How to become a copywriter
A copywriter is a person who writes words for marketing materials.
Everyone needs words to get their point across and businesses are no different. Since the mid-1800s, companies have hired writers to help advertise their products and services. And now with the internet and social media there’s never been a bigger need for brands to speak in a way that resonates with their audience.
Copywriters work either freelance, agency, or in-house. They’ll always be involved in writing words and they’ll often be involved in coming up with concepts for marketing activities, whether it’s a TV ad that needs scripting or a social media post.
These days there’s nothing to stop you getting your writing published, it might initially be self-published in a personal blog, but with the right amount of experience and interest you can pursue a career in copywriting. Here we look at how you get started, how you develop a career and how you can get paid (and taxed).
What do copywriters do?
The main focus of a copywriter is to be persuasive. The words you write will often have an end goal whether it’s to buy a product or visit a site, so it’s important you understand the types of work that will come your way. You could do this for a number of clients or employers, everyone needs a professional to get their messaging right, and they could all have different expectations. In terms of the type of employment, copywriters are either:
- Freelance: Working for yourself, you can take on any number of different projects and clients.
- Agency: You’ll work (usually) full-time, and be assigned different clients to work on projects for. You might have creative input on projects as well as writing words.
- In-house: You’d be hired by a company full-time to do all their outbound copy, such as emails, social, ads brochures.
The work over any given week can really vary too. You could be writing a script for one client and a blog post for another. Here are some common copywriter tasks:
- Social post copy
- Emails and email campaigns
- Press releases
- Web pages
How do I become a copywriter?
To become a copywriter you need to have a pretty strong grasp of how words and grammar work. Traditionally, this meant having a Bachelor's degree in English, advertising, journalism or marketing, and for in-house copywriters applying for jobs, this is still often a requirement. But hiring managers are increasingly looking at samples of work rather than educational background, so as long as you can show your writing in all its glory you should find opportunities.
Here’s a few pointers to get started:
- Create a blog/newsletter/zine and aim to post weekly. The question that usually follows is, “about what?”, and the answer is often “about what interests you”. Which is true, you should take a topic you enjoy or know lots about, because this will be something you can talk extensively on. Sites that are good to start out on are Medium, Tumblr or Ghost. There’s also loads of good writers on there you can follow and take inspiration from. Ultimately, this will be your calling card to point hirers to.
- Get good at reading your work critically. The more you write the better it gets, but it will get better a lot faster if you go back and check your work. You not only want to be correct grammatically, you want the words and message to be as tight as possible.
- Set up on freelancing sites. You’re not going to get in-house or agency work when you don’t have a portfolio of paid gigs. Look at getting set up on sites like Fiverr, Upwork and Craigslist (although be conscious it’s a bit of a race to the bottom for fees as you're competing against freelancers in countries who can charge less). Also work your existing network, chances are someone you know’s dad has a plumbing business that needs some copy for their website, or something like this. Use friends and family to get some experience under your belt.
- Start pitching and aim low. For the first 3 to 6 months of your career you just want to take on as much paid work as you can and chances are these won’t be unicorn companies just yet. In the freelance world this means taking on gigs that pay anywhere between £20 (could be for a friend) or £100. The expectations for this level of paid work are usually as low as the fee. See this as a great opportunity to develop your craft and keep learning. The bigger jobs will follow.
- Make a business plan. Whether you’re doing this as a side hustle or you’re taking the plunge and going freelance it’s always best to review how you’re getting leads, pitching to clients and going about your projects. Here we compile a useful biz plan checklist.
How much can I get paid as a copywriter?
To get paid as a copywriter you need to land jobs that pay for your work (of course!) and this isn’t necessarily difficult, but getting paid enough to make ends meet can be. The average in-house copywriter makes about £25,000 on entry level, £37,000 at mid-weight and after about 15 years, a senior creative (taking on a lot more duties) can make around £90,000.
Meanwhile as a freelancer the sky's the limit, but so is the floor. An experienced freelance copywriter charges between £350-£500 per day, while when you’re just getting started you’ll be taking on jobs that range between £50 for a one off or £100 for a day of work.
The anticipation is that you’ll always start small and gradually bring your fees up with experience.
How do I pay tax as a copywriter?
If you’re a freelance copywriter, then each year you need to fill out a self-assessment tax return. What you pay is your tax bill minus the expenses of running your business. You can read more on how to complete your self-assessment tax return in this Earnr article.
The usual cut off date to complete your self-assessment is the 31st of January if you’re doing it online, and 31st of October if you’re completing the form by post.
If you’re an agency or in-house copywriter, then you’ll pay by PAYE, which is where your employer deducts income tax from your monthly pay cheque before you get it. So you don’t need to do anything.
How can Earnr help?
Earnr allows you to track your ingoings and outgoings over the course of the year, and automate your tax return. You mark each payment you receive and each expense to your income so that by the time you get to doing your tax return, we’ll have everything we need to do the process for you.
We also give you real time projections for your income as the year progresses so you know how much tax you’ll need to pay. You can say goodbye to manual bookkeeping!