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Job Insider: How to Transition into Copywriting from Another Career

Updated: Jan 16

How do you transition into copywriting from another career?

I often hear from newsletter subscribers who feel burnt out in their careers. The most common story I receive—probably because I work in tech—is from developers and IT professionals. They’re burnt out from coding and constantly putting out digital fires. They'd rather put their creativity to the test. Copywriting seems to them like a great option (and I agree!).

Another group I hear from regularly are journalists. In their case, most want to leverage their writing chops to work with businesses. Why? Because businesses tend to pay more and have more projects than publications. Copywriting is an opportunity to earn a better living as a writer.

So, let's talk about what a copywriting career is actually like and how you might be able to break into it. I began my freelance copywriting business six and a half years ago. In this article, I'll break down how I would transition into copywriting if I had to start from scratch today.

Copywriter job description

What does a copywriter do?

A copywriter is someone who works in the marketing industry. They write the words that are used in TV commercials, web pages, sales scripts, digital ads, and direct mail campaigns to persuade someone to make a purchase.

Think of copywriters as salespeople. Instead of picking up the phone to speak with leads, copywriters do their selling through the written word.

A day in the life: Is copywriting a good career?

Copywriting careers fall into three general buckets: in-house, agency, and freelance.

Most of the people I hear from in my newsletter aspire to be freelancers because of the autonomy of working for yourself. But there are incredible benefits to each of these copywriting career buckets. Let’s explore a day in the life of each.

In-house copywriting career

In-house copywriters work for one company. They report to the marketing department of a single organization, drafting everything from the website to the advertising copy. The upside of working as an in-house copywriter is that you get to imbed yourself in a team and help build something for the long term. Instead of constantly changing focus and being onboarded to new teams and projects, you can become a master writer for that one brand.

One of the most obvious benefits of in-house copywriting is a salary. You get paid to write! Plus, working for a company often means receiving additional benefits retirement matches, health and life insurance, and stock option benefits, among other perks.

So, who are the best people to work in-house? My bet would be people who are excited about the brand they’re working for. In-house copywriters can help form the voice and tone of their company, defining over time who the company is and how it communicates with its customers.

Agency copywriting career

Agency copywriting careers carry many of the benefits of in-house copywriters, with a few key differences. Rather than working for one company, agency copywriters might work with several brands at once. If you enjoy variety in your workweek, agency copywriting might be an ideal career.

One way to think of agency copywriting is that it brings together the best of freelancing with the best of in-house work. For example, freelancers also get to partner with many people and brands, but they also carry heavy risks: if freelancers don’t find clients, they don’t get paid!

At an agency, you can work with many clients while also enjoying the steady salary and benefits of working for an established company. The downside is that agency life has a negative stereotype: working around the clock. Many agencies must produce remarkable work on short deadlines. If you’re trying to achieve work-life balance, better read some Glassdoor reviews before applying to any agency.

Freelance copywriting career

I’ll try to hold myself back here because I’m heavily biased toward freelance copywriting. It’s the best job I’ve ever had. So, here’s my experience:

As a freelance copywriter, I work with many companies across industries (though I’m focused on tech). I get to (mostly) set my own schedule. I earn way more working for myself from home than I ever earned working a 9-5 job.

But let’s not ignore the downsides. Freelancing is very risky. If you don’t build a reliable system for finding clients, your income can dry up overnight. This is the dreaded “feast or famine” that people talk about in business. One day you’ll be earning more money than you ever imagined. A month later, you’re at your desk wondering where all the work and paychecks went.