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Every snippet of text you have ever read on billboards, seen in a pop-up ad while cruising the internet or heard during a radio spot came from the mind of a copywriter. These wordsmiths hammer out a never-ending stream of intriguing articles, advertisements and social media posts. Their goal? Make money for their clients while keeping readers, subscribers and audience members informed and entertained.
What Does a Copywriter Do?
Any item bought or sold needs copy that is successful in getting a reader's attention and results in action. So, what is "copy?" It is every word in every advertisement, jingle, filler article or blog post. Copywriters drive eyeballs; preferably, eyeballs with pockets filled with money. The best copywriters convince consumers to act on what they just read by purchasing products—anything from toothpaste to cars—or supporting candidates, causes and organizations.
How Do I Become a Good Copywriter?
The short answer to that question is simple: copywriters write. They write catchy, memorable and enticing copy. Millionaire copywriter Mark Ford, founder of American Writers and Artists, Inc., recommends that prospective copywriters hand-copy any sales pitches, blog posts or advertorials that grab their attention and make them want to keep reading. By copying ads word for word by hand, potential copywriters internalize the components of effective pitches, such as rhythm, pacing and diction.
The most successful copywriters have done their homework, taking time to read and adhere to rules of proper grammar and style. Copywriters often use Associated Press (AP) style guidelines, Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style," reference books and client-supplied requests to ensure clean, evergreen copy.
Career Prospects For a Copywriter
While some copywriters keep work hours that mirror those of drunken frat boys, their wallets hold plenty of Jacksons, Grants and Benjamins. In 2016, the median pay for copywriters was over $61,000 per year, averaging around $24.50 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Most copywriters work for themselves. In fact, in 2016, two out of three copywriters were freelancers. Like their full-time, staff counterparts, they worked for advertising agencies, content marketing departments and small business owners. Freelancer copywriters sat in home offices, coffee shops and Wi-Fi hotspots around the globe, writing filler copy, short articles, advertisements and product descriptions. The Internal Revenue Service considers most freelancers to be independent contractors.
As independent contractors, freelance copywriters can write off a portion of their home mortgages, the costs of office equipment and supplies, travel expenses and the costs of memberships in professional organizations. They can write from a beach bungalow in Ibiza, the cabin of an Alaskan cruise ship or any ski chalet with a Wi-Fi connection.
Successful freelance copywriters set daily goals and work full-time schedules. They divide their workload to ensure they can complete each project on time. To avoid relying on a single source of income, savvy freelancers work with multiple clients, managing their workload remotely.
Copywriters who choose not to freelance include staff journalists, speech writers, company bloggers and publicists. They work on company property during set hours and have far less control over their content and its presentation. As staff writers, their companies typically provide them with vacation and sick days. The company also deducts the typical federal, state and local taxes, as well as Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance.
Freelancers often forget to withhold local, state and federal taxes, resulting in penalties. Consult a tax professional or accountant.