Copywriting is one of those rare skill sets that is both highly accessible AND highly lucrative.
- Businesses are hiring copywriters like crazy.
- Good copywriters can easily earn six figures.
- Most copywriters today work remotely.
- Copywriters don’t need formal training or education.
In this guide, I’m going to teach you, step by step, how to become a copywriter and earn six figures within the next calendar year.
I’ve been a freelance copywriter since 2013. I went full time in 2016 and earned around $80k. I netted $130k the following year and $220k in 2018.
I’m certainly not the best, the fastest, or the smartest. I know copywriters who hit six figures in their first year and were well past $300k by year three.
But unlike many people who succeed for one reason or another, I have a very good understanding of WHY I was able to hit my goals and grow my business.
As a result, in this guide, you aren’t just going to learn how I became a six figure copywriter. You are going to learn how you can become one as well.
If you already understand what it means to be a copywriter, click here to jump to the “how to”.
Otherwise, let’s establish some context first.
What Is A Copywriter?
A copywriter is someone who creates written messaging for a business or organization, usually with the intent to sell or promote a product, service, or brand.
When you read a book, you are reading the work of an author.
When you read any type of written message from a business, organization or brand, you are reading the work of a copywriter.
A lot of people mistake the word “copywriter” as being connected to “copyright”, but they are not related in any way.
A copyright is a legal term denoting intellectual property.
A copywriter is someone who creates the written messaging for a business, brand, or organization.
What Does A Copywriter Do?
Copywriters spend most of their time… writing copy.[insert shocked pikachu face]
There are some additional steps that can go into the process of writing copy:
- Ask good questions to obtain key info
- Research competitors
- Choose the appropriate copywriting framework
- Plan out each section of copy
- Get feedback from stakeholders
- Go through rounds of editing
But the vast majority of a copywriter’s time is spent writing and rewriting the copy itself.
If you are employed as a copywriter, this will account for 75% of your time, with the other 25% going toward meetings, performance & feedback review, and collaborating with other types of marketers working on your same project.
If you are a freelance copywriter, writing might only account for 25% of your time, with the other 75% going toward pitching, managing your clients, running your business, and marketing your brand.
Click here to learn more about what a copywriter does.
Types Of Copywriting You See Every Day
You read copy constantly.
When you see an ad with words on it, you are reading ad copy.
When you see a social media post from a brand you follow, you a reading social media copy.
When you visit a website, you are reading website copy.
When you get an email from a brand, business, organization, or influencer, you are reading email copy.
When you read a blog post like this, you a reading blog copy.
What makes these things “copy” is that they are intended to drive an action with the ultimate intent of selling you something.
Sometimes, the goal is to get the you to act immediately. This type of copywriting is referred to as “direct response copywriting”.
Examples of direct response copywriting include:
- A Twitter ad designed to get an ad click
- A billboard designed to make you turn at the next exit and visit the establishment
- A landing page designed to get an email signup
- An email designed to get a message in “reply”
- A product description designed to drive an “Add to Cart” click
Sometimes, immediate action isn’t the goal. The reader might not be in the position to take immediate action when they read the copy, or having them take immediate action might not be the priority. This type of copy doesn’t have a snappy name, but the concept of marketing now for results down the road is essentially branding.
Examples of branding-focused copywriting include:
- A magazine ad designed to expose readers to the brand
- A blog post designed to educate and connect with the reader
- A white paper designed to establish the brand’s authority
These types of copywriting want an action at some point:
- The magazine ad wants the reader to think about the brand and buy down the road.
- The blog post wants the reader to recommend the blog to others, signup for the email list, and probably buy something later.
- The white paper wants the reader to purchase from the brand or refer a purchase down the road.
The difference is that this type of copywriting isn’t designed to drive an immediate action, and that’s important, because attempting to drive an immediate action is counterproductive in many marketing scenarios.
Imagine if every blog post you read tried to get you to buy something immediately. Imagine if every blog post was so focused on getting your email signup that it cut off the article’s key conclusion and made you signup to read it. You’d probably be annoyed and leave.
Both branding scenarios and direct response scenarios make up an important part of the marketing process.
Click here to see the ten types of copywriting that will make you the most money.
Copywriter Salaries Depend On Your Career Path
Obviously, with all this copywriting everywhere, there’s a LOT of demand for copywriters.
If you want to tap into this demand, there are three main ways to do it:
- Work as a staff copywriter at an agency
- Work as a copywriter for an in-house marketing team
- Become a freelance copywriter
If you want a deep look into how much each of these roles can earn, check out my guide to copywriter salaries.
Here’s the TLDR:
- Agency copywriters start at an average of $47k and work up to an average of $88k.
- In-house copywriters start at an average $48k and work up to an average of $84k.
- Freelance copywriters are all over the place, but more than 20% are doing $100k+.
Landing an entry-level copywriting job is just a matter of drafting a good resume and acing your interview… you know… typical job stuff.
And if you live in a larger city or just get lucky with a copywriting job opening up near you, I would definitely recommend going for it and trying to spend around 2-3 years there. In an entry level position, you are essentially getting paid to be trained.
That said, this article isn’t about “how to become a copywriter and make $80k after 10 years”.
