Ten things to get your head around if you really, really, really want to be a freelance copywriter

Mention the word ‘freelance’ and people assume a life in which you take the whole of August off, spend your days in pyjamas and resort to daytime TV.

If only….

I’m not sure if anyone chooses to become a ‘permanent’ freelance copywriter. I’d been made redundant four times and had a toddler the last time I was ‘let go’, fifteen years ago. But I’ve never looked back since and could not imagine returning to the ‘dark side’, ensconced behind a desk or snatching a seat daily on the District Line.

If you’re thinking about becoming a freelance copywriter, these tips based on all my years of freelance copywriting experience may help.

Ten key things to consider when freelancing as a copywriter

1. You need a good accountant

Set up a separate bank account and get yourself a good accountant – and keep every single receipt, bank statement etc etc for six years. You’ll need to decide whether to trade as self-employed, register as a company or register for VAT.

2. You have to pay tax

Never ever think in terms of a monthly salary. Sometimes, you may be able to shop at Waitrose. Other times, you need to say hello again to LIDL. Either way, always keep money aside for when the tax man cometh i.e. just as you’re about to go on your summer holiday (July 31) or just when you’re recovering from Christmas debt (January 31). As soon as I get paid by a client, I transfer about 60% of the money into another account which is my little pot of gold for the tax man and quieter times. Oh, and don’t send a cheque to the Inland Revenue: mine was intercepted last year. Naughty Post Office people. Always pay your tax online via the HMRC website.

3. How much should you charge for freelance copywriting services?

That depends on your experience. There are now a number of sites where you can bid for work such as Elance and Freelancer – for peanuts. Please, please don’t. It lowers rates and quality for everyone. (Which is why I haven’t even added links to these sites; they’re a disgrace.)

4. How should you charge out your copywriting services?

By the hour, day or project? What about allowing for revisions? Don’t forget to allow time over the phone and on emails with your client – you’ll be amazed how much this can eat into your day. No wonder lawyers charge for every single second spent on a client.

5. What kind of payment terms should you agree with clients?

Some clients assume freelance creatives lack any business acumen. Chasing up invoices can be tricky and time consuming, but it’s important to be like a rottweiler. If a client looks as if they may not pay, then tell them (email and recorded delivery letter) you’re entitled to charge interest and failure to pay will result on a small court claim.

I add this to the end of invoices: Please pay this invoice within xx days. After this, interest and debt recovery costs are chargeable in accordance with The Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998 as amended and supplemented by Late Payment of Commercial Debts Regulations 2002. Pay On Time is packed with invaluable payment advice for freelance copywriters.

6. Draw up terms and conditions 

Ask a lawyer to help you sort out terms and conditions for clients to sign. However, as a much cheaper option, there are some great templates online such as at Simplydoc.

7. Get your client to provide details and agreement in writing

It’s essential to get agreement on what you’re proposing to do and how much for, before you start. You also need to get the right contact and address details. This isn’t just for invoicing purposes: if  you ever need to take someone to the Small Claims Court, it’s vital to have the right information.  Make sure you know if your client is a registered company or a sole trader. If a registered company, check their trading address at Companies House.

8. Ask for a deposit upfront

Don’t forget to agree milestones in terms of timings and payments. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told a copywriting project is needed urgently, yet six weeks later I’m still awaiting feedback. If your client has payment terms of 30 days, that’s a long wait for your money – especially if the project is small. Don’t be afraid to ask for a deposit upfront, I normally request 25 – 50%, depending on the project size. I usually suggest a further x% after I’ve submitted the concept or the first draft, with a further payment at a mutually agreed stage.

9. Plan your time wisely and well

One huge advantage of being a freelance copywriter is that you can be flexible. One huge disadvantage of being a freelance copywriter is that you have to be flexible.

Clients may tell you their deadline is ‘tomorrow’ but, trust me, days and days can pass before you get a) go-ahead or b) feedback.

I always aim to deal with a project as soon as it hits my desk, as I never know what lies in store the following week. Yes, working can eat into my evening or weekend (which is when I’m writing this) but, on the other hand, I’m freed up to go to my daughter’s netball match. So, for me, it works both ways.

10. Get agreement on your client brief

As with Ts & Cs, get as much confirmed in writing as possible. Whether you’re writing a leaflet, brochure, press ad or website, pull together all the info you need about USPs, competitor info, target market etc etc, and ask your client to check and sign off. You know the score: after all, you’re creative director, account director and planner rolled into one. If you need a creative brief template, take a look at mine.

