- Becoming a copywriter with no background or experience isn’t impossible—but it’s not common
- Teaching English was a great background that helped me transition into copywriting
- Freelance copywriting is often portrayed as a lucrative, carefree lifestyle
- Why is copywriting portrayed as the solution to all your financial woes?
- We’re not all created equal—we should all have the chance, but we won’t all succeed
- Nobody likes to talk about it, but talent/natural ability exists
- As AI becomes more common, it’ll be harder for average copywriters to find work—but not for the reason you think
- Should you give up and look for another career?
If you ask Google “how to become a copywriter”, you’ll get pages and pages of results on how to achieve this goal. Some results claim you can do this in three months. The top result is for a course on Udemy called “Become a Freelance Copywriter In 7 Days”. Many of the results include “how to become a copywriter with no experience”. Is it really that simple? Can anyone become a copywriter just because they want to?
My opinion is likely unpopular. It may even seem contradictory. I did recently pivot careers to become a copywriter with no copywriting experience. But here it is.
Not everyone can become a successful copywriter.
There, I said it. Let the bashing and finger pointing begin. But if you’re interested in having an intelligent discussion on this topic, please hear me out first. Then we can talk.
Becoming a copywriter with no background or experience isn’t impossible—but it’s not common
When I say “no experience”, I don’t mean any formal training or study about copywriting. When you think about it, most jobs we do for the first time involve having no experience. Your first part-time job working in retail was likely the first time you operated a cash register. Your first time working in a restaurant was likely the first time you had to carry food and drinks on a tray. This is the paradox first-time job seekers experience—how can I get experience if no one will give me a chance?
The same is true for becoming a copywriter. But like many other jobs, you can still gain experience and develop transferable skills elsewhere. Looking for a job as a mechanic? Weekends spent rebuilding cars at home with a knowledgeable relative will help. Want to become a Little League coach? You’d better have years of experience playing that sport, along with a few coaching badges.
Teaching English was a great background that helped me transition into copywriting
When I say “no experience”, I mean little to no relevant experience. This is where I differ from many people who decide they want to become a copywriter out of the blue. My 25+ years teaching English provided me with some very transferable skills.
- Though you don’t need to be a grammarian to be an effective copywriter, some grammar knowledge doesn’t hurt. If you can’t use your/you’re or there/their/they’re the right way, copywriting may not be for you.
- Correcting student writing has more transferable skills for becoming a proofreader. But I had to help students find the proper way to express themselves without losing their voice. As a copywriter, you have to write for the brand’s voice, not yours.
- I’ve spent more time studying and thinking about language usage than most people. I’ve had to answer questions about why certain words don’t work in specific contexts. I’ve had to explain to students why describing someone as “slim” is a better choice than “thin” or “skinny”.
- Teaching English to EFL students, I’ve had lots of practice writing/saying things in simple, easy-to-understand English. Often, effective copywriting is simple and direct rather than full of superfluous prose.
If you struggle with grammar and don’t understand why Grammarly is flagging your writing as incorrect, copywriting might not be for you. Copywriting might not be the best career for you if you can only express yourself in your own voice. If you’ve never thought about how language is used and how different words affect nuance, you may be better off pursuing another career. Struggle to get your point across in straightforward English? It might be time to consider going in a different direction.
Freelance copywriting is often portrayed as a lucrative, carefree lifestyle
You’ll notice trends when you start researching how to become a copywriter. Successful copywriters will share how they make 6-figure incomes working three days a week. Sure, they tell you it’s a lot of hard work initially, but anyone can do it. To learn how, you need to buy my course for $500…
And there’s the catch. There are lots of copywriters out there using their skills to sell you their courses. They promise you’ll make more from copywriting in a few months than you could imagine. You’ll set your own schedule, work when you want, and choose which clients you work with. You’ll be sipping margaritas by the pool as you whip up an email or two for a client as you watch the money roll in.
I caught this post on LinkedIn recently. The author (a copywriter) posted about working from such exotic places as:
- The living room
- My bed
- The kitchen
- My car during my daughter’s soccer or dance practice
And that’s the reality, folks. I’m sure a few freelance copywriters are sitting in a folding chair on a sandy white beach. They put in a few hours’ work before jumping into the cool, refreshing, blue waters of whichever ocean they’re on. But they’re the exception, not the norm.
Why is copywriting portrayed as the solution to all your financial woes?
Can I ask you a question? Do you know any other career where someone with no experience is guaranteed to make a six-figure income working from home because they want to? If you do, let me know—in case this copywriting thing doesn’t work out for me!
It seems alluring. It seems straightforward enough. You just have to work hard and smart enough. But if it were that simple, wouldn’t there be a surplus of qualified copywriters flooding the market? According to many copywriters selling their courses, businesses are hiring copywriters like crazy. There’s tons of work—if you know where to look and how to land those clients.
I dunno about you, but it all feels very snake oil salesman-y to me. Go to Upwork and search for “copywriter,” and you’ll get thousands of results. But how many of them are any good? You can definitely find some exceptional copywriters on Upwork. But you can also find some terrible ones.
My take? Copywriting is like most other careers. It’s “possible” to get to that lucrative, carefree stage. But only after you’ve put in a ton of hard work and proven yourself—again and again and again. Can you make enough to pay the bills? Perhaps—but it’ll likely be challenging in the beginning. I’d hold off on making that down payment on your new car for now.
We’re not all created equal—we should all have the chance, but we won’t all succeed
I’m all for people having equal opportunities. I’m not going to tell anyone you 100% can’t become a copywriter. But I’m also not going to guarantee anyone will succeed as a copywriter, even if they work really, really, really hard. Some things come easier to some people than others. Effort doesn’t always equal success.
