Freelance copywriters are everywhere. They have flashy websites, sparkling copy and years of experience writing for bigwig clients.
Which is pretty daunting for a wannabe writer who’s never worked in an agency and doesn’t own a black book bursting with contacts.
So how do you break into copywriting with nothing but a broadband connection and a ‘way with words’?
Here’s my un-smug guide to getting started.
In the absence of years of experience, get a qualification
Although chutzpah and confidence will get you a long way, qualifications help too. Having a piece of paper can reassure potential clients and of course it helps fuel your chutzpah and confidence.
I took an online journalism diploma from the London School of Journalism, then promptly sidestepped into copywriting. The course taught me how to hone my writing skills, find the most compelling angle in a story and gave me the confidence to say ‘hell yeah, I’m a writer!’
With hindsight, maybe I should have taken a copywriting course? This is the copywriting course I’d choose.
(The Copy Detective adds: Very kind of you Mel.)
Become a friendly stalker (aka networking)
I started out with some gentle online stalking. Find copywriters who are truly amazing, then email the nice ones and ask how they got started.
If they reply, you’ll get some good pointers and a contact for your black book. (Tip: ignore the ones who say you need years of experience with bigwig clients.)
Find a copywriting mentor
I approached a local copywriter and asked for advice on getting started. He was a complete superstar, and after meeting up, suggested I tackle some of his old client briefs.
I sweated blood over those briefs and yikes he was a harsh (but helpful) marker. The experience was invaluable.
Could you ask someone to mentor you locally? Maybe in exchange for writing their blog?
Do some free copywriting (but not for long)
Writing for free is a mug’s game. But I needed a portfolio for my website, so what’s a girl to do?
When I noticed a few mistakes in a website guide I’d downloaded, I emailed the writer to say hi and would he like me to copyedit his guide in return for a testimonial?
He said yes – I worked (briefly) for free – and he later referred me to paying clients.
Get a smokin’ hot website
Yes, you need a website. But do you need any old website? I started out with a free template and muddled along creating a design. It looked – whisper it – a bit crap.
It was only when a client told me that the look of my site had nearly stopped him calling, that I invested in a professional site. But how many other clients had I missed along the way?
It’s worth paying ouch money for your first website. It helps you project a professional image and it’s very exciting to have a website that you love, and that will be found by search engines.
Show potential clients that you can write
Showcase your writing expertise on a blog. First decide which clients you want to attract. Corporate behemoths? Or frazzled sole traders?
Once you’ve worked that out, create a list of topics that will be genuinely useful to them and get started. It doesn’t matter that the clients don’t actually exist, pretend they do! Tap into your chutzpah and confidence and start a copywriting party on your blog.
And yes I’m romanticising the weekly chore of writing a blog, but even on my first (crappy) website, my blog was enough to convince people to hire me. And search engines love a website that’s regularly updated, so it’s kind of a requirement.
Ask a reasonable price for your copywriting
Tough one. What is reasonable? My copywriting mentor (see above) charges an eye-watering amount per hour and is always busy. My teeny portfolio meant I couldn’t match his rates, but I didn’t want to write for peanuts either. So I used this price guide to help me set an hourly rate.
More recently, the schamazing Kate Toon told me that she bases her rates on what the market will take, what others are charging, and her own financial goals. She added:
“Pricing is tricky, there’s no doubt about it. I don’t recommend different rates for different client types, or changing your rate based on how busy you are. My best advice is to choose a rate and try it out with clients.
If your quotes get accepted incredibly quickly with no questions asked EVERY TIME, then your rates are possibly too low. If they get refused every single time or the client always comes back with concerns/questions then they’re probably too high. Through trial and error you’ll find a rate that’s right for you.”
Network, chin up, keep smiling
Without contacts, it’ll be quiet at first. But start by telling your friends, relations and ex-colleagues that you’re available for freelance copywriting.
And, actually, tell EVERYONE that you’re a freelance writer for hire. I once had my carpets cleaned and asked the guy if he ever needed a freelance copywriter. He looked at me blankly. The very next day he called me back to say he’d been asked to submit an article to a website and would I help?
And in the quiet periods? Read, read and read again. Not sure where to start? Here’s a list of books that have helped me:
Lastly, it’s not a copywriting book, but it’ll help you through the dark days when you wonder what the hell you’re playing at: The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor.
I hope you found this useful and I would LOVE to hear your tips and tales of brilliance. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter or on my blog.