Learn the basics of writing copy and offering it as a service with this copywriting guide!
Table of Contents
‘What is copywriting?’
‘How can I become a copywriter?’
‘How do I *actually* write copy…and what should I charge for it?’
In this guide, I’m going to answer those questions and walk you through how to start a freelance copywriting career making $50-$100 per hour (and what to do if you have no experience).
Here’s what I cover:
- What is Copywriting?
- How To Write Persuasive Copy That Clients Love
- How To Use Copywriting Formulas & Never Write From Scratch
- How To Start A Copywriting Business (With Or Without Experience)
- How To Price Your Copywriting Services & Get Paid Fairly
- Bonus Resources
But first a little background…
Once upon a time, I was a content writer for online magazines. And I barely made a dime for it.
Fast forward several years, and I was a stay at home mom writing blog posts for $50-$75 each (averaging $15-$25 per hour).
I loved writing…
But what I *didn’t* love was the fact I had to write more than one blog post a day just to hit a decent income.
I learned very quickly that you can’t feed a family writing $50 blog posts (or even $100 blog posts for that matter).
That’s when I stumbled upon ✨copywriting✨, and I learned there were freelance writers legitimately earning $50-$100 an hour (with experienced copywriters making even more).
Note: I emphasize “legitimately”, because the internet is full of so many “get rich tomorrow” schemes and inflated results, it’s hard to tell what’s even legit anymore.
Copywriting *is* a legit service that you can offer remotely.
So If you’re a virtual assistant, freelance writer, or aspiring copywriter struggling to bring in a consistent income (or even get started at all), you’re in the right place.
In this guide, I’ll walk you through the basics of what copywriting is, how to write copy, and how to start offering it as a service.
What Is Copywriting?
Copywriting is text written for advertisements, marketing assets, and any other sales material.
It’s text that’s written intentionally and persuasively to get a reader to take action.
It’s different from “creative” copy or content writing (I’ll discuss more on that later).
Here are some examples of copy:
Notice both of these examples are taken from different mediums? The first is a car ad (probably used in a magazine), and the second is from a website homepage.
What they both have in common is the text or “copy” is talking about a product with the intent to sell it to the reader.
Forms Of Copywriting You Should Know
If you pay attention, copy is everywhere.
Every business needs copy, and that’s what makes it such a great writing niche.
Some example of copy that you see everyday:
✏️ Website copy
✏️ Facebook ads
✏️ Newspaper ads
✏️ Taglines on cereal boxes
✏️ Bakery signs at the grocery store
…you get the idea, right?
The 6 main forms of copy that businesses use are:
- Website Copy
Nearly every business has a ‘www’ address, and if you have an online business such as eCommerce or selling digital products, you definitely need to have exceptional copy to make sales with your site.
- Ad Copy
This could be print ads, but also for Google and social media ads.
- Newsletter Copy
Some businesses send emails up to 2 or 3 times a week to nurture their audiences. This is a great writing niche that brings in consistent income each month.
- Landing Pages
I love how MailChimp describes landing pages, so I’ll share their definition: “A landing page is a standalone web page that a person “lands” on after clicking through from an email, ad, or other digital location. Once they’re on your landing page, users are encouraged to take an action, such as joining your list or buying your products.”
Here’s an example of a landing page:
- Sales Pages
Sales pages are essentially a sales letter published on a standalone webpage. These are different from a homepage of a website because they only have one link or call to action (which is to purchase a product or service). There’s no navigation at the top because it will only distract the reader. The goal here is to get a user to read down the page and make a purchase.
(A sales page is a specific kind of landing page. Not all landing pages are necessarily sales pages, because some landing pages promote free content as well, like in the example I shared above.)
- Email Sequences
These are a series of automated emails (typically 5-7) that are sent within a period of time to nurture or convert the reader into a customer.
The Difference Between “Copywriting” And “Content Writing”
“Copywriter” and “content writer” are often used interchangeably, but there’s a big difference between them.
The goal of copy is to get a reader to take an action…and is typically tied to selling a product or service.
The goal of content is to inform, entertain, or engage, and doesn’t necessarily involve selling anything. Content can include blog posts, social media captions, or employee bios to name a few.
Companies are typically willing to invest more into copywriting than content writing because strong copy can make them more profitable.
Some companies pay $200-$500 for a blog post, but others pay as low as $50 (or sadly, even lower).
Copy, however, is more lucrative. A company may invest anywhere from $2,000-$10,000 into a copywriting project. Larger corporations will invest even more.
The reason they’re willing to invest so much is they understand that good, persuasive copy is going to help them sell more. The investment pays for itself.
(I’ll discuss pricing and salaries later in more detail)
One more thing that’s important to note…
The research and planning that goes into copywriting is entirely different.
Research for a copy project revolves entirely around the customer.
