Copywriter: Definition, skills, and how to get started

A good copywriter is a psychologist, salesperson, and mind reader rolled into one.

You’re basically a Swiss army … person — but instead of knives and tiny scissors, you produce copy to sell products.

When it’s done right, copywriting can increase your profits while building a useful and marketable skill set.

Let’s take a look at what a copywriter is, what skills you need to succeed as one, as well as how you can get started today.

What is a copywriter?

A copywriter is someone who produces written content (i.e., copy) for a living. The content they write is typically trying to sell something (though this isn’t always the case).

Some things a copywriter writes:

The more unnecessary quotation marks there are, the better the copy is … right?

When you develop the skills required to become a good copywriter, you’ll be able to draw in more traffic and boost your profits as a result.

That’s what happened to IWT’s founder and CEO Ramit Sethi. He turned his tiny blog into a traffic powerhouse after studying the masters of copywriting.

Ramit’s revenue increase since developing his copywriting skills.

Moral of the story: Don’t sleep on copywriting. If you’re willing to put in the effort to learn the craft, you’ll have a marketable skill that’ll be attractive to any business owner looking to boost profits — especially if that business owner is you.

Which brings us to …

5 copywriting skills you need to master

Below are five of the copywriting skills you need to master if you want to have a solid foundation to (eventually) become a master.

Once you start developing your craft, you’ll learn when to implement the rules … and when to break them.

1. Focus on the reader

This is the most important rule for a copywriter.

Imagine you just met someone at a party so you strike up a conversation. Immediately, they jump into a story about themselves and their life and all the things that they want. The conversation soon turns into a monologue while you can’t get a word in.

Ugh, doesn’t feel good does it? You’re on the verge of muttering something about accidentally leaving your stove on at home and heading out the door.

Now imagine you meet someone else at this party. This person asks you about your life: What do you do? Who do you know here? Are you enjoying the party? As you talk, they listen closely to what you say and respond to everything with thoughtful consideration.

This feels fantastic! It really seems like this person really knows and is connecting with you even though you just met.

This is the importance of focusing on your reader. When you make the copy about yourself and what you can do, you fall victim to “I, I, I Syndrome.”

Here’s a good example of that:

This kills the sales.

Bad writers make it about themselves. Good writers make it about what the reader cares about — which brings us to …

2. Stress benefits vs features

What do you have to offer to the reader? More importantly, why should they care about what you have to offer?

As the old marketing maxim goes:

“Buyers don’t want a new bed. Buyers want a good night’s sleep.”

A new bed is just a feature — but a good night’s sleep is something the reader wants.

Let’s look at another example:

“This e-book is a 6-week course on personal finance.”

Boring. Now think. What would the benefits of something like this be like?

A few good answers:

  • “This e-book helps you save money passively so it’s pain-free!”
  • “You’ll learn how to optimize your credit cards so you get rewards like first-class plane tickets.”
  • “Crush your debt with an easy 5-step system.”

Some other examples of features versus benefits:pasted image 0 2

In the end, remember to show don’t tell. Give the readers a picture of what will happen when they get your offer.

3. Talk like a human

Ernest Hemingway famously feuded with fellow writer William Faulkner. During it, he laid down one of the sickest literary burns of all time: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”

Copywriters should get those words tattooed on their arms. Too often beginners think that big words and complicated sentences show readers how smart they are. In reality, it’s an easy way to alienate and confuse them.

Use common words and stories when you write.

A good way to do this is with the “Bar Stool Test.”

Imagine you’re at a bar with your buddies. Over a beer, he asks you about your fitness coaching business. Which would you say?

  • (A) “I motivate individuals to reach their fullest potential by maximizing and optimizing their muscle growth and cardiovascular health.”
  • (B) “I help clients get six-pack abs just in time for beach season.”

Obviously option B — unless you want to get some weird looks from your friend.

Write the same way you talk. If you wouldn’t say it to your buddy at a bar, don’t say it in your copy.


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4. 80/20 rule of research

This actually refers to two things:

Your audience
Remember how we said to focus on the reader? Find out their pain points. What are their likes and dislikes? What do they struggle with day in and day out, and why are you the one to solve those problems for them?

Good copy is crafted before you even pull up the word document — and it all starts with customer research.

Some more reading on the subject:

Your craft
Good copywriters are good readers.

And even though you’ll never have a master like David Ogilvy or Tony Ho Tran there to help, you DO have access to their writings.

If you’re new to this and don’t know where to start, don’t worry. Here’s GrowthLab’s in-house curated list of the 20 best copywriting books you need on your shelf.

Also, check out this video where GrowthLab’s CEO Ramit Sethi breaks down three of his favorite copywriting books.

Research is pure 80/20: By putting in a little bit of sweat equity now, you’ll reap disproportionate rewards later.

Which brings us to…

5. Constant practice

Here’s the secret to copywriting that no one will ever tell you: It’s all about iteration.

Copywriting is a skill, just like playing an instrument and learning a new language. The more you do it, the better at it you’ll get.

You’ll never hear other websites talk about it. It’s not sexy. It’s boring. BUT how much you write copy and put in the research for it will determine how good you are.

If you want to start putting in the work now, check out our video on creating mouth-watering copy (without writing a single word).

It’s a great way to crush writer’s block and get inside your readers’ heads. Just enter your info below and we’ll send the free video straight to your inbox.

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