Behind Copywriting: What You Need to Build a Successful Copywriting Career

Written By: Kelly Helmick

Success. It means something different to all of us. You can view it as the ending – the finish line. Throwing the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom, for example.

But what if you put success in the middle of your journey? 

Your copywriting career isn’t defined by the total amount of money you make in your lifetime. It’s about the differences you make in the lives of those whose businesses you help succeed. And those successes happen throughout your career, not at the end. 

So what do you need to become a successful copywriter? And what does entrepreneurship have to do with it? You’ll get the answers to those questions, along with a few tips and tricks of the trade as you keep reading. 

What It Takes: 5 Copywriter and Entrepreneur Characteristics

There’s no list of qualifications you have to match to become an entrepreneur. And you don’t have to fit into a specific job description to be a copywriter. One of the best advantages of being an entrepreneur is that you have the freedom to pursue any interest you have. 

The same can be said for copywriting. The role of a copywriter is always in flux. So you have the power to decide which direction you want to take. Some consider copywriting as their foundation to entering the marketing world, then pivot to running ad campaigns, or even go on to build their own businesses and platforms. 

Whichever direction you decide to take, here are five characteristics that can lead you to success.

1. Copywriters Need an Entrepreneurial Mindset

If you’ve ever read a self-help book, you know that a morning routine can set you up for a happy, productive day. A morning routine helps you focus your mind and stay grounded even when the day throws you a curveball. 

An entrepreneur mindset does the same thing for your business. It sets the tone for positive thinking – setting you up for success and redirecting your perspective on failure. Sarah Turner, copywriter, and creator of Write Your Way to Freedom says, “I shifted from living the life of a freelancer who was barely making it, to a rock-solid business owner….The difference is adopting an entrepreneur mindset.”

This mindset isn’t something you’re born with. It’s something you learn as you go through your copywriting journey. But learning to develop an entrepreneurial mindset is crucial to your success. In an article for Forbes.com, Jennifer Spencer, CEO of Energent Media explains why: 

“Believing that even the setbacks serve a purpose is a valuable mindset tool….The sooner you make peace with the fact that obstacles are inevitable but bouncing back is always required, you’ll have the resiliency mindset to conquer a successful entrepreneurial career.”

That’s the magical part – you can practice, grow, and develop resilience.

2. Copywriters Must Be Determined

Even with the right mindset, if you don’t have the determination to succeed, you probably won’t. 

The truth is, being an entrepreneur is hard. It can be isolating when your friends and family doubt you. It’s frustrating when you’re not seeing returns on your work. And there will be times when you doubt your abilities and wonder why you started a business in the first place. 

This is where the determination comes in. 

When you’re just starting as a freelance copywriter, most of your job will be finding clients. Some weeks, your cold email gets a 40% response rate, you book 3 discovery calls, and get a new client. Next week it might be crickets.

Your determination to succeed will get you through those rough weeks and help you push through obstacles with your business still intact. 

3. Copywriters Must Be Hard-Working

Every person brings a certain amount of talent to whatever job they’re doing. In copywriting, for example, it can be said that writing is a talent needed to succeed, but Dana Brownlee, a Senior Contributor for Forbes.com disagrees. She says, “work ethic and drive often trump raw talent as a barometer for overall success.” 

Think of Steven King. He’s a world-renowned, best-selling author whose books have been made into television shows and movies for decades. He could have stopped writing years ago and let the royalties of his creations cushion his bank account. He was a “successful” author with his first publication, Carrie, in 1974.

Yes, that success can be attributed to talent. But popular books come and go. Through years of hard work, continuing to write new books, he’s become a household name that’s not likely to fade away in the next century. If he had only written Carrie, the name “Steven King” would only be known to fans of the horror genre – and probably for only a few years, if that. 

4. Copywriters Need a Willingness to Learn

If you thought you could stop learning when you left school – you’re wrong. 

No matter what career path you choose, learning is required on the path to success. And for those who want to be freelance copywriters, your willingness to learn is a make-or-break for your business. 

Since you started thinking about becoming a copywriter, have you told anyone about copywriting? Have they known what you were talking about? The chances are slim. The thing is, the job description for a copywriter evolves with the marketing world. To ease your mind though, here’s a simple definition: copywriting is writing for sales. 