I promised you six figures, and if you want to hit that $100k mark in the next calendar year, there is only one viable option for you as a copywriter: becoming a freelance copywriter.
How To Become A Freelance Copywriter
If you want to really make bank in the next 12 months, freelancing is the only viable option.
And frankly, that’s a good thing.
People like to think that employment is more stable, but that’s not really true.
- You don’t control your salary.
- You don’t control your job security.
- You don’t control your process.
- You don’t control your time.
- You don’t control who your boss is or how they manage you.
Becoming a freelance copywriter means you take control over and responsibility for all of these things simultaneously.
It’s not easy, especially at first, but if you persist, you will find yourself with absolute control over your career and finances to a degree you never previously believed possible.
If you want to learn how to become a copywriter, follow these 5 steps:
- Learn the basics of persuasive writing
- Learn these 6 core copywriting skills
- Land your first few clients
- Develop and refine your freelancing process
- Build a stream of recurring leads
These steps aren’t easy, but they are all you need to become a successful copywriter within the next 12 months.
Let’s dive deeper into each step.
1. Learn the Basics of Persuasive Writing
Approximate Timeline: 2 hours
At its core, copywriting is simply persuasive writing.
You are writing words intended to influence the actions of your readers.
This is why copywriting is such a universally beneficial skill. The ability to persuade via writing has virtually limitless applications, regardless of job, role, or industry.
Learning the basics of persuasive writing is your first step to becoming a copywriter, and there are tons… and I means TONS… of resources available to help you accomplish this.
Don’t feel like you need to read them all.
(Tweet credit: Dave Harland)
If you pursue a career in copywriting, you will spend the rest of your life mastering persuasive writing. There is no ceiling to this skill, so don’t treat it as a prerequisite. Simply work your way through the basics and then keep moving forward down this list.
So what are “the basics” and where can you find them?
Well, here’s where I’d recommend starting:
- Ten Timeless Persuasive Writing Techniques
- Robert Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Persuasion
- 14 Persuasive Writing Techniques That Trigger A Response
These will give you a solid feel for what persuasive writing is all about. Dip your feet in and then move on to the next step.
2. Learn The 6 Core Copywriting Skills
Approximate Timeline: 12 hours
All copywriting is persuasive writing, but nobody is ever going to pay you for “persuasive writing”.
If you want to make money, you need to be able to utilize your persuasive writing abilities in writing specific types of copy that are in high demand.
I’ve identified six copywriting skills that are always in demand and constitute what I would consider “core skills” in the copywriting world. You can build your entire career on any 2-3 skills from this list, so don’t feel the need to try and learn all six, but practicing all of them certainly can’t hurt.
- Learn how to write a headline
- Learn how to write a value proposition
- Learn how to write a landing page
- Learn how to write a sales email
- Learn how to write an advertisement
- Learn how to write a video script
Headline writing is the only skill on this list that I consider absolutely essential for every single copywriter. It’s also the only skill on this list you are probably never going to get paid for directly.
Virtually every type of copywriting you do is going to include a headline of some sort, and the quality of that headline will have a disproportionate effect on the success of the entire project. The better your headlines, the more clients you’ll land and the better work you will do for those clients.
Learn how to write a headline.
Value Proposition Copywriting
A value proposition is a concise statement that communicates what a business is offering, it’s value, and who it’s intended for.
For more complex products and services, simply producing a concise statement that adequately captures the offer is a challenge unto itself.
For simpler products and services, there is an art to being able to communicate the brand’s unique value via concise, punchy phrasing.
While it’s not common for businesses to hire copywriters specifically to work on their value propositions (although I’ve had a handful of clients like this), being able to craft a strong value proposition is an integral part of writing landing page and website copy, and also comes into play in numerous other forms of copywriting.
Most importantly, it’s one of the single best ways to get a client excited about your writing. Business owners often struggle to quickly and succinctly articulate the value of their business, so helping them put together a strong value proposition will immediately create “buy in” toward you and your writing.
Learn how to write a value proposition.
Landing Page Copywriting
I would consider landing page copywriting to be the “bread and butter” of online copywriting. Every business needs a website, and the success of every website revolves around the success of a handful of landing pages.
For example, here on my own website, there are three important landing pages:
If these pages perform well, my business performs well. Period.
Every website has pages like this, and to be honest, we could even expand this concept to include all core website pages.
The main point here is that website and landing page copy is in high demand. Plus, since it’s theoretically a one-time expense, and the online success of the business revolves around the website copy, businesses are willing to pay a pretty competitive rate to make sure they get it right.
If you can do a great job at writing website and particularly landing page copy, you will never be out of work as a copywriter.
Learn everything you need to know about website copywriting.
Similar to landing page copy, email copywriting is in high demand. Everyone needs it, but unlike website copy, they need more of it every month.
While email copywriting has never been a large part of my client work, I know quite a few successful copywriters who do emails pretty much exclusively. The ongoing nature of the work makes it easy to fill up a schedule and build recurring income.
It’s also a breeze to track email “opens” and clicks, making it easy to measure your performance, improve your craft, and demonstrate the value you are bringing to the client.
Plus, with thousands of templates and case studies publicly available, email copywriting is probably the single best starting point for new copywriters.
Learn everything you need to know about email copywriting.
