Five Essential Skills For A Copywriter

A lot of people want to make a living from their writing, but very few are able to do so. If you’re keen on being a copywriter for websites and businesses, these five skills will help you stand out from the pack:

1. A good grasp of spelling, punctuation and grammar

Obviously! Readers and editors appreciate accurate writing. It needs less editing and allows the message to be the focus.

To avoid simple errors, use your spell checking software and, if possible, get someone else to proofread your work. If you can’t do that, read it out loud. You’ll spot things you’d often miss on the page.

2. Familiarity with different Content Management Systems

A CMS is a platform used for the creation and publication of digital content, like WordPress or Joomla. Different companies use different software, but each CMS works in a similar way. For instance, most have a template for inputting writing without additional coding, making it quick and easy to upload content. However, a little understanding of HTML can go a long way, as it allows you to perfectly format and personalise your writing.

If you’re unfamiliar with the CMS a new client uses, take the time to get to know the system. You can start by examining how their content is formatted, then look on the CMS to see exactly how it was created. You can then use this as a model for your own work. It’s also worth checking out online tutorials for extra insight: there are often useful shortcuts and hacks that will make your life a lot easier.

3. Know (a bit) about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

As a copywriter, it can be depressing to think about your work in terms of keywords and SEO, but it’s a big part of the game. After all, there’s no point writing something incredible if no one ever finds it. A lot of what you need to know is very straightforward, thankfully. From a writer’s perspective, it’s about having a clear and informative title, breaking up your text with relevant headings, using keywords throughout, and including appropriate links. Nothing too scary!

It’s like a pitch: you’re giving a short and clear explanation of your piece and who it is designed for so that it makes it to the right audience.

There is more to be done behind the scenes, but most websites will do a lot of the trickier work for you. They’ll often have SEO-savvy staff who can add the metadata that search engines ‘read’ to understand and rank a website. However, learning the basics gives you control of your work and makes you a low-hassle copywriter for most editors, so it’s worth looking into. Plus, you can apply the same techniques to your own blog and website.

4. Be creative with image software

Again, many websites have lovely people who will add and edit images for you, but having this skill gives you even greater control over the content you create. Even the ability to crop images and resize them will make a big difference.

If you are using your own photos, make sure to include copyright info to prevent them from being stolen. If you’re using someone else’s image, ensure you have consent. Have a look at free image websites like Pixabay, as the copyright permissions are clearly expressed for every picture.

5. Get comfortable with self-promotion

It’s exhausting and awkward, but we all have to “sell ourselves” for our work, answering pitch after pitch and hustling for every commission.

The good news is, the internet makes this easy. An email is much less scary than a phone call, and can give your potential client a taste of your writing style and accuracy. The same goes for promotion on social media, with the advantage that you can make personal links and networks on these platforms. If companies know and like you as a person, they’re much more likely to seek you out as a professional.

If you’re sending out speculative work enquiries, try to take the lead from the company you’re approaching. Most will make it clear on their website or social media how to contact them. Don’t be afraid to send a short follow-up message if you don’t hear back after a few weeks, but be prepared for radio silence. Keep a record of who you’ve contacted and when, and build relationships with the companies who do hire you. They might be the reference you need to secure your next commission.

Ultimately, good writing is the starting point for getting work as a copywriter, but you’re entering into a crowded marketplace. Think about the skills beyond the writing to make you stand out and create content that best represents your talents.

Emma Millward is a writer and editor based in Birmingham. You can see examples of her work on her website and follow her on Twitter.

Inspiring Interns is a recruitment agency specialising in all the internships and graduate jobs London has to offer.