10 unexpected things about being a freelance copywriter

Dianne Vanstone

Blue Book Creative

It’s been almost a year since I went freelance on a full-time basis without a safety net, helmet and knee pads. In that time I’ve learnt how to negotiate contracts, send invoices, pitch for jobs, grab and retain clients and be the best writer I can be – all the stuff I knew was coming. Here are 10 things that I wasn’t expecting.

It pays to be a decent human

One of the things that put me off going freelance was finding clients. My creative colleagues would tut when I said I was thinking of doing it full time, and say “yeah, sounds great but it’s tricky finding clients isn’t it”. It was always a worry. But, I’ve been overwhelmed by how many old colleagues have approached me with work.

Turns out if you’ve been a decent human in the office environment, people remember and seek you out when they hear you’re going solo. 70% of my work has come to me this way, or from word of mouth. So if you are thinking of going freelance, you can definitely expect clients… unless you have a reputation as the office arsehole.

My tip: Connect with all your previous colleagues on LinkedIn.  

Some clients love a convoluted interview process

I naively thought that, like hiring a plumber, clients would do some research, ask around, read reviews, look at examples of work and then choose a copywriter.

I did not expect to have to interview for most projects. I also didn’t expect some start-ups to insist on Google-level interview processes. I don’t mind a chat to see if I’m a good fit, but I object to ’rounds’ of selections and unpaid copy tests. 

My tip: Ask if your Zoom meeting is in fact an interview, and what’s expected to land the job. You don’t have to jump through hoops, unless you want to. That’s what’s good about being freelance. 

I don’t want a niche and I don’t care what you say

I spent many years writing for one industry. I was never bored, but our guinea pigs don’t seem bored exploring their small patch of grass. Now that I’m writing about lots of topics, from men’s shorts to acting classes, I’m loving the diversity and it keeps me on my toes.

I see a lot of advice about getting a niche as a copywriter, but I’m never going to do that. I did not expect to love writing about tractor tyres but I honestly do. 

My tip: Think about getting a niche, but write for as many industries as you can. 

Quiet periods are nothing to worry about

When I first started I was very busy for months on end. It was great. Then I finished up a big project and realised I had nothing much lined up except bits and pieces.

I panicked. I had thoughts that maybe it was beginner’s luck and that I’d never get work again. I spoke to freelance friends and they reassured me that quiet periods happen every now and again, and that my inbox would soon be full enough. I didn’t enjoy my quiet time at all. But they were right, work started pouring in.

My tip: Enjoy the quiet periods and spend the time writing blogs, working on your marketing strategy, making your social media accounts look fabulous and don’t forget to relax. 

The freelance community is fabulous

I thought I’d be on my own, in my ‘office’, doing my solitary work and feeling a bit isolated. That just hasn’t happened. I’ve met some talented freelancers in the same boat as me, and I feel like I have colleagues. Being part of the ProCopywriters community has made me feel connected. Listening to other people talk about the stuff you’re dealing with is reassuring and invaluable. 

Working with different clients also means I’m part of lots of teams, and I’m finding being freelance quite a gregarious role. It’s fun to one minute be part of a team getting ready to launch a product, and then chatting with an editor in New Jersey about the best way to convey the complexities of sinusitis. 

My tip: Join an online community of freelancers and get involved. Get ready to be part of many different teams. 

Expect a lot of positive feedback

Working in an office it’s rare to get great feedback, as you’re just expected to be good at what you do. When I started  freelancing, I never expected clients to be so eager to express their gratitude for the help I’d given them. I was unprepared, and every good review or nice email would have me running round the house squealing in delight. I still do that. I’ll never get used to it. 

My tip: Note down all the good reviews and lovely emails for times when you need a confidence boost. 

Paying £0.02 a word is a thing!

Some people think it’s ok to pay a few pence a word for quality copy. I have been blown away by the low rates some companies want to pay and I never knew this side of copywriting and content writing. I make no judgement on writers who accept these rates, but I do have an issue with the companies themselves. 

My tip: If possible, charge what you think you are worth, but don’t judge writers who work for low rates.

Some companies expect you to chase invoices

I didn’t know that some companies have a policy to only pay invoices once they have been chased. I just thought I’d put my invoice in and the client would pay in a decent amount of time. I don’t expect payment straight away, I’m happy to wait up to two months. But after two months, I get a bit twitchy. I have clients that expect me to chase up payments, and they are great people to work for. I love working for them, and I just accept this as a quirk. 

My tip: Chase after two months but don’t stress out. 

There are great resources available online

ProCopywriters in particular has essential resources if you are starting out as a freelancer. Contracts, content calendars, project tracking sheets… I’ve made use of all the free stuff. The freelance community is great at sharing, and if you need anything you’ll be able to find someone to help.

There are also free online courses and training, lectures and conferences which are invaluable and give the heads up on new technology, useful apps and trends. I learnt so much from Google Digital Garage too. 

My tip: Plunder the free resources available online, and build training into your schedule.  

Freelancing builds confidence

I’ve noticed that I have stopped asking myself “can I really do this?”, and replaced it with “I can do this, I am doing this right now”. That feels good. 

My tip: Record your achievements each week, as you’ll be surprised how far you’ve come. And, to be cliched: Celebrate the wins, learn from the fails. 

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