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How to get well-paid work as a freelance copywriter

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Congratulations!

You kicked the corporate career to the curb (or maybe you never had one and went straight for the good life).

You did some training.

You hung out your shingle as a freelance copywriter.

You, um, waited in by the phone all day, checked your email 377 times and…no work.

You blogged. You tweeted. You set up business accounts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ and…no work.

You panicked for a bit and made yet another coffee. Once you’d stopped shaking, you spent 30 minutes on eLance and felt sick.

How. The Fuck. Are you going. To pay. The rent?

Here’s how.

What you need to make a good living as a freelance copywriter

A lot of people will tell you a lot of stuff you “must” do to make it. Strangely, a lot of the things will only be possible once you hand over money to them.

Many do not, actually, make their living as working copywriters, preferring instead to spend their time bilking rookie writers of their money.

I am different. I run a writing agency, as I have done since 1996. I write copy every day. And I make enough money to live on.

So here are my tips.

Tip #1 Take action

You could be passive, and wait for people to get in touch with you. But this is dispiriting. It is also a recipe for working for any fool in possession of a phone, ie everybody.

Better to be active. Make a shortlist of companies you would like to work for. Research the name of their marketing director. Then write them each a letter.

NOT a standard letter. A personal letter. One in which you show how you have researched their business. One in which you enclose a sample piece of copy showing how you would address their commercial objectives.

Which leads me onto tip number two.

Tip #2 Forget about a portfolio

I am often asked “how do I put a portfolio together when I don’t have any clients?” and I usually answer by saying, “you don’t need a portfolio. What you need is targeted pieces that reflect the needs of the individual prospect you are going for”.

Here’s what’s wrong with portfolios (and, yes, I know many freelance copywriters have them. But then again, most freelance copywriters make between £20,000 and £30,000 a year. Which, as a salary is OK, just, but as turnover for a business? Not good enough).

A portfolio is a collection of writing that shows how you solved OTHER PEOPLE’S PROBLEMS.

Guess how interested prospect A is in the problems of clients B-Z? I’ll tell you. Not.

Let’s suppose you did have a portfolio, but all your clients to date were youth brands. Then the marketing director of a major global bank happens onto your site.

Unbeknownst to them you are actually a whizz at writing financial services copy. You just haven’t been asked to write any yet.

They look at your portfolio. Not unreasonably, they conclude that “this isn’t the right copywriter for us,” and go elsewhere.

Portfolios encourage prospects to make aesthetic judgements, instead of commercial ones. You present them with finished pieces, design and all, and, without any commentary, they do what a lay person would do.

They decide whether they “like” your work or not.

But whether they like it is irrelevant. It’s actually irrelevant whether the people you actually wrote the stuff for like it. But they, at least, were paying you already.

If you don’t have a portfolio, you force prospects to consider whether to hire you based on other information. Like whether you are capable of commercial reasoning. Whether you can sell. Whether you are flexible, and easy to work with.

But there is something you could add to your site instead.

Tip #3 Tell stories

Rather than have an ever-growing gallery of projects, why not create a small series of stories about how you helped businesses solve particular problems with your writing skills?

Yes, use images by all means. But now, the copy examples are merely there to illustrate the stories. The hire/don’t hire decision is still being made on commercial, not emotional, grounds.

Tip #4 Follow the right people

Get on Twitter. Follow copywriters. And especially, watch the hashtag #copywritersunite. There’s a whole community of copywriters on Twitter, sharing tips and ideas and, yes, occasionally, paid gigs.

Tip #5 Get your pricing right

Oh, Lord, how long have you got?

This is the single biggest factor that will determine how you fare as a freelance copywriter.

Believe it or not, starting out with low prices will not lead to higher prices later on. Instead, you will confine yourself to a ghetto of low-charging, low-earning freelance copywriters who spend their days racing each other to the bottom.

Instead, pitch your prices at the upper end of what most people charge and head upwards from there.

What do most people charge?

£300 a day.

Want more tips?

These tips should help you get started on a profitable path as a freelance copywriter.

If you want more, I suggest these three courses of action.

One, read Sally Ormond’s freelance copywriter’s blog.

Two, read anything and everything you can get your hands on by Steve Slaunwhite.

Three, buy a copy of my book, Write Copy, Make Money.

Categories: Freelance life.

4 Responses to How to get well-paid work as a freelance copywriter

  • […] I saw a cracking post, yesterday, by Andy Maslen: How to get well-paid work as a freelance copywriter. […]

  • […] Recently, expert copywriter and Sunfish agency boss Andy Maslen outlined his views on why he thinks copywriters shouldn’t have public portfolios in this excellent blog post. […]

  • Yaakov
    February 7, 2016

    “NOT a standard letter. A personal letter. One in which you show how you have researched their business. One in which you enclose a sample piece of copy showing how you would address their commercial objectives.”

    Do you have an example or two of the “personal letter” and the “sample piece of copy” that you mentioned above?

    Best regards,

    Yaakov

  • Andy Maslen
    February 8, 2016

    Hi Yaakov,

    Thanks for your question.

    In my book Write Copy, Make Money there are several examples of the sorts of letters that get attention from prospective employers/clients.

    It’s available on Amazon.

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