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How to Become a Copywriter

A copywriter writing in a notebook at her desk at a marketing agency.

Understanding the Numbers
When reviewing job growth and salary information, it’s important to remember that actual numbers can vary due to many different factors — like years of experience in the role, industry of employment, geographic location, worker skill and economic conditions. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.

Everyone writes. But not everyone's a writer. 

It's a distinction that copywriters have to make every day.

That's because copywriting is both an art and a science. You want to get your idea across to your audience as quickly as possible — but each and every word choice can make or break the entire message.

What Exactly Does a Copywriter Do?

Copywriters are tasked with a type of writing which focuses on marketing or promotion of a product, service or event, according to Mary SanGiovanni, an MFA adjunct faculty member at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and a longtime freelance writer. 

Mary SanGiovanni, an MFA adjunct faculty member at SNHU

"The tone of the language and the word choice are geared toward interesting others in what is being marketed," she said. "Often, this type of writing, called 'copy,' encourages the reader to perform an action — like buy a product or attend an event."

Think of copywriting as part information, part persuasion. Ever get a line from an ad stuck in your head? (Like "Just do it" or "I'm lovin' it"?) That's how a copywriter measures success.

"Successful copywriting makes use of particular words — keywords — which both bring it to the forefront of search results on a given topic and also connect with the psychology of the reader," said SanGiovanni.

After all, copywriting is part of every ad you see, according to Larry Holden, adjunct communication faculty at SNHU. 

Holden's background includes two degrees in journalism, more than a decade of experience writing for magazines and a position as editor-in-chief. He also served in the military, was a public information officer and editor of an award-winning magazine for the United States Air Force and had a 12-year tenure as mayor of Sachse, Texas.

"Copywriters create the marketing material you hold in your hands, or read in your inbox or on websites and blogs, or see on television or hear on the radio," he said.

That means copywriters can be the creative minds behind:

  • Billboards, brochures and catalogs
  • Newsletters and emails
  • Postcards and mailers
  • Print ads and social media ads
  • Radio and video scripts and broadcast commercials
  • Websites and blogs

And that's among other deliverables.

For example, "over my career in marketing, my copywriting has included marketing collateral such as product sheets, company brochures, press releases, customer case studies, blogs, emails used for marketing campaigns, white papers and social media posts," said Laura Engin, a marketing adjunct faculty member at SNHU with decades of writing experience.

How Much Do Copywriters Make?

A yellow money symbol on a blue background The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that writers and authors — including copywriters — earned a median salary of $73,150 in 2022 and are poised for average job growth through 2032.*

The top 10% of these earners made more than $161,260 in 2022, BLS said.* So, if you're looking for a career with a six-figure salary? It's certainly possible to get there as a copywriter. But first, you'll need the experience and skills to get hired.

What Skills are Needed for Copywriting?

1 Persuasion

1 Problem solving

1 SEO research

1 Simplification

1 Data-driven

Classes focused on copywriting can help you build the foundation you need — but the only way to develop that skill set is through practice.

Yes, strengthening your writing is important. But they're not the only talents you need. Here are 5 more skills you'll want to work on to become a successful copywriter:

  • Persuasion: The psychology behind marketing campaigns is what makes them effective. Why do these potential customers need your product right now? What is happening in their lives that they've come to your website? What messages are they resonating with? That's where the power of persuasion comes in.

  • Problem-solving: By tapping into their emotions and pain points, you can help your audience find a solution to their problem. Problem-solving means answering the question the user has at the moment they need it.

  • SEO research: SEO — aka search engine optimization — is a process that marketers use to help their audience find their webpage. It involves techniques like creating high-quality content and using keywords that customers type in their search queries.

    The goal of this process is to rank your page on the first SERP (search engine results page) of popular sites like Google and Bing. Because the higher your webpage is in search results, the more likely the audience is to click on it.

  • Simplification: Keep your writing simple. Follow your organization's voice and tone (which can typically be found in their brand guide). Use the language that your customers are using.

    If your copy is too complicated, you run the risk of confusing your audience — or, worse, losing them altogether.