You have to learn the audience in detail in order to write copy that gets the reader’s attention and persuades them to take action.
Also, there may be instances you use the customer’s words or a variation of their words in your actual copy.
In fact, if you write content the way you write copy, some would call it plagiarizing. That’s because good, persuasive copy that SELLS relies heavily on using the language of your customer.
(This is called the “voice of customer.” I’ll explain more on that later.)
Some blog content might require research, but it’s mostly done by looking at other articles, journals and references which you won’t use word-for-word.
So in a nutshell 🥜…
Copy research (usually) focuses on the customer and competitors, while research for content (like article) has a larger scope of what it includes.
What Copywriting Is Not
It’s vital to understand that copywriting is not manipulation. It’s advertising.
With your copy, you’re walking a reader through a journey to help them understand how a product or service solves a problem in their life.
This can be done ethically by making sure you only make honest claims in your writing and choose to work with brands that you actually believe in.
I truly believe in the products and services that I write copy for, and am more than willing to turn down a project if I don’t align with the values of the brand. It’s up to you as the writer to make that call!
How To Write Persuasive Copy That Clients Love
The key element of copy is that it’s persuasive.
When users read your copy they should be thinking, ‘Wow, you read my mind!’
So how do you ~actually~ do that? That’s what we’ll discuss next…
Learn The Audience Before You Write (The Basics Of Research)
The first step in any copywriting project is research.
If you research properly, you’ll never have to write from scratch.
All the ideas and copy you need will come from your research (not your head).
During research, you’ll learn:
✏️What your audience is struggling with (we call these “pain points”)
✏️Their desired outcomes
✏️Their lifestyle and interests
So, do we need to know this? Cause…
When you write copy, that insight helps your writing mirror the dialogue that the customer is having in their head…
So basically, the reader is reading your copy and having an internal conversation with it (that is, if it resonates with them).
That’s what’s going to make them feel “hooked” enough to take action.
They need to be able to read your copy and think ‘Yes, you get me!’ and you can’t accomplish that without getting to know them.
Here are some ways copywriters gather these insights 👇
- Polls & Surveys
You can create free surveys using Google Forms or a paid service like Typeform. You can share that survey with users in your target audience to ask for the information you want to know.
Interviews take a lot of time and effort, but in my experience it’s where you get the best insights for your copy!
Interviewing people from your target audience is a great way to find out their pain points, goals, and learn what they’re looking for in the product you’re writing about.
- Review “Mining”
You can read comments inside threads from Reddit, Quora, or Amazon book reviews on topics related to your product to find out what people are saying about it.
- Social Media Communities
Facebook groups are a great way to
spy onlearn your audience! It’s so easy to dig up gold by looking at their public comments.
Marketing Principles That Help You Write Better
Once you’re in the research phase 🔎, you’re not just learning what your audience is saying.
You also need to understand the kind of “traffic” that is coming to read the copy you’re writing.
That’s where market sophistication and the buyer’s journey come in.
Market sophistication is how familiar your target customer is with the kind of product you’re writing about.
For example, have they tried a product or service like that before? Have they tried many like it?
A customer who hasn’t had any experience with the kind of product you’re advertising would be considered “low” on the market sophistication scale.
A customer who has a lot of industry knowledge, has tried many competing products, and is familiar with the “insider” language of that market would be considered “high” on the scale.
In your copy, you’ll speak to the reader according to how familiar or unfamiliar they are with that market or industry.
The buyer’s journey details the different stages of their awareness concerning the problem which the product or service solves.
(Hang with me here)
There are 5 stages of awareness popularized by late copywriter Eugene Schwartz:
I’ll explain them…
- Unaware: At this stage, the reader doesn’t know they have a problem ( we don’t typically write to customers who are at this stage).
- Pain Aware or Problem Aware: The reader is aware they have a problem that needs solving.
- Solution Aware: The reader knows a solution to their problem exists, but is not familiar with your product as a possible solution.
- Product Aware: The user is aware that your product or service exists as a solution to the problem.
- Most Aware: The user is considering your offer as the solution they need.
(You’ll notice these stages are speaking in terms of “problems” and “solutions,” and that’s because every product or service needs to solve a problem in the life of their customer)
Unique Selling Propositions (What Are They & Why Do They Matter In Copywriting?)
One of the first things copywriters must do before writing, is identify the unique selling proposition of the product they’re writing about.
A unique selling proposition (also abbreviated “USP”) is also referred to as a unique selling point, or value proposition.
It’s the differentiating factor that sets a business apart from the competition. It’s the “unique” factor that creates interest for a customer.
In his ad for Rolls Royce, famed copywriter David Ogilvy studied the car thoroughly before finding the unique selling proposition for the luxury car—its quiet engine.
He used that USP to write the following headline:
Here are other examples of unique selling propositions:
The Power Of A Strong Headline
A headline is the large heading a reader first reads before seeing any other part of the copy.
