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Why You Should Seriously Consider Starting a Copywriting Business (And How to Actually Start)

by David K. William | The Web Writer Spotlight: Sep 26, 2012

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Copywriting is one of the most competitive writing fields in the industry, but also one of the most lucrative for those at the top their game. Copywriting is simply the art of writing sales copy for purposes of advertising and announcements, such as print ads, brochures, press releases, catalogs and website content. Experienced copywriters are also hired to write commercials that run on radio and television. They use words persuasively to attract attention and sell a product, service, idea, or brand. Here's why you should consider starting a copywriting business although it is very competitive.

 

Reasons to start a copywriting business

 

One of the best things about starting a copywriting business is that copywriters are always in demand and you can start your business with little up-front cost and even run it on a part time basis. Companies and ad agencies are always looking to hire exceptional copywriters capable of producing the right words to effectively send out the company messages. These companies spend fortunes on advertising in different media just to get heard, including in newspapers, magazines, brochures and websites.   

When a company spends a fortune in advertising it expects the copywriter to get the words right each time. For example, it costs thousands of dollars just to send out one direct mail campaign. Pick up a direct mail photo and call the mailing list printer or broker and enquire about their pricing. You will be surprised to learn that sometimes a single direct mail campaign can run into tens of thousands of dollars or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the number of pieces sent.

It makes sense, therefore, that the company sending out advertising messages should want their sales and marketing copy done by a professional. The professional these companies seek is you – the copywriter. Your job as a copywriter is to write excellent copy that increases the response rates of prospective customers.


How much copywriters make

 

The average copywriter earns anywhere from $250 to $750 for a single website page and anywhere from $2000 to $4000 for producing short sales letters. Longer sales letters can cost up to $5000 or more a piece. On the other hand, a hardworking “per-hour” copywriter typically charges between $50 and $100 an hour. Additionally, experienced copywriters tend to get a percentage of their work’s turnover as royalty. Not bad for a career, huh?

Of course, how much you make as a copywriter will vary depending upon where you are located, the location of your clients, your charges and how hard you work. There are copywriters out there who will undercut the rest of us and charge ridiculously low prices for copywriting services. This should not worry you too much, though. If you work hard and ensure the quality of your work is always top-notch, you'll get clients who will match your asking price.

 

Steps to start copywriting

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Starting a career in copywriting (freelance or not) is much like starting a career in most other professions. You will do well if you are certified and have excellent work track record and contacts in related industries, such as public relations, marketing and advertising. However, even without these advantages you can still break into the industry and quickly establish yourself as a successful copywriter. But, you will need strong initiative and determination to break in and succeed in this way.

 

  1. Learn everything you can about copywriting

It is absolutely crucial that you have a solid knowledge base in copywriting to succeed. Read copywriting books, websites and enroll for copywriting courses where applicable to learn everything you can about copywriting.

The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman is one of the best guide books for anyone starting out in copywriting. This very useful guide to building a self-sufficient, commercial freelance writing business costs about $13.37 at the time of writing this post, which translates to incredible value considering that copywriting courses can cost as much as $1,000. Grab yourself a copy of the book and devour it voraciously.

Get your new career to a flying start by leveraging online copywriting resources like American Writers & Artists Inc. that offers useful copywriting job leads and training courses. Also, find and read quality copywriting blogs like SEOCopywriting.com that deliver valuable information, tips and tricks about copywriting from practicing experts.

 

  1. Pick a copywriting niche

There are many types of copy you can write. The most common type of copy is direct mail, which is the sales material we all get on a regular basis in our mailboxes. You can also write media copy, which is copy written for media use like television and radio. Moreover, you can write newsletters, catalogs, sales copy, postcards and self-mailers. Each of these types of copy has its own application and represents a copywriting niche you can enter.  

Narrow your niche options for better focus at the start of your career. Pay attention to persuasive and advertising messages you read in newspapers, magazines, billboards, email and on the Internet to get a feel for different types of sales copy. Which types of copy work for you? Why do they work for you? Which ones don't? What turns you off about those that don't? Which do you think would be fun to write? Pick one or more copywriting niches that work for you and focus on them at the start of your new career.

 

  1. Practice writing sample sales copy

Now that you have learned the all the fundamentals of a copywriting business and narrowed down your niches to focus on, practice your new craft. Write sample sales and advertising copy to develop confidence, skill and a writing habit. The sample copy might be for an existing business in your locality or for an imaginary business. Work on a brochure for your own copywriting business and make it good. Keep a swap file of your entire sample sales copies since they might prove useful later on in your career as samples for potential clients to check out or for use on your own copywriting website.  

 

  1. Build up a solid copywriting portfolio

The first question potential clients usually ask when you query them for a copywriting gig is: “Can you send us some samples of your work?” This question is often dreaded and quite unnerving for new copywriters. You could gather the nerve and tell the client that you are new in the business and don’t have any samples yet, but you promise to do a good job. If you are in luck or the client is desperate enough, they will hire you at a substantial discount and there you will have your first work sample!

Alternatively, adopt a more effective strategy to tackle this question. Build a copywriting portfolio on your own website beforehand. The hallmark of any serious online entrepreneur is a professional, money-making website. Your website is where you will tell more about who you are and your service offerings, publish your best sample sales pieces and send prospective clients to to see your work. It will help in creating consistent business and provide support for your pitches.

