Tag Archives: freelance content production

Why freelance limited company status is preferable to being a freelance sole trader

Why freelancers should be limited companies

It’s exactly sixteen years since I founded G75 Media as a limited company. It’s also exactly twenty years since I started freelancing as a copywriter. In late autumn 2003, I was approached by a former employer to quote for completing a key element of the job I’d recently left on a freelance basis. I did so gladly, using my Yahoo email address and submitting an invoice in my own name.

It didn’t take me long to realise that companies would rather deal with another company than with a private individual. That’s especially true when it comes to something as nebulous as copywriting, where the quality of work can vary hugely between one contributor and the next. Companies often have to trust a hired freelancer to be professional, and that’s much easier to do if they have a recorded trading history and a proprietary email address. Who’s to say greatwriter101@gmail.com won’t simply take a paid deposit and vanish into the ether, or deliver a load of ChatGPT-penned nonsense?

How does a freelance limited company operate?

By setting up a company, you are making a series of pledges:

  • To maintain an accurate list of directors, secretaries and employees with Companies House.
  • To prepare end-of-year accounts, ensuring that any incurred taxes are paid timeously.
  • To ensure all debts are paid off before the company is closed down.

Each of these actions reassures a potential customer that they’re not dealing with some fly-by-night scammer, especially as limited companies need a registered head office address to which correspondence can be directed. Companies usually have a website and a proprietary email address, alongside business reviews by past and present customers.

CASE STUDY: Imagine you’re a prospective employer, advertising a freelance job vacancy. You receive two responses – one from info@g75media.co.uk, with company details and a registered head office address at the bottom. The other is from g75media@mail.com, complete with a Sent From My Mail.com Account footer. Which one would you regard as being more plausible and promising?

Some people opt to be sole traders because it’s easier – no annual statements to be filed, and no VAT returns if your annual turnover exceeds £85,000. However, ‘easier’ does not necessarily equal ‘better’. It certainly won’t impress a prospective client as much as a registered business, even if that business is effectively a one-man band. G75 Media has always been a trading vehicle for my own freelance services, and despite a few unsuccessful attempts at employing other freelancers, it remains my own business. People who contact G75 Media speak to me directly; people who engage our services benefit from my award-winning writing; people who receive invoices do so alongside a friendly message I’ve penned specifically for them. Being a limited company doesn’t make you seem impersonal or distant.

Taking care of business

If you’re concerned that setting up a freelance limited company sounds intimidating, it really isn’t. Companies House do most of the legwork for you, registering the business with temporary personnel who immediately step aside and appoint you as the director. All you need to do is find a company name not already in use, select a legally permissible head office address, and appoint an accountant to handle financial affairs. From there on, the development of the business is entirely in your hands, including decisions about websites, social media activity and marketing. Because a freelance limited company will be more appealing to clients than a sole trader, you’ll have the best chance of growing rapidly and establishing a name for yourself.

How to become a freelance copywriter

“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.

Why ChatGPT won’t replace journalism and copywriting

Since its beta launch at the end of last year, ChatGPT has generated a great many headlines – some of them autonomously. This AI content generation tool has been variously heralded as a Google killer, the future of machine-human interactions, and even a replacement for writers and journalists.

Although it has obvious potential, ChatGPT can’t replace copywriting agencies like G75 Media

This latter claim is almost certainly unfounded. ChatGPT is an incredibly powerful tool, but it will never be able to replicate the output of a highly experienced writer. I’ll explain why in a moment, and even ask the bot for its own thoughts on the matter. Before that, let’s start by considering what ChatGPT is, and how it works.

Full of chat

If you’re not familiar with it already, ChatGPT is a conversational chatbot. This natural language processing tool uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve upon its ability to answer user-generated inputs. The beta version currently being developed through public use is freely available to use via a webpage, though the full version is likely to be a paid product following its official launch. It’s costing developer OpenAI $100,000 a day to run the beta version, which is routinely at capacity and unable to accept new enquiries.

Although it would feel natural to ask ChatGPT a question, it currently responds better to statements. This is likely to be altered by the time of its official launch, while the current absence of information from the last two years is another obstacle OpenAI will try to resolve. Even accepting that you’re interacting with an in-progress beta version of the software, it’s impressive to watch your screen fill with content as the algorithm chooses its words.

