I was dead chuffed to be mentioned in a recent blog post by Bristol-based public relations guru Robert Fenner of Lyon Communications. Based on a conversation over dinner at Nailsea’s Posh Spice restaurant, he identified us as ‘in-betweenies’. That makes us members of a generation whose careers have bridged traditional ‘hard copy’ and online digital worlds – and who have the skills of both.
The challenges facing young, aspiring copywriters
It was great to see Robert thirty-plus years after last meeting at Cambridge. Our catch-up came after I attended one of his excellent DIY PR training seminars with Business West. Thinking about the differences between us in-betweenies and today’s young blood got me thinking about the challenges facing youngsters coming into copywriting.
Decades of sales, marketing and writing underpinned going freelance
As someone who’s probably among the more experienced copywriters in Cheltenham, it’s easy to take for granted the decades of sales, marketing and writing experience that underpinned my decision to go freelance in 2006.
Although I’ve always enjoyed writing and wrote regularly as part of my earlier sales and marketing work, it took me the best part of 15 years to get into copywriting full-time. And when I went freelance I was fortunate to have several years of valuable copy creation experience on top of my education in the University of Sales & Marketing life.
Many of today’s graduates are considering freelancing
But what of today’s graduates? We all know it’s tough for young people to get into copywriting. At the same time, it’s clear that many of them, unable to get employment, are trying alternative directions – including freelancing.
Hardly a month passes without getting an email enquiry from a graduate looking for work experience, shadowing or a placement. Because one of my USPs is that I don’t subcontract or employ anyone, I can’t offer work. And for other reasons, shadowing isn’t viable either. So I do the next best thing and draw on my experience to offer support and advice.
What’s the answer?
So what’s the answer if you’re a twenty-something with a good arts degree, limited work experience and a hunger for a copywriting career? Despite the current economic climate, this Cheltenham copywriter firmly believes the ideal route is still to get a job in a quality marketing environment. It’s a great way to learn, to broaden your marketing and business perspectives, and to get specific sector knowledge.
Everyone should work in a pure sales role
I also believe that everyone who aspires to a career in copywriting should work in a pure sales role at some point. Armed with that, newbie copywriters are in a much stronger position to progress as employees or take the plunge into freelance copywriting life.
Whether you’re employed or not, the next thing I suggest is to do some pro bono work for a charity or similar organisation. Smaller regional charities should jump at the offer of some enthusiastic volunteer support. Complement this with blogging or work on your own website and your getting valuable experience and creating valuable portfolio content.
It’s never too early to start building your network, especially among friends, family and their contacts who already know of you. The key thing is to find a way to write: regularly, enthusiastically and with passion.
Build industry and sector knowledge
At the same time, use the Internet and other reference sources to build knowledge of the main industries and business sectors. That way you’ll be up to speed when a freelance opportunity arises. And if you have a sector specialism (perhaps from part-time work you did while studying), build on that too.
It’s hard to take the freelancing plunge and doubly challenging when you don’t have the years of solid experience that we in-betweenies have built up. But if you’re determined to make it, have a modicum of raw ability and are prepared to study, network and take responsibility for your future, I’ve no doubt that you can craft a rewarding freelance career.
We’re sure the future of copywriting is in good hands
It took me a couple of decades to get to my life’s work in a freelance capacity. But it can be done and the future of our industry is counting on you and your peers. When the in-betweenies like Robert and I have put away our pens and keyboards to watch the sunset from our rocking chairs, we’re sure that freelance copywriting will be in safe hands.
And they could be yours!
Al Hidden is an experienced Gloucestershire based copywriter specialising in Marketing, Web/SEO, technical and PR copywriting.