If you’re a freelance copywriter who feels like you’re EARNING PLENTY, who’s NEVER QUESTIONED YOUR WORTH during projects driven by mid- to upper-level (non-writer) executives, and/or who has COMPLETE CONFIDENCE in the value you bring to your clients—then get back to work and stop reading this post. Because you already know and do the things I’m going to be talking about. For the rest of you, stick around. Your life as a freelance copywriter is about to change in a really good way.
During the 15+ years that I’ve been a freelance copywriter, there have been a lot of new techniques, platforms, systems, and other “shiny objects” pushed as the silver bullet to becoming a high-income writer. But, frankly, I found the vast majority of them to be distractions rather than income generators. And, after hearing from some of you, it sounds like you’re having the same kind of experience. That can be frustrating and demoralizing—to say the very least. So, what’s the answer when it comes to earning more? You have to see (and present) yourself as being more than “just a copywriter.” That’s where I see so many freelance copywriters getting stuck in the muck of crappy income. What they say (and what we’ve probably all said at one time or another) are things like this:
“But, I just want to write. The business side of things is just too complicated and takes up too much time.”
“I know I’m a good writer. But I can’t charge big fees like an attorney or an accountant.”
“I’ll do whatever job someone sends my way—even it if doesn’t pay a whole lot. After all, I need the work.”
“All I ever here is that ‘everybody can write.’ If that’s true—which it must be since someone really important and smart said it, why should my clients pay a higher fee for what I do?”
So, what’s the answer when it comes to earning more? You have to see (and present) yourself as being more than “just a copywriter.”
Okay. So, I’ve got one response to all of these things: HOGWASH! And if you ask other freelance copywriters who are making a VERY good living—they’ll say the same thing. But what separates them (the high earners) from you (a potentially low earner)? And how can you join their ranks? Here are nine key things to start doing NOW:
1. Treat your freelance writing business like what it is. A business. If you got into freelance copywriting thinking it was a quick and easy way to bringing in a load of cash…SURPRISE! It’s not. Yes, it can bring in a very handsome living. But, it’s not easy. And it’s not quick. You have to be willing to wear both a writer hat and an entrepreneur hat. You can’t just sit behind your computer focused on writing (or scanning Facebook or sending emails to friends and family) and think your business is going to grow to be anything significant. You have to do things like:
- Get an attorney to help you set up the right business structure (like an LLC, corporation, etc.), draft agreements, etc.
- Hire an accountant who can help you navigate the tax requirements of the self-employed
- Stay on top of your billing (and collections)
- Execute a focused and strategic marketing plan
- Understand what your cash flow is—both in and out
- All kinds of other stuff!
Yes—you’ll do the writing you love. But if you want to grow your business to the level you really want, don’t forget to grow your entrepreneurial IQ.
2. Build your own brand in order to stand out. Why should potential clients hire you instead of the other 50 copywriters who are flooding their Inboxes with emails and constantly calling to explain just how great they are? This is where clearly positioning yourself in the marketplace comes into play. You have to find and communicate your Unique Selling Proposition just like you do when you’re developing promotional copy for a new product or service. What sets you apart? What’s your unique skill set? What value can you bring to the table that no one else can (or at least that no one else claims they can)? You need to figure out what the answers to these questions are and then put your writing skills to use in finding a creative and engaging way of communicating them. If you can’t sell yourself to a potential client, how likely are they going to be to trust you to sell their product or service? The answer to that question is “not likely.” Also, take the time to name your business something that will resonate with your target audience and invest the funds in having a logo designed, getting a website up (including a portfolio section for your work) and having business cards designed and printed.
3. Don’t just be a note taker. Be a difference maker. Speak up! Your clients need to hear what you have to say. Because you’re coming at a project from an outsider’s perspective rather than an insider’s, you have the ability to see gaps that might otherwise be invisible to your client. Never EVER think you’re just there to be a note taker so that you can recite back to your client what you hear in a meeting. That’s not how you provide value. Instead, listen to what’s being said, ask good questions, push for understanding and clarity, and—when appropriate—challenge concepts that you feel are heading in the wrong direction. You can become invaluable to a client when you prove yourself to be someone who really thinks about and processes information in ways that lead to bigger and better solutions.
4. Fall in love with whatever your client wants to promote. (Even if it’s a freakin’ pencil!) Once you accept a project, it’s no longer okay to feel “meh” about whatever your client is promoting. Some things just aren’t that exciting. I get it. Believe me. As someone who’s had to promote electrical transformers in her past, I completely understand. But I also know that—as writers—we are naturally curious beings. And we love to learn new things. Trust me when I tell you that if you are curious enough, there’s always something you can find to love about what your client is promoting. Take the time to get there. It’ll be worth it.