Ad writing is the godfather of copywriting, and it’s more prevalent today than it’s ever been before… by leaps and bounds.
The good news is that there is never-ending demand for ad copywriting.
The bad news is that most of it, from what I can see, isn’t being done by freelance copywriters.
You basically have two major types of ad writing taking place:
- Corporate ads
- Small business ads
Corporate ad writing is done primarily by junior copywriters within advertising agencies and firms. They don’t get much credit… and they don’t make much money.
Small business ad writing is done primarily by PPC (pay-per-click) service providers. These are your Facebook Ads or Google Adwords “gurus”. You don’t pay someone to write ads for you. You pay someone to advertise for you, and they do the writing as part of the job.
Granted, this isn’t my wheelhouse, so I might be blind to certain niches of opportunity, but from where I’ve been sitting the last six years, if you want to write ads, you’ll have better luck as a PPC specialist than an “ad copywriter”.
And to be perfectly honest, if I had to start my career over from scratch today, mastering PPC would probably be the path I’d choose. But regardless of all that, ad copywriting is indisputably a staple in the market right now, and I’m sure there are freelancers somewhere making bank off ad writing.
Learn how to write an advertisement.
Video Script Copywriting
Finally, we have video scripts. I’ve written some stupidly high performing emails and some solid ads, despite neither of them being a huge chunk of my client work.
I’ve never written a video script… well, at least not one worthy of being called a video script.
I can’t give you much in the way of advice here, so I’ll just say this: video script demand is insane, and there are very few copywriters specializing in this field.
There are multi-million dollar markets built around webinars and dedicated to teaching people how to build a business through webinars. Every single webinar lives and dies by the script.
300 hours worth of video are uploaded to YouTube alone every single minute, most of it with the ultimate goal of making money. These videos all need scripts if they want to outperform their competitors.
This market is prime for the taking, and if you’re someone who is plugged into communities that revolve around video, it might be the perfect option for you to pursue.
Here’s the best resource I’ve found on writing video scripts.
Again, your goal here isn’t to master or even learn all six of these. Start with 2-3. I’d recommend that you learn how to write both headlines and value propositions first and then select a third option as the core service you will build your copywriting business around.
3. Land Your First Clients
Approximate Timeline: 3 months
There’s really only so much you can learn from reading about copywriting. 90% of learning to write copy comes from actually writing copy.
You may have noticed that the approximate timelines for the previous two sections were measured in hours.
That wasn’t an accident.
While it’s certainly essential to consume some of the fantastic materials out there on copywriting, once you’ve spent 12-15 hours reading, you’ve learned as much as you’re going to learn just from reading.
Now it’s time to start doing. It’s time to start writing copy, landing clients, and writing more copy.
If you’re the responsible type, your first thought is probably, “Wait a second, how am I supposed to charge people to write copy if I’ve never written copy before?”
Well… you’re not.
Or at least, whether or not you get paid (or how much you get paid) is irrelevant.
You need practice. Real practice.
Start With 3 Practice Projects
The first thing you should do is write the copy for your own copywriting business. If you are going to be a freelance copywriter, you are a real business owner with a real need for effective copy.
Start there. Project #1 in the books.
Next, have an established copywriter take a 5 minute look at your copy and give you some feedback. I don’t care if you don’t know an established copywriter. Find one on Twitter and message them.
Just like dating, some of them will probably say no. Who cares? Keep asking.
Next, write new copy for two additional businesses. If you have friends with businesses, write copy for them. They don’t need to be interested in paying you or even using the copy. The goal is for you to practice and get feedback from relevant people. Get as much feedback as you can get.
Once you have written copy for 3 businesses (including yours), it’s time to start looking for paying clients.
Land Your First Paying Clients
Notice I didn’t say “high paying clients”. You are looking for anyone who will flash a $20 at you in exchange for work.
“But Jacob, I’m a naturally talented writer and I deserve to be fairly compensated.”
No, you don’t.
You suck at copywriting.
Your copy is literally worthless garbage. If you are a top 10% natural talent, your copy will remain garbage for the next 3 months. If you are a bit more average, your copy will remain garbage for the next 6 months.
And guess what?
That’s okay! People paying $20, $100, $200, etc. for copy are asking to receive literally worthless garbage.
It’s a perfect fit!
If you want to hit six figures as a copywriter, you need to “git gud”… legitimately good… at copywriting as fast as possible. That comes from doing and learning, not from fishing for higher paying clients.
Within 24 hours of publishing this article, freelance copywriter Favour Abalogu emailed me the following thoughts:
I really appreciate you addressing the pay issue for beginning writers. A lot of accomplished copywriters out there today make it seem like taking low-paying gigs, even as a beginning writer, is always a bad choice. It’s become something of a taboo, and it definitely hindered my growth in the early years.
I was stuck in the cycle of feast-or-famine for well over two years because I was MAJORLY on the lookout for those big fish, even as a beginning writer. Unfortunately, the big fish didn’t give a damn about whether I existed or not. Simply put, my writing was lame, and no “big fish” was ever going to hire me until I was able to deliver much better copywriting.
Eventually, I was able to elevate my copywriting game and start working with bigger, higher paying clients, but my career would have progressed far more quickly if I had just focused on gaining experience and improving my work from the beginning.