Because the scope of a copywriter’s job is changing, your willingness to learn new skills, platforms, and technologies is vital to your success. 

For example, copywriters in the early 2000s were learning how to write compelling ads for their Myspace audiences. Obviously, that platform is no longer relevant. When it’s audience transitioned to Facebook, then Instagram and Twitter, copywriters had to adjust their techniques to fit their new audience. 

Sunjan Patel, Entrepreneur, and Co-Founder of Web-Profits put it best; “You can’t build a business around something you don’t know about, and you can’t improve products and services using outdated methods.”

5. Copywriters Need a Willingness to Adapt

So far, you’ve got a handful of characteristics that will help you thrive as a copywriter and develop an entrepreneur mindset. But don’t forget your willingness to adapt. It may seem like this goes hand-in-hand with a willingness to learn, but there’s a key difference worth pointing out.

Most copywriters will pick a niche (an area of expertise) to write in. While this narrows down the scope of what you’re writing about, it doesn’t mean that you’re writing for the same audience. 

Take books for example. There could be 2 books in the fantasy genre with stories about werewolves. But each of those books can have a different audience. You’re not going to sell a romance to a 10-year-old, just like you won’t sell a book about puberty to a 70-year-old. 

It’s the same with copywriting. Every client you work with will have an audience they’re targeting and your writing style, word choice, and the references you use will change with each one. 

And it’s not just your audience you need to adapt to fit, it’s also the work you’re doing. Patel says, “As conditions and society go through changes, so do the needs of customers. The successful businesses of tomorrow will be those that learn how to meet those needs quickly and don’t get left behind in the heap of non-adapters.”

When COVID-19 hit in late 2019, businesses struggled to engage with their target audiences as they were no longer able to visit in person. But many businesses adapted to their new world. Restaurants, for example, started offering meal kits to keep their customers engaged. They packed up ingredients and recipes to favorite dishes and sold meal kits that their customers could cook at home. Businesses who didn’t adapt have gone out of business or are struggling to recoup losses. 

What You Need: 6 Skills for Building Your Copywriting Career

You’ve seen the job descriptions on LinkedIn or Indeed.com that have lists of skills the company thinks are required for each position, right? A copywriting job has a list too. And like all jobs, you can have a successful copywriting career without matching everything on the list. 

So as you read through this next section, don’t get discouraged if you don’t check every box. Remember, you don’t have to be a perfect fit to become a freelance copywriter. If you can develop the skill over time, you’re just as likely to succeed as anyone else.

1. Writing

This one seems like a no-brainer. Of course, you have to be able to write to be a copywriter. The word ‘write’ is in the name of the job. But think back to Steven King. He was an English teacher – he didn’t have an advanced degree in writing when he wrote his first book. 

You don’t have to be a best-selling-author-quality-writer to become a copywriter.

What you need is a willingness to develop your writing skills. This falls under the ‘Willingness to Learn’ entrepreneur characteristic from above. All you have to do is pay attention to, and practice the techniques of experienced copywriters and your writing skills will improve.

2. Storytelling

Let’s clarify real quick – you don’t have to write novels as a copywriter. There are no plots, no characters with shady backstories, and no rings to get to Mordor. Copywriting isn’t like writing a book. But storytelling is an essential part of some types of copy and it’s the one skill you have to have before starting your copywriting career. 

The good thing is – you already tell stories. You tell them to your friends and family every day. You innately have this skill.

How is it different? For copywriting, your stories take specific problems your audience is facing and make them relatable. Good storytelling gives your audience something to connect to. 

Still not sure what the difference is? There are a bunch of examples in this blog! Do you remember that part about Steven King working hard to pump out so many books? That’s a perfect example of storytelling. 

3. Research

Sorry, but this is one skill you have to develop. No one is born with the ability to quickly look through a Google search or pluck a relevant quote from an article. Most people learn to research in school and then drop the skill when it’s no longer relevant in their adult lives. But for a copywriter, knowing how to research and having the ability to do quality research quickly, is invaluable.

