So you want to be a freelance copywriter. Of course you do. Who wouldn’t? You get to do something you’re good at, be your own boss, work from home, and (fill in other benefits of being self-employed).
But how do you do it? How do you start that process and become a freelance copywriter? Here are the first six things I did when I got started (after I bought and read The Well-Fed Writer, that is).
1) Decide you’re going into business for yourself
Maybe you got laid off from your staff position and want a change, maybe you need more flexibility in your work life, or maybe you just plain want to be a writer. Whatever your reasons are for seeking this career path, put your stake in the ground and claim it.
Repeat after me: “I am a freelance copywriter.” Say this twice daily for a week. Say it to yourself and to others.
2) Decide what kind of writing you’re going to do
Business writing, ghostwriting (books, blogs, and social media posts, for example), advertisements, environmental writing, marketing, email autoresponders, white papers, food articles, stories for magazines, essays for journals, narratives, etc. There are so many different kinds of writing you can do! Knowing what kind of writing you want to do is important because it will determine the kinds of clients you pursue.
To figure this out, you could ask yourself this question: “What do I enjoy writing?” Go with that. I would recommend writing out as long a list as possible of the kinds of writing you want to do. This list will prove helpful when it’s time to identify your ideal clients (which we’ll discuss in a later post).
Also, you can write multiple kinds of copy if you like, and I would recommend this for those of you just starting out. There are arguments to be made for having diverse writing expertise (general marketing copy, for example), and then there are those that encourage niché specialization (only writing white papers). Over time, you’ll learn which way is best for you and your business goals.
3) Get your portfolio together
Résumé and samples, electronic and hard copy. I strongly recommend getting a hard cover binder together with samples of your work to show to prospective clients. Keep it current at all times. If this seems too archaic to you, by all means create an online portfolio that you can show off on your laptop or iPad while in meetings.
Only very occasionally do I use the hard copy portfolio, but it’s best to be prepared. Prospective clients mostly request this information via email, and I send it as a PDF and/or refer them to the portfolio page on my website. Having an online portfolio is only a good idea. This way, prospects will be able to see your work at their leisure and you’ll have a very strong piece of your marketing to point to when you meet them. If you don’t have a portfolio page attached to your website, you can create one through websites like Carbonmade.com or Cargocollective.com.
What should be included in your portfolio? Anything you’ve written that you would be interested in writing again and that showcases your abilities. If your portfolio is small, you might want to fill it out by doing some pro bono or speculative work. When I was getting started, I had very little to show for myself. I posted an ad on Craigslist offering to write content for free on the condition that I got to use the work in my portfolio. It worked. My first two clients came from Craigslist (and one of them even offered to pay me right away!).
4) Pick a good name for your business
Your business name doesn’t necessarily have to be relevant to writing, but that would help. At least make it relevant to your personality. Here are some examples: Pivotal Writing; Knock Out Words; Enlighten Writing; and Gunderson Writing.
Many writers just use their names like: Sheilaashdown.com, Lisanatalieanjozian.com, and Rachelhisakowright.com. Decide what feels good to you and stick with it. If you know anyone with relevant marketing skills, ask for their input.
5) Get a website
You can get a free blog/website from sites like WordPress.com, Blogger, or MyBlogSite. My website is through WordPress.org and I love it. (More on WordPress.com versus .org later.) Setting-up a basic website is pretty simple these days. If you want something a little fancier, a little higher end, consider hiring a web designer to do this for you.
When it comes to your website, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. But there are plenty of strategies, tricks, and considerations. Look over the websites listed above and get an idea for the range of things you could do with yours.
Don’t worry about a logo right away unless you already have something in mind. Also, consider getting your website hosted. It’s not required to have a website, but if you host it, then you own all the content. If you don’t, you don’t. (More on this later.)
6) Get a business card
No, they’re not outdated. And yes, they are still very much a part of business. All the cool kids have them. I’d recommend printing on both sides. Because why not? Otherwise the back is just wasted advertising space.
Stay tuned for more freelance copywriter start-up tips in future posts.
I think the most difficult decision is deciding to go into business for yourself. Its a major step to take that leap of faith without knowing if everything is going to work out in a positive way. Great article!
Good info. Lucky me I recently found your site by chance (stumbleupon).
I’ve book-marked it for later!
Thank you, StumbleUpon! And thank YOU for keeping up with us.
Fellow freelance copywriter here. Loving your articles, Amber! I’d add Squarespace as a website maker option. In fact my experience has been that the only two options serious businesses should consider are WordPress and Squarespace. Squarespace is way easier for most people and I find it overall such a pleasure.
Thanks for the Squarespace heads-up, Joce!
Thank you Amber! Great article, very informative. I plan to spend quite a bit of time on your site, gathering as much info as I can! If you are able/inclined, I’d love to know the answer to a couple questions: do you recommend the AWAI program for beginners? I don’t really have $500 to spend! I’m hoping to get started by reading books I can purchase cheaply, or better yet, borrow from the library. Any recommendations? Many of the books I see recommended were written around 2007 and must be outdated. Thanks!
I highly recommend Peter Bowerman’s “The Well-Fed Writer.” It may be old, but it’s da bomb. The ebook is only $9.95. Also, read all of these CC: PDX blog posts. They’ll help too.