Suitable for absolute beginners or those with a little more experience (and a lot more cynicism.)
Need to know how to become a freelance copywriter in 2019? I did it in 2018.
Would I recommend it? Too soon to say.
Am I living the high-life, wordsmithing by day and lounging on a yacht with (insert name of rapper here) by night? No.
Is the dog fed? Do the kids have shoes that fit? Hell yeah.
The first draft of this blog post contained a long, detailed description of how I got into freelance copywriting. But since nobody asked me about that, and probably nobody cares, I’ve deleted it. You can learn all About Me here (cleverly inserting link to my own website, sooooo good at this.)
My freelance copywriting career started in 2009, when I bravely / naively / stupidly, struck out alone for the first time. Leaving a pretty well paid job in charity fundraising, I started to develop a brand, put together a VERY basic website, began leaking money out of every orifice paying for Google ads, landed a regular gig writing product descriptions for a stone-cleaning company (oh, the glamour) and then got pregnant. Oops. Doh.
Building a solid career as a freelance (insert job title here) is hard. It’s harder still with small kids in tow. I pretty much put my writing career on hold for four years, while I poured my efforts into Thing 1 and Thing 2 (both now at school – they occasionally win prizes and don’t bite other people, just each other, so I think I did a fair job.)
By the time my youngest was sucked into the education system this year, I’d begun putting some feelers back out there, dusted off the old keyboard and tried to reconnect with past clients (Turns out I was dead to them, but definitely worth a shot) No half measures this time. I was throwing myself into a proper career as a full-time freelance copywriter (by that, of course, I mean that I would be cramming work in during school hours then trying to make up the short fall by also cramming work into my evenings and weekends.) I work Sundays now. Freelancing is so liberating (ba ha ha, bitter laughter) It’s surprising how easy it is to sing ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ to a not-very-sleepy child while also sending an invoice – okay, it’s not easy, but it’s definitely doable.)
So 2018 was the make or break year for me (not really, other years are available, I’m just trying to build tension.) I’ve discovered how to become a freelance copywriter. I’ve done some stuff. I’ve learned some stuff. I’ve got £300 in my savings account. I’ve got three unpaid invoices outstanding. This shit got real.
I’m still pretty shiny and new to this game, but I’ve learned enough* to share some (unsolicited and probably unwanted) advice with anyone thinking of starting out as a freelance copywriter in 2019 (or a freelancer of any type, there are so many of us, and so few resources to help ease our loneliness and pai……steady on now…….)
*Mainly I just wanted to write a blog post about this for SEO purpose. So I get to do that and you get some free advice. What’s not to like?
First, I’ll give you my top five pieces of advice for those who seek to become a freelance copywriter (that sounds very Lord of the Rings.) Then I’ll treat you to some hints and tips from proper grown-ups, who’ve been doing this a lot longer than me.
How to become a freelance copywriter
Know your worth and try not to compromise your value (but do what you gotta do.)
When I first started learning how to become a freelance copywriter, I had absolutely no idea what to charge for my services. Looking online, I found guidance about standard industry rates. But without a large portfolio or a wide range of experience, I felt uncomfortable charging anything in the region of these.
I had vowed never to undersell myself and to stick to my guns, asking for fair pay for good work. In reality, I was soon taking jobs via content mills, sites like Upwork and People Per Hour, that allow you to bid for freelance work and take a commission from your fee, if you’re awarded the job. The work was very often eye-wateringly low paid (I didn’t realise how badly paid until I started charging what I was actually worth.) But working for content mills did give me an opportunity to build up my portfolio and hone my skills. Just as importantly, it helped me to build my confidence too.
When I did start to get a small trickle of private clients, through word of mouth or my brand-spanking-new-website (the building of which almost forced my soul to exit my body, screaming) my prices were still on the lower side of low. Deep down, I knew I probably wasn’t charging enough – but I had yet to gain the confidence and experience that would allow me to truly understand the value I was bringing to my clients. My website spoke of the importance of great copy, but I had yet to believe my own hype. It was only when I asked about rates on LinkedIn, and found out what other copywriters were charging, that I realised I wasn’t setting the wrong rates, I was taking the wrong clients.
