Browsing Category

Reader mail

You Asked | How do you start out as a copywriter?

Meg writes:

I have just launched a small full service copy-writing and research firm here in Ottawa. Do you have any advice for someone getting their foothold in the industry? Any general advice you have would be appreciated. By reaching out to writers I admire, I hope to learn a little more. 

I took a very windy road to end up where I am, but I think every copywriter would say the same thing. These five tips should send you down a windy road of your own.

1. Build your portfolio. Ah, this old conundrum. You need to have something in your book in order to get hired and you need to get hired in order to have something in your book, right? Not if you take matters into your own hands. Offer your services to a tiny not-for-profit that would never be able to afford a writer — you’ll add to your portfolio and feel good doing it. Track down a budding designer and build a spec book together (this is especially important if you want to get an internship at an ad agency and I recommend every copywriter start out in one). And don’t overlook the importance of #2…

2. Start a blog. I created The Anthology as a hobby. Fast forward a couple years and my entire career shifted because of it: I write for the types of brands I always wanted to write for, I’m more widely published in traditional media, I lecture at universities and facilitate corporate workshops. I didn’t expect any of this to happen when I started. (Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I didn’t have this geeky little creative outlet.)

My point is this: maintaining a blog is a great way to further your career. From your couch. In your pyjamas.

3. Expand your online presence. All the writers I’ve hired to help me out with my company Northill have a blog of some sort. Actually, now that I think about it, that’s the case for just about every creative person I’ve partnered with. A solid online presence can act like a portfolio and not just in the “these are the projects I’ve worked on” sense — your tweets, Facebook updates and Instagram photos give prospective clients and collaborators a better understanding of your interests, expertise and aesthetic. LinkedIn is important, of course, but in the creative game, the other social media are key because that’s where fellow creatives hang out.

Being comfortable with social media is important regardless of what industry you’re in, but it’s essential when you’re in communications. And when you feel like you’re drowning in feeds, just remember — your working knowledge of social media can add value to your client work.

4. Introduce yourself to like-minded people. I’m always impressed when aspiring writers and students approach me about internships and informational interviews. That kind of initiative is essential.

Search out writers who are in agencies as well as those working freelance. Each will have a very different perspective on the industry and maybe, just maybe, some will have projects they’re looking for help with.

5. Introduce yourself to less like-minded people. It’s not just writers, but other people in the marketing and advertising game who have insight into the local industry. Freelance graphic designers will be valuable allies since they’re often looking for someone to take care of the words for them. The same goes for web developers — not everyone loves crafting word docs as much as some of us do. It doesn’t hurt to meet people in the marketing departments of companies you’d like to work with, either.

The more people you know, the better. Besides, every now and then you’ll need a break from sitting on your couch in your pyjamas.

Good luck, Meg, I hope this helps!

P.S. Take a look at a few of the other reader-submitted questions like Tara’s How Do You Make Your Blog Look Better? Emilie’s How Do You Gain Exposure? And Shona’s How Do You Do It?

P.P.S. Have a question you’d like a reeeeeally long answer to? Send it to

Best reader mail EVER!

Christine writes:

I’m an avid reader of your blog and this afternoon my cat Tui decided to take a look at your site as well. I  couldn’t help snapping a picture and thought you might get a good laugh from it!

Tui, you have great taste. Thanks for sending that in, Christine!