Many people believe that to be start a career as a copywriter you need to a) complete a gazillion copywriting courses, b) work in an ad agency c) be mentored by some copywriting genius.
But the truth is many copywriters start life doing something completely different and their route to copywriting takes them down a long and wiggly career path.
In this post we wanted to share some real life stories from our copywriting community, in the hope of inspiring you to take the first step!
“I transitioned from being a solicitor to editing legal textbooks and loved it. When I began to get writing, opportunities fall into my lap and I discovered a new career that filled me with enthusiasm, appealed to my sense of curiosity, and my need for expression. While being a solicitor and copywriter might sound worlds apart, they actually have a lot in common. Both are all about communication, being across details and knowing your audience (whether that’s a judicial officer, client or someone looking at a website).”
“After completing a journalism degree, I worked in print media for 10 years before going to the “dark side” and becoming a political media adviser. From there, I was headhunted into the PR manager role in a NSW State-Owned utility, where I stayed for seven years and one merger, changing my title to Community Relations Manager and putting me in charge of two regional customer service centres and a myriad of cranky consumers, as well as media, marketing, and stakeholders. My eldest child came just before a move to SA for my husband’s work, where I took a job as a part-time journo at Flinders University. I eventually got bored and moved into a senior communications manager role in the State Government. Second child came along, banging my head against the bureaucratic brick wasn’t worth a daily two-hour commute, so in July 2011, I quit and set up Black Coffee Communication.”
“I worked in financial services in marketing and customer strategy for 10 years where I’d proudly quote “I’m more a words than numbers person” – not the smartest thing to do when you work for a bank! A move to Australia gave me the opportunity to start writing but without the banking bit. I completed a number of writing courses and established myself as a freelance features writer. I had early success and found myself a ‘go-to’ writer for a number of health and fitness publications where I learnt my ‘craft’ on the job. After building a portfolio I was fiercely proud of, i found myself heading back to my corporate roots and merging my love of writing, my writing skillset and my ‘business’y’ head and started writing for clients. With copywriting I’ve found a perfect blend of all the elements I love – story telling with purpose.”
“I was on maternity leave from my marketing job when I started writing as a hobby. I took a few freelance courses and started pitching ideas to editors at magazines. I was hooked from my first byline! After a few months, I did some copywriting for friends and naturally eased into that side of it too. At the moment I balance feature writing and copywriting and love the variety and freedom that comes with working my own hours on projects I’m passionate about. Plus I was able to look after my son while slowly building a client base. My marketing and journalism experience comes in handy for the different projects I do. I’ve always been passionate about writing and reading so being able to earn a living from it is a dream come true!”
“I wanted to change out of television production. There weren’t enough opportunities or job security, and I was tired of the cut-throat world. So I decided to become a translator. I went back to uni to do my masters in translation studies with romantic visions of subtitling French films for SBS. When I graduated I found that no one wants a translator but everyone wants a copywriter. And they’re paid a lot better too. After years of struggling to find my place, I’m finally where I’m meant to be.”
“Sometimes it feels like I tripped and fell into the copywriting pond. I mean, how does one go from dressing up as Marilyn or performing in a professional musical to writing product descriptions about refrigerators? Random! But I guess I’ve always had a love of words… from getting into books at age 4 to some appalling attempts at blogging in my teenage years (shudder). Ultimately, though, it took a job in real estate marketing to make me think, “Hmm, maybe I can do this for real.” Fast forward through some DIY marketing for passion projects then a contract at an advertising agency and I finally had the confidence to quit and start doing it for myself. It’s hard work at times, but so much more rewarding than any office job I’ve had. Oh, and I still have time for the occasional Marilyn gig!
“After trying a fashion design course, then gaining a library practice diploma post high school, I got my BA in Communications from UTS, majoring in print journalism and radio. All the while, I worked in record stores, and later freelanced for a few years in music & arts journalism and voice-overs. I loved combining my passion for music, voice and writing! In the late ‘90s, I got waylaid by the travel bug and family health stuff before falling into full-time work as deputy editor on a beauty industry mag. I stayed there for 5 years – the freebies and travel opportunities were great, the office culture, not so great. I realised I’d strayed from my path so I quit and relaunched my freelance biz in 2010.”
