The following questions were asked of me by an up-and-coming copywriter. I’ve decided to share my responses because they might help other copywriters beginning their career. I hope you find the information useful.
— Susan Greene
I have clients that fall into both categories but the majority are small to mid-sized businesses. I think the reason for that has to do with my marketing myself as a freelancer. Many corporate-level clients work with full-service ad agencies or marketing companies, some of which then sub-contract their copywriting work to me. But of the clients I work with directly, I’d say most are small to mid-sized businesses.
There are pluses and minuses to each group, corporate vs. small-business clients. Corporate clients can require multiple levels of approval of any work you produce. That often means multiple rewrites and substantial delays in completing any project. And if they have a legal team, forget about having the final piece resemble what you originally wrote. I find the process tedious and frustrating.
Additionally, obtaining corporate clients can be more difficult as you’ll likely have more competition from other service providers. Everyone is trying to land the big-name, big-budget account.
I try to find a happy medium — clients who are somewhat established and successful so they can afford my rates but not so big that they’re a hassle to service.
I should mention, too, that I try to avoid start-ups. While they often have a need for my services, they usually have small budgets and want the world for it. They can be big time sucks, as they seek to get your “free” help on establishing their brand, figuring out their target market, prioritizing their marketing needs, etc. A more established company will already be past most of those decisions.
I’ve heard good things about AWAI, and I highly respect Bob Bly, who is one of their instructors. I have not taken any courses myself. Honestly, I wish those courses had been around when I was starting out a few decades ago. They would have definitely shortened my learning curve. Even now, I’m constantly reading blog posts and books, always trying to enhance my skills.
As for you, at this point, since you’ve read so many books already, you need to invest your time in getting clients and first-hand experience. You can read all the books in the world but you’re still not a writer until you write.
It’s the same advice you’d give someone learning to play the piano or tennis. Don’t spend so much time researching and “getting ready” that you never “do.” Make things happen. Go for it. Yes, you’re going to make mistakes, but then you’ll figure it out, learn something and do better the next time.
I’ve seen new copywriters get involved in writing for blogs and article services for ridiculously low pay. While it’s okay in the short term to get a bit of experience and build a portfolio, it’s not a long-term strategy for success.
Another problem is recognizing that not every client is a fit. Some clients are hard to deal with; they won’t be satisfied until they’ve had you do 10 rewrites. Others are not nice people, plain and simple. And still others will always try to negotiate your rates.
My advice is to have the guts to walk away when the client isn’t a fit. Don’t invest time in trying to change them, i.e. you’ll never make a penny-pinching client into a big spender, no matter how successful they get.
Furthermore, don’t let difficult clients demean you or damage your self-confidence. It’s their problem, not yours. Took me a long time to realize that. Fortunately, these folks are the minority. But I speak from personal experience when I say don’t let them get you down.
Finally, don’t spend 100% of your time picking up copywriting skills. You also need a strong measure of business savvy and marketing expertise. Learn how to run your business and market your services. Focus on getting clients. Otherwise, you can be the best copywriter but you won’t have any income!
That’s something that a lot of copywriters struggle with, myself included. If you have a specialty, you can focus on which clients to pursue, and you’ll be more appealing to them because you’re an expert in your field.
On the other hand, you have to decide whether you want to only write about that topic. Personally, I enjoy the diversity of working with different clients in different industries.
Perhaps the best answer is a combination of the two. If you have a few specialties, perhaps related to some subject area in which you already have an interest or hobby, then use that expertise to attract new clients. However, also look for opportunities to take on unrelated projects as well.
When I started out in my copywriting business years ago, pre-internet, most of my clients were local. I’d find new business by networking at chamber of commerce events and trade shows. I also did public speaking to groups like the Rotary and Women Business Owners, which again put me in front of local clients.
These days most of my clients are not local. They find me via Google, and for 95% of them, we’ll never meet in person, even if they are local.
I work with clients all over the country and the world. Off the top of my head, I can tell you I’ve done copywriting for businesses in Portugal, England, Hungary, Colombia, Israel, Malta, Canada, Saudi Arabia, China and more. As long as the client has access to e-mail and some basic English skills, we can work together.
Alright, I’ll list some of my current and recent projects:
That should give you a pretty good idea of the diversity of my copywriting clientele.
I try to help other copywriters just starting out because I remember how difficult it was. Pay it forward. In the future, once you’re established, if you have the opportunity to help someone new, please do. Makes the world a nicer place.