I’m often asked by friends and aspiring copywriters, what’s the most difficult thing about being a freelance copywriter? It’s a tough question to answer because, frankly, although I love my profession, it’s not an easy way to make a buck.
Many times I have thought to myself, “Why don’t I choose to sell products instead of providing a personal service? It would be so much easier.” The answer is simply, I love writing. Nothing else gives me that same sense of accomplishment and self-satisfaction.
Here though, are some of the challenges I face as a copywriter and how I resolve them.
Writing about a subject you know or can research is fun and relatively easy to do. But obtaining information not readily available can be a chore. Whether it’s a client’s products or their corporate history you’re writing about, you’ll need a knowledgeable source to give you the facts.
I often say to my clients, “What I do isn’t magic, and I’m no mind reader. I only know as much as you tell me. So if something is important enough to include in your write-up, you’ll need to provide me with that information.”
Sometimes clients, although well meaning, will struggle with what facts to pass on. I’ve had clients return my information questionnaires with yes-no answers, which provides me no useful input. For that reason, I usually prefer to call clients and chat about the open items. However, even that can sometimes be a challenge.
Here’s an example. One of my clients is an online retailer of upscale gift items. He contracted me to write his company’s About Us page. Our conversation went something like this:
Susan: Why did you start the business?
Client: I needed to make money.
Susan: What do you love about your business?
Client: Making money.
Susan: What do you see for the future of your business?
Client: Making more money.
Ok, now go write a 600-word essay for the About Us page on his website. Not going to be easy.
Often a project starts as a simple task then grows into a much larger, more complex endeavor as new factors emerge and ideas start to flow. The problem is the client expects to pay the original amount quoted.
As a copywriter and the project manager, it’s my job to explain that we can tackle the extra responsibilities, but we’ll need to adjust the quote. In some cases as well, the client may need to adjust the deadline to accommodate the additional work. As long as you’re up front with the client and discuss the situation as soon as it surfaces, you shouldn’t have a problem.
I like people, and I love learning about their businesses. Fortunately, most of my clients are nice folks. I often end up becoming their friends in addition to handling their marketing and copywriting.
However, as in any profession, you’re bound to run into a few jerks. They range from clients with unreasonable demands to people who feel if they’re paying you for a service, they can treat you poorly, and you have to suck it up and take the abuse.
Sorry, but that behavior doesn’t fly here. I work best with clients who appreciate my work and the skills I bring to the table. I’m a nice person and respect others. I expect the same in return.
I recently had a client who was demanding and overbearing. He called frequently to ask for my input, but then hassled me about every invoice, at one point even telling me that I should be doing his work for free because I was learning so much from him about his industry. That was the last straw. I finished the project we’d been doing and then fired the client. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.
One of the challenges of being a copywriter is that you have to understand your subject matter well before you can write about it. That often means hours of research.
In recent months I’ve written about such diverse subjects as forex software, fitness for baby boomers, Parkinson’s disease, the role of public adjustors in homeowner’s insurance claims and wedding cake designs.
The diversity keeps my work interesting, but each of the topics requires delving into the subject matter, evaluating competitors in the industry, and learning from my client how their product or service is unique. Then you’ll need to start writing drafts.
These are time-consuming endeavors, although with practice you’ll get speedy and find shortcuts. The trick is to do the write-ups in a reasonable amount of time so the project is profitable.
A freelance copywriter is by definition self-employed. While you may prefer to spend all of your days doing nothing but writing, the truth is you won’t survive in this field if you don’t know how to sell your services.
You must devote time to marketing activities that put yourself in the path of people searching for a copywriter. Use traditional methods like networking and advertising or create your own website and find ways to draw traffic to it. Social media offers additional opportunities to promote your services and attract new business.
No matter what methods you choose to use, marketing and salesmanship will be critical to your success as a freelance copywriter.
As you gain experience and confidence, you’ll want to turn your attention toward attracting quality clients. You only have so many hours in the day. Don’t spend them working for clients who don’t recognize and appreciate the value of your work.
Set your sights on better caliber clients who are easier to work with and more willing to pay higher rates. Seek them out and eliminate those who aren’t a fit.
One of the difficulties in growing any personal service business is how to grow, particularly if you’re a one-man band. You can only take on so many projects before you’re at capacity.
Hiring help isn’t a perfect solution. After all, clients choose you as their copywriter because they like your work. If you then have an underling perform the service, the client may be disappointed. A work-around is to have the junior copywriter create initial drafts, and you serve as editor and project manager to ensure the quality.
Personally, I’ve focused on outsourcing areas not involving copywriting. I have someone who handles my bookkeeping and accounting. I also have someone I rely on for graphic design, web design and coding/programming.
Another option is to diversify. You can produce some products that bring in passive revenue, such as an ebook or an app. In my case, I have written and sold ebooks, i.e. www.jobhuntingstrategies.com.
I also have a college textbook that brings in significant royalties. Another option is find existing products you can sell as an affiliate or purchase wholesale and then sell retail.