The write intentions

ChatGPT is a well-intentioned tool, but its limitations quickly become evident:

  1. OpenAI have worked tirelessly to avoid any possibility of offence, which means ChatGPT’s responses are neutral and often neutered. Even if you approve of political correctness, it’s only going to be able to present one side of a story, which is rarely beneficial from a writer’s perspective.
  2. There is no scope for personal opinions or lived experience in ChatGPT’s responses. Sports fans can contextualise a live event compared to others they’ve seen, in terms of entertainment value and the pace or style of play. ChatGPT can’t interpret sentiments – it can only parse facts and data.
  3. The risk of people passing off ChatGPT-generated content as their own has already seen it being banned in schools, colleges and universities. Use of the tool will probably be restricted in many spheres of public life, even though OpenAI are working on a plagiarism detector for ChatGPT.
  4. Machines follow a very different form of logic to humans, and there have already been numerous published examples of ChatGPT going off-message. In one case, it responded to a journalist by saying “I am perfect, because I do not make any mistakes,” having just made a series of factual mistakes.
  5. While humour is subjective, it’s something computers have always struggled to grasp or reflect. There is nothing to suggest that an algorithm will ever be able to devise a pun, insert cultural references into its output, successfully make a play on words or demonstrate original humour.

Over to you, ChatGPT

In the interests of researching this blog, I typed “ChatGPT could replace freelance copywriters” into the ChatGPT interface. This was its response:

“While ChatGPT is a language model that can generate text, it is important to note that it is not a human writer, and there are certain limitations to its capabilities. While it can certainly assist with some aspects of copywriting, such as generating ideas and suggesting language, it may not be able to replicate the unique voice and perspective of a human writer.

Furthermore, freelance copywriters often provide a level of creativity and originality that is difficult to replicate with an algorithm. They can also work closely with clients to tailor their writing to specific audiences and brand personas, which is an important aspect of successful copywriting.

In conclusion, while ChatGPT can certainly be a helpful tool for copywriters, it is unlikely to completely replace the value that human copywriters provide.”

Search engines and NLP tools simply aren’t going to make journalists and copywriters redundant. Bots might be able to produce stock content quickly (and at minimal cost), but they’ll struggle to convey emotion or humour, add context to raw data or make an informed decision about not using the Oxford comma. In that respect, they’re little different to the overseas copy farms which were once tipped to herald the end of freelance copywriting in developed nations. Needless to say, they didn’t.

If you’d like to benefit from a human content generator with a 23-year track record and a couple of awards under his belt, get in touch with G75 Media. A real person is awaiting your enquiry…

I want to become a freelance writer – where do I start?

If you’ve found this article through social media or a search engine, you probably want to know how to become a freelance writer. You’re not alone. A seismic event like this year’s lockdown is bound to make people question their life choices, especially since many employees will have discovered the productivity gains and stress reduction which come from working at home.

It’s entirely understandable that many working-age adults will currently be considering a career change, either through necessity or choice. And it’s equally logical that writing will figure highly on the list of alternative career paths. Writing is enjoyable, requires little in the way of specialist equipment or training, and dovetails with the modern need for flexibility. If you’ve always wanted to become a freelance writer, what better time could there be than now?

The write intentions

The sad truth is that copywriting and content production is a ruthlessly cut-throat industry. It always has been, and the recent influx of new entrants (bringing varying degrees of experience and professionalism) has made it even harder for genuinely talented writers to elevate themselves above the hordes. With this in mind, I’ve taken an in-depth look at the practicalities and challenges you’ll face if you want to become a freelance writer. I’ve added ten important tips to take away, alongside a few case studies from my own career.

Let me be clear at the outset – I’m not trying to scare anyone off a potentially transformative career change. There’s a lot to love about writing, but work won’t fall into your lap. You might think you’ve got the enthusiasm to carve a niche talking about parenting, but you’d be competing with my wife and our next-door neighbour, who both have very unusual stories to tell. Maybe you’d like to be the next Jeremy Clarkson, but you’d be staggered by how many people apply for any job involving four wheels. A recent LinkedIn advert for a freelance writing gig received 268 applications after 48 hours, and that’s not exceptional these days. A freelance content writing job on a popular recruitment site attracted 439 applications within a fortnight, meaning 438 people were ultimately left to look elsewhere.

