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Getting started in copywriting

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This guide reveals everything you need to know to become a copywriter, including practical tips for going it alone and launching your own freelance copywriting business.

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While copywriting requires creativity, adaptability and strong communication skills, it’s not inherently difficult for those with a knack for writing.

What is copywriting?

Copywriting involves creating written content (copy) that grabs readers’ attention and prompts them to take specific actions, meaning they play a crucial role in marketing and advertising.

A copywriter's job involves taking a brief and crafting engaging content that effectively communicates the intended message to the target audience. Copywriters focus on structure, tone, vocabulary and style to ensure their text resonates with readers, making it more appealing and persuasive.

Is copywriting difficult?

While copywriting requires creativity, adaptability and strong communication skills, it’s not inherently difficult for those with a knack for writing. Crafting effective copy takes a blend of linguistic prowess, analytical thinking and an understanding of human psychology. While challenges do exist - such as deciphering vague briefs - the rewards of mastering this craft, especially for language enthusiasts, are significant.

What does a copywriter do each day?

A copywriter’s daily routine typically involves collaborating with clients, brainstorming ideas, drafting copy and conducting research. They work on a diverse range of writing tasks, ranging from short-form content like social media posts and product descriptions to long-form pieces such as blog posts and press releases.

Additionally, copywriters may be responsible for proofreading, image processing and project management tasks. Staying updated on industry trends, particularly in areas like search engine optimisation (SEO), is also crucial for professional growth over the long term and will feature in copywriters’ schedules as required.

Venturing into freelance copywriting

As a freelance copywriter, you’ll not only handle writing assignments but also manage various aspects of running a small business. Whether you set up as a sole trader or limited company or keep your full-time job and take on copywriting as a side hustle, you need to consider the following business fundamentals. Be sure to follow the links if you need more information:

Writing a business plan

A business plan is a vital document for sense-checking your business idea. It details what service you will provide, sets out objectives, identifies opportunities, highlights your unique selling points and explains how you will combine these to create a successful business venture. A business plan also enables you to:

  • Ensure the concept for your business makes sense 

  • Plan your pricing, marketing and the scope of your work

  • Anticipate and address potential issues

  • Define your goals, turnover and profit

  • Identify any financial help you may need

Sorting out financing

A copywriting business doesn’t usually require much investment at the outset, but you may need to take on credit to market and grow your business. There are all sorts of different business loans available for copywriters. It’s worth reviewing these options and comparing costs now so you know what’s available when the time comes.  

  • Startup business loans – available to companies that have been trading for under three years

  • Government-backed Start Up Loan Scheme – similar to start up business loans, but they come with free mentoring and favourable terms 

  • Secured business loan – a standard loan where you need to provide an asset as security (typically for larger sums)

  • Unsecured business loan – a standard loan that doesn’t require an asset as security (usually for smaller amounts)

  • Invoice finance – a useful way of plugging cashflow gaps while you wait for outstanding invoices to be settled (often easier to get than standard loans)

Opening a business bank account

You don’t have to have a business bank account by law, but keeping your personal and business finances separate is a good idea because it makes managing your accounts and tax returns easier. The same concept applies to business credit cards.

Marketing your services

Promotion is key for a copywriter. You need to create a memorable brand and ensure prospective clients know who you are, what you do and how to contact you. These ten marketing ideas for small businesses will ensure you don’t miss out on any promotional opportunities.

Organising insurance

Persuasion and advice lie at the heart of successful copywriting, but that can put you at risk if your words cause harm – physical, financial or reputational – and someone sues you. Professional indemnity insurance helps to cover you in this situation and is something all copywriters should consider. Other business insurance is also available, such as self-employed insurance and employers’ liability.

Arranging pension contributions

If you choose to become self-employed, you need to take care of your own pension contributions. This may involve making regular payments to an existing pension from a previous job, or you could choose to set up a new private pension. This comprehensive pension guide can help you assess your options and perhaps get a better deal on your private pension.

Dealing with tax and national insurance

Tax doesn’t have to be taxing – that’s what HMRC would like you to believe, but filling out a self-assessment tax form can still be daunting if you have never completed one before. This beginner’s guide to self-assessment tax returns tells you what you need to know in simple, easy-to-understand language. 