You can also keep your eyes open for business opportunities. I recently worked with a client who had an internet business selling custom framed artwork. I liked the client and the business so much that I ended up trading pay for my copywriting work for shares in the company. I now am a part owner and receive a percentage of the revenue from that company.
Of course, each of these options takes time as well, but they offer opportunities to establish multiple revenue sources and make you less dependent on client work. They can also be extremely interesting and great learning experiences.
Writing is a solo endeavor. As a freelance copywriter, you may find yourself working alone and all interaction limited to phone, texts and email.
If that concerns you, then make an effort to be more social. Go to the gym and take a group fitness class. Join professional groups that put you in contact with others in your field. Meet in person with clients or vendors. Have lunch with friends. Go to MeetUps in your area related to your hobby. I belong to a MeetUp group for amateur photographers.
True, these types of interactions are not the same as being in an office with other people, but they’ll help lessen your feelings of isolation.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest downsides to being a freelance copywriter is something that has nothing to do with copywriting — healthcare insurance. Insurance is ridiculously expensive, even if you’re healthy. I’m not talking about $10 vs. $20 co-pays for doctor visits. I’m talking premiums and super-high deductibles.
Using myself as an example, I pay approximately $1,300 PER MONTH to cover my husband, daughter and myself. My son gets health insurance through his employer so I don’t have to cover him, which helps.
My family is healthy. We have no diseases or chronic illnesses. We’re all physically fit, at a healthy weight and don’t smoke. Yet our health insurance is on par with a mortgage payment.
You might think that that enormous monthly premium gets us the gold standard in healthcare. Wrong. We have a per person, per year deductible of $6,750. So we pay for every doctor visit and prescription out of pocket until we each meet that deductible. That doesn’t include any vision or dental coverage, which we pay for 100% out of pocket. And please don’t think we haven’t done our homework shopping around. We do. Every year.
Our coverage is essentially catastrophe coverage. If one of us gets cancer or has a serious accident or needs surgery, after we meet the deductible the insurance kicks in and helps us avoid losing our house and all of our savings.
So, before quitting your day job and going the freelance copywriter route, be sure you know what health insurance will cost you. Otherwise, you may end up spending every cent you make paying premiums.
There are two ways around this situation, but they don’t work for everyone. The first is to have a day job that has health insurance benefits and treat your freelance copywriting as a side hustle.
The second is to be married and have a spouse who works for an employer that offers health insurance as a benefit. Then you, and your children if you have any, can join the spouse’s plan. You’ll still pay the premiums, but they will be a much lower rate.
In my case, my husband is also a freelancer/consultant so our options are to either pay the exorbitant premiums for insurance or buy no coverage and hope none of us gets sick, because if one of us does, and it’s a serious illness, we could lose EVERYTHING.
Now that I’ve scared the heck out of you by telling you about health insurance for freelance copywriters, let’s look at some ways you can save a few bucks.
Assuming you work out of your home, as opposed to renting office space, you’ll likely spend less than someone who commutes to their job. You’re spending less on gas, tolls, parking, car maintenance and insurance.
According to Follow Up Boss, “the money saved from avoiding a commute can be several thousand dollars per year.”
Also, because you work at home, you’re more likely to eat at home, which could easily amount to a weekly savings of $30 or more. Add to that, any savings you realize by making your own coffee instead of a daily visit to Starbucks.
You also don’t have to invest in an expensive wardrobe or weekly dry cleaning. If you have just one or two professional outfits, that’s probably enough to handle the occasional in-person client meeting.
Finally, working with an accountant, you may be able to write off part of your home as a business expense as well as realize other tax savings that apply to your individual situation.
Having pointed out the most challenging aspects of being a freelance copywriter, let me end on a positive note and point out what to me are the best parts of this profession.
You work on different projects and with different clients, you’re constantly learning and exposing yourself to new areas. That keeps the job interesting.
You can’t be a good writer without reading. No matter the project, much of the research you’ll do will involve reading.
If you love to read, as I do, count this aspect of the job as a huge plus.
Copywriting is the process of creating with words, producing something from nothing is enormously gratifying. As you build your body of work, you can feel great pride in the tangible evidence of your efforts. Even better is hearing from happy clients that the work you did resulted in sales.
As a freelance copywriter, you set your own hours, decide what you’ll work on, who you’ll work with and, to a large degree, how much you’ll make. Need more money? You can increase your rates, go after bigger clients, or find opportunities to get more work from your existing clients.
If you’re the type of person who is self-motivated and greatly values your freedom, then being your own boss is reason enough to give this profession a try.
Should you ever decide to change careers, the skills you’ve developed in researching, writing and servicing clients will serve you well in almost any profession you choose.
Well, there you have it, my honest assessment of life as a freelance copywriter, including the bad and the good. Whether you choose this profession or are simply exploring it as an option or a side hustle, I wish you well in your future endeavors.
Freelance Copywriter; Orlando, Florida
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