Is Freelance Copywriting a Crappy Business?

I am writing an article about the state of copywriting and the freelance copywriting business today.

I have one question for you: would you advise a teenager today to pursue copywriting as a profession? Why or why not?

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222 thoughts on “Is Freelance Copywriting a Crappy Business?

  • Absolutely, but not because freelance copywriting isn’t a crappy business. I think that most freelance business opportunities are relatively crappy. As a freelancer, there are hundreds of different ways that businesses and people seek to exploit your talents. Freelancing isn’t a great life, but it does have some great advantages that, say, working at Starbucks doesn’t. First, your stock in trade is a talent that increases in value as it increases in quality. Second, while being your own boss entails greater risks, it also rewards initiative and hard work. Third, when you’re your own boss, there’s a way in which you stand on equal footing with every business out there, no matter how large. As long as your an employee, businesses and people will look at you as an employee.

    I think that teenagehood and the 20’s are the idea time for someone to strike out as a freelancer. Typically this is a time when people can take greater risks and have fewer expenses. If you wait until you’ve got a family and a mortgage (as I did), the consequences of failure can be very frightening indeed.

  • The art of copywriting is a valuable skill. Even if one is not a “professional” full-time copywriter, the skill may be valuable as a competitive job seeker edge. The vast majority of people (at least in my silly opinion) can’t write! Anyone who has a skill that others don’t have can be a big asset.

    As a teacher trainer who helps teachers develop writing programs, I often suggest that teachers assign what I call “practical” writing assignments, such as articles (as opposed to stories), press releases, and business letters. When kids get out of school they often have no clue about how to write…with a bottom line in mind.

    Joel

  • I think many teenagers could benefit from simply learning more about copywriters – who they are, what they do, and how they contribute to the professional world.

    As a writing teacher myself, I often find it helpful to show my students *real* results from effective writing. Seeing the impact strong writing can have on an individual’s career path, interpersonal relationships, etc., is a great way to inspire learning. Perhaps some of these students will one day pursue copywriting as a profession. Even if they do not, I agree with Joel above: effective writing is a skill everyone should value.

  • For those students who are seriously interested in pursuing writing as a career, I think encouraging them to pursue copywriting is an excellent idea. The chances of landing a job as a copywriter are much higher than finding work as a novelist or screenwriter. With hard work and determination, one has a pretty good shot at making a decent income with copywriting. Selling a novel, on the other hand, includes a lot of early work with no pay, and then a great deal of luck on top of skill.

  • Although my own copywriting career is very much a work-in-progress (and perhaps always will and should be), I would indeed encourage teens interested in the skill of writing to consider freelance copywriting.

    As Daniel Pink describes in his excellent book, “Free Agent Nation,” the world of work is changing in the freelancer’s favor (although it still has a long way to go). In the next ten or fifteen years, speedy communication should be even simpler, and (let’s hope) such things as taxes and insurance benefits may be better adapted to the needs of freelancers.

    Finally, as Joel points out….good writers are needed now more than ever!

  • I would tell anyone who enters the business world now that copywriting is arguably the most important skill to develop. I work with businesses to develop their marketing messages on the web. The people who excel are those who can write and present their ideas, for themselves and their company. Training in that area will never be wasted.

  • Absolutely! Copywriting isn’t a fad or a skill that is barely used in any industry – there is always a demand for good copywriters. Copywriting is essential for any business in any industry if they wish to successfully reach prospects, build brand loyalty and open the door to every business opportunity.

    Besides, learning this art will stand the student in good stead for writing a powerful resume that knocks the socks off the competition!

    Tracey

  • The one skill that was and is never taught well and that most people failed and continue to fail to learn well in our government schools is writing. The people I went to school with could neither write well nor speak the king’s english without making it sound like an embarrassing mass of some inelegant pond scum. And that was the college group!

    Anyone who can write well and sell extremely well will always be in demand because so few people have the skills. But even among copywriter there are but a few who can do both well enough to command high fees.

    A good copywriter will have a wonderful life, a career he or she will always love and one which will always keep him fresh and young and pay him well — extremely well.

    But he must be a very good writer who knows how and when to break all the rules. He must be one hell of a salesman. And when all else fails he must be able to shoot the bull straight from the hip without flinching.

    As W.C. Fields said, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull.” Sometimes my office is so full of bull I have to put on my mother’s combat boots to walk in it.

    Yeah, it’s a great life. I love it. I recommend it. Jump in and get in the mud with the rest of us.

  • Absolutely yes!

    It is a great life, and – if you can write even passably well – increasingly you can write your own ticket. On the Web, writing is the ultimately skill.

  • I’d advise a young person to study journalism, or perhaps advertising or marketing, over English. Newspaper writing is probably the best way to quickly and effectively develop not only the writing skills but also the critical thinking skills that copywriting requires.

  • I would advise studying English before journalism, advertising, or marketing. Once you know the rules, you can break them with purpose. Otherwise, you just look like another idiot with a journalism, advertising, or marketing degree and no foundation. As for critical thinking skills, those taught in the English classes I have taken were far superior to anything I learned in newspaper writing.

  • Bob, I love the questions you ask on your blog! This one I have to answer. I have three kids and I would encourage any of them to become a copywriter…if they REALLY wanted to. Passion is what make you successful and happy, no matter what you do for a living.

    All three of my kids played “copywriter” on the computer behind me while while they were young and often tell people they want to be a copywriter when they grow up…or a princess. Especially if you love marketing and writing, copywriting is a great way to help other people grow thier busines. How can you not encourage someone to do that if they want to?

  • I’d say yes with qualificiations.

    There are a lot of copywriters who aren’t particularly good at marketing their services. As a result there are a lot of folks at the bottom of the income chain who actually do good work but have to pretty much take what’s given them.

    The second tier are those that actually treat it as a business and actively market their services through direct mail (which would seem obvious but so few do it) and other online/off line methods.

    Personally for me, the peak of copywriting is when you’re writing copy for a product or service in which you have an equity position. For example I’m an information marketer and continually creating various information products that I then market using my copywriting skills. When a client comes to me with a project I’m always balancing how much fun and profit the client’s assignment will be vs the fun and profit I can achieve by using the time to write for my own products.

    I guess it boils down to whether you view copywriting as a service you offer or whether you incorporate the skill into a broader business objective. I find that by emphasizing the latter I am able to be far more selective about the types of clients I’m willing to take on.

  • I would. Because copywriting teaches clear communication, which is a vital skill in life. Being freelance would give them freedom, and being copywriters would give them an opportunity to earn their living by mastering a language.

    As a newly-arrived refugee in England, I learnt my first English word in 1988, and discovered in myself an innate talent for words and how to fiddle with them in interesting and attractive ways. And this ability to play with words has opened many doors over the years, even when I wrote my dry and factual engineering assignments at university. Every assignment became a story that was actually interesting to read.

    So, I would encourage anyone to learn copywriting.

  • Copywriting can be a fantastic profession, and very rewarding, too. Especially in the days of the Internet, where you can be very well paid for writing sales letters and other materials.

  • If anyone answers ‘yes’ to this question, I invite them to spend a glorious weekday with me in downtown Parsippany NJ with some clients from the depths of hell.

    -kevin

  • Bob,

    Did you end up writing this article? I’d love to see a copy. Please let me know where I can find it online. Or feel free to email me a copy.

    I’m currently writing an eBook that might benefit from your article (or info from it). I would, of course, give you full credit.

    Please let me know when you can.

    Thanks!
    Ed Gandia

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