Do you have the “write stuff” to be a prosperous freelance copywriter?

Some so-called writing experts say you don’t need much skill or talent to be a freelance copywriter for businesses and professionals. Don’t believe it. This article looks at the specific writing skills you must have to be successful and prosperous in this field. If your abilities are not up to par, all hope is not lost: We’ll also look at some ways to hone your skills so you can be competitive in the business market.

How much writing talent do you need to succeed in the world of freelance copywriting (also known as corporate writing)? If you listen to the advice of some writers, you’d think the only requirement is the ability to hit keys on a keyboard.

Okay, I’m exaggerating…a little. But a fair share of supposedly “expert” freelance writers proclaim that you don’t need much writing talent or skill to make a lot of money writing for businesses and professionals. Some even say you’ll be raking in $100,000 annually almost right away-even without training or experience in copywriting. I’ve come across such claims in several books and web sites about freelance copywriting. These claims mislead many copywriters-to-be into thinking it’s easy to break into the field. Here’s the truth: People who don’t have at least a moderate amount of writing talent and skill will have difficulty getting copywriting assignments.

Businesspeople and professionals who know they need a copywriter are also smart enough to recognize poor copy when they see it.

Look at it this way: Would you hire a mechanic whose definition of a screwdriver was vodka and orange juice?

Easier, but not easy

It’s true that freelance copywriting is an easier way to make a living than trying to write the Great American Novel and then convincing a publisher to pay you for it. Freelance copywriting is also easier and certainly more lucrative than sending countless queries to magazine editors and waiting for a reply that is statistically destined to be a rejection slip. (About 99 percent of all traditional queries and proposals are rejected.)

But freelance copywriting is not as easy as many self-proclaimed experts say. Copywriters really do need some amount of writing talent and skill. Otherwise, they won’t get very far.

Business clients know what they want and like, and they eventually will know whether a copywriter’s output meets their needs. Writers who can’t deliver good copy won’t get the repeat business and referrals that are so necessary for successful freelancing.

You can’t “fake it until you make it” in this field. Many unskilled writers have tried and failed. However, if you’re reading this article (which I’ve targeted to writers with some skills and a desire to gain more), you probably have what you need to get started as a freelance copywriter.

How much talent do you really need?

You don’t have to be the Ernest Hemingway of the corporate world to succeed as a freelance copywriter. Besides, Papa’s style probably wouldn’t suit most business clients. Here’s what counts:

· You need the ability to write clearly, concisely and sometimes cleverly.

· You must use proper grammar or know when and why to break a grammatical rule. Don’t be surprised if your client thinks your intentionally broken rule is an error and calls you on it. You will need to explain why you purposely made the “mistake” and defend it. Even then, the client may ask you to undo it. Joe Customer is not always right, but sometimes you need to let him think he is.

· You must be able to gather extensive information about the subject at hand, then translate it into meaningful copy that meets the client’s objectives. Interviewing and research skills are handy, and they improve with practice.

· You need to know how to write strong-selling copy. After all, most copywriting is sales writing, designed to persuade consumers or businesses to buy your client’s products or services. Brochures, newsletters, ads, direct mail and many other corporate materials are basically sales or marketing pieces, and the sales message may be hard or soft. Your writing must convince readers to buy. If your copywriting is not yet powerful, compelling and effective, take heart–and heed: The ability to write strong-selling copy is a learned skill, and you probably can learn it too. Look for advertising or copywriting courses on the Internet or in nearby community colleges. Read up on the subject of writing to sell. Carefully examine written materials from a wide range of businesses. (Some of it might be considered junk mail, but you can learn a lot from it.). Then practice, practice, practice.

· You need the ability to write with some amount of flair or panache. Business clients don’t want a dry, dull thesis or a high school term paper. They want writing that’s persuasive, interesting, easy to read and sometimes humorous. They expect writing that captures attention and encourages the reader to take a specific action.

· You need to know copywriting, advertising and basic marketing terms, such as unique selling proposition, target market, advertorial, branding, systems marketing,

· You must be flexible enough to write in different styles. Let’s say you get assignments to write newsletters for two clients. Client A is a laid-back travel agent who requests a breezy, informal newsletter; you can break some rules and have fun. Client B, on the other hand, is a buttoned-down engineer who expects a formal style to match his company’s image and serious nature. You’d better stick to the rules of grammar and avoid cleverness.

The other keys to your success

To succeed and prosper as a freelance copywriter, you’ll also need several non-writing-related talents, including:

· The ability to establish and maintain relationships with clients

· Basic business skills, such as invoicing, keeping records and managing time

· An entrepreneurial spirit

· The courage and know-how to market yourself

· Occasionally, a little mind-reading!

I suspect that most people who want to be freelance copywriters already have at least some writing talent. The other essentials-copywriting and business skills-can be learned through self-education, formal education or the guidance of other writers. Just remember: Despite what some “copywriting gurus” say, you do need talent and skills to succeed in this exciting field. When you’re equipped with both, wonderful things will happen. Enjoy!

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