So you want to be a freelance copywriter.
It’s really easy.
Quit your job.
Buy a fixed gear bike.
Take a spin down to your local hipster coffee shop.
Bash away on your MacBook Air.
Then sit back and watch the dollars roll in…
OK, reality check.
First thing you need to know if you’re thinking about making the jump and setting up as freelance copywriter:
You’re not the only person to have that idea.
I hate my cubicle life.
I’m naturally creative.
I’ll sit in cafes all day writing.
I know, I know, I’m like a mind reader right?
Nor are you the first person to make that switch.
Saying you’re a copywriter is easy.
You don’t need a certificate from a fancy institution.
Passing cycling proficiency is harder.
We’re not doctors, lawyers or architects.
Anyone can throw up a website with I’m a copywriter on it.
So, naturally it’s super competitive.
A quick Google search of all the freelance writers in your area confirms as much.
But, don’t let that put you off.
See, here’s the thing. Not all of them are any good.
Nor do they have a niche.
So, if you’re serious about doing this.
And you want avoid going broke.
Let’s sit down, work through the basics and put a plan together.
OK, let’s get stuck in.
First up, remember that copywriting is salesmanship in print.
We’re not creative writers – so put all thoughts of that book deal to the back of your mind.
We write to persuade – nothing more, nothing less.
For all the fancy terms bandied around these days.
And, yes, they do sound kind of cool.
I mean who doesn’t want to be a content marketing expert or a social media strategist.
There are only two types of copywriting:
Direct response and indirect response.
One is measurable, the other isn’t it.
But, the goal is essentially the same – sell more stuff.
OK, with that thought lodged in our heads.
If you still want to do this, let’s move on.
First things first, you need to study the masters.
The titans of advertising who made megabucks through this craft.
If I were to point you at the essentials, it would be these:
Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins which you can read for free here.
First published in 1923, it remains the most important book on advertising ever written.
Once you’re done, like Drayton Bird says, you’ll know more than most people who work in marketing.
And keep rereading it.
It’s really short.
No TLDR from you millennials.
And it’s chock full of wisdom too.
Next on our list is Ogilvy on Advertising.
Sure, it might seem a little dated to you young guns, but it’s still a pearler.
And yes, there is a theme building here.
These books are kind of old.
But, still hugely relevant.
Because technology might change, allowing us to reach people in new and different ways.
But, human behaviour doesn’t.
Just like the old maxim says – times change, people don’t.
Sure they’re a little more sophisticated.
But, they’re still motivated by the same things:
Beauty, envy, success…
And understanding how and why people buy is the very essence of what we do.
We’ve already mentioned him, but anything by Drayton Bird will see you right.
Named in 2003 as one of 50 living individuals who have shaped today’s marketing, he’s my absolute favourite guru.
A been there, done that genius.
And join his mailing list – you’ll learn something new every day.
Finally, because I don’t want to overwhelm you as you start out…
Grab a copy of the Boron Letters by Gary Halbert.
And check out some of his most famous sales letters as well.
13 psychological triggers in just 381 words, not a single one of them wasted.
OK, padawan, now you’re standing on your own two feet, we can look a little further ahead.
You need stuff to show people.
If you don’t have a portfolio, you need to get one together.
It’s a little chicken and egg starting out.
So, you might want to help out a local charity or a friend’s small business venture by doing a few jobs for nothing, just to scrape something together.
And even if you have only have a small book, remember it’s not the end of the world.
People love a bit of youthful enthusiasm, which some of us grey beards might have lost.
Be keen and you might just win out when you’re up against someone more experienced.
OK, so you’re well versed in the copywriting classics and have some examples to show people.
Let’s snag some paying jobs.
OK, kind of obvious – get a website.
This should be your number one source of leads.
I’d recommend WordPress.
But, other platforms are available…
It’s really easy to use if you don’t code and you can play around with lots of different themes until you find one that works for you.
Plus you can maintain it and update yourself, which is a huge plus.
OK, hugely important…
Don’t forget to give people something to sign up for in exchange for their email address – regular email updates or some sort of free report for example.
Building that list is going to be vital. No sign up, no email address, no list to market to.
Which makes things a struggle in the long run.
OK, so your website is live and you’re sat there aggressively waiting for the phone ring.
Unfortunately, that’s not how business works.
You need to get proactive.
Time for some marketing outreach.
Yes, you can invest in some PPC advertising, which can be really effective.
I’ve got some good business out of it.
But, remember, you’re only going to reach people actively looking for a copywriter.
And not everyone knows they need a copywriter yet.
So, you want to smile at the dial and start cold calling.
It can yield results, but can also grind you down.
Plus, it’s very hit and miss.
If someone you call might need a copywriter down the line, they don’t have anything to keep on file.
In which case, you might want to put your copywriting skills into action and draft a killer prospecting email instead.
Or even a good old fashioned sales letter.
Given people in offices hardly get post any more, it makes you stand out from the crowd.
Larger businesses tend to deal direct with agencies, so it’s good to cultivate a relationship with some local marketing outfits too.
You’ll find them at all the usual marketing meet ups.
You can also try the local networking circuit, but don’t expect instant results.
And don’t pitch non-stop.
I find this avenue works best in an I scratch your back, you scratch mine kind of way.
In other words, it’s give and take.
Do someone a favour and hook them up with a good contact you know and they might be able to do the same.
Er what’s next?
Find a niche.
It never hurts to specialise in something. Probably the industry you came from.
For me that’s learning and development.
Think about it for a moment.
Who would you hire to write for your business?
A jack-of-all-trades ?
Or someone who understands the industry you work in giving them a massive head start?
It’s a no-brainer.
Especially when you consider that lots of people out there want to write about cool and exciting things.
Rather than, say, IT support.
But that’s a big industry, with good pay rates, that you can make your own.
While clothing brands pay a pittance to an army of eager young English Lit grads desperate to write about fashion…
Also, you might want to drill down even further within copywriting itself to create a different kind of niche.
You might want to position yourself as a press release specialist, or an email marketing expert to give yourself credibility that carries over into a broad church of industries.
It really helps to find a mentor.
No matter where you, there’ll be a freelance copywriter in your area that knows what they’re talking about.
Don’t be afraid to get in touch, ask for a critique of your work, and learn from them.
A lot of them will be flattered to hear from you.
And look at the way they position themselves.
People flock to them because they’re perceived as a thought leader.
And not just because of their track record.
But because of their blogs, articles, e-books and speaking engagements.
Look and learn, because that could be you one day, sitting atop that mountain of credibility.
So there you have it – the bare bones of becoming a freelance copywriter.
Read the classics, get a portfolio together, build a list, find a niche and get yourself a mentor.
When you’re making bank, getting ass and driving a Range Rover – all I ask is a polite “thank you Richard” in return.
Any questions about getting started, just ping me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org