Wondering how to become a freelance copywriter? I am one, so I’ve put together some tips to help you on your merry way.
There are no official qualifications or training required to become a freelance copywriter. So, as long as you can produce smart, targeted and error-free content you’re off to a great start.
Plus, in today’s outsource-happy economy, freelance copywriters are more in-demand than ever. Business owners are wising up to the advantages of only paying for the content they need, when they need it. For them, this makes much more business sense than paying someone to drink coffee and talk about Love Island for 50% of the working day.
So, before you quit the day job and change your LinkedIn bio, wait. Read my advice on becoming a freelance copywriter to arm yourself with some essential tips and advice from an expert.
Start with a side hustle
I’m all for a motivational Pinterest quote. However, the reality for me wasn’t a case of waking up one day and deciding to be a freelance copywriter.
Dreaming big is all well and good but working hard is what makes these things actually happen.
I first started working as a freelance copywriter as a side hustle to my day job almost four years before I started working for myself full-time. While a four-year side hustle isn’t essential, spending time building your copywriting business on the side is a smart move.
Evenings, weekends and early mornings may feature prominently in your working hours at first. Yet this is a key time to establish yourself and lay some foundations for freelance success.
Work on your copywriting portfolio
Most clients will ask to see copywriting examples or a portfolio before commissioning you to write for them. So, it’s time to work on building one up.
If you don’t have any paid work to display yet, use content you’ve produced on your own blog or sites like Medium to gain exposure.
Alternatively, secure low-paid work on sites like Fiverr and People Per Hour to gain copywriting portfolio examples. While this does mean you’ll work for less than your day rate, these tend to be one-off jobs that will help you secure experience and content, without working for free.
My first portfolio was a simple Google Doc using a template I found online. I initially panicked I didn’t have one when a potential client asked. Then I pulled myself together and hastily assembled this copywriting portfolio and sent it on. This helped me secure me a number of early copywriting projects, so it does the job.
Establish an online presence to promote your copywriting work
So far in my freelance copywriting career, the majority of my leads have come via LinkedIn. Therefore, having an active LinkedIn profile and relevant content has been my most valuable marketing tool to date.
Setting up your online presence needn’t be too involved to begin with. You probably already have a LinkedIn profile, so use it to promote yourself. Creating a business account on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is straightforward, and you don’t need to do all four at first. I’m most active on LinkedIn and Facebook, so stick to what you’re most comfortable with at first. Then, develop your social presence on other platforms further down the line.
Of course, having your own freelance copywriter website is a great way to present a professional image to potential clients. It’s easier than ever to create your own simple website using platforms like WordPress, Wix and SquareSpace. If you’re even the slightest bit tech-savvy, you shouldn’t struggle with this.
However, if you have a small budget, you can outsource this to a web designer. Use LinkedIn or freelancer Facebook groups to find someone starting out in their web development career who would be happy to create your site in exchange for your copywriting services. A contra-deal will help you both establish yourselves and start developing the foundations of your freelance career.
Know your worth as a freelance copywriter
Recently, I saw a newbie copywriter posting in a Facebook group asking for advice on how much to charge for freelance copywriting. Her suggested day rate was less than half of mine, and mine is pretty competitive. While I can completely understand her temptation to go low to win some early jobs, this attitude isn’t helpful for your future self or your fellow copywriters.
Devaluing the art of copywriting by setting your hourly, project and day rates too low means you’ll struggle to ever increase them further down the line. Plus, if clients see your dirt cheap rates as standard, they will refuse to pay the actually standard rate for other copywriters, thus jeopardising the landscape for everyone.
By all means, offer some mates’ rates for friends to secure some content for your portfolio, but know your worth when establishing your copywriting rates, and you’ll thank yourself (and hopefully, me!) later.
Don’t write for free
Following on from the previous point, one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned since becoming a freelance copywriter is not to work for free. I’ve had countless requests for free content, and many “amazing opportunities” to work with a company by supplying them with free sample blogs or articles.
It’s super tempting to go for every opportunity that comes your way in the early days, and I did it myself a few times before wising up.
People who expect you to work for free will never value your work, and they’re likely to be the same clients who are terrible at paying you on time if you ever do come to produce paid copywriting work for them.
Sadly, freeloaders will always find a naive newbie to do their work for free, but don’t dwell over these missed opportunities and use the time you could have spent writing their content for free to focus on finding great clients who respect your time and pay you for it.
Having spoken to other freelancers on this issue, there seems to be a couple of exceptions to this rule. Working for free for a great cause or a fantastic reason can be a satisfying experience. If someone can benefit hugely from your support, like a charity, a penniless startup or a beloved friend, then feel free (lol) to provide your services free of charge.
Ask yourself if you’ll feel good for doing it, or if the impact you can make is significant. Is this a worthy cause, or is someone trying to take advantage of you? Usually, you’ll know the difference.
Another exception to the “no free work” rule. If you’re lacking copywriting examples for your portfolio, it’s a good idea to reach out to business-owning friends to see if you could write some blogs or landing pages for their websites in exchange for a testimonial. This is a win win situation, and you’re willingly offering your services, rather than reluctantly providing them out of desperation.
In these last two examples, always make sure you get a little something out of it, like a backlink, a Google review or a LinkedIn recommendation – these will cost your client nothing, but help you significantly.
Add value to your audience
Once you have a social presence, be consistent in your posting and ask all of your friends to like, comment on and share your posts and page. My Facebook audience grew from around 100 to over 700 in a couple of days when I put out a post asking all of my Facebook friends to invite their contacts to like my page. I was more than happy to do the same for fellow self-employed or small business owning friends, so don’t be afraid to ask for support from your existing network in establishing yourself.
