The reality of being a freelance copywriter

Freelance life can be hard, despite the flexibility. Whether you’re a freelance copywriter, developer or graphic designer, there’s a definite lack of security and certainty. This didn’t used to really faze me and I was happy in the knowledge that work always came rolling in one way or another, now there’s a global pandemic and it’s not a reach to say things changed in a heartbeat for many of us. I’ve absolutely lost work directly due to Covid-19, because clients have lost work, and I understand that while some businesses can work around the pandemic, many cannot. In fact, I know very few that have not been negatively impacted at all.

Upsides 

Of course, being a freelance copywriter comes with many upsides, or I wouldn’t do it! For me, it’s not really about ‘being my own boss’ – as firstly I don’t mind working for someone, and the notion of a freelancer being their own boss could actually be flipped around to say that as a freelance copywriter I have several bosses, i.e. clients. All with different priorities and deadlines, and none of them communicating with each other!

I became a freelance copywriter after struggling to find a part-time job in the field. I have young children (which you’ll probably know if you’ve glanced at my other posts or my social media) and full-time working just isn’t right for my life right now. Most marketing agencies and in-house departments within companies want full-time workers, in my experience. It’s usually different if you’re already working somewhere and request to switch to part-time or flexible working, for example after returning from maternity leave, but it doesn’t usually wash as a new applicant. Even some companies who claim to be open to job share applications or flexible work seem far from welcoming it in reality. I applied for one copywriter position with a huge national company where there was even a box online to tick if you only wanted to apply as a part-time worker. Low and behold, when I was shortlisted for an interview and double-checked out of courtesy, HR informed me in no uncertain terms that this wasn’t an option. It’s a bit annoying as I feel that a lot of places miss out on quality workers by being so blinkered about job-shares or flexibility, and it also ends up being a waste of everyone’s time to claim to consider part-time in theory but not in reality.

In the past I have worked in-house two days per week and then done smaller freelance projects around this. I really enjoyed this balance, but alas redundancy put a stop to that. When that happened I was at a point where my freelance had grown organically quite a lot and I was having to work most weekends to keep up, so it didn’t feel like too much of a leap to slide into freelance completely, both feet in, no messing. This happened in early 2018 and, until the pandemic, I hadn’t looked back.

Things I love most about being a freelance copywriter:

  • Working on different projects rather than the same topic and type of copy.
  • Working from home — though this can also be a disadvantage and I love my occasional days of wearing something other than leggings when working in-house for a client or going to a meeting.
  • Never missing sports day or the Easter show at nursery or whatever it is. Sure, occasionally things will still clash that can’t be moved, but it’s nice to have the choice to work late or early in the morning so that I can see my child in XYZ at school, rather than feeling guilty for asking my manager to swap a day or finish early and make up the time etc.
  • Learning about different industries, businesses, products and services. While I have a bit of a copywriting niche in certain areas, I don’t limit myself and enjoy the variety of learning new stuff, as daunting as it can occasionally be. 

Tips for freelance copywriters

While I’m a little, ‘Ummm…’ when people ask my advice about becoming a freelance writer — because I would never claim to be an expert — there are a few things I think help when you’re self-employed. They certainly help me, anyway, and I’m happy to share.

  • Have a buffer. This might feel like a luxury that isn’t an option for everyone, but I personally wouldn’t leave a secure job without a wedge of savings. While I love being a freelance copywriter, it can be stressful if work gets delayed or cancelled completely — and this will happen at points — so knowing you have enough to cover any shortfalls you might experience some months is crucial.
  • Ask for referrals. Most freelancers are great at building relationships with their clients and it’s important to, in order to deliver the best work. When a project finishes, don’t be afraid to let your client know you’re open to new work and to please recommend you to anyone who might be looking. I find this is often the case when I work with small business owners, they have connections with other businesses who may well have similar needs to the ones I have just met for my client. Referrals don’t cost anyone a penny and I personally think most people would rather hire a freelance copywriter who has been recommended than click on a sponsored advert on Google’s homepage.
  • Build connections. I feel a bit hypocritical here as I rarely go to networking events (a mix of lack of time with a dollop of laziness), but I still think you need to build connections as a freelancer and arguably especially as a copywriter as people don’t always know they need your service, opposed to, say, a website builder. I do this by checking in with old clients, meeting them now and again and contributing to one business group on Facebook. I don’t advertise on it, but answer questions when I can and just generally be part of the community. There are lots of groups but unless you want your week to disappear down a social media vortex, I’d stick to one or two, offer value and just get involved. 
  • I also use LinkedIn, fairly sparingly I admit, but it can be a powerful tool and I’ve had several new clients as a direct result of being on there. I find the trick to LinkedIn is to realise there is no trick and you have to put the research and work in (sorry). I don’t think it’s worth posting unless you truly have something to say. Unlike the following two examples, which surely everyone in the world finds annoying…
  1. Spammy generic messages, e.g. ‘Hi xxx Thanks for connecting, I’d love to tell you about the great service I provide to help stressed out female copywriters feel empowered and able to conquer their domain with confidence.’ (WHAT?!)
  2. Random posts and content pieces that bear no professional relevance e.g. ‘I had a great mango smoothie this morning, it really fired my brain cells! What did you enjoy for breakfast today?’ 

If anyone’s ever told you you’re just showing personality/being helpful/oozing confidence and it’s a good idea, don’t be tempted — for your sake as well as mine.

I plan to put aside half an hour a couple of times a week for LinkedIn. However, obviously that doesn’t often happen. I think that is ok to acknowledge, and it’s natural for paid work to take priority. In my opinion, LinkedIn doesn’t have to be all or nothing and it’s perfectly fine to utilise it however best you can, being realistic about how much spare time you have to nurture it. 

I try to ensure my profile is fairly up to date, and spend a little time reading through and commenting on relevant posts and stories. If I do have something to say, I always spend a little time crafting it. But I only post if I feel confident I have connections it will be of interest and use to, otherwise what’s the point? Guys, you aren’t going to get clients because you tell them you make a smoothie. It’s a shame but what can you do? There’s much more to say about LinkedIn, probably a whole blog post, so give me 6 months to get on top of my life and I’ll get right on it.

In my head, I’ll email my list with a new useful or entertaining post every month. If you want to be included (even though it will probably only happen twice a year tops) sign up below.

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