Favour’s story couldn’t summarize my thoughts on this topic any better. If you are ready to stop chasing unicorn gigs and starting gaining real experience, here’s a few great ways to land some cheap-ass clients:
- Pitch job listings
- Probe your network
- Network online and offline
- Cold pitch prospects
These methods are going to power your business through the first year, well past your garbage stage.
For your 3-6 month garbage period, I’d recommend spending the majority of your time pitching job listings. Here’s some good places to find gigs:
You will find some quality gigs here along with a ton of garbage. Take everything you can get. Don’t be picky.
Here’s a great visual from Jimmy Daly that perfectly illustrates what your response to projects should look like over the course of your career.
Take everything you can get and then write for each project like it was your dream gig.
The people you will be working for probably don’t deserve the effort, but YOU do deserve to get the most out of your practice time.
You might even come across some great clients who grow with you and end up working with you for years to come.
After you pass the 3 month point, you can begin spending more time offering to do work for your network, building your network with the goal of new leads, and even cold pitching prospects.
Don’t underestimate any form of outreach. I landed the 2nd biggest gig of my entire career simply reaching out to an agency I came across via a Facebook ad and asking if they needed copywriting help.
With your first 3 months in the books, it’s also time to begin acting like a legit freelancer.
4. Refine Your Freelancing Process
Approximate Timeline: 2 hours
Over the last 3 months, you’ve bumbled your way through the entire freelance gamut.
You’ve talked with clients, closed sales, collected payment, delivered work, edited work, realized you needed more info than you requested, hit deadlines, missed deadlines, had clients praise your effusively, had clients yell at you even more effusively… you’ve been there, done that.
Now it’s time to use all that experience to map out your freelancing process and start being intentional about everything that you do.
Here’s what you need to map out:
- How you bring in leads
- How you close sales
- How you collect the needed project details
- How you collect payment
- How you work with the client
- How and when you deliver work
- How you gauge success of the project
Your goal here initially isn’t to figure out how to do all these things perfectly. You are simply mapping your current process.
Next, list out any problems you’ve been having, such as:
- I’m having trouble consistently finding new leads.
- I’m getting good leads but not closing many of them.
- Some clients don’t send much info, and I struggle to complete the project.
- Some clients are really difficult to work with for _____ reason.
- I often feel really cramped for time on projects.
- Clients are constantly pestering me about where I’m at in the project.
Now that you’ve mapped out your process and problems, you can start refining your process, both in the short term and the long term.
An example of a short term improvement might be realizing that you aren’t setting clear expectations for clients, so you create a standard email template that you use after (or before) closing a sale that lists out exactly what the client can expect.
An example of a longer term improvement might be realizing that leads are inconsistent and you need to build a more sustainable method for bringing in new leads. This is a pretty common struggle for new copywriters, and we will address it directly in the next section.
But before we tackle that, I’m going to give you a quick overview of my freelancing process to help you in mapping out your own.
- New leads contact me via my website.
- I review their needs, provide them with a quote, and set expectations for the project.
- If they accept, I send them an invoice and my copywriting questionnaire.
- I then work collaboratively with them to lock down their core value propositions.
- Next, I complete a first draft of the project and deliver it to the client, either all at once or in pieces, depending on the size of the project.
- I work with them to edit the copy until they are fully satisfied.
- For larger projects, I then send a final invoice.
As you can see, this isn’t a sprawling, 20 page document. It’s literally 7 bullets.
If you ever get to the point where you start hiring employees or contractors to work for you, you might need a more detailed style of process mapping, but for your own purposes as a solo freelancer, it doesn’t have to be complicated.
5. Build A Recurring Leads Channel
Approximate Timeline: 1 Year
If you want to make real money as a freelancer, you need a consistent, recurring inflow of quality leads.
This takes time.
Assuming you do everything right, you are still looking at between 9-18 months to create a channel that can bring in six figures worth of leads per year.
There are four primary options for copywriters seeking to build out their own recurring leads channel:
- High-End Guest Blogging
- Paid Advertising
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
The goal of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is to get Google to send leads to your website monthly, weekly, and even daily. You accomplish this by getting your site to rank for search terms that are relevant to your business.
In my personal opinion, nothing currently beats SEO as a leads channel. It’s how I built my own business, and once I figured out how to do it right, I was able to achieve reasonable results fairly quickly, good results within a year, and incredible results over a handful of years.
I can also continue scaling this channel indefinitely, which is part of what I’m doing by publishing this article. This article will rank on the front page of Google for the search query “how to become a copywriter” within 3 months (update: I originally published this in January 2019 and sure enough, I was on the front page by April. I then predicted to me email subscribers that I would be #1 by August, and I predicted it perfectly. This article now ranks #1 for “copywriter” as well, which is fun).
Basically, SEO has a ton of pros for copywriters:
- Lots of business owners seek to hire copywriters via search
- Highly scalable channel
- Google’s algorithm has remained relatively stable for 20 years
- You can tap into niche search results relatively quickly
- Most of the work is writing (great for copywriters)
But it also has its cons:
- Requires a range of non-transferable skills to execute effectively
- Takes a relatively long time to scale compared to other channels
- Google is increasingly stealing traffic away from content creators
Part of the reason I feel like SEO is the best channel for copywriters is that it synergises very well with blog writing, which I also advise copywriters to offer. Writing both free guest posts and paid blog content doubles as both advertising for your services as well as backlinks for your SEO campaign. But you miss out on the backlinks benefit if you aren’t actively pursuing SEO.
