Updated: Nov 22, 2022
WARNING: This is a long one, but it’s filled with juicy tips. Feel free to hit Ctrl + F on your keyboard and search for the stuff you want to read.
Copywriting is an incredibly rewarding career.
But to be 100% honest with you, I never even knew what it was until about four years ago.
For YEARS, everyone - teachers, parents, career advisors, even men on dates - would tell me all about the jobs I SHOULD be doing.
“I love writing.”
“Become a teacher.” “Go into law.” “Study business.”
And guess what?
I followed everyone’s advice apart from my own. I ignored that niggling feeling. I ignored my passion for writing. And I ended up going to university to study English (I left 3 months into my course in case you were wondering).
And then like a strike of lightning or two eyes locking on the dance floor, copywriting suddenly came into my world and I knew that I’d found my thing.
It took three years to finally get to that point and once I did, I realised I faced yet another problem.
I didn’t have ANY copywriting experience. And every damn job wanted experience. No first-timers here.
Couldn’t find a single one.
At first, I had no idea how to get copywriting work without any experience. After many stumblings and weird run-ins, I finally got to where I am today.
But it was all built from nothing - right from the ground up.
My words of wisdom to you?
So long as you have ambition, discipline, and a genuine love for writing, you’ve got this.
It’s already in the bag - you just need to know how to build up that experience in copywriting to land your first gig.
And I’m here to tell you how.
Quick side note: I started my copywriting journey when I was 17. No experience. No degree. Just bags of ambition. I was able to climb my way up the ladder from zero. From my experience, I believe anyone can get into copywriting - no matter how young or inexperienced they are. Plus We NEED fresh young voices in this industry, so please get in there!
1. Create a portfolio
A portfolio is what icing is to cupcakes. Or peri-peri sauce is to chicken.
It’s sort of essential (that or my priorities are just messed up). A rite of passage in every copywriter’s career. And the kind of thing that can make your journey to the top of the ladder a lot easier.
In short, you need it.
Now I know what you’re thinking.
“How can I build a portfolio when I don’t even have any work to show for?”
The answer’s simple.
You look for that work.
Approach potential job opportunities and businesses with an irresistible proposal - you’ll write up a piece for them for free. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to pay you. If they like it, they don’t have to pay you.
It’s a win-win for them.
Be honest with them and tell them that you’re a newbie - that you’re just starting out and looking to build up your portfolio.
This already sets the bar low (and that’s a good thing because you’re going to OVERDELIVER and blow their expectations).
Whether they’ve given you a brief or just given you creative reign, go the extra mile with it.
If you’re writing up a blog post for their site, write up two versions so they can pick the one they like the most. Include visuals and graphic design - just because. And write like you’ve never written before.
Another thing you can do is scour sites like WorkInStartups.com. This place was a gem for me when I was starting out. It was filled with a bunch of startups looking for small copywriting gigs or contributors and they were all happy for me to write up a piece for them.
This meant I was able to get my name out on the web and onto a few verified sites.
Now before you hit me with the “I don’t want to work for free,” just listen to me.
I only ever did a total of four unpaid copywriting tasks and after that, I was able to land my first proper paid gig.
The point of these few freebies is to just get your name out there, experience working with a few brands, and to cushion up your portfolio a bit. At the start - with zero experience - you’ll need the go the extra mile.
After that, it’s time to start scaling the copywriting ladder.
PS - It’s always a great idea to set up your own website with a portfolio, but if you’re just starting out and strapped for time AND cash try out clippings.com. It’s essentially a portfolio all packaged up nicely - you just have to create an account and start adding your work to it. But once you’ve got the ball rolling, definitely move all of it onto a proper website. You are your own business after all.
2. Set up a LinkedIn account
LinkedIn is a must if you’re a copywriter (and even more essential if you’re freelancing).
You might think there’s no point if you’re just starting out but trust me - it’s a must-have.
Think of it as your career’s social media platform. But instead of posting photos of your wild night out, you’ll be building up a name for yourself. Spreading your tentacles and making as many meaningful connections as possible.
Add a classy profile pic - professional, nothing too showy. And write a killer LinkedIn bio.
