6 Essential Skills You Need To Master To Become A Successful Copywriter
I often hear the following lament from people starting out in copywriting; ‘I am a good writer, so why haven’t I got more quality clients (or any)?’.
On the face of it, it’s a valid enough point.
However, the answer is hiding in plain sight. In fact, the answer is in the question.
Being a ‘good writer’; for example, working in journalism for the last 10 years or getting a masters degree in literature from a good university, doesn’t necessarily mean you will automatically be a great copywriter.
And why not, you may well ask?
Because good copywriting is not just about ‘putting pen to paper’ or tapping merrily away on your keyboard from 9 to 5 with an hour for lunch or whenever your mood (or paymaster) decides.
No. Sorry. I wish it was so simple.
A good copywriter has to be a multidisciplinary master. To perform their job effectively they have to master skills in many different areas and know how, and just as importantly, when to apply them.
The top 6 disciplines I believe a good copywriter needs to if not master, then at least have a good working knowledge of are, in no specific order, the following:
Understanding how people think is absolutely crucial in persuading people — which is a huge part of a copywriter’s job.
If your copy is going to be compelling it needs to start pushing all the right buttons.
Never forget that what we do is ‘compel and sell’.
And to be a really good salesperson you absolutely have to be able to understand what makes people tick!
For example, you have to know a bit about the psychology of money, how people respond, what they really want out of life etc.
You have to start studying, not just books, but people.
2. Research (i.e investigate, fact find, explore and analyse)
Each new client brings a fresh set of challenges, and one of the biggest is learning all about them, their product, market and customers.
As a copywriter you might decide to specialise in just one sector but in practice when starting out, or even as a seasoned pro, it’s more typical that you will work on subjects as diverse as adventure holidays all the way through to Zippo lighters.
To do as good a job as possible, you need to understand what you are writing about, and that means unleashing your inner nerd and getting your research hat firmly on.
When researching your client’s product and their target market, you have to know where to go, and do it quickly. Don’t know about a certain travel destination? Well, a few million people on TripAdvisor do.
The internet is awash with people telling you stuff for free.
Leverage this fact and become the Lieutenant Columbo of the web.
Yada yada. It seems everyone is storytelling nowadays aren’t they?
However, this is a really important skill for a copywriter.
Never forget what we do.
And you know what the best salespeople in the world are great at? Telling stories, that’s what.
Why? Because they are compelling and people love them. We are just hard-wired that way.
So learn to tell stories, big fat whopping glorious stories — but just make sure they are accurate, appropriate and provide positive outcomes to the client!
They may say ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story’, save that for the dinner party, when you are dealing with clients…facts matter.
4. Digital Marketing
These days most copywriters don’t just write taglines and nice little direct mail marketing pieces for a living and are rewarded with HUGE royalties.
Nope. Sadly not.
The digital revolution changed all that.
Nowadays, in this multi-media information super highway world, the copywriter has to be keyed up on social media, SEO and all things tech as much as possible.
Because if you don’t keep up to date and stay ahead of the pack you will be left behind quicker than a hundred yard dash against Usain Bolt on a good day.
Think about it, if you were the client…wouldn’t you rather hire that copywriter who could add some serious value to your project with their digital marketing and SEO expertise?
Of course, I am assuming here you already know about marketing…because that goes hand in hand with copywriting…but you knew that, right?
Don’t forget. There are actually people alive today who never knew life before the internet!
5. Business Skills
I am not talking about being ‘good in a team’, ‘delegating’ or the art of ‘multi-tasking’ here, although they are all certainly good skills to master too.
No, most copywriters these days are ‘freelance’, running their own Ltd or something in between.
So here I am talking about actually running a business.
Sorting out the accounts, doing the taxes, knowing the rules and regulations, sending out invoices, getting new clients, doing your own advertising, paying the bills and managing customers correctly (or getting someone to do it for you).
Not very glamorous. But if you don’t keep these thing all under control and managed properly you will never even get the chance to do any copywriting!
What’s your on-boarding process for new clients?
What does your standard agreement look like?
What happens if the light bulb above your desk goes out? (Or more worryingly, the one above your head)?
These are all valid points that YOU need to be thinking about. Every day.
6. English (or whatever language you happen to write your copy in)
To be a good copywriter it really does help if you actually know about grammar, words, how to spell, punctuation, axioms, maxims, foreign words and abbreviations (to name but a few).
Yeah, you don’t have to use them, in fact, it’s great to be a little creative at times.
BUT you DO have to know the rules to be able to break them.
Language is the currency of the writer and is a far more complex technology than most people ever really appreciate.
It’s what sets us apart from other animals and something we instinctively start to learn as soon as we are born — maybe even sooner.
But to really become a master of a language takes perseverance, practice, humility and perhaps most importantly, a love of it.
So if you want to call yourself a ‘writer’ of any description you should put the time in to learn how words really work, where they come from, what is their etymology and how to wield them effectively.
Use your currency wisely and it will reward you handsomely in the future.
“When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.” — David Ogilvy
These are the top 6 interdisciplinary skills that I think are crucial to help make a great all round and well paid (and well fed and watered) copywriter.
I could have included other many other subjects including persuasive language patterns, NLP, knowledge of effective sales funnels, a bit of history etc — and I am sure you might also have thought of lots of other important ones too.
But above all, the most important skill or quality you will need to survive and flourish as a copywriter is a really good sense of humour. Oh and a very thick skin.
Trust me on this last point, it’s absolutely essential!