Who for? Aspiring copywriters; current copywriters seeking validation

How long? 6 minutes

Much as I loathed that wallflower film (I just didn’t get the appeal of angst-filled, complaining teens absorbing two hours of my life), its title did give me an idea for a post. I recently discussed what copywriting is. Now I’ll be covering its main perks and a few pitfalls for anyone interested in finding out more.

Welcome to The Perks of Being a Copywriter.

Perk #1: Variety becomes the spice of your life.

Copywriters can work on any online or print material, from press ads to billboards, digital banner ads to websites, brochures to TV and radio ads. So you could be creating copy for an email marketing campaign one minute, drafting a script the next and thinking of ideas for an experiential stunt the next. Although it’s true that one small task can take months between rounds of revisions, overall a copywriter’s workload is diverse and rarely boring.

Pitfalls to the perk…

The only time when boredom does kick in is during the review stage, when work can grind to a halt. You’re essentially waiting around to be handed the client’s feedback or for a new brief, rather than being able to generate work yourself.

Tip: Freelancing is great in situations like these as you can juggle a couple of projects simultaneously and avoid the ‘tunnel vision’ of being stuck on one job for too long. Make your work as varied as you can and you’ll produce fresher, more creative, content as a result.

Perk #2: You get paid to be a pedant…

…instead of being slapped in the face. Finally, you’re justified in correcting people’s misuse of apostrophes and their overuse of the word ‘literally’ because that’s your job. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Pitfalls to the perk…

God help you if you ever make any mistakes of your own. Believe me, people will be merciless. And even if you’re a grammatical guru whose imperfect tense somehow manages to be perfect, you’ll start noticing other people’s errors more than ever. You’re always switched on, and in a sense, always working – whether it’s reading your chick-lit novel on holiday or an email from your best friend, that typo will stick out like a tired hitchhiker’s sore thumb.

Perk #3: Timeouts are encouraged.

When I worked as an agency copywriter, our Creative Director said time and time again, “Guys, you have to get away from the Macs. Go out and grab a coffee, go for a walk by the canal…whatever it takes to get those ideas flowing”. Emmm…hello, dream job! But he was right. It’s fine to start banging away on the keys when you have something to say but ideas for content rarely appear when staring at your computer screen. Little breaks are important – but that doesn’t mean trawling through Facebook or checking out the online sales, either. You need to physically remove yourself from the pull of your screen, take out a pen and paper instead and open your mind up to ideas.

Pitfalls to the perk…

Obviously, you can’t take the piss*. If you have a deadline due, you can’t just up and leave for ‘creative space’. Similarly, if working as a freelancer and only in a company for a few days, you won’t make the best impression by going walkabouts while you think.

Tip: What I normally do is grab a few scraps of paper, make some space at my desk (or find a spare room if there’s one available) and start scribbling down/drawing up ideas. I don’t touch my keyboard until there’s some kind of structure on paper, even if it’s only a title and a few bullets.

*Expression popular in Ireland and the UK, meaning ‘to take advantage of a situation or person’.

Perk #4: You’re always in demand.

Content will always need to be written. So there will always be a demand for what you can supply. And even though jobs in the media, advertising and marketing sectors may seem sparse (because they are often advertised internally), there is plenty of work out there. As soon as you start building up a network of contacts, letting people know you’re available and proving the standard of your work, the jobs will come. This is especially true for freelancers, since many clients and agencies prefer to hire short-term contractors over full-time staff.

Pitfalls to the perk…

Rest assured, work is available but it’s not exactly consistent. You might find yourself inundated between August and December and having to turn away jobs, only to experience total tumbleweed weeks soon after.

Tip: Instead of waiting for the phone to ring, you can be proactive by putting yourself out there in terms of a personal blog or website, building up a presence on LinkedIn and managing jobs more efficiently to keep yourself occupied. Just make sure not to say yes to everything when you are busy for fear of the quieter months. You don’t want your work to suffer as a result.

NOTE: The following ‘perks’ are related more to freelance than full-time copywriting. Because that’s what I do now and for me, that’s where the perks of being a copywriter really shine.

Perk #5: You can choose your own hours.

If you’re not a 9-to-5 office type, freelance copywriting might be just the job for you. You can get up at 6am and get all your work done in the early hours or, if you’re more night owl than early bird, work to deadlines in the evening instead. Fit in those errands at a time that suits you instead of cramming them into your lunch break. Meet friends for morning coffees, go for a jog when it’s not rush hour madness – your work day can be as flexible as you like.

Become one of those people who works to live, rather than lives to work. Whether you want to spend more time with your kids or learn a new hobby or simply to work in your own environment, you can tip the work-life balance in your favour.

Pitfalls to the perk…

Although working from home may sound very appealing, it can be really hard to motivate yourself without any clear structure to your day. It can also get quite lonely not having anyone to talk to. I’ve noticed myself waffling away to a baffled barista when I drop in for a coffee, so surprised am I to hear my own voice. As is often the case, so desperate am I for a change of scene that I’ll happily become one of those annoying people tapping away on their laptop for hours in a café.