As my confidence and experience grew, I made a conscious decision to raise my rates. I also accepted the inescapable fact that some clients ‘get’ what you’re offering and some just do not (and probably never will.) In the early months of your freelance career, walking away from any potential client seems counterproductive, suicidal even. But if, after delivering your quote, you hear a loud gasp followed by a stunned silence (this actually happens) then it’s probably time to part ways. If your client isn’t willing to pay your rates, then they are not for you. If they ask you to haggle or make compromises on the quality of the work, then you are not for them.
Practically speaking, I charge different rates for different things, depending on my level of experience in that area. I’ve also made the (some say bold, some say foolish) decision to publish guidance about rates on my website. I asked other copywriters for advice before doing this, and most said that being transparent about fees was a big plus for many clients. ‘You wouldn’t trust a menu that didn’t have prices on it, why should you trust a copywriter that didn’t disclose their rates?’ Said someone very clever. The information I choose to publish is a guide though, rather than being set in stone. It makes more sense to create a bespoke quote per job – but at least potential clients can access some general information about costs before they make contact. In an ideal world, this would weed out the people who do the stunned silence thing when you quote them. It doesn’t though.
If you’re clueless about what to charge, try politely approaching a couple of experienced copywriters to ask for guidance. I did this, and most were more than happy to talk figures, some even sharing their rates and offering advice on what to charge for different projects.
Social media is awash with inexperienced freelancers caught in the ‘work for nothing / peanuts vs don’t work at all’ dilemma. Each situation is unique, and I’d hate to tell you to stick to your guns over money when there’s nothing in your fridge (been there, done that, gagged on the Aldi baked beans.) If someone invites you to submit a blog post for a reputable site, and their offer is transparent (this work won’t be paid, but you’ll be credited for it and it will provide good exposure) then that’s an offer worth considering. But if a potential client (and I use that term loosely) asks you to do a free trial, in order to prove your worth, alarm bells should ring. Direct them to your portfolio and enquire politely whether they’d ask a plumber to fix their blocked bog for free? What’s to stop rogues like this approaching twenty writers and walking away with a tonne of free (and probably high-quality copy) that’s theirs to keep?
Content mills, pleading to rewrite the copy on a school disco DJ’s flyer with tears in your eyes, shitty work for shitty pay – these may well be part of your freelance journey. But don’t make them the whole story. As your experience grows, increase your rates. As you get busier, start saying no to lower paid work. Never give away your services for free unless there’s a clear benefit to your business and save save content mills as an emergency ripcord, not as a staple part of your diet.
Keep plugging away and make lots of mistakes (for they lead to true righteousness.)
I’ve spent a (stupidly) long time working on (obsessing about) my freelance copywriting website. It’s been a process (palaver) and a steep learning curve (massive pain in the arse.
I started out with a Wix site, that I designed and built myself. Always one to save money (Yorkshire born and bred), I figured it couldn’t be that difficult to produce something passable. It was a hot mess. Design is not my forte. Reading instructions is not my thing. Patience is not my virtue. Eventually, I paid a designer to sort out my site – but at this stage, I hadn’t done enough research to be clear about what I needed. Naturally then, this site just didn’t work out for me either. Nor did the next Wix version, done by yet another designer.
Eventually, I found Gill Andrews, a fantastic website consultant, www.gillandrews.com, who I paid a modest sum to review my site, making practical suggestions for both content and layout. I also decided to switch to a WordPress hosting and buy a domain name that had ‘copywriting’ in it – both turned out to be sensible decisions.
NB: I started out with what I thought was a genius idea for my brand. I would be ‘The Word Surgeon’ (slicing and dicing your copy with precision and confidence.) I thought it was a cute and clever hook. But as Gill pointed out, surgery isn’t something people like to think about. It’s scary – and having an image of a scalpel on my website is unlikely to fill people with pleasing sensations or help to build trust.
