Thursday, March 24, 2016

How to Get into Copywriting

I've been a copywriter for almost three years now. I think that makes the statement "I am a copywriter" a bit more official. Also, I have business cards now. So there's that.

I was recently asked on Reddit for some suggestions on how to "break into copywriting" as if copywriting is a bank vault in a heist film. I was flattered to be seen as some sort of authority on the subject, and while I'm certainly no expert, I'm going to expand on and share my response here.

How to Break into Copywriting


So, you want to get into copywriting. Well, you wanted to be the next Stephen King, but you've just read multiple sources that say the chances of making a living as an author (and a popular one at that) are slim to none, but you don't really have any other viable skills or interests outside of your love and ability for writing. You took a few personality tests specifically designed to tell you what career to get into - or you watched a bit too much Mad Men - and settled on copywriting. You want to see your creative ideas turned into magazine ads and television commercials for Doritos, Pepsi (or Coke, not judging), and the highest of all entertainment products - beer.

For the record, I got into copywriting through the traditional method of getting a college degree, which led to an internship and later a full-time job in an office where I currently write product descriptions, press releases, marketing emails, and video narration for a small online retailer.

However, as is the primary requirement for most creative fields, you really just need to demonstrate your interest and skill in copywriting. So whether or not you spend at least four years and thousands of dollars earning that degree, here are some tips I'd give for getting the attention of potential employers.

General Tips for Copywriting

  • Be concise and direct. The fewer words, the better. Every sentence must contain a feature or benefit of the product, so get rid of all the extra fluff.
  • Look up the difference between a feature and benefit, if you don't know it already.
  • Read up on SEO. Learn how to find and use keywords.
  • Always double-check your work before submitting it. Nobody has a good excuse for spelling or grammatical errors if they're competent and passed high school, and copywriters doubly so because it's literally their job to be the best writers on the planet.
  • Develop thick skin. Don't get offended because someone didn't like your work. Listen to their advice, try to get to the bottom of what they dislike about your work, improve upon it, and move on.
  • Learn AP Style. Follow and read Grammar Girl everywhere.
  • Do you know what a call to action is? What about an attention-getter? Because you should.
  • Don't tell the reader something they already know. This is basically the same as the first point, but it bears repeating. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer, and ask yourself what exactly is the information they need first and foremost before deciding to make a purchase, and write that.

Create a Cool Online Portfolio

Create an online portfolio of your work on one of the many portfolio sites out there. I use Behance, but a quick web search will give you some other options. The point of your portfolio is to show off your creativity and understanding of how to sell with words. Make fun magazine-style ads for products you like or are just weird and interesting (stay away from the big brands and products, you don't want people to compare your work with something of that caliber). Include a headline and one paragraph of body copy. Partner up with a graphic artist that you know or on the portfolio site who also wants to show off their skill if you can't make it look halfway decent yourself.

Start a Neat Blog

You might have noticed that I blog quite a bit. Employers love that sort of thing because it shows that you're always writing and that writing genuinely is your passion. Now, mine is just a public journal for my thoughts, but if you can focus a blog around a single topic that you love, that's way better. Once you've started, keep at it. Don't go a month without a quality post.

Make a Badass Résumé

If you're applying for more creative positions at hip companies or agencies, make a version of your résumé that shows off your creativity. I personally have two versions of my résumé; a boring one I made in Microsoft Word, and a fun one I made in InDesign that is made to look like an old police file. The idea is for the second one to be eye-catching and memorable for those hip companies, and the first to be professional and proper for the others.

Even if you're not applying to high-status agencies, remember that you're trying to convince them that you can sell their products with your words, so you should be able to sell yourself with your résumé. It has to be flawless, neat, concise, and convincing. Link to your blog and portfolio on the very top so they can see for themselves just how much you deserve the job.

How to Obtain That Vital Thing Called "Experience"

As you might have heard, it can be very tough to get experience without prior experience. It's crazy, I know. When I started applying for positions in my field, I only heard back from three of the places I applied to, got an in-person interview with two, and was unemployed for two weeks out of college before the one ended up hiring me. Bear in mind, this was after I used all the tricks I've described above. With that in mind, here's what I have to say on getting experience so you can eventually get that dream job.

Firstly, apply for every low-level writing/copywriting position you feel even remotely qualified for. It's not up to you to decide if your lack of real-world experience or knowledge is a deal-breaker, so even if the requirements say "3+ years and an in-depth knowledge of the world of watchmaking," apply. The copywriters with actual 3+ years and knowledge of watchmaking are all gunning for the 5+ year jobs anyway, and for all you know you're the most qualified person who applied, so send them your résumé just to be safe.

Secondly, do freelance work. Sign up for a content mill site and churn out a few 500 word articles, press releases, and product descriptions every day. You'll get experience, make connections, and get paid (though not well at first). Check out The Freelance Writer's Guide for tips, tricks, and freelance site reviews. Who knows, you might even figure out how to support yourself entirely on freelance work and not have to worry about all the other stuff I said.

Lastly, do not give up. You've got to be patient and persistent. Even if you're not employed, you should be practicing your craft by fleshing out and polishing your portfolio and blog. Your demonstrable skill will always trump a number on your résumé. Make connections. Ask your employed friends to vouch for you or put you in contact with someone in your field. Be prepared for anyone at any moment to Google your name, find your work, and realize you're the perfect candidate.

Follow these steps, get even more people's advice, and you should land a job in copywriting in no time. Good luck.

Leave a comment below if you have any further questions and I'll be happy to answer them.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Year Five in Review

Well, this blog is officially half a decade old. That means it's time for another "year in review" post. True to my promise at the end of year four (continue reading for details), I expect this post to be quite short compared to the last four.

Lacking Activity

The first thing any casual observer will notice is that year five was by far the least-active year of this blog. However, long-time readers (all zero of you) will remember that I kind of set out to do this at the end of year four. While I didn't explicitly say that I wanted to blog less frequently, I promised that I'd stop treating my blog like an extra job with a two-post-per-month and X number of views-per-post quota. Instead, I promised that I'd only blog when I felt the need to. It turns out that I didn't feel the need to very often.

So, What's Next?

More of the same, for now. While the latest content may not be of a broad appeal or arrive as frequently as it used to, it's more true to myself than ever before. As I'm growing up and my adult life is becoming increasingly more complicated, this blog has taken a backseat to completing the first draft of two novels and partaking in some freelance jobs for some extra cash on the side. I don't know about you, but I'm totally fine with trading in time spent on this blog for those accomplishments.

I also didn't blog about being a home-owner as much as I thought I would. I'd like to do more of that as my wife and I continue to work on and improve our home. I'm already late to talk about my first year of gardening and the time we repainted our bedroom, so maybe I'll get to that this year.

Otherwise, I don't really know.