I’ve been playing the guitar on and off for over two decades. There were long periods of time while teaching at a university where I had lots of free time. I’d practice for several hours every day. Lessons from my teacher and daily exercises were the norm. I used software, YouTube, and other tools to practice. I was organized, dedicated, and determined. Everything got tracked to chart my progress and identify weaknesses. I worked much harder than the average amateur musician (because I had so much free time).
When my son started playing the guitar, I’d already been playing for years. I’d taken a break for a few years, but when he started playing, that rekindled my passion for the guitar. I spent many more hours a day practicing than he did in the beginning. My practice sessions were much more organzised and focused. I had clear goals and outcomes I wanted to achieve. I couldn’t not succeed.
But it soon became apparent that he was getting better than me despite his lack of practice. When he did practice, his sessions were very disorganized and often had no structure at all. How could he be surpassing me when it was obvious I was working so much harder than him?
Nobody likes to talk about it, but talent/natural ability exists
I remember my son decided he wanted to play the violin in elementary school. I only remember hearing him practice the day he brought the violin home. We were invited to a music recital at his school a few months later. After the performance, the teacher approached us and gushed about how our son was her star pupil. To this day, I have no idea how. I never heard him practice—and we lived in a small apartment. If he’d been practicing, I would’ve known.
My point? My son has some natural musical ability. An ability that I lack. He’s played the piano, violin, guitar and drums. He’s now studying guitar at university. It’s safe to say he’s invested more time and effort in music than I have at this point. But even if I’d spent the past 15 years practicing for 5-6 hours a day, I wouldn’t be anywhere near his ability. Music doesn’t come naturally to me. I’ve reached a point where some very patient fellow musicians have tolerated my playing in a band. My son filled in as the drummer in that band for a few months despite never having played drums in a band before.
But no amount of practice would’ve been enough for me to be a professional musician. That might be how it is with you and copywriting. You may believe copywriting is your dream job. You may even work hard at it. But for whatever reason, you can’t create compelling copy that appeals to clients. You may write well enough to score some low-paying jobs. But you can’t seem to break through to the lucrative jobs you aspire to.
We aren’t all equal—it’s that simple. We should all have the opportunity, but hard work doesn’t guarantee success. There’s a reason only nine players 5’ 7” (170 cm) or shorter have ever played in the NBA. If you don’t have the ‘innateness’ of being tall, your chances of success are miniscule—no matter how hard you work.
There’s always a chance you’ll be the exception that proves the rule. But I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. You know the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed…?” I prefer W. C. Fields’ take on it.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.W. C. Fields
I don’t mean give up after your second failure. But after lots of time and effort, if you’ve had more failures than successes, it may be time to reconsider things.
As AI becomes more common, it’ll be harder for average copywriters to find work—but not for the reason you think
AI is a great tool—but it’s still a tool. I use many tools as a copywriter, including Grammarly, WordTune, the Hemingway App and Chat GPT. But I seldom copy and paste what’s presented to me. I still assess and evaluate the suggestions and decide whether to accept them or not.
Grammarly is a great tool that helps me catch typos and missed commas. But it’s not perfect. It makes incorrect suggestions. It doesn’t catch all my typos. WordTune is a great way to get ideas to rephrase things—one line at a time. I usually end up tweaking one of the suggestions to end up with the version I use.
ChatGPT is good, but it’s not perfect. I’ve found it works better with small chunks. You can see what happened when I asked it to produce a blog post here. Again, I use Chat GPT, but I always edit what it spits out. Even when I state “for an Australian audience”, it still uses North American spellings. I’d expect AI to be able to pick up on that. Chat GPT is a great tool for generating ideas, but I don’t find it refined enough to use what it generates as is.
Tools like these are only as good as the people using them. Let’s go back to my guitar analogy from earlier. A $10,000 guitar will likely sound much better than a $200 guitar, even when I’m playing. But it won’t sound anywhere as good as that $200 guitar in the hands of an expert.
Someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing when it comes to copywriting might have some minor success with AI. But it isn’t likely they’ll ever achieve great success. Whereas a seasoned copywriter can edit and tweak what AI generates to create compelling copy quicker than if they’d had to create it from scratch.
And so you don’t think I’m alone in this thinking, check out this post at Copywriter Collective. See how the pros perceive AI in copywriting.
Should you give up and look for another career?
Perhaps. Or you may need a little more practice for your skills to emerge. But as I’ve said, hard work doesn’t always equal success. If you don’t have some natural talent, relevant skills, or the right background, no amount of effort may be enough to succeed.
Don’t be swayed by all the sites and groups on social media telling you that anyone can become a successful copywriter. Anyone can become a copywriter in much the same way anyone can become a musician. But there’s a vast difference between a rock star and some guy playing in his garage. The same can be said for copywriters.
Copywriting isn’t an easy career. Every brand in the world would be a success if copywriting were as simple as
- Following a couple of formulas like AIDA or PAS
- Selling the benefits
- Keeping your copy short and snappy
That’s like saying music involves playing notes in the right key. Anyone can do those things. But it’s the few who have a knack, put in the work, and can effectively use the tools available to them to produce copy that converts consistently.
Give it a go. Give it your all. If you don’t succeed, that doesn’t mean you’re a failure. I’m not a failure as a musician. I’m a hobbyist. Continue working on your copywriting while you pursue another career. Who knows, it might come in handy when you have to create a website for your new business. Or you may end up understanding why contacting a pro to draft the copy on your site is so important to give your business the best chance of success.
Either way, good luck!
Still got a bone to pick with me? Wanna call me a hypocrite? Let me know what you think in the comments.