How I Became A Freelance Copywriter
I actually became a freelance copywriter by accident. I set out to do something different, but discovered along the way that me and copywriting were going to be much better friends.
If you’re thinking of becoming a freelance copywriter yourself (or a freelance anything else for that matter), then I hope the story of how I got started will help you, as well as the list of takeaways I’ve written at the end.
The opportunities for going freelance have probably never been so great, but if you’re someone who naturally doubts your ability, as I was after having kids, then you might make things more complicated than they need to be.
Don’t doubt yourself and don’t make it hard. This post’s for you.
I Started Freelance Copywriting For Love Not Money
I like getting paid for writing, but that’s not why I started. I’ve been writing a daily journal for as long as I can remember and I’ve been blogging online for about six years.
I started writing a blog after leaving the job I had in wholesale fashion to have my second son. I was desperate for a creative outlet and first wrote a ‘mummy blog’ about kids crafts, and then a blog about embroidery with increasing intention and focus.
All the while, although I didn’t know it at the time, I was getting better at writing and finding out what worked online.
Since my previous career had been based around product, I thought the obvious way to start to make some income was bound to be in product too. Wrong!
I developed a range of embroidery and sewing kits as a natural fit to both the blog and my experience, but I found selling them a massive slog. To promote and sell my kits I wrote consistently on the blog and it wasn’t long before I found writing content much better fun, and easier, than making product.
To see if I was good enough, I started to approach much bigger blogs in my niche with unique craft posts to see if I could get them published (you can see a couple of them here and here). When I started getting offers to get paid for the privilege - well, that’s when I realised that writing was “a thing”.
The Road To Freelance Copywriting
When it comes to business, I reckon once you find something that’s working and that you enjoy, it’s a good idea to go with it, even when it’s totally different from your original plan.
(tip - if you want to get your content published elsewhere, then research the site you’re approaching thoroughly, write your whole piece up front and send it over with a short pitch. Turning down someone by email who has “a good idea” is much easier than turning down a well-researched, brilliantly written piece of content sent over in it’s entirety).
Whilst the pay rate at Copify was miserable, I was able to prove to myself that I could write about a whole range of subjects and get positive results. I loved the flexibility of being able to choose when I could work and what jobs I could take.
I started to wonder how it would be to write content in the industry that I knew and loved, for the kind of customers that I really cared about. After all, I’d got to know so many other designers and makers as I developed my own products I knew how their day went, what their struggles were, and how many of them were either too busy or would much rather be making and shipping than writing about their products online. Did any of them need help writing?
I went for it and offered free help in a private Facebook group I was part of in return for their feedback. So many people replied to the thread I was completely overwhelmed.
I was in business.
I Didn’t Become A Freelance Copywriter Overnight
Don’t think that I made an overnight success of copywriting out of thin air. In fact nothing could be further from the truth.
I’ve been writing, probably daily, since I could write. I have ten years of experience working in the market that I now write for and along the way I’ve started two product-based businesses, both of which didn’t work, and learned a ton about working for yourself the hard way.
The road to freelance has actually been part of a twelve year journey of on-off entrepreneurship, solid career experience in a “real job” and tons of writing, both online and off over a long period of time. When you ask around, I reckon that’s more what carving your own creative path tends to look like.
If you want to get started freelancing, whether that’s writing, illustrating or anything else, I think starting is the hardest part. Once you get the first job, and do it well, you’ll be surprised where or who it might lead to as you start to gather speed. If things take time to start to roll, then the next hardest part is keeping the faith and keeping your chin up.
Here are 10 things I've learned so far - I hope they'll help you on your way.
10 Things You Need To Know As A Freelance Copywriter
1. Writing well is only half the battle
If you want to get paid, you’re going to need customers. You’ll need to know who they are, where to find them, how to talk to them, how to work with them and how to keep them.
Think about how you’ll go about this, whether it’s working with branding or creative agencies, approaching bigger organisations and publications or finding customers from a certain niche you’re already knowledgable about.
No matter the strategy, finding customers, especially in the beginning, is a massive part of what I’ve found it means to be a freelancer. Don't expect work just to fall into your lap in the beginning. Set a realistic expectation that you're in this for the long haul and be pro active about going out and hunting jobs down.
2. Work a niche
Nearly all my writing work is for creative brands and businesses. I write their product descriptions, about pages, blog posts, web copy, brand straplines, and pretty much anything else they ask me to.
