4 Steps to Becoming a Freelance Copywriter
If you are reading this, chances are, you’ve already made up your mind that you want to be a copywriter.
However I do have to warn you, it isn’t easy!
Most potential copywriters wish to take up the vocation because they love writing. When you have to write 8 hours per day, 5 days per week, the fun tends to leak out of it. What you’ll actually need is a love of running a business and constantly being a salesman for yourself!
Aside from drive, resilience and inspiration, here are 5 things you need to be a successful copywriter:
- An insatiable curiosity about your fellow human beings, why they behave like they do and why they buy what they buy.
- Understand how people see themselves and view their life and choices.
- A good understanding of the rules of spelling, punctuation and grammar, also the courage to break them when necessary!
- A way with words. You need to be able to weave a story with your words that can intrigue, excite and captivate.
- Research skills – you need to know everything about the products or services you are selling. Being good at desk-research (secondary) and having good interviewing skills are vital for getting to the main issues.
A copywriter is a magical combination of writer, psychology researcher, salesman and marketer. It takes a lot of different skills to make it as a copywriter, but if you have those skills you are quite a step ahead of the majority of copywriter-wannabes.
With your skills in check it's time to set up your copywriting business. Let's look in detail at the initial decisions you'll need to make to begin your freelance copywriting business.
What kind of business will you be (legally speaking)?
- Sole Trader
- Limited Company (LTD/LLC)
Being a sole trader means it’s just you, without any employees (not even yourself) or other people involved in the business. You can give yourself a trading name, for example Solomon Copywriting, but your checkbook and invoices would say Michael Parker T/A Solomon Copywriting (T/A means “trading as”).
The benefits of being a sole trade are you don’t have to spend time setting up the company (legally) and bookkeeping is much easier and usually cheaper for a sole trader.
However, the biggest defining feature of being a sole trader is, if it all goes belly up, it’s all on you.
Any debts you incur as a sole trader are YOUR debts and you must pay them out of your own pocket. It’s this lack of protection which pushes most people away from being a sole trader.
Also, sole traders may look small to some clients and may not even consider you for some jobs. It IS quite a bit harder to compete and tender for some jobs as a sole trader.
The big feature of a limited company is that your responsibility for the company if everything goes wrong is limited. Your liability extends as far as the company assets, meaning they can take company property, but they can’t take your house or anything in it (unless it’s owned by the company of course).
A huge benefit of being a limited company is that at a glance, you will appear much bigger and more professional than a sole trader.
Operating as a limited company is more expensive than being a sole trader. You will need to hire an accountant and file annual reports to Companies House (UK) or the State government (USA). You’ll also have to be wary of the laws regarding company directors, secretaries and annual shareholder meetings.
A huge benefit of being a limited company is that at a glance, you will appear much bigger and more professional than a sole trader.
The beauty of owning a company is you can give yourself whatever job title you want. You want to introduce yourself as Managing Director, go ahead. Your business card can say Chief Copywriter, King Wordsmith, Grandmaster Warlock of the Wordsmiths; whatever strikes you as a good title.
A limited company also allows you to issue shares of the company to friends, family or investors (to raise capital). I like to keep full control of my business, but that’s all down to personal preference.
So now that you’ve decided what kind of business you will be, you need to address the second concern, where will you work?
Where will you work?
As a copywriter, like a lot of designers, programmers, project managers and photographers, you can work pretty much anywhere. Here are a few suggestions:
- The Kitchen
- Anywhere with free public Wi-Fi
- Spare bedroom
- A dedicated room in your house/apartment
- A home office (most popular)
- A rented office
Go for the place where you can concentrate the best, not necessarily the room with the biggest space. Most copywriters (unless agency employed) work from a dedicated home office. I work from a home office and think it’s the best option, it doesn’t cost me anything extra, I can customise the room anyway I like and the commute takes no longer than walking upstairs.
Importantly, you need a space that will feel business-like; anything else and you may be encouraged to slack off. If you have kids, office door closed means mummy/daddy is working, do not disturb. You need to treat the whole process with as much professionalism as is possible or it will be very difficult to stay disciplined.
Equipment You Will Need
Phone – You probably already have a mobile/cell phone, but you should really consider getting a dedicated line, even if it’s a cheap £10 phone from Tesco/Wal-Mart. In fact, this isn’t even an option. If you don’t have a dedicated line, you don’t know who your phone is ringing for. The worst answer a potential client can hear is “Hello?” You need to feel confident answering “Good morning, Dreamspear Marketing, Michael speaking.” This will be much easier if you know the phone is ringing for your company and not you.
Desk – This can be any flat structure that will hold your laptop or desktop computer. It doesn’t need to be expensive or fancy. You can use any table you have lying around, buy a flat pack desk from IKEA or build one yourself if you want, it can often be done for less than £50 ($80) and you end up with a desk that is purpose built for you.
Chair – Unlike your desk, you should spend some time and money finding the right chair for you. You will be spending a lot of time in your chair, whether you are writing, researching or just thinking. It pays to invest in a good ergonomic, orthopaedic chair. I’d suggest one of the following:
- Herman Miller Aeron Chair
- Ergohuman V2
- Grahl Synchron (6/7/8)
- Freedom Headrest
- Neutral Posture 8000 Series
- Steelcase Think
Computer – Unless you are really old fashioned, you will need a computer. The biggest choice facing most writers is desktop or laptop.
