How to become a Professional Copywriter

Want to know how to become a copywriter but unsure where or how to start? I’m Shu Rin, and I’ve been a copywriter for over 10 years – that’s a little more than a third of my lifetime, and my path wasn’t exactly a conventional one, so I reckon I’m in a good position to share some insights! Read on for some tips based on my personal experiences.

1. Earn a degree in a communications-related field.

This is perhaps pretty basic knowledge, but studying in a related course is one of the easiest ways to get on the path. If you’re looking to become a professional copywriter, some programmes you could look into are communications, creative writing, journalism and marketing. Of course, that’s not to say that you MUST get a degree in the field – I know of fantastic writers who specialised in totally unrelated fields in university. For example, one of my former editors did political science in school. Another of my editor studied accountancy, worked in a Big 4 organisation for several years, and today, is a managing editor at her own copywriting agency.

2. If a degree is unfeasible, study related things.

Let’s say for certain reasons you aren’t able to get into a diploma or degree programme you desire. I didn’t for example – I studied Sports Management because I didn’t get grades that were good enough to grant me an admission into a communications-related course. So, I took on short courses, read guidebooks about copywriting, and just learnt a lot in general. When it comes to such courses, there are hits and misses, of course, and half of the resources ended up not being very useful. But yet, you have the other half, right? I also read a LOT – from marketing emails to annual reports, advertisements on public transport, flyers, and even technical manuals!

3. Seek out opportunities to write – start small.

As I mentioned, my path to being a professional copywriter was in no way conventional. Besides not having a communications degree – a basic requirement in the job process – I also didn’t have professional experience. My blogging, schoolwork, work with the school magazine, as I was told by a recruiter, “were not real experience”. (Think of the meme “when you want to have 10 years of experience before the age of 20). So, I searched for and reached out to as many small companies as I could, especially those that looked like they lacked professional copywriters and wouldn’t have allocated much budgets for marketing – think of it as cold-emailing, instead of cold-calling. I even offered my services for free. I was lucky enough to meet several nice people who agreed to let me write for them, and that’s how I started to build a copywriting portfolio with “real work”.

4. Use the experience to look for “real” writing jobs.

With that portfolio in hand, I was able to get bigger clients on board over time. I was also able to finally have the “professional experience” that organisations and agencies were looking for, so I eventually got hired as a full-time copywriter. And as cliché as it sounds, the rest was history. I later met my editor-mentor, a copywriting powerhouse. She took me under her wing and moulded me into the writer I am today. Through her, I got to work on many huge and exciting projects for major clients such as Disney, Motorola, Intel, and many government agencies. It certainly helped to build my credibility as a copywriter!

5. Build your reputation and relationships so that you can get referrals.

If you’re not looking to get into copywriting full-time, you’ll need to look for opportunities elsewhere. You’ve probably come across the usual advice: build a social media presence, get the word out and so on. And yes, they do work, and in today’s social media age, you’re likely to be all too familiar with this approach. But I’d also like to share what works for me best – building and maintaining relationships with clients. After some time, you’ll realise that they tend to come back to you whenever they need work done. Over the years, I’ve kept in regular touch with creative agencies which give me work from time to time. I’ve also gotten the chance to write for major companies because my clients moved to new positions and recommended my services to their new teams. Sometimes, these clients refer you to their friends, creating a ripple effect. Getting new clients through existing relationships also puts you at an advantage as you won’t have to vie with hundreds of other copywriters for a piece of the pie.

There you go – some tips on becoming a copywriter. I hope my experience can help you with yours. Today, I run a copywriting agency in Singapore called TheFeather, which provides outsourcing services for content writing. It wouldn’t have been possible without that first step I took to seek opportunities – and I sincerely hope that you too, can find the same fulfilment as I did. All the best on your writing journey!