You’re a copywriter, so your LinkedIn must be written well and have its own kind of style.
So many people on LinkedIn fall into the trap of writing boring bios that sound like they’re made for a CV. Don’t be that guy or that gal.
Be different. Be a little bold. Go against the grain. Be creative. Flex your writing muscles and write something that stands out and speaks to your character.
Here are a few tips for a stand-out bio:
Make it about THEM (the audience, potential clients, or businesses that might be viewing your profile).
Instead of listing all the reasons why you’re such a great copywriter or which university you went to, hint at how you’ll help them. Get into their mindset.
Use conversational language
Be human. Robots aren’t the ones reading your bios - people are. Lines like ‘an experienced copywriter with X years in the industry’ are boring and don’t read that well. They’re stuffy and don’t add value to the reader.
Get on their side by being human with your language. Use first-person plural (we) and second-person (you) to forge connection and trust. Ask questions. Get the reader directly involved in the conversation and bring in a funny anecdote or story.
Weave in your 'brand voice'
As a copywriter, you’ll be flitting between different tones of voice. Each brand you work with will have its own unique style and feel to it - it will be your job to align with that voice and weave it into your writing.
But for every piece of work that you create under your own name (i.e., on your own website, on your own blog, on your own newsletter, and on your LinkedIn) you’ll need to develop your own special style.
Quit thinking of yourself as an employee. You’re a copywriter and if you’re freelance, you are your own business.
Shorter is better
Look, I love long-form content. Blogs are my thing, but a lot of copywriting is about being succinct and snappy. Your LinkedIn bio is no different. Put yourself in the readers’ shoes. They haven’t got all day. They’ll probably skim through your stuff rather than read every word of it. So, you’ve got to make every word count.
It can be really difficult to cut down if you’re used to writing 1,000-word dissertations and essays. My trick? Write, write, write without thinking and come back to edit later.
And for even more inspiration, here are a few of my favourite LinkedIn bios of all time:
3. Create your own blog
A bit like what I’ve done with this one here.
It’s not my business website. It’s MY blog. It’s more me. It’s fun, quirky, a bit weird.
Now, this isn’t an absolute must, but it will boost your ‘portfolio’ and overall copywriter-ness (total made-up word).
When you’re starting off with very little to begin with, it can be intimidating to approach potential clients, businesses, and job opportunities.
Yep, you will be doing the steps mentioned previously (connecting on LinkedIn and doing a few free pieces here and there) but creating your own blog will really show potential clients that you’re serious about your craft.
It’s also an easy way to showcase your copywriting talent and build up a nice little following - both of which are extra brownie points from an employer or client POV.
Plus it’s fun!
Picking your ‘brand’ colour, vibe, and TOV is light and easy work - the hard part is actually getting into it and writing regularly.
Make it a habit. Do a teensy-weensy bit everyday. And those moments where you say, “I’ll do it tomorrow?”
Those are the moments you need to push through and do a bit RIGHT then and there.
4. Find a niche now
This is less to do with scoring your first gig - finding a niche is just something that will help you in the long run.
At the start of your copywriting journey, it’s easy to get side-tracked and sucked into a bunch of different industries.
I know I did.
I wrote about matcha lattes, drug rehabilitation clinics, airplanes, law, finance, tech, and SaaS (software as a service).
That’s a lot of different tones of voice and jargon to learn in a short amount of time.
While there’s nothing wrong with trying your hand at a few industries ( I actually encourage you to do it - it will help you find what you like to write about) don’t keep jumping from to another for too long.
Try a few and narrow down your absolute fave.
Maybe you really love writing about tech?
Maybe you love fashion?
Maybe SaaS gets you going?
Once you find ‘the one’ stick to it. Specialise in it and become an absolute copywriter expert within your chosen industry.
It’s easy to find ‘Jacks-of-all-trades’ in copywriting. It’s a lot rarer (and more sought after) to find a copywriter in one specific niche.
And rarity + demand = higher pay.
PS - If you’re wondering what kinds of niches are out there, check out this guide from Copify. It’s not exhaustive and there’s a whole lot more that can be written about, but it’s a good start to learning about what’s out there.
5. Be creative in applications
I’m coming at you with that old chestnut again - be creative!