All these extra tasks may seem like a lot of work (and they are), but as a freelance copywriter, you have the compensation of being your own boss. This allows you to decide when, where and how you work. Freelance copywriters almost always work from home, making the role a good fit if you’re an introvert, have childcare commitments or simply loathe commuting.

Do you need qualifications to be a copywriter?

While a degree in marketing, communication or English can bolster your credentials, practical skills and a strong portfolio are more important in copywriting. You also need the right traits – successful copywriters possess imagination, versatility and an understanding of human psychology. Familiarity with relevant tools and platforms, such as social media marketing tools, content management systems, blogging platforms, messaging solutions and project coordination software, can also help. Effective time management is also essential for juggling different projects and deadlines.

Are copywriting courses worth It?

While formal training isn’t mandatory, copywriting courses can accelerate learning and provide valuable insights. However, ample free resources exist online if you want to learn by yourself, making paid courses optional. The key is to continually seek opportunities for learning, such as online copywriting exercises, and practice, practice, practice. Given that research skills are crucial for a good copywriter, you could even look at the hunt for learning resources as a training exercise in itself.

How do you get started as a freelance copywriter?

Starting out as a copywriter typically involves gaining experience either through employment with an agency or in-house marketing team, or by directly pitching for freelance opportunities. If you choose the second option, you can use freelancer platforms like Upwork and Fiverr to find assignments and build experience. The pay for beginners is generally poor, but you can raise your rates later once you have more experience. 

Whichever route you follow, building a robust portfolio showcasing your capabilities is crucial for attracting clients and gaining assignments. Once you have amassed a body of work, you can sign up as a freelancer with online copywriting agencies, such as Write Arm, The Creative Copywriter or Stratton Craig, or start pitching to companies directly. 

Making connections

Succeeding as a copywriter isn’t just about the work you produce. Networking is arguably even more important when it comes to landing assignments. Sometimes, it’s not what you know but who you know that counts. Actively engaging within industry circles in real life and maintaining a strong online presence can increase your chances of success. So, it’s worth setting aside time each month for regular networking and self-promotion.

How much should you charge for copywriting?

It can be tricky to set the right price when you first start as a freelance copywriter. A common approach is to start with a modest rate that reflects your experience and gradually increase it as your portfolio and industry connections grow. 

According to the job site Indeed, freelance copywriters earn around £25 per hour on average, while Glassdoor suggests the hourly freelancer copy rate is closer to £30. The discrepancy between these rates may stem from the fact that many freelancers charge by the word or the project, allowing quicker writers to earn more per hour. Either way, you can earn good pay in copywriting.

Specialist copywriters

Another factor that affects pay is the complexity of the task. The need for specialist knowledge tends to increase the rate clients are willing to pay. In fact, if you have a flair for writing and work in a specialist field, you may wish to consider leveraging your knowledge and experience as a niche copywriter, possibly as a sideline to your main job. Popular forms of specialist writing include: 

  • Medical 

  • Legal

  • Financial services

  • Business

  • Academia  

What equipment do you need to become a copywriter?

One advantage of becoming a freelance copywriter is that you don’t need to make a hefty investment in equipment at the outset. All you need to get started is a reliable computer, a solid internet connection and a word-processing package. Additional resources such as cloud storage and grammar-checking software safeguard data and improve quality . As your business grows, you can consider investing in ergonomic furniture and a multi-monitor setup for enhanced efficiency.

Will AI make copywriters redundant?

While the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) has undoubtedly transformed many industries, including copywriting, it’s unlikely to render copywriters redundant in the short term. AI can assist with certain tasks but lacks the nuanced understanding of context, brand identity and emotional triggers that define effective writing. As such, skilled copywriters will likely be in demand for some time to come.

Business insurance is a way to protect your company against financial risk if things go wrong.

About Karen Levell

Karen is a self-employed writer, translator, project manager and editor. Something of an all-rounder, she has worked for numerous consumer magazines and websites including specialist media brands covering computing, technology, gaming, TV, film, sports and crafts. In addition to her other roles, she also works behind the scenes as a project co-ordinator for Money and teaches jewellery-making as a side hustle. Karen lives in Oxfordshire with her husband, a boomerang step-daughter and a crazy dog called Stanley.

View Karen Levell's full biography here or visit the money.co.uk press centre for our latest news.