How to Become a CopywriterOverview Training & Certification Skills, Knowledge & Attributes Career Paths Work Environment Compensation F.A.Q Explore Courses
How to Become a Copywriter
By: Susan Lee
Last updated: November 12, 2022
Susan Lee is a digital marketing instructor at the Toronto School of Management (TSoM), where she teaches the Diploma in Digital Marketing Specialist Co-op. She is a marketing and communications professional with more than a decade of experience working on high profile campaigns in the telecom, consumer packaged goods and tech industries (Telus, Unilever and Microsoft, among others).
The work copywriters do may be all around us today, but the earliest known example appeared in an unlikely place, and longer ago than you might expect: as an ad printed in 1477 to promote the sale of a prayer book.
With the rise of the Internet and the digital age, modern-day copywriting is no longer limited to print, and success is more measurable. Whether you’re driving around town or shopping online, you will see marketing copy wherever you go. Some common examples include:
- An eye-catching billboard
- The slogan on a political pamphlet
- An online ad appearing in Google’s search results
- Ads appearing in your Facebook, Instagram or TikTok feeds
- A marketing email
- A call to action on an e-commerce website nudging you to “Go to Checkout”
No matter where it manifests itself, copywriting can shape a brand each time it flows from one media type to the next.
Copywriting is currently a highly sought after skill in marketing and one of the highest-paying freelance jobs, with good job prospects. And rightfully so – it is the golden thread that weaves together different elements of marketing and connects businesses to customers with storytelling and purpose.
There’s heightened demand for digital copywriters who focus on writing for digital channels. Digital marketing has rapidly become a vital part of any marketing strategy, fuelled by many businesses (finally) traversing into the online world during the pandemic. As one of the most important skills in your marketing toolkit, digital copywriting can strengthen your online presence and form lasting customer relationships.
What is copywriting?
Before we get into the specifics about how to become a copywriter, we need to first define copywriting.
David Ogilvy, a marketing pioneer and widely described as being “the father of advertising,” is well known for writing compelling copy. One of his timeless quotes is “Tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating. You cannot bore people into buying your product; you can only interest them into buying it.”
The truth is, copywriting is using words to sell. In other words, writing copy to sell products or ideas. Copywriting is strategic and audience-focused. Given the importance of maximizing Return on Investment (ROI) in marketing, copywriting plays a critical role as it has a direct impact on conversions and your bottom line. Conversely, poorly written copy can be a waste of your time and budget.
Copywriters don’t just come up with attention-grabbing headlines or know a thing or two about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), they have the ability to help build a brand — to shape a brand’s story — and drive sales.
The aim of a copywriter is to persuade people to ultimately make a purchase. Copywriters create sales and marketing material that influences decision-making during the buyer’s journey. As a copywriter, you have the ability to move people — emotionally and physically — into taking a desired action.
In this Career Guide, we’ll explore the role of today’s copywriter and everything you’ll need to pursue a successful career as a copywriter.
Training & Certification
Professional copywriters and related roles are usually expected to have a bachelor’s degree or college diploma in journalism, marketing, English literature, advertising or communications or a combination of related education and experience. A variety of copywriting courses are available to help writers from any discipline hone their craft and learn to write for different media. Digital marketing courses and different types of digital marketing certification are also available that will help learners communicate more effectively on social media, in email marketing campaigns, on e-commerce sites and web pages, for example.
It is helpful for a copywriter to have a business background within a discipline such as marketing so they can run their own business, especially when choosing the freelance route.
Although a degree can help you meet requirements when applying for entry-level copywriting jobs, it isn’t required for a successful career in copywriting.
Above all, skills and experience are key. (See “Skills, Knowledge & Attributes” for critical skills, and “Career Paths” for proven ways to get started and build your copywriting experience.) Once you have gained relevant, real-world recent experience, companies are more willing to take a chance on hiring you. If you can prove to the company that you can write quality copy that converts, that will make you stand out. Results on conversions from a client would be helpful to share in job applications and interviews to build credibility.
Becoming a copywriter will require you to create opportunities for yourself. Consider the following:
- Take a copywriting course or program in digital marketing to cover the fundamentals of copywriting and digital marketing.
- Learn and keep up to speed on digital marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) trends.