The reason for this is because I know the industry and that gives me an advantage. All that time spent sourcing shoes for bigger brands and then putting together my own indie product range means I’m in a unique position to understand how these brands and businesses work.
I can feel their struggles and confusions because I’ve been there and that means that I’m better placed to serve them well.
If you already have knowledge in a particular niche (medical insurance? Tech? HR for retail?), then you could have a competitive advantage as a writer.
I’m not saying that you write for anyone, sometimes I step outside my niche. But the better you know a specific set of customers, the better you’ll serve them and most likely do it better than someone else without that same experience.
3. Figure out basic SEO
Writing online isn’t the same as writing in other places. The internet is so vast that you’d be crazy not to learn at least some basic SEO in order for the thing you’re writing about to get found online.
Although I’m not at all tech-minded, I happen to find SEO really intriguing. Don’t have a panic about it or ignore it. Start with Moz’s brilliant beginner guide or my basic SEO articles here and then start to weave keywords and phrases into your writing.
4. Master tone of voice
I’m forever telling my 8-year-old to consider how the words that come out of his mouth might affect how other people feel (we’re getting there… progress is steady).
As a copywriter, the way you write will need to move and persuade people. You’ll need a different tone of voice to connect with hardcore football fans than you will with ladies of a certain age who like gardening. The words and phrases that will motivate one will be very different to what will motivate another and the underlying psychology of what people really want ties very closely with this. People buy aspirations, not things, and your words and tone of voice need to relate to your customer.
One of the reasons that I love to write for brands is that I can “feel” them. I look at their visual language, the kinds of words and phrases they’ve already been using, and most importantly their target audience, and write with a fitting tone of voice.
5. You actually know how to right, write?
This might be obvious, but as a writer, perfect punctuation, spelling and grammar are as important to your success as knowing how to drive is to a taxi service. If you're not sure then check it and get your thesaurus on hand for days when you're lacking in the vocab department.
6. make yourself easy to work with
Have you ever tried to buy something and not known where to pay? It's so frustrating!
When you’re a freelancer you've got competition for the work, so make it easy for people to find and get hold of you. Make yourself available on the social media channels where your customers are and answer emails quickly. Personally I give realistic deadlines and am totally transparent up front about pricing so everyone knows where they stand.
In short, play fair, be nice and make yourself as easy as possible for other people to work with. Simple but so helpful!
7. Show what you can do with a portfolio
Since my first customers, I’ve gone on to work with branding and communications agencies on much bigger projects. I’m a little behind, but the aim is that every time I do a piece of new work I’ll show it in my online portfolio on my website.
After all, saying you can write is one thing. The proof is in the paragraphs, which is why having a portfolio and website is absolutely crucial to show what you can do. If anyone was in doubt about your ability or the kind of work you specialise in, your portfolio should put an end to that and leave them excited about the possibility of working together.
8. Set yourself apart
I really believe that people work with people. I don't like sales gimmicks or tacky marketing talk. I just want to be myself as honestly as possible and I find it refreshing when other people do the same.
So try setting yourself apart by being transparent and exactly who you are. Your work and personality won't fit everyone but they'll be the perfect fit for some. Those 'some' are the customers who get you and come back to work with you again and again.
9. Allow customers to imagine how your work fits in to what they do
When you help people to imagine what you could do for them, your chances of getting work increase.
If you're an illustrator and you'd like to work for a particular magazine, pick out one of their regular features, illustrate it and send it to them along with examples of your work. You're showing not only your own ideas, but how they can work for someone else. If you'd like to pitch a card range to a publisher, look at the type of themes or collections they already have and design something to fit.
Helping to make the leap for busy people who are inundated with ideas and suggestions might mean the difference between getting, or not getting, your next job.
10. experiments and failures are ok!
I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all direction into freelance copywriting or freelancing so don't wait around for someone else to tell you how it's done. Think of your own ways forward. Be bold, approach people and put what they need first. Show them clearly what you can do for them and make it as easy for them as possible to see you as an answer to the problem they have.
If something you try fails, then don't worry - that's normal! Learn from it, do more of what works and carry on.
So tell me, what's your experience of becoming a freelancer? Or if you're just starting out, what's the one thing you hope becoming a freelance copywriter will help you to do?