  • Data-driven decisions: By working with a data team to find out what copy performs well and what doesn't, you can set yourself up for success.

Find Your Program

How to Get Into Copywriting

To become a copywriter, you'll need a relevant education and a portfolio of your best work to showcase your skills.

Step One: Earn a Degree

BLS states that a bachelor's degree is typically needed to become a writer.

While copywriting typically isn't its own major, you have plenty of options as to what kind of program you can enroll in — something that not every career role can boast.
Laura Engin, a marketing adjunct faculty member at SNHU

  • Marketing: Engin, the marketing instructor, believes a marketing degree is a good way to go.

    "Marketing complements copywriting and vice versa," she said. "Most elements of marketing need good copywriting to communicate the company's message. At the same time, having a marketing degree provides the business part of the process and why the copywriting is needed."

    But marketing isn't the only program that a budding copywriter can consider.

  • Communications: "The study of communications immerses you in public relations, advertising, marketing and other fields that require the talents of copywriters," Holden said.

    A well-rounded liberal arts degree — like one you'd earn after completing a communication program — gives you a look into copywriting and advertising, but also goes further into looking at careers adjacent to writing.

    Classes that could help with your writing are topics like communicating with diverse audiences, visual communication and global communication. But other classes — like public speaking, organizational branding and personal brand communications — can certainly help you work with others and gain more confidence in your work.

    A blue icon of a hand writing
  • Creative Writing: But you could, after all, choose to creative writing degree.

    "Creative writing is a good major because it teaches creative and innovative thinking, outside-the-box problem solving and a broad base for understanding both the rules of writing and when (and if) they can be broken," SanGiovanni said.

    Since creative writing is essentially an entertainment field, she said there is an inherent discussion about writing as a part of the business.

If you ever feel like you have more to learn on a subject — or you think you might want to move up the ladder — you may want to consider one of these graduate degrees.

"Teaching writing, including copywriting, requires at least a master's degree," SanGiovanni said. "Further, on a master's level, you are often afforded more opportunities to work with professional writers and learn the business side of writing as well as the mechanics of it."

Step Two: Build a Portfolio

Jill Giambruno, a career advisor at SNHUWhether or not you have experience as a copywriter, building an impressive portfolio can convince potential employers to work with you.

"It's never too early to start a portfolio, as it's something that will change with you while you continue to grow and develop as a writer," said Jill Giambruno, a career advisor at SNHU.

But if you have no pieces to show and you've never worked with a client, it's time to think of what else you could feature.

"If you create a press release or other promotional elements as part of a class project – and you’re proud of what you created — then definitely include that in crafting your initial portfolio," Holden said.

Engin agreed. "As you go through your classes, if there are pieces of writing which can relate to a real-world example, make sure to designate a folder or location to save these examples," she said. 

Employers will understand that a recent college graduate won't have as robust of a portfolio as someone who's been in the field for a while. "The goal is to showcase their potential as a writer and highlight what they can bring to the table as a copywriter," Giambruno said.

What are the Different Types of Copywriters?

As a copywriter, you might find a staff position or "in house" role working for an organization. But, according to a Writers Digest article by copywriter Robert W. Bly, there are several other types of copywriters, too:

  1. Contract Copywriters: This includes fee-based copywriters who get paid for individual projects and fee-based, hourly contract copywriters.

  2. Retainer-based Freelancers: Some freelancers are hired to work for certain clients on a monthly basis.

  3. Royalty-based Freelancers: These freelancers get paid more when their content produces more revenue.

  4. Job-board Freelancers: Websites like Upwork and Fiverr allow you to set your own prices and bid for different writing gigs. Beginners often use these sites to find clients, but Bly warned the jobs typically don't pay well.

  5. Hybrid Copywriters: According to Bly, some copywriters freelance in addition to holding a staff position, which can offer the best of both options.

Learning about these different options and opportunities can help you navigate your career path.

How to Get a Copywriting Job: Freelance vs. In House

Copywriting is unique in that it's much easier to go freelance than it is in some other career paths. 

In fact, BLS shows that the freelance option is popular with writers and authors. In 2022, 62% of writers and authors were self-employed workers. 