Other times, I’ve taken on 2 short-term contracts at once (2 days in one place, 2 days in another). This may still be just a 4-day week but it meant I was getting that ‘Sunday night fear’ twice in one week…so it ain’t all sunshine and lollipops!

Perk #6: There’s more time to write that novel…

…or just to write what you never seem to have had time for before. Whether you want to set up a blog, contribute to your favourite foodie magazine or even volunteer your services to an NGO, you’ll finally have the time to write what excites you.

Pitfalls to the perk…

Personally, this one’s a big case of ‘easier said than done’. I absolutely love writing and feel so lucky that I get paid to do it – but sometimes my work can take the joy out of writing for pleasure. It can be hard to sit down and begin a blog post, an article that I’d love to get published or even a diary entry if I’ve been writing blog posts about insurance packages all day.

Tip: This is where little breaks and efficient structuring come in handy. I’ll never do the ‘work’ and ‘pleasure’ writing back-to-back. Even if the particular project I’ve been contracted to do is really interesting, I’ll still try to separate it from writing that isn’t work related.

Perk #7: You can choose where you work.

Freelance copywriters can afford to be picky. You can turn down that offer to write hundreds of Facebook posts for a beauty magazine if you don’t feel like it’s ‘you’. Or if you’re called into work for an agency for a few days and you don’t like their vibe, you’re under no obligation to go back to them for more once you’ve finished the job. So you never have to feel tied down by work again.

Pitfalls to the perk…

This situation really only applies after you’ve been knocking around the industry for a while and have build up a good reputation for yourself. To get to this point you may have to start with one or several unpaid internships, during which time you have to be at your most enthusiastic and creative in the hopes of being kept on after the agreed term. In my case, I worked extremely hard in the agency I was with to get to mid-level copywriter within a year and I was at more of a senior level when I left to freelance, knowing that I would have enough experience and contacts to keep me going. It’s much harder to become a freelance copywriter without this kind of background.

I also find that the non-committal nature of freelancing makes it hard to settle into a work environment. Many agencies and clients will require you to work from their office rather than from home. And since you’re only there on a temporary basis, it’s much harder to ‘bond’ with your colleagues. They know you’re not sticking around and will often leave you to your work without involving you in the team as they would with a new permanent recruit. Finally, working in a range of places means multiple ‘first days’. Think of how nervous you are starting a new job – doing it over and over again is a bit of a challenge.

Perk #8: Nourish your wanderlust.

The great thing about copywriting is that you can do it from pretty much anywhere, for anyone. And if you feel like globetrotting, it can be a great way to support yourself during your trip. Whether you’re earning through advertising on your travel blog, working for companies along the way (e.g. in places like Singapore or China where demand for great-quality Business English is high) or freelancing remotely for a list of contacts that you’ve built up back home, writing your way around the world is entirely possible.

Pitfalls to the perk…

Establishing contacts is easy enough; keeping them can be much harder. Because in this industry, it’s very much a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. And if you’re not around, agencies will just find someone who’s more easily contactable.

Tip: Before you go, put in the necessary preparations. Build up strong relationships with any clients or agencies that you’ve worked with, proving that you’re indispensable. Set up a portfolio website and update it with new content regularly to help potential clients find you when you’re away. I’d also recommend staying active on social media like LinkedIn, Twitter and the blogosphere just so you don’t disappear entirely off people’s radar.

Remember, you’ll be dealing with poor connectivity, transport breakdowns etc so you probably shouldn’t commit to a daily rate when you find work. Things will change when travelling so if you’re working on behalf of clients at home, you’d probably be best to charge on a per-project basis, giving you more flexibility and time to get it done. It never hurts to have a backup if the backpacking/copywriting thing doesn’t work out either – consider other ways in which you can upskill before you head off.

Perk #9: You can make a pretty penny for yourself.

Although the average wage is pretty low for an entry-level copywriter, you can start to earn a good deal more once you establish yourself, particularly if that’s as a freelancer. Since your work in a given place will only be temporary, you need to charge higher rates to make it worthwhile. And since your skills are fairly niche, a business will be happy to pay up for your expertise.

Pitfalls to the perk…

There will come a time when work seems to dry up completely for a while. So never underestimate your value to a company because you may not know where your next paycheck is coming from. Also, if working as a freelancer, you’ll be responsible for your own tax and you’ll need to set aside close to 30% of your earnings for that.

Tip: Look around and see what other copywriters charge for their services (in my case, as a senior copywriter it’s €370 per day, or €80 per hour) and work out what seems reasonable for you.

To wrap up…

Copywriting can be a challenging, varied, lucrative and flexible work experience. But it also involves a frustrating climb to anywhere near the top, with a lot of uncertainty when you get there. These pitfalls may be off-putting to some but for me, the perks are enough to remind me how lucky I am to do this for a living.

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