Here’s me on the Do You Even Hustle? podcast, where I explain pretty much everything I know about SEO:
Until this last year, I would have told you that SEO is the undisputed leads channel for aspiring copywriters, but over the last 12 months, a new contender has become arguably a better choice, at least in the short term.
LinkedIn Audience Building
LinkedIn has always been an intriguing platform for business lead generation, but up until a year ago, it wasn’t really the type of place where someone could build a profitable following.
That all changed last year when LinkedIn revamped its algorithm and suddenly, organic engagement was alive and well. I noticed the same types of posts attracting tons of engagement, so I decided to see if I could play the game and make some content go viral.
My first attempt was a sarcastic parody of these types of posts. It got 897 likes and 150 comments.
My second attempt was a more serious post but with some blatant clickbait. It grabbed 1,083 likes, 92 comments, and over 100k views.
That’s pretty insane engagement for diving straight in with no existing audience. I tried posting some more straightforward stuff as well, which grabbed between 20-40 likes a pop with a handful of comments.
In hindsight, this should have been enough engagement for me to spend a few months exploring LinkedIn as a lead gen channel, but my bias against social media at the time, as well as my personal distaste for the styles of content that were most popular on the platform, caused me to bail on the channel.
Today, I personally know three different copywriters who have built their monthly income to $15k+ almost entirely through their LinkedIn following. They consistently post straightforward, helpful content, and engage positively with people in their niches. One of these copywriters, Michal Eisikowitz, was gracious enough to hop on a call and share the story of how she built a recurring leads channel using LinkedIn and a fantastic writer website.
You can follow Michal on LinkedIn by clicking here. The “30 Days Social” resource she mentioned in our interview is freely available from LinkedIn here. And the super helpful copywriter and Linked expert she recommended you follow, John Espirian, can be found here.
The TLDR here is that LinkedIn is a compelling option for new and experienced copywriters alike. When compared with the complicated process of achieving organic rankings, posting 3-4 times per week on LinkedIn seems like a vastly simpler and more broadly achievable option for building out that primary leads channel.
Let’s review the pros:
- Puts you directly in front of people who are likely to hire copywriters
- No technical expertise or non-transferable skills required
- Efforts double as networking, which is also extremely beneficial
- Most of the work is writing
That said, there are two massive cons, which are why I’m sour on social media in general:
- Ongoing success is entirely at the the whim of LinkedIn
- You’re limited in how you can present your business to potential clients on the platform
There was once a time when people were experiencing this same level of success on Facebook. Then overnight, Facebook completely gutted organic reach, and suddenly, all that work acquiring followers was essentially rendered worthless. This could happen at any time on LinkedIn, and indeed, LinkedIn has already scaled back organic reach a bit from when those two posts of mine went mini-viral.
That said, I believe the Facebook scenario is much less likely to happen on LinkedIn for two main reasons.
First, LinkedIn owes much of its recent resurgence directly to the algorithm change. It’s the new strategy that is driving growth rather than a founding strategy that was bound to be altered at some point.
Second, while Facebook depends on direct advertising to earn revenue, which directly competes with organic reach, LinkedIn makes the lion’s share of its revenue as a recruiting platform, which depends on retaining and growing organic use and engagement. In other words, LinkedIn’s business model is far more conducive to long term organic reach.
So how does this compare against SEO?
Despite being something of an SEO evangelist, I would actually argue that SEO is in a similar boat. It’s entirely at the whim of Google, and while Google’s algorithm has stayed on a fairly consistent course for the last 20 years, that’s no guarantee it will remain on the same course over the next 10 years.
Guessing whether SEO or LinkedIn will be the better channel for copywriters in 10 years is a bit like guessing whether Bitcoin or Ethereum will have a higher market cap in the same time period. The past and present both point to SEO having more staying power, but the future is likely to be so volatile, picking a winner is pure speculation at this point.
My recommendation is this:
If you are more of a people person and enjoy networking, go with LinkedIn.
If you are more of an introvert and just want to put your head down and get results, without needing to depend on how people respond to you, go with SEO.
(I break both of these paths down in-depth via my comprehensive copywriting course).
High-End Guest Blogging
High-end guest blogging as a recurring leads strategy essentially means that you are frequently publishing guest posts on high profile websites.
When I say “high profile”, I mean that if you were to mention the website to 10 people in your niche, between 7-10 of them would immediately recognize the brand or publication.
If you haven’t noticed already, I’m a big fan of doing stuff that works for you on multiple levels. I love offering blog post writing because it doubles as advertising. I love SEO because it makes all the writing I’m already doing payoff 10x over. I love the idea of LinkedIn as a leads channel because it doubles as networking, which is insanely valuable to any business.
It’s this concept that really drives the strategy of high-end guest blogging as a recurring leads channel.
When you guest blog for a large, prominent publication, a lot of amazing things can happen:
- Someone can read your post, appreciate your expertise, and hire you to write copy for them.
- Someone can read your post, appreciate your writing style, and hire you to write for their own blog or publication.
