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OK, so, it’s been… Uh, close to a year since I updated this blog. Since that’s a long ass break at best, or an act of extreme laziness at worst, I feel I should take a minute to explain where I’ve been.

Basically, I’ve been so busy growing my freelance business this past few months that I haven’t really had time for much of anything else. This past year, I went from part time to full time, and to generate more leads and more business to keep me busy, I spent a lot of time pitching clients on freelance sites, job boards, marketing forums, agencies and so on. To put it bluntly, I’ve been busier than a bee. And I’m loving it.

Of course, this actually ties in perfectly with the subject of this blog (copywriting as a career), so perhaps this “extended leave of absence” has been a blessing in disguise, providing me with additional insights to bring to the table.

Who knows.

Anyway, without any further ado, let’s get on to the main subject of this post:

Honing Your Skills As A Copywriter

Out of all the skills people use to start online freelancing businesses, copywriting tends to be  the most popular.

The reason?

Copywriting appears to lie at the intersection of fields that pay well, and fields that a lot of people could get started in with little training.

I don’t think it takes a lot of proof to show that good copywriters can command respectable fees. Anyone can see why effective sales copy is worth a lot of money, and if you’ve snooped around on freelancing sites much, you’ll know that direct response copywriting jobs typically pay a good bit more than other types of jobs.

Copywriting isn’t the only field that pays well, of course.

But what makes copywriting different from the other skills that people typically pay well for, is that it seems like something that just about anybody could do.

After all, YOU know how to write… don’t you?

How hard could it be to learn how to write something that makes a product or service sell?

It’s this line of reasoning that tends to lead a lot of would-be copywriters down the road to disappointment.

Although direct-response copywriting is not a highly technical skill, it is a skill that takes a while to learn. It takes a lot of practice and study to get good at copywriting, and most importantly, it takes an ability to empathize and connect with people that most technically-skilled writers do not actually possess. It’s been repeated many times before, but it bears repeating again: copywriting is selling. In fact, copywriting is so thoroughly and completely a form of selling, that you could almost say that if you’re a stereotypical reclusive “tortured artist” writer of short stories and human interest pieces, you shouldn’t get into it!

… But I’ll stop short of actually endorsing that statement.

Getting Real

The truth is, most people who try to become freelance copywriters fail; not for a lack of effort, but simply because their skills just aren’t there. And to be completely honest, this is a good thing: to build a copywriting business, you need to BE a good copywriter (i.e. good at writing prospecting e-mails and so on), so every copywriter who can’t land a gig spares his would-be clients a bad investment.

In other words, if you’re not landing any copywriting jobs, you probably shouldn’t be landing any copywriting jobs.

The good news is, copywriting is a very learnable skill. And, most of the resources you need to learn it (books and courses) are available for free. I’m not going to list all these resource in one place. But I will offer some tips that, I think, will get you headed in the right direction.

1. Read A Lot Of Ads

Read magazine ads, sales letters, TV commercial scripts… Anything that features quality copy can serve as effective instructional material. Pick up a copy of adweek magazine if you want to see some quality copywriting along with some ideas ABOUT copywriting in one place. If you want to write direct response copy, look at the sales letters for the top performing products on Clickbank.com.

2. Write Even If You Don’t Have Any Jobs Left

Just because you don’t have any jobs yet, doesn’t mean you can’t practice writing copy. Hone your chops by writing copy for imaginary businesses. Or better yet, write copy for real businesses (for free) and offer it to them as a sample. Not only will this get you some much needed practice, it may land you some real jobs down the road!

3. Be Your Own Copywriter

Here’s a question for you. Other than cold-calling, how do you land copywriting gigs? That’s right, by sending out pitches to clients! Writing pitches is itself copywriting, of course, so the more you pitch and tweak your e-mails, the better a copywriter you become. Talk about killing two birds with one stone!

4. Read “The Classics”

Lastly, as a copywriter, you’d be a fool not to learn from those who came before you. The copywriting field has many established classics that can shortcut your learning curve and save you having to learn the hard way. Here are some good ones to check out:

Advertising Secrets Of The Written Word, by Joe Sugarman
The Ultimate Sales Letter, by Dan Kennedy
Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets, by John Carlton
The Irresistable Offer, by Mark Joyner
Breakthrough Advertising, By Eugene Shwarz

All of these books will serve as great primers on copywriting tactics AND psychology, and are considered the “textbooks” of copywriting.

One Last Note

Before you go ahead and implement the advice in this post, I urge you to check out www.copyblogger.com, a website that has TONS of copywriting information available for FREE. This will spare you the expense of building up a library of books before you’re sure copywriting is for you.

Alright, that’s it for next week.

Be sure to check in next week, as I’ll be publishing the second installment in this series on copywriting as a career. The topic for the next section will be “Getting Jobs.”

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