“I’ve always felt compelled to write about the world around me. As a teenager, I self-published fanzines about the local music scene. This inevitably led me to a career in journalism where I spent 13 years writing news for the BBC, then the ABC. As a digital specialist, I began to realise that every brand, every business was now a publisher on the web and social media and they needed to be able to tell their stories and connect with audiences. After studying digital marketing and working pro bono for a not-for-profit, I made the switch to freelance copywriting last year. I love the variety and flexibility of freelancing and the challenge of making engaging, persuasive content.”
“From spelling bee queen, to writing stories about dogs, to Bachelor of Arts degree, to Marketing & HR roles to fitness & health business and then copywriting! Phew! I’ve always written & seen things others haven’t – and not in a 6th sense creepy way.
Storytelling, purpose and voice are crucial – but I focus on what you’d like readers to feel, know and action.”
“After completing my law degree I went through an intense graduate program to become a commercial contracts manager. 25 years later, with experience creating successful proposals, product offerings, case studies and negotiating contracts in the IT, Telecoms and Health sectors I moved into freelance copywriting with the aim of sharing my extensive business writing skills with start-ups and small businesses. During my career, I worked for small and large companies with global customers. This has enabled me to develop various styles to match different cultures and customer groups. Freelance copywriting enables me to work with a variety of customers and feel that I am adding value to businesses who really need help with their written content.”
“After 15 years being the Accountant who everyone asked to write or edit their business communications, I decided to cut out the accountant part and concentrate on the communicating. The birth of my third child gave me a chance to leave the 9-5 workforce and concentrate on writing. I did a copywriting course online, built a dodgy website (long since gone) and began gently marketing myself. It’s a fabulous, flexible and rewarding job to do from home and around kids. My favourite part of the job is discovering the heart and soul of the businesses I write for and making sure my copy reflects this heart. I’m also a big advocate of plain English, and abhor jargon, corporate speak and weasel words and am never happier than when I’m editing the living daylights out of a corporate document and making the message crystal clear.”
“As the child of an English teacher, my mum was mortified when every story I ever wrote simply said, ‘I love mum, I love dad, I love Brigitte, I love Kara’. EVERY STORY – for years. Hey, I was good at writing those words, so I stuck to it. Eventually, I ended up acing English at school, but no ‘school career counsellor’ ever suggested the secret art of copywriting as a career.
Dropping out of some dumb Uni degree as I was pregnant, I took a job in payroll, although I totally sucked at maths. From there I became a PA to a Psychiatrist which was much more interesting and a real eye opener. Then I started my own VA business, learning copywriting to promote myself. Copywriting became my passion. 7 years on and I crave copywriting – it’s now my thing. But fun copywriting – websites and blogs.”
“I studied English at Uni, and my first job was at JWT. (Yes, a snazzy ad agency, but I was in media buying, hoping to sneak over to the creative side.) I left to work at Penguin Books then zig-zagged through various other publishing houses ending up as Macmillan’s Non-Fiction Marketing Manager. I then had 2 babies and emigrated to Australia. With two small boys and a new life to settle into, I was a bit lost. Then a friend asked me to write copy for her new business. She had way more confidence in me than I did. I took an SEO copywriting course and wrote her web copy, ads and brochures. Seeing her use my words was such a buzz. At that point I felt a freelance copywriting career was doable. (Plus, if I’m honest, it seemed less scary than getting a job)”
“I wanted to be a journalist, but I married young to a chronic asthmatic, so opted to join the US Air Force and train in Chinese Linguistics, which I now teach. I wrote a children’s craft book (Sporadic Playtime: How to spend time with your kids while working from home) after having my son in 2013. My son’s eczema also prompted our sensitive skin care company, Wild Texas Soaps, which officially launched this past January. In 2014 I graduated from AWAI and began copywriting. When the Air Force needed a writer to restructure the entire course I taught, I volunteered. I joined TCCS to find commonality, laugh, and amp up my skills. Now I’m looking at the very feasible possibility of starting out on my own, when my military contract ends, and living my dream of writing for a living. My next big project is a literary novel. It’s not my first, but hopefully, this one will see some shelves.
“My first job was in the treasury of a multinational investment bank, starting in the back office and moving up to the money market trading desk. Corporate sleaze wasn’t for me though, so after a transition to financial management and then steadily down the food chain to bookkeeping, it occurred to me that I preferred working for the little guy than The Man. Little guys are lovely, but their numbers still gnawed away at my soul, so I decided to embrace what I liked to do and started learning as much as I could about writing, design and everything to do with marketing a business. It seemed to me that the objective of marketing was the same as for finance: find new ways of delivering profitability and better business outcomes, rather than just wheeling out tired clichés. And so began my copywriting career and one-woman crusade against small business blah!”
