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November 23, 2021

How to start out as a freelance copywriter

Written by Olivia Bufton

The great novelist C.S. Lewis said, “you can make anything by writing”. And thousands of freelance copywriters all over the world have found this to be true. A career. A business. A life, all built out of little words on a screen. 

Making a living from being a writer seems like a dream to some (guaranteed to strike fear into the hearts of parents and school careers advisors everywhere), but it’s definitely possible to build a career out of being a freelance copywriter. In fact, it’s a great choice for people who love words: it’s flexible, you can work from almost anywhere, and every day is a different challenge. 

How to become a freelance copywriter 

To succeed as a freelance copywriter, you need to be: 

  • Creative: you have to bring to life any subject under the sun. Being able to see things from different angles and take the “paths less trodden” really helps. 
  • Good with words: you need a wide vocabulary and knowledge of different writing techniques. Being a reader helps! 
  • Attentive to detail: In copy, every word choice counts, and so does every spelling, punctuation mark and sentence structure. 

To work freelance, you also need a certain amount of knowledge about how to build a business. Marketing yourself and your skills, keeping track of your work and earnings, and protecting yourself if things go awry will all help you build your work into a sustainable career. This article contains all our top tips for anyone considering a career as a freelance copywriter. Put that pen down, step away from that Word doc, and don’t do anything else until you’ve read this guide on how to start out as a freelance copywriter. 

What does a freelance copywriter actually do? 

Freelance copywriters write text for a living: websites, blogs, leaflets, reports, product descriptions, social media posts, short ads and much more. Lots of this work can be done flexibly and remotely. Copywriters can work with brands, businesses, agencies or individuals. Copy is usually written to inform, sell, instruct or entertain, on behalf of commercial businesses, public agencies or charities. It’s not the same as journalism or creative writing, although many writers build a portfolio of different types of writing work. Most freelance copywriters charge for their work on a per-project or per-word basis, or may also work to a set hourly or day rate. 

Think about your niche 

Copywriters can be called upon to write about anything and everything – and lots of newbies start this way. However, to build a strong brand and find your unique selling point as a freelance copywriter, it helps to identify your specialism. What areas are you going to write about? It might be useful to think about where your experience lies from your previous work or qualifications. For example, if you’ve previously worked as a teacher, perhaps you could specialise in copywriting for education. Someone with a chemistry degree might consider becoming a copywriter for the science and technology sector. Play to your strengths and experience, but also consider supply and demand. There are lots of people who want to write about films, fashion, beauty and football, so you might find it harder to gain well-paid jobs in these areas. 

Your niche also doesn’t have to be a particular topic. It can be a specialist form of writing. Perhaps you’re a whizz at selling something in 20 words or less – you could specialise in writing Google ads. If you’re good at grappling with large amounts of data and writing up research, you could be a report writer. If you’re an expert in SEO (search engine optimization), you could focus on winning clients who want their web and blog copy to catapult them to the top of the rankings. 

Set up a website and a Linkedin profile 

Once you’ve chosen your niche, it’s time to get the word out there about your services. It’s a good idea to prioritise setting up a website. This can act as a hub for your copywriting work and somewhere for potential clients to find out more about you. On your website, try to include: 

  •  An ‘about me’ page: here you can outline your qualifications, background and relevant experience, and give clients a flavour of your personality and approach. 
  • A portfolio of writing samples: these show off the quality and range of your work – even better if you can link to where these were published! 
  • A contact page: so clients know how to get in touch with you. 

It’s also worth setting up a LinkedIn profile if you’re not already on there. It’s simple to do, you can pop all of your experience and qualifications in one place, and it can be a great place to find work. Businesses often post job ads on there or hunt through their connections when they know they have a role to fill. It can also help you with the next step, which is… 

Build connections with clients and peers 

You can do all the social media posting and website updating you like, but ultimately what’s likely to get you hired is relationships. Start right now by building a network of contacts around your freelance business. Reach out to others that you’ve worked with in the past to let them know what you’re doing – they may be or know potential clients. It’s also worth trying to build relationships with fellow copywriters. More experienced friends can support you on your journey, and you may find that they pass on opportunities to you that they are too busy to take on. 

Get some training 

If you want to stand out as a new copywriter, that creative writing course you took in college 10 years ago isn’t going to cut it. Some fresh training will show that you’re committed to the career and that you take the role seriously – this isn’t just something you’re doing for fun. Training will also help guide your conversations with clients about their copywriting needs. You’ll be able to show off your new knowledge to win work, and then employ it in your projects to give your clients copy that exceeds their expectations. Keeping up-to-date with training is especially important if you’re writing for SEO or social media. Metrics and algorithms that determine rankings and engagement with posts are constantly changing. Training can help you keep on top of these developments so you can offer your clients expert advice on reaching their goals with their copy. 

Join a copywriting community 

A copywriting community is a great place to connect with your peers, and form a supportive network of fellow copywriters. Copywriting is a fun, rewarding job but it can also be tough to stick it out alone. Having people to talk to, use as a sounding board for ideas or help you work through problems can be invaluable. There’s also the possibility of developing professional reciprocal relationships for working together or sharing workload and clients. A good place to start is ProCopywriters, a UK-based professional alliance for commercial writers. Also, it’s not a community per se, but we definitely recommend joining the thousands of freelance copywriters who wait eagerly for the Freelance Writing Jobs newsletter to drop into their inbox every Thursday. Copywriter Sian does an amazing job of pulling together all the best paid freelance writing opportunities and part-time writing jobs each week, and we salute her for it. 

Get insured 

While it might sound like a relatively cushty occupation (after all, you can do it from bed in your pyjamas, if you want), copywriting is not without its risks. When writing, there’s always the chance that mistakes slip in. An errant typo could mean a clients’ leaflet has to be reprinted. You could accidentally publish something untrue about someone that is seen as defamation. And have you thought about plagiarism too? What if someone comes along and claims that your blog about “7 reasons why we love cats” was too similar to their blog about “7 reasons why cats are the best”?  

That’s why Dinghy offers professional indemnity insurance tailored to the needs of freelance copywriters. Our freelance business insurance is flexible and low-cost. We’ve set it up so it can be paused when you’re not working, and all policies are billed monthly with no extra fees or admin charges. Find out more about how to get yourself covered on our website

About Olivia Bufton

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