Starting Out As A Freelance Copywriter

7x5 72dpi 0276 (Small)One question I am frequently asked is how I got started in the world of freelance copywriting.

Whether you’ve worked as a copywriter in an agency or company or whether you are looking to break into the industry from another direction, the thought of going it alone can be very daunting.

  • Where do you find your clients?
  • How do you get a steady stream of work?
  • How do you find leads?

A bit about me

This is how I got started.

Before writing for a living I’d worked in the financial industry and charity world. Writing had always been a bit part of these roles, especially learning how to take on someone else’s voice. But it was my time with the charity that lead me to discover a talent for direct mail and persuasive writing.

While my children were small I did a BA(Hons) degree in English Language and English Literature with the Open University. That was the hardest 6 years of my life – trying to juggle studying with small children. But I graduated in 2007 with First Class Honours and it was at that point that I decided to take the plunge.

I wanted to work but, with a young family, I also needed to be around for them – becoming a freelance copywriter was a perfect fit.

How do you start without a budget?

Yes, I was in that boat too.

The one thing I realised (even with my limited knowledge of the internet) was that I had to be online if I was to succeed. All I had was a lap top.  So I invested some time into building my own website – without any HTML knowledge – boy was that fun! Talk about a verticle learning curve (can you have a vertical curve?) but with a bit of perseverance I got there.

Then I began researching every freelance profile and directory site and listed my details anywhere and everywhere. I didn’t realise it at the time but this would help my SEO later because of all the backlinks I was creating.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, work began trickling through. And I do mean trickle – this suited me, I didn’t need a huge income straightaway. That wasn’t why I began this venture. For me, my copywriting business is about helping people – the money is almost secondary. I get a lot out of helping other businesses – especially when I can see how much better their website would perform if it was professionally written (or their brochures, emails, newsletters etc.).

As my business grew I was able to invest in a new website and the rest is [Compatibility Mode]

The word of the blog

It wasn’t long before I realised that the best way to build content and links was by blogging. My initial tentative steps into blogging was using a wordpress blog. That was fine as far as it went, but after a huge wakeup call courtesy of WordPress, I realised I needed to get my own blog with my own URL – hence this blog.

The effect was amazing. It had only been going for about 6 months when it was picked up by oDesk in their top 100 freelance blogs. The resulting link catapulted my website onto the front page of Google for several of my keywords.

My blogging and article writing had positioned me as an expert in my field. People could instantly see I knew what I was talking about and my business grew rapidly.

10 top tips to get started

So what are my 10 top tips to break into the world of freelance copywriting?

  1. Get online – make your website eye-catching and get your copy right. If your copy doesn’t sell you, how will you write powerful copy for your clients?
  2. Start blogging
  3. Submit articles to directories
  4. Build backlinks
  5. Join social networking sites and participate in forums
  6. Start tweeting
  7. Get out and network with local businesses
  8. Get to grips with SEO – it will help you and your clients
  9. Don’t be afraid to write for an industry you’ve no experience of – you’ll bring something fresh and new
  10. Grow a thick skin

That’s just my story. Today I work with companies all over the world over a vast range of industries. My leads come through this blog and my website plus referrals. I no longer have to go out and find work – it comes to me.

I’m thankful to be able to do something I love, get paid for it, and know that it is helping other businesses (of all sizes) succeed too.

A resource for new writers

Has my story inspired you?

You may also be interested in a guide I recently came across called  Freelance Superstar by Monika Mundell and Gobala Krishnan. It is a complete guide to get started with freelance writing. If you are just starting out it will give you some handy tips on how to set up, find business and cope with the freelance way of life.

Good luck – and if you need any advice just drop me a line.


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#1 Matt Ambrose on 12.21.09 at 1:43 pm

Hi Sally,

Very impressed you became establised as quickly as you did.

Like you, I don’t come from an agency background and had to build up my portfolio and experience as I went along. It took me about 3 years to start earning a decent income, but the benefits of the freelance lifestyle and being able to write for a living means it was certainly worth the struggle.

Merry Xmas!

Matt aka The Copywriter’s Crucible

#2 admin on 12.21.09 at 2:06 pm

Hi Matt – Merry Christmas 🙂

#3 Charlotte Statham on 01.25.12 at 4:07 pm

Hi Sally,

Like you I spent several years working in an industry unrelated to copywriting, but found that writing played a significant part of my role on a daily basis. I decided that I needed to reinvent my work life by returning to university and I graduated in 2010 with an English Literature degree. Since then I have been lucky enough to secure a few writing contracts, but nothing like the volume that I would like in order to achieve my goal of a full time career in freelance copywriting. I don’t really know where to start with building up a profile of work and how best to “package” myself for potential employers. I would be really interested to pick your brains at your convenience.
Many thanks in advance for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.
Kind regards,

#4 admin on 01.25.12 at 4:43 pm

Hi Charlotte – get in touch any time. Just emailed you with my details.


#5 Clare Hudson on 05.04.12 at 9:39 pm

Hi Sally
Thanks for the article. I’ve just decided to start working as a freelance copywriter and wondered how the majority of freelancers find work – e.g word of mouth, website, approaching ad agencies. What worked best for you when you first started?

#6 Danielle Auld on 05.29.12 at 2:36 pm

Hi Sally,

Like you I have spent a number of years in various employment where writing has been a reasonable part of my role and now that I need to balance work with a family I have decided to go it alone. I have a very limited portfolio evidencing what I have done as I didn’t set out planning to freelance so I am building that up through volunteering and working within the local community.