- SEO is a strategic approach to creating content that ranks in search engine results and is therefore easier for customers to find. Stay on top of current trends to be more marketable to businesses.
- Seek out relevant coursework that indicates continued interest in the field and a willingness to stay current.
- Education or training in various subjects, industries and customer segments, particularly for the writing job you’re seeking, may give you an advantage of generalists.
- Most employers expect that job applicants have a portfolio that showcases past marketing projects.
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Skills, Knowledge & Attributes
With a highly competitive media environment and time-starved consumers, copywriters have to be strategic and hyper-focused on the customer to garner attention. Depending on whether you’re a freelancer, an in-house copywriter or a marketing generalist, your level of responsibilities may vary.
So, what skills do you need to become a top-notch copywriter? Hint: You don’t have to be a literary genius.
You do need a combination of the right skills, experience, and connections. Copywriting requires a combination of hard and soft skills. “Soft” skills consist of flexibility, creativity, collaboration, patience, and resilience. You are expected to collaborate closely with stakeholders and build new skills and expertise as you take on new projects. No day is like the other!
“Hard” or technical skills you may want to pursue to stand out in the market include:
- Knowing how to adapt copy across different formats, from social media to blog posts to billboard ads
- Understanding different content management systems (e.g., WordPress) and publishing and social media platforms.
- Experience working with analytics teams to understand the type of copy that is most engaging and drives “conversions”
- Training in SEO, UI/UX, analytics, and conversion rate optimization (CRO) are highly sought-after.
If you’re pursuing copywriting, it helps if you write consistently, even if it’s not professionally. Previous experience in copywriting is an asset, particularly writing copy in the same or a related field.
Building a network of contacts can lead to opportunities down the road. Some of the best jobs are referrals and never end up getting posted.
Let’s take a look at some key skills in more detail:
Skill 1: Superior research skills
Research skills are essential to uncover key insights and interpret data. Asking good questions and having strong interview skills help you get to the root of problems and identify opportunities. As a copywriter, you may need to pivot from customer to customer and industry to industry. Becoming well-versed on the company and its products or services is a must. An exceptional copywriter is always aware of the latest industry trends and is driven by a love of continuous learning.
Skill 2: Honing the writer’s craft
First impressions count — no need to fret over a dangling preposition, but you do need to have a good handle on grammar and spelling. The ability to create original content that is conversational in nature, emotionally driven, and simplifies complex topics is highly valued.
Skill 3: A maniacal focus on the customer
The ability to be empathetic helps you step into your customer’s shoes, see the world through their eyes, and make an emotional connection. Consider your ideal customer’s goals and motivations along with what keeps them up at night. Know the differences between writing in the context of a business-to-consumer (B2C) versus business-to-business (B2B) environment–the right tone of voice, combined with relevant messaging and offers, can establish a deeper connection with your audience.
Skill 4: Impeccable time management skills
Although most work is independent, you will meet with multiple stakeholders and you will need to make the most of your time as you navigate one request after another and juggle clients. Copywriters need to be self-motivated and well-organized, with strong project management skills to meet all deadlines.
Skill 5: Adaptable on requests and feedback
A flexible copywriter can write compelling copy for just about any product or service and in any format, whether it be a landing page, video script, or email. Also, the ability to take feedback and criticism gracefully is crucial in the world of copywriting. Good copywriters keep customers and goals in mind and are willing to let go when something is not aligned with a client’s goals or is not performing as desired.
Skill 6: Understanding digital marketing fundamentals
The digital landscape is ever-changing. Some of the best copywriters are marketers who keep abreast of current trends and technological developments. These days, knowledge or experience in social media, email marketing, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and Pay-Per-Click advertising (PPC) advertising is expected.
Skill 7: Strong interpersonal and collaboration skills
Copywriters work with clients and teams of other marketing professionals and engage in multiple rounds of edits and revisions. From knowing how to ask the right questions, to making sense of any feedback, you should be able to collaborate with various stakeholders. This includes solid listening skills to recognize opportunities and meet needs.
Skill 8: Creativity
A good copywriter sparks curiosity and intrigue by coming up with new and innovative ways of communicating the same idea by drawing connections beyond the ordinary. When a customer sees an ad or the product, the areas of the brain connected to meaning and emotions should fire up.
