ one or two copywriters. The smallest agencies are typically one-person shops.
Many of these agencies outsource copywriting to freelancers.
Freelancing is the fastest-growing segment of the marketing industry. Most copywriters are freelancers.
Freelancing is another word for self-employed. Legally, when an agency hires a freelancer, they are hired as an independent contractor.
If you enjoy stringing words together, freelance copywriting may be a rewarding career choice.
Where to Learn Copywriting.
As mentioned earlier, I’m not a fan of expensive online copywriting courses, and I don’t recommend them to someone who is just “thinking” about being a copywriter.
Yes, copywriting is a legitimate profession and a realistic way to earn 6-figures a year (after a year or two of building a business and reputation).
However, many copywriting training platforms care more about getting your money than helping you succeed as a copywriter.
Because some courses pitch copywriting as an easy way to earn a high income, it’s critical to be real with yourself.
If you don’t enjoy writing, copywriting isn’t for you. If you don’t like to research, it’s not for you either.
However, if you DO enjoy researching and writing, you might be a born copywriter.
Most copywriters come to the profession from varied backgrounds.
They might have a liberal arts degree or may have interned in a marketing agency, although neither are necessary to succeed as a copywriter.
Many come to it later in life as a second career.
Self-study and “doing it” is arguable the best way to learn copywriting skills and gain confidence. Start by reading the article The Best Copywriting Guide.
If you enjoy writing, but question if copywriting is right for you, read the Easiest Writing Career.