How to Get Started as a Freelance Copywriter

freelance copywriter

One of the best things about being a freelance copywriter, is I get to help other people.

Not just my clients, but other aspiring copywriters.

I receive a number of emails from would-be copywriters looking for hints and tips to help get them started.

They find me either through this blog or through my company website Briar Copywriting.

I love receiving these emails and I always reply to them and give them whatever advice I can. Which is what prompted me to put this post together. Hopefully, I will be able to answer all the common questions in one go.

My journey as a freelance copywriter started in 2007. I was very green back then and was grateful for any advice I could get. So here goes, these are the most frequent questions I get asked:

1. How do I get work?

Yup, that’s always the hard one to answer. Everyone’s background is different. If you have worked as a copywriter within a company and want to go it alone, you’ve probably got potential clients you can approach.

If you are coming into this industry without that leg-up, it’s a bit more difficult. Some copywriters will ‘cold call’ – normally by phone. They’ll contact local companies and try to get work that way.

Another option is to write copy in the hope of attracting clients. For example, if you see sales literature for a company that really isn’t very good, you could re-write it, send it to them and say, if you like it pay me £xxx if you don’t, that’s fair enough.

I was fortunate when I started out. I immediately walked into a paying job and within weeks of setting up, had clients knocking on my door. That isn’t always going to happen though so you’ll have a lot of marketing to do. Get out there and meet people. Go to local networking events to generate a buzz and to get people talking.

2. How do I get a portfolio together?

This is the chicken and the egg scenario – how can you show a perspective client a portfolio of work when you don’t have any clients!

Think about your past work history. What did you do? Can any of that be used to show your writing skills? Even if it’s stuff you did in a voluntary capacity for a local PTA or other organisation, it can still be used. Remember, you are unlikely to be walking in to see large Blue Chip Companies when starting out, so don’t worry about your portfolio looking a bit ‘lame’. You can build on it with every client you get.

3. Is there a copywriting course I should go on?

Let me answer that one this way – I do not have any formal writing qualifications. I have a BA(Hons) in English Language and Literature but I have never taken a copywriting course.

As long as I can remember I’ve always been a writer. And it’s the quality of my work that attracts clients, not the qualifications I hold.

Besides, one thing my clients often say is they like working with me because I bring a fresh take to things. I’m not blinkered to any particular formulas or rules. When I receive a project, I take into account the business, the product, the audience, the media and then create something original that will work for that audience and client.

So, don’t get hung up on thinking you must have a copywriting qualification. Clients will choose you on the quality of your work, not how many letters come after your name.

4. Do I need a website?

Yes!!!!

Your website is going to say a lot about you so don’t scrimp on it. Go to a good web designer (and one who understands SEO) and make sure you get a professional site that is clear, compelling and simple. After all it will reflect your professionalism, your values and your service.

5. Do I need to understand SEO?

Search engine optimisation is essential for your clients and for your business.

It is big business these days and clients are always looking for a copywriter who actually understands SEO. But not only that, you have to understand SEO to get your website ranking well.

My website ranks for all my major keywords. Because of this, I don’t have to go chasing clients. These days clients come to me. They find my website in the search results and commission me – it really can be that easy. Because of this I don’t pay for advertising – my website does that for me.

6. How can I improve my writing?

The simple answer to that one is to write. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. The world of sales and marketing is changing all the time so there is always something new to learn. Plus the more you write the more objective you’ll become towards your own writing so you’ll continuously improve.

You can also improve by reading a lot. Both fiction and non-fiction will help you by exposing you to different styles.

Plus, when you’ve written something for a client, read it out loud. You’ll probably feel a right Charlie, but it will help you identify areas that aren’t working. Make sure you put on your voice-over voice too. Although it will sound very contrived, using intonation and excitement in your voice will help you identify areas that don’t flow because the rhythm is off.

Another way is to watch other writers you admire. Read their work and analyse what they do. This is a great way to pick up tips and ideas that you can transfer into your own work.

7. What else do I need to know?

One of the other essential things you must do is back-up your work constantly.

I have a USB external hard drive that is set to back up my files at certain times. Plus, I also use the Carbonite service which constantly backs up specified files to my Carbonite web space. Once I’ve made an amendment to a file or created a new one, Carbonite waits until it is inactive and then backs it up immediately. I also have a separate portable external hard drive that I regularly back up.

I hope that quick run down has helped answer any question you might have. If you need to know anything else get in touch or make a comment on this post.

Good luck.

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8 comments ↓

#1 Catherine on 11.07.11 at 1:20 pm

Hi Sally

I realise that you wrote this post well over a year ago but I’ve just stumbled upon your blog… and am very pleased that I did! Having done bits and pieces of freelance work over the past few years and volunteering my services to companies I’ve worked for (over and above my day job) for what seems like an eternity, I am now considering attempting to embark on a full time career in freelance copywriting. It’s a bit of a daunting prospect but it’s something that I’ve wanted to do for quite some time.

Many thanks for the tips and I look forward to learning more from your blog.

Best wishes

Catherine

#2 admin on 11.14.11 at 1:46 pm

Good luck Catherine.

Sally

#3 Chante on 03.17.12 at 6:41 pm

Thanks for sharing this information. This is exactly what I needed to get my mind in the right direction for freelance copywriting.

#4 Clare on 05.06.12 at 6:48 pm

Hi Sally
Thanks for the tips. Great advice.

#5 admin on 05.08.12 at 7:49 am

Hi Claire, no problem – glad you found it useful.

#6 bernard on 06.04.12 at 3:15 pm

Hi Sally, thanks very much for the great advice above. I am new in this field and wanted to get a fresh perspective from someone who’s been there long enough and i really do appreciate.

A quick question though, you are based in the UK and there is more copywriting work there than most other places(some companies don’t even know who a copywriter is). I am based in Kenya, Africa, and wanted to know, from your experience in the UK, do you get more work from companies located in the UK or from overseas using you website? Can i survive with markets outside my country if my work is commendable?
Thank you.

#7 admin on 06.09.12 at 3:23 pm

Hi Bernard,

My website brings in clients both from the UK and internationally, but that’s the beauty of internet marketing. If you can get good worldwide rankings then you’ll stand a very good chance of picking up worl outside of Kenya. Although most of my work in the UK, a growing percentage is from Europe and beyond.

#8 Copywriter Melbourne on 08.05.12 at 1:04 am

Very informative post – thank you. I will use some of these tips on my own copywriting website. There are so few copywriting courses around, i think the best way to learn is from reading blogs like this and looking at the classics by people like Eugene Schwartz and Ogilvy etc.

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