Before discussing potential career paths of a copywriter, let’s more deeply define the copywriter’s role as it has evolved over the the years.
More than just a writer, today’s copywriter often wears multiple hats and provides valuable input across different stages of the campaign planning process. This means you act as a consultant with expertise in reaching customers through the written word.
Consider a “day in the life” of a copywriter for a moment:
- Converse with clients to fully understand needs and goals
- Conduct extensive research on products, services, customers, website search trends, competitors, and industries
- Review the selling features of products and services and focus on benefits
- Pitch ad concepts to clients and collaborate with customer service, marketing, and sales
- Recommend strategies and write/adapt copy across various formats and media
- Edit content to reflect the brand voice and customer
- Revise multiple drafts of copy based on feedback from stakeholders
- Analyze campaign results, provide input, and recommend content
How to get started as a copywriter
Build your portfolio
It’s never too late to start building a portfolio. Aspiring copywriters can either create material for their own business or reach out to a business in need and start gathering samples of work for a win-win situation. Start your own blog, optimize a website for a friend, or help a local small business set up online ads. Experiment with different platforms and techniques to build out your portfolio. Having a portfolio with a range of samples you created for online copywriting classes or internships can go a long way.
Seek out an Internship or Co-op
Gaining experience (paid or unpaid) can pave the way for your career. A great place to kick off your career as a copywriter is through a student internship. A number of companies support hiring recent graduates or co-op students and understand it’s an effective way to acquire new hires for the long term. There is a high chance the company will extend the contract or offer a full-time role if all goes well. Look for a supportive manager with a track record for supporting professional growth.
Work as a freelance copywriter
A freelance copywriter is self-employed, offering freelance work to clients of their choosing on a contractual basis. Work can range from part-time to full-time, depending on the number of clients and contracts you take on. You will need to find, manage, and invoice your own clients and set your own rates. What’s promising is that everyone with a business needs copywriting. Even the most experienced business owner may not have the time or skills to write copy that converts. As more and more companies transition online, digital copywriters will continue to be in high demand. This applies as much to tech startups as to companies in the entertainment industry who hire students from top film schools, for example. Today, a vast and growing range of companies are digital content creators in search of talented copywriters and storytellers.
Get hired as an in-house copywriter
Many copywriters start out in an entry-level position within a company, working closely with the rest of the marketing department. It’s usually a full-time job at an office or it can be remote, but you will be paid a salary. The marketing team typically includes at least one copywriter, who participates in the entire process—from the kick-off meeting briefing to measuring campaign performance.
Join a marketing or advertising agency
You can be a copywriter working for a digital marketing firm or advertising agency where you focus on one or multiple clients or brands all day and report to a creative director or art director and receive a consistent paycheck.
Copywriters may end up doing everything from pitching ideas and crafting key messages to offering feedback throughout the process, while testing and optimizing content. In larger marketing or brand agencies firms, copywriters can move up the ranks to become a director or even choose to run their own firm. A proven track record can help copywriters gain credibility and line up a roster of clients if they ever decide to start their own business.
Apply your skills and experience as a digital marketer
Ask any business owner or product/marketing manager and they will likely admit to reviewing one too many rounds of draft copy or rolling up their sleeves and crafting their own copy from scratch. If you are considering a career in digital marketing, you may want to sharpen your copywriting skills and take advantage of the surge in opportunities online. Whether you’re a solopreneur or a marketing executive at a large company, grasping the fundamentals of copywriting can go a long way when trying to nail your marketing strategy. It can also help you determine how to hire the right copywriter or how to become a copywriter yourself.
Copywriter Career Paths and Specializations
Copywriters can choose to generalize or specialize in specific types of copywriting based on the needs of various platforms and the nature of work.
Although there may be overlap, some of the different types of copywriting can include Technical Copywriting, SEO Copywriting, Content Copywriting, Marketing Copywriting, Creative Copywriting and PR Copywriting.
Whether you’re a newbie or an expert, the goal of technical writing is to educate readers about complex subjects in a simple and easy-to-understand way. This can include user guides, blog posts, ebooks, or white papers and is often required by B2B companies. A technical writer might, for example, draft manuals that brief engineers and on a new product or prepare material for a business organization on carbon offsetting.
