If you can write, you can learn to write copy without spending a dime, at least in the beginning. It’s not difficult, but it does take sustained effort and patience.
In this article, I give you an overview of copywriting from the perspective of a copywriter, show you the fundamentals, and where to find more detailed information for free or for a minimal cost.
Plus, I show you a simple strategy to go from broke to pro.
If you can’t spend money to learn, be prepared to spend time and effort to earn your stripes.
Don’t expect to make more than chump change for at least 90 days. The first three months, perhaps longer, are your time to learn, gain experience, and become confident.
If you do the work, you can build the foundation for a respectable six-figure career.
While you’re learning and gaining experience, don’t burden yourself with demands to make money. You’ll only stress yourself and spoil the fun.
Give this “broke to pro” strategy time. The money will come.
Copywriting: The Most Lucrative Writing Career?
There are a lot of ways to make money as a writer, such as journalism, and writing novels or screenplays.
Unfortunately, these professions seldom pay more than a subsistence wage except for a few lucky souls.
The starving novelist or screenwriter is cliché. Journalists don’t do much better, and those jobs are drying up.
It can take years of struggle, sacrifice, and extraordinary luck to succeed as a journalist, novelist, or screenwriter.
Fortunately, the copywriting profession is entirely different. The demand for good copywriters is far greater than the supply.
If you can write, better yet, if you love to write, you can earn six-figures a year as a copywriter, and you can get there within 24 months.
You may not earn six-figures your first year, particularly if you’re starting from zero, but it is do-able by the end of your second year if you do the work.
Is it worth the effort? I think so. Look at how much copywriters can earn.
How Much Do Copywriters Make?
Copywriters are either freelancers or work for an employer.
A staff writer, employed by an agency or corporation, can expect to earn about $40,000 in their first year.
Part-time freelancers average about $20,000 a year.
A full-time pro can charge $150+ an hour.
Straight fees can range from $750 to create a banner ad to $10,000+ for a Direct Mail Package.
Copywriting is a profession equal in earning potential to doctors, lawyers, and accountants.
Copywriters who run ad campaigns for themselves, or who earn a percentage of sales from their client’s campaigns, can make 7-figures a year.
What is Copywriting?
In 1904, copywriter Joseph Kennedy coined the phrase, “Copywriting is salesmanship in print.”
Judith Charles, the owner of the advertising agency Judith K. Charles Creative Communications, reminds us that “A copywriter is a salesperson behind a typewriter.”
Today, copywriting is in every form of media, not just print, and very few copywriters use a typewriter in the digital age. However, the purpose of copywriting remains the same.
Any way you look at it, copywriting is sales.
And selling is problem-solving. As a copywriter, your job is to show the target audience how your product solves their problem, fulfills their desire, or otherwise gives them what they want.
You Don’t Need to Buy an Expensive Course.
Copywriting is persuasive writing. It’s selling with words. If you know how to craft a sentence, it won’t take much to learn copywriting.
There’s no reason to spend a lot of money to learn to write copy.
Expensive courses won’t give you the confidence to write for money. Only practice, application, and working with clients will do that.
No guru has a secret that will magically transform you from a broke wannabe to a master copywriter making millions.
There are no secrets.
If you’re broke and can’t afford a cent for your new copywriting career, you can learn the basics in this article and other articles on this website and from the resources I recommend.
How to Get Started as a Copywriter: The Broke to Pro Strategy.
Assuming you know how to write and can craft a complete sentence and a logical paragraph, you just need to learn the structure, formats, and best practices of copywriting.
Once you know the basics, practice, practice, practice until you are confident you can write any project thrown at you.
A professional copywriter is creative on demand, and that’s what you want to be able to do too.
When you’ve practiced until you are confident you can do the work, it’s time to build a portfolio of your best copywriting samples.
A portfolio is all you need to prove you can do the job.
Once you have that, you’re ready to write for real-world clients. But remember, in the beginning, you’re not writing for money.
At this stage, you’re writing to get experience with real-world projects, to boost your confidence, and add completed projects to your portfolio.
Here’s the Broke to Pro Strategy in a nutshell:
- Learn and practice copywriting basics.
- Build a portfolio of your best copywriting samples.