If you want to write persuasive copy, you must have a strong headline that instantly catches your reader’s attention. Otherwise, they’ll stop reading 📖.
Every headline should be:
✏️Clear (if a customer is confused about a product, they’ll resist buying it)
✏️Communicate value for the customer
✏️Be distinctive from competitors
Copywriter Joseph Sugarman called this the “slippery slide,” because each line of your copy gets the user to slide down to the next line and so forth.
Here is an example of a headline:
^^ This headline is for an email marketing platform called FloDesk. The software helps you easily design beautiful emails.
This headline works great because it’s selling the idea that people will actually enjoy the emails sent to customers using FloDesk, instead of deleting them or marking them as spam.
How To Use Copywriting Formulas & Never Write From Scratch
What I love about copywriting is there are formulas and processes we can use to write faster.
This speeds up the writing process tremendously, and as I said before…makes it so you never write from scratch.
Examples Of Trusted Formulas
When I’m not sure what to write, I start with a copywriting formula.
Whether you’re writing an email, ad, or an introduction to a sales page, these formulas help you finish your copy project a lot faster.
Here are 2 of my go-to copywriting formulas:
- PAS: This is one of my favorite formulas. The “P” stands for pain, the “A” stands for agitation, and the “S” stands for solution.
You start your copy by talking about the audience’s problem, then agitate that problem even more, and present the solution to the problem (which would be the product or service you’re writing about).
- AIDA: This stands for attention, interest, desire, action.
You begin your copy with something that will hook your reader’s attention instantly.
Second, you state something that arouses more interest. Then, make the reader desire the product you’re selling—make them feel like they just have to have it.
Last, nudge them to take the next step (take action).
Here’s how the formulas work…
Each part of a formula gets its own “line item,” and you fill that “line” with the corresponding copy.
Here’s an example:
Formulas help you write copy quickly because you don’t have to pull ideas out of thin air. You *always* have a starting point!
How To Find “Inspiration” For Your Copy
Eugene Schwartz once said, “Copy isn’t written; it’s assembled.” Meaning…
Copywriters draw from different principles or ideas to create their own copy masterpiece.
Personally, I keep a “swipe file” on my phone and laptop.
(You’ll hear copywriters talk about swipe files often)
Anytime I hear a word or phrase that draws my attention, or see an advertisement that stands out, I save it to my swipe file.
This is a very copywritery thing to do.
Let me be clear though…
It’s acceptable in the copywriting world to take inspiration from other pieces of work, but that doesn’t mean you should copy word for word or plagiarize anyone else’s work.
To avoid looking like a copycat, it’s best to find inspiration outside the industry you’re writing for.
It’s helpful to read books or watch films on different topics, too.
When you’re constantly learning new things, it significantly helps your writing—everything your brain soaks up is creative ammunition for your next copy project!
How To Start A Copywriting Business (With Or Without Experience)
If you’re interested in becoming a copywriter, here are a few steps you can take right now to get started.
Develop Your Skills
Learn everything you can about copywriting, and write as much as you can.
Developing your copywriting skills is the best way to become valuable to future clients.
One of the biggest mistakes I see new writers make is focusing only on copywriting as a business, and failing to develop skills to do the work well.
If you write amazing copy, clients will be eager to hire you because it’s going to make their business more profitable.
(So yes, learn the business—but work tenaciously on your skills too)
Specializing Your Services Helps You Stand Out
When you first start out, you might feel eager to take on any copy project you can find.
I get that. But…
You might realize that a certain kind of work suits you best, and specializing your services can help you position yourself as an expert in that area.
Here are some ways you can specialize:
✏️Specialize by industry (i.e. automotive, law, medical, technology)
✏️Specialize by form of copy (i.e. email, sales pages, launch copy)
✏️Specialize by the kind of business (i.e. B2B, B2C, eCommerce)
Here’s an example from my own LinkedIn profile:
I consider myself a B2B copywriter.
Meaning, I write for businesses who sell to other businesses rather than consumers. B2C refers to businesses that sell directly to consumers, not other businesses.
My specialty is working with B2B businesses, thought leaders (like coaches or authors), and service providers.
How To Create A Portfolio That Attracts Clients
Once you’ve brushed up on your skills, you can create a portfolio to start marketing your services.
Your copywriting portfolio should include:
⭐ An about section
⭐ Description of your skill set, specialization, and/or experience
⭐ A link to writing samples
⭐ Relevant references or testimonials
(And please, don’t make it boring. Show a little personality, would ya?)
You want to keep your portfolio as brief as possible, but still include all the information mentioned above.
Make sure your portfolio clearly lets clients know why they should hire you over anybody else.
If you don’t have writing samples, you can make some from scratch (I recommend 3-4).
