Aspiring copywriter? Here are 4 skills you didn’t know you’ll need

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If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me what it takes to be a working copywriter, I could stop being one. (I wouldn’t though, because I love the work.)

The good news: Assuming you’re a good writer, you can almost certainly earn money as a professional copywriter — if not a full-time salary, then at least some extra cash on the side for project-based work.

Regardless of the new tools, technologies and trends to hit the marketing game, a company will always need to tell its story and sell its products with words. Even in an era where ‘explainer’ videos are all the rage, those videos first need a script — written by a copywriter.

Of course, it’s not all about your mad, crazy writing talent; becoming a successful copywriter also takes some other, lesser-known skills.

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So, in this post, I’ll tell you about a few of these abilities you’ll want to sharpen right away if you’re hoping to become a pro copywriter.

By the way, the broad category of writing I’m describing here as “copywriting” includes many niches and goes by many names: advertising copywriter, marketing writer, corporate writer, public relations writer, communications writer, content writer, etc.

But the umbrella term is usually “copywriter.” And because that’s one of the stupidest names ever given to a profession (right up there with “Chief Evangelist”), let me first define it, just to make sure we’re indeed talking about the same career.

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Copywriting – What is it?

Most of the text you encounter in a given day — articles, ads, websites, sales brochures, descriptions on product packaging, junk mail, dialogue in TV commercials, the car rental company’s on-hold phone recording — is called “copy.”

Copywriters are the professionals who write this stuff, usually for businesses or ad agencies.

So “copy” just means words. Which means as copywriters, we are: writers of words — as opposed to writers of potato chips or something. It’s an odd quirk of my profession that “copywriter” contains a redundancy right in its title — especially when you consider this is an industry supposedly good with language.

Now let’s talk about those additional, less-obvious skills you’ll need in the copywriting business — skills many writers find difficult to cultivate, but which can be just as important to your writing career as your ability to write.

1. People skills

One reason I got into the corporate writing game was that I was shy. I assumed that if I were a good enough writer, my employers would set me up with a desk in the basement where I could work alone, undisturbed.

Big miscalculation.

The keys to success as a corporate writer are similar to those in any professional field — building relationships, becoming part of your team, and talking and listening to everyone you can, as often as you can. You won’t be able to do those things from a desk in the basement.

Trust me — I’ve tried.

2. Thick skin

When you write copy for a living, you’re inevitably going to find some of your work ignored, not given the praise you think it deserves, or worse. In some cases, you’re going to have your writing trampled, metaphorically spat upon (and, in the really bad cases, actually spat upon) by your colleagues and superiors.

In a business environment, you’ll be writing copy for the company’s true subject-matter experts — the salespeople who are out there every day talking with clients, the product managers and developers who live the product day and night, and the executives who run the company.

That means everyone will have an opinion about your work, and in many cases those opinions will be more informed than yours are.

Writers are, by nature, sensitive people.

So, you’ve got to separate yourself from your corporate writing. When your colleagues criticize your writing, you have to remember that they are criticizing only the work — not you personally.

If you can’t see the distinction, if you take every criticism as an attack against you and your value — or worse, as evidence that you aren’t talented — you’ll burn out quickly as a copywriter.

3. Versatility

So, you’re the best press release writer in public relations history? Glad to hear it! But if that’s your only writing skill, you’re going to have trouble in this profession.

Successful copywriters are able to switch gears quickly and often — from writing informational text for a news-media audience, to writing promotional copy for prospects, to writing technical documentation for customers or employees.

 You might be working on all of these pieces, and others, in the same day.

So, if you hope to be seen as a valuable copywriter to an employer or client, you can’t be good at just one type of writing — you’ll need to be great at just about every type. (Except poetry. You can usually let your poetry muscles atrophy.)

4. Enthusiasm-on-Demand

Often, you’ll have to write about products, services or people you’re not excited about personally.

Sometimes you’ll have to write persuasive copy for things you’d never buy for yourself. If you find this distasteful — if it makes you feel as though you’re not being truthful or authentic — then this might not be the career for you.

The best way to combat this issue when you face it — and you will face it if you enter this field, believe me — is to keep in mind that this product has a target customer.

Your client or employer didn’t sink a bunch of R&D, manufacturing and marketing money into a product without first determining that someone out there would find it worth buying. Try to focus on that customer. He’s enthusiastic about the product; borrow that enthusiasm as you write.

Bottom line: As a corporate copywriter, you’re there to serve a corporate interest. And you’ll have to write about each product or service as though you were its biggest fan. Otherwise you’re not doing the product, your employer or yourself justice.

Not turned off or scared away?

That’s great! Because I’ve probably made this career sound more difficult and uncomfortable than it is.

Indeed, I can tell you from experience that writing for a living is one of those I-can’t-believe-I-get-paid-to-do-this careers.

Go for it.

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About Robbie Hyman

Robbie Hyman has been a freelance copywriter for more than a decade, writing for startups and multibillion-dollar businesses. He is also co-founder of MoneySavvyTeen, an online course that teaches smart money habits to young people. Get to know him at

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