Once I ditched the gimmicks and started to hone in on what I could really offer my clients as a freelance copywriter, my brand and website began to take shape. I started to get over myself and think about what the visitors of my site were looking for – to offer solutions to problems rather than waffling on about my creativity and love of words. Lesson learned – never sacrifice clarity for cleverness. Also, as my kids have been taught to parrot at school:
“Mistakes help us learn.”
I did a huge amount of research while working on my website, and made hundreds of adjustments, from tiny tweaks to changing my domain name. I knew that my site needed to conform, in part, to industry standards – visitors needed to know that they were on a copywriter’s site and feel safe within certain perimeters. But I also wanted to invest something of my personality, and that’s an ongoing battle. Not being too corporate, not being too quirky – I tend to veer between the two.
Almost every day, I take another look at my website – tweaking the copy, adding a new service, uploading a blog post or changing the size of a button (then changing it back again.) It’s a work in progress – but well worth the effort. I see it as my most valuable business asset and use it as my calling card, whenever I’m pitching for work.
Though getting it in something like decent shape has involved eight individuals, eighty thousand hours and eight million pounds, I can now share my link with something approaching confidence. Pride is another matter – but if it was perfect, what on earth would I do with my time?
Don’t go off down dark alleyways…
As a freelancer, you spend a lot of time alone. You can start to go a little bit funny and this comes out in funny ways.
I got obsessed with SEO. During the early months, when the phone never rang, and the only emails were from my Mum, I had a lot of time on my hands. SEO wasn’t really a thing when I first started out as a freelance writer. Fast forward five years and suddenly everyone is talking about it, offering it as a service and telling you to do it to your website, or you’ll never rank (oh God, I’ll never rank. I. will. Never. Rank.)
Not knowing enough about SEO, not being good at SEO, not SEOing the shit out of my website felt like failure. I just knew all the other copywriters on Twitter were laughing at me (she don’t know how to SEO, you know?) So I threw myself into becoming an SEO expert; cramming my brain with Twitter articles, blog posts and even reading entire books on the subject. I still, to this day, do not really get SEO. It feels mysterious (and I think Google have designed it that way.) It feels like a mindf**k (and Google like that, too. Google are deviants.)
I’ve also come to realise that SEO copywriting is not as all-important as I first believed. Sure, a good working knowledge of SEO is helpful for a modern copywriter, but being able to, like, write good stuff, is much more useful.
Sure, if you’re a freelance copywriter, your website should contain keywords that centre around the area of freelance copywriting – terms that people are likely to search for if they’re looking for a service like yours. These should appear more than once or twice, but it’s pretty obvious if you’re overstuffing the Turkey and it reeks of desperation (trust me, I’m sometimes asked to write articles that contort words into ridiculous permutations in the name of SEO, and I just can’t do it – it makes me feel dirty. Ernest Hemingway would be turning in his grave.)
As copywriters, we write for people (not bots.) In fact, our whole craft is based on writing the right stuff for the right people, and writing it real good, too. After months of ripping my hair out, learning about meta tags and long-tail keywords, I’m maybe an inch further forward with the SEO thing. I’m not planning on marketing myself as an SEO copywriter any time soon and I’d rather be Donald Trump’s speechwriter than specialise in SEO work. Looking back, I could have maaaaaaybe have used some of that time a biiiiiiiiit productively – writing blog posts (yes, with keywords in them) or networking on social media.
Fact is, as freelancers, we’re in charge of everything. Every. Little. Thing. We have no boss to set us targets, tell us where to focus our attention or appraise what we’ve already done. It’s all too easy to become obsessed with one area and spend our free time (when not writing for a client) going after one thing. Diversification is a much better bet – doing a little here and a little there across a broader range. This is much more likely to yield results than hunching over a desk muttering ‘meta tags.’
Be the boss of you.
