My first 5 years as a freelance copywriter

Alice Hollis

Alice Hollis Ltd. - More than words®

In 2014 I welcomed my first son, Jacob, into the world. I loved being a mummy, but I’d worked bloody hard to get qualified and build my career, and mentally I needed the stimulation of work.

Returning to my employer was out of the question, so I took the opportunity to fulfil my career ambition and become my own boss.

Now, as I enter my fifth year as a freelancer, I’m taking the time to look back on my highlights.

I got my first client in the ball pool at soft play

As a freelance working mummy, I’m ready to take advantage of any opportunity to work. I’ve written many masterpieces in the back of my car while my baby slept.

I’ve written flat on my back in bed with severe morning sickness. I’ve written at 3am when I can’t sleep. And when a fantastic project presented itself, I happened to be sat in a ball pool with Jacob. One of the other mummies grabbed a napkin and pen so I could take some details down, and I ended the call with a fabulous and lucrative new client.

39% of my clients have come via referral

When I entered the world of freelancing, I started farming my existing network for clients; in total, just 16% of my clients have been people I already know, and the majority have come through referrals.

It’s lovely to have a flow of people coming to me, but it does mean that I need to do what I fear most — sell. To date, nearly a fifth (19%) of my clients are organisations that I’ve contacted out of the blue.

I’ve received sales training in the past, but have never held a sales role – frankly, the thought of picking up the phone brings me out in a cold sweat. I find the key to finding and winning new clients is research, research, research.

I always start with my good friend Google, and then follow up with LinkedIn to identify the specific people I need to speak to. I end up with about five companies, which I then have to approach.

I’ve tried many things in the past, but the one I found worked best was turning up unannounced with a box of homemade cupcakes, ready to deliver my elevator pitch.

Thankfully I’ve not had to do it often because it’s truly terrifying, but it’s always got me noticed, and I’ve won the work every time.

I earn 42% more as a freelancer, and work 38% fewer hours

Becoming a freelancer was all about freedom. I hate being told what to do, and people generally scare me.

Being my own boss meant I finally had the freedom to do what I wanted, when I wanted and with whoever I wanted.

I’m married with two children (aged 1 and 4), so family has to be my priority, and I feel like I’ve managed to achieve the ultimate work-life balance:

  • my boys attend nursery for three days a week, which is when I do most of my work
  • I get two dedicated days of fun with them every week – Monday and Friday
  • weekends are family time
  • evenings are spent with my husband (although we both occasionally take time out to do some work
  • housework duties are performed first thing in the morning, last thing at night (and with a little help from a weekly cleaner – my ultimate guilty pleasure!)
  • and I managed to take a decent amount of maternity leave when my second son was born

I charge £40 per hour and have never written for a content mill

I know my worth. I love what I do, and despite ‘imposter syndrome’ niggling away at me every single day, I know I can’t be that bad because I wouldn’t have been freelancing for this long.

I refuse to work for a content mill. They’re ugly places that, I believe, give our industry a bad name. Content should never be produced for content’s sake, it needs to be quality work with a purpose.

When I started out, one of my clients said that if you find a good copywriter you should grab hold of them with both hands and pay them whatever they want, because they’re so rare.

Before going freelance, I spent a lot of time researching the market and what other copywriters were charging. Specifically copywriters:

  • based in West Berkshire,
  • serving the IT and tech sector
  • offering similar services to me
  • with my level of experience

I did this so I was comparing like-for-like and ended up with a figure of £30 per hour. But after about six months I was told by one client that I wasn’t charging enough. I spoke to my other clients to see if they agreed and, with the exception of one, they did (I know, it sounds nuts but it’s absolutely true). So I upped my fee to £40 per hour, and have never discounted.

I’ve sacked 45% of my clients

Yes, you read that right. Over the years I’ve sacked nearly half of my clients because it’s actually a good thing to say no.

The relationship has to work for both parties and I know that I can’t produce the best work and make my client happy if the opportunity is wrong.

We’ve never parted on bad terms. We’ve all gone on to do bigger better things. And who knows, maybe our paths will cross again in the future when the opportunity is right.

So what does 2019 have in store for me?

This year is starting with a bang.

I’m kicking off with two new clients, as well as discussing three new projects with my existing ones. But perhaps the most exciting news is that I move into my new copy cave on the 14th January once my sparkly carpet is laid!

It will see me wave goodbye to my corner of the playroom and welcome the calm sanctuary of my own office. Can’t wait!!

I’m also crazy excited to see the return of #ContentClubUK, which I intend to get more involved with this year.

As well as attending #FreelanceHeroesDay in May, and the ProCopywriters’ conference Words at Work in October.

And if anyone has any questions about freelancing, I’m always available for a coffee and a chat – not saying I have the answers, but I do enjoy a nice piece of cake!


16th January 2019


As an in-house copywriter looking to get into freelancing, this fills with me hope! I’ve read other articles on taking the leap and they were pretty negative. So thanks!

17th January 2019

Alice Hollis

If you want something enough, you’ll find a way to make it work Jordan – or at least that’s what my Dad taught me (and he’s not been wrong yet!) It’s hard work, but so immensely rewarding; certainly the best career move I’ve ever made. Good luck!

7th May 2019

Steve Reynolds

You are charging at least a quarter of what you should. Move to project+royalties based pricing and you can easily make closer to £160 or even £250 an hour.

14th May 2019

Alice Hollis

Thanks Steve! I tend to work with startups/small SMEs, so while £160-£250 sounds nice, it’s just not realistic. Interesting idea about royalties though; I’ve heard about it for films/TV and music, but not copywriting – how would it work?

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