People take words for granted – especially on the internet. Our books, magazines and the World Wide Web would be nothing without them, and while there’s a lot of people out there writing them for free there’s also a lot who get paid for their wordsmithing.
For those who are interested in writing, can do it with flair and clarity, and are prepared to work on their craft, there are many opportunities out there. I started by writing voluntarily for websites about things I was interested in, but soon branched out to (initially low) paid blogging work and later writing copy for digital agencies and local businesses.
The barrier to entry for freelance copywriting is low, but as there’s a lot of people out there who can write perfectly good English you’ll need to be really good at it in order to stand out and grow your business.
Here’s a few tips for getting your copywriting business started, becoming a better writer, and developing your career as a freelance writer.
What You’ll Need
When it comes to copywriting all you need is a computer that can run word processing software and an internet connection. Whatever PC that you can get your hands on that works and runs any version of Windows post XP should be just fine (and Macs are good too).
You also don’t need to buy any software. OpenOffice is a great piece of opensource freeware that can handle anything from drafting tweets to epic novels. There are advantages to paying for a basic Microsoft Office package (I find OpenOffice Calc a little unreliable for accounting) but the spend for starting a freelance copywriting business is pretty minimal.
It’s also a good idea to setup a website – and there are plenty of easy and cheap ways to do that. I’d recommend a basic package from One.com and their 1-click WordPress install. There are 1000s of free WordPress themes to choose from, and while the designs may not be unique on the web it’s really the content that matters.
My final recommendation is a good dictionary. Pick one dictionary and stick to it. If people ever question your spelling the simple answer is “it’s correct according to [insert dictionary name here]”.
Building a Portfolio
Unless you’re extremely good at blagging you’ll need a bit of a portfolio before you go hunting for paid work. In my experience people don’t usually follow the links but it’s still good to have them there for appearances. My approach to building a portfolio was to write for free, or very little money, for a while until I could go after bread and butter clients.
If you love what you write about it won’t be a chore and once you have a few examples of your work to refer to it will be easier to get work. There are many websites out there looking for writers, and a good strategy is to search for websites related to your interests and see if there’s a “writer wanted” link in the small print. Or even just an email address so you can send the editors a friendly message and ask if they’re looking for any writers. My copywriting journey started on Adventure Gamers. Can you guess what kind of video game is my favourite?
How to Find Clients
Nothing drains the introverted side of my personality like networking events, so I’ve always tended to avoid the kind of networking that involves eye contact, small talk, and exchanging business cards. The most effective way I’ve found of proactively finding work is simply by emailing prospective clients, explaining who I am, what I’ve done, and how much I charge. Social media is also great for making connections that lead to work without having to leave the house.
I’ve personally found Twitter to be a great source of leads, and it’s also a good idea to polish up your LinkedIn profile as a lot of companies search for freelancers through it.
Growing Your Business
Once your basic business is set up – you have a keyboard, computer, and some clients – and you start to get a regular flow of work it’s probably time to start thinking about how to grow your business.
Learning some basic Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) techniques will be necessary if you want to generate leads through your website. If I had to offer one bit of advice on how to do this it would be to write regular blogs about the thing you want people to find you for. Be specific – if you’re looking for work in your local area write about being a writer in your local area. It will help.
And if your freelancing gig becomes a fulltime job you’ll have to think about contacting HMRC to set yourself up as an official self-employed person. It’s really not as scary as it sounds, and the platform is now pretty good for managing your self-assessment tax returns. Some businesses will ask for a Unique Taxpayer Reference before hiring you so if paying your taxes bums you out think of it as widening your pool of potential clients.
Don’t Forget About Proofreading
One final thing I would say about starting a freelance copywriting is business is don’t forget about proofreading. Learning how to edit and polish a piece of copy is as much a skill as writing something well in the first place. Many places are in need of proof-readers, and I’ve often found with a lot of website copy that an effective way of working is to get the client to braindump their thoughts on paper and then chisel away at it until its awesome shiny copy that engages website visitors.
It’s also easy to forget that most people can write well, what makes copywriters special (or at least the good ones) is that they’re skilled at proofreading and editing something good and turning it into something great.