20 Essential Copywriting Skills

Want to be a kickass copywriter? Silly question. Of course, you do. Well, if that’s the case, make sure you embrace these 20 essential copywriting skills. I base these skills on my 20+ years as a successful freelance copywriter.

Do you learn better by watching a video? I got you. Scroll to the end of the blog post for the video I recorded.

20 Essential Copywriting Skills

1. Make sure you know how to write.

Duh, yeah, seems pretty basic, right? But I know many folks who dream of becoming a writer and spend ZERO time learning how to write.

How do I know? I used to be that person.

When I was a kid, I talked about becoming a writer. I did this through college. But I never devoted myself to the craft. That wouldn’t come until later when I somehow managed to get hired to teach a writing course to first-semester law students.

Nothing makes you learn something faster than teaching it. It was a humbling experience but also a critical experience for my growth as a copywriter.

If you’re not sure you’ve got writing “chops,” as I like to say, don’t fret. Writing is a learnable skill. Take a course. Udemy is a great place to check out. (I’m sure there are others.)

Once you feel you’ve got your writing chops, come back to this article and keep going.

2. You proofread like a pro.

Nothing can doom a copywriting career faster than sloppy mistakes. Listen, we’re all human, so typos can and will happen. But you must try your hardest to deliver sparkling clean copy to your clients. So get good at proofreading. Don’t treat it as a passive exercise, either. There’s an art to it.

Check out my video on proofreading tips and tricks. (Also, my hair looks really good in this video.)

3. You know the tenets of inbound marketing and content marketing.

As a copywriter, you need to know more than simply writing. You must understand inbound marketing, email marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), social media, design basics—the list is seemingly endless.

The good news is you can teach yourself all of the above. But this won’t be a “once and done” thing. You need to keep your finger on the marketing pulse and stay up with what’s trending in Copy Land and Marketing Land.

Subscribe to blogs and devote 30 minutes daily to reading about copywriting and marketing topics.

4. You’re creative and know how to tell good stories.

Can creativity be learned? Some would argue no. I like to think that everyone has a creative well inside of them. You simply need to figure out how to tap into it. And here’s the thing: I’m not talking about the type of creativity you need to sustain a whole novel or a screenplay. I’m talking about the little creative spark that can elevate a piece of copy from meh to wow.

So, yeah, I do believe you can learn how to become more creative for copywriting tasks like creating clever (and effective) email subject lines, writing compelling video scripts, developing memorable taglines, etc.

HubSpot has an excellent guide on becoming more creative when you’re not naturally creative.

5. You know how to ask intelligent questions.

I ask great questions. It’s one of the skills I bring to the table. And guess what? You can learn how to ask great questions, too.

I did a video and blog post on 10 copywriting questions to ask clients. Read. Watch. Learn.

6. You have mad interviewing skills.

As a copywriter, you’ll be doing many interviews when creating blog posts, white papers, guides, and the like. You need to know how to interview well. This skill comes naturally to some. But for introverts like me, interviewing people can be one of the most stressful parts of being a freelance copywriter. And yet, it’s also one of the most essential skills to embrace.

And yes, I have a blog post and video on how to sharpen your interviewing skills.

7. You’re not afraid of teaching yourself something you don’t know.

I’m a self-taught copywriter. I didn’t come into this with a degree in writing or English. (I was a communication major in college.) I’ve learned everything on the fly through books, online courses, blog posts, webinars, etc.

And I’m still learning! My newest obsession is ChatGPT. I’ll be doing a series of blog posts and videos this summer. Stay tuned.

Bottom line: You will need to teach yourself things along the way. Jump in.

8. You read—a lot.

Good writers read. Great writers read a lot. And not just for work but for pleasure.

Follow blogs and publications that have their finger on the marketing pulse. Off the top of my head, I recommend following . . .

9. You know how to research—accurately and quickly.

Anyone can plug a query into Google and get an answer. That’s not research. You need to understand how to conduct meaningful research, what a reputable source is, various media biases, your own biases, the difference between primary and secondary sources, etc.

You’ll be writing a lot of content that requires sound research and current data. If you’re weak in this area, focus on developing these skills and flexing this muscle—you’re going to need it.

10. You know what you don’t know.

Often, you won’t know what you don’t know. But much of the time, in our gut, we know what we don’t know. Never claim you know something when you don’t. (That rarely ends well.) Smart people don’t necessarily have all the answers—they know where to LOOK for the answer. (Which ties into the previous point.)