- Someone can read your post, appreciate your writing style, and ask you to ghostwrite for them on a high-level publication.
- Your post can perform really well and cause the publication to hire you to write more for them.
- Your post can put your name in circles that can boost your career.
- Your post is more likely to rank for a search term and continuously expose you to new readers every single month.
None of these things happen with high frequency on their own. Getting one blog post published to Forbes.com is very unlikely to do anything other than give you a sexy logo to throw on your content writing page. It’s very similar to how publishing a single article on your website or writing a single post on LinkedIn isn’t going to do anything for you.
With enough posts over time, however, the trickle of benefit from each post turns into a stream of leads and opportunities.
I’m a huge advocate of having new copywriters invest a big chunk of time into guest blogging, for all the reasons mentioned above plus a few more:
- It helps you connect to players in your niche.
- It puts your work in front of talented editors who will often give you feedback and help you suck at writing a lot less.
- The links back to your website prime your domain to rank for any SEO keyphrases you want to target.
And as we already covered, there are tons of ways guest posting can lead to paying gigs.
That said, there is a big difference between guest blogging and high-end guest blogging as a recurring leads channel, and the difference really comes down to profile.
For run-of-the-mill guest blogging, the type that I did a lot of early in my career, you are simply targeting blogs in your main niches. For me, those niches were marketing and marketer-focused SaaS businesses. I published well-received work on most of the top blogs in these niches and while it had all the benefits I outlined, those benefits never approached the payoff of a true recurring leads channel.
My friend Aaron Orendorff, on the other hand, pursued what I’m coining here as “high-end guest blogging as a recurring leads channel”. His Twitter background image gives you a small taste of what I mean.
What you are seeing here is not a few of the top publications in a specific marketing niche. You are seeing most of the top publications across the marketing, business, and ecommerce industries.
And Aaron didn’t just write once for these sites. He’s written multiple times for many of them, and for the smaller blogs on that list, he’s responsible for some of their highest performing content of all time.
Every one of these sites is HARD to write for. It’s hard to even get considered for many of them. I’ve tried to get top notch content on Forbes and Inc. several times, with absolutely no success whatsoever, and while I can whine all day about how stupid that is when both websites publish literal garbage on a daily basis, the fact remains that getting into these circles and getting published on these types of publications is no cake walk.
Aaron’s prolific guest posting took him to six figures in his first year as a freelance copywriter and had him up to $20k per month when we did the interview below during his 2nd year. In this interview, he breaks down what led to his success and how his guest posts on the highest profile sites resulted in the most financial benefit (the audio from my end is pretty garbage, sorry).
I don’t actively recommend this strategy to new writers for a few different reasons.
First, your skills are very unlikely to be at the level needed to get on these types of sites. While many sites publish garbage on a daily basis, that garbage is coming from famous people and full-time staff, not from freelancers. As a freelancer, the standard of content is much higher for you. Unless you are a top 5% talent like Aaron, it is very unlikely you will succeed at this strategy in your first year, no matter how hard you work at it.
Second, you are going to be dealing with a lot of rejection and a lot of trial an error in your first year as a copywriter. Taking low-percentage shots at high profile publications is just going to be demoralizing unless you have already built a mental and emotional tolerance for that sort of thing.
Third, in order for this strategy to succeed, you have to be an incredibly prolific writer capable of churning out a high volume of top shelf content. Even copywriters who manage to produce some great work in their first year usually do so very, very slowly and in limited quantities.
To sum it up, if you are a top 5% talent with no fear of rejection and a long history of high-volume writing, this strategy might just be perfect for you. For everyone else, I’d recommend starting with a different strategy and waiting until your second, third, or fourth year as a copywriter to try this strategy out.
Last and decidedly least, we have paid advertising. Theoretically, if you can make SEO work for you, you can make paid advertising work for you.
That said, I have never met a single copywriter who uses paid ads as their primary lead channel, and nobody I know can think of anyone doing this.
So why am I even bothering to include it?
Well, I suspect that just like most ad writing tends to be done by PPC specialists, the type of people who manage to make Google Ads or Facebook Ads work for them tend to simply become PPC specialists.
As we will discuss in future blog posts, the big money in marketing comes from offering fully managed marketing campaigns, rather than a la carte services.
- If you can create a full marketing funnel, you can make a lot more than simply writing funnel copy.
- If you can run a full content marketing campaign, you can make a lot more than simply writing blog posts.
- If you can run a paid advertising campaign, you can make a lot more than simply writing ads.
My theory is that people who are specifically looking to get into advertising realize fairly quickly that running the full campaigns is something they can learn and offer fairly quickly as a freelance service provider, and that has become the de facto career path on that end of the copywriting spectrum.
If advertising interests you, check out this guide to running an effective Google Adwords campaign, and if you are a copywriter who brings in copywriting clients (not advertising clients) using paid advertising, please get in touch with me. I’d love to interview you and feature you right here this guide.
How To Become A Copywriter: Next Steps
I hope you’ve found this guide helpful! After finishing this post, I decided to expand the training presented here into a 2-week copywriting course. I’m currently offering it for free, so if you’d like to take advantage of that, enter you email below, and I’ll send it your way:
For me, this is the long-awaited sequel (or prequel?) to “The Complete Guide To Earning $400 Per Article As An Online Writer.”
