Copywriting – I’m good at it, and it’s been good to me.
It’s not for everyone, though. And it’s certainly not for some people who you’d think it’d be for. Let me explain.
In my 1:1 copy coaching sessions, I always ask my budding copywriters why they want to become pros, and I always hear variations of these reasons.
I’m going to lay it on the line; all these responses are terrible, terrible reasons to become a copywriter.
You might feel a frown coming on. A questioning one;
“Ooooh, Jay doesn’t want any competition for the Crisp!”
No, it’s not about that. It’s because I care about people, and if you’re thinking of becoming a copywriter for one or more of these reasons, my advice is this: Abort! Abort! Get out while you can. Just. Don’t. Do. It.
Ok, here goes.
Terrible Reasons To Become A Copywriter
(with quotes from actual working copywriters to prove my point. #becauseproof)
Terrible Reason #1
“I Love Writing”
If you love writing for fun, and this is the only reason you think copywriting might tickle your fancy, then becoming a copywriter is the last thing you should be doing. For reals.
Because when you write for a living, it isn’t always a joy – it’s a job.
If there’s one thing that will suck the marrow out of the joy of writing, it’s becoming a professional copywriter.
Especially when your client wants their copy as boring as bat poo. Or when they’re so keen to get you on board to write amazing, exciting, compelling stuff and then when they receive it they realise they really want safe, vanilla content no one will buy from.
Instead, why not try writing that’s not copywriting?
Any novelist worth their salt will need to come across an editor from time to time. An editor who is generally an expert in your genre of writing and has a good knowledge of marketing and the works of getting-people-to-buy-books. Apart from that, a poet or a book writer has free reign and is only bound by their genre of choice; but because you’re seen as an artist, you have room to move, and be…well, an artist. An artiste!
When you’re a copywriter, you have regular back and forth revisions with your client, which can feel like working with an unqualified editor. Despite hiring you, they will often question your expertise, tell you they’re “not sure why, but they just don’t like it” from time to time, or say very little and change your beautifully worked words when they publish them, not realising that extra ‘and’, the 27 ‘that’ and ‘really’ they’ve added, or changing their active voice to passive is reducing the effectiveness of the copy. (Or simply deleting all the SEO keyword terms you so carefully blended so organically they could be Australian certified.)
Content creator and owner of Marketing Goodness, Beck Co, said, “I thought copywriting would be the hard part. But turns out it’s getting the brief out of my client’s head.”
If you’re becoming a copywriter simply because you adore writing, then don’t.
You’ll start questioning your ability and quickly lose your love. If it’s fun now, keep it that way. Don’t do it. If anything will suck the joy from your soul like marrow from a cooked bone, being a full-time copywriter will. Write a book instead. Or a poem. Or a blog, for love. Those are no mean feat either, but at least you’re free to create your own vision and tell your own story.
Terrible Reason #2:
“I’m really good at academic/technical writing/grammar and punctuation.”
Whoa, Nelly! Stop right now. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200 – well, not from being a copywriter.
Academic and technical writing are both impressive skillsets if you’re an academic or technical writer. And if you’re one of those self-confessed, proud-as-punch ‘grammar Nazis’ who like to sing about it on Facebook, then you’d better take a Bex and a lie down before you start reading copy, let alone writing it.
Copywriters break grammar rules all the time. And on purpose.
Can you imagine? We start sentences with ‘and’ and chuck in random full stops and argue about the Oxford comma for fun, then use it inconsistently between clients. It’s because we try to emulate spoken English, which is different to written English, and different again to the type of language used in academic and technical writing. Sometimes we even break them rules on purpose because it adds impact and grabs attention. We’re like that. You probably hate us already, which means if you spend day in day out writing copy you’ll hate your own words, maybe your clients, and eventually yourself. Why put yourself through that?
If you’re great at academic and technical writing, and your grammar and punctuation are top notch, then use your considerable skills to find opportunities where a well-supported argument paper is just the thing a well thought of academic journal needs. Or pitch your skills to a pro copywriter who needs someone like you to pull them into line once in a while (but be prepared to be ignored for the conversion opportunities). Write a technical publication or research in semiotics.
Copywriting isn’t about being a grammar nerd. It’s about persuading. It’s about selling. It’s about relationships.
Sydney food and beverage specialist copywriter Angela Denly says she didn’t understand the importance of the psychology and relationships between ideal clients and the writer before she was a copywriter, she thought it was all about writing well. “…It’s less about writing well and more about understanding the key challenges that a prospective buyer/customer/donor/etc is facing.”
Listen to Angela. Angela is clever.
Terrible Reason #3:
“I already have a blog and I want to be a famous/paid/professional writer.”
If you love to blog, that’s great. No really, I am terrible at writing my own. You impress me.
