The legendary copywriter Claude C. Hopkins was once asked to define advertising. His brilliant two-word response was simply, “multiplied salesmanship.”
There’s no more powerful medium to multiply salesmanship than words, which is why quality copywriters are highly valued (and highly compensated) by businesses in nearly every industry.
In this guide, I’m going to teach you step-by-step how to become a successful copywriter — even if you’re starting from scratch.
I got my first copywriting client in 2012 on Upwork (back then it was called Elance). From there, I worked my way up to billing $150 per hour for my services, with no qualifications. And there’s no question that the skills I learned along the way are fundamental to the success of this website.
While I’m certainly not the most talented copywriter, what I do know — and what I’ll aim to teach you with this post — includes the following:
- How to learn the essential skills needed to be a good copywriter. (You don’t need to take a $2,000 copywriting course.)
- How to brand yourself to make it not only easy to find work right away, but also to become highly paid in the shortest amount of time possible.
What a Copywriter Does
A copywriter is someone who writes words to sell products and services.
Some examples of traditional copywriting jobs include:
- Magazine ads
- Brochures, flyers and leaflets
And in the online space, there’s:
- General websites
- Landing pages
- Email funnels
- Blog posts
- Online ads
Why Become a Freelance Copywriter?
Highly-skilled freelance copywriters often have a waiting list of clients. When word gets out that you can deliver results, you’ll find that your services are a hot commodity — even as you raise your prices.
There are also opportunities to get paid based on results, earning a percentage of the revenue your writing generates. While revenue sharing agreements are less common among new copywriters than among those with experience, they do present a potential passive income source.
Finally, learning copywriting can help you across a wide range of business activities, from writing an email to your boss to growing a company on your own. Personally, copywriting is fundamental to everything I do here at The Ways To Wealth.
How to Learn Copywriting
Learning copywriting is a four-part process:
- Study great copy and copywriters.
- Take the lessons learned and apply them to your own project.
- Evaluate how well your copy performs.
- Test new ideas to see if you can improve upon the original.
When I got started, I actually wrote out, by hand, campaigns from the greats — people like David Ogilvy, who is widely viewed as the father of advertising.
I’d use a similar approach today.
Most people want to skip the fundamentals and go straight to tactics. But tactics change fast. If all you know is how to write an email or create Facebook Ads — but not the “why” behind why one ad is successful and one isn’t — you’ll limit your growth.
Besides just studying great copy, you can also take courses to learn copywriting.
However, there are two big issues with most copywriting courses:
- They often cost over $2,000 (after all, copywriters know how to sell).
- They’re mostly focused on tactics, such as Facebook Ads, Google Ads, email copywriting, etc…
While there is a time and a place for a course, if you haven’t read and re-read some of the classic copywriting books you will not acquire the fundamental copywriting skill necessary to succeed in the field over the long term.
Some of these books include:
- Ogilvy on Advertising
- The Copywriter’s Handbook
- The Boron Letters
- Tested Advertising Methods
- The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing
- Influence: Science and Practice
Types of Copywriting Jobs
An important task when starting out is finding a copywriting niche you can excel in.
You want to avoid being a generalist, which means you’re pretty good at all types of copywriting but not great in any one specific area.
Instead, your goal should be to position yourself as a go-to person for a specific type of copywriting service.
How can you establish a niche when you don’t have any experience?
Keep in mind that while you don’t yet have experience in copywriting, there’s something you know more about than the average person. And you can turn that above-average knowledge into your first niche.
For me, I chose to specialize in copywriting for financial services. This is not only a lucrative niche, but also one that I’m credentialed to write about, as I was (and still am) a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™.
Also, I worked in financial services, so I already understood a lot of the industry lingo and trends that were occurring. That meant I also had a good idea about what the client needed, which made it a lot easier to win contracts.
From there, I began to branch out from financial copywriting into other fields, such as health and wellness.
I’ve always been very tuned into what’s going on with the health space out of my own personal interest. Looking through my Kindle library and my bookshelves, I’ve read well over 50 books on the topic. Confident that I had above-average knowledge in health and wellness, I then started to go after clients within the space.
Ideally, it’s best to combine a topic you’re knowledgeable in, such as financial services, with a specific service offering, like:
- Blog posts
- Email marketing
- Flyers advertisements
- Product pages
- Sales letters
- Webinars/webinar funnels
It will take time and experience to find a winning combination (I’ll go over some tips for doing so below), but once you do, that’s when your copywriting career will really take off.
