What skills should a copywriter have?

17 replies
I've decided to change careers and become a copywriter. I love to write and I hate my current job. I have 36 months worth of living expenses saved up, so I plan on jumping right into the deep end of the pool and quit my current job at the end of the year.

I'm going to dedicate one year to simply learning the craft--although I may take some paying gigs before year-end. I'm going to spend 4 hours each day reading books from the book list sticky and 4 hours each day writing. That leaves 2-4 hours each day free to learn other skills.

So what skills--other than copywriting itself and IM--should an aspiring copywriter learn? On a scale of 1-10, how valuable are the following skils:

1. HTML and CSS.

2. Photoshop.

3. InDesign

4. Wordpress

Are there any other skills that are critical for a copywriter to learn? Is there any other advice you can give to an aspiring copywriter?

Thanks.
#copywriter #skills
  • Profile picture of the author JRVogt
    The skills you learn on top of the actual writing are going to depend on the types of products you want to offer clients that incorporate your copy...plus how much personal control you want to maintain over things like your sales websites, videos, etc.

    I've found that I prefer to do a lot of the work myself, and the more I handle my own content, the easier it is then for me to go back in and edit things to my liking when necessary. I don't have to call up a web developer, designer, and whatever else just to get an image changed on my blog. I can format documents and PDFs, record and edit audio, and so on. Yes, it's more time on my end, but I enjoy the learning process as I go.

    Of the skills you listed...

    HTML/CSS - 8
    Photoshop - 6 or 7. Depends on how graphics-heavy your stuff is gonna be
    InDesign - 4ish. Used it once, but not so much these days.
    Wordpress - 10! Plus HTML and CSS will come in handy here when editing templates or themes.

    I'd add audio/video equipment, software, and editing to the list, as it gives you different formats to relay whatever you write.

    And while it may not be a technical skill, I'd say one of the most important things a copywriter can learn to do is: Absorb Feedback Without Taking It Personally. You're committing yourself to the kind of work that will constantly be put in front of people who will tell you exactly what they think of it...and there'll be plenty of times when the feedback could be taken as hurtful, a slam to your ego, or whatever.

    When someone critiques your work (especially bad reviews), you've got to learn to distance yourself from that initial feeling of "They don't know what they're talking about! My work is awesome! I'll show them!" Even the harshest, most unfair reviews of your copy can have a kernel of truth in them about how to improve. But if the ego gets in the way, it'll hinder your ability to grow and excel in the long run.

    As someone who also made the big jump from a job that was turning my soul into a fine gray paste into full-time freelancing, if you have any questions on the transition or steps along the way, don't hesitate to get in touch.
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  • Profile picture of the author Raydal
    What is lacking in a lot of copywriter's education
    is how to sell. Many concentrate so much on
    "how to write copy" that they forget to educate
    themselves on plain selling.

    In fact, that is how I was introduced eventually
    to copywriting because I was trained an a door-to-door
    salesman which is not one of the easiest types of
    selling to do. I memorized scripts, studied selling
    psychology and answering objections. So when
    I eventually 'graduated' to copywriting a lot of the
    selling principles was already in my head.

    -Ray Edwards
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    • Profile picture of the author Jeremey
      Originally Posted by Raydal View Post

      What is lacking in a lot oc copywriter's education
      is how to sell. Many concentrate so much on
      "how to write copy" that they forget to educate
      themselves on plain selling.

      In fact, that is how I was introduced eventually
      to copywriting because I was trained an a door-to-door
      salesman which is not one of the easiest types of
      selling to do. I memorized scripts, studied selling
      psychology and answering objections. So when
      I eventually 'graduated' to copywriting a lot of the
      selling principles was already in my head.

      -Ray Edwards
      Ray's right on the mark here.

      The thing I've discovered about copywriting, having come from a background in selling, is conventional wisdom says anyone can learn it. Really, there's hundreds of courses that teach the step by step basics of constructing a sales letter and all the ingredients necessary to make it work. There's templates to follow, headlines to swipe, and no shortage of people willing to part with a couple of dollars in an effort to try anything to boost their sales and conversions.

      The real talent behind effective copywriting is the understanding of what makes all of the above actually work. You can swipe a template and shove words into an A -> B -> C -> approach, but unless you understand the motivation behind why people are buying -*and where traffic is coming from, what the prospects are looking for, and how to address their specific needs, you're just putting words on a page and hoping that they work.

      Sure, a paint-by-numbers approach is going to boost conversions when tested against some of the rambling kitchen-sink word vomit some marketers come up with by themselves, but to become truly successful as an in-demand copywriter who can write their own ticket, you're going to want to develop a mastery of salesmanship.

      My training comes from the corporate environment (sitting in hotel conference rooms at 7 AM with cranberry juice and cardboard pastry within reach)...So I can't recommend any books or seminars offhand...But there's plenty of online training and resources that can give you a good grasp of selling basics. The rest comes through trial and error.