Thanks a bunch!!
Well said Chad haha, I’d probably call it the Complete Guide 2.0?
I’m working on some additional stuff as well that will be a true sequel, as it will tap into everything I’ve been doing since that guide first came out to jump up from $100k to $200k.
I rarely read articles till the very last words but this was one of those rare occasions.
Fantastic post with lots of insights especially for someone like me who’s been a well-paid freelance blogger for a long time but never seriously explored the copywriting side of things.
Would love to read more on this topic (especially pricing) in your future posts.
Thanks Jawad, glad you found it helpful! Happy to answer any pricing questions you have here in the comments and then go more in-depth in future posts.
I’m so glad this was emailed to me last night, it is everything I was looking for in just one blog. It must be fate! Thanks
So great to hear Lucy, thanks for letting me know!
Heck I thought the same way, too.
Epic blog, Jacob!
You don’t get this kind of depth… actionable advice without a catch in many spots I know.
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your knowledge! I’ve been specializing in writing copy for email welcome sequences (autoresponder sequences), but this post has given me the nudge I need to expand my skills into sales copy more generally. Thanks!
Very cool Stacey! I’m going to be posting more resources on expanding a copywriting business soon, so keep an eye out for those!
This post is epic, thanks Jacob. Just what I needed.
Thanks for taking the time to put this together. It’s a fantastic resource and just what I need to help hone my skills.
Looking forward to getting stuck into this!
Thanks Jacob 🙂
Sure thing Helen, glad you enjoyed it!
This is officially my new browser startup page. The one that opens by default each time I switch on my computer. Thanks for the ton of advice and the many useful links.
Haha that’s a new one, love it 😀
thanks for this article. I enjoyed the part about SEO/Linked/FB in terms of algorithms and future set up.
I see what you’re saying about guest posting, its more of a long term strategy and not likely to be any quick gains. I think for newer writers like me it’s possible to get some good guest post accepted for better credibility. It helps with getting over that ‘pretender’ stage.
Thanks for the reminder that copywriting is very much about practicing. I need to practice more (with some of those clients)…
Great post and much appreciated…
100% agree about guest posting Michael. And frankly, if I could force people to obey me, I’d have every new writer submit 3-5 unpaid guest posts every week for the first 3-6 months of of their freelance career. At that volume, it’s virtually guaranteed to pay off for you one way or another.
But the reality is that people willing to work that hard and take that level of initiative don’t really need to be guided. They are going to brute force their way to success one way or another. So I’m trying to provide a guide that will help everyone else. If, however, you are one of those rare people who can lower their heads and go into hyper-drive mode for a 3 month period, unpaid guest posting at scale is a really fantastic strategy to break through your ceiling and hit that next writing career tier.
Thanks for the encouragement Jacob. Even for folks that are onto guest posting already it doesn’t take anything away from your great guide.
I think you hit the nail on the head – if someone can commit to even 3 months of guest posting it would drive them onto the next tier. Your right though, ongoing unpaid guest posting is hard graft and takes lots of commitment.
I recall watching your interview with Aoran Orendorff and that reinforced the strategy further ( https://jacobmcmillen.com/how-to-become-a-freelance-writer/ ). I liked his point about re-purposing long form post into smaller ones.
It can definitely be a grind, but I don’t think it’s possible to grow a successful business within a year without some level of serious grind.
Honestly, this was exactly what I was looking for. I really appreciate all the time, effort and most importantly the willingness to share all this amazing information.
Thanks Gabe, glad you found it helpful!
Thank you so much, Jacob, for the detailed post. I will bookmark this blog for inspiration whenever I need one. You have spoken to me “loudly” and its time I put this into practice. Hope someday to share my success story anchored on this post. Blessings!
Thanks Duncan! Glad you found it helpful!
As always, your writing is world class mate!
Haha much appreciated Oscar!
I’ve been scouring the Internet for ages trying to get more information on copywriting and your article is the first one that 1- succinctly provides insight into this area 2- manages to guide a reader without losing them in all the information. I finally feel like I have the knowledge and confidence to tackle this copywriting beast! Thank you.
Ps: please create a copywriting course, I would buy it in a heartbeat. Judging from this article, it would be an incredibly useful resource.
Thanks Aisha! I’m thrilled that you found it helpful, and I’m actually in the middle of putting together a course as we speak! I’ve been helping train writers in a variety of ways over the last few years, and I’m doing my best to combine what I’ve learned through that process into creating something that will be uniquely helpful for aspiring copywriters. Fingers crossed 😀
I am in the beginning steps of beginning this journey! My ultimate goal is to write a book or novel but I want a steady writing career as well with copywriting as a focus(I want to delve into editing, proofreading, and publishing as well).
A few questions kept popping up as I was reading through your article though-
How do you figure out a target audience as a freelancer/How would you go about figuring out the type of style to write in, more informal and friendly or formal and educational? (And how would you go about maintaining your own style and voice between the two?)
And also, how exactly to find your niche. Figuring what I like best and what I excel at or can excel at is very difficult.