I used to request payment within 28 days on my invoices. Someone once told me that’s pretty standard. Chatting to a freelance translator recently, however, I was interested to learn that her invoices state payment should be made within a week. I felt a bit jealous when she said this, because I was waiting four times as long for my money. Then I realised, it’s your invoice you dingbat, you can set whatever terms you like.
This doesn’t mean that we should all go crazed with power, requesting that clients pay us in John Lewis vouchers or send us videos of themselves making bank transfers wearing only fur coats.But it did open my eyes to something quite nice (and oft forgotten) about freelance work.
Though there may be accepted industry standards, and you may be given certain advice by seasoned professionals, you are ultimately master of your own destiny. You are fully entitled to set your own terms – whether that’s requiring all new clients to fill out a briefing form, saying no to a new client because you’re getting a baaaaaaad vibe from them or deciding that, actually, you don’t really want a Facebook account as you’re more a LinkedIn kind of guy / gal.
I changed my invoice template, requesting payment within seven days, and nobody was mad at that.Waiting almost a month for payments just doesn’t work for me –my cashflow grinds to a halt, leaving me scrabbling about between the sofa cushions for coppers while a client is sitting on an invoice for a couple of grand – BECAUSE I SAID THEY COULD. I’ve also started asking new clients for a 50% deposit, after an unpleasant experience playing kiss chase with someone I’d never worked with before (eventually having to resort to a fiercely worded ‘scary letter’, sent by recorded post – yep, the big guns.)
There are some accepted procedures that protect both you and your client, and sticking to these might be a really good thing (yes, it’s boring to have to discuss, type up and send an agreement before every job, but doing so will keep you covered if said client tries to change the terms halfway through the work, or leaves the country or just turns out to be ‘challenging’ (I wrote something else then deleted, you catch my drift.)
Within these tried and tested frameworks, however, you have the opportunity to develop systems that work for you. Yes, I’m a freelance copywriter. I’m also Rowan, a single parent with two kids, two hamsters (one currently AWOL*) and a large, greedy Labrador. What works for me may not work for you – but part of the attraction of freelance working is the never-having-to-answer-to-anyone-ness of it all. As long as you have clear-cut reasons for making decisions, you should stick to your guns.
*Squidward was absent at the time of writing, but has now returned from his travels, back to the bosom of his beloved brother, Bob The Drag Queen.
Erm, have fun. (Put an emoticon there then deleted it, too much like having fun.)
When I asked the friendly new copywriter friends I’ve made on Twitter for their advice on how to become a freelance copywriter, one suggestion really stuck out for me. It’s not something I’ve done – rather, it’s something I’ve quite spectacularly failed to do during my first months as a freelancer. When I first read this little snippet of advice, I snorted into my ever-present cup of tea. Have I built up enough suspense yet? Are you ready for it?
She wrote two little words…
Have I enjoyed building the foundations of my freelance copywriting business? I’ll be honest. No. For me, the fear of total, epic failure is ever-present – particularly as I have two children to support (of course, I’d never use that as a factor when pitching to a client – though I have, on occasion, mentioned my big, fat, greedy dog and his constant need for chum.)
Working as a freelancer you are, in essence, running a small business – where the product on sale is you. This ‘you’ isn’t really ‘you,’ see? You become a brand, made up the bits of you that you’re happy to send out into the world to represent you professionally (sooooooooo many bits that stay at home.) So much stuff goes into building that brand, marketing that brand, managing that brand…. all before you’ve actually put fingers to keyboard and written copy any for cash.
Some stuff I’ve done in the last six months (that I never, ever thought I’d do.)
- Learned about web design and built a website from scratch.
- Scrapped my self-build website and paid another freelancer someone else to do something for me (as a Yorkshire lass, who darns holes in socks, this really pained me.)
- Learned about (vile) SEO witchcraft and put some simple (but vile) SEO practices into action.
- Networked (via Twitter, via Facebook, via Linked in, via every kid’s birthday party or school event I’ve attended in the last year (and yes, the DJ did need new copy for his flyer, it was bloody awful.)