      By the way, you don't say what your soul-sucking day gig is right now, but for all I know, you could be a master salesman looking for a career move...In which case you're way ahead of the game already!
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  • Profile picture of the author jokerthief
    [DELETED]
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    • Profile picture of the author NickN
      Originally Posted by jokerthief View Post

      Very nice post JR, thank you! I will probably take you up on your offer.

      That's a very good point Raydal. Thank you.

      Btw, how do I thank a post? I see no clickable thing to do that.
      You need at least five posts.
      Signature

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  • Profile picture of the author DonHuevos
    Learning wordpress is going to be the easiest and the most important skill you learn. You may also want to play around with Drupal and Joomla too.

    Writing compelling sales literature is a lost art and worth every dime if you find a good copywriter.
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    Ultimate Demon gets the Ultimate Review. Learn more about the Ultimate Demon Discount
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  • Profile picture of the author JRVogt
    You should have four black buttons visible on the bottom right of each post: Quote, MultiQuote, Quick Reply, and Thanks.

    Not sure if you have to hit a minimum activity threshold or some such in order to see those or something, but that's where they are.
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    • Profile picture of the author DonHuevos
      [DELETED]
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      • Profile picture of the author JRVogt
        Originally Posted by DonHuevos View Post

        Thank you Mr. Obvious.
        ? Just trying to be helpful. There was a reason he couldn't see them, as we've now figured out, thanks to NickN's note.
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        • Profile picture of the author DonHuevos
          My bad. I was in a rush and misread your post. Sorry about that!

          Originally Posted by JRVogt View Post

          ? Just trying to be helpful. There was a reason he couldn't see them, as we've now figured out, thanks to NickN's note.
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  • Profile picture of the author sethczerepak
    Originally Posted by jokerthief View Post

    I've decided to change careers and become a copywriter. I love to write and I hate my current job. I have 36 months worth of living expenses saved up, so I plan on jumping right into the deep end of the pool and quit my current job at the end of the year.

    I'm going to dedicate one year to simply learning the craft--although I may take some paying gigs before year-end. I'm going to spend 4 hours each day reading books from the book list sticky and 4 hours each day writing. That leaves 2-4 hours each day free to learn other skills.

    So what skills--other than copywriting itself and IM--should an aspiring copywriter learn? On a scale of 1-10, how valuable are the following skils:

    1. HTML and CSS.

    2. Photoshop.

    3. InDesign

    4. Wordpress

    Are there any other skills that are critical for a copywriter to learn? Is there any other advice you can give to an aspiring copywriter?

    Thanks.
    Sounds like a terrific plan, but you're forgetting the most important skill: deal negotiation. Ask any copywriter who's making real money ($60k a year and up) and they'll tell you that your negotiation and relationship building skills are just as important as your copywriting skills.

    In fact, Dan Kennedy says the reason he makes the money he does ($60 to $100 per project + royalties) has more to do with his negotiation skills than his copywriting skills (that's in his book "No BS Wealth Attraction in the New Economy BTW, which is in my suggestion list at the bottom of this post). I took this to heart when I started out and MAN is it ever true.

    That said, I suggest you start looking for work right away and take on a light workload from the very start. This will help you get your feet wet in dealing with clients, which is a skill in itself. There are a TON of snares to get your foot stuck in and sometimes the only way to find out where they are is REAL WORLD experience.

    Client feedback will also help you separate the fact from fiction when it comes to things written in books about copywriting and marketing (sad to say there's a LOT of fiction). Finally, dealing with real clients from the start will keep anxiety from building up about "finally getting started," after a year of study.

    Here's a couple of books/course that helped me:

    Review of "No BS Wealth Attraction in the New Economy" by: Dan Kennedy | V.I.B.E.

    "A Writer's Coach" by: Jack Hart
    "On Writing" by: Stephen King
    Any of the books in Peter Bowerman's "Well Fed" series.
    "Red Letter Book" by: Robert Collier
    "To Be or Not to Be Intimidated" by: Robert Ringer (mandatory)
    "Cashflow Copywriting" Newsletter by: Yours Truly (Free Online Copywriting Course | V.I.B.E.)

    Good luck to you.
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  • Profile picture of the author MikeHumphreys
    Originally Posted by jokerthief View Post

    I've decided to change careers and become a copywriter. I love to write and I hate my current job. I have 36 months worth of living expenses saved up, so I plan on jumping right into the deep end of the pool and quit my current job at the end of the year.

    I'm going to dedicate one year to simply learning the craft--although I may take some paying gigs before year-end. I'm going to spend 4 hours each day reading books from the book list sticky and 4 hours each day writing. That leaves 2-4 hours each day free to learn other skills.
    Best of luck with your new career choice!