 

About the author: Caroline Gibson

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Hello. I’m Caroline Gibson Freelance Copywriter. I’m an award-winning freelance copywriter and content writer based in Kew. Yes, I can write a great press ad, brochure or website for you – but I also understand what makes a brand tick. I’ve worked for some of London’s leading advertising, design, branding and digital agencies. My clients include international names, UK FTSE-100 companies and local businesses. Find out how I can provide fresh thinking and add value to your business. But don’t take my word for it – check out the testimonials on my website and LinkedIn. Why not drop me a line?

This article was first written by Caroline Gibson

6 replies
  1. Mike McFarland
    Mike McFarland says:

    Hi Caroline,

    I graduated from the Art Institute of California – San Diego in 2012 in Advertising, and I started a small brewery. Anyway, the brewery tanked, and I fumbled around for awhile. Mainly, I was licking my wounds from my brewery venture. I feel back on my Advertising Degree, and I started copywriting.

    What is the point?

    I read you article, and it is very helpful. I am considered a copywriting newbie, and I did a two month tour on Elance. I was able to stuff my portfolio with current work, however, your words ring true. Elance is awful. Every project required a 24 hour turn around. Whether the project was a small article or a 14 page website, 24 hour turn around was demanded.

    In the 2.5 monthes that I worked on Elance, I wrote content for 7 different websites, 4 biographys, 1 company profile, 1 investor cover letter, 1 speech, 110 product descriptions and 39 keyword specific articles. I accomplished all this work, and I was compensated less than $300 total. I know, I know. I was desperate to work as a copywriter, and my portfolio did not have any current work.

    You might be wondering, why not work for an Ad Agency? My wife and I have one car, and the nearest Ad Agency is an hour away. Remote/freelance copywriting is the only optionk, right now, because I want to use my Advertising Degree.

    Getting back on track, your comment about Elance, and other sites that match its personality is very true. A lot of work with little to no compensation. On another note, my writing is not poor either. You would think with a poorly compensated copywriter that his pay reflects his work. Not true.

    2 website that I wrote content for were large companies, and both accepted my content with only one rewrite for an individual web page. Those companies were Search 4 Parking in the UK who coordinates short and long term parking for all UK airports. The other company is Durabuilt Inc, a general contractor, which services Los Gatos, CA, Sunnyvale, CA & Mountain View, CA.

    I don’t believe my content is posted to either site yet.

    I love to write, but I am not a fan of being taken advantage. I know that I am embarrassing myself by shouting out my slave wages, but I think it is important for other copywriters to learn from my Elance Writing Tour. My compensation start at $1.25 per 500 words then I was given a raise, which was $2.50 per 500 words. After 2 months, I was awarded $3.50 per 500 words. I am shaking my head in disbelief as I type.

    Anyway, I have been offered another freelance job as a Social Media Manager for ShopRVA in Richmond, VA. I will see how that pans out. Wish me well.

    Sincerely,

    Mike

  2. Caroline Gibson
    Caroline Gibson says:

    Hi Mike

    I’m glad you found my article helpful!

    Freelancing is fine IF you can get enough work and IF you can get some decent work to showcase on your portfolio.

    I think a big difference between the UK and the US is that only journalists tend to charge by the word in Britain. Is doing so common practice in the States? It’s far more profitable for a client to pay for your time: time which covers thinking about a brief, creating an idea and then articulating it through words – plus time in admin and discussion on the phone and by email. If you can change to a structure of pricing by the hour, day or project, it would really help (and not just help you, but also other copywriters so that clients become more aware of what’s involved and value what we do).

    I just wanted to check something you mentioned about content you’ve written that hasn’t yet been published – presumably you’ve been paid nevertheless? I’ve just written a blog about clients and payment which you may find helpful, though some of it’s skewed to the UK: http://www.carolinegibson.co.uk/the-secret-to-getting-clients-to-pay-on-time-and-what-to-do-if-they-dont/

    I wish you stacks of luck – let me know how everything goes.

    Caroline

  3. scorpio birth dates.
    scorpio birth dates. says:

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    • Caroline Gibson
      Caroline Gibson says:

      Hi scorpio birth dates

      Good point but you’ll need to contact Copywriter Collective direct as they’re responsible for feeding through all blogs on this site.

      You are, of course, welcome to see my posts on my own website – http://www.carolinegibson.co.uk. There should be a new blog appearing early next week!

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