How to become a freelance copywriter
Looking for a low-cost start-up opportunity? If you’ve got a way with words and business nous, find out how to start a copywriting business here…
Copywriting is a skill very much in demand by some of the biggest brands in the world. From emails to jingles, flyers to brochures, a copywriter uses persuasive language to advertise a product, idea or service in a variety of forms.
To touch upon just one area where copywriters can shine, as many as 66% of companies with 100+ employees use Twitter as a vital part of their marketing strategy. The demand for short, sharp and snappy lines has never been higher, nor the opportunities for freelance copywriters greater.
In this article, we’ll provide the answers to the following important questions for any would-be copywriter:
Read on for a comprehensive breakdown of what you need to know to become a freelance copywriter, featuring tips and advice from experts in the field.
1. What is a copywriting business and who is it suited to?
Copy is essentially jargon for ‘words’, and refers to writing that’s meant to be copied (either digitally or in print). Intelligent, powerful copy convinces consumers to switch brand allegiance, generates leads, and supercharges sales. It’s no exaggeration to say the success of a campaign will hinge on the quality of its written content.
Requiring only an internet connection and a laptop, copywriting represents a very affordable start-up opportunity for someone with a good grasp of grammar and a way with words.
Helen Dibble, founder of Incredibble Copy, describes the copywriter’s job as one that “helps you explore and understand your brand narrative, telling your story in a way that appeals to your target audience, and finding a tone of voice that fits.”
2. Freelance copywriter rates
One of the trickiest parts about starting out as a freelance copywriter is understanding what to charge.
While you don’t want to undersell yourself, high prices might put potential clients off – especially when you’re still establishing a reputation.
Anna King, founder of Scripsy, explains how she tackles the tricky ‘What do I charge?’ question:
“When deciding on your day rate, think about how much you need to earn in a month or a year, then work back from there – remembering to factor in tax, holidays, and dips in your workload, which will eat into the annual total. Doing that helps you work out what you reasonably need to charge to earn a living – after all, if you aren't doing that, it isn't a sustainable career.
“How much you personally need to live on will obviously depend on where you're based and your personal circumstances.
“In my experience, a decent day rate would roughly span between £200 and £500 per day, depending on your experience, expertise, the type of copywriting you specialise in – and the client's budget!
“I try to stay fairly consistent with what I charge, but sometimes vary it slightly based on how much I want the business (i.e. how interesting they are, how busy I am), and also the size of their business. For example, start-ups can be great to work with, but have smaller budgets than big corporates, so that's something to take into account.”
|According to the ProCopywriters Survey of 2017, the average daily rate charged by freelance copywriters is £339, with the vast majority charging somewhere between the £200-£400 mark (per day).|
What does a freelance copywriter earn?
While some forms of copywriting are more lucrative, they can also be more competitive and harder to find work in.
With 20 years of experience under his belt, Laurence Blume also has some good advice when it comes to what you can expect to earn when you’re first starting out. “As an experienced freelance writer working alone, you can earn a healthy six-figure salary. But as a beginner, available full-time, you might expect to sell maybe 30% – 50% of your available days, and so earn somewhere between say £15,000 and £25,000.”
According to Howard Smith, founder of No Sloppy Copy, working as a technical copywriter for a niche market is the best way to pull in regular money. “In Pharmaceuticals, IT, or finance etc., you can earn up to £600 per day.” Although this work won’t be the most creative and will require much more research, it does sit at the higher-paying end of the copywriting spectrum.
3. What skills will I need as a freelance copywriter?
A comprehensive understanding of the English language is a must – a major marketing campaign could become a laughing stock at the mercy of a stray apostrophe – but not just any willing wordsmith can make it as a copywriter.
You’ll also need to be a quick learner, so you can tackle new concepts and products with ease.
The right mindset is also a key skill: “There is agony to writing, the struggle to find the perfect fit, the perfect words. A mind that can adapt to the demands of the piece – its purpose – is essential.” (Dibble)
4. Creating a copywriting business plan
Although it’s relatively hassle free and low-cost to set yourself up as a copywriter, it’s a very competitive commercial space. Writing a business plan will ensure you stay focused on where you’re going and what you’re trying to achieve.
Laurence Blume, a freelance copywriter with over 20 years of experience, says that a business plan will focus your thinking: “Even if you’re a one-man copywriting venture, you should still go through the usual business plan process”
Remember to assess:
- The competitive landscape
- What your strengths are
- What your biggest vulnerabilities are
- Who your potential customers are and how you plan to reach them
- Your financial projections
“The most important thing to decide is how you want to work. Some copywriters work directly for clients, while others work as outsourced freelancers for advertising, PR, design and digital agencies.
“Some work on a contract basis, taking on fixed term contracts for one client at a time, while others work on an ad-hoc basis for a range of clients every day. This will help you determine what business structure is best for you. Options include setting up your own limited company, working through an umbrella company, or operating as a sole trader.”