- Made countless decisions whether spend more cash upgrading things or feel like a second-class citizen on the ‘basic’ package (LinkedIn premium – noooooo. Procopywriters subscriptions – why, yessssssss.) Upgrade after Moz keyword researcher tool free trial – not given a choice, they just robbed the cash and ran.
- Devised a legal agreement that’s actually, erm, legal.
- Travelled some distance for a face-to-face meeting with a potential client, before quickly realising that he was:
- a) suffering from dementia
b) a long way from home
c) deeply confused about what he wanted from me
d) a big fan of showing people old photographs.
That’s half a day I’ll never get back – but I’m definitely going to heaven, or at least getting my ‘Care of the Elderly’ badge at Brownies.
- Designed my own business cards (badly.)
- Picked up the phone and called actual, real-life human beings to ask them for work.
- Fired someone (via People Per Hour, but still, it was brutal and awful.)
- Read up on a huge range of topics that have very little to do with copywriting and everything to do with running a small, online business (sales, marketing, SEO, web development etc.)
When you need to make a living as a freelancer (as it’s your main source of income, not a bolt on to well-paid day job) it’s a constant hustle; drumming up business, giving quotes, trying to make evaporated clients reappear. Actually doing the work makes up such a small part of your week (and getting paid, an even smaller part – sometimes, no part at all.)
I like to see a quick return on my investments, so for the first six months of freelancing, I lived in a constant state of frustration and bewilderment. I was putting the hours in, faffing (constructively) with my website, getting into social media, testing different versions of cold emails, picking up the phone and calling digital agencies – but I just wasn’t getting any regular work.
I was told, repeatedly, by more experienced freelancers, that the work would come – there’s just a delay, like on a really annoying Skype call. So much of what we do is about building long-term relationships, rather than quickly closing deals.
Look at it from a client’s perspective. How many hairdressers do most of us try before we find one that we really love? Three, ten, twenty-five? Safe to say, once we locate that special someone who ‘gets’ what we want and can work wonders with our hair type, we stay fiercely loyal to them forever after. Our clients need to trust us – and that takes more than one phone call, more than three emails. They’re not only parting with their hard-earned cash, they’re also putting the reputation and future of their business in our hands. I go on and on about the value of a good copywriter. So why should a client take the decision to hire one lightly, or make it quickly?
When I’m asked to provide a quote, I very often feel miffed if the work goes to another writer. I usually put it down to price, kicking myself that I didn’t shave a few hundred pounds off and beat them to the work. In reality, there are so many reasons for choosing (or not choosing) a freelancer. It may not always come down to cost. Perhaps I’m not a good fit in other ways. Some people my writing style, but safe to say, others probably think its pants. Just as I like a bit of Hemingway, others may think him a pretentious twonkle (not a real word, and not true either, you idiots.)
One day, I may look back at my early struggles as a freelancer and laugh uproariously (over my G&T, ice tinkling, standing on the deck of my multi million pound…..I digress….) I may kick myself for focussing so much on the destination that I failed to enjoy the journey. Thankfully, I still love to write stuff. Though I go through untold agonises over every piece of copy, it always starts coming together – and nothing beats that feeling, when you know you’re starting to craft something the client is going to love. I need to focus more on that, not the fact sometimes I still sneakily bid for work on people per hour at 3am, shit scared about the gas bill.
My gift to you.
All I want for you, as someone starting out in the freelance copywriting business, is to have some useful, helpful, insightful and cheerful stuff to look at, when the chips are down. On those days when I had no work and lot of serious questions about my future, it would have been wonderful to have a great, big, whacking list of helpful hints and tips on how to become a freelance copywriter that might get me off Facebook (not the business profile) and spur me into action.
Nil desperandum, friends (that’s Latin, y’know.) I’ve tugged on the coat tails of some of the UK and beyond’s finest, most experienced and most talented copywriters in order to provide you with my big fat copywriting hits, tips and hacks list.