There are pros and cons to both going freelance and working within an organization or agency.

How to Become a Freelance Copywriter

Larry Holden, an adjunct communication faculty at SNHUHolden suggested starting your career doing freelance work — which is another great way to build up your portfolio.

Giambruno agreed.

"I always recommend that students explore freelancing first," she said. "Freelance experience is also something that can be put on a resume, or mentioned in any interview with an employer looking to hire a copywriter."

She recommends that students sign up for and peruse third-party freelance sites like Upwork or Fiverr to see what types of gigs they could land — both pre- and post-graduation. Although it can be difficult to score high-paying jobs on sites like these, the experience can still boost your portfolio and resume, leading to future opportunities.

For other opportunities to break into copywriting, you could also try professional networking or pitching your services via email to find clients. 

So, what are the benefits of freelancing?

There are plenty. When you're a freelance writer, you're the boss. You choose what you want to do.

There's also "flexibility, your own schedule and several clients with different needs versus one company with similar needs all the time," Engin said.

According to Holden, freelancing can offer excitement and possibility. "The freedom you have as a freelancer is exhilarating," he said. "And I know freelance copywriters who earn more money annually than some corporation/organization copywriters."

Work Within an Organization

Holden said not earning a regular paycheck could take its toll on freelancers after a while.

Steady pay is one of many benefits of working at an agency or organization.

"You hone your craft as you do projects for a variety of clients," he said. "And, often, companies and organizations will be so impressed with the work of a particular freelance copywriter that they hire him or her as a full-time employee."

That's a major reason why accepting a full-time position with an agency or organization can be just as attractive to other writers. But it doesn't just have to be about the money.

A blue icon of a person working at a desk

"Larger companies have several layers of procedures, which provides the opportunity to understand how these structures work and finding ways to still remain creative," Engin said. "In smaller to medium-size companies, there are opportunities to be more hands-on, which develops several skills versus a more defined role within a larger organization."

If you're interested in working for one of the companies or agencies, get in touch with your career advisor — and do it before graduation. Career teams at universities build relationships with employers for this exact purpose – and an excellent career team gives you these services for life.

Giambruno also suggests discussing what job websites your university works with to find employers that specifically want to work with you and your classmates.

But is Being a Copywriter a Good Career?

Absolutely, said Holden. "Being able to create something that generates an emotional connection with readers/viewers/listeners is tremendously rewarding from a creative standpoint and from a money-in-the-bank standpoint," he said.

Engin agreed, citing the need to help your audience get through the clutter online — and ultimately connect with the right product or service.

A blue icon of a computer with a lightbulb on the screen

"I have found that it's invaluable to be able to take an organization's ideas, technical knowledge or even their product's features and simplify the message for someone who has never heard of the company," she said. "Couple that with knowing how to expand, shorten or segment a piece based on where it's shared is also important for an organization to resonate with the right audiences."

Ultimately, copywriting must make a connection with people, create loyalty to the brand and build an ongoing relationship — all through the careful selection of a few words.

"Consumers want to feel a part of the brand's journey," Engin said. "For copywriting to be successful, it's understanding the challenges a customer may be having and how the company 'gets' it. They don't want to be sold to, but feel like there is a human behind the writing."

A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU online program that can best help you meet your goals.

*Cited job growth projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth. Actual salaries and/or earning potential may be the result of a combination of factors including, but not limited to: years of experience, industry of employment, geographic location, and worker skill.

Deidre Ashe was 9 years old when she launched her professional writing career. While spending a day at work with her dad, she penned her first book, illustrated it and sent it off to a publishing company — after finding the address on the copyright page of one of her paperbacks. While the story never made it to the shelves of libraries, the editors wrote back, encouraging her to continue pursuing her writing passion. (Yes, she still has that letter.)

After earning a bachelor’s in journalism, Ashe spent a decade working in the media industry. She then transitioned into marketing, later getting her MA in Communication from Southern New Hampshire University in 2018. 

Ashe serves as senior copy director at SNHU. She and her family live in New Hampshire. Connect with her on LinkedIn

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Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.