Just make sure your writing matches the kind of copy projects you want to take on.
So for example, If you’d like to write Facebook ads…write some free ads for a local business or make up your own product and write an ad for that.
You can do the same thing with website copy, emails, or etc.
(Yes, you can make it up—the point is, showing you know how to write!)
How To Find Job Leads (Even If You Don’t Have “Connections”)
Once you have a simple portfolio and 3-4 writing samples, you can pitch your services to potential clients.
Before I had any connections, I used an approach called “cold pitching.”
This is when you reach out to a business you’re interested in working with, although you have no existing relationship.
(The pitch is considered “cold” because they haven’t warmed-up to you yet)
Here are three ways you can find clients to pitch to:
- Pitch your services to local businesses. If you’re brand new to copywriting, you can offer to do the work for free under the condition the client will only pay if they like it.
Sure, no one wants to potentially work for free…but you have to build trust. Copywriter Raven Douglas used this tactic when she started over 7 years ago, and it’s what helped her get established (BTW, most clients did pay).
- Try a platform like UpWork.com to connect with businesses who need copywriters.
(This platform is controversial because of the amount of low paying jobs, but you can use filters to find jobs that are fairly priced. This is a great way to find work when you’re first starting out. I know of established copywriters who actively use it, too.)
- Join groups on Facebook or LinkedIn for the industry you want to write for, and keep an eye out for job postings.
How To Price Your Copywriting Services & Get Paid Fairly
One of the biggest hang-ups new copywriters have is figuring out what to charge.
Here’s everything you need to know to get started.
Freelancing Expenses (What To Expect)
When you work as a freelance copywriter, you’re working for clients as a contractor, not an employee.
That means you pay your own taxes and expenses, so consider that when setting your rate.
Making $20 an hour as an employee when you have benefits, reimbursements, etc. is much different than earning $20 an hour as a contractor when you have to cover your own expenses, health insurance, and self-employment tax.
Here are some expenses you might expect:
✔️ Invoicing software
✔️ Books or other learning material
✔️ Office supplies
When you start your business, you can keep expenses minimal and start simple.
(You’ll likely invest more as you grow your business, but your income will have increased)
Unless you’re freelancing for an agency, I never recommend charging hourly rates for your services.
Instead, I recommend having an “internal” hourly rate to quote projects based on how much time it might take you to complete the project.
If you have absolutely no related experience, your internal hourly rate might be $20-$30 an hour for your first 1-2 projects.
If you have a little experience under your belt, you can increase to $40-$50 per hour. You’d be considered a “junior copywriter.”
A mid-level copywriter can charge $50-$70 per hour.
More experienced copywriters can charge anywhere from $90-$300 an hour and up. This would be considered a “senior copywriter.”
These are ball park figures, but it varies based on your experience, the industry you’re in, and the kind of results you can produce for your clients.
The more your clients profit from your copy, the more you can charge.
Charging A Flat Rate
Flat rates are my favorite way to charge for projects.
I have my own internal hourly rate, and then I break down how long I expect the project to take me.
I multiply my hourly rate by the amount of time I estimated, and come up with a flat project fee.
(I call it an “internal” hourly rate because I don’t disclose this rate to the client. I only use it internally to estimate how much to charge for a project)
This is the pricing method I recommend for most copywriters, even if you’re new.
When you’re estimating how long it’s going to take you, you probably won’t know the first few times. That’s ok.
Give your best guess, and make sure to account for research, writing, and correspondence with your client (i.e. meetings).
Charging A “Day Rate”
Some copywriters offer “day rates.” This is when the client pays for a day of your time rather than a finished piece of copy.
It’s important for both you and the client to understand that they’re paying for your time, not a deliverable. Be careful to set realistic expectations on what you’ll be able to accomplish in that time.
(There are specific contracts you can buy to sell day rates which lay out the terms clearly and protect you legally)
Salaries For In-house Copywriters
Freelancing isn’t the only path for copywriters.
You might choose to go in-house, which just means you work as a full-time employee.
There are pros and cons to working in-house just as there are for working as a freelancer.
👍 Steady, recurring income
👍 You don’t have to look for clients
❌ You’re building up someone else’s business instead of your own
❌ You work on the company’s terms
❌ Limited income potential
❌ They can fire you anytime
If you’re a brand new copywriter, you should aim for a starting salary of about $50,000 a year.
A mid-level copywriter should expect a starting salary of $65-$70K or higher.
An experienced copywriter should aim for $90K-$120K or more, depending on experience.
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this guide. If you’re looking to get started, here are more ways to get help:
#1️⃣ Sign-up for my free copywriting class, Become An In-demand Copywriter (you’ll learn how to develop your copy skills & find ideal clients).
#2️⃣ Join my Facebook community for copywriters, The VA Copywriters Collective.
#3️⃣ Connect with me on Instagram!