5. Realize your worth—and charge for it! (And it’s typically 3x more than you think.) If you’re always focused on being the freelancer who charges the lowest fees—then that’s what you’re going to get. Ridiculously low fees—which translate into a ridiculously low overall income. Don’t ever get trapped in the very WRONG idea that you can start off with lower fees to get your foot in the door with a new client and then raise your rates once they see how awesome you are. Not going to happen.
Even though writing comes easily for most of us, it doesn’t mean that our skills are worth less because we don’t see the big deal in what we do. Building a brand story. Engaging customers in ways that sell. Convincing an audience that a particular service is right for them. ALL of these things take talent and skill—just like questioning a witness requires the specific skills of an attorney and preparing complex financial statements requires the knowledge of a CPA. What you do with words and ideas carries significant value. So charge for it! Figure out what it’s worth and provide your estimate to the client with confidence. Oh—and you might think about tripling your estimate before submitting it since many of us tend to underestimate our worth. Yes—be reasonable. But never devalue the work we all do as writers by charging bargain basement fees.
And one more thought about this: Focus on clients who can afford you. Not everyone is going to be the right client for you. But you don’t want to find yourself agreeing to a lower fee just because someone says they can’t pay the fee you’re charging. They’ll find someone else. That’s fine. But—trust me—you’ll be so much happier working for people who value what you do and who can afford the fees you charge.
6. Forget one-offs. Go for repeats. I see some freelance writers going after any ol’ job they can get. No matter how little it pays and no matter whether they’ll ever see that client again. And it makes me really tired to look at them or listen to their stories of woe. It really must feel like they’re running on a hamster wheel all the time. Here’s a piece of advice: Don’t focus on getting one-off projects. Those that involve a client hiring you for one small job and then they’re done with you. Instead, look for clients who you can develop a long-term relationship with. The ones who understand the value of the work you do and who have an ongoing need for copywriting. The ones who will call you again and again for help. These are the clients you can build a high-income freelance writing business with. And they’re the ones you should focus on.
7. Figure out which projects get the highest fees—and then get MORE of them.I wish I could tell you that there’s a specific type of copywriting project that pays better than anything else. But I can’t. It really depends on the market you’re in. For me, I’ve found that partnering with companies to develop sales training programs tends to be a really high-paying gig. Also, helping ad agencies create pitches for new business development tends to be a really profitable area for me. Others have found that writing white papers or writing video scripts creates an income bonanza. My point here is that you need to pay attention and identify the types of copywriting projects that bring in the highest fees for you—and then go after more of them with all you have.
8. Repeat after me: Specialization. Specialization. Specialization.When you’re just starting out, focusing on a specific industry niche for your copywriting business might not be practical. You’re trying a lot of different things out to see what feels right AND to get that income flowing in. But as you get your freelancing legs under you, I would suggest finding a niche in which you can specialize. Why? Because you can charge more. You’ll become known as the “go-to” person in that industry. Your knowledge and experience will have a higher perceived value. And you’ll be viewed as a more valuable team member. For me, the pharmaceutical industry is where the majority of my clients live. They know I “get” what they do. I understand the goals, the language, the guidelines, etc. And that means they don’t have to spend valuable time bringing me up to speed. Instead, I can jump in with all engines firing. I can add value immediately. I can make their jobs easier. And that makes me more than “just a copywriter.” It makes me a valuable partner.
9. Show up. Finally, one of the best pieces of advice I can give you is this: Be easy to work with and ALWAYS show up. By showing up, I mean meet your deadlines, be on time for appointments, be flexible, don’t make excuses, and find a way to get it done. By doing that, you’re going to move to the top of a client’s freelance list pretty quickly. Easy peasy.
So, there you go. Nine simple ways to kick your freelancing copywriting business up to the next level. Want more info about each area? Well, keep watching The Page-Turner Mission this summer as I roll out a series of more detailed posts about them. If you have other ideas about business building, please share them in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!
Ready to start building your business NOW but aren’t really sure what direction you should go in?
About the author: Michele Lashley
MYTH: The only writers who make a great living are the ones who write the page-turners that have everyone talking.
TRUTH: If you can write copy that helps clients build their businesses in a way that gets their customers talking—and if you see yourself not only as a writer, but as an entrepreneur—then YOU can make a great living, too. And, in the process, you’ll be creating a page-turner business and life of your own—loving what’s happening now and WAY excited to see what’s going to happen next!
This is one of the best copywriting articles I have read in a long time. I especially love the realization that when one starts out they aren’t necessarily going to be able to cater to a specific niche. Five years out and rebuilding, I know which niche (or two) I want to specialize in.
I am definitely saving this for future reference.
So glad you found the article useful, Lisa! Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts about it!