Learning how to write great copy can be an excellent career move. You can make a good amount of money while flexing your creative muscles and working in a flexible setting.
The best part: You also don’t need any formal education. In fact, some of the most sought after and highest-paid copywriters in the world never took a writing class in their life and clear six figures a year.
In this post, we’ll show you how to get started as a copywriter — even if you don’t have any experience. From there, we’ll share our founder Ramit Sethi’s best tips for sharpening your copywriting skills.
What is a copywriter and what do they do?
A copywriter is anyone who is paid to write content that entices readers to take action — in other words, copywriters write the words used for marketing products and/or services. This includes things like:
- Sales pages
- Email funnels
- Landing pages
- Blog posts/articles
- Social media posts
- White papers
- Case studies
- Advertisements (both print and digital)
- Video scripts
Despite the name, copywriters are more than just writers. They’re writers, salespeople, and behavioral psychologists all rolled into one. To be a good copywriter, you need to learn to master all those elements.
Luckily, it’s easy to start gathering the experience you need.
How To Make Money Copywriting
Copywriting salaries vary a lot depending on what setting you work in (more on that in the next section).
According to Glassdoor, the median salary for copywriters in the U.S. is $58,465/year, but this is for writers who work in house or for an established agency.
When you work as a freelancer, you can make a lot more (or less) depending on the amount of work you take on. The sky’s the limit when it comes to your income as a freelance copywriter, and it’s not unheard of for writers to have steady six-figure salaries.
Working as a Copywriter: Freelance vs In-House
There are two main settings that you can work in as a copywriter:
- In-house. Working for a company or marketing agency.
- Freelance. Working as a freelance copywriter (aka being your own boss).
And both have their pros and cons.
Pros of In-House Copywriting
- Stable income and benefits
- Mentorship if you work under an experienced copywriter
- Potential to work for big, well-known brands
Cons of In-House Copywriting
- You get paid the same amount of money, even if your work generates millions of dollars
- You’ll have less flexibility in your schedule
- You might have to work on projects you’re not passionate about
Pros of Freelance Copywriting
- You can start as a side hustle, allowing you to see if you really like copywriting before making it a full-time career
- Choose your own hours, projects, and rates
- Be your own boss and work from anywhere
Cons of Freelance Copywriting
- Unstable income — including lean periods where you have very little work coming in. May have to take jobs you don’t enjoy
- It may be hard to stay motivated without anyone keeping you in check
For this post, I’m going to focus on creating your own freelance copywriting hustle — even if you have no experience.
How to Start Copywriting – from Zero Experience to Professional
The art of copywriting (and doing it well) is one you’ll learn with experience — so you might not be great at it if you’re just starting out at first.
Learn How to Write Persuasively
You don’t have to have a creative writing degree to learn how to be a copywriter, but you do have to know how to persuade readers to take action. The good news is that this can be learned by studying those who’ve done it already.
These resources are a great place to start:
Practice Writing (and Build Your Portfolio)
Now that you’ve learned about copywriting fundamentals and studied some masterclass examples, it’s time to take action by actually practicing your copywriting skills.
Here are some perfect practice opportunities that you can work on today:
- Write the copy for your newly-formed copywriting business. Even if you don’t have a website, you can still write a solid description of your business.
- Offer to write for your friends or family if they have small businesses that need copy.
- Offer your copywriting services on sites like Upwork and Fiverr. These sites typically don’t pay well, but if you have no experience, it’s a great place to start.
- Write a pitch email to your dream client – bonus points if you actually send it!
Find Your Copywriting Niche
With some writing practice under your belt, you can start to get a feel for the niche you want to pursue. Your niche is the specific area and audience you’re going to target as a copywriter.
“But why would I want to limit myself? Wouldn’t I get more work if I open myself up to more people?”
It’s paradoxical — but you’ll actually be able to find more work AND charge more if you niche down your audience and specialization.
So first, think about what role you want to own — and there are a lot of them.
- Emails / Sales funnels
- Social media / Community management
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Digital advertising (PPC)
- Blog posts / Articles
- Video / Podcast scripts
There’s no right answer here. The important thing is you pick what’s interesting to you and get started. And you can always change it later if it’s not the right fit.
Now you’re going to niche down your target market.
This will be your prospective clients. Ask yourself:
- What industry are they in?
- What are their services?
- How do they use copy currently?
Once you have the answer to those questions, you can come up with your niched-down role.
Here are a few examples:
- Email funnel copywriter for SaaS companies
- Social media manager for nonprofits
- Blog posts for personal finance websites
Once you know how you want to approach your copywriting hustle, it’s time to find your first clients.
