Top ten tips for freelance copywriters

by Tom Albrighton 16 November 2009 Freelancing

Once, I commissioned freelances. Then, in a Sméagol-to-Gollum style transformation, I got made redundant and had to scrape together a living in the hand-to-mouth, twilight scavenger world of the freelance copywriter. I could have been a contender. But more to the point, here are the top ten things I’ve learned in five years as a wandering content-ronin.

1.    Believe in abundance. If you’re short of work, it’s easy to fall into anxiety. Instead of focusing on scarcity, switch your attention to the many opportunities around – online, in your local area, around the world. If local competitors spring up, that’s great – it means there’s work around! We get what we expect in life, so start expecting that opportunities – and cash money – will be coming your way.

2.    Hold on tightly, let go lightly. In other words, focus on the copywriting jobs you get, not the ones you don’t. It doesn’t matter why your quote wasn’t chosen, or why that client stopped using you. What matters is serving the clients you have today.

3.    Accept blame. In fact, actively seek out blame. If things go wrong, claim responsibility, even if it’s not your mistake. Failures of communication, missed deadlines – whatever. Blame rarely sticks to those outside an organisation, but your contact or client will be flattered at the implication that they’ve done nothing wrong.

If some copywriting work didn't come in soon, he might have to consider becoming a social-media guru

If some copywriting work didn't come in soon, he might have to consider becoming a social-media guru

4.    Pricing is a game without rules. I don’t mean ‘rip off your clients’. I mean that people’s expectations on price vary so wildly that it’s almost impossible to find a consistent approach. Get used to pricing job by job. If the client proposes a price, be thankful you don’t have to. Love clients who will negotiate instead of never contacting you again if your price doesn’t stack up.

5.    Networking takes time. With social media, anyone can rustle up a big network in weeks. Unfortunately, its power to deliver freelance copywriting work will be limited. What actually works is referrals from friend to friend, and they happen when your contacts’ contacts realise they need a copywriter – which can take years. But as long as you keep meeting expectations, referrals will come. 

6.    Learn to listen. Forget impressing the client. Learn to listen, not speak. First and foremost, you’ll do better work because you’ll learn more. On a human level, people love the chance to chat with an impartial outsider – so give them it. It’s a big part of the value you offer.

7.    Cultivate detachment. I’ve found I can handle freelance copywriting much better if I’m not emotionally involved. I try not to get excited about new opportunities so I’m not disappointed when they don’t pan out. I don’t pat myself on the back for a good month, in case the next one is awful. Becoming a company is a good way to create distance between you and your work, and worthwhile for this reason alone.

8.    Don’t flatter yourself. Clients do not spend that much time thinking about you and your copywriting, so don’t waste time and effort over-thinking about what they might want, or what a particular reaction (or lack of reaction) might mean. They have a job that needs doing, and you’re a tool to get it done – end of story.

9.    Under-promise and over-deliver. Tell the client the worst-case timescale, then beat it by four or five days. Maybe even reduce your price because you did the work quickly. Sounds like a cheap trick? Believe me, your customers will have dealt with too many flaky suppliers to feel that way. They will absolutely love it.

10. Be in the moment. Because the future is always uncertain for freelance copywriters, some worry is always present. Try to let go of it and enjoy the work you’ve got today. Remember, no-one really has any security in today’s working world, so let tomorrow take care of itself.