Look at free website building and publishing solutions like Word Press, Drupal, Joomla and Blogger to build your website relatively inexpensively or hire a web designer to help you design and build your copywriting website from scratch. For your website hosting, I recommend our own web host company Hostgator. A website speaks volumes about your level of seriousness as a copywriter and allows you to reach an international audience online.

 

  1. Get down to it—write actual sales/ad copy

Finally, get down to the real thing – find paying gigs and write actual sales copy. Make a list of businesses locally and internationally that you think might be willing to pay you a small fee for helping them raise some extra funds with your ad or sales copy.  Select the most viable clients from your list and approach them with an offer to write for them, including advertising agencies, media companies, sports clubs and even charity groups.

Send query letters to the organizations you pick out from your list and inform them about your copywriting services. Direct them to your copywriting website to see samples of your work if you set one up. Follow up on your query with a telephone call to discuss any arising issues further or to offer clarifications where needed. Also, browse websites with copywriting employment opportunities like the Guardian jobs, Journalism.co.uk, Indeed, Brand Republic and our very own Job Board.

If you are still struggling to get your first real copywriting assignment, consider developing something “on spec”. This is where you agree with the client that you will develop a sales or marketing piece for them and they will only be required to pay you if they like it and actually to use it.

 

Copywriting principle to remember

 

Writer Eric Graham explains a military training course that taught him how to kill someone with a gun: Take two shots to the heart, then one to the head. The shots to the heart provide the easiest target while the shot to the head is harder, but useful insurance if the target is wearing body armor.

Graham extends this rather gruesome analogy to explain how effective sales or ad copy works. When you write copy, you are not trying to end someone’s life, but rather to get a sale, a conversion or accomplish whatever other goal has been set for you.

Targeting the "heart" with words that arouse emotion helps spark interest for your product and is easier than targeting the "head" with logical explanations why your product is different and better than competing products. Copywriters normally apply both emotions and logic to justify a buying decision, but consumers often apply logic to justify the emotional decisions they make when they buy.

Build up the emotional justification for a buying decision with your choice of words and then weave in logic to justify the buying decisions in order to “kill” the sale. This is a proven strategy that makes for excellent sales writers. If your copywriting services are excellent, you'll be surprised at how quickly your business can grow and bring in desired results. 

 


David K. William is a web writer, publisher and designer. He writes and publishes articles, reports and fiction for web and print media. David is also founding editor of WebWriterSpotlight.com. Follow him @DavidKWilliam.


iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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Awesome responses

An excellent treatment of this subject! I will use your guidelines and suggestions in crafting my marketing message and in my approach to writing projects in future!

Thank you, David. I've been looking for an article just like this and you fulfilled my wishes. I would love to see another on "How to Find Clients,"

It’s a great field but one where the traditional jobs (such as with ad agencies) are disappearing. If you want an example of one place skilled copywriters are needed, go to Smashwords and read some of the book descriptions. I don’t want to belittle anyone who has gone the effort of writing a book but many of these are so badly written they are likely doing the writer more harm than good. There is no shortage of potential clients, just a challenge to get people to recognize this is a specialized skill, and one worth investing in.

Gordon, you make a great point. Writing is often unrecognized as a genuine talent simply because "anyone can do it." You know, just like being able to draw stick figures means they should be hung in the Louvre. Perhaps a great quality for a professional writer should be patience as their personal network is built. And please remind me of that on the days when I have a temporary loss of awesomeness, okay? :)

To be clear, Brian, I was speaking of book descriptions because that is something that even experienced writers seldom do well. Trade publishers never let the author write the jacket copy. That is a job for the copywriter.

I agree, well done.

Brilliant article David, but as a copywriter worth your salt, I'd expect you to be able to convince me I could become a successful one too! On a serious note though, very inspiring and clearly laid out.

David: This is a topic I've been curious about since I decided I needed to start getting paid to write (as opposed to writing for free as I do on my homeschooling website). I like that you offer clear definitions as to what copywriting is. I have found other authors offer very general insights that, truthfully, aren't that helpful. I have bookmarked your article and subscribed to your website. I also plan to purchase the book you recommended, as I have seen it recommended elsewhere as well, so it must be a winner! I will be looking closer at your suggestions and making a list of the various ideas you offer so I can refer to them. I think it is a great idea to also start writing sales copy for practice, something that I haven't thought to do until now. Keep up the good work. As someone who has been in the writing game for a long time (but having done it mostly for free) it is helpful to get insight from veteran writers such as yourself.

Thanks - been studying up on copywriting an ready to launch myself into that world.

Up until now I did not know where to start in the copywriting business until I came across your great article. Definitely, a good starting point. Like Christine, I have been considering moving towards copywriting after having been a research writer for the last six years. It sounds very rewarding. I have had little experience of copywriting except for designing posters and flyers for my local swimming pool and leisure centre (I am not sure that counts) so I am looking for a thorough grounding on the profession. I am thinking of enrolling on a copywriting course like the one offered by the Writer's Bureau but I am not sure. I was wondering what is your opinion on copywriting courses generally? Would it be worthwhile?

@Paul I think you could use the poster and flyers you designed for your portfolio to attract clients.

That's definitely a good idea. Thank you Christine. I probably need a thorough grounding on other forms of copywriting though.
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