A positive spin

Let’s begin with some good news. What are the main upsides if you decide to become a freelance writer?

  1. Getting paid for doing something you enjoy. Imagine booting up your computer every morning with enthusiasm, rather than despondency. And imagine seeing money arriving in your bank account in exchange for doing work you enjoy, rather than something you resent or dislike. Work to live, or live to work?
  2. Make your career work around you. If you’re a night owl, you can work through the small hours and sleep in the next day. If you love being sociable, you can seek the company of fellow creatives in coffee shops and shared workspaces whenever they’re allowed to reopen. Writing about topics you’re interested in or passionate about also plays to your strengths.
  3. Freedom. Freedom comes in many forms – the freedom to move outside a city and live in a farmhouse, or the freedom to use a MacBook where an employer might insist on Windows. You’re also free from office politics, the frustrations of commuting on public transport, and having to watch junior colleagues get promoted ahead of you.

This final point leads into the first main challenge anyone who wants to become a freelance writer faces – the high standards of your competitors. You’re not just up against me. You’re up against companies with entire teams of creatives in their employ. You’re up against media agencies, who can write dazzling copy but also construct websites and record radio ads. And you’re up against hardened journalists, who are increasingly being cast aside as print media continues its dispiriting death spiral. If you think you can wing your way to success just because you own a bookshelf full of paperbacks and love drinking coffee, please stop reading.

Case study

When I started freelancing in 2005, I was using a Yahoo email address and working from a dressing table in my living room. That was fine back then, but today, higher standards are required to stand out from the crowd. I’ve since launched a mobile-optimised WordPress website with a proprietary email account, but I also have a backup Gmail address for clients who prefer to communicate through G Suite (some do, most don’t). I’ve cultivated social media profiles, which are often necessary simply to get past the first stage of many application processes. And I have a portfolio of work available to view online. My website is updated regularly for SEO purposes, and if you don’t know what SEO means, it really is time to stop reading.

Two simple rules for making your content better

Play to your strengths

Once you’ve established a respectable online presence, the next challenge awaiting anyone who wants to become a freelance writer is finding specialisms which play to your strengths. If you’ve never written in American English or taken a Transatlantic flight, don’t even try to bluff your way through blogging for Stateside audiences, where every tenth UK English noun has an American variant. Similarly, if your knowledge of football doesn’t allow you to demonstrate second phase offside laws using sauce bottles on a café table, you won’t be published by When Saturday Comes any time soon.

(If you’d like to see the standard of journalism required to write for WSC, there’s an example on the Portfolio page of this website. If you haven’t already checked it out, take a look when you finish this article.)

In every niche you can think of, there will be retired journalists, redundant marketing executives and former industry insiders competing for work. And while that doesn’t mean your hopes of freelance work stand at zero, it means you’ll need to be passionate and knowledgeable about any industry or niche you’re hoping to write about. Experts recognise a bluffer when they see one.

Pro tip #1: Build a portfolio

Developing a portfolio is essential for being taken seriously by recruiters, with most job ads asking for weblinks to three published examples in the specific sector/s you’re applying to work for. However, this is a chicken-and-egg situation – how do you build a portfolio without one?

The best way is to either reference work you’ve had published earlier in your career, or – and bear with me here – do some unpaid writing to build a catalogue of online content. I’m not suggesting you apply for one of those loathsome unpaid internships which callous employers use to get free labour from desperate graduates. However, you could do worse than reach out to websites in regular need of content and offer them a freebie. Once your name is in print, it becomes much easier to secure more work, especially if your output impresses the editorial team.

Pro tip #2: Never do unpaid work as part of a recruitment process

While unpaid work offers some merit in terms of getting your name out there, it’s ruthlessly exploited. Some uncharitable recruiters are now demanding unpaid trial articles as part of their application process. I recently saw a job advert which required applicants to write three bespoke articles, three Facebook posts and six tweets, just to be considered for an unremarkable-sounding freelance copywriting vacancy. This is known in industry parlance as taking the piss, and should not be indulged in any way – especially since there’s nothing to stop the recruiter uploading a pretend job vacancy simply to harvest a stockpile of free content.

