“You’re a writer? How did you get into that?”
If I had a penny for every time I’ve been asked a variation of that question, I’d probably have enough money to buy a nice bar of Swiss chocolate. It’s usually the first response to telling a new acquaintance that I’m a freelance copywriter, while the second response is often along the lines of “I’ve always wanted to do that” or “how do I become a freelance copywriter myself?”
To anyone unfamiliar with this industry, freelance copywriting can seem impossibly glamorous. And in some respects it is, but it’s still a job. It requires dedication, organisation and creativity at all times. The pay is often modest, time off is either unpaid or made up in the evenings, and you have to deal with clients who can occasionally be unreasonable and/or rude. Crucially, this is a hugely over-subscribed industry, where companies can be highly selective about who they commission.
Sounds great! So how do I become a freelance copywriter?
First of all, if you’re reading this as a student or in the early years of your career, there’s one key thing to remember:
There are no shortcuts.
With so much competition from established writers, it’s going to take a long time to build your own identity and become a freelance copywriter of repute. You’ll probably have to work for free, and you’ll certainly have to work on projects that don’t interest you. There may be clients you don’t get on with, deadlines that require burning the midnight oil, and articles which are never published. The latter scenario is especially frustrating, because you can’t promote them if they’re not published. Most freelance copywriting job vacancies request several hyperlinks to published online features with direct relevance to the industry or company in question.
This is why it’s far harder to become a freelance copywriter than it is to remain one once you’re established and known within the industry. I have a Word document containing links to a hundred of my best articles, arranged by category with one-line summaries and URLs. If I spot a tempting freelance writing opportunity, I can call upon a stockpile of relevant articles demonstrating my expertise in that specific area. A new or aspirational writer won’t have such a portfolio to draw on, but you can start by linking to your own blogs, or offering to write guest posts for clients in industries you’re passionate about. Every time an article is published, make a note of its URL for future job applications, or save a screenshot onto your PC to compile a portfolio like this one.
You’ll also need other resources to become a freelance copywriter, including a comfortable workspace. We’ve previously discussed how to create the ultimate home office, even with a small budget and limited space. You’ll need a laptop which can be used at home, at the local café and at client meetings. You’ll have to create some administrative templates, including a professional-looking invoice and a spreadsheet to track income and expenditure. Some writers remain sole traders rather than going down the limited company route, since the latter brings additional layers of bureaucracy and responsibility. However, clients tend to prefer dealing with a registered company than with a private individual touting for work with a generic Gmail address.
Windows onto the world
Above all, you’ll need a website. This is your digital shop window, where you explain what you can offer and highlight key achievements. Its contents will evolve over time, as you work for more clients and build up greater expertise. Freelance copywriters usually develop one or two niches – the G75 Media website outlines how we’re property writers and motoring journalists first and foremost. Nobody will be impressed if you claim you can write about anything, because topics like SaaS or property law demand expertise and an intuitive knowledge of the subject.
Your website will often be the first impression made on a prospective client, so update it with your best work and list the attributes which make you stand out from all the other writers. It’ll take time to become a freelance copywriter, but you’ll succeed if you persevere.