Building a freelance copywriting business
Posted on 25th February 2020 by Marketing Executive - Katherine Ducie
You might be stuck in a 9 to 5 job doing something that isn’t your passion or maybe you’re already a copywriter working for an agency or in-house. Whatever your circumstances, in this blog we’ll help you understand what building a freelance copywriting business takes and provide you with some useful tips for making your freelance copywriting business a success.
Liverpool based copywriter, Matthew Drzymala, has been freelancing full-time since 2018. He shares his story to becoming a copywriter with us and some valuable first-hand advice on making your freelancing dreams a reality.
Matthew’s story – turning a hobby into a full-time career
Growing up, Matthew had a love for words and won several writing awards at school. Working in payroll for 12 years, Matthew still held this love for writing. Outside of work, Matthew wrote stories, opened his own local writing group and attended an evening creative writing course, from which he won a National Adult Learners Award.
Three of the stories Matthew wrote were subsequently published: The Fantastical Gregory Shortbread, The Bumpkinton Tales and Brainstorm. Matthew even entered the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), where he wrote an astonishing 50,000 words, in a month, for fun.
It wasn’t until Matthew was made redundant from his payroll job that he decided to turn his hobby into a career. In Matthew’s favour, he was given a two-year redundancy period which gave him the opportunity to prepare for a change in career. Matthew decided to look around for jobs in writing and in 2016 enrolled on a Distance Learning Course in copywriting with The Blackford Centre. This covered writing for webpages, emails, product descriptions and more along with learning about other factors, such as SEO.
Towards the end of the course, Matthew had a bout of luck when a tutor, who was also a full-time copywriter, offered to pass on a client. This provided Matthew with his first client, a web designer who he worked with for a few years.
Throughout 2017, Mathew worked full-time in payroll and part-time as a copywriter in the evenings and at weekends. This gave him chance to learn the craft and gain experience, without the financial pressure. At the end of his redundancy period, Matthew landed a retainer with a web designer, who he worked with for 18 months. That retainer alone provided Matthew with enough income to pay his mortgage and overheads.
Tips for starting and growing a freelance copywriting business
- Stay in your full-time job and do copywriting part time to begin with
- Save enough money to make your first six-months comfortable
- Get a website
- Make sure your social media accounts are professional
- Offer discounted rates to begin with
- Join a copywriting community or organisation
Explaining his biggest piece of advice to up and coming freelance copywriters, Matthew says:
“Stay in your full-time job until you’ve saved enough to make the first six-months comfortable.”
“You won’t land tonnes of work straight away (unless you’re lucky). You’ll have days or weeks with nothing coming in, so you need a cushion to pay your bills and to lead your life.”
“Freelancing is amazing, but don’t jump in with nothing in the bank. Think it through and, when you do take the leap, you’ll know you can afford a few quiet weeks or a quiet month.”
Other factors like having your own website and work email address with your own domain name can make you immediately appear more reputable and professional.
Even if you don’t have many work examples to display in an online portfolio, simply writing about yourself and what you can offer will display your writing skills and help clients to understand more about you and your capabilities. If you use social media, create an account for your business or use your personal account – as long as it already looks professional. Twitter is a fantastic platform for copywriters. You can use the channel to reach out to potential clients and fellow copywriters.
As well as using social media as a way of finding work, use it to gain knowledge and inspiration from fellow copywriters. Joining a copywriting community can be great for keeping moral high and gaining guidance from more experienced copywriters who have been in your shoes.
Do some work at a discounted rate to start with, especially if it’s an ideal candidate or a candidate in an industry you’d like to specialise in, as this initial experience will be what you need to build your credibility and portfolio.
Membership organisations like ProCopywriters can be particularly helpful for freelance copywriters and make you part of a copywriting community. They can offer advice and the support needed to develop your career.
How do I know if building a freelance copywriting business is for me?
Some of the core skills you need to be successful as a freelance copywriter are:
- Strong writing skills
- An eye for detail
- Commercial awareness
- The ability to market and promote your services effectively
- The skill to manage money effectively
- The capability to manage your workload effectively
- The competence to manage expectations and deadlines effectively
Do you have the creative skill to write powerful words that can promote brands, reinforce messages and sell products? If you receive positive feedback for the writing you produce, that’s an indication that you have the creative skill. As well as your writing ability, you need the know how to run your own business and manage your finances. These are the key differences between copywriting in-house and copywriting freelance. The business side of things requires a lot of organisation and is something that you get better at with time. You are accountable for everything which is why time management and organisation are even more important when you’re self-employed.
As a freelancer, you need to believe in the quality of what you have to offer and know the value of your services. To begin with, you might set lower rates just to get some experience under your belt, but when copywriting becomes your main source of income, don’t sell yourself short and settle for rates that’ll leave you struggling.
When you first start pitching to clients, your response rate might be low at first but to be successful as a freelance copywriter you need to remain persistent and not let this affect your confidence as with more experience, this’ll change.
If you crave more independence and dream of being your own boss, going freelance is the perfect solution. If it’s something you’ve been thinking about for a while and consider to be your ideal, it’s something worth taking the leap for.
Consider working for agencies
Matthew gets a lot of his work from the three agencies he works with. Working with agencies can take away some of the hard work for freelancers.
Research agencies and reach out to those you’d like to work with. You can do this over email, social media or through the post. Before you pitch to an agency, make sure you’re equipped with a solid amount of experience first. This doesn’t have to be heaps of experience, but enough to build a strong portfolio. A few quality pieces of work that can demonstrate your talents is enough to get you started. Even writing blogs can help build the amount of content you have to showcase. Keep your website up to date and make sure there are no errors on there as prospective agencies will be judging the content on your website.