    So what skills--other than copywriting itself and IM--should an aspiring copywriter learn? On a scale of 1-10, how valuable are the following skils:

    1. HTML and CSS.

    2. Photoshop.

    3. InDesign

    4. Wordpress
    HTML and CSS are only important if you're writing online copy and delivering it in ready to upload format. If you use a professional tool like Dreamweaver then you don't have to learn the coding side of things as much.

    PhotoShop is a huge program! I didn't start learning it until a few years ago... there's still alot of it's tools and features that I haven't learned yet.

    You can get around lack of PhotoShop skills by hiring a skilled graphic designer.

    If you're doing to do design things then that's another broad topic on what to study.

    InDesign... no clue what it is. I've never used it. WordPress... I know enough to log in and make blog posts. That's it. I don't write or deliver copy in WordPress. Any WordPress blogs of mine, I let my tech guy do for me... he's much better at it than me and can knock it out faster than I ever could. It's worth every penny of his fee so that I don't have to clutter my brain with that info IMHO.

    Are there any other skills that are critical for a copywriter to learn? Is there any other advice you can give to an aspiring copywriter?

    Thanks.
    Marketing. Salesmanship. Some negotiating skills. Networking skill later on if you're going to seminars, meetings, etc and hoping to get new clients.

    Advice... sure thing.

    I'm a full-time copywriter. I've also coached multiple other copywriters too.

    So I'm speaking from experience when I say that many struggling copywriters are struggling because they are not good at marketing their own businesses (or just don't do it at all) OR they are bad at closing potential prospects into paying clients.

    The famous "big name" copywriters... they are master marketers/self-promoters... and they can sell darn near anything... including telling a prospect why they would be foolish to hire any other copywriter besides them.

    Best of luck,

    Mike
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  • Profile picture of the author JRVogt
    Here's the link to a sticky atop the Copywriting Forum here:

    Top Copywriting Books...Ever

    Should give you plenty to add to your library! Covers both copywriting as well as marketing topics, since the two intertwine so much.
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    • Profile picture of the author staceythewriter
      And just to add to what Mike Humphreys said, marketing has to be done regularly. Many freelance copywriters make the mistake of waiting until business ebbs to market their services. Marketing should be a substantial part of your schedule. Also, marketing offline is just as effective, if not more so, as marketing online. Some folks are better at one; some are better at the other. I'd suggest dividing your marketing time between both methods.

      Good luck.
      Signature

      Stacey Mathis
      Stacey Mathis Copywriting
      The Copywriter's Highway to Success
      http://www.staceythewriter.com
      Twitter: @staceythewriter

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  • Profile picture of the author Alex Cohen
    Originally Posted by jokerthief View Post

    I'm going to dedicate one year to simply learning the craft--although I may take some paying gigs before year-end. I'm going to spend 4 hours each day reading books from the book list sticky and 4 hours each day writing.
    You've chosen the most difficult learning path. Because you'll read so many books, organizing what you learn will be a nightmare.

    Learn copywriting from one teacher.

    A structured course would be good. A sales copy coach would be even better.

    Alex
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  • Profile picture of the author Shazadi
    Others have hit the nail on the head: You need to know how to market, especially yourself. I know a lot of copywriters that are great at writing and have the "book smarts" regarding structure, tone, research, etc... but when it comes to selling themselves, they suck. They go hungry because of that and decide copywriting isn't for them. Don't be one of those people.

    Make sure you not only know how to talk a product up, but how to sell YOU. Salesmen/women are great at this, so read up on their techniques. Gary Bencivenga likes "The Secret to Selling Anything" by Harry Brown. It's a great read and does not require you to learn about being a fast talker, pushy, over the top... all the things we wrongly associate with being persuasive and getting the sale. It's about learning how to empathize and understand people - the real deal.
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    • Profile picture of the author AndrewCavanagh
      First I should point out that if you want to make really good
      money as a copywriter you should focus on writing sales letters
      and other direct response pieces.

      In other words writing that directly brings in real sales and profits for
      your clients.


      The skills you need to be a good direct response copywriter:

      Copywriting is salesmanship in print or on a web page so the first
      skill you need is the ability to sell.

      Second is the ability to write.

      Third which is related to the first is marketing skill.


      It does help if you learn how to put a sales letter on a web page
      with good formatting and how to format an email for an autoresponder
      like Aweber.

      But the three skills above are the most important in my opinion.

      Also understand that a portion of the time you spend in your copywriting
      career is going to be spent looking for and building relationships with clients
      and potential clients.

      When you're starting out a huge portion of your time will be spent this way...
      probably 75% or more and for the first one or two years you can expect
      50% of your time to be invested in this way.

      The percentage goes down the longer you're in the game because you'll have
      clients who come back to you over and over and send you referrals and your
      reputation and other activities you've done in the past will bring in clients too.

      For most people getting enough clients is a hard slog when you're first starting
      out.

      Kindest regards,
      Andrew Cavanagh
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