Don’t do what EVERYBODY else is doing, especially if you’re applying to a new copywriting role or trying to land a brand new client.
Most job or contract roles will ask you for your CV and portfolio. And maybe a few lines on why you’re such a kick-ass copywriter.
Others will ask you to submit a copywriting sample.
As I’ve said before, at the very start you’ll need to go the whole ten yards.
Think of this job application as a way to showcase your copywriting experience. Write really really well. And don’t be boring.
Think of the poor sucker having to trough through 100s of letters and CVs.
Not exactly thrilling.
But as soon as they see something that stands out - even if it’s small - it will stay imprinted in their memory. Bringing you one step closer to landing your dream gig.
Here are a few ideas to make your application STAND OUT:
Send in a copywriting sample just because.
Even if they don’t ask for it, this will show your dedication. And if you write really well, it will showcase your talent. Unless they’ve given you a brief, make the sample about their product or service. Write up a ‘pretend’ blog post for their site. Or a ‘pretend’ web page. Just make it relevant to THEM.
6. Snazz up your CV
CVs are not exactly exciting. They call for a bit more formality, so steer clear of too much exciting language here.
What you can do is snazz up your CV with a bit of colour. With a photo (if you so choose) and a design format that speaks to your personality.
Again, this shows that you’ve put the effort in and will stand out against a sea of dreary Microsoft Word templates.
And please - whatever you do - don’t send in a MS word doc!
You can write it up and do everything in a word doc but be sure to download and send it as a PDF version in your application - it’s just a little more polished.
Make it about THEM
An employer doesn’t care about great you are. They care about what you can do for them. What benefits you’ll bring. The kinds of results your copywriting can reap. Move away from the constant ‘I’ and address them from time to time too.
7. Start out in-house
I’m a freelance copywriter and going freelance was the best thing that ever happened to me.
No big boss telling me what to do.
Working to my own hours.
Taking on work when I want to.
Being my own business.
But it took a whole lot of work to actually get there.
And while freelancing is not for everyone, if it is a career path you’re interested in it’s a lot easier to break into it once you’ve got a bit of agency or in-house copywriter experience.
Some peeps are lucky and have an amazing network that they can use to their advantage, but for most of the newbies out there - this just isn’t the case.
If you continue networking and killing it on LinkedIn, you’ll eventually get to that point. But right now, I’ll just assume that you’re not.
In these cases, landing work at an agency or a brand full-time is a lot easier and a great way to build up your portfolio with a reputable business.
After a year or two - if freelancing is still your ultimate goal - you can spread your wings and start fishing for actual clients (but that’s a whole other strategy; one I’ll get into in another blog post).
8. Know your value and your worth
As you’re starting out on your copywriting journey and scaling the ladder, you may be a bit knocked down by the whole money side of things at first.
I remember my first ever proper freelance copywriting gig only paid about 30 pounds per 1000 words.
It wasn’t great, but it was a start (and keep in mind, I started out totally freelance. If I had gotten into a full-time copywriting position, things would have started out a whole lot more rosy).
The point is, you’ve got to know your value and worth.
Yes, you may do a few freebies at the start.
Yes, you might not get paid 50k within a month.
Yes, it will be a lot of work.
But there will come a time when you’ve passed through that stage and need to climb up the ladder a little higher.
That means knowing when to leave a certain role (but never burn bridges - you never know where a connection might lead).
It means knowing when to set your rates higher as a freelancer. It means knowing when to stop doing the freebies and start looking for actual paid gigs.
It also means taking a bit of break now and then because, ya know, copywriting isn’t all roses and wine.
One of the best things I did for my career was leaving my position at a company. They were amazing, lovely folks. But I needed to step it up and start moving a little faster - and only I could get the gas pedal moving.
Shit like that can be scary but it’s those moments that push you out of your ‘fluffy’ comfort zone that the real magic starts to happen.
Go get ‘em
Maybe you’ve just finished high school? Maybe you’ve just graduated? Whatever your ‘starting point’ remember that there is never a totally ‘right time’ for anything. Copywriting is all about building up as much real-world experience as you can. It’s about creating a fit-to-burst portfolio. It’s about networking.