Find Your First Copywriting Client
Finding clients for a copywriting side hustle can be a little intimidating — especially when you’re new.
Luckily, once you find your first few clients, the process becomes MUCH simpler, since they’re likely to refer you to their network (more on this later).
There are a lot of different ways you can find your first client. And you already have a lot of different platforms to find work as a copywriter.
Above, we mentioned one of the most popular: Upwork, a job and gig site catered toward freelancers.
Getting started with the website is simple. You simply create a freelancer profile and start applying for various projects on the site such as copywriting, SEO, social media, and more.
It should be noted that while Upwork can be a great place to find clients and build a portfolio, you shouldn’t necessarily rely on it to find all of your clients.
Instead, we suggest you go to where your clients spend time online. This means going to message boards, forums, and websites your client might frequent can be incredibly helpful.
- Are you a graphic designer? Find a Facebook or subreddit group for small business owners who need your services.
- Are you a writer for a niche industry? Start answering questions on Quora regarding your niche.
- Maybe you’re a video editor. Find online groups for bloggers looking to expand their content media.
Start going to these places and providing value. Not only that, but you should be doing it consistently. I’m talking every day for AT LEAST one hour a day.
By being engaged and providing immense value, you’ll build a network of clients organically and develop a rock-steady reputation.
Defining Your Price as a Freelance Copywriter
Knowing what to charge for your freelance work can be confusing, especially when you’re first starting out.
There are four main pricing models that freelancer writers can use:
- Hourly. You set an hourly rate and a client will pay you per hour. The benefit for the client is that they mitigate their risk since they can just stop paying you whenever they want if they’re dissatisfied. It also stops the clients from piling on work without paying you.
- By project. You’ll know exactly what you’re getting paid for an entire project, with more concrete deliverables for the client. This method is nice because when you’re done with the project, you’re done. So you might end up getting paid more than your hourly rate. However, you do run the risk of the client adding more work onto the project as you move along, so communication about what a “project” entails is important.
- By retainer. Your client will pay you a set amount monthly. This allows the client to have access to you at any given time during that month. As a beginner, you’re probably not going to find a client who is willing to hire you on retainer until you’ve built up enough experience working with them. However, it’s a good goal to have and something to keep in mind as you get into freelance marketing.
- Commission/bonus. This payment model can work in conjunction with all of the other ones and can provide a healthy incentive for you to get your work done. For instance, if your client promises you a $1,000 bonus for attaining X amount of leads with your landing pages.
If you’re a beginner, we suggest you charge hourly, because most clients are going to be unsure about whether or not you’ll be able to do a good job. As such, they might not want to give you a fat project fee.
Once you’ve gotten your first three or so clients though, then you can move on to different pricing models.
How Much Should You Charge Per Hour as a Freelance Copywriter?
When it comes to how much exactly you should be charging, there’s no right answer. When in doubt, charge at the lower end of the median when you’re a beginner, and raise your prices from there as you get more experience (by the way, the median hourly rate for a freelance copywriter is $34.16 according to Payscale).
How Much Should You Charge Per Page as a Freelance Copywriter?
If you want to charge based on the type of content you’re writing, check out this chart from professional copywriter Abbey Woodcock. She surveyed 68 copywriters for GrowthLab to find out how much they charged:
First, there’s a HUGE disparity between a highly experienced copywriter and a beginner copywriter. This should be encouraging for anyone just getting started.
Also, even when you’re a relative beginner, you’re still making a good amount of money for your services. Say you write an “About” page for a company and charge $85. If that “About” page only took you an hour to write, that’s a fantastic ROI on the time spent.
Ramit Sethi’s tips for improving your copywriting skills
The following advice is from our founder, Ramit Sethi, who has been a copywriter for over 15 years. He’s written everything from a New York Times Bestselling book to million dollar sales pages – so he knows his stuff.
Tip #1. Focus on the reader
This sounds so obvious, right? Aren’t all writers focused on the reader? Nah-ah. Not at all. It’s shocking how often writers lose focus when they’re writing. In fact, a lot of writers sit down at their desk, stare at a blank page for a minute, think, “What should I say? What should I say….?” And then wham! They’ll just dive right into whatever they feel like writing about. They go off on long tangents. They inject their writing with random stories. And they make everything about themselves (this is “I, I, I syndrome”). In the process, they kill their writing.
Mediocre writers talk about themselves. Great copywriters write about what their readers care about. This takes planning. You also must be meticulous about the actual words you use (which we’ll cover later in this post). But it’s important to know: the best writers focus their copy on their readers — not themselves.
Tip #2. Focus on learning more.
Good copywriters never stop improving. They don’t wake up one day and think, “Wow, my writing is perfect; I’ll never have to change it again.” That would be absurd.
