September 30, 2010How easy is it to make it as a copywriter in London?

Occasionally I get asked for advice by people looking to make the move into professional copywriting. Alas, I don’t have time to respond to you all in detail, so I’m going to write a little bit about my experiences here.

I started out as a journalist. After almost two years of badly-paid freelancing and doing mostly unpaid internships in the editorial departments of medium sized magazines, I came to the conclusion that there simply aren’t enough jobs in journalism to go round.

Fact. As a copywriter, you will earn more than a journalist.

As a young journo, I was charging £70 a day for my services. As a much more experienced, seasoned, professional copywriter, I’m now able to command sums of £200-250 a day for my services. But the truth is that copywriting is a much more difficult skill than journalistic writing, and not all of you are going to make the cut. Here’s why.

Could you work in sales?

Many people, particuarly English Lit graduates, have a strong aversion to sales. They become journalists because they want to foist their opinions on the world. If that’s you, give up now. Copywriting isn’t your game.

The aim of a professional copywriter is simple: To produce copy that sells. To have ideas that result in copy that sells. In other words, simply, to sell.

Made the cut? Read on.

Now you’ve decided to devote your life to sales, you should probably be aware of the competition. I’m a London based copywriter and I’m competing, by and large, with companies and individuals outside of London. Why? Because “Copywriter London” generates a lot more leads than “Copywriter Norwich” or “Copywriter Middlesbrough”. Yet agencies based in both these cities rank higher on Google for “Copywriter London” than I do, because they’ve been around for longer, or spend more on SEO than my budget allows. The same would be true if you’re a copywriter starting out in New York or Chicago or Sydney.

Are you big league or small league?

Premium clients are associated with premium cities. You might find a niche by promoting yourself as number one copywriter in, say, Chichester or West Sussex, but you’ll never score big accounts. Be prepared for the hell of trying to squeeze £150 out of a local business for SEO, or the Dante’s Inferno of collecting even microscopic payments from absent minded sole traders. In short, if you want to be a copywriter in London or any other major city, you’re going to have to play tough. And if you want to find a ‘niche’ market, you’re going to have to be prepared to be paid less and / or spend more time chasing invoices.

I chose to market myself as a copywriter in London because, firstly, that’s where I am. And secondly, I wanted a shot at the big leagues. You’ll have to make a similar choice.

At last! Your quick start guide to being a copywriter.

  • Get a website. Make sure it’s good. Unless you’ve already got tons of agency experience or other contacts, chances are these days most of your enquiries will come from the web. Your website is more than just your digital marker. It’s a virtual handshake — can you project a confident image online?
  • Blog. Blog, blog and blog again. You’re a writer, right? So write. Not only will regular blogging serve as brilliant SEO, giving you more landing pages and keywords to get your business noticed,  it’s a great place to display your writing talents, especially if your portfolio is weak.
  • Set your prices low. If you’re just starting out, the chances are you aren’t the best copywriter in the world yet. Don’t worry. You’ll learn. Until you can be the best, you’re best off trying to be the cheapest. People are always looking for a bargain, and your portfolio will start to get bigger — enabling you to charge more.
  • Read, read, read about writing. Copyblogger is a great place to start. And you’re here, which is good. There’s so much more to copywriting than just being able to write good sales copy. Once you’ve learned those basics, consider learning about SEO, about pay-per-click advertising, and of course, about how copy integrates with design.
  • Constantly evaluate yourself.How could you have improved on that last job? What will you do better next time? Did you handle your client well — did you argue with them too much, or were you a total pushover? How’s your site doing for your chosen keywords?

The most important advice of all: financial advice.

As a freelancer, people will either forget about your or try to bully you. Make sure you take a deposit up-front and make sure you get as much money as possible before starting out. Most clients are on the level. Some will try to wriggle out of payment, and you’ll find yourself writing them off as lost causes. But even reputable clients sometimes make you wait up to 90 days for payment. So if you’re useless at managing your own finances, stick to your day job.

Still need more help? Leave a comment here and I’ll try to give you some more personal advice.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, September 30th, 2010 at 3:50 pm and is filed under Blog, Me and my business. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


  1. Mia says:

    ‘English Lit grads have a strong aversion to sales’. Never was there a more true assertion.

    As an Eng lit grad and ex-journo starting out in copy writing too, I have just grasped this fact. I am now managing to suppress my Marxist tendencies and embracing my inner saleswoman. How ironic that only the rich can afford to do journalism these days.

    Love your site, and thank you for the advice.

  2. Rob Taylor says:

    Dead right Mia and Alistaire – establishing that sales mindset is key, but the great thing is that combining a talent for words with an eye for marketing/selling will also make you a stronger writer. It’s a win-win, even if it takes a while to master.

    My biggest challenge starting off has been convincing people that I’m as savvy as copywriter as I was a journo. Oh, aside from transforming the countless initial inquiries into solid business. Any tips Alistaire?

    Thanks! Rob

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