As a professional copywriter, you can either work for yourself (self-employment also called freelance) or you can work within a company. Most companies that have in-house copywriters are medium-to-large in size and have marketing departments that handle all of their promotions. Work for one of those companies, and you’ll get to be an expert on that company’s products and industry.
The alternative is to go it on your own. You’ll most likely be writing for multiple clients and your tasks will be more varied. You’ll also be responsible for selling your services, as clients won’t magically appear. Sales is a discipline that not everyone enjoys, something to keep in mind as you decide whether to go the self-employment route or become an in-house copywriter.
Below are some of the questions I’m frequently asked when I tell people I’m a freelance copywriter.
That’s an individual decision. For me, I much prefer self-employment. Consider your own mindset and personality. Ask yourself questions such as:
How important is it to you to have a steady paycheck?
What are your current financial circumstances? Will you be able to sleep at night if you don’t know how much money you’ll have coming in?
Are you fiscally responsible?
Self-employment can mean an income that varies from week to week. If you don’t save during the good times, you’ll starve during the bad.
Are you self-disciplined?
Can you be productive without a boss or coworkers looking over your shoulder? Are you a chronic procrastinator?
Would you rather limit your work hours to Monday through Friday, 9 to 5?
If you’re self-employed, you may find yourself working nights and weekends to keep up.
How will you pay for your own health insurance and retirement?
For some people, not having benefits — like health insurance, a retirement plan, and paid vacation days – is sufficiently scary to make them shy away from self-employment. (I’ll have more to say on the complicated subject of health insurance a little later.)
Do you enjoy selling?
If selling is distasteful to you, you won’t be able to get clients. Unlike working for an employer in a well-established business with a sales staff, the assignments don’t come in on their own. You’ll be the one solely responsible for dredging up business.
Knowing how to sell is extremely important. Unless you already have a few large clients who know you and will give you ongoing work, you’re probably going to have to do some selling in order to grow your business.
Fortunately, selling skills can be learned. Read books and blogs on the subject and then implement the techniques they teach.
You can be the best copywriter in the world, but if you aren’t good at prospecting and closing deals, you won’t be successful. Without clients you have no business.
Too many copywriters say they hate selling. Either they’re afraid of rejection or they feel it’s a bit sleazy to hustle for business. It’s not. It’s called business.
Stop avoiding selling or you’ll always struggle to get clients. Accept that promoting your abilities to others is critical to your success and get busy doing the work to generate leads and sales.
Plan your future and make the transition gradual. Work on building the skills you’ll need. In addition to copywriting skills, you’ll need to know how to run a business. That means getting informed about bookkeeping, taxes, risk management/insurance, local regulations and more.
You’ll want to have some savings socked away so that you don’t fall behind in your bills if your business doesn’t take off right away. That may mean living on a tight budget.
Be sure you’re comfortable with that situation, especially if it could mean lifestyle changes for you and your family, i.e. finding cheaper housing, cutting back on subscription services like Netflix, eating home instead of in restaurants, giving up your daily visit to Starbucks, and relinquishing your gym membership to work out at home, etc.
Lastly, you should be doing some networking and freelancing before you leave your full-time job. That way you’ll already have a portfolio of samples, some clients and hopefully, some potential work lined up.
Yes and no. I think I always knew I would eventually be self-employed. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs. My father, brother and grandparents all started and operated small businesses. They weren’t millionaires or tech giants but they made enough to raise their families and be happily self-employed their entire careers. Most important, they loved their work and building their own companies.
I knew I would be the same way. I always figured self-employment was where I was headed once I got some experience under my belt. The fact that I disliked my boss at the ad agency where I worked made the decision even easier.
Nonetheless, going from a sure thing – a full time job with benefits – to something unknown was uncomfortable but not unimaginable. I’d been planning it for a while, had a little bit of savings and also had already begun doing some freelance work on the side while employed full time.
I made sure I had some opportunities lined up before giving my notice. And I had confidence that if things didn’t work out — failure was always a possibility — I would be able to find another job.
In the next post, we talk about what it’s like to get started, Launching Your Freelance Copywriting Business