Thinking about becoming a copywriter? Read this first

Copywriting has taken off as a way for writers to use their knowledge and skills in a way that lets them work from home, as their own boss, while still doing something creative and fun. The idea of writing as a profession brings with it a sense of freedom; sure, you need to work with your clients to achieve their goals, but you can choose which clients you want to work with, and create a schedule that works for you.

So, what exactly does a copywriter do?
A copywriter creates copy (text) for businesses, publications, organizations, and brands, with the purpose of informing, entertaining, and enticing a reader. Some pieces are strictly for selling, like online sales pages, ad copy, and product descriptions; others aim to educate and entertain, like blog posts, email newsletters, website copy, and others.

Before you get started, let’s take a look at some useful tools to set you up for success as a copywriter:

  • A website. Start with a Services page, About page, Contact page, and blog. This is the bare minimum; as you gain clients you can add a Testimonials page and Portfolio page.
  • A branded, public social media account. Even if you just have an Instagram page to share copywriting tips and advice, that’s a great start.
  • A business plan. Put some thought into your ideal clients, your ideal rates, how many clients you can take on at a time, what you’re not willing to accept, how you intend to market yourself, and other business goals.

A little background on how I got started…
I unintentionally started my freelance copywriting business a few years ago when a friend asked if I could write a press release. I was working on building my freelance journalism portfolio, but had some PR experience, so I wrote the piece and undercharged him.

A few weeks later, he referred a musician friend who needed a press release; I reacted the same way—took the gig and undercharged. She knew someone who needed help with a blog, and by then I realized there was a need for this type of work.

I built a quick WordPress site (this one; which has evolved over time) and included a list of services I offered, then set up a separate Instagram (@plan.engage.grow) to share free writing and marketing tips. A portion of my clients have come in through that account. Surprisingly, another portion came through my journalism account @writingtherails, or because they read an article I wrote then emailed me asking if I happen to do copywriting. (Freelance journalists making the switch: Keep sharing your published pieces on social media, but also mention that you now offer copywriting for businesses, too!)

At this point, it’s been about a year and a half, and I’ve learned PLENTY along the way.

Here are some tips on how to get started as a copywriter.

Clearly define what you want to offer.
I wanted to do copywriting and create press releases. But when a friend asked if I could do their social media, I thought, “I can do it; and I could use the extra money…” so I told them yes. They were happy with my work and referred a friend; I took them on, as well. A snowball-effect ensued. Soon, I was more of a marketing agency than a copywriter. So I had to rein it in and eventually even dismiss a few clients (painful) because I found myself working my tail off, but not doing what I aimed to do.
My services now are aligned with my actual goals.

Don’t undervalue yourself and stick to your rates.
That first press release? I charged my friend $100. I thought, that’s like $30/hr, that’ll be nice. Then, I realized that junior-level writers were charging $50/hr and a local PR agency was charging upwards of $800 per release. Plus, I was known for putting my empathy before my financial needs every time a local business asked, “Is there any wiggle room with your rates?” Eventually, I ended up working with a coach to reevaluate my rates (and increase my sense of self-worth; they were related!) and slimming down my offerings. Within a week of relaunching my site with the new rates, a new client—who needed a complete copywriting overhaul—signed up for two $3,000 packages. I was stunned.

Clearly define the type of business you want to write for.
At first, my goal was to help local mom-and-pop shops… It felt fulfilling to help my community. Unfortunately, some of these businesses were either startups or struggling financially, which often left me chasing down payments that were months overdue or offering lower-than-deserved rates. Now, I’ve expanded my client base to both local and national businesses who are established enough to afford my rates, but also whose values align with mine (arts, sustainability, helping others).
Some copywriters swear you need to choose a single niche and go hard obtaining clients, but I think working with a variety of industries keeps it interesting. I’ve started looking up businesses I want to work with, evaluating how I can help them, and emailing them directly to see if they’d be interested.

Keep learning from those who are a bit ahead of you.
I follow a few copywriters and bloggers for inspiration.
Lindy Alexander gives very honest insight into the ups and downs of freelance writing.
Jess Jordana is a great example of brand authenticity and sticking to a type of client.
Smart Passive Income is a great podcast that occasionally talks about writing, though the other episodes are super insightful.
Ryan Robinson is a blog expert who makes BANK on affiliates.

Hopefully that’s enough of an intro to inspire you or help you get a jump start on becoming a copywriter.

PS, writing about yourself is hard. If you need a copywriter to help with your own website, you know who to ask!

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