Photo via iStock.com.
Recently, an aspiring freelance copywriter emailed me to see if he could ask me some questions about starting out. I told him I'd be happy to. I haven't received his list yet, but I already know what I'm going to tell him. I'm going to give him a very honest take on how to make a go at being a freelance copywriter: you must have complete and utter nerve.
Being a freelance copywriter means releasing any apprehension and getting completely out of your comfort zone. It means being yourself, putting it out there, letting go of whether or not your writing is good enough, or whether your portfolio has enough samples. It means acting like you're a competent, confident copywriter even if you don't feel like one. It's half the battle.
The truth is there are people who've hired me without ever looking at my portfolio, or after barely glancing at it, and there are a lot of copywriters out there who don't write that well making a living, which means that if you write remotely well, you're probably good to go.
A client looking for long-term work once asked me in our initial consultation to tell him about a time where I took a risk. I told him I'd have to think about it and get back to him. Fortunately, he didn't bring up the question again, and I got the gig despite the fact that I didn't answer one of his questions. The truth is, I didn't have to think about it.
If the word moxie and copywriter could alliterate, the title of my copywriting business would be different. I take risks all day, everyday. Being a copywriter in itself is a huge risk, especially one that freelances.
Once I finish a project, I may not have another one waiting for me. Sometimes I get three people in one day that fill out my contact form, and then weeks may go by without a bite. I never have any guarantees that I'm going to have enough work to pay the bills. I'm out there without a safety net.
Half the people I meet have no idea what a copywriter even is. Despite this, I've developed a backbone. I've figured out how to go to networking events and explain what I do in a way people understand. I hate standing up in front of people, but I still strive to make them care. And if they don't, I let it go and move on. There are plenty of people out there who do know what a copywriter is and are looking for a good one.
I email people who I find to be intimidating and have never met in person and introduce myself. I ask them if they'd like to chat about finding a way to help each other, or if they ever work with freelance copywriters. I include clips of my writing and hope it's what they need. It's uncomfortable every time. And I still haven't mustered up enough nerve to make a cold call.
I emailed a company the other day because I liked their shoes, and when I went to their site I saw it said "Coming Soon." I told them I realized it was likely they already had a fashion copywriter in place, but just in case, I thought I'd offer my services. A couple years ago, I would have been too apprehensive to do this. If I thought there was a chance that something wasn't an option I wouldn't ask. But if you don't ask you don't get, so you have to keep asking as much as possible - even if the answer is likely to be no - if you want to be successful. Having cold feet is not an option.
Photo via iStock.com
Stick To Your Guns
If you want to triumph as a freelance copywriter, you must have the valor to do things on your terms. You have to be able to say no when a writing job doesn't suit you or the pay is peanuts - even if you're feeling desperate.
I turned down a prospect recently because they wanted in-depth blog posts about computer software, and even though I'm a strong writer and researcher, and I can make anything sound good, I'm far from being a techy. Beyond resembling a deer caught in headlights when it comes to technical speak, I find it boring. When I'm bored, I get frustrated, and I don't write well.
I turned down another job because even though I've written for real estate agents, and tend to enjoy writing their bios and lifestyle blog posts, the idea of writing about changes in the local real estate market everyday just doesn't get me fired up. It was a fairly large, on-going gig, but I had to tell the client it wasn't the right fit. They needed a real estate expert, someone who understood their audience. I'm just not that gal.
The old adage is true, "Honesty is the best policy." The client was happy I respected our relationship enough to be honest, and is highly likely to hire me for other stuff better suited to my talents going forward.
You can't be everything to everyone. If you want to be successful, you have to stay with your strengths. You want to be able to give the right prospects exactly what they're looking for.
When I'm truly excited about a client's business, it comes out in the copy. They get amped up and write me a killer testimonial about how I brought tears to their eyes on LinkedIn, and my portfolio looks stellar. It happens when I'm not truly in love with the topic, but less often.
If it feels light and easy to write, do it. If it doesn't, you may want to think carefully about whether or not the project is to your benefit. I'm not saying you should be quick to turn down work, or make snap judgements. There are certain topics I didn't think I would enjoy writing about on first glance, but when I delved deeper I found some common ground.
Cut Out The Crap
Although delivering good service is key, you can't be afraid to be firm with clients on what you will and will not do. Don't let prospects chew your ear off about their company during a free consultation and go past your allotted time. Don't be afraid to keep them on track and let them know that they will be invoiced for any time that goes over.
I once had a prospective client collectively take up four hours of time with a series of phone calls because I was afraid to say that we had gone over my free consultation time. Once I realized I stiffed myself out of a lot of money, I was quick to politely tell the next prospect I dealt with that rambled on about things that weren't helping me develop an accurate quote, that her free time was up.
Make sure you have a contract you use every time. And stick to the terms on your contract no matter what. If your contract says you charge for edits after a certain point, stick to it. Don't let anyone make you feel uncomfortable for being a smart business person. If your client is a smart business person they will understand and respect your terms.
You can't be hesitant to charge what you're worth, even if it means losing out on a gig. If you make it OK to work for schillings, you'll get stuck. There are plenty of businesses out there that understand the value of good copy and have the money to pay you. You just have to have the tenacity to find them and sell them on why you're worth it. It's taken me a bit, but I've committed to raising my rates regularly. And when I tell people my rates I no longer clench anything or shut my eyes.
Breathe, Hit Send, Hope For The Best
Every time I write and submit copy I'm taking a gamble. My work could be very well be rejected. It may not please everybody. It doesn't happen often, but there have been times where I've had to make major adjustments to copy I wrote. I've learned not to take it personally. There have been way more times where clients were happy with my copy. Ultimately, you have to just do your best and have confidence that your best is more than good enough.
If you want to stand apart and succeed, sometimes you have to write stuff that pushes the envelope, that transcends the status quo. Now, I'm not suggesting you use derogatory terms when writing for clients, unless it matches the tone of the brand and they want you to - and those companies are out there. I'm saying that if you want to be a freelance copywriter, or you're wondering how to succeed at it, you can't be timid about tapping into your own creative voice.
It's taken time, but I'm developing ovaries of steel. I've become way less timid when it comes to looking and asking for work. I attach my work and hit send even though it feels terrifying to do so. I give people that scare me shout outs. I say things I never thought I would have the gumption to say. When I don't hear back from people, I tell myself, "Sucks for them." Everyday I'm audacious, and a tad shameless, both in my copy and my dealings. I spit in the face of fear. It's the only way.
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By Sabrina Gaffney
From blogging to bios, freelance website copywriter Sabrina Gaffney, a.k.a the Cagey Copywriter, offers a powerful profusion of web copywriting tips that bring in the moola! Connect on LinkedIn.