- Write for clients to gain experience and confidence and to add real-world copywriting projects to your portfolio.
- Hang out your shingle as a copywriting pro and get paid what you’re worth.
STEP 1: LEARN AND PRACTICE COPYWRITING BASICS.
The process of writing compelling copy is straightforward. There’s a formula for every project.
Good copywriting is easy to understand. It’s not poetry, and it certainly isn’t literature. Although, the best copy does flow seamlessly from headline to call to action.
The central objective of a copywriting piece is to inspire the target audience to behave in a specific way, such as buy a product, phone a number, fill in a form, or click a button.
Good copy achieves its objective by including the following ten elements.
The Ten Elements of Good Copy.
Research is the foundation of compelling copy. If there’s a secret to persuasive writing, this is it.
Three-quarters of the time you spend on a copywriting project is research.
The goal of your research is to learn as much as you can about the product you are pitching, the target audience you will try to persuade, and the competition.
The more you know about the product, audience, and competition, the easier your job as a copywriter will be.
The most successful copywriters are avid researchers. They know the more information they have at their disposal, the more persuasive and successful their copy will be.
Know the Target Audience.
Copywriting magic happens when you understand the target audience so well; it’s as if you’re in their head. This degree of understanding only comes after considerable research.
During the process of researching your target audience, you are searching for the emotional connection between the prospective customer and the product.
Find what they want and how the product you are pitching gives it to them.
This dynamic usually takes the form of a problem the prospect is experiencing and how your product solves the problem. But it might also be the prospective customer has a desire, and the product fulfills that desire.
Once you understand this connection, explore various ways you can show the prospect how your product will give them what they want.
Empathy: The Master Skill.
Understanding the product is a straightforward process, so is understanding the competition.
However, the prospect is a complex and emotional being.
The trick to fully understanding your audience is to put yourself in their shoes, to see their problem and your product through their eyes.
In other words, you need empathy.
Not everyone is capable of empathy. We tend to learn it when we’re very young, or we don’t learn it at all.
Dr. Carl Rogers, a pioneer in the practice of person-centered psychology, considered empathy an essential trait for self-actualization.
Empathy can be just a word, or an intense attempt to understand the inner world of the person you’re dealing with.Dr. Carl Rogers
Copywriter Steve Slaunwhite considers empathy the master skill of successful selling and the most critical skill you can develope as a copywriter.
Understanding the Sales Process.
If you aren’t familiar with sales, you might think it’s a battle of wills between the salesperson and prospective customer. It shouldn’t be.
Many inexperienced copywriters mistakenly believe they must dominate the prospect and force them into buying.
In the past, bullying the prospect did sometimes work because companies could conceal their wickedness. But it’s a very short-sighted way of doing business.
In the digital age, a company’s reputation is everything. Plus, the cost of getting a customer is substantial. Often a company doesn’t earn a profit until a customer makes a second or third purchase.
Instead of burning customers with aggressive marketing, it is far more productive for a company to build a relationship with its customers and encourage them to buy again and again.
That requires a relationship of trust. It’s why good copy speaks with authenticity.
At its best, selling is a delicate process of seduction where the prospect is made aware the product can give them what they want.
Use a Formula.
Copywriting has been a profession since newspapers first ran print ads in the 1800s. Over the years, several copywriting formulas have emerged.
The granddaddy copywriting formula is AIDA. It’s an acronym for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action.
AIDA is am excellent formula and one you should know.
It reminds the writer to capture the prospect’s attention, stimulate their interest in the offer, build their desire for it, and take action to get it.
Because AIDA is the granddaddy of all copywriting formulas, a beginner might use it without knowing there are better formulas available.
The problem with AIDA is it doesn’t show the writer how to stimulate the prospect’s interest or build their desire. Fortunately, other formulas do.
So far, we’ve covered a lot of background information and gotten a bird’s-eye view of copywriting. I hope I’ve made you aware of some things about the profession you may not have known.
But what about the mechanics of writing persuasive copy? How do you do it?
For that, I’ll refer you again to my article Copywriting Basics which is linked at the bottom of this post, along with other suggested articles.
In my Copywriting Basics article, you’ll learn how to research the product, target audience and competition, and how to organize what you find so you can write quickly and easily.
