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I’ve been a freelance copywriter nearly my entire career. And as someone who works alone in my home, one of the benefits of social media for me has been the opportunity to join online communities of like-minded people, such as other freelance copywriters.
So when I found the Café Writer group on Facebook, I delighted in checking the posts each day, commenting occasionally but mostly lurking and seeing what issues others were facing.
The group’s founder and moderator was Steve Roller. He did a masterful job of sparking conversations, keeping the mood upbeat and providing practical advice when members/freelance copywriters found themselves in challenging situations. I quickly became a fan.
When Steve mentioned he’d just published The Freelancer Manifesto, I knew it had to be chock-full of actionable insights. Now, with copy in hand, I’m happy to say, the 230-page book did not disappoint.
On paper, Steve was just as affable and relatable as he was on social media. He writes, “I hope my experience lets you see that I’m a regular guy. I stumbled around and made a lot of mistakes, but figured out enough to make a decent living.” I could have written those exact words myself.
As a freelance copywriter with 25+ years of experience, I could easily relate to Steve when he said, “My family members, neighbors, and most of my friends have no idea what I do for a living.”
For years, my in-laws thought I was unemployed. They never asked me anything about work because, kind souls that they are, they didn’t want to make me feel bad about having such a hard time finding a job.
My own father only began to understand what I do when he allowed me to take on the marketing responsibilities for a business he owned. When I rewrote his website and it zoomed to page 1, #1 on Google, he finally stopped telling people his daughter was “working on a book” (I wasn’t) and said, “My daughter is a talented copywriter and she’s cracked the code on Google!” (I haven’t but I do understand SEO).
Even though Steve isn’t shy about revealing the potential downsides of freelancing, what I love most about The Freelancer Manifesto is how it radiates positivity. You can’t help but feel optimistic as you turn every page. In just a few sentences Steve changed my negative perspective on how I viewed my past.
I had spent the first few years of my career trying to prove wrong every person who’d ever dissed me. That first boss who hadn’t read a single word I’d written but somehow knew I “didn’t have what it takes to be a copywriter.” That gossipy aunt who told others I was “just a glorified secretary.”
Steve advocates taking the opposite approach. Rather than obsessing about proving your detractors wrong, focus on proving your supporters right. He says throughout his career he’s aligned himself with people who believe in him, sometimes even more than he believes in himself! Smart, right?
Another big lesson Steve provides is something that took me years to learn on my own, “Don’t be just a freelancer. Be the owner of a successful business.” He explains that building a business is a “natural extension of freelancing” and can be far more lucrative while also offering “the most rewarding professional experience you can imagine.” I get that.
The clients that hire you are essentially asking you to write copy that will help them grow their business. You write a website for them that generates thousands of dollars in business for the client but you only get paid one set fee for your website copy. Doesn’t it make sense to develop your own business so the copy you write brings you a steady flow of money?
A freelance business is severely limited by the number of people it can serve one-on-one directly. I know this because I’ve struggled to scale my freelance writing business. I can only write for so many hours a day.
Steve says a smarter approach is to aim for a real business that builds equity, leverages your time and grows into a long-term, sustainable company that you can someday sell for profit. That means developing systems and processes, creating products and building lists of prospects who are interested in what you have to offer.
Along those same lines, Steve suggests saying “yes” to opportunities, stepping out of one’s comfort zone. I’d seen this philosophy adopted by a close friend and knew it could be life-changing.
My friend had spent the first year after her divorce, going only to work and church. She distanced herself from family, declined all invitations to social gatherings and watched an awful lot of TV. On the first anniversary of her divorce, she decided she’d done enough moping; it was time for a change.
She named the coming year “The Year of Yes” and she agreed to give every opportunity that crossed her path a try, no matter how uncomfortable or scary it seemed. She ended up trying and loving yoga. She travelled to Europe and saw sights that had been on her bucket list for two decades. She changed jobs. And she even tried speed dating and made some “friends with potential.”
Steve talks about applying the “yes philosophy” to business and doing things like speaking in public, pitching big clients who may be out of your league, and writing a book. He advises, “Do the things other freelancers aren’t willing to do. Put yourself out there! Let the world see you.” Yes, yes, and yes!
Among the skills Steve says are critical to success as a freelance copywriter is the ability to sell. This is a concept I’ve preached to others for years. I’ve known many people who’ve quit their corporate job to freelance. They set up their office. They print their business cards. They tell all their friends. And then they wait for the phone to ring.
Unlike their corporate job where the work came to them, they suddenly have to learn how to go out and get clients. Cold-calling, networking, building relationships – it’s all foreign to them. And it’s hard! They may be the best copywriter on the planet, but if they don’t know how to sell, or worse they don’t like to sell, they will fail.
Steve, who started his career in sales, understands this plain truth. He challenges people considering freelancing to do some soul-searching on the subject before taking the plunge. I couldn’t agree more.
If freelance copywriting has ever crossed your mind as a potential career choice or if you’re currently immersed in freelancing, you’ll want to read The Freelancer Manifesto. Don’t try and figure out how to be successful all by yourself. Not when Steve has created a primer that will help you assess your potential and then hit the road running.
For me, with more than two decades of experience as a freelance copywriter, Steve put into words many of the concepts I intrinsically understood but had never articulated. I found myself nodding in agreement at the end of every paragraph.
The truth is, succeeding as a freelance copywriter, or really any type of freelancer, isn’t easy. It’s work and requires diligence. It means getting out of your comfort zone. It means dealing with challenging situations when you have no prior experience to inform your actions.
But if you can get past hurdles like learning to sell, Steve highly recommends the freelance life, as do I. He says you’ll experience “exuberance for life” when you’re doing the work you love. And you’ll gain riches too, “not just material wealth. Good health. Sound mind. Happy. Fulfilled. Rich relationships.” Sounds about right to me.
You can purchase “The Freelancer Manifesto, 11 Big Ideas to Stand Out and Thrive” by Steve Roller on Amazon.com.