Do you feel sometimes like you have multiple freelance writer personalities? One day, you call yourself a content writer. The next day, you introduce yourself as a copywriter to a potential client. Your LinkedIn profile headline reads ‘Content writer, ghostwriter and marketing writer for hire’.

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Whether you’re confused about your freelance writer identity or you just want to know if there is a difference between content writing and copywriting, this post will help you.

Copywriter and content writer are not interchangeable titles. There are real differences between them. The two writing specialties can overlap, and they do quite often. But as a freelancer offering writing services, it’s important to understand how they differ.

 

What is a copywriter?

Most people have no idea what a copywriter does. Introduce yourself as a copywriter and the response you’ll get in return is usually a blank face. A copywriter is hired to persuade. Copywriting is the art of using words to convince the reader to act, whether it’s to purchase, opt-in or engage with a product, service or company. That’s why copywriting is often called ‘a salesman in print’.  Copywriting is used in advertisements, emails, digital ads, print ads, landing pages, sales pages and brochures.

Because the main purpose of copywriting is to persuade, its tone is more direct and assertive than other forms of writing. A great copywriter will have a deep understanding of what their readers desire and will use relevant, persuasive language to motivate them to take a specific action.

Great copywriters know how to:

  • Learn about businesses and understand their marketing goals.
  • Uncover the needs of the audience they are writing for. What keeps them up at night? What is their ‘pain’ and how can the product or service they are writing about alleviate it?
  • Use plain-speaking language free of slang.
  • Explain complicated ideas clearly using compact sentences.
  • Use imagery in their writing to paint powerful pictures with their words.
  • Study a business’ brand voice and adopt it in their writing.

How to learn copywriting:

You don’t need a university degree or college certificate to be a copywriter, though higher education is a huge advantage. Some colleges and universities offer copywriting programs, however there are quicker and more practical ways to learn the craft:

  • Take an online course. There are many available.
  • Read books about copywriting. There are many of those available too.
  • Connect with more experienced copywriters and find one who can be your mentor.
  • Take a junior writing position at a company or marketing agency and learn on the job. That’s what I did, paired with a BA in political science (read: useless).

Copywriting services that you can specialize in as a freelance writer:

  • Email sequences copywriter
  • Case study copywriter
  • Sales page copywriter
  • Facebook ads copywriter
  • Product description copywriter
  • Sales video script copywriter
  • LinkedIn profile copywriter

Types of clients you should be targeting in your marketing:

  • Marketing managers at large companies
  • Marketing managers at SMBs
  • Project managers or lead copywriters at agencies
  • Online entrepreneurs

What is a content writer?

Different from a copywriter, a content writer’s job is to write content that educates, informs, instructs or entertains readers. Most of the time, content writing is used to establish the credibility of a business or strengthen the relationship between the reader and the business. This is commonly referred to as content marketing – the creation and sharing of online material that does not explicitly promote a brand but does spark interest in the brand’s products or services. Content writers write blog posts, website pages, social media posts, emails, reports, guides, infographics and ebooks.

Great content writers know how to:

  • Structure content to make it easy to read and scan.
  • Write eye-catching headlines that grab the reader’s attention.
  • Craft long-form content that isn’t boring.
  • Use research and data to increase the credibility of their content.
  • Be creative and constantly come up with new ideas for content.

How to learn content writing

Like copywriting, you don’t need a university degree or college certificate to be a content writer, though higher education is a huge advantage. There are many practical ways to learn content writing that don’t involve sitting in a classroom:

  • Take an online course. There are many available.
  • Read books about content writing. There are many of those available too.
  • Connect with more experienced content writers and find one who can be your mentor.
  • Take a junior writing position at a company or marketing agency and learn on the job.

Content writing services that you can specialize in as a freelance writer:

  • Blogger
  • Ghost blogger or ghost writer
  • Website content writer
  • SEO content writer
  • eBook writer
  • White paper writer
  • Explainer video script writer
  • Social media content writer

Types of clients you should be targeting in your marketing:

  • Marketing managers at large companies and SMBs
  • Content marketing managers at large companies and SMBs
  • Social media and community managers at large companies and SMBs
  • Project managers or head of content at agencies
  • Online entrepreneurs
  • Corporate executives

Who earns more, copywriters or content writers?  

While I was able to neatly put copywriting and content writing  into 2 separate virtual cubby holes in this post, they do overlap frequently in real life. So, there is no clear-cut answer to this question. However, from my experience as a freelance writer and  in-house content team manager who hired freelancers, I observed that copywriters generally earn more than content writers. Since the main purpose of copywriting is to drive action, most often sales, it is valued more highly than content writing. In addition, finding a highly-skilled copywriter who can deliver impressive results is not easy.

Do you have to choose just one type of writing?  

You can if you want to, but you don’t have to! Like I mentioned at the beginning, content writing and copywriting often overlap. If you have the skill set to do both, then you can use one of them as an up-sell. For example, in addition to writing monthly blog posts for a client (content writing), you can offer to turn the blog posts into a lead nurture email sequence (copywriting).

So which one are you, a content writer, a copywriter or both? Tell us what works for you in the comments!

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