Some of this is practical advice. Some is general and some specific. Some is wit and wisdom from seasoned professionals (more like hardened criminals.) Dip into it at your leisure and use only what makes sense to you.
How to become a freelance copywriter, by those in the know.
“It’s tempting to take on low-paid work / do free samples, but: 1) low-paid / free jobs are just as much work as reasonably paid ones. You’ll end up feeling resentful. 2) It’ll be harder to justify charging more once someone’s used to bargain basement rates.”
Andre Spiteri, copywriter. www.maverickwords.com
“Connect with other copywriters, follow their work and don’t be afraid to ask them for advice. They’re a friendly bunch, who are always happy to help. Get in touch via social media or send an email. A chat on the phone is good too, so long as it’s not a cold call. Get to know them online first.”
That Content Shed. Copywriter. www.thatcontentshed.com
“1) always use a contract (no matter how small the job) 2) take a deposit up front 3) manage your client’s expectations (don’t over promise) 4) keep learning, from others, books & websites 5) write up an onboarding document with FAQs and your process 6) stay positive & enjoy it.”
Laura Parker, copywriter, @lmpcopywriter
“Make a list of all the contacts who might offer you work, or who might know people who could offer you work. For example, the founder of a pro-bono comms agency you follow on Twitter, friends and contacts from an in-house copywriting job or a brilliant brand consultant you’ve worked with in the past. Send each one a separate, personal email. My message let them know that I had recently started working as a freelance copywriter and was available for work. It mentioned the organisations I’d worked for, and the kinds of work I’d done. Include clear links to your website and social media.”
Sophie De Albuquerque, copywriter, www.wisecopy.co.uk
“Cold-calling is something that few copywriters I know have the natural temperament for, although most have tried it at some stage. The problem is that when people need a copywriter, they really need one – but when they don’t, they really don’t. A better approach might be to craft a really strong sales letter or piece of creative work and send it to potential clients. That way, even if they don’t need a copywriter now, they may hang on to your letter and remember you when they do.”
Tom Albrighton, copywriter, www.abccopywriting.com
“My advice is to enjoy the downtime. It’s a time to relax, revive and reboot. It’s not a time to panic. Value it – don’t wish it away, because you’ll wish for it back as soon as you’re busy again.”
Vikki Ross, copywriter, www.vikkirosswrites.com
“Make friends with good web/marketing/digital agencies around you. If they’re smaller, they often won’t directly employ copywriters/photographers/illustrators/videographers etc, but will reach out to freelancers. Make yourself known.”
Graeme Piper, copywriter, www.dropcapcopy.com
“My best tip for new freelancers is to make friends–even if you’d class those friends as competitors. I found that the first few months of freelancing full-time was super lonely. I’d go days without speaking to anyone other than my boyfriend, which was a huge change for me (especially after leaving an office with 12 lively people!) Connecting with other freelancers on Twitter helped me to combat that loneliness. Now, I have regular virtual coffee chats with a bunch of other freelancer friends to get that social element in, and it’s paid off when finding new clients. We keep an eye out for relevant job opportunities for each other, and because we both know/trust the other person can do a good job, we’re each other’s go-to for referrals.”
Elise Dopson, copywriter, www.elisedopson.co.uk
“Decide who you want to freelance for – small businesses, a particular industry, a slice of society? Knowing that will massively inform how you set up and market your business. Good luck!”
Fi Phillips, copywriter, fiphillipscopywriter.com
“Don’t underestimate the power of the personal touch. I generate more connections when I balance being professional and being a human!”
Naomi Joseph, writer, @NaomiJoseph_
“Don’t scrimp on office furniture.Invest in an ergonomic keyboard and buy the best chair you can. Perhaps even try a standing desk. In time your hands, wrists, arms and back will thank you.:”
Neil Barraclough, copywriter, www.notabenecopywriting.com
“Push yourself to get outside your comfort zone and learn something new, whether it be exploring a new skill outside of writing or a weird new writing technique. Don’t allow yourself to get comfortable, creativity comes from constraints and discomfort. Lean into it.”
