I got a note from a reader who aspires to a copywriting career and wanted to know how best to get started. Here was my reply, in the simplest form possible:
1) Keep on reading the Copywriter’s Roundtable!
2) Get some books on copywriting and study them.
3) Get on the mailing list of companies you think you could write for (your areas of interest and expertise).
4) Study those sales letters they send you too (the ones that make you want to buy, copy out by hand 3X).
5) Contact one of the companies (the marketing director or product manager, if you can find them).
6) Offer to write a sales letter “on spec” — which means they pay you if they like it.
7) Keep doing that until you have a portfolio of letters and some regular clients who hire you often.
Starting local is a good idea.
Businesses use sales letters and brochures to sell to other businesses (this is “B2B” copywriting) and then there’s the business-to-consumer market (“B2C”). There’s also non-profit, but that can be a slow and less lucrative beginning. Better to get into that later, after honing your skills.
Look to the field you’re already working in, too.
If you’ve been focusing on one area in particular, you’re no doubt pretty knowledgeable about the products and the customers you service.
Maybe enough that you could write marketing copy for that niche.
Of course, companies with information products, software companies, computer equipment companies, publishing companies… can all be good places to start.
You want to use each job as leverage to get your next assignment.
Try to make each assignment that you get a little larger and more ambitious than the last.
The more knowledge you get, start offering to give talks for companies and communities on how to use good copy to increase sales… and let people know, after the speech, that you’re a provider of those services.
Find a good graphic designer (with direct mail experience, preferably) and form a “team” where you each try to bring in the other as part of new jobs.
Again, you’re sure to have some hurdles in the beginning. And you need to expect to take at least six months to a year… maybe even just a little longer… to get good enough at this and established enough to make it a real career.