You might be cranking out your story to share your experiences with others, connects to them, makes them laugh and cry, or maybe you’re a natural storyteller who can make a shopping list sound like an adventure. Enjoy writing in your own unique voice. If you have that skill, take your blog as far as you can in the context of what it is: content. You might be starting to notice a theme here, but copywriting isn’t journaling, fiction writing, or even content creation. It’s flipping hard work and will sap your life force if you’re not a copywriter deep down.
In a nutshell, if you think it’s a short and profitable step to go from blogging to copywriting, think again.
Because content, even quality content, is not copy. Copy is intuitive and reaches out with empathy to its audience; copy’s aim is to help convince someone to do something – mostly buy stuff, as I said in point 2. Copy isn’t a magic trick – you need to market to people who want your stuff, and have your copy written so that when they’re Googling your site, looking to buy and/or hire, they see your persuasive words and go, “Yep, I need that thing/that person”.
Successful blogger and business manager Dorothy Krajewski “…started in business as a copywriter. I thought the same; that loving writing and being good with words was all there was to it. I had no idea how boring some things would be to write about and I also realised that I don’t have what it takes to make those things compelling and to persuade the reader to want them. I didn’t realise that that was part of copywriting. Eventually, I also realised that I’m probably more of a content creator, rather than a copywriter.”
Terrible Reason #4:
You got quals.
You’re a journalist. Or you have a degree in PR. Or you lead with qualifications.
Do you know what qualifications get you in the freelance copywriting world? Zippo. Nothin’. Nada.
Guess how many high paying clients have ever asked me about my qualifications? You guessed it. Exactly zero.
My writing friend (and member of the Crisp Copy Class) Jennifer Zeven said she started out believing this would make all the difference; “I thought people would never take me seriously without a communications degree, agency background, or ‘insert any other external validation here’. Wrong. They only care that I can do the job: write persuasively and put personality on their page.”
Terrible Reason #5:
You’re a hermit.
You want to write all day and never speak to humans again. You hate sales and just love words. You don’t want to be a selling machine.
THIS WAS ME!
Heather Woods, a commercial and creative copywriter from across the ditch, backs me up; “I thought it would be easy to win new clients, dazzling them with my wit and writing skill. I’ve never wanted to be a salesperson, but I spend a lot of time selling myself! I knew I’d have to talk to people, but I just didn’t realise that it’s just as much about selling yourself, knowing your strengths, as it is the actual writing.”
Dean McKenzie says, “…I spent years building my copywriting skills to a pretty good level and ignored the business side, because “there are millions of businesses out there, how hard could it be to run one?”
*insert mirthful smile here*
It’s not that there’s no art to copywriting, but it’s not easy to be a good copywriter; even if you are, it’s not for the faint-hearted. There’s an element of ventriloquy to the copywriter’s toolkit – we don’t write in our own voice, most of the time we write in our client’s voice, except better. We sit in the back seat when our clients go from strength to strength using the words we gave them as a bridge to bigger and better things, and we wish them well for it: that’s our job done.
We hardly ever even get credit.
Even when we completely design and layout an entire website with not only ripper conversion copy but also structure, layout, design, all the backend meta copy and provide the SEO keyword research.
Colour coded. I repeat: COLOUR CODED.
Nope, Fancy Pants Web Design get their link at the bottom of that website, and we get a nice testimonial if we’re really lucky and the client doesn’t want to keep us a total secret.
So, when should you become a copywriter?
You should become a copywriter if:
- You can keep your head when clients are saying, “I know it’s what I asked for and what you said not to do but now I don’t like it” and losing theirs around you
- You can educate when clients micromanage and need justification for every (Oxford) comma or wonder why you took out the poem they wrote in the 5th grade
- You dream of leaving a legacy of words for someone else to call their own, sell all their things, and say what they mean
- You can convince a client what they like is different to what their ideal client need to read
- You can trust yourself enough to back yourself, and feel brave enough to shout from the rooftops that you’re Persuasion’s CEO
- You can translate sighs and dot points and hand signals to write for a hundred different voices in a thousand different hues
- You’re willing to educate all and sundry (even people in marketing who should be outsourcing to you) what you actually do
Then you should become a copywriter.
You might just be a cracking good one too.
If you think you have it in you to become a copywriter, why not contact me for a 1:1 session? The world needs more good copy, but it ain’t for everyone. Let’s see if we can find out if it’s for you, how to do it right, or if a bespoke Crisp package might do the trick instead.
I have favourites. And they're varied and diverse and interesting, just like people generally are. But included in this list is a handful of the people I just adore reading. I like them, I like their stuff, I like the way they word-wrangle. So, I thought it would be...
If I know anything about life, it's that it'll throw you curveballs just for fun. However, learning to catch is never a waste of time. In fact, when COVID-19 hit I, like many other people living with chronic illnesses and disability, felt altogether terrified but also...
The mighty Call To Action (I’ll be calling it the CTA from hereon in) is one of the most important elements of your copy. Truly! In fact, CTAs should be used across all your communication. Yep, all of it. (Seriously, try it on your kids.) A CTA is a sentence, phrase,...
Make your reader lick the screen