“You do understand, there’ll be a small pay cut” – said my boss, 2 days before I was due to return from maternity leave. I’d worked in Melbourne and London in my 20s in automotives and finance, before returning to Yallingup, a tourism town in Western Australia. I found jobs organising weddings, tour guiding at a cave and lighthouse, and marketing a successful art gallery. The art gallery job was a great opportunity to hone my marketing skills and meet local business owners, but when offered that pay cut, it seemed the perfect time to start my freelance marketing business. I love the variety of work, the new skills I’ve learnt, and the generous clients I’ve met along the way. It’s hard work but I wouldn’t change a thing.”
“After graduating with a BA in Professional Writing, I stumbled into this fairly newish communication medium called the internet in the mid-90s and decided to carve out a career there where I could make a living being somewhat creative. I worked as a UX designer for several years before burnout struck. I bailed just before the big dot com bubble burst and spent a few years teaching English in South Korea, China and Taiwan. When I returned in 2004, I specialised in online content. After four years of freelancing, I got a permanent job as an online content manager for a global company, so I could be a grown up and buy a house. Then I managed government websites as a contractor for several years before having my son in 2013 and vowing never to return to the dark side. I’ve been freelancing again since 2014 and love it.”
“A morbid career start in the funeral industry, decided I was too happy for that. Off to uni, ended up in digital advertising sales, back in the day when many didn’t understand the weird world of web. Educating recruiters on why job hunting was the way to go, and how online advertising can deliver measurable results. Look how far we’ve come! Shifted from the geeks to the glamours in magazines, working across advertising and editorial. Love a good advertorial! Moved to a land of sand (Doha, Qatar), as advertising manager for an international sporting event. Had enough of 50degree heat, back to drinking great coffee, as brand manager for a digital real estate company. Pregnant, husband retrenched, back to sand. Bored in between holidays, enjoyed blogging about it. Now settled and combining all previous experience into creating great copy that converts. Love the flexibility of freelancing. It gets better every day.”
“Like most teenagers, my working life started in fast food. After gaining 12 kilos, I moved onto hotel
work: cleaning, then front office in Banff, Canada. I’d always wanted to travel, so when I landed an accounting clerk job at a travel agency, I was quite happy. Then my wanderlust really kicked in. Several years later, I had a job as a cruise-ship photographer in Europe. After that, I moved around New Zealand and Australia trying to find my calling. I even operated my own eco-friendly cleaning company in Queensland. After a few writing courses, I began selling articles and had a good portfolio. That’s lead me to copywriting. Now I write content for some major players in the travel industry and a lot of other copy too.”
“It took me a while after school to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up. I enjoyed playing with words, but wasn’t sure how to turn that into a career. Journalism opportunities were scarce, and getting scarcer, and nobody makes money from creative writing in their 20s. So I took the relatively safe path of ‘communications’, working in local government and then the non-profit sector. About eight years later, a friend working for a small creative consultancy asked me to write content for a tourism website they were launching for the Mornington Peninsula. I made enough money, and found enough other work from professional contacts, to move to part-time office work and become a proper freelancer – and I loved it! I’ve since gone back and forth between full-time and part-time contract work, but am gradually mustering the courage to throw myself more fully into what I want to do when I grow up.”
Kate Toon | Producer to Copywriter
“I always wanted to be a writer from a young age, but my dream was to write for Smash Hits (a popular teen music mag). After Uni I did score a job in a fancy London Ad Agency as PA to a complete arsehat. It put me off advertising for a while and instead I went into events, and then almost by accident into digital. My first agency job was as a producer, working on the M&S website in the UK. I stayed with production when I moved to Australia, and worked at Singleton Ogilvy. I took a 60% pay cut to give copywriting a try, but then returned to production, climbing up the ranks into senior positions at various ad agencies in London and Sydney. It wasn’t until I got myself up the duff, that I finally took the plunge and started my own copywriting business.
I’ve definitively learned on the job – no courses or training, but more trial and error.”
Over to you
How did you start your careers as a freelancer copywriter? We’d love to here, share your stories below.