Howard Smith, founder of No Sloppy Copy
Tip: If you don’t possess a great deal of numerical or financial savvy, you should get in touch with a good local accountant to help you keep your affairs in check and above board. You’ll also need to register as self-employed with HM Revenue and Customs to ensure you pay the correct tax.
Figuring out how you work best will produce your best work:
Dibble warns that when deciding what kind of work to do, you shouldn’t “spread yourself too thin – it’s best to go ‘deep’ into a few organisations or projects than do a little bit for lots of organisations here and there.”
Although, Smith recommends that you “try everything – build your portfolio, and then decide if there’s an area you want to concentrate on.”
Whether you decide to specialise early, or would rather ‘shop around’ first, will totally depend on your approach to work. If you can adapt easily, then turning your hand to a wide variety of styles will be a valuable experience. However, if you like consistency, then specialising early and mastering your niche would be better for you.
Tip: Other copywriters aren’t the competition – consider collaboration.
It helps to have a team of professionals who have different skills or knowledge of specific industries. Link up with other writers who can add to your knowledge, and don’t be afraid to collaborate – working with other writers is beneficial, as you can share ideas and techniques.
Dibble’s advice to any aspiring copywriter is: “Do not to attempt to be a master of all trades – most copywriters have a preference for a certain style of writing.”
When a copywriting business starts to take on professional copywriters and provide them with work, it can become more of a copywriting agency. An agency can employ staff or freelance copywriters to provide services to businesses on a for-hire or per-project basis.
5. Starting a copywriting business: Rules and regulations
Another advantage of setting up a copywriting business is the lack of red tape involved, meaning you can get up and running without any qualifications and very little hassle.
However, you do need to follow copyright rules. Dibble explains: “From an integrity point of view, any copywriter would want all work to be original, and to cite references as appropriate. From an SEO point of view, content must be at least 35% original to maintain your SEO rankings, so being original is all the more vital.”
Additionally, “it’s important to stipulate who owns the work once the project is complete (in almost every case this is the client, but it’s important to clarify).”
Smith adds that “you’ll need a good working knowledge of the UK Advertising Codes”, as “some industries are subject to specific guidelines that regulate the promotion of their products and services.” This includes tobacco, alcohol, pharmaceuticals and financial services.
“Very often,” he adds, “clients will ask you to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) before hiring you. Always respect these.”
- The Professional Copywriters’ Network: An online community of UK copywriters
- The Professional Copywriters Association: Association to help members build a scalable and profitable copywriting business
- Copyblogger: A US-based blog with a back catalogue of e-books and guides
- Writers’ Copyright Association: Offering help to protect the work of writers globally
- Society for Editors and Proofreaders: Professional organization for UK editors and proofreaders
6. How much does it cost to start your own copywriting business?
In the words of Dibble, all you need is “a desire to write, a phone, a laptop and an internet connection.” This means the overheads are relatively low compared to other professions.
If you’re going to use a dedicated space in your home as an office, then a “quiet, clear, well lit space, a nice large screen, and a variety of other comforts”are all conducive to a good work ethic and mood, suggests Blume. Having an office that’s separate from your living space will help you separate your home and working life, and help you avoid distractions.
Alternatively, if you feel you can afford it, you could choose a coworking space so you still benefit from the advantages of a social environment. There are a huge variety of spaces available, with options ranging from payper-day hot-desking to longer-term desk rental.
Or, as Blume points out, you could just work in a café: “If you own a laptop that runs MS Word (or Pages, these days), can find an empty table in a café, and can stretch to the cost of putting up a simple website, you’re basically in business. You don’t need to set up a Limited company if you don’t want to. You can be a sole trader copywriting business from today.”
7. How to find work as a freelance copywriter:
Dibble suggests finding work from creative or marketing agencies, as this will “deliver enough volume and variety of work to make things profitable and interesting.” However, she adds that “a direct relationship with a client builds your reputation in other ways, and can be just as rewarding – if not moreso.”
There are freelance platforms that can be good for finding projects. King recommends The Work Crowd for quality projects and good fees. However, she advises that you “pick and choose which ones you use – some projects are very competitive but pay a pittance, so they're not really worth the effort.”
Build lasting relationships and draw on your previous contacts and reputation. Any freelance job is very difficult to kickstart without an existing network. For Smith, the “most profitable clients will be those you develop the best relationships with. It’s far more lucrative to be immersed in fee-earning work with clients you know and enjoy working with than spending money applying for new contracts, travelling to meetings, and pitching for new clients.”
King also suggests that you “send out pitches to businesses that you wants to work with. These should be highly tailored and really show off the passion and understanding you have of the company, as well as your excellent writing skills of course. Not everybody will get back to you, but if you dedicate the time upfront to lots of pitching, then you'll start to get some projects and build up your network and pipeline that way.”
Now you know the seven steps to copywriting success, it’s time to have some fun building a network, creating new contacts, and writing some top class copy!