The golden rule with business etiquette on social media is not to sell aggressively to your network. Instead, focus on engaging with others, making new connections and producing content that will be useful to your target audience. Instead of asking them to hire you to write their blogs, create a post or blog* showing them how much more traffic their website would receive if it had weekly blog content.
Adding value to your audience is key. Maybe they’ll see that post and start writing their own blogs, but if this becomes too time-consuming, which it invariably will, you’ll be the freelance copywriter they think of first when they decide to outsource it.
The same goes for your website visitors. Rather than selling to them when they land on your site, think of ways to interest and engage them. Promise them copywriting tips to increase their conversions. Or, offer a downloadable template for writing their own press release. Both options are more likely to prompt them to sign up than simply asking them to subscribe to marketing emails.
*Top tip* – rather than posting a link to your blog on LinkedIn, recreate the blog as a LinkedIn article, as LinkedIn’s algorithm frowns on external links in a bid to keep users on the platform. Copying and pasting it is fine. Make sure you proof it for errors before posting live on LinkedIn, as it often won’t paste correctly and misses out words or sections. If you want to link to an external site in a LinkedIn post, do it in the comments to keep in favour with the LinkedIn gods. Simply create a post as you normally would, then end it with “link in comments”.
The dreaded networking can be an incredible way to establish yourself as a freelance copywriter. Admittedly, many writers are introverts (me included). But overcoming your fears and promoting yourself at networking events will help you to make great connections that can develop into clients or lead to successful introductions.
Luckily, networking is varied these days. So, there’s plenty of scope to find an event to suit your personality, interests and target audience. From gin tasting to dog walking, there’s a networking event for everyone if you look hard enough. Some will be geared around the 30-second selling spiel, others will be more relaxed and informal. Therefore, find out which event will be the best option for you.
Ask for suggestions on social media to find out what’s happening in your local area. Too scared to go it alone? Rope a friend into coming along as moral support.
If you attend regularly, you’ll make friends and the entire experience will be less daunting. And the results could be amazing.
Find a copywriting niche
A fantastic way to develop as a freelance copywriter is to establish a niche. Specialising in one sector will give clients in that industry the confidence that you’ll speak their language and understand their target audience.
If you’re not sure where to specialise, you could start by setting up a blog in an area you’re interested in or know a little more about (maybe due to your current career or hobbies). Examples could be fashion, personal finance, recruitment or sports.
I’ve worked in two key copywriting roles which gave me varied experience across multiple sectors. So, while I don’t have a set niche, there are areas where I have more experience and expertise, like property, interiors and the KBB industry. This enables me to secure regular work and clients in those sectors.
Write guest posts
Another kind of exception to the “don’t work for free” rule is writing guest posts. Compile a list of websites in the industry in which you’re hoping to find potential clients and carve a niche, then approach them offering to write them a guest post.
While you won’t get paid for the post, you may be invited to write paid posts later if they like your content. Or, it could open other doors in that industry. Not to mention, creating valuable backlinks to your site from websites with an excellent domain authority.
The key element of the “no free work” rule is to avoid working for people who will take advantage of you. So, if it’s someone you really want to work for and you can clearly see the potential benefits to you and your career, then go for it.
How to find copywriting clients
Got yourself a copywriting portfolio and a couple of testimonials? It’s time to start finding clients who will pay you to write for their business.
LinkedIn is a great way to do this, and you can use a number of different methods. If you have a niche, connect with the target client in that industry. For example, marketing managers in the food and drink industry. Always add a note to your invitation, introducing yourself and gently asking if they’d like to connect to see if there may be an opportunity to work together.
Another way to find clients through LinkedIn is to use the content search function to find posts with keywords relating to your copywriting services. I regularly search for keywords like copywriter, copywriting, freelance copywriter and blogger. Then, I connect and private message anyone who has put out a post searching for these services. Make sure you message directly rather than commenting on the post, as it’s more personal.
Most of all, identify who you want to target then work out the best place to find and approach them. If your ideal clients are startup owners and entrepreneurs, join some LinkedIn and Facebook groups where they’re liking to be hanging out. If you know of niche networking events they frequent, book onto them and start schmoozing.
Pitch your services
Rockstar copywriter Jacob McMillen has a highly successful “no-risk pitch method” you can use to approach dream clients. By offering potential clients a sample piece of copywriting which they only pay for if it’s successful for them, he’s secured an plethora of paid jobs and regular clients. The only risk is if the quality of your writing isn’t up to scratch, leading businesses to reject your work. However, if you’re confident in your style and substance, it’s a genius way to approach and convert copywriting clients.
Find a copywriting or business mentor
Accessing advice and support in the early days of your copywriting career gives you the confidence and knowledge to win clients, produce great work and get paid well.
I’ve leaned on a couple of key people during the first few years of my time as a freelance copywriter. One is a friend who runs her own marketing business. She has both worked as and hired freelance copywriters, so understands the process and has experience of dealing with every situation that can arise.
The other is my partner, who runs his own commercial photography business. Not copywriting-related, but he’s been through the highs and lows of setting up a business, is a few years ahead of me and has bags of experience dealing with clients and suppliers.
Calling on these two regularly helped me to find my flow as a freelance copywriter. From panicky WhatsApps asking for quoting advice, to weekends spent brainstorming blog topics and marketing ideas, I’ve gained a huge amount of expertise from these sounding boards.
There are websites like this to find a mentor if you don’t have anyone to ask, and there are plenty of Facebook groups for freelancers and copywriters where you can tap into advice and support.
Now, all that’s left to do is become a freelance copywriter!
Hopefully, these tips will help you get started on your path to become a freelance copywriter and secure you some paid work from great clients. If you use these to earn some copywriting work, please let me know!
If you have any other questions or want to know more about working as a freelance copywriter, please feel free to drop me a line on firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be happy to help.