Or, the two essential skills every copywriter needs

What does it take to be an awesome copywriter?

  • A firm grasp of grammar?
  • A bookshelf full of copywriting books?
  • Or, a lever arch file packed with course notes?

I’d argue it’s none of these. 

In this article I’m going to share, what I think, are most important skills a copywriter needs, not just to write well but to guarantee a fabulous income.

But first a little about me

Unlike many copywriters out there I am not classically trained. I’ve never done a copywriting workshop, an ecourse or a correspondence course.

Yes, I studied English at Uni, but it was more poetry and plays than paragraphs and proof reading.

I’m not much of a copywriting book reader either. While many others swear by Bob Bly and his ilk, the closest I’ve gotten to reading about the craft of copywriting is flicking through a dictionary.

So, you may ask, do I deserve to even call myself a copywriter?

Well yes, I learned at the copywriting coalface – when I switched from my production role into a full time copywriter role. It started at Ogilvy where I was lucky enough to work on some fairly major brands, and then I went on to write copy at several UK agencies, before eventually turning back to production.

I had several smashing creative partners, some amazing teams to work with and a few clever and insightful Creative Directors (it has to be said many creative directors can be a touch painful to work with – so I got lucky).

I learned to:

  • Work under pressure.
  • Integrate the client brief
  • Ask the tough questions
  • Pull creative concepts out of my butt crack

I also learned to edit, proof, perfect, define, expand, drill down, negotiate, take criticism, work with others, and brainstorm like a master.

So yes, I learned a heap of things in these roles but I still don’t think that any of these are essential to developing copywriting skills.

In fact I believe it was when I was a lowly receptionist, working for a pittance in some god-awful National Health Service office that I discover this one vital skill.

It was when I was typing up those endlessly dull memos (this was pre emails) and reports that I honed my copywriting craft.

You see I think the most important copywriting skill is this…

You need to type fast.

Yep, that’s it.

Disappointed?

Don’t be. Let me explain.

My typing speed currently stands at around 90 wpm.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a graphic to prove this.

Kate Toon Typing Speed

This means that when I’m on the ball I can type up a 400-word page in around 6 minutes.

What’s your speed?

If you’re not sure what you’re typing speed is you can take the test below:

Psst: If the test isn’t showing up- just head here to complete it.

No, I don’t charge by the word, I charge a fixed price per page, per website or per job.

But let’s do the maths: If an average web page is 400 words, and you’re charging say $200ish per page – well that 90 wpm typing speed means you’re making around $2000 an hour.

Let me repeat. That’s $2000 an hour!

If I was good at sums I’d tell you based on that, what you could earn in a day, a week or a year. But I’m a words person, so you’ll have to work it out yourself.

Okay, okay. I know that’s ridiculous.

Those 6 minutes don’t take into account: briefing, reading, thinking, editing and proofing time.

They don’t factor in the admin, making cups of tea, walking the dog or putting a load of washing in.

But you see here’s the trick.

Along with typing fast the other skill I think a copywriter needs is the ability to cut the crap and get the hell on with it.

In my opinion too many writers spend too much time faffing about. They’re wasting time stressing about perfecting the perfect brand message, debate the quintessential tone of voice, researching a zillion competitor websites, and asking the client 9087 questions.

They fret that they’re not good enough, they whine about writers block, they struggle to find motivation and inspiration and determination. They fanny around on social media, they chat in forums and they clean the bathroom. They do anything to avoid actually writing.

You see after being able to type like a maniac the next skill a copywriter needs is to get stuck in.

It’s a principle a lot of good writers use.

(I know this ‘cos I was talking to Glenn Murray just the other day and he told me so.)

When I get a new project, of course I ask questions, of course I do a little research and of course I grab a giant coffee and have a wee before I start.

But then, then people I WRITE.

I take that blank page and I write all over it.

I write bullets, I write snippets, I write random verbs, quotes, thoughts, ideas, headlines, bullets and even the occasional full sentence.

I write whatever comes into my head and I write it FAST.

I don’t second-guess myself, I don’t edit, and heck I don’t even spell check. I just write. Whatever spews forth out of my cerebellum ends up on the page.

And that super fast typing speed means I can type as fast as I think – almost, I think my brain is more like 120 words per minute – or at least that’s what my husband says.

I get it down and I get it done.

I can polish off a first draft of a 10 page website in a couple of hours.

Yes it’s messy, even a bit crap. But crap and written down is better than perfect and still in your brain.

I have the raw material on the page and the whole white page horror is dissipated.

And now the much easier process of polishing and editing can begin.

So that’s it people.

  • LEARN TO TYPE.
  • GET STUCK IN.

Two skills every copywriter needs to have.

And yes, I know I know, it was a terribly click baity title. And I know that noone could really type so fast and write so well they’d earn $2000 an hour. But I hope you still learned a thing, or two.

Once you do know your rates why not create your own Copywriting Rate card?

Over to you

What do you think is the most important skill a copywriter needs? And what, come on tell me, is your typing speed!

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