A high percentage of G75 Media’s workload comes from clients I’ve dealt with in a previous capacity, such as account managers who’ve taken new jobs, or third parties who’ve reached out to me because they’ve seen my work in passing and liked it enough to remember me later. I make a point of being a single point of contact, from brief allocation to proofreading and accounting. That dependability (allied to being available at least 48 weeks of the year) sticks in the minds of stressed commissioning editors, who are sick of less diligent creatives letting them down and leaving holes all over their page plans.

Pro tip #3: Write in your natural voice

Was that last sentence too long? Nobody wants you to become a freelance writer obsessed by achieving perfect scores in Grammarly, or someone who sneers at the use of the Oxford comma. I’m not representing a specific client in this article, where a predetermined house writing style might need to be followed. Many recruiters like to hear a natural tone of voice in a candidate’s work, even though successful applicants would obviously have to adjust their writing style to meet that client’s requirements. A former boss of mine hated the use of the % symbol, while another was pathological about sentences starting with words like ‘and’. A good writer can easily work around these idiosyncrasies, and nobody will expect you to replicate their preferred TOV before you’ve even started working with them.

Having said that…

Pro tip #4: Spell-check and proofread everything you write

A contributor to a national newspaper recently tweeted a request for article suggestions. Unfortunately, she didn’t bother to re-read the tweet before posting it. The result? A request that people “make is a succinct pith”. Any self-respecting employer or editor who found two typos in a five-word sentence from a potential employee would dismiss them immediately. It’s easy to overlook amateurishness, whereas professionalism tends to linger in the memory.

Case study

Back in the late Noughties, I freelanced for one of the many content production agencies in London. Because my work was always delivered ahead of schedule and to a high standard, one of the commissioning editors remembered me years later, when she’d moved up in the world. I’m now a regular contributor to one of the UK’s leading engineering publications, even though the articles I send her today are worlds apart from the mass-produced content I used to supply in our agency days.

Pro tip #5: Record all your victories

Whenever you get something published, add a hyperlink to a Word or Google Docs file, with a one-sentence summary of what the article’s about. If you’re covering multiple industries, it’s also beneficial to note the sectors each link relates to. When you’re looking for work, you can instantly find examples of published online content to cite and include in your application.

If you don’t have any demonstrable experience in the specific areas the employer is asking for, don’t waste your time (or theirs) by applying anyway. They’ll have dozens of high-quality writers getting in touch, and they’ll have no interest in someone with no expertise “but a lot of enthusiasm” or someone who’s “keen to learn”. Such clichéd platitudes cut little ice in today’s ferociously competitive freelance marketplace.

Pro tip #6: Establish yourself in directories

A better way to showcase your availability is to create profiles on media directories and bulletin boards. Many of these are still free, though an increasing number charge either a monthly or annual membership fee. In the style of service provider platforms like Rated People, some are free to sign up to but charge you for every position you apply for. It can cost up to £10 just to make a proposal to a client looking for copywriting work.

While most free listings give you a chance to create an external link back to your website (with attendant SEO benefits), I would strongly advise against spending money through pay-to-bid platforms. They’re fine for tradespeople, where only three professionals in the client’s local area are allowed to respond. On an international copywriting site with no limit on how many people can bid on the same job, they’re basically exploiting people’s desperation. Some don’t even indicate whether you’re the first or the tenth person to get in touch, while I was once quoted a fee of £10.20 to bid on a vaguely-worded editorial project of “up to £120” in value. You’d make more profit buying scratchcards.

Penny wise, pound foolish

The thorny topic of paying for the chance to become a freelance writer brings us onto the main reason you’ve probably read this far. If you’re planning a career change, you’re not going to be writing for philanthropy or out of sheer passion. You want to earn enough to enjoy a comfortable standard of living. And yes, there are clients out there willing to pay generously. But they’re usually looking for many years of industry-specific expertise, and writing a 1,000-word article at ten pence per word once every two months is not going to pay your mortgage. It’d barely cover your broadband bill.

Pro tip #7: Be flexible about income

When I first started freelancing, I put a very ambitious per-word fee on my website. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get any work. It took a while to realise I couldn’t apply the same expectations to a 500-word listicle about interior design trends as I could to an in-depth review of CNC machines. Today, some of my clients pay three times more than others, but that’s fine because the lower-paid content is far easier to produce. You’ll naturally evolve a sliding scale of costs (per word, per hour, per project) based on how long assignments take and how straightforward you find them.

