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From creative writer to copywriter – 10 steps to build a business

Are you a creative writer? Do you want to transition from creative writer to copywriter? Great! It’s an obvious match for your skills, and you can make a good living at it, if you play your cards right.

But often, creative writers don’t have business skills training, and don’t know how to start one. I was in the same boat a few years ago, and there frankly wasn’t much help out there.

Most business and marketing courses and books around were fine for large companies, but not really suitable for one-person copywriting businesses, or writers with a creative writing background.

So, I’m now writing a handbook to help other creative writers make the transition from fiction, poetry plays or journalism to copywriting for a living. In the meantime, here’s broadly how I did it then, and how I’d do it differently now.

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10 steps to get from creative writer to copywriter

  1. Do a basic course in copywriting (I did Chartered Institute of Marketing, but wouldn’t recommend that now).
  2. Get some cards printed at a local printer.
  3. Do an online course.
  4. Read some copywriting books (Andy Maslen is good).
  5. Join the Federation of Small Business.
  6. Join the local Chamber of Commerce.
  7. Research local graphic designers and email them.
  8. Do a first job at a low rate.
  9. Over-deliver.
  10. Get more work from word of mouth. Rinse and repeat.

However, things have moved on since I started 10 years ago.

10 better steps

I made so many mistakes when starting out in copywriting. Expensive ones, too! Here’s what I’d do differently now:

  1. Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) course – no. Too expensive, and very basic for an experienced writer.
  2. Cards – yes. But use Moo.com, and don’t get too many. 50-100 is plenty for a first print run. Same goes for headed paper, if you want to go there.
  3. Online course – yes. But further down the line.
  4. Copywriting books – yes, yes, yes. Andy Maslen.
  5. FSB – yes, but only for the insurance, not for networking.
  6. Chambers – didn’t work for me. Read an introduction to marketing instead.
  7. Graphic designers – yes, yes, yes.
  8. First job – see it as an apprentice piece.
  9. Over-deliver.
  10. Get more work from word of mouth. Rinse and repeat.

Clearly, this is a wildly simplistic view of how I got into copywriting. There are no sanctioned routes from creative writer to copywriter, and people take many different journeys to get there.

Like most people, I made plenty of false starts and learned valuable lessons along the way. Everything (including embarrassing mistakes) is in my book below.

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