You’ll also discover an efficient writing process, plus essential copywriting formulas and how to write headlines.
Because copywriting basics are covered thoroughly in that article, I won’t rehash them here. However, as a reminder, the first step of the “Broke to Pro” strategy is to learn the basics.
STEP 2: BUILD A PORTFOLIO OF YOUR BEST COPYWRITING SAMPLES.
Success as a copywriter doesn’t require a college degree, special certification, permission from a guru, or a merit badge. To get started, you just have to prove you can do the job.
That’s why you need a portfolio. A portfolio will showcase the projects you’ve completed. Some copywriters refer to their portfolio as their “Book.”
In the beginning, it’s okay if every project in your portfolio is a practice project. That’s enough to get you started.
Before the internet was a thing, copywriters presented samples of their work in black portfolios large enough to cover the end of a conference table when opened.
Finding a copywriting assignment or job meant schlepping your portfolio from office to office.
Now, instead of a cumbersome black portfolio case, you can post samples of your work on a LinkedIn profile or in Dropbox.
At first, your samples can just be MSWord text documents, but later, as you complete real-world assignments, include the finished sample, complete with visuals, in your portfolio too.
It’s essential to continually update your portfolio with your most recent and ambitious work. Typically, the more complex a project is, the more valuable it is for the client and profitable for you.
By showcasing projects as you complete them, you move up the pay scale.
Where do you start? I’ve written a lengthy article about how to write the first samples for your portfolio. You’ll find the link for it at the bottom of this post in “Suggested Reading.”
STEP 3: WRITE FOR REAL-WORLD CLIENTS.
Your first clients might be demanding and may not pay you well either. That’s just the nature of launching a copywriting career.
However, the value of your first clients isn’t the money. They’re an opportunity to practice writing on-demand and meeting real deadlines.
Think of it as an apprenticeship.
I understand if you’re in a hurry to make money, but it’s essential to be patient and to work the “Broke to Pro” strategy properly.
After all, you are launching a well-paying career. Avoid the temptation to take short-cuts or rush yourself.
At first, writing for real-world clients will be challenging. If you rush the process, you might convince yourself it isn’t worth the effort.
To succeed as a copywriter, you must march through this trial by fire phase of your career. Deal with the cheap clients, and low-paying projects and get the experience. Then move up to better clients and assignments.
Gain the confidence you can write on demand and deliver the goods.
If you’re intimidated by writing for clients, ask among your friends or businesses where you know people if you can write for them.
Tell them you’re starting a copywriting business and looking to write for the experience. For a limited time, you’ll write one project at no cost.
The risk with this method is freebie-seekers will expect you to keep writing for free. Don’t do it.
They get one free project in exchange for a good testimonial bragging about what a fantastic copywriter you are.
Also, take advantage of freelance sites like Upwork. At first, it might seem impossible, but keep at it and always strive to present yourself as a professional.
Remember, in the beginning, it’s about gaining experience, building confidence, and adding to your portfolio.
STEP 4: GOING PRO.
It’s possible to earn a full-time income on freelance websites like Upwork. Many people do.
Upwork is convenient because you don’t have to chase after customers. Customers come to Upwork and post what they want and how much they will pay.
You then must write a proposal for the gig and compete against other writers trying for the same gig.
Naturally, the best gigs go to established writers.
In the beginning, you’ll probably spend a lot of time writing proposals and only get low-paying gigs. This is the “gaining experience” phase of your career, not the money-making phase.
What it Means to Go Pro.
If you want to earn like a pro, you darn-well better perform like a pro.
Because anyone can claim to be a copywriter, there’s a lot of amateurs in the profession. In the eyes of the prospective client, you must stand out from the mass of amateurs and part-timers.
Show them you’re a pro, always.
A pro solves problems for the client. Amateurs make excuses and often create problems for the client.
Think about what the potential client wants. They have a copywriting problem. As a pro, it’s your job to solve that problem.
Anyone who hires you for the first time knows they’re taking a chance. If you fail to deliver, your client may lose money or, worse, lose status with the boss.
When you solve the copywriting problem for your client on time and budget, and you are easy to work with, and you boost the company’s bottom line, the best clients will hire you again and again.
It only takes a few of the right clients to earn six-figures a year.
