If you’ve Googled “how to get started as a copywriter” recently, you’ve probably read a dozen articles with titles like, “How to be a professional writer in 24,000 easy steps.” From these bits of doggerel, you’ve learned a lot of bollux about what you need to get started.
For instance, you may have learned that you must have:
- A website
- An established blog
- Professional samples
- Sales training
- A journalism degree
- A background in successfully launching start-ups
- In-depth expertise in at least three industries
- A cute and perky but professional profile photo
- An edgy and ironic sense of humor that is entirely your own and completely unique from anything else out there but accurately captures the mood of your audience while simultaneously surprising and delighting them
- Several years of experience
- A profile on three different content clearinghouse sites
- Up-to-date knowledge of the latest content management suites
- Expertise in SEO
- Ability to produce infographics and video
- A loyal dog
- A highly efficient electric flosser
Insert eye roll here and toss those precious minutes and hours straight in the trash with all your discarded novel drafts.
The last two items in the list may actually be useful, but forget the rest (for now). And don’t feel bad. Nearly every new writer wastes their time on these four big things before they get smarter.
Four Things to Stop Doing Right Now
- Building a website. Yes, you’ll need this eventually. But it is a much huger undertaking than you realize, and not necessary to land your first few good clients.
- Learning SEO. Yes, you should know the basics of how Google works, but the practice of SEO is highly technical and constantly changing. Leave it to the professionals (whom you can cultivate as contacts so you can recommend people when clients want this service).
- Studying everything there is to know about copywriting. Yes, you should be constantly studying and honing your craft. But you don’t have to know everything to get started. In fact, if you wait for that, you’ll never get started.
- Establishing a blog. Yes, a blog can be a central and important part of your marketing and sales outreach. But you don’t have to have already been blogging to land your first few clients. Get some cash flowing in, and some experience under your belt, and then you’ll have things to write about for your blog.
Three Things to Do Instead
The truth? To be successful in professional writing you really only need desire, reasonably decent health, time, and the willingness to work hard.
I can’t help you get those things if you don’t already have them. But if you do have them or you can get them (5am works for time if necessary), I can tell you which three things to do first, and in what order. To wit:
- Create a kick-butt LinkedIn profile.
- Make connections.
- Establish a starter portfolio.
Though often frustrating, LinkedIn is the most powerful tool available for finding great clients and opportunities, and for staying in touch with the people who can introduce you to more opportunities. Setting up your LinkedIn profile is not easy, but it is child’s play compared to creating an entire website. Your LinkedIn profile provides an excellent “home base” from which you can blog (when you’re ready), share your portfolio, and build your network.
Making connections is how you find clients. You’ve heard (and probably hated) the cliché: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” For better or worse, there is a great deal of truth in that. The more good people you know, the better connected you’ll be, and the more opportunities you’ll have to find good copywriting work. Building relationships on LinkedIn allows you to expand both the breadth and the depth of your network, and to build trust with the people you hope to work with.
As a copywriter, your single most important sales tool is your portfolio. Education, resume, and awards are nice, but the proof (to borrow another cliché) is in the pudding. You can grow a starter portfolio by writing for nonprofits, local magazines, and a friend’s business. Once you get your first few clients, you’ll add that work to your portfolio as well.
Of course, none of these three things is simple or quick, and there are right and wrong ways to do both. That’s why I’ll be exploring each of the three in more detail in future entries. In the meantime, check out these resources:
Setting up Your LinkedIn Profile: How and why to optimize your LinkedIn profile
Connecting: How not to connect on LinkedIn
Building Your Portfolio: The Quick Start Guide (contains advice for building a starter portfolio)
Want more help? Definitely download the Quick Start guide (above), and subscribe at right for more tips and advice. I’m currently developing a free six-week kick start email course you may be interested in as well. Stay subscribed to receive a notice when the course comes available.