I am struggling a bit with pricing though and would really appreciate any advice you could give me on finding the right price point to position my services, particularly at this early stage in my freelance career.
Congratulations on building your career in the way that you have. I can only hope to follow in your footsteps so that I can balance working and bringing home the bacon with being an (almost) full time mum!

#7 Danielle Auld on 05.29.12 at 2:43 pm

Hi Sally,
Firstly congratulations on building your freelance business form scratch. I can only hope that I have even a part of the success that you have achieved.

Having worked in international business and marketing for many years I am now faced with a similar challenge to yourself as I need to balance the demands of bringing home the bacon with being an (almost) full time mum. I have decided that I want to use the writing skills gained in my previous employment to help local businesses and businesses that have small, overstretched or no marketing department to make their marketing work harder by finding the right words.

At present my portfolio is limited as I never really planned to go into freelancing so I am building that up by volunteering and working with charities and start ups for a discounted rate.

I am, however, finding it difficult to identify the correct price point for my services. Especially at this really early stage in my freelancing career and would greatly appreciate any advice that you can give me on this matter.

Thank you

#8 admin on 05.29.12 at 3:30 pm

Hi Danielle,

Pricing is always a problem for all copywriters. My advice would be not to charge by the hour – you will seriously limit your earning potential! Instead opt for a per project fee and decide on a cost in relation to the complexity of what you’re being asked to do. Think about the skills you need to complete the task and link your fee to the value of the product or service you are selling. One of the most common mistakes is undervaluing what you do. Clients will do that all the time by telling you it’s only writing – if that was the case, they would be doing it themselves rather than bringing in an outside expert.

So, get a feel for your client’s budget, get to understand the value of their product/service, look at the complexity of the task and perhaps a rough estimation on how long it’s going to take you (remember to add in time for amendments). And of course, as your experience grows so can your prices.

Good luck.

#9 Rob Taylor on 02.14.13 at 1:43 pm

Brilliant blog Sally, love your enthusiasm and get-go – no wonder you’ve done so well 🙂

Speaking as a professional journo turned copywriter, growing a business in your spare time is tough as – but once you nail your marketing (be it on or offline) and word of mouth spreads, it’s a hugely varied and rewarding gig.

What, though, do you find the most successful when it comes to attracting new business – client referrals, your blog, offline networking… or simply a combination of all of the above?

Thanks! Rob

#10 admin on 02.14.13 at 1:58 pm

Hi Rob,

For me attracting new business initially came from blogging and keeping my website high up in Google and social networking. Since then the web has still been the main drive, but referrals and word of mouth have begun to take over as my reputation has grown. Networking, especially face to face is something that takes me well and truly out of my comfort zone, but although I don’t get out much (that makes me sound really sad) the networking I do with clients, people online and through other meetings/conferences etc., has been really effective at bringing in new business.

That was rather a long winded way of saying that I have found that a combination of methods works best.


#11 Sarah Boak on 10.16.13 at 10:17 am

Hi Sally

Really interesting post – thank you!

I’ve had some bits and bobs of writing experience over the years, and have just put them together into a page on my website (see above link) but I don’t really know how to take the next step…

I’m completing my PhD by the end of the year and I then want to focus on writing.

I have been blogging infrequently, and tweeting/facebooking a little, but the reach isn’t very big yet. Would learning about SEO (and potentially doing some SEO writing) be the way to go?


#12 admin on 10.16.13 at 1:54 pm

Hi Sarah,

Reach takes time, continue with the social media, blogging and get out and meet people and talk about what you do. With regards to SEO, it’s important to have an understanding of it for any web writing. But be sure to keep up to date with it as it’s constantly changing.

Good luck.


#13 Natasha on 11.27.13 at 1:04 pm

Hi Sally
Like you I have worked in several fields but they have all mainly evolved around creativity and words. I have worked in marketing, and teaching English in schools and to Adults. I would love to set up a copywriter I believe I am good at this, as writing is my passion. Have a couple of questions. 1. Have a young child and really can’t afford to spend £4-500 on the Institute of Copywriting training. How did you train – Would you recommend I do some self learning from books. If I do this how would I start to build a ‘portfolio’? Maybe Offering pro-bono to local companies? 2) How can I start a blog if I don’t have any experience of copywriting? Did your blog materialise after you had started writing copy so you had built up some expertise to share? 3) Where do you stand on defining a niche for oneself?
thanks Sally, your site is so helpful

#14 admin on 11.27.13 at 1:35 pm

Hi Natasha, I hope our chat on the phone was useful to you – good luck!

#15 Terence on 11.25.14 at 3:21 am

Hey Sally,

Thanks for a great post. My Q as one starting out as a freelancer is what does a freelance copywriter blog about? Is it about the target niche or just about how copywriting is useful to business?

#16 admin on 11.25.14 at 7:56 am

Hi Terence – good question and the answer is both. You are a copywriter, that is your field therefore that is why people will follow you and read your stuff. They’ll be looking for advice on copywriting techniques, how they can use it to improve their business etc. If you do have a specific copywriting niche, write about that too as that will bring in the targeted traffic you’re after. Basically, keep your posts varied and you’ll keep your audience happy.

Hope that helps.


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