Going Pro on Upwork.
You can make big money on Upwork when you have clients who choose to hire you.
Unfortunately, before you reach that luxurious place, you must first work your way through crappy gigs and establish yourself as a pro.
As a member of Upwork, you can publish your portfolio and testimonials on your profile where prospective clients can see them.
When you finish a gig where the client is particularly pleased, ask them to write a testimonial for you.
As you add testimonials and update your portfolio with better projects, you boost your value in the eyes of prospective clients.
Also, be professional with every client and every assignment. Set the stage to build a trusting business relationship.
You’re looking for clients who will hire you again and again and pay you what you’re worth. The best clients may not reveal themselves until after you’ve proven yourself to them.
Not every client will be worthy of your professionalism. That’s okay. Be professional anyway. Don’t let the bastards get you down.
Expect to sort through dozens of crappy clients before you find the gems. Remember, while you’re looking for good clients, the good clients are looking for you.
Show them you’re a professional who’s easy to work with and who’ll get the job done to their satisfaction.
Professionals deliver the goods even when the client is an SOB. If it happens, don’t work with that client again, but never give a client an excuse to write a bad review.
Going Pro on Your Own.
While you can earn a respectable income on Upwork if you stick with it, you’ll probably make more as a freelancer working directly with clients.
Of course, you can write on Upwork and write for your own clients at the same time. Or, use Upwork as a source for assignments when you’re between clients.
On your own, you’ll need a system for finding clients and managing the relationship you have with them.
Probably the biggest reason freelancers fail is that they give up before they have a solid client base.
As with any legitimate business, success doesn’t happen overnight. And that’s a good thing; if suddenly you had a mass of clients clamoring for your services, you’d be overwhelmed.
The truth is every business needs a copywriter. Imagine if you could walk into any business and confidently tell them you can boost their bottom line.
An experienced copywriter can make that claim with confidence.
Here’s a list of industries that use copywriters:
- Small businesses are a huge market and might include writing everything from menus to print ads.
- Internet marketers. You’ll find them at Warrior Forum and JV Zoo.
- Creative agencies, such as design firms, marketing consultants, and creative communications companies.
- Established copywriters (Many keep a file of copywriters they can sub work to. Get on their list.).
- Companies with a marketing department or public relations department.
- Non-profits. Many copywriters specialize in writing for non-profits. Work includes writing speeches, fundraising letters, and emails. It can be very satisfying work when the goals of the non-profit align with your values.
Telling the World You’re Open for Business.
Before you tell the world you’re open for business, build a website. A website will serve as a internet billboard promoting your services.
With proper SEO targeting your area, a website might be all you need to promote your business.
You may also want business cards to pass to the people you meet.
People are used to using email for business communications. It will improve your workflow if all communications are via email.
By using email, you’ll always have a record of what the client expects and the details of the project.
Armed with a website, email address, and business cards, you’re ready to tell the world.
Here are some ideas to get the word out about your services.
Send a Pitch Letter to Established Copywriters.
Established copywriters often have more business than they can manage. However, they don’t want to tell a client no because that might lose the client.
Most copywriters keep on file the contact information for other writers for just such situations.
Write to every established copywriter you can think of and offer to help them. Include a link to your portfolio and website.
I started my career in 1986 by sending my resume to every copywriter in the phone book. I don’t remember how many letters I sent. It was a lot.
Only two replied, but that was enough.
Write for the local paper, professional newsletters, trade magazines, and blogs.
The article you write should be of value to the reader and include your byline explaining you’re a copywriter who specializes in their industry.
When you write for the local paper, even the free ones, mention you specialize in boosting the profits of small businesses.
Speak before Business Groups and Professional Associations.
Here’s where your business cards will come in handy. Within an urban area, there are usually several business groups and organizations that host gatherings and speakers.
Speak on copywriting, and how it can help the industry, business, or profession, you are addressing.
Network with Professionals.
Any business meeting or event where you can mix and mingle is an opportunity to tell people what you do. Remember, the person you meet may not hire you, but they might refer you to someone who does.
Your Next Step.
Now that you know how to go from Broke to Pro, invest your time in mastering this extraordinary profession. Read the articles and books listed below and practice, practice, practice.