Collaborating instead of competing
The beauty of freelance copywriting is the strong sense of community between copywriters and the supportive culture whereby professionals share work with each other. This collaboration, in comparison to competition, is what sets copywriting apart from some other industries.
When Matthew first made up his mind on becoming a freelance copywriter, it was collaborating with other copywriters that helped him progress. He says:
“I knew that freelance copywriting was what I wanted to do, so I started to network online with other writers, getting advice and tips.”
“Other writers aren’t my competition, which is unheard of in most other industries. If it’s not their cup of tea, they’ll chuck it my way to see if I’m interested and I’ll do the same.”
How to find work as a freelance copywriter
- Connect with local businesses
- Utilising your contacts
- Social media
- Working with agencies
- Cold pitching
Finding work as a freelancer in any industry is a big part of the job and there’s no perfect recipe. Different professionals have different ways of finding work and through trial and error, you’ll discover which method is best for you.
Popular among a lot of freelancers for finding work, especially in the creative industry, is networking. There are loads of networking events out there. Trying searching on Eventbrite to see what events there are in your area.
Events that are beneficial for copywriters include Digital City Expo (free), Creative North presents Collaboration and the Copywriting Conference.
Networking and connecting with local businesses will help raise your profile in the community. You’ll be surprised by how much work you can find on your doorstep.
Once you’ve gained some experience, it might be worth joining your local Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber of Commerce Network supports and connects companies locally through many different means. It does however cost to become a member.
Don’t be scared to utilise your contacts either. If your mum’s friend has a business that you think might benefit from your skills or your friend’s friend works in an agency, put yourself forward and let them know what you can do for them.
Matthew shares his advice on finding work as a freelance copywriter:
“Finding work is tough, and it never stops.
If I’m snowed under, I have to find time to promote myself and post on social media (Twitter and LinkedIn) while trying to hit my deadlines. If I don’t, when the work is done, I’ll be sat with nothing to do.”
I have two pieces of advice which have helped me the most:
- Approach agencies, they get the clients so you don’t have to. Do great work for them and they’ll send you more and more stuff. Work with enough of them, especially the ones who pay well, and you barely have to pitch for work yourself (this takes time though).
- Tell people you have availability. Yep, that’s right. I’ve landed loads of jobs by posting on social media that I’ve just finished a project and have time to take on work. Other writers have passed me stuff to lighten their bulging workloads or replied to a query they’ve had which they don’t have time to do with my details.
With number two, never, ever, feel this is grovelling. It isn’t. It doesn’t make you a failure, how can it, if it lands you work, you’re not failing. I also cold pitch companies too, I’ve landed a few clients like that.”
Apart from social media, there are other ways of marketing yourself including email, blogging and paid ads. Setting up a Google My Business Account is good place to start and is free.
To find a niche or not to find a niche?
Finding a niche is not compulsory but works perfectly for some copywriters who already have specialised knowledge or a keen interest in a certain topic such as finance or food right the way through to beauty. As a copywriting expert in an industry where few others are, your skills may be sought after, which could be lucrative.
It might not be a specific industry that you specialise in writing content for, it could be copywriting for a few specific marketing channels like print brochures or sales emails. If you do decide to specialise, make sure you don’t restrict yourself by choosing something too niche. Demand for work in very specialised areas may be low.
If you decide to be a generalist, you’ll get to write and learn about a range of topics.
Sharing his thoughts, Matthew says:
“Some would say niche down fast, and I can see the sense in that. However, I didn’t. Okay, I’ve written for loads of wedding suppliers, but I don’t tie myself down to just that industry.
No, most of it comes from businesses across the country. My retainer client was fairly local, they were in Southport (I’m in Liverpool), and I’ve recently written for a translator and wedding photographer locally, but the rest come from businesses, or agencies across the UK.”
Freelance copywriter rates
Research from Pro Copywriters suggests that the average day rate for a copywriter is £349.
The average full-time wage across all employment types is £43,092, while the maximum income of 514 copywriters surveyed was reported as being £300,000.
Setting rates can be difficult, especially when you first start out as a freelancer.
The prices you are charging needs to factor in holiday pay, sick pay, taxes, training and other work-related expenses.
To start with, although you might have availability, you may struggle to fill all these hours with work, which is why it helps to maintain a job and do freelance copywriting part-time initially.
You may also reduce your rates to win work and get a foot in the door with certain clients however as your experience grows, so will your day rate.
The benefits of building a freelance copywriting business
When you choose to become a freelance copywriter, you give yourself more control and flexibility. For anyone with other responsibilities such as being a parent, caring for someone or volunteering, this flexibility is hugely beneficial.
Where your hobbies are concerned, it means you can do them at any time of the day – for example going to the gym before the rush hour hits.
With no set number of holidays, you’re not restricted, so if you want to take a 4-week holiday, you can.
Discussing what he loves most about freelancing, Matthew says:
“The freedom to work when and wherever I want, the variety of people you work with and the copywriting community – I love all that. I love not having a boss. My friends tell me about their horrendous day at work, how someone is being really nasty or petty – and I don’t have any of that anymore.
Sure, quiet months are terrifying, but I have never been happier in my work than I am now.”
Protecting your freelance copywriting business
When you become self-employed, there are certain risks that can arise like a client not being happy with the work you’ve provided, losing your laptop or phone while travelling to meet clients or gaining an injury that leaves you unable to work.
Obstacles like these are unpredictable and can be expensive or even leave your business bankrupt.
Holding freelance business insurance protects you from these risks and gives you peace of mind.
As a freelance copywriter, there are a range of insurance policies that might be suitable for you. Click here to find our more.
At Caunce O’Hara, we specialise in providing freelance insurance for content professionals. For more information on freelance insurance, call our award-winning team on 0333 321 1403.
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