11. You listen well. You listen actively.

Listening well has become a lost art. Our attention spans are shrinking, and so many things are vying for our attention. But listening well and learning to listen actively is only going to make you a better interviewer, a better thinker, and a better partner to your clients and colleagues . . . and it will help you in your daily life as well.

12. You communicate well in writing and verbally.

Many writers suffer from “marble mouth,” meaning we’re much better at using written words than spoken words. It’s natural and understandable. But to take your copywriting business to the next level, you must practice communicating well verbally. You’ll speak with clients, their clients, subject matter experts, fellow writers at networking events, etc.

No one is expecting you to deliver a TED talk. But challenge yourself to improve from where you are today. For example, that might involve getting better at speaking on the phone.

Don’t ignore your written communications, either. I’m not talking about client deliverables—I’m assuming you’ve done a great job there. I’m talking about the emails and texts you send to clients and the comments you leave on social media. Remember, your writing will be under deeper scrutiny if you call yourself a writer. This is fair.

Recently, I’ve seen several budding copywriters make sloppy mistakes in social media comments. I can forgive a typo or two. I have difficulty getting past zero punctuation, misspellings, poor grammar, and incomplete thoughts. I’m watching. So are other people. You’re always on. That’s the world we live in.

13. You meet deadlines.

Deadlines are not suggestions. If you struggle at meeting deadlines, you’ll struggle in this business. So figure out how to get better at this ASAP. Maybe working with a business coach might help. Or having an accountability partner. Maybe give yourself a different deadline than you give the client (and stick to your internal deadline).

14. You can play well with others, but you can also fly solo.

Many writers are introverts and love working alone. (HI!) But keep in mind that you will have to collaborate at times. So you’ll want to make sure you sharpen this skill . . . or if you have it going in, don’t let it get rusty. (The pandemic had this effect on many of us.)

15. You’re good at budgeting your time.

This point relates to the deadline point. If you’re freelancing, you’ll be juggling multiple clients and projects. This is a skill that you usually have to learn as you go. And you will probably falter a bit in the beginning as you get to know your own pace. My best advice here is to always under-promise and over-deliver to the client. If you think you can get a website done in two weeks, tell the client three weeks. I can almost guarantee something will come up. And if it doesn’t, and you deliver the project in two weeks, you’ll look like a rock star.

16. You’re empathetic.

Empathy is when you put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see things from their POV without passing judgment. We need more of it in this world. And it’s an essential concept in marketing. Read more about empathetic marketing here.

17. You don’t panic.

You don’t panic when business slows down, when you get negative feedback from a client, or when new tech hits the scene like ChatGPT. Because here’s the honest truth: You will have ups and downs in your business life, just like in your personal life. The key is not panicking. When something goes awry, take a deep breath, go for a walk, think about the next steps—and then take them.

For example, if work has slowed, reach out to past clients to remind them you’re still available. Send them links to recent work. Go to a networking event through your local Chamber of Commerce. Network virtually through groups on LinkedIn. Etc.

18. You know how to set boundaries, including when to say no.

Ah, boundaries. You must set them—with partners/spouses, kids, pets, and friends. You need to set them with yourself. (As in, you shouldn’t always be working. You need to take time away from your keyboard.) You need to know when and how to say no. This is not an easy skill. But again, it is an essential skill that will serve you well as a freelance copywriter.

19. You’re not afraid to talk about money.

You run a business. Don’t be afraid to discuss money. For example, if a client is late paying you, even if it’s only one day, reach out. That’s what the cable company would do, right? This is no different. More than likely, it’s an oversight, which is fine. But you still need to get paid.

Don’t underestimate the value you bring to the table as a freelance copywriter.

Don’t undersell yourself. (Check out my video and blog post on what to charge for copywriting services.)

20. You mind your copywriting ‘house.”

This ties in with the previous point. YOU’RE RUNNING A BUSINESS. You must keep good books. You must pay quarterly estimates to the IRS and your state (if you’re in the US). You must understand basic accounting concepts, reasons to buy supplemental insurance (e.g., disability, business), and whether you should become an LLC.

I know, I know. You just want “to write.” But if you want “to write” without dealing with all the rest, you might be better off treating writing as a hobby rather than a profession.

Trust me; I get it. And I’m not always great about minding the details consistently. But I always come back because this is my profession and livelihood.

Got a Question for the Copy Bitch?

That’s me! I’m the Copy Bitch. Contact me or visit my YouTube channel and leave a comment on one of my videos. I might make a blog post or video with the answer.