10 Ways to Kick-Start a Freelance Copywriting Career

Follow these steps if you're ready to work independently

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Going alone as a freelancer tempts many copywriters because it allows you to set your own hours and charge more than what you earn working full-time for someone else.

Whether you already have an agency job where you are tired of working long hours on uninspiring projects or you are just starting out, freelancing may be a great option. Talent for writing compelling and compelling ads for a broad spectrum of clients is your most important trait whether you work for an agency or as a freelance copywriter.

However, regardless of how much talent you have, preparing to go it alone is easier if you follow 10 key steps.

1. A Portfolio and Other Basics

Start by developing a digital portfolio through sites like Krop, SquareSpace, WordPress, and others. All have paid and free templates tailored to different careers, allowing you to choose one that shows off your talent as a copywriter. If you're really great at design or know someone who can, create your own customized site.

Creating your own ad campaign is a great way to show off your skills. After all, you are your own marketing team now.

Additional must-haves for getting started include a computer, printer, business cards, letterhead, stationery, and other supplies for your home office.

2. Plan of Action

As a freelancer, you are running your own business and need a plan of action, just like the large firms. Important items that need to be part of your plan include:

  • Identify goals: Prioritize the jobs you really want, and also list the ones you aren't willing to take. If freelancing permanently is your goal, determine how much work you need and how much you can handle to sustain your operation. If freelancing is temporary, set a timeframe and list your end goal.
  • Client list: Create a list of potential clients and notes about what their needs, strengths, and weaknesses. Reach out to them regularly to make sure they know you're available.
  • Communication: Be prompt about answering calls and emails. If you're lax about picking up the phone or returning emails, you'll find it more difficult to pick up jobs later on.
  • Revenue: You should have a separate, detailed budget, but use your action plan to remind yourself how much you need to earn each week, month, quarter, etc. to be profitable. This will help you figure out how much time you need off for yourself.

3. Rates

It's crucial to set your rates correctly from the start. Your first decision is whether to charge by the hour, by the project, or to include both rates. Commit appropriate time to developing your rates and evaluating what you can live with for a fee. Clients don't want to work with freelancers who are constantly changing their rates and rate types.

Understanding the market is as important as understanding your own expenses. Research what your competitors are charging as part of your process of setting rates. If you can charge less, great. If you need to charge more, make it clear to clients that you're also offering more.

When you're starting out with little experience, you may not be able to negotiate and probably probably need to accept your client's pay schedule, but that doesn't mean you still shouldn't set your own rates and attempt to negotiate.

4. Writing Samples

You need samples to show off your writing talent, but don't fret if you don't have any. Speculative advertising (spec ads) give you a chance to create samples even if you don't have any copywriting projects under your belt. They're not just for copywriters with limited or no experience. They are an excellent way for you to show potential clients how you would write for their particular industries.

The best way to write a spec ad is to write an ad for something you already have or might need. Try to write for different media—print, digital and television—to show how diverse you are.

5. Developing a Freelance Contract

When that first client calls, you want to have a contract ready to be faxed or presented in person, so develop one before you start accepting any work. As excited as you may be to get that first client, you don't want to start working on any project until you have a signed contract in your hand.

It's a good idea to consult with an attorney about the contract you develop. It should take no more than an hour or two for an attorney to review what you've developed and provide feedback.

Creating a freelance contract is key to any freelancer's success. It's your first line of defense if you ever find yourself with a client who doesn't want to pay.

6. Networking Events

Wallflowers don't make it in advertising or marketing, and being a freelancer means you have to know how to market yourself. Networking events can be found in every town and city, large or small. Are local microbreweries having a get-together? Maybe they need writing help. Is there a convention in town? Someone, somewhere could be looking for the skills you provide.

You also can join online groups tailored to freelancers or copywriters through sites like LinkedIn or Meetup. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is active, up-to-date, and links to your digital portfolio.

7. Creating Buzz

If you're having trouble getting people to notice you, go outside your comfort zone and create work that generates its own buzz. Many students put spec ideas on YouTube and seed them to sites like Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more. By using a collection of relevant hashtags and posting them to the right pages or groups, you can put your work in front of the right people. If they like it, they can get in touch with you via the information on your page.

8. Write To Big Players in the Industry

Don't ever feel afraid to ask for help from people who already are successful. If you're lucky and you are respectful of their time and position, they'll remember being in your shoes and will be more than happy to offer help and advice.

Reach out to those whose work you admire and respect. More experienced copywriters are more likely to respond and offer advice if you can articulate why you like their work.

A quick tweet or LinkedIn message shows little to no effort. Take the time to write to them, either with an email or a physical letter. You also can include samples of your work, but do it in a way that stands out. You will be surprised at the doors you can open this way.

9. Finding Clients

Use different methods to approach agencies for freelance work or pitch your services to small businesses. Send links to your website and develop physical mailers to break through the email clutter. Understanding clients' needs can help you to decide on your approach. If a small business is looking for someone to develop a social media campaign, reach out to them through social media in a way that illustrates your command of the medium.

When targeting advertising agencies, target smaller ones. They often need freelancers because the cost of permanent, full-time copywriters is too much for them.

10. Refining Your Online Portfolio

Update your portfolio constantly to showcase only your best work. Outdated portfolios turn off potential clients who want to see that you're able to keep up with the market.

If you're after a particular type of client, tailor your business website and portfolio based on what the client is seeking in a freelancer. This lets you switch out your projects based on the clients' needs, showing your ability to work with any type of client no matter what the product or service.