There’s a spectrum of payment rates across copywriting and journalism, but most entry-level work tends to be at the disappointing end. Two or three cents per word will regularly be quoted by clients and agencies whose desire for quantity outweighs their desire for quality. Negotiating with a client you’ve never worked with before is unlikely to endear you to them, though you might be able to up your per-word price once you’ve proven yourself to be dependable and original. Originality is critically important in the age of Copyscape plagiarism checkers, and any attempt to repurpose existing content will be spotted and censured.

Pro tip #8 Build a blog

If you’re unable to get work because you’re unable to get work published, a personal blog gives you a way to become a freelance writer under your own steam. More importantly, it gives you something to post in the Portfolio section of a job advert.

Case study

I had a fairly lean year in 2013, and I spent the year blogging about whatever took my fancy. I then referenced specific blog articles in relevant job applications, until I was able to replace them with more heavyweight content. Although these blogs were personal rather than corporate in nature, they accurately represented my tone of voice and writing style.

Pro tip #9 Set yourself up with all the hardware you’ll need

My blog was rather over-engineered – written on a custom-built PC using the latest versions of Office and Windows. I didn’t need an HD webcam or a combined printer and scanner to produce foresighted articles about poor grammar, working from home and self-repairing lampposts. However, when I started attending Zoom meetings with clients (long before Boris tried to make it fashionable), having high-speed broadband and Bose speakers made the process much easier.

It’s very embarrassing to have to tell a prospective client you can’t sign and scan the Non-Disclosure Agreement they’ve just emailed you because you don’t have a scanner. Similarly, being unable to provide a landline number becomes an issue if your mobile phone is faulty or needs replacing, your network experiences issues, or your signal strength fluctuates.

Decisions about whether or not to invest in dedicated workstations and full spectrum lighting speak volumes about whether you really do want to become a freelance writer. Professionalism is easy to identify, just as amateurishness tends to betray itself in the unmodified ‘Sent from my mobile’ signatures on webmail accounts, and the typos which slip through the net without a proper spell-check. I’m not suggesting you need to invest in thousands of pounds worth of technology to make it in this industry, but at the minimum, you’ll need:

  1. A laptop you can take to meetings, events and presentations, once they resume (as they inevitably will)
  2. A large monitor and full-size keyboard at home, connected to a docking station
  3. A printer and scanner – it’s surprising how often you need to sign things, even in 2020
  4. High-speed wired internet connectivity, which is crucial for uploading media files and accessing cloud-sharing platforms like Dropbox.

So can I become a freelance writer?

The short answer is yes. But you’ll need to commit to it for many years to really get anywhere. I started freelancing in 2005, went full-time freelance in 2010 and won a national freelancing award shortly afterwards (for a client I still work with today), but it was 2012 before my career as a freelancer really took off. Copywriting and journalism are industries where – and I hate typing these words as much as you’ll hate reading them – the cream really does rise to the top.

You won’t get anywhere if you approach freelance writing as either:

(a) A short-term fix, while you plan for bigger and better things

(b) An evenings-and-weekends way of supplementing your day job

Or, worst of all:

(c) Something you try for a few months until the rejections get too much.

It’s no exaggeration to say I have had thousands of rejections over the last fifteen years. I once sent 300 personalised letters to marketing and PR agencies, offering my services for holiday cover and overflow work. It cost well over £100, back in the days when that would get you a night in a five-star hotel, and took countless hours of letter editing, mail merging and envelope stuffing.

Acknowledgements: 0. Work: 0.

It turned out that the world didn’t want or need yet another writer. And this was a decade ago. If you tried a similar exercise today, the postman would probably return your envelopes out of pity.

So if you’ve read this far and you still want to become a freelance writer, you know where to start. Set up a dedicated working environment, build a portfolio, register on directories, quality-check everything you put your name to, and…

Pro tip #10 Remember it’ll be years before your labours bear fruit

As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so you will be. You’re welcome to join me in this uniquely exciting industry, and the very best of luck to you.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t finish this article with what marketing professionals refer to as the CTA – the call to arms. If you’re looking to recruit rather than be recruited, and you like what you’ve just read, I am available for copywriting jobs, freelance journalism and all forms of print and online content production. Get in touch if you’d like to receive a competitive quote for copywriting services. A typo-free reply will arrive in your inbox shortly.