Hi Mara, great questions. Target audience for a given gig comes from the client, and that’s something you’ll want to get from them via a questionnaire. Style wise, conversational tone is the default these days, but keep in mind your goal as a copywriter isn’t to develop your own unique style that you force on your clients. Your goal is to take their tone and language and phrasing (as well as that of their customers) and make it the best version of itself. It should sound like them… while sounding a lot better than what they would actually say. Niche is something you figure out over time after taking every gig you can get and exploring a number of different niches until you realize you enjoy a given niche or two and have a good feel for how to get ongoing leads there.
Hey Jacob, some great suggestions here. Stuff I wish I’d know when I started, I can tell you!! For your paid search bit, here is a clever hack (should you wish to update your content any time).
When signing up for your hosting, or some other web packages, you often get free credit towards an Adwords campaign. I’ve found it quite useful, from a boost to your client list point of view, to use this.
The trick is, make a nice simple landing page (ideally with some kind of lead capture), obvs do your market research, and then run a paid ad using the free credit. It’s a good way to learn how to use PPC and could even net you a couple of decent high paying clients.
This can also work with FB and Linkedin who sometimes offer free credits.
Great suggestion Oli! That definitely seems like an underutilized strategy!
This is exceptional advice for anyone looking to get on the copywriting ladder.
It was one such good read! I am even very much impressed the way you helped and shared such an insightful article on LinkedIn. It has added so many new terms to what I knew before about Copywriting! Much appreciated and thanks!
Thank you, I’m not looking to become a blogger or copywriter. I’m actually starting a nonprofit to build homes for the homeless in my area that have children. I can use a LOT of the information I have found here in my fund raising campaigns. I was also able to use some of the links you provided to inspire me to find other sites with awesome ideas. Thank you so much.
Awesome Carla, glad you found it helpful!
I really feel that copywriting would be a great fit for me. Recently I’ve had a few career paths bouncing around in my head, and this is the first choice I’ve found that had a comprehensive list of steps to get started in the field. I am still on the first few, of course, but I believe that I could develop my skills into a profession I not only enjoy, but succeed in. Thank you for taking the time to share this information. If you have the time, I would very much appreciate it if you gave me some notes on the advertisement I’ve created for myself. Your feedback would be invaluable, and as you said, “I don’t care if you don’t know an established copywriter. Find one”
Hi Jacob, this is my first comment, ever, on a website or non-social media platform of any kind. You deserve it.
Haha thanks Taslim!
Thanks is an excellent article, it is a true guide and a source of inspiration to fall in love with this profession. It leaves you with a desire to keep learning. I have what I need to get into this interesting Job. Thank you very much again
I am interested. I want to learn copy writing.
To be sincere, I feel lucky to have come across such article. I’ve been looking for this for quite a long time. Thanks alot. Please where can I find you on social media platforms. I really really need a mentor like you
Wow, I’m new to learning copy writing, I searched online and I saw your site… I must say that you did a great job here.. I just got more interested in making copy writing my career. I’m glad I read this. Thank u so much for this, I have applied for the free course and I hope to learn more.. Writing and creativity is in my line of study.. I really want to do this.. Thank you so much, this was helpful.
Awesome Favour, and welcome to the field!
Excellent article, thank you Jacob!
Jacob, I’m hating(because I’m studying more than in college) you and loving you at the same time, of course I subscribed! This content is a real goldmine! thanks for being awesome!
😂 don’t worry, those paradoxical feelings will only get stronger as you get to know me.
Thank you very much for this Jacob. I understand copywriting to a great length,thanks for revealing to us FREE. Thank you.
Sure thing Esther!
Much appreciated Jacob! How did I not find your words until now? I’ve been going back and forth between options of freelancing and going back to the corporate world since intentionally quitting my last position. I’ve been leaning towards freelance writing but have hesitations. Mainly, I didn’t know what the possibilities would look like and the approach to build a sustainable income from a freelance lifestyle. I feel more confident in my direction after reading your detailed perspective. You’ll definitely find me digging into the other valuable insights here. Thank you again!
Awesome Kim, glad to hear it! This path can be a bit tricky at first, but I think you’ll find it rewarding!
Wow…..Amazing piece. Can you be my mentor?
Hi Jacob – fascinating read and very useful for someone like myself who has been in Marketing for over ten years but never really delved into the copywriting world properly. I hope to turn to freelance copywriting myself very soon, but for now I want to fine-tune my skills on my own personal website for leisure. I’ve signed up for the course, so hopefully one day I’ll get there! Thanks
Awesome Jake, welcome to the field!
This guide is so detailed and well written, it’s practical and motivates me to implement what you said immediately. Thanks for the effort and time!
Sure thing Luna, glad you found it helpful!
To be honest, I didn’t really know what copywriting was. I just assumed it was another word for writing ‘anything’, not realizing there’s a specific purpose. So thanks for clearing that up for me.
And I gotta say: I didn’t get lost in all the information you provided. I think I can muster-up the confidence to give copywriting a try.
This is – BY FAR – the best ‘how to become a Copywriter’ article I have ever read ! I appreciate your honesty when talking about landing the first paying project. I find it sad that so many pros tell us never to settle for low-paying clients / jobs / projects. My school of thought is similar to yours…we have to start somewhere, right ? But that doesn’t mean take pennies for your time.
Anyway, this is a great resource guide I plan on pointing my readers to in one of my future articles.
As always, you knocked it outta the park! Thanks Jacob 🙂