Creating Your Freelance Copywriting Portfolio
One of your first work practice projects should be your freelance portfolio website.
Your freelance website doesn’t have to be lengthy.
In fact, it’s OK if it’s just the following:
- About Page
- Contact Page
But what your portfolio site must do is sell your ability to write excellent copy. After all, if you can’t sell yourself, a client won’t believe you can sell for them.
So treat the website as if it’s a writing sample — because for all intents and purposes, it is.
Eventually, you’ll want to add client samples and testimonials to your website.
For an in-depth resource and more tips on creating a professional freelance portfolio website, see our guide: How to Create a Freelance Portfolio from Scratch.
How to Apply for a Copywriting Job With No Experience
The first copywriting work I did was writing product pages for my past employer’s website. As a full-service financial firm, we had a lot of different service offerings (insurance, wealth management, 401(K) administration, etc.), and it was my job to produce content for each of those services so that more prospects could find us via local search.
I enjoyed the process and decided to join Upwork (called Elance at the time), to see if there was similar work I could do on the side.
With a very small portfolio and no feedback on my profile, it wasn’t easy getting my first client. However, I eventually talked a CPA firm into hiring me to write their brochure for $50. They had already settled on hiring a more experienced copywriter who they had found on the platform, so my strategy was to bid super low and ask them to compare my work against the person with more experience.
The worst-case scenario was they’d lose $50.
If I were starting out today, I would apply a similar strategy.
Don’t worry about what you’re paid for the first few clients. Just go out and write some copy for anyone who needs copy.
One ideal type of prospect is a small local businesses where you know the owner. Tell them you’ll write anything marketing-related they’d need.
The goal here is twofold:
- Gain experience.
- Create portfolio samples you can share with other clients.
How much you make doesn’t really matter; think of it as getting paid a small amount to learn one of the most sought-after business skills.
How to Apply for Higher-Paying Copywriting Jobs
With a few clients under your belt (and having gained testimonials), it will be much easier to start charging more per project and getting clients on freelance platforms like Upwork.
But realistically, your copywriting skills will still have a long way to go at this point. So, unlike what the sales videos for that copywriting course say, you’re unlikely to be charging $10,000 per project.
This is where I’d leverage sites like Upwork and Fiverr.
They can help you to:
- Gain valuable experience as a copywriter.
- Learn what it takes to become a successful freelancer.
- Pay close attention to trends within the industry.
There’s an art to picking good clients on Upwork when you’re just starting out.
Personally, my career really exploded when I positioned myself as one of the first copywriters to specialize in a fast-growing niche — one that I just so happened to find by watching closely what clients were looking for on Upwork (and by paying attention to how many proposals a job would get).
In my case, that was writing copy and designing landing pages for Unbounce, a popular landing page software tool that was growing rapidly when I was side hustling as a copywriter.
This is when my rates quickly went from around $30 per hour to $180 per hour within a year. And I found myself working with venture-backed startups and rapidly growing multi-million dollar companies.
FAQs About Becoming a Copywriter
If your goal is to work for a Fortune 500 company or a large advertising agency, you’ll likely need a degree to land a job. No degree is required to get started as a freelancer.
Copywriting is an essential component of every type of business. Local business owners need copy for their websites and marketing campaigns. Online businesses need copy for their emails and landing pages. There’s no shortage of opportunities for a copywriter.
If you’ve gone out and gained some experience from friends and have some client samples to show on your website, a good starting rate is $25 per hour once you start taking projects on freelance platforms like Upwork and Fiverr.
If you’re looking get started freelancing as a copywriter, I’d suggest applying the exact same strategy I used when trying to get my first clients:
- Read and study classic marketing books and campaigns. There’s no need to buy a $2,000 course.
- Do anything to get your first client — even write for free if you have to.
- When you feel ready, branch out on freelance platforms like Upwork and Fiverr to gain even more experience, while being compensated fairly for your work.
- With more experience under your belt, start looking for opportunities to position yourself within a fast-growing niche.
Learn more: Check out our Upwork Beginner’s Guide and our Fiverr Beginner’s Guide for specific guidance on leveraging the two major freelancing platforms. And if you’re just getting started, read through our step-by-step guide on how to become a freelance writer.