CONTENT WRITING WITHOUT A DEGREE: 7 TIPS TO BECOMING A PRO

All good content writing starts with a hot cup of coffee in the morning!

Aspiring writers often ask us how we got into the business of content writing/ copywriting and whether it’s a profession open to anyone. Well, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that everyone thinks they can do it – so customers have a lot of choice, with varying levels of quality and price points. The good news is that companies in every industry need skillful, reliable, and hardworking copywriters – and no, you don’t need a degree to become one!

So, ask yourself:

  1. Do you have a strong grasp of the English language?
  2. Do you enjoy spending your time researching a subject and crafting relevant written content?  
  3. Do you understand the difference between sales content, marketing content and technical content?
  4. Can you develop and stick to a tone of voice (TOV)?
  5. Do you know how to use SEO keywords in your writing?
  6. Do you understand the psychology of consuming content?

Ok, relax – you’re likely to have answered ‘no’ to some of those questions. But that’s what learning is for! Just make sure the answer to the first two questions is ‘yes’. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because you’re a native English speaker that it’s going to come naturally and be easy – it’s not.

What is content writing?

Content writing/ copywriting is powerful, informative, and persuasively written text that can use humour, irony, authoritative language, and more to engage its audience. As an additional function, it helps businesses raise brand awareness and market their products and services. It encompasses a wide range of writing styles and an even wider range of content, from websites, landing pages, e-commerce products, advertisements, blog posts, press releases, brochures, and emails, to case studies, white papers, articles, annual reports, speech writing, tutorials and video scripts.

And with increasing numbers of businesses marketing digitally, a copywriter’s role also includes creating punchy text for Google Ads, and social media posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

So, let’s consider what really is necessary to become a copywriter. Here are some additional tips that can help you become a master of the trade. Go through them carefully and, hopefully, it’ll help you consider whether or not the wonderful world of content writing/ copywriting is for you.

1. Write! For the love of Hermes, get clickity-clacking on that keyboard!

Smart content writing/ copywriting is more than just knowing how to write. It’s a honed skill that takes discipline and rigorous practice. There are no shortcuts.

I repeat…there are no shortcuts!

You need to write regularly so that your copy is sharp and on point.

If you’re not sure what to write about and you’re not comfortable doing spec work for free (totally understandable – my team is divided in opinion on this), then start a regularly updated personal blog, or explore your creativity on a social media account that’s focused on your side hustle. If all else fails, you could just word-vomit your opinions on your local sub-Reddit.

But no trolling, please.

Make sure you do it so often that you start getting familiar with common grammar rules, turns of phrase and creative expressions used to write powerful, persuasive content. Hopefully, over time, it’ll become second nature to you. Remember that whilst we all have access to a world of online resources, make sure to build your fundamentals so that once you start working in the industry, you can think on your feet, and not waste time flipping through ‘how-to’ guides.

2. Make mistakes and don’t beat yourself up afterwards

Sadly, many of us are taught that we should feel ashamed when we make mistakes. It’s something to be punished for, apparently. Well, we’re here to tell you that mistakes are ok. In fact, the more content you write, the more mistakes you’re likely to make early on, but the fewer mistakes you’re likely to make long term.

The first step in learning how to write good copy is saying ‘yes’ to writing something new, understanding your mistakes, and improving through constructive criticism. Remember, mistakes are an important part of learning as they’ll help you understand how to write it right(see what I did there?).

3. Be open to learning (about many, many things)

Along with the complex and ever-changing world of digital content, there are plenty of other things to learn, including nuances of the English language. Remember, no one knows everything.

Writing across industries and for unfamiliar products, for example, requires study. We do a lot of this when we write reports. First, you need to understand the products or services you’re writing about, like a salesperson! What are the benefits of using said product/services? How does it compare to competitor offerings? What makes it unique? Let this information guide your approach to your writing.

The first few times you research something new, reading up on it might feel like tracking through mud, especially when you’re trying to understand a subject that’s dry (and sometimes straight-up boring). But stick with it.

Second, the research process will bring up a lot of questions that will help with those all-important client meetings. Speaking of which…

4. Briefs aren’t just for male underwear models

Time and again we see creative companies struggling with their clients because their respective visions of the end product are not aligned. The best way to address this is before beginning the project.

Client meetings are where you get valuable information and establish expectations by explaining to the client what is and what is not possible. Don’t feel too shy to admit that you can’t deliver something, or that something will take longer than they expect. It’s better to be honest than surprise the client later. Similarly, you’ll later be able to refer to the brief and scope of work if the client asks for more than what was agreed to (scope creep – you dirty rotten scoundrel, you).

5. Be ready to take criticism from others

Everyone has an opinion. People will be getting their sticky hands all over your piece of work – whether they’re qualified to or not. Here’s the unfortunate truth – you need to learn how to take it on the chin.

Better yet, just duck and weave.

Maybe the person giving feedback has bigger goals in mind, or maybe they weren’t clear with their scope and now your content doesn’t match their expectations (hence the importance of the brief!). Or, just maybe, (Shock! Horror!) they have a point and your content could actually be better.

6. Build a portfolio

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but clients don’t care about your passion for words (although our writing director honestly does – reach out). They’re only concerned with the success of their own business and how you can contribute to that success.

Experience, market knowledge and insight are your best calling cards. Speaking intelligently about your previous work, and providing some rationale for why you created content the way you did for other projects, will go a long way in proving that you know what you’re doing.

Whilst no two clients are the same, writing for a specific industry or product gives you an insight into how things work. If you’ve worked across fitness or healthcare, highlight that as a strength as it gives you added power and familiarity with niche words and phrases. You’re already ahead of the curve when it comes to industry knowledge; use it to write smarter copy for your clients – they will thank you for it!

Also, remember that as you write your way through different jobs, remember to pick up client testimonials. We know you’ve got skills, but the best person to speak on your behalf is a happy client.

7. Don’t forget point number one!

It really is the most important point of all. Keep writing and honing your skillset. You can thank us later (baked goods are always appreciated at WIR HQ).

So, whilst a doctor can’t treat patients without studying medicine, and a lawyer can’t practice law without sitting the bar exam, a copywriter can write without having a degree in the subject. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy!

Just remember that good content writing/ copywriting involves not only understanding the client’s business and their creative brief, but also the psychology of the message and the target market. It means dissecting every angle, heavily researching what is needed, donning a new voice that speaks the way your client needs, and then sprinkling a generous amount of creativity on top.

Commit to hard work, discipline and the regular exercise of your writing muscles. If you hate working out – tough. Get clickity-clacking!

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