Becca Magnus, writer, www.rebeccamagnus.com
“Celebrate the small wins! When the rubbish days happen you’ll definitely feel miserable! Make sure you take time to celebrate your wins and recognise that you’re moving forward. It’s easy to palm this off as stuff you expected to happen when actually you should be proud as f…!”
Emma Lander, copywriter, www.CopyTwentyOne.co.uk
Get out at least once a day if you can, even if it’s just a walk to the local shop.
Becky Matthews, copywriter and scriptwriter, www.becky-matthews.com
Find your niche and never stop learning – especially about user needs. Talk to people. Be a great listener. Never assume. Your words can help others by removing barriers, simplifying things and solving problems. Write to make life a little better for others.
@Dutch_editor, content designer, content strategist and editor.
“Don’t overbook your calendar- save a day a week to work on your strategy and long term marketing goals.”
Kerry Needs, copywriter, www.kerryneeds.com
“Get out of bed every day, at the same time, whether you have work or not, unless you’re having a real day off. Put on clothes, even make up and shoes if you can be bothered. Freelancer depression slump is real! Don’t work in bed! Make your desk space a beautiful place!”
Nancy Smallwood, digital writer, clippings.me/nancysmallwood
“Look for ways you can help clients regularly; they will get better results as you learn about their company, and you will have a more consistent income.”
Leif Kendall, copywriter and ProCopywriters founder. www.kendallcopywriting.co.uk
“It’s easy to get mired in information overload.Like most new freelancers, I Googled a lot of questions. I went down a lot of rabbit holes filled with conflicting answers and shades of grey. I often felt like I was lost in a hall of mirrors: I saw myself reflected in every scenario and had a hard time recognizing the right way out. I decided I had two options.
Try everything and see what works best. I did this for awhile. It was time-consuming and I hit a lot of dead ends, but I learned a lot and stumbled onto a few ideas I wouldn’t have thought of on my own.
Recognise my strengths. It seems obvious now, but striking out as a freelancer after decades in an office had me convinced my current skillset had no value. My advice to new freelancers: solving an expensive problem for someone is the surest way to get paid for what you do, regardless of your prior work history.
Roxanne Reese, copywriter, www.roxannewritescopy.com
“Find people who do similar work to you. Freelancing can be a lonely business. Find a friend or two who truly celebrate accomplishments with you.”
Alexander J Lewis, tech copywriter and ghost writer, www.Lewiscommercialwriting.com
“My advice for new freelancers is to be a specialist – to have your own niche that you can promote and nurture.”
David Baine, healthcare and technology copywriter, www.writeontarget.com
“Build a support networkof people who you can chat with, learn from, ask for advice, moan to. It can get lonely, but the online copywriting and freelance communities amazing – get involved.”
Sophie Livingston, copywriter, www.kickstartcontent.com
- “It’s ok to say no. We say yes to everything when we’re afraid of the feast/famine, but saying no means you always taking on the work you know can do the best job with, and the work that makes you happiest. Saying no also feels very empowering!
Alice Hollis, writer, www.alicehollis.co.uk
:”No-one needs to tell you how to write copy? Wrong! You’re never too old, or too good, to learn something new – especially if you write for the web or social media and need to keep ahead of the algorithms, or send emailshots and are confused about GDPR, for example.There’s a wealth of online and offline training available to freelance copywriters from quick, free webinars over a coffee at your desk to day-long conferences with top speakers and opportunities to socialise and network.”
Mary Whitehouse, copywriter, www.word-service.com
“Keeping your pipeline flowing is important. It’s too easy to focus on a big job you’re working on for a client, and forget that when it’s over you’ll need something else. This is true of any freelance industry.”
Words of Worth, content delivery firm, www.wordsofworth.org
“My advice would be to not undersell yourself. Clients will increase their revenue from good content and copy so don’t be shy about charging a fair price. Your writing adds value.”