It really depends on how you prefer to work. I you like the freedom to move about with your work, then buy a laptop and buy the fastest most powerful one you can afford, this investment will pay back tenfold in the future.
If however you will be working in a home-office, or you are renting out an office, then you should consider a desktop. The same applies to desktops as laptops; buy the best you can afford. I personally prefer a desktop with a nice big keyboard and large clear screen. They are also FAR easier to upgrade.
Also, DEFINITELY have a backup drive. I don’t think I need to preach about the stress, frustration and sometimes heartbreak of losing the contents of your computer. I learned this lesson the hard way in my computing class in college, when I lost roughly 1-years’ worth of work; I had to redo everything from scratch.
Stationary – Aside from invoices and business cards, you shouldn't need any other stationary. Most of your work will be digital and sent via email, so try to keep as paper-free an office as you can. It protects you from distractions and “I know it’s here somewhere” syndrome.
A tip, with your business card, utilize all the space you have. What is better, your prospective client turning over your card to see a blank white space, or a mini-advert for your copywriting services?
Right, so you know what kind of company you will run. You know where you’ll work and you know what equipment you’ll be using. Now the big question, what are you going to call yourself?
Naming Your Freelance Copywriting Business
After searching through the web I’ve come to the conclusion that there are 3 schools of thought on naming your copywriting agency.
Using your own name
It worked for David Ogilvy, J. Walter Thompson, Young and Rubicam. You don’t have to use your full name, for example if your name is Archibald Augustus Maximus Solomon Jr., you might want to shorten it Archibald Solomon. Using your own name can be fantastic for branding, but it can sometimes make you appear like a one-man in a coffee-shop copywriter.
You can appear more professional by simply adding “Copywriting” to the end of your name. Archibald Augustus Maximus Solomon Jr., could then become Archibald Solomon Copywriting or just Solomon Copywriting.
Playing around with writing related words
It works because it shows instantly that you’re in the writing business. But it’s going to be a LOT harder as you can see by doing a quick Google search; most of the good names have gone already, even the obscure ones. You’ll have to be really creative to come up with a good writing related company name that hasn’t already been snatched up.
Although, Amazon, McDonald’s, Apple and Starbucks have nothing to do with the industry they’re in and they seem to be doing pretty OK. If you have to choose between a good writing-related name and one that sticks in the mind, opt for the sticky one; it will make your marketing activities much easier.
Using a completely abstract name that could mean anything
This gives your creativity free reign. It is easy to come up with abstract names and the benefit is they can all be used as a brand. Having an abstract name allows you to expand your business into consulting, training, web design, advertising, online marketing, etc. It doesn’t box you into a corner.
It also gives you the opportunity to explain your name. “So how did you come up with the name Dreamspear?” You get to think up a witty answer such as, “Stone-age hunters used a spear to catch their prey and we use it to hunt the dreams and ambitions of your company.” That is an extremely cheesy example, but with the right name you can demonstrate your creativity and lateral thinking before you’ve even introduced yourself.
Choose a name that is easy to remember and easy to spell. You don’t want prospective clients guessing the spelling of your company name as they type in your web address. Does the name bring any negative images to mind and would you feel comfortable introducing yourself as owner of .
So, now that you’ve got your name, there’s another matter you need to address; are you going to specialize?
Are you going to specialize?
Being the jack-of-all trades is fantastic in theory, I love the idea of being a modern Da Vinci, with a little skill in a lot of areas, but answer me this: if you were having brain surgery, which doctor would you choose, the general doctor of 50 years or the brain surgeon specialist of 25 years?
Being a specialist automatically elevates you above the generalists in that particular industry.
Yep, thought so. Being a specialist automatically elevates you above the generalists in that particular industry. You can choose whichever industry you want, IT industry, gaming, holidays, publishing, medical, legal or any other industry.
When you choose to specialize, you will get better and better at writing for your niche, because as you research and write each piece of work, your understanding of the industry and its customers grows and grows.
If you’ve already worked in a particular industry that you feel you know pretty well, this would be a good choice for you to start with. You will already have contacts that you can approach and you’ll know the industry better than most other copywriters.
Specializing can be boring after a while though. Being a specialist doesn’t prevent you from doing other work or tendering for other projects, it just means that you have better than average expertise in one industry.
Most of the skills you learn are completely transferable and in all honesty, most industries are pretty similar. I once worked as a marketer in the fireplace industry and my boss and other business owners would always say “It’s a strange industry we’re in, so different from everything else”. I then moved into the outdoor and bushcraft industry and speaking to business owners I heard “It’s a strange industry we’re in, so different from everything else.” Word-for-word, the same comment.
Like all marketing, specializing doesn’t necessarily mean being the best, it’s about the perception that you are. I have no doubt that you can make a far better, tastier, healthier burger than McDonald’s, but have you sold 247 billion burgers? It doesn’t matter what the facts are, as Al Reis said “marketing is a battle of perceptions, not products”.
Remember, most companies want an expert, but nowadays, in the words of bestselling author Tim Ferris; “expert means knowing a little more than the person you are selling to”.
- You’ve chosen your business type.
- You have somewhere to work and equipment to work with.
- You have a great business name.
- You know what type of copywriter you will be.
The next step is to find your first clients and write, I wish you luck!
You should always seek independent financial advice and thoroughly read terms and conditions relating to any insurance, tax, legal, or financial issue, service, or product. This article is intended as a guide only.