What is it like being a copywriter? Pros and cons

These are some of the top phrases (or keywords, as copywriters call them) people Google when they’re daydreaming about what it must be like living the glamorous, coveted lifestyle of a copywriter:

is being a copywriter a good career
is copywriting worth it
what is it like being a copywriter
is a copywriter a good job

I particularly like the question ‘is copywriting worth it’. It has a dejected air about it; the air of somebody who’s up past their bedtime eating biscuits, teetering on the verge of an existential crisis. This is actually how all copywriters are born.

In case you didn’t know, a copywriter is essentially a shy salesperson. Instead of talking your ear off about warranties, benefits and exclusive discounts just for you, we write. Copywriters have a subtler sales approach than your average shiny-shoed, twinkly-eyed estate agent. We don’t ramble or bully, or ask you overly personal questions about your children. We write in a snappy, catchy way that hooks your attention and ever so gently, before you even know what’s happening, reels you in to your bloody, consumerist death.

Copywriters don’t sell: we tell stories. Stories that make you spend money.

We also don’t get commission, which is a bit unfair in my opinion seeing as written content is probably the most powerful tool in business – especially online, which is where life exists now.

I’ve been in the business of writing to sell for over 10 years now, which may or may not qualify me to offer the following unsolicited advice and observations. Either way, it’s my blog so here we go:

How did I get into copywriting?

There are lots of different routes into copywriting (some without a degree) but in case you’re interested, this was mine:

– I spent three years at one of the UK’s top universities studying English literature.

– After graduating, I emailed a cruise magazine (at the age of 20 I was weirdly fascinated by ocean liners) and secured a summer internship (unpaid) in the ridiculously rich and swanky Kensington and Chelsea area of London. I wore blazers, carried a leather laptop bag and read my book nonchalantly on the tube like someone important.

– Got first paid gig writing SEO web copy, blogs and social media posts for Memiah Limited.

– Quit work to study journalism full time.

– Landed job as editorial assistant at Brighton’s Latest Magazine (after a few weeks I was amazingly offered the job of editor but turned it down for another opportunity).

– Became editor of four magazines – thrust in deep end, had to network, interview important people, be schmoozed by PR people in London, and I got to go on a few glamorous press trips abroad for the travel magazine.

– In pursuit of a decent wage, I moved back into online content writing, writing for a men’s suit retailer. Got made redundant (didn’t mind).

– Found current job as content editor for a workplace health and wellbeing company and now get to write about subjects I’m actually interested in.

– Freelance here and there because life is expensive and it’s always good to have a few irons in the fire.

Pros of being a copywriter

Or in other (grammatically incorrect but more searchable) words: is a copywriter a good job? Yes, copywriting is a great job, if you love writing. Here’s why:

You get paid to write!

As writers, we grow up assuming we’re going to be poor. Writers don’t write to get rich…they write because they love it and can’t imagine a life not doing it. We think maybe one day we’ll finally finish that novel and sell it, and make enough to buy a little cottage by the sea where we can write more novels. But essentially we accept that life is probably going to be one long financial struggle.

I was lucky that the year I graduated uni (2011), content marketing was really kicking off as a necessary sales strategy. Suddenly all companies wanted someone who could string some persuasive copy together and shoot them up the Google search rankings.

You get to spend all day writing!

Again, this is a perk only if you like writing. I’ve noticed a lot of targeted ads telling me how ‘anyone can be a copywriter’ and make six figures within a year. I call BS. If you don’t love writing, it’ll show. Maybe there’s someone out there willing to pay a copywriter six figures, but I haven’t met them yet sadly.

You get to be an expert at everything

When I tackle a writing project, I take it seriously. I subscribe to the Heath Ledger method acting approach. I plunge myself into the subject and research it like I’m writing a dissertation. I BECOME the subject. Yes it takes a little more time, but how can I write well about something I don’t understand? It’s important to me that what I’m writing isn’t regurgitated fluff. I want it to be of value to the reader. I want it to be the clearest, most entertaining, enlightening, persuasive copy anyone has ever written on the subject, ever.

Of course I instantly forget everything I learn; sometimes I look back at copy I’ve written and can’t believe I actually knew all that stuff once. Still, it’s fun to be momentarily knowledgeable about some obscure subject.

You get a good balance of working on your own and with a team

Of course, the way you work will depend on your particular copywriting role. In all of my jobs I’ve collaborated closely with designers and sales teams. I love working with graphic designers; partly because it’s the career path I would have chosen if I wasn’t obsessed with writing, and partly because it seems the profession naturally attracts creative, interesting people.

A good writer/designer duo is a powerful force for any business.

As a writer, the majority of your time is spent alone typing away furiously. It feels nice to be left to your own devices, especially if you’re an introvert (which a lot of writers are) but collaborating with a like-minded soul is really fun too.

If you have good business skills, you can make a lot of money

I do not possess any business skills. I make a fair wage, I guess. I afford my mortgage and bills (just). I’m sure I could be making a lot more money somewhere if I tried…but I’m comfortable, and sometimes in life a period of comfort is just what’s needed.

Cons of being a copywriter

Even if you love writing, there will be ‘bang your head on the wall’ days, and here’s why:

The corporate world is obsessed with SEO

SEO stands for search engine optimisation. In marketing, SEO is Zeus perched on top of Mt Olympus. The god of all gods. There are 30 trillion words on the Internet. Ideally, you want the ones you write to be read. How do you do that? With SEO. You make sure Google knows how important your content is. You do this by providing valuable information that is:

  • simply written
  • well-structured
  • original
  • engaging

There are lots of techniques online copywriters employ to appease the SEO gods, like using headings properly, using strong tags appropriately, linking, using just the right number of keywords and getting people to engage with comments, shares and likes.

Unfortunately a lot of companies take shortcuts. They keyword stuff, or they sacrifice user experience and grammar for SEO.

Google should be pandering to us, the humans, the users – not the other way round. The point of search algorithms is to prioritise the most valuable content, and call me old fashioned but I believe this comes with skill, common sense and originality – not quick-fix SEO tricks.

People won’t always recognise your worth

Copywriters are undervalued in business. It’s not an easy job. Not everyone can do it – it does take a certain level of skill to produce copy that actually sells. A good copywriter is a goldmine for businesses. They can ramp up traffic to your site, transform your brand image and position you as a thought-leader in your field. They make you credible. And yet so many businesses still underestimate the power of good copywriting.

Sometimes you will forget how to write

I’ve been writing full-time for 10 years. That’s a lot of words. Some days they run out. Some days I stare at the little blinking line on my blank document typing, deleting and retyping the same sentence over and over again.

This is perfectly natural. Good writing takes brain power and you won’t be on top form every day. Over time it balances out though. As long as you have an employer who recognises the natural highs and lows of creativity, you’ll be fine.

It might make you rich, but I can’t tell you how

Yeah…the likelihood is that you’ll plod along contentedly on an average wage being depressingly undervalued for most of your career. Maybe you’ll have more business acumen than I do. If you do, please educate me. I’m ready for that writerly cottage by the sea.

All in all, copywriting is a great career if you’re into writing. The best advice I can give you is to read widely and practice writing every day. Right, it’s gone midnight now and I’ve been writing ALL day at work, so it’s time for me to go. Thanks for reading, and feel free to ask any questions about copywriting in the comments below.