So you want to be a freelance copywriter?
First and foremost, congratulations! Freelance writing is without a doubt one of the best ways to make a living (I’m a little biased). Not only do you enjoy the benefits of self-employment, but you can earn great money doing something you love. It’s a fun, creative role with plenty of variety, and you can expect a long and successful career… if you’re prepared to put in the work, of course.
As with many things in life, the first steps are the trickiest. Wondering where to start? I explain it all below…
Why choose freelance?
Let’s start by looking at the reasons behind freelance writing. Opportunities in creative industries are scarce, particularly outside the arts and media hubs of London and Manchester. If you’re lucky enough to find a position that’s right for you, the chances are you’ll have to compromise on location, salary, or both. While things might seem bleak for graduates and those wanting to break into a new creative area, we’ve got to view these circumstances as opportunities. It’s great to see more and more people shunning ready-made roles in favour of a freelance career.
Freelance life works well for those requiring flexibility. While employers are slowly coming around to the concept of flexi-working, you’ll never be able to fully dictate your schedule (imagine texting your boss at 8.30am “I won’t be coming in today Roger because I fancy working in my pjs until 2pm then doing the big food shop.”) On a more serious note, freelancing works brilliantly for busy parents and those with big commitments at home. It offers freedom to people who love to travel and pursue other hobbies, too. It can also be a better option for those struggling with mental and physical illnesses, including stress, anxiety and chronic conditions.
The first steps to freelance
Now, there are no set rules for entering the freelance world, but there are a few key points you should consider. Here’s the process that worked for me…
Experience is key if you want to set yourself up for success. Fortunately, it isn’t necessary for this to be in the form of paid employment, which you’re unlikely to have if you’re straight out of uni or you’re moving over from a completely different sector. Instead, consider internships, placements and working pro bono (for free), allowing you to gain hands on experience in a short space of time. Here are some simple methods for gaining experience:
- Contact local marketing agencies about work experience opportunities. Explain you’re interested in forging a career in copywriting and content and you’d love to help out.
- Speak with businesses that you have a vested interest in. This could be a local business like a cafe or library, or a brand that you simply know a lot about. Offer to write for them.
- Make use of your connections. Could you write for a family member’s business? Could your friend provide a route in to the marketing department at their employer?
- Consider charities and businesses that can really benefit from a freebie. Offer to write copy for their new website or a leaflet.
When it comes to freelance writing, a portfolio is a must. If you’ve gained a reasonable amount of experience, you should have some great examples of copy to include. But even without work placements or professional jobs (albeit unpaid), there are plenty of other ways to generate authentic work:
- Start a personal blog and aim to publish 2-3 posts per week. After a couple of months, you’ll have built up an impressive portfolio.
- For aspiring freelance writers, a blog focused on copywriting and content marketing is an obvious choice. But you could also blog about a hobby or interest. Whether you’re into cycling, running, makeup or DIY, there are always words to be shared!
- Write copy for hypothetical or dream clients. Pick a brand or industry that you’d love to get involved with and create a series of pieces. Include this in your portfolio as ‘Concept’ work.
Think about the full suite of services you can provide your clients with. While you’re primarily a freelance copywriter, you could offer a variety of sub-services that are bespoke to you, such as ‘eCommerce Copywriter’ or ‘Freelance Proofreader.’ Here’s how to embrace your unique offering:
- Consider your niche. Identify the subjects you know a lot about, or the tone of voice you prefer to write in. Match these to industries.
- Remember that certain areas are more competitive in freelance writing. Try to stand out and offer something different. Plenty of copywriters specialise in lifestyle writing, but very few are brilliant at creating technical engineering copy.
- Think about other additional services to further your offering. You may be a freelance copywriter by trade, but you could also provide social media management, PR and digital assistance.
In order to be taken seriously as a freelance writer, you need to establish your business persona. Whether you choose to run your business as ‘Sarah Smith Copywriter’ or something a little more creative, you need to look authentic and professional, right through to the branded invoices you send when jobs are complete. Here’s how to do it:
- Choose a business name that’s relevant and original. Most importantly, you need to like it – if things go well, it’ll be sticking around for a while!
- Reserve social media accounts as soon as you’ve decided on your business name, even if you can’t start populating the feeds yet. And if you’re not active on LinkedIn already, now is the time!
- Purchase your domain and create a placeholder website using WordPress. Keep it clean, simple and to the point. You can then take your time creating a more sophisticated site (or saving up to pay a web designer).
- Create a set of professional templates for letters, invoices and quotes.
- Create your business card. Include your job title, email address, website and phone number, and use a service like Banana Print for a super cheap deal.
Your first gig
Your first paid job is a pinnacle moment in every freelance copywriter’s career, but along with the excitement it’s important to keep a level head. Whether you’ve pitched your services to a potential client, or you’ve been lucky enough for them to make the first move, here are the steps you should take to ensure your first ‘real’ job is a success:
- Consider very carefully before you quote. An hourly rate works well for small jobs, while a project quote is better for larger or ongoing tasks. Write down all a list of actions that are required to complete the job to a high standard, including meetings, research, proofreading and amends.
- Quote denied? Use your list to justify your costings. Be ready to haggle but don’t sell yourself short, and if they won’t accept your minimum price, be polite but firm in your refusal of the work.*
- Quote approved? Now it’s time to go above and beyond. Be thorough, efficient and finish things within the timeframe. Keep the client updated with progress and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- When the work is submitted and approved, invoice promptly. This professional approach ensures the client takes you seriously. Include a strict payment period and don’t be afraid to chase things up if it’s late. Always say thank you when payment has been received.
- Maintain a good relationship with the client by emailing or calling them every few months. This keeps you front of mind if future works come up and they’ll be more likely to recommend you.
Forging a successful freelance career isn’t easy, but it’s well worth your efforts. Take it from me. I hope this guide comes in useful on your own journey. Be sure to let me know if it helps you, or if you have any other questions. Good luck becoming a freelance copywriter!
*It’s worth mentioning that in my opinion, no freelance copywriter should be charging less than £20 per hour for their time. But your hourly rate is a personal choice and doesn’t have to be set in stone. Allow yourself some flexibility and alter your quote depending on the client’s budget, potential for future work and if you’ll genuinely enjoy doing the work. Don’t forget to revise your rates on a regular basis and increase as and when.