What is quality research? Anyone can Google something and read the information from Wikipedia – this only requires the ability to type. True research skills include knowing which sources are relevant, well-known, and accurateAnd being able to pick up on the context of an article or quote and match that context to what you’re writing about. 

The sources you use give away your level of expertise. They tell how much you know about your audience, the topic, and the niche you’re writing in. This blog, for example, uses well-known business sources, like Forbes and well-known copywriters and entrepreneurs, like Sarah Turner and Sunjan Patel.

If you don’t know how to do the kind and caliber of research listed above, take a look at other copywriters in your industry. Ask yourself: 

  • Who are they quoting?
  • What websites or companies do they get information from? 
  • Who are the big players in the industry? 

Answering these questions will point you in the right direction.

4. Communication

“Today, people don’t want you to just sell them a product. You need to create relationships that go beyond selling, instead focusing on knowing. It’s about knowing the customer’s needs and making them see how the product or service can help them solve that need or problem in the moment. Generate value…. It is important not to focus on the product when selling but on the customer. Establish a conversation, generate trust, make them feel that it matters to the brand and that their need is a priority. Today it is the customer’s experience that can ensure success in sales and success in the salesperson’s career.”

– Kevin Leyes, Leyes Media & Team Leyes, by Leyes Enterprises

Yes. This quote is about sales. But as a copywriter and entrepreneur, you are the salesperson for your business. Every day, you’ll use your communication skills to get clients, keep clients, and understand your clients’ audiences

To build your copywriting business, you’ll send cold emails or connect with people on social media. At some point, especially during social media conversations, you’ll have to shift from “I love what you’re doing at XYZ Company” to “I’m a copywriter who can help your business.” 

When those cold emails turn into discovery calls, your verbal communication skills come into play. Being able to confidently and concisely explain what you do and how it’s going to work in your client’s favor can get you the job. 

Honestly, there’s so much to be said about communication that it could be a whole blog on its own. But there’s one more critical type of communication you should pay attention to – your clients. 

There are a lot of different personality types you’ll encounter as you build your business. Inevitably, you’ll run into people who are naturally abrasive, blunt, speak over you, or have a devil’s advocate mindset. So when you start a call, go into it with an open mind and be ready to conform your communication style to fit your clients’ needs. 

All of this takes practice! Don’t be worried if you blow a call. It happens. That’s where the entrepreneur mindset comes into play. Take that call and learn from it. Then dive right back in – send another email and jump on another call.

5. Organization

There are A LOT of moving parts in a copywriting career. When you’re getting started, you’ve got your website, your freebie, cold emails, discovery calls, possibly social media accounts – the list could go on. 

As an established copywriter, you’ve got all of that on your plate (without the cold emails and discovery calls) plus clients and their work. You have deadlines to meet, contracts to follow, invoices to send. 

Without some way of organizing all of it, the balls you’re juggling will fall and the reputation of your business will be at stake. With so many people already having a negative perception of freelancers, it’s critically important that you keep your reputation intact. By keeping things going, building a solid business reputation –  ie. keeping deadlines, following contracts, not changing pricing out of the blue – you can have a successful copywriting career.

6. Detail-Oriented 

This is another one of those skills that you can develop over time. And many consider it an essential characteristic of entrepreneurs. But why is it so important? Because copywriters use it all day, every day. 

They say, “the devil is in the details” and it couldn’t be more true. Here are two examples of how details come into play for a copywriter trying to find a new client. 

Scenario 1: You’re looking to write blogs for a client. You’ve found that they have a blog on their website. Since they already have a blog, you leave the website and move on to your next search. 

Scenario 2: You’re looking to write blogs for a client. You’ve found that they have a blog on their website. You open a few of the blogs and notice that the owner of the business is writing the blogs and they’re not very long. So you decide to write a cold email pitching to save the owner time by writing their blogs. And you’re going to make the blogs long enough that Google will pick them up, helping the website get more traffic over time. 

By paying attention to the details, the copywriter in the second scenario doesn’t have to keep looking for a new client. They have a pitch based on what they’ve noticed. But, the copywriter in scenario 1 is making their life more difficult by not paying attention. 

Being detail-oriented is going to let you work smarter and faster. It’s a necessary skill for building a successful copywriting career.

