The decision to become a full-time freelance copywriter can be a big step, especially if it means leaving a full-time job. The security of having a weekly paycheck, paid holidays and plenty of work to do is hard to give up, but the a freelance copywriting career can be fulfilling and rewarding in other ways.
Below are some of the questions I’m frequently asked regarding launching a copywriting business.
I’ve been writing my whole life. My love affair with words started as soon as I learned to read at about age 6. (You can read more about my journey to become a copywriter here.)
By the time I was a teenager, I kept a personal journal, had about a dozen pen pals with whom I corresponded regularly, and wrote poetry for fun. Weird, I know.
In high school, my senior year I worked part time for The Miami Herald writing classified ads for people looking to sell their car, furniture or house. This was long before Craig’s List and eBay existed.
During summers in college, I interned at a Miami TV station, the NBC affiliate, working in the News Department, doing research, reporting and some copywriting.
My first job after college was with an advertising agency. I started out as an account coordinator and then eventually moved up to a copywriting position. At the same time, I was doing freelance writing on the side for clients I found on my own.
After three years at that ad agency, I decided to strike out on my own as a freelance copywriter. I never looked back. Other than a few small bumps in the road, I’ve pretty much stayed on that course my whole career and feel incredibly fortunate to be self-employed doing work I greatly enjoy.
These tips are applicable for any entrepreneur. I actually copied them from a blog post by Damon John of Shark Tank fame.
I work out of my home so my overhead is minimal, and you can’t beat the commute! I use both a desktop PC and laptop. Having two screens comes in handy when I’m working with multiple reference materials or on multiple projects.
If I were in the above picture, you’d probably see me sitting at my keyboard–barefoot and in gym shorts. I throw a blouse on for Zoom calls with clients, but that’s as fancy as I get. My clients don’t know, wouldn’t care how I’m dressed. All that matters to them is that I do quality work and meet their deadlines.
Rarely. I can probably count on one hand the number of clients who’ve visited me. The truth is I don’t meet with anyone these days. Almost all communication is done by phone, email, Zoom or productivity tool like Slack, especially now post-COVID.
Most of my clients aren’t local anyways. I don’t have a problem working with local businesses here in Orlando, FL, but nowadays location isn’t important. I’m able to work with businesses located anywhere in the world. So I do!
That’s something that a lot of copywriters struggle with, myself included. If you have a specialty – finance, real estate, technology, e-commerce, etc. – you can focus on which clients to pursue, and you’ll be more appealing to them because you’re an expert in that field.
On the other hand, you have to decide whether you want to only write about that topic. I’m fortunate to have had good success being a generalist. I enjoy the diversity of my clientele. I like learning about different businesses and industries. Or, stated another way, I’m a specialist but in dozens of subject areas.
If you have a few specialties, maybe related to a personal interest or hobby, then use that expertise to attract new clients. You likely can charge higher rates because you already understand their industry and vocabulary. Specialists in any industry cost more.
You may also be able to specialize in a certain kind of writing, such as ads or landing pages. However, I want to encourage you to look for opportunities to take on projects that are outside your comfort zone. That’s how you’ll grow your capabilities. Here’s a quick example of the time I learned that lesson.
Be Confident in Your Skills. You Got This!
I once had a movie producer contact me for help in improving the copy in a screenplay. I told him I didn’t have any experience with screenplays, didn’t feel comfortable taking on the job, but I’d try to get back to him with a quality referral.
I called up a colleague, Jake, who said he too didn’t have experience with screenplays but thought he could probably handle the project, no big deal. Because I couldn’t find anyone else to refer, I passed Jake’s name along to the producer.
About a year later, I was chatting with Jake and he mentioned that he’d mostly been working on screenplays of late. I expressed surprise and he said, “It’s all thanks to you. That screenplay project you referred to me turned into two projects, and then I actively began marketing my services as a screenplay writer. It opened up a whole new niche for me!”
The moral of the story is: Be bold like Jake; not timid like Susan!
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They focus on the wrong things. They set up their office. They order business cards. They analyze the market to determine their positioning. They write a business plan.
They launch a website. But the one thing they don’t have is a plan for getting customers, and without customers, none of those other items count for anything.
Many people who’ve worked for an established business think customers just magically appear. They assume that once they launch their website, the clients will find them.
But that’s not reality for a new business. You can be the most talented copywriter in the world, but you’ll starve if nobody knows it. So figure out how you’re going to get your name out there and begin attracting clients and work. Customer acquisition should be your #1 priority.
To grow a business, you need to develop repeatable processes. That’s how you streamline your workflow. If you have to keep re-inventing the wheel, you’ll be investing too much time and energy.
Having to stop and think every time you perform a task will slow you down. Conversely, once you’ve set procedures in place, you’ll be able to get things done right every time, with fewer roadblocks to halt your progress.
Here’s a quick example. I frequently write landing pages for clients. For a long time, I treated every landing page individually. I’d start from scratch in coming up with concepts, subheads and layout.
At some point, I picked up a web design agency client that specialized in designing landing pages. They asked me to write landing pages for some of their clients using a format that they’d developed, and they gave me a template to follow. was no longer to start from scratch.
I followed their formula, which told me exactly where copy was needed and what type of copy to write – headline, subhead, bullets or body copy. They even provided word counts, further eliminating many of the decisions I otherwise would have made on the fly.
With a little practice, a landing page that used to take me 6-8 hours to write took me 3-5 hours. And the end result was a landing page that was more likely to be effective because its format had been tried and tested numerous times.
Once I saw how to apply a process to writing landing pages, I soon developed similar processes for other types of writing projects, which helped streamline my workload. I was able to take on more work and provide clients with faster turnarounds while increasing my revenue.
One last comment regarding processes. If you want to grow your business, you have to be able to delegate work. You can’t do everything yourself. Having repeatable processes that you can teach to your employees or freelancers/sub-contractors – much as the landing page agency taught me – will help ensure they produce work that’s consistent with your style and standards.
Once you’ve launched your business, it’s time to double down on filling out your client roster, which we explore in the next post, Getting Clients for Your New Freelance Copywriting Business.