10 Ways to Kick-Start a Freelance Copywriting Career

Try these if you're ready to work independently

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There comes a time in every copywriter's career when the thought of going it alone — as a freelancer — looks tempting. And why not? You set your own hours and can charge at least double what you make as a full-time employee.

You may already have a job as a copywriter in an agency and are tired of working long hours on projects that don't inspire you or you may be a budding copywriter who's just starting out. In either case, freelancing may be a great option. As long as you have a talent for writing compelling ads and can think creatively for a wide variety of mediums, you may find success as a freelance copywriter.

So are you ready to hang up your hat and call yourself a freelancer? You'll need a few basics to get your business off the ground.

Here are a few tips to help get your freelance career started:

1. Start with the Basics

First things first — you'll need a portfolio. Very few people use physical ones now, so a digital one is the best way to go. There is no end to the sites you can use — Krop, SquareSpace and WordPress all make it very easy — and of course, there are many others. They all have paid and free templates tailored to different careers, so be sure to look for one that shows off your talent as a copywriter. If you're really great at design or know someone who can, why not create your own customized site?

Next, don't forget the basic necessities for any home office. A computer — either a laptop or desktop — is a must-have. You may also need business cards, letterhead and other stationery and supplies.

Since you need to get noticed, make sure you create your own ad campaign. After all, you are your own marketing team now.

2. Create a Plan of Action

It's not just big businesses that need a plan of action. As a freelancer, you are the business and you need a plan, too.

  • Identify your goals: How much work are you willing to take on? How many hours are you willing to work per week? Are there any jobs you really want, and are there ones that you just won't take? It's also a good idea to identify whether you want to keep freelancing or if something full-time is in the horizon — and when.
  • Keep a list of potential clients and reach out to them every now and then to make sure they know you're available.
  • When you're starting out as a freelancer, you have to make sure you answer all your calls and emails. If you're not willing to pick up the phone or return an email, you'll find it harder to pick up jobs later on.
  • Don't forget the money. Since you have to pay your bills, make sure you know how much money you need to make each month. This will help you figure out how much time you need off for yourself.

3. Set Your Rates

Deciding what you're going to charge is one of the most difficult decisions you'll have to make as a freelance copywriter. It's crucial to set your rates right from the start.

Your first decision is whether to charge by the hour, by the project or to include both rates. Your rates will also affect how you work with clients and get paid. Spend a lot of time developing your rates and evaluate what you can live with for a fee beforehand because clients don't want to work with freelancers who are constantly changing their rates and rate types.

Keep in mind, when you're starting out with little experience, you may not be able to negotiate, and will probably need to go with your client's pay schedule. But a little negotiation may not hurt.

4. Create Writing Samples

You can't show off your writing talent if you have no samples. If you don't have any writing samples to your credit, don't fret — there's an easy solution. Spec ads (speculative advertising) give you the chance to create samples even if you don't have any copywriting projects under your belt. And 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 industry.

The best way to write a spec ad is to look around you and write an ad for something you may already have. And try to write something for different mediums — for print, digital and television ads. This will show how diverse you are.

5. Refine Your Online Portfolio

As you add to your portfolio, make sure you update it constantly and showcase only your best work. An outdated portfolio will turn off potential clients — they want to see that you're able to keep up with the market.

If you're after a particular type of client, use this time to tailor your website based on what the client is looking for in a freelancer. This lets you switch out your projects based on the client's needs, showing your ability to work with any type of client no matter what the product/service.

6. Develop a Freelance Contract

When that first client calls, you want to have your contract ready to be faxed or presented in person. 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. 

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.

7. Attend Networking Events

You can't afford to be a wallflower if you are going to have any kind of success in advertising or marketing. As a freelancer, you're going to be on a constant search for work — at least in the first few years. Every town and city, large or small, will have events during each month that are golden opportunities for networking. Are the 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 can also join online groups tailored to freelancers and/or copywriters like Meetup. LinkedIn also has professional groups to connect you with the right people online and in real life. So make sure your LinkedIn profile is active, up-to-date and links to your digital portfolio.

8. Do Work That Creates Buzz

If you're having trouble getting people to notice you, consider a lateral thinking move — go outside of your comfort zone and create work that generates its own buzz. Many students these days are putting spec ideas up on YouTube and seeding 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, people will be able to find your work. If they like it, they can get in touch with you via the information on your page.

9. Write To Big Players in the Industry

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

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 could also include samples of your work. Do it in a way that stands out. You will be surprised at the doors you can open this way. 

10. Find Clients

Remember all those basics you got together in step one? Now it's time to put them to good use. Whether you're approaching agencies for freelance work, trying to get small businesses to use your services or both, you can take several different approaches to find your clients.

Send out links to your website and develop physical mailers to break through the email clutter. Advertising agencies — especially smaller ones — need freelancers because the cost of a permanent, full-time copywriter is too much for the agency to bear.

Be persistent in your search for clients and soon your freelance copywriting career will be so successful, you'll actually be turning new business away.