Don’t worry if you’re not sure what a copywriter is. I’ve been asked this question by just about all my friends and I’ve repeatedly explained it to family members. I didn’t know myself until a few years ago.
In this blog I’ll cover:
- What is a copywriter?
- What does a copywriter write?
- Do all copywriters write stuff for the internet?
- What’s the difference between a copywriter and a content writer?
- How do copywriters work?
- Do small business owners have to use a copywriter?
- What skills do you need to be a good copywriter?
- What qualifications do you need to be a copywriter?
- How do you know if a copywriter is good?
- How much do copywriters cost?
ONE: What is a copywriter?
This is how I found out what a copywriter was.
I was talking to a friend about how I was miserable in my old job (teaching), and I said, “I want to be a writer, but not books… I want to write for people. Like, they can’t write something for themselves so they can pay me to do it…”
She looked at me as if I was stupid and gently said, “that is a job… it’s called a copywriter”.
So that’s it. A copywriter is someone who writes for you when you don’t want to or don’t know how to. Copywriters are experts in English, understand how to write in different tones of voice, and can write persuasively.
I started doing this job part time in 2020, and I’ve been full time since September 2021.
I absolutely love it.
I don’t mind the technical or complicated language, I don’t mind the deadlines or the extra research, or all the grammar. I love immersing myself in people’s businesses and communicating exactly what they do in their customers’ language.
TWO: What does a copywriter write?
Strictly speaking, a copywriter writes pieces of writing- called “copy”- which gets people to do something. Yes, “copywriter” means “writing writer”. You’d think the original copywriters would’ve come up with a better name.
When a piece of writing inspires the reader to act- buy something, vote for something, click something, like something, sign up for something- this is called “converting”.
Ideally, once a reader stops reading, if they act in the way you want them to, you have a conversion. This might happen after reading one thing, but its more likely that a potential customer will need to read quite a bit before they trust you enough to buy from you. They might look at your website, your social media presence, a few blogs, some reviews or product descriptions, and your competitors, all before making a purchase. So, it’s a good idea for your written communication to be as good as it can be.
The whole point is to get the reader to act. The writing may be humorous, or subtle, but it’s all designed to sell whatever it is you sell.
THREE: Do all copywriters write stuff for the internet?
A lot of what I write is for online, but not always. A copywriter will also write ads that appear in magazines and newspapers, direct mail which is posted directly to customers’ homes, and brochures. Any time you see the written word advertising or marketing a product or service, it’s likely a copywriter has written it.
There are highly specific skills for writing good copy. It very much depends on the end goal, but every piece will have a measured tone of voice, absolutely accurate grammar/ spelling/ punctuation, and a range of techniques to gently prod the reader in the right direction.
Just about everything on the internet, in the media, and what’s posted to your house has been written by a human.
There’s a lot of talk about AI copywriters (you’ve probably heard of ChatGTP!) but so far, the technology’s just not there for quality, personality- filled, human- first writing.
Successful marketing sounds like one person talking to one person, and that’s hard to create when it’s a machine doing the writing.
The list of what copywriters, and content writers, write is almost endless.
FOUR: What’s the difference between a copywriter and a content writer?
Content is more about information and education, rather than persuasion or action.
Over time, the boundaries between copywriting and content writing have been blurred. Content writers typically write blog posts, newsletters, and social media captions.
Content has a different outcome to copy. With content, it’s all about building a relationship between the customer and the seller slowly over time. Your business’s values can be demonstrated as time goes on, not shouted in a buzzy tag line. Trust, loyalty, and understanding can blossom because of regular content.
Ideally, after reading one sales email, a customer would buy the product and the copywriters’ job would be done. A content writer’s job, however, is never done. There’s always content to be written and posted, and it’s generally harder to measure the success of it.
Something important to remember is just because some writing is classed as content, it doesn’t mean there aren’t features of copy there too. Good copy tells the reader exactly what to do after reading (“buy now”, “click here”, “book a call”) using calls to action. Content should have these too. It’s simply that the main point of the content isn’t to persuade. Likewise, copy doesn’t have to be “sales-y”. It could have a friendly, relaxed tone, like a blog. This is why there is confusion between copy and content- there can be an overlap. It’s also why I describe myself as a copywriter and content writer, so my clients and potential clients know I’m comfortable with both.
Perhaps it would be easier to simply describe myself as a writer (although that immediately suggests fiction) or maybe a freelance writer , but I try to include the words copywriter AND content writer wherever I explain my job title. I often write website copy, but I also write a lot of blogs for my clients. I could never be just a content writer or just a copywriter, simply because I love writing content and I love writing copy.
Find out more about the differences between copywriters and content writers here.
FIVE: How do copywriters work?
This is not a simple answer, because there are many types of copywriter. There are copywriters employed directly by agencies and brands who work in house, and there are freelancers, like me.
As a freelancer, I’m often approached by business owners or people who want me to write for them, and they’re mostly concerned about the quote. Of course, for every business owner, keeping costs as low as possible is always important. For me to give you an accurate quote I’ll need to have a chat with you on a discovery call. It’s my chance to find out as much as I can about what you’re looking for, and we can see if we’re a good fit for each other.
Once we’re happy to work together, we’ll agree a deadline, and I’ll send you a contract and an invoice for 50% of the fee. Depending on the job, I’ll send you a questionnaire to gather as much information about your business as I can. I’ll research your industry, your competitors and your customers. Once I get writing the process is generally quite smooth and I’ll get your first draft to you on or before the deadline.