Beyond that, they’re constantly investing in themselves. They read books on copywriting and marketing. They buy the newest courses. And they read other copywriter’s stuff to stay in the loop. They know it’s important to stay sharp and always keep up-leveling their skills.
Tip #3. Be humble.
Good copywriters aren’t fighting tooth and nail to defend every idea they have. They’re always looking for feedback. That could mean they show their first draft to a friend to see if it’s interesting. Or it might mean reaching out to customers directly for their take. Good copywriters know that getting feedback on their early first drafts helps their writing improve by 10x or even 100x. They don’t see feedback as criticism. They see it as an opportunity to improve their work.
Notice that I don’t say anything about grammar or editing skills. Those things are important, but you can develop those skills — over time — with practice. What I pointed out are the mindsets that you MUST bring to the table.
You can work on your technical writing skills later on, but if you’re starting out with the wrong frame of mind, you’ll never make it as a copywriter.
So adopt these mindsets. If you do, you’ll already be 90% of the way to being a good copywriter.
Imagine you’re sitting at a bar with your closest friends. You’re having a few drinks and chatting away.
After a few minutes, your friend asks you, “What does your business do again?”
Would you read off the mission statement from a company about page and say something like, “we’re on a mission to drastically reduce process inefficiencies for our valued clients”?
No. If you used stiff words and robotic phrases like that, he’d look at you like you were crazy.
So what would you do? You’d take a sip of your drink and just start talking, using simple words and stories.
Good copywriting works the same way.
It’s not super-dense technical material. It uses short sentences and reads the way people talk.
If you want to be a copywriter, read everything you write out loud. If you find yourself thinking, “There’s no way I would ever say that,” trash it and start over.
Tip #5: Write to your reader
Every time you write, you should focus on your reader. One of the best ways to do that is to stop talking about YOURSELF and talk to your audience. That means drop all the “my”s and “I”s in your copy and start saying “you.”
- NO: “My customers don’t like studying — maybe I can help them shortcut the studying process!”
- YES: “Do you hate studying and do anything to avoid it? Do you wait until the last minute even if you have an exam the next morning to even touch your paper?”
- NO: “I’m proud of the results that I’ve helped my readers achieve.”
- YES: “You will see extraordinary results. Our team has helped thousands of people, just like you, create breakthrough after breakthrough in their business. Now it’s your turn.”
- NO: “I know you’d benefit from our services. I’ve helped dozens of people lose weight.”
- YES: “If you skip a day of going to the gym, who holds you accountable? That makes it easier to skip two…then three…then suddenly, you wake up and found you haven’t worked out for a month. We’ll make sure never happens to you again — so you look and feel incredible.”
Do you see the difference? When you write to your reader, you turn tired, boring writing into exciting and relevant copy.
Tip #6: Bring your writing to life with specifics
Vague copy is might as well not exist. It doesn’t get people excited or even keep them reading. So any time you find your copy drifting into the clouds, you should try to bring it back down to the ground level with some specific examples. Take a look at these simple edits to vague copy that make them exponentially more powerful:
- Boring: “I don’t like commuting.”
- Specific: “Every single day, I wake up and think ‘Oh God, I can’t take yet another 45-minute of sitting through gridlocked traffic just to get to some job that I don’t even like.’”
- Boring: “You’ll have freedom and flexibility.”
- Specific: “Want to take a break from work and see a movie at 1 pm on a random Wednesday? You can do that. Have a friend in town and want to meet him for lunch? You can do that, too — and no you won’t have to ask your boss if it’s okay.”
- Boring: “You’ll look great.”
- Specific: “You’ll finally be able to fit into your high school jeans and be the envy of all your friends.”
These simple tweaks will make all of your writing much stronger.
And once you understand how to apply these frameworks, you can start earning money right away. Let me show you what I mean.
Tip #7: You can earn money while you practice your skills
Copywriting can be a lucrative career, but you don’t have to go all in when you start out. You can earn a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars per month doing it on the side — in as little as a few hours per week.
How? Think about it like this: every company has something they need to sell, but not every company knows how.
They may have an amazing product or brilliant idea, but no idea how to get people to buy it.
That’s where you, as a copywriter, come in. You can help them sell their products and services better.
All you have to do is work with them on the copy in their sales letters, emails, and on their website.
Think of how horrible sales pitches you’ve gotten. You don’t have to be a great copywriter to do better. And as long as you beat the competition you can earn good money.
There are thousands of people looking for these types of jobs every day. The only hard part is selecting good clients to work with (some people just don’t value copywriting — and that’s okay).
Most copywriters end up chasing low-paying gigs and working with clients who don’t value their services.