Search Engine Optimized (SEO)
SEO helps customers discover your website by ensuring your webpage(s) appear in search engines’ results pages. To rank higher, content should be designed and structured to offer value and rank for relevant keywords, while being readable and engaging for your intended audience. For instance, SEO copywriting can be reflected in blog posts and websites through smart titles, meta-descriptions, and keyword rich long-form copy that outcompetes the competition in terms of quality and authoritativeness.
“Content writing” may sound redundant, but, for better or worse, it represents a distinct type of work to a large group of employers. Content writers aim to generate interest, educate potential customers and tell a compelling story behind a product or brand. This includes creating and sharing valuable content to attract and eventually convert prospects into customers. This may be in long-form content as seen in blog posts and ebooks, designed for “content marketing” purposes (e.g., sharing over social media, through email campaigns, whitepapers that require a user to sign up for a newsletter, etc.).
Consider the enduring effect of “Just Do It,” (Nike) “Diamonds are Forever,” (De Beers) and “Finger lickin’ good” (Kentucky Fried Chicken). Creative copywriting requires strategic, imaginative thinking. Creative copywriting is also directed to your specific audience in a relatable and unique way.
Rooted in research and based on deep insight, creative copywriting excites, persuades, and moves readers into a moment of reflection and action. For example, email requires relatable and compelling subject lines, body copy and CTAs to engage readers. Social Media copywriting focuses on adapting content to suit different social media platforms, which address different audience types. Meanwhile, other copywriters will attend film school or work in entertainment crafting stories and scripts for the TV and movie industry.
Marketing copywriting refers to promotional writing, often in the form of paid advertisements. It is a promotional type of writing that uses the written word to promote products or services. It may include PPC (Pay-per-click) ads, online ads, YouTube videos, as well as email. It’s important to optimize the copy to improve click-through rates.
Business to Business (B2B) copywriting involves communications directed to business customers — at businesses themselves looking for products or services — and often means working within large enterprises. This style of writing is geared towards business owners and decision-makers for a company and is typically value-based. Common types of B2B copywriting include website copywriting, video scripts, white papers, case studies, blogs, SEO-optimized articles, ebooks, technical writing, and emails.
Public relations copywriting is about writing newsworthy updates to attract new customers and gain trust. It helps you earn an audience with credible sources such as reputable news outlets or blogs. Public relations copywriting includes news releases, which can earn great backlinks for your websites and help with SEO, as well as social media content, speeches, key messages and other public-facing communications.
Note that these titles may vary and that this is by no means exhaustive. In-house writers may even end up writing internal communications such as job aids and scripting for sales, newsletters, and speeches as well.
Most copywriters starting off at an advertising agency work in a busy office environment. A considerable amount of teamwork and collaboration with cross-functional team members may be required in an office or even in a home or remote setting through video calls. For a freelance writer, the work tends to be sedentary, and requires a lot of time on computers and mobile devices.
A safe working environment, the most common health and safety concerns among copywriters are due to stress and ergonomic concerns. A career in copywriting, especially at agencies and high-growth companies, can however come with high pressure to perform and meet tight deadlines while managing multiple stakeholders.
Work hours vary for copywriters. Depending on your role you may be required to work throughout the day and in the evenings and potentially the weekend to meet pressing deadlines. Imagine, for example, the difference between a full-time copywriter working on a political campaign versus freelance copywriter creating content for a startup’s website.
The average salary in Canada for a copywriter is $54,663 per year or $28 per hour, according to Glassdoor. (Median salary is $30.10 per hour according to Canada Job Bank.) Entry-level positions start at $41,681 per year, while experienced workers can more than $80,000.
|Role||Average Salary in Canada|
|Public Relations Specialist||$60,777|
|Content Marketing Manager||$77,500|
Copywriters who combine their skills with relevant digital marketing expertise, in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) or email marketing, for example, can earn even more. Entrepreneurial bloggers who own their own successful web properties, usually in a specific niche, can earn significantly more still through affiliate marketing or advertising sales.
Susan Lee is a digital marketing instructor at the Toronto School of Management (TSoM). She is a marketing and communications professional with more than a decade of experience working on high profile campaigns in the telecom, consumer packaged goods and tech industries (Telus, Unilever and Microsoft, among others). Throughout her career, Susan has served in roles ranging from copywriter to brand manager to senior marketing manager and marketing director.