Revisions are a normal and expected part of the process. It’s a chance to fine tune any phrases to your tone of voice or to reword parts you’d like to change.
Once I’ve completed any revisions and you’re happy, I’ll send you your final draft, and an invoice for the remaining amount. Importantly, you own the copyright for what I’ve written, so you can use it as you wish.
And that’s it! That’s my process.
It’s a wonderfully varied job, which allows me to meet interesting people and be creative and help people. It’s brilliant.
SIX: Do small business owners have to use a copywriter?
The simple answer is no. You absolutely can write your own copy and content, just like people do their own taxes, or build their own websites. The thing is, there’s a joy when you work with a professional. There’s a collaboration, and an exploration, and you feel a sense of relief that it’s been done properly. You can’t get any of that when you DIY your copy.
The truth is writing your own copy and content is a very specific skill. You’ve got to understand your business inside out (which, of course, small business owners do!) but you’ve also got to understand what it looks like to a potential customer from the outside. You need to overcome the obstacles they might have in buying from you subtly and gently. The structure of the writing can’t be too long, too short, too boring, or too complex. There should be a clear message, consistently presented. And, of course, every word, punctuation mark, and heading has to be accurate.
It’s no small task.
It’s why there’s so much bad copy out there. It’s not easy to get right.
Luckily, I love it. So I’m happy to dig in to the challenge on behalf of my clients. Or, support my lovely clients to be able to write for themselves with resources, Support Sessions, and these here blogs.
SEVEN: What skills do you need to be a good copywriter?
Communication, communication, communication. That means both listening and talking, but mostly listening.
Next, you need to be able to write. That means both accurately and with creativity, flair and skill.
Once you’ve nailed that, you need to move on to understanding tone of voice, audience, SEO, branding, how to write headlines, and how to structure a piece of writing is also key.
You’ll also need super, super accurate English. Now, I happen to think I’m excellent at written English, but I still work with a professional proof-reader on all my projects to catch my typos, my stray semi colons, and my missing Oxford commas.
Personally, I think all good copywriters have the skills I’ve mentioned, but also, relentlessly high standards. High standards for the writing they produce, high standards for the service they provide, and high standards in the ethical considerations of their work.
EIGHT: What qualifications do you need to be a copywriter?
Anyone can call themselves a copywriter, create a website, and start working with clients with no formal training or skills. You can just decide to be one and bingo! You’re a copywriter.
The huge upside of this is that you don’t have to take on expensive education, or delay earning money until you’re “qualified”.
However… there’s a great deal of poor copy out there. Lots of people without an expert grasp of the English language have a go at copywriting, and call themselves copywriters, but they don’t have the skills to deliver quality writing. And, if you work with one of these copywriters, you run the risk of their errors or clumsy sentences turning customers off. Worst case scenario, you might look unprofessional.
If you’re interested in becoming a copywriter yourself there are lots of free resources which can help you online. I find myself returning to Mailchimp’s style guide, this great blog on how to write for your target audience by Helen Writes, and SEMrush’s excellent tone of voice breakdown.
Of course, you could do some courses to learn everything. I did this one, and this one, both of which were more introductory/ basic, but I’ve got my eye on this one.
NINE: How do you know if a copywriter is good?
There are a number of ways to reassure yourself you’re working with a good copywriter.
It’s a really good sign if you can see a copywriters’ work in a portfolio. This way you can see if the clients they work with are similar to you in any way, you can check the quality of their writing, and you can see how experienced they are.
A good copywriter should be able to clearly explain their method of working. Do you fully understand what they offer, when the invoice will be sent to you, how many drafts there will be? It should be crystal clear
When you’re ready to move forward with your copywriting project, both you and the copywriter should sign a contract. Either of you can produce a contract, just make sure you both clearly understand it.
Other green flags are if the copywriter is insured, registered with the ICO, and have policies on their website.
It’s also a good sign if they have a consistent online presence and belong to professional bodies.
In all written communication to you, they should be writing accurately and clearly. Sure there might be an odd typo here and there in a rushed email, but generally speaking, it should be clear they have a very firm grasp of the English language.
TEN: How much do copywriters cost?
This question does not have a simple answer unfortunately. I can offer some guidance, but the truth is it very much depends. I’ve explained my pricing here, and you can see the ProCopywriters annual survey which explains what copywriters earn in the UK, here.
The price of a copywriting job very much depends on:
- The industry you belong to
- The value the copy will bring
- The length of the copy (shorter does not mean cheaper!)
- How much research is needed for the copy
- What the copy is used for
- How quickly you need the copy
- How many edits you’ll need in the copy
- If you have your tone of voice and brand guidelines sorted already
- And lots more variables besides!
What I can tell you is, generally, you get what you pay for. Paying for a cheap copywriter from a freelancing website means you might not get the quality or accuracy you’re hoping for. You want to pay someone a fair rate to devote time and energy to your project while also keeping a roof over their heads and running a business. If you pay a low amount, they’re probably going to spend less time and energy and you’re going to have a poor result.
Your best bet is to look at copywriting as an investment in your business, and to consider it alongside the investment you’d make in your training, your website, and software you use. Without it, sure, your business would exist, but having all the training, a great website, useful software, and clear, consistent messaging just makes your business a whole lot more successful.
If you’re ready to invest in a copywriter but you’re worried about the cost, you might be eligible to apply for a local business grant, or to discuss payment plans with your copywriter.
So, there you go! A comprehensive guide to just about everything copywriting. Still have questions? I love them! Ask away and let’s see if I can answer them.