Freelance copywriting is perhaps the best job I’ve ever had. I love being my own boss, choosing my own hours and deciding which projects to work on. Perhaps the biggest advantage for me is that I get to work around my children. During the normal working week (school holidays are a bit more problematic!) I can work around the school run and pre-school run and I’ve been known to work late into the night to get things done.
But freelancing does have it’s downsides too. As recently as a couple of months ago, I was stuck in a rut with no sign of work and I accepted that I’d be a stay at home mum for a bit longer. I also wrote another post about the downsides of freelancing when I had the horrible task of amongst other things, chasing a client down for payment. I’m extremely lucky in that my husband is the main breadwinner in our family and so we can get by if I don’t get any work for months on end.
Content Writing Vs Copywriting
A few people have asked me recently how I got started and so I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts. One thing that really stands out is that copywriting is different to content writing. Content is writing to provide information. Your blog is content. Copywriting on the other hand is writing to sell. It does take a bit of a different skill, you need to get inside the head of the person who you are targeting to buy the product or service. Copywriting forms the bulk of my work, but I’ve still had several clients looking to write content as well, so if you’re a blogger trying to break into this market, then you’re in luck!
How I got Started
My background is in marketing. I’ve been in the business of essentially trying to sell or market stuff (clothing, DVDs, music) to other people for years. Marketing is all about really knowing your target audience, so this combined with my passion for writing has helped me with copywriting. I gave up working full time after the birth of my first daughter 5 years ago. My company was completely inflexible in flexible working and wanted me to commute into London 5 days a week which I wasn’t prepared to do and so I left. I started Googling freelance copywriting and marketing projects, and struck lucky when I found another local freelance copywriter who was looking to take someone on as an assistant. I sent her an email and ended up working on loads of different projects and clients which she handed me.
After 2 years, she decided she could manage on her own without me and so I decided to go it alone. It was scary at first, but here’s a few pointers for how I went about it.
Experience = a Portfolio
So my initial experience really cut my teeth in the copywriting business and helped me to start and shape a portfolio of my own to show on to new prospective clients. For newbies trying to get in on the action, I get that it can often seem like a never ending circle of how to get work without any experience. But here’s a few ways to build up that essential portfolio:
Friends and Family
I boosted my portfolio by doing some copywriting work for free for friends and family. Don’t be afraid to tap up your friends – especially those who own their own businesses and ask if they need any help with their copywriting – website pages, emails even help with writing their social media. One of my husband’s best friends had just started up his own finance business and so I helped him to write his web pages and in return got him to write a testimonial. My sister-in-law has her own business so I wrote some blogs for her and got a testimonial in return.
Every time you do some work, whether paid or for free, be sure to get your client to write you a testimonial. I usually ask for this to be done on LinkedIn, so that other people can see it and then copy and paste it to be used on your website.
If you’re serious, you need to get a website set up which shows your services and what you do. It doesn’t need to be anything expensive or fancy, just so that clients can find you and can see the work that you’ve done previously. This is mine – I used Wix – a fairly inexpensive web hosting site with email hosting thrown in. You can keep adding to this as you gain more testimonials and more experience. If you’re a blogger, you probably know the whole spiel about using keywords to boost your SEO. Do it, work your magic, I’ve recently had a few clients who have found me just by Googling keywords and phrases.
Your blog is completely different to your copywriting services. It’s more personal, it’s more about you and what you’re thinking as opposed to selling anything. BUT it shows clients that you’re a writer and a committed writer at that. It shows that you have thoughts and opinions and it shows your passion for writing. I use my copywriting website to link back to my blog so that potential clients can see my style. N.B Don’t do this if your blog is overly sweary!! It can send the wrong message! Your blog also keeps you in the practise of writing. When I was going through my copywriting drought, I kept blogging just to keep me in the habit of writing.
I’ve recently won a big contract on LinkedIn because I posted about one of my blogs that I’d written for the Huffington Post. An old work acquaintance of mine got in touch to ask if I could write some content for one of their clients and I’m now (hopefully) set up for doing more work with them in the future. Update your LinkedIn profile to say you’re now taking on freelance copywriting projects. If you write for other sources like the Huffington Post or other media, then stick it all down. Exploit it and promote yourself.
There are some websites out there who will pay you to write content, normally in the form of blogs for their clients. The pay is very nominal and you will probably have to take some form of test to show that you can write and spell. I hooked up with one of these sites a while back and passed the test. But I never ended up writing for them as I managed to land clients who would pay a much higher wage. A lot has been written in the press and online about content mills and how the low pay devalues the job of a copywriter, but I have to say that if you’ve got time on your hands and you’re looking to get a foot in the door, this could be the way to go. Sites include Copify and Text Broker.
I set up my own Facebook page for my copywriting business and used Twitter to hook up with a lot of other freelance writers. As with blogging, I’m not particularly great at self promotion, but it’s another way to get yourself and your writing skills out there.
Cold Calling Creative and Design Agencies
A lot of the copywriting work that I’ve won recently has been through cold emailing. I set about targeting design and creative agencies locally. When you think about it, a lot of people get their brand spanking new websites designed by design agencies, but then they have nothing – no text or copy to put into this new website. Design agencies are masters of art or design but not necessarily words, and so I sent off hundreds of emails asking if design agencies would consider me for their freelance copywriting requirements. Of course, I got a high percentage of zero replies, but I got the odd response saying they’d keep my details on file and a few more who gave me some work.
So there you have it. My top tips on how to make a start on becoming a freelance copywriter. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve started up or dreamt of becoming a copywriter. If you have any other tips, please let us all know in the comments section below! Meanwhile, good luck to all of you who do it.