How to Break Into Copywriting

Hey, it's Alyssa here! In the spirit of fresh starts and new opportunities, I sat down with one of our long-time friends of Dear English Major, Nicki Krawczyk. We interviewed Nicki back in 2014 not long after the launch of DearEnglishMajor.com, and she has been kind enough to share some excellent information on copywriting with us here and here over the years. Nicki is a copywriter with 15+ years of experience and the founder of Filthy Rich Writer, which provides tools, tips, and training for new and aspiring copywriters.

Alyssa Christensen: Hi! Thanks for talking with me today.

Nicki Krawczyk: My pleasure! I’m a big fan of your site. It’s doing a great job of filling an information gap for a lot of English majors and writing lovers. People want to use their love of the language and of writing, but they don’t know how they can actually make a living at it. Or at least, a good living!

Alyssa: That’s a perfect lead-in to my first question: Why would an English major enjoy being a copywriter?

Nicki: So, there are a couple of parts of this answer, and I kind of started talking about one, so we’ll start there. It’s incredibly difficult for most writers to make a good living. I mean: next to impossible. It’s deeply unfortunate, but it’s true. Ask a novelist, journalist, blogger—the vast, vast majority will never get a shot at making six figures. But copywriters get paid well. Businesses understand the value in what we do and they pay us well for it.

The other part of it is that copywriting is just a really great career for someone who loves writing. You get to write every day, work with creative, dynamic people, be respected for what you do, and see your work be produced online or in print and seen by millions of people every day. It’s creative, it’s fun, and there’s always something new to work on.

Alyssa: What is copywriting, exactly?

Nicki: Strictly speaking, copywriting is writing that’s designed to persuade or sell. Content is different. Content is writing that entertains, inspires, or educates. (Most copywriters will be hired to write content for a client, at some point though, too.)

But really, copywriting is using words that resonate to connect someone who has a need with someone or something that has the solution to that need. Sometimes it’s a noble want or need, like someone needing to find the best pediatric cardiac hospital for their child, and the copywriter’s job is to use words to help them recognize that hospital. And sometimes, someone’s need at that moment is to find the best organic turkey sausage, and the copywriter’s job is to convey and connect them to that.

But copywriting isn’t about forcing or tricking people into buying something. It’s about making connections using words that convey the usefulness or benefit in terms and ways that that the target audience—the people with the need—connect with.

Alyssa: I’ve heard people say that it’s hard to break into copywriting. Is that true?

Nicki: Well, it is and it isn’t. It is hard to break into it in the way many people do it. (And probably the way those people who’ve told you it’s hard tried to do it.)

Many people who want to be copywriters just decide one day that they are copywriters, and they start sending out their resumes and trying to get interviews or clients. That’s just not how it works. You don’t get work without any training or experience, no matter how good of a writer you are. You need to know how to write copy, and it’s so much more than just being able to put a good sentence together. (As challenging as that can be.) There are principles and techniques. I mean, I can make a decent manicotti, but no one’s going to hire me to be a professional chef.

So these people wonder why they can’t get jobs or clients, or if they do get clients, why the clients never work with them again. Yes, it’s hard to break into it if you don’t know how to actually do it.

“So these people wonder why they can’t get jobs or clients, or if they do get clients, why the clients never work with them again. Yes, it’s hard to break into it if you don’t know how to actually do it.”

And I don’t mean to sound harsh. It’s not really their faults because, historically, there hasn’t been a clear path for copywriters. You can’t major in it at any college that I’m aware of. The vast majority don’t even offer it as a class.

But it’s not hard to break into it if you get training and experience—and if that training is offered in a step-by-step, “do this, then this, then this” way. You get training, you get experience, you get work. That’s how the process goes. It sounds simple, and in a lot of ways it actually is.

Alyssa: What kind of training do you need to become a copywriter?

Nicki: One of the reasons so many people have found it hard to break into is that they invest in crummy training. I mean, there’s a big, relatively well-known training company that promises people “if you can write a letter like this, you can make six figures” and tells them they’ll make six figures, working from a beach, in their first year. I mean, it is such b*******. Oh! Sorry—redact that. I get fired up. [Redacted. Kind of.]

They make false promises, they trick people into buying tons of courses, and they teach things that today’s copywriting clients don’t even want! So few people do online sales letters anymore.

So, a training has to have real-world, real-career application. It needs to teach you what you need to know to work with freelance clients, but also ad agencies and internal agencies. It needs to teach you the fundamentals, the more advanced techniques, and how those translate into all kinds of different media—print ads, emails, banner ads, brochures, websites, and so on.

It needs to teach you exactly how to build your portfolio, how to create spec ads, how to find your first clients, and then how to find your next, bigger clients, and then how to parlay all of that into big clients. And it needs to give you the step-by-step path for actually getting experience and getting paid. A training, really, is worthless if it doesn’t also help you get experience. And then, ideally, it would also offer personal help. People are learning a brand new career—they should have questions.

Alyssa: And all of that is what your training offers?

Nicki: Ha! Yes. Sorry, I didn’t mean for that to turn into a sales pitch. But yes it does—because I wanted to create a training that had absolutely everything someone needed to be successful as a copywriter. We’re not a churn-and-burn company; we don’t benefit from luring people in, getting their cash and moving on to the next person. We succeed when our students succeed. So we give them all the tools. And access to me for questions.  

Alyssa: How did you decide to start your training program?

Nicki: I was working at a company that started a new website, and suddenly we had a need for five new copywriters. I poached a couple from the editorial team and hired a couple of very junior copywriters, but the gist was that none of them really knew how to write copy. So I put together a training for them, because I needed them to be as good as they could be, as fast as they could be. Then, as they worked for me, I also had them build portfolio sites and taught them how to build their careers after that job.

From there, I realized that what I’d put together for my team would be valuable to other aspiring copywriters, too, so I fleshed it out even more and we continue to add to it. Basically, I’ve put everything I know from my 15-plus years of copywriting into our Academy. It’s what I’d give myself if I could travel back in time to when I was starting out.

Alyssa: Why did you choose to name your company Filthy Rich Writer?

Nicki: <laughs> Oh, some people get so upset about that name! The internet is full of some angry, angry people.

I called my company Filthy Rich Writer for a couple of reasons. First, because the idea of being “filthy rich” to me is having a job you love, feeling fulfilled at it, being respected for the work you do, and making great money at it. That’s what copywriting is for me, it’s what our students are becoming, and what a lot of other copywriters already are.

But I also called it Filthy Rich Writer because I wanted to surprise people. That combination of “filthy rich” and “writer” is not something you expect. I wanted people to have the reaction of, “Wait—what?” and look more into it. Most people just don’t know that copywriting is a great, well-paying career for writers.

And, yeah, like I said, some people get really upset about that name. But I actually think that’s great. Healthy skepticism is awesome, but the kinds of people who immediately shut themselves off to things before they understand them aren’t the kinds of people we want to work with, anyway.

Just because they don’t know how to do it, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It is being done—people are becoming Filthy Rich Writers—every single day. And I have the huge privilege of helping them do it!

Alyssa: Thanks, Nicki! This has been very informative. Can we chat again if our readers have more questions?

Nicki: Absolutely! I’d love to.

You can read more from Nicki and learn more about copywriting on her site,  FilthyRichWriter.com.

 

Full disclosure: This is a sponsored post.


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Posted on January 1, 2017 and filed under Copywriting, Articles, Featured Articles.