Creative copywriters, SEO copy and content writer, http://www.creativecopywriters.co.uk
“Be proactive and introduce yourself to people you want to work with (email really is fine). Oh, and get yourself a good accountant – you’ll never regret it!”
Laura Hemmington, copywriter, www.laurahemmington.com
“Not copywriting-specific, but community is important. Consider joining a coworking space and get to know your local software & tech, WordPress, Drupal groups, etc. They’ve been essential to my growth personally & professionally.”
Allison Smith, copywriter, www.aesmithwriting.com
“Not purely from a copywriter’s perspective, but at the end of each freelance gig, ask yourself four questions: what did I learn? What did I enjoy? Did I get good work out of it? Did I get paid well? It’ll help you figure out a few things.”
Sam Bone, writer, @SammyWB
“Work out what you’re selling and who you’re selling to (and not selling to). Just like any business really.”
Mike Garner, content writer, www.brandingwithwords.com
95% of my work as a freelancer has come through people I have worked with over the years or who have recommended me. So my advice would be keep your connections going. Plus recommend other people and they may do the same for you.
Alison Brushfield, creative director and copywriter, www.alisonbrushfield.com
“Remember the human element. Market yourself online and offline. 2)Create a network of trusted connections and opportunities. 3)Keep a website or WordPress site to showcase a blog if you don’t have a portfolio.”
Amber Smith, copywriter, www.simplyamberlou.wordpress.com
“Having direct clients is fab but don’t dismiss the idea of working with agencies. The pay might not be great to start with but having more experienced writers edit your work can be invaluable if you’re new to copywriting, and it builds your portfolio too.”
Clare Crossan, copywriter, www.clarecrossan.co.uk
Having trouble figuring out a niche to get started in? Choose one you’ve worked in before. Regardless of copywriting experience, starting in a field you know or love gives you confidence (which you really need!) at the beginning of your journey.
Realise that reputation is everything, you’ll be surprised at how many jobs you get from recommendations. Make sure you do personal projects that push you, promote you & naturally refresh your book. Ask senior clients to write LinkedIn recommendations after working together.
Senan and Pansy, Salt and Pepper Creative. www.saltandpeppercreative.com
Your No.1 client is you. Sell yourself FIRST. Don’t go out looking for clients until you know exactly what you do, what you are good at, and how this can help a potential client.
Eleanor Gould, copywriter, www.kreativecopywriting.com
“You don’t have an office to go to so get out there & network like a ninja! Nothing beats it for raising your profile and building relationships. Find a handful of groups near you, stock up on business cards and practice your best smile!”
Helen Say, SEO copywriter, @helenCBL
“1 See if you can turn your current employer into your first retainer client. 2. Define what success looks like in year one — personally and professionally. 3. Set up lots of in-person meetings to build powerful connections in your industry and niche.”
Kelsey O’Halloran, copywriter, www.kelseyohalloran.com
“Niche it for 3 reasons: 1. As a specialist you can charge more. 2. It’s easier to market because you have a defined audience and get to know their pain points better. 3. Finally, you work smarter (less hours) because you get to know the material so well.”
Yuwanda Black, freelancer’s mentor. www.InkwellEditorial.com
“Don’t be hard on yourself – everyone has imposter syndrome. Chose a few blogs/podcasts and read one or two every day to keep up to date. Remember the latest ‘essential’ marketing technique is an old one with a new name and you probably know how to do it anyway.”
Anna Milan, copywriter, www.annamilan.co.uk
“Don’t be afraid to pitch! Get out of your employee mindset and look for real problems to solve in the business world. You’ll take control of your career and money.”
Halona Black, business book ghost writer. www.HalonaBlack.com
“1st, become great at your craft. Read books. Fiction AND nonfiction. Absorb from the great. Practice, practice, practice. Write every day. 2nd, add industry needed skillsets to your knowledge for the hiring “edge.” Content strategy. SEO writing. Marketing skills.”
Julia McCoy, CEO at Express Writers, www.expresswriters.com
So, now you know how to become a freelance copywriter. Still fancy it? Start creating that network and get in touch.