What You Can Learn: Add-Ons to Increase Your Value

Thinking with an entrepreneur mindset is an add-on to freelance copywriting. You don’t need it to become a copywriter, but it does help you succeed. The three add-ons below are just that – add-ons. You don’t have to use or learn them to be a copywriter. 

Like having an entrepreneur mindset though, having this additional knowledge will make you more valuable to prospective clients. Either way, if you’re just learning about copywriting, don’t worry about these right now. You’ve got enough to learn as is. Keep these skills in your back pocket and check them out down the road.

Marketing and Sales Funnels

Simply by being part of the marketing world through copywriting, you’re going to pick up on marketing tips and tools. Just like you would pick up financial knowledge if you worked at a bank. It’s up to you what you choose to do with that knowledge. 

Whether it’s on a discovery call or once you’ve worked with them for a while, clients will ask you general marketing questions. Since copywriting gives you an understanding of search engine optimization and how Google works, it’s understandable that they’d think you know all the ways to bring customers to their business. Think of it this way: 

Let’s say you’re buying a book from your favorite author. There are two different copies of the book you’ve been searching for on the shelf in front of you. 

Book 1: The mass market paperback.

Book 2: The signed Collector’s edition with a limited release cover.

Which would you choose? Both are the book you’re looking for, but this is your favorite author. So you’re probably going to choose Book 2 because it gives you more value for your money. 

The same can be said for copywriters. Those with additional marketing knowledge have more to offer their clients – more value to provide. This gives them more job opportunities.  

Social Media

There is an example above about writing ads for social media. This is within the scope of a copywriter’s job, but the copy is only one part of a social media ad. An add-on would be to dive deeper and work with the backend of the ads too. 

With each platform and every ad you create, you get to specify:

  • Which demographics to target
  • How long you want the ad to run
  • How much you want to spend on that ad

There is a lot more than just copy that goes into creating a “simple” Facebook or Instagram ad. 

As a copywriter, it’s up to you if you want to take on that responsibility. But the scenario in the previous section plays out here as well. If you have the extra knowledge, you’re likely going to get the job over someone who doesn’t. 

Another side of social media to consider is getting clients. As stated in the “Communication” section above, “Establish[ing] a conversation, generate[ing] trust….can ensure success in sales and success in the salesperson’s career,” says Leyes. 

With cold emails, a potential client abruptly receives a pitch. But on social media, you can nurture a relationship before pitching your services. Cold emails work. There’s no disputing that. But so does a social media approach. It’s up to you which method or what combination of both you’d like to use to get clients.

Website Design

This add-on is a bonus for you and your customers. You need to have a website for your copywriting business. It establishes you as an authority in the industry, gives your customers insight into your writing style, and gives you a platform through which to share your portfolio. 

You’ve got two options for your website: you can build it yourself or pay someone else to do it. If you’re tech-savvy and have the time (and patience) to build a website yourself, the skill can pay off in the future. 

No matter what niche you choose to write in, there are always going to customers with bad websites. With web design skills in your back pocket, you can pitch not only the website copy but a design upgrade as well. This, again, makes you stand out from other copywriters.

You Can Do This.

If you’re considering becoming a freelance copywriter, look at this blog as a set of guidelines, not rules. Sarah Turner makes it clear in her Write Your Way to Freedom course that anyone with a passion for writing and helping others succeed can be a copywriter. So if you’re seeking a career that:

  • Lets you explore your passions
  • Gives you the freedom to live life without PTO limitations and restrictive bosses
  • Lets you work from anywhere in the world (with an internet connection) 
  • Uncaps your income potential 
  • Helps others succeed

Then check out Sarah Turner’s copywriting course – Write Your Way to Freedom. The course dives deep into the world of copywriting, giving you step-by-step instruction and mentorship to become a freelance copywriter. 

Sarah learned copywriting the hard way, but she’s created a course so you don’t have to

Ready to start your copywriting career? Get Sarah’s Free 4-part writing course today!

About Sarah

I’m an entrepreneur on a mission to help other people become entrepreneurs.
My blog is a place where I provide business building advice and explore how we can create more meaningful work.

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