At heart I’m a creative writer. But a while ago I decided it would be useful to add some more strings to my bow in order to make my future career options more flexible. I read a fantastically inspiring book called The Well Fed Writer about making it as a freelance commercial writer, did my usual ‘I’ve found my purpose in life!!’ dance, and researched some copywriting training options.
Now. Full disclosure: I secretly did not think I needed official training. I’ve spent a lifetime writing, and had a job in marketing and communications. I sort of thought that a course would be a good way to learn some tips and tricks and make me feel more ‘official’. I was very naive, I’ll admit it. But you don’t know what you don’t know, and I’m not too proud to say that I had NO idea. I’ll explain why in a mo.
Which copywriting course to choose?
There actually weren’t many distance learning copywriting courses available that I trusted. I’d spent a fair bit of money a decade ago on the Writer’s Bureau creative writing course, and never made it past the first module. I’d lost confidence, lost my way, and because it’s not really in the course provider’s best interests to chase you up on it when they’ve already got your money, nobody got in touch to see why I was stuck and the whole thing just felt very disappointing. My fault, but disappointing.
So I was wary. The two courses I was choosing between were the Blackford Centre for Copywriting diploma, and the Copywriting Apprentice course. The course contents seemed similar, though I felt more persuaded by Blackford’s slick website and constant reviews. They clearly have a strong sales funnel. But after I registered for the prospectus they sent me lots of sales emails, knocking money off left, right and centre, which ultimately made me less confident in what they were offering.
The Copywriting Apprentice course seemed less in-your-face, but felt, to me, like it had more integrity. Copywriting was the only focus, and it was created by an experienced copywriter. There were a number of positive reviews with a genuine feel to them. I received one time-limited discount offer from them, which I acted on, paying around £525.
In terms of timeframes for completing the course, the Copywriting Apprentice had to be completed within a year (which seems like ages until the clock starts ticking!) whereas the Blackford course was open-ended. Initially I thought that having no time-constraints would be a good thing, but I had a word with myself and remembered I am definitely someone who needs a deadline, however stressful that approaching deadline might be!
Another thing to consider – Blackford offered an accredited qualification upon completion, whereas The Copywriting Apprentice course didn’t. This wasn’t a dealbreaker for me, though an official qualification would have been the icing on the cake. ALSO – I liked that the Blackford course claimed to offer real-world client assignments for students to work on, which they could then use in their portfolio. That seemed really tempting, as pulling together a portfolio from scratch is pretty daunting.
However, with all things considered, The Copywriting Apprentice appealed to me on a more personal level – and I do try and trust my gut instincts.
Learning the art of copywriting
When I received the handbook containing the entire course, it seemed strange that I’d paid over £500 for such a small ‘thing’, but it was packed full of information. It will be a really useful resource for future copywriting activities, particularly some of the more complex SEO and online writing sections. There’s also a whole online Learning Gateway with loads of resources and information.
There are around 12 tutor marked assignments and a number of ‘sticky tests’ to recap what you’ve learned after each chapter, which were helpful.
My tutor was Joy, the course director, and she was incredibly fair and prompt with her communications, providing feedback really quickly (or letting me know in advance when there would be a delay). She really knew what she was talking about. I quickly realised that there was so much more to copywriting than I was expecting, and I really struggled with the online writing sections – I quickly realised that writing SEO copy is a real art form. And not an especially enjoyable one for someone like me. This was a real eye-opener. I’d imagined that copywriting was a largely creative task, but writing for algorithms and search engines is a strange and complex beast. It’s mostly about finding clever ways to insert keywords into a piece of text without it sounding clunky. This didn’t come naturally to me, and was definitely the area of the course I most struggled with, and most needed to learn.
For some of the assignments – particularly the online copywriting ones – I received some critical feedback and was asked to repeat the assignment because I hadn’t quite understood it or missed the mark. Initially, this made me very cross. I do not take criticism well. I’d slam my laptop down, storm around the house cursing the course and my tutor and feeling general maligned. Then I’d give it an hour, analyse the feedback, think of my rebuttals, and realise that my tutor was – of course – bang on the money. When I sat down to do the assignment again, I had clarity and felt as though I’d taken a positive step forwards. My good grades reflected this.
Has the course made me a better copywriter?
Undoubtedly. I’ve always been able to write well, but now I can write commercially, which I couldn’t confidently do before. I’ve learned to cut extraneous words. I’ve learned how to improve headings, and now understand the structure of websites and the importance of metadata.
Doing the course – whilst stressful at times, thanks to getting pregnant a few months in, looking after my toddler and going through a big restructure at work – was an enjoyable learning experience, and the course director, Joy, was a real pleasure to be mentored by.
However, I realised halfway through the course that my career goals had changed. The thought of being a freelance copywriter suddenly seemed less exciting, and I can’t put my finger on why that was. I think the realisation that most copywriting now is website-focused and therefore beholden to savvy keyword use, pandering to ever-changing algorithms and chasing page ranks just showed me that my fantasies of copywriting were a bit off base.
The techniques and tools I’ve learned will still be fantastically useful – both in my personal writing career and in my day-job, but for the time being, the course didn’t do what I initially intended it to do, which was play a large part in launching my freelance copywriting career.
There are some things I wish I’d done differently. I think that my tutor would – had I sought it out – have provided much more clarification and advice on the areas I found confusing. She was very open to discussion and advice, but I’m a natural ‘Oh, I won’t bother them’ sort of woman, so I stupidly just sucked it up and struggled on in silence. The course also promised two telephone ‘check-ins’ with the tutor throughout the course, which I was never prompted to do and – not being a big telephone fan – didn’t chase up myself. (I really am no help to myself at all, am I?) They would have provided a useful opportunity to discuss things in person and ask questions.
There are loads of online resources included with the course, hardly any of which I looked at (time-constraints, mostly) but which I believe are still available to me beyond my completion, which will be really helpful in the future.
So would I recommend The Copywriting Apprentice course? Yes! I would – particularly if you are absolutely raring to go with your freelance career. Freelance copywriting is often described as a great career to fit around being a mother – which is probably true – but I perhaps bit off more than I could chew doing it whilst pregnant, with a toddler, whilst also trying to write a novel!
As the fabulous Douglas Adams once said, “You live and learn. At any rate, you live.”