If you google ‘how to be a copywriter’, you’ll find 33.6 million articles that supposedly cover the ins and outs of the vocation.
But upon further inspection of the search results, you’ll quickly learn that some of these posts have typos in the first paragraphs (automatic disqualification), while others read like fresh-grad material instead of actual copywriting. There are a few posts that offer solid advice, though most of them end up trying to sell you a course.
But I digress. We’re not here to judge content. Instead, for this week, we’re going to discuss things beyond ‘build a portfolio’ and ‘learn SEO’.
This article isn’t about getting your foot in the door, nor is it a handy piece that’ll equip you with the skills to double your pay. It’s just a bit of reference for current copywriters to relate, or for aspiring wordsmiths to perhaps discover things they may not have know about the industry.
And so without further ado, let’s start with the most important point of all.
You can’t change your boss
You know the saying ‘people don’t quit companies, they quit their boss’?
Well, in copywriting, your chemistry with your direct superior is going to mean everything, because unlike more objective jobs with measurable goals, there’s no way to quantify ‘good’ writing.
So if your boss hates your work (or your guts), you’re not going to have a good time.
I’ve had my work thrown back to me with nothing more than “Fix it. It’s clunky.” I’ve also been told that I was wrong—not different, not odd, but straight up wrong—for choosing the word ‘grass’ instead of ‘turf’.
And if you’re thinking you could change your boss like a lover could change their bad partner, you’ll only end up disappointed when three years pass and you still get your byline removed because your article wasn’t ‘up to standards’.
So please. Withstand what you can, but know that you can’t change bad chemistry.
I’ve had the privilege to work for startups and MNCs, and they each have their pros and cons. Generally, the smaller a company is, the quicker they’re able to pivot, which means that you can quickly rectify any problems that need fixing.
This also means that you’ll be on your toes most of the time, because you might need to create a full ad campaign the same day the CEO gets an outlandish idea.
In larger companies though, you’ll often have to go through the many layers of bureaucracy, and sometimes, and that can be a headache when your head of department says yes but another party says no.
Because of this, even the tiniest of campaigns may require triple approvals before your two-worded motto is posted on Facebook. Even other departments can have a say in your work, particularly the Comms or PR teams.
So keep that in mind if you have that choice to make.
Learning is the priority
You’d think that copywriting is all about climbing the ladder and earning big bucks. Maybe to you it’s drinking whiskey and smoking cigars and cashing a million-dollar cheque for that slogan you thought up.
Unfortunately, most of copywriting ain’t that glamourous. Which is why you have to prioritise learning.
I can safely say that the only thing that has helped me secure gig after gig was the willingness to learn. My journey involved education, business, lifestyle, travel, internal communications, press releases, advertisements, sales e-mails and web content.
The journey is far from over because I’m still exploring the likes of fiction and video-game writing.
Sure, that may mean I’m the jack of all trades when it comes to niches, but instead of becoming a master of none, I’m actually working my way to becoming my best in writing.
That’s how you should look at it too, because one discipline helps the others. And while writing Facebook updates may seem like the most boring part of your job, it could come in handy one day when it’s time to promote your book on social media.
Forget your voice
Look, I know how much you want to express yourself, to show people what you can do with words. But when it comes to work, you’ll have to put on a mask and adhere to the brand image, or at the very least, what the boss’s wants.
There’s no ‘i’ in ‘team’, but if your boss wants to promote ‘timwork’, then that’s exactly what you’re going to write. Hopefully, you won’t work under someone that’s that dense, but you get the point.
Sure, you could suggest cutting a couple of words here, or using a pun there, but if your boss wants things to be done a certain way, then it’s not up to you to play Don Draper and supersede their preferences.
This doesn’t mean you can’t sell your work a certain way though. For instance, if your boss is looking for a tagline that sounds more ‘aggressive’, you could make a few changes (that are not necessarily aggressive at all), and tell your boss you’ve done exactly that.
Sometimes, all a boss wants is assurance, and you’ll be surprised how much they’re willing to accept, provided your pitch is good enough.
Agency life is best life
I kid. I know that the agency babies are probably smirking right now at their recollection of fresh hires joining their companies.
If you ever find yourself with an opportunity at an agency, just know that you’ll be learning a ton of copywriting wisdom in a short amount of time. The downside is that it comes with the price of greying hair, lack of sleep, and crying in the bathroom.
But let’s rewind a little. As an aspiring copywriter, you’ll probably work for a business’s marketing team, or in an agency.
The difference is that in the former, you’ll be focused on creating assets for your company alone. In an agency, however, you can expect to juggle multiple clients at once, and not only do you have to deal with your own company’s corporate hierarchy, but you’ll also have to deal with feedback from the clients.
And having sat in various weekly meetings between clients and agencies, I can tell you that it’s no fun to hear what various management levels have to say about your writing, or ideas, or you.
Some people can take the heat. Others enjoy the slower pace (relatively) of being in a marketing team. Me? I’d prefer neither, to be honest.
It’s not just sticks and stones that break your bones
Words are powerful, and if you’ve always been a fan of writing, you should definitely give it a go. In fact, copywriting is one of the best paths you can go down. The pay’s pretty decent too—at least when compared to the other branches like content writing or social media management.
You’ll need a good amount of soft skills to complement your writing, for sure, but you won’t need as good a command in English as you think. Just knowing the differences between ‘peak’ and ‘peek’, or ‘everyday’ and ‘every day’ is enough to get you an entry-level gig.
How do I know this? Because I knew nothing when I first started, and I sure as hell had my share of writing faux pas too (using the word ‘aircrafts’, for example).
So there you go. A bit about the copywriting life, from a practitioner, who also isn’t trying to sell you a course. Of course, if you have any questions about being a copywriter, just ask away and I’ll try to help. Just know that the industry might differ in Malaysia than it does in your part of the world.
Till then, remember not to give up on your writing dreams!
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