How To Actually Improve At Copywriting (Only For Driven People)

I started self-educating myself in copywriting back in 2013-2014. I had just started studying marketing at a local university when it dawned on me that zero copywriting courses were taught.

In a master’s degree in marketing… copywriting wasn’t mentioned once.

So. I started browsing the internet for more resources and ways to learn…

And being the stereotypical gullible college kid, I focused on wrong advice, from wrong people.

“Copywriting is EASY.”

“ANYONE can do it.”

“EVERY other business in the world writes bad copy (yes, I actually believed this…)”

Or the worst (and most popular) one: “Learn to write copy and you’ll never go broke.”

When I, much later, had become average at copywriting, I did not receive any magic wand in the mail. Businesses didn’t flood to my doorstep, begging me to write for them. I actually started to believe that I could, in fact, go broke. The Twitter gurus had lied to me. How could they!? … Anyway, back to the story.

I sat down, bought a boatload of books, and started reading.

After, I bought more, and read those as well.

Soon, I had exhausted most of the ‘recommended reading’ lists found on any given copywriting book thread.

“Wow, that took a while. Guess I’m an expert now!”

Gullible Mats, ca. 2015

This grandiose thought was followed by me confidently landing myself some copy gigs on Odesk (UpWork nowadays)… and falling on my face…

Hard!

… Looking back, I could’ve cut my learning curve in half by doing the simple things mentioned in this article…

Everyone seems to have heard about the 10 000 hours ‘rule’ (that just happens to be 10 000 hours. What an odd coincidence.) and the old adage that “practice makes perfect”.

But reality begs to differ.

Practice does not make perfect.

In fact, practice, on its own, only makes permanent. Meaning, you might just cement bad habits in your daily or weekly practicing, instead of instilling new, better ones.

Worst case scenario is you learn bad habits that might feel like improvements in the short-term, but as you keep learning you notice they aren’t anything else but barriers that you now need to un-learn, to be able to progress further.

In other words, if you’ve learned bad habits, these habits need to be broken down before you can move on to learning newer, better habits.

So how do you avoid this?

By quantifying everything.

Perfect is an illusion so you might as well just forget that. Throw that whole concept in that big imaginary trash bin to your left.

Done? Great. Moving on…

Instead, create a crystal clear goal or goals that are easily tracked.

Getting better at writing copy is just a wishful dream at best.

Writing one page a day is better. But only marginally.

The next evolution is what most people forget. And sadly, it’s also the most important part.

Simply put, you need to go deeper. Like the main characters in Inception.

Don’t focus on writing one page a day. Because at the end of the month you’ll just have 30 pages of… what exactly? Some sort of sales copy where you’ve focused on… uhh… getting better! Yeah that’s what you’ve been doing. Fantastic!

…but wait a minute…

Getting better at what? Copywriting? That’s way too broad. What does that even mean. What do those 30 pages give you? What will they show to your clients? How do they matter in any way?

Here’s what I would do if I had to start from scratch again.

Phase 1: Literature

Yes, you need to read to become a (better) copywriter.

If you don’t like reading… Maybe this isn’t for you.

Here’s a list of books I recommend to any new copywriter:

  • Scientific Advertising – Claude Hopkins
  • Influence – Robert Cialdini
  • The Adweek Copywriting Handbook – Joe Sugarman

Read all 3. Take notes.

Phase 2: Copy the classics.

The best copywriting exercise is to rewrite and annotate great copy.

Go to swiped.co and filter out all the modern stuff.

Aim to rewrite one ad per day.

Some will take longer. That’s fine. But aim to cement this habit.

One rewritten ad every day.

Rewrite 15 ads, start to finish.

Phase 3: Ideate

Most people think copywriting is about words.
No.
Copywriting is about an idea.
That gives people a benefit.
And it’s only attainable through your mechanism (you’ll read more about this in Hopkins’s book).

Write one spec ad per day.

“In what niche?”

Great question. It’s also time to niche down now.

You don’t want to be a general copywriter.

9 times out of 10, those people are content writers.

You aren’t. So pick a niche.

Check this AWAI resource for guidance.

Let’s say you picked online watch brands.
How do online watch brands advertise?
Mostly FB/IG but also through email.

(Sidenote: I’m mostly geared towards email. Its ROI is head and shoulders above the rest.)

So write a sales email for that brand.

A new campaign.

Or a welcome sequence (relevant post by Chris Orzechowski).

Add these spec ads to your portfolio.

After 15 of these, you can go look for clients.

Phase 4: How to find clients

Use Instagram to find brands in your niche.
Follow them.
Engage with them.
Get their email using a tool such as hunter.io.

Write a spec ad for them. Send it to them.

Be humble. Be honest.

Say that you’re new in the game, but focused on their niche and their niche only.

Most won’t respond. That’s fine.

Follow up in a few days. Don’t mention that they didn’t respond. Keep adding value. Be humble. Follow up in a few days.
Follow up in a few days.
Follow up in a few days.
Follow up in a few days.
Follow up in a few days.
Follow up in a few days.

After 7 unanswered emails you can ignore the brand for a while.

Phase 5: Client work

Be cool. Be good. Submit before deadline.

Realize that copywriting is a line of work where critique will always be apparent. The feedback is never an attack on you as a person. It’s on the work. It’s an opportunity to improve.

Clients come and go, don’t sweat it.

You can always open up Instagram again and start hunting.

Do, however, prioritize retainers.

You can only work for so many clients before your results go downhill.

The logical choice is to up your prices (retainers > project-based fees > hourly) regularly.

Remember that price = value.

Summary

Read 3 books.
Rewrite 15 ads.
Write 15 spec ads.
Look for clients using the tools I mentioned.
Work for clients remembering my pointers.

Next step?

Well, most successful copywriters clone themselves and start an agency.
Others get bored of writing for clients and become gurus.
Some create their own offers.
Create their own businesses.

At that point you’ll probably know what you want to do.

However.

You’re probably not there yet.

So don’t put the cart before the horse.

Start by reading the 3 books.

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