Help and advice
Marketing for freelance copywriters
Marketing is an ongoing challenge, but one that can allow you to be creative – and test your own skills.
If you ask a freelance copywriter “what is the hardest part of freelancing?” – many will reply “finding clients”.
That’s the bad news out of the way.
The good news about marketing yourself as a freelancer is that there are hundreds of ways to go about it. Your task is to find the way that works best for you. And that will depend on your personality, your location, your target client, your industry and more.
Before we discuss marketing tactics, let’s consider a few general principles that apply to almost everything that you do as a freelancer.
Principle 1: avoid peaks and troughs with non-stop marketing
If you want a steady flow of work, you need to create a steady flow of marketing.
Most marketing tactics have a delayed reaction; you will rarely get an immediate response to your efforts. In order to get work in three months time, you need to update your blog today. In order to get an amazing project next year, you need to attend that networking event tomorrow.
The only way to get a consistent trickle of freelance work is to constantly put effort into marketing.
Of course there will be times when you do nearly nothing.
Other weeks you’ll devote days to self-promotion.
And in-between you’ll tweak your website, get chatty on Twitter and write the odd blog post.
The secret is to always have something going on.
This is your best protection against the peaks and troughs that usually affect a freelance career. Some dips and lulls in your workload are inevitable and unavoidable. But by taking action you may be able to control their severity.
Principle 2: diversify your efforts
Just as investors protect themselves against loss by spreading their money around, freelancers should avoid relying on one or two sources of work.
It might be convenient to have one client that keeps you busy, but in reality you’re taking a big risk by putting all your eggs in one client’s basket. Should that client fail – or just choose another freelancer – then you could find yourself with no clients and no marketing momentum.
Resist the temptation to rely on one or two easy clients. Also be wary of depending on one marketing channel – or one freelance marketplace – for all your work.
By diversifying your marketing, and attracting clients using a variety of methods, you can insulate yourself against worklessness.
Principle 3: be consistent with yourself
However you decide to market yourself, make sure that all of your communications are broadly consistent. Remember that clients will check out your various profiles, so be sure to explain yourself in consistent language everywhere you go.
For example, clients may be confused if you describe yourself as an editor on LinkedIn and a copywriter on Twitter.
Principle 4: let the clients come to you
Rather than chasing after clients, make yourself discoverable so that clients can choose you.
In practice, this involves making yourself visible and find-able via multiple channels.
Clients look for copywriters on social media, search engines, networking groups, forums and more. By having a presence in multiple locations, you improve your odds of being considered for projects.
Clients that come to you have already decided that they need a copywriter. This means you can focus on demonstrating why you are the best copywriter for the job – rather than having to persuade them of the general benefits that copywriters bring.
Marketing tactics for freelance copywriters
There are many ways for freelance copywriters to find work – or for work to find them:
- Website or online portfolio
- Social media
- Search engine optimisation
- Peer networking
- Job sites
- Freelance marketplaces
- Cold calling
- Email marketing
- Direct mail
Website or online portfolio
Your own web domain is one of the most powerful marketing tools for freelancers. And possibly the most demanding.
You don’t need to spend lots of money to have a great-looking, highly-effective website. If you’re technologically-brave, you might be able to set up WordPress on your own web hosting (see wordpress.org).
WordPress.com and Squarespace also offer DIY websites that charge a small monthly fee.
Behance and Carbonmade are two options for building an online portolio.
Creating a website won’t yield immediate results, but it will give you an appearance of professionalism and the opportunity to be found. An online presence is reassuring for potential clients, and demonstrates a degree of motivation, determination and stability.
Search engine optimisation (SEO)
SEO is a vital component of web marketing.
Without optimising your website for search engines, your website may never appear in search engines – meaning that the majority of web users will never see your name.
In short, an optimised website uses keywords in the right places (titles, headings, body), has fresh content, and is linked to by other websites.
The reality is that optimising your website is probably a long-running campaign.
Achieving prominence in search results demands time, effort, thought and perseverance.
People seeking freelancers frequently turn to social media. LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are all used regularly to post requests like:
“Looking for a freelance copywriter who can start Monday. Help!”
If you’re present, professional and connected on social media, then your colleagues and peers may well suggest your name in response.
If you’re not there, you’re unlikely to get nominated.
Of course, social media is an investment, and some copywriters decide that the investment is not worth the return. On the other hand, social media is a big part of the marketing world, so your self-marketing can double up as research.
Getting out and meeting people is always a good idea.
Copywriters can be rather isolated, and networking is perfect for practising your sales pitch in a friendly, low-pressure environment.
Networking can feel like a waste of time. And in reality, it sometimes is.
Networking usually rewards people who jump in with curiosity, an open mind and a spirit of cooperation. By making friends, getting to know people and being an excellent human being, you can, over time, develop relationships that lead to business.
Other copywriters are more than just your competition. Your peers are also your greatest allies, your kindred spirits and one of your best sources of work.
Getting to know other copywriters, and joining the existing communities of copywriters, gives you an outlet for any work that doesn’t suit you, and may also bring new leads your way.
You’ll also be grateful to have other copywriters to talk to when you get stuck with a difficult client or a project that just won’t end.
Word of mouth
Personal recommendations are incredibly valuable, but unlikely to be forthcoming until you have a few clients and projects under your belt – and a reputation for delivering. If you want to get recommendations from clients, focus on keeping every client happy at every stage of a project (not always possible).
Some traditional job boards and sites now include freelance roles. It might be useful to set up alerts with job boards so you catch all the best freelance opportunities as soon as they’re published.
Sites like Upwork and People per Hour are popular, but opinions are divided about whether these sites offer a good deal for freelancers.
For every freelancer that decries the low rates offered, or the difficulty that comes with having a client at arms’ length, there will be another freelancer who appreciates the flexibility that such sites afford.
Only you can decide whether freelance marketplaces are worth your time and effort.
Calling potential clients is very direct, and it can be very effective. It is also one of the least appealing marketing approaches, perhaps because most of us associate cold calling with disreputable con artists.
However, done respectfully, always remaining mindful of the potential intrusion of cold calling, this approach can be beneficial to all parties. We recommend only calling organisations that are likely to use copywriters (i.e. agencies and large companies) so that your call is likely to be relevant to the receiver.
Emailing potential clients can be effective – and it can also help you build awareness of your name. As well as sending one-off introductions or enquiries, you might start an email newsletter to help you demonstrate your value to potential clients.
You must be careful not to overwhelm or annoy potential clients, and always make sure that you offer an unsubscribe or opt-out option with every email.
Are there places where you need to be seen? Is it useful to have your name mentioned on a particular website – or a local business network?
While general advertising may be inappropriate for most freelance copywriters, it’s worth keeping your eyes open for potential advertising opportunities.
Not widely used by freelancers, direct mailings, or leafletting are other options in your fight for clients. While this approach may seem unusual in our digital age, sending physical items to prospective clients may help you to stand out from the crowd.