I get a lot of emails from people asking me for advice on freelance copywriting. Some have hugely successful blogs, and want to break into to the copywriting industry from the success of their blogs. Others are students who are finishing their English/PR/Marketing degree and desperately need insight into setting rates and getting a client base going. Some enjoy writing as a hobby, and think that they can turn that enjoyment into a business.
First up, it needs to be said…
A love for writing or blogging is a good start to becoming a freelance writer.
But with that said, there is a very, VERY big difference between blogging and writing for yourself, and blogging and writing for other people. Especially clients, who require flawless content that is not only free of typos and errors, but also optimised for search engines and readers.
Blogger vs Freelance Copywriter
A blogger… is someone who writes about a topic or topics they are passionate about; usually on their own blog but sometimes for other peoples’ blogs, in the case of guest blogging. Generally speaking, a blogger is the queen (or king) of their niche. They know their readers, they know how to appeal to their readers and they know to rock their own style to create their own little bloggy kingdom. Bloggers are usually self-taught, learning as they build and tweak their blogs, improve rankings and grow a loyal following. They write under their own names (or a pen name) and get all the credit for their written work.
A freelancer copywriter… is someone who gets paid to write content. Very often, such writers are qualified in English, Communications, Marketing or similar fields, and have built up a portfolio of work across various channels. ATL or above the line copywriters work in broadcast mediums – television and radio mostly. BTL or below the line copywriters work in print and packaging mediums – brochures, corporate magazines and other printed material. Online copywriters work in digital channels – websites, SEO copywriting, social media and content strategy. Copywriters are generally a bit like ghost writers. They may sometimes get a by-line, but usually they work in the background, with the client taking credit for the content.
What it Takes to Become a Professional Writer
If you are currently a blogger, but would really love to get paid to write professionally, here are some things that you should consider:
> Writing styles. As a blogger, you have your own style, and that is cool. As a freelancer, you need to adhere to your clients’ style guidelines. Corporate tones vary drastically from informal, fun tones, for instance. Writing for a creative audience is very different to writing for an audience of accountants.
> Following briefs. Say goodbye to create freedom to write whatever you like, and hello to writing what a) the client, b) search engine guidelines, and c) readers want to see. If you have trouble taking direction and following orders, this may be hard to get used to initially.
> Rewrites and more rewrites. Sometimes, clients want you to rewrite content. Then they want you to add new information that was not included in the brief. They may then want you to redo the change you made before the new stuff was added. This happens. Not always, but it happens. Even after 10 years of writing for a living, I still have times that I feel like I’m a monkey jumping through hoops. It sucks, but it’s part of the job.
> No affirmation or acclaim. With blogging, you feel like you’re in the spotlight whenever you publish a post that gets comments. With writing copy professionally, you may get a ‘thank you’ from the client when you email through the 20 pages of insanely boring content you had to write about plastic lawn chairs (I made that up, but there have been things worse than lawn chairs). Often, though, the content gets uploaded to the client’s website and that is it – no praise, no warm fuzzy feelings. You do get paid, however. And you can’t pay the rent with warm fuzzy feelings.
> Deadlines and more deadlines. Be prepared to write so hard that you wear down your laptop keyboard (true story). Be prepared to give up your free time, maybe work after hours on top of a regular day job, maybe work late into the night (or even through the night, when times are tough and you can’t afford to do otherwise). You might land a regular contract that pays well and allows you to do less work. You may get to work in your pjs while everyone else is shuffling in to an office. You may cry a lot and get overwhelmed by the deadlines. This too, is part of freelancing.
> Writing about really tricky/technical/boring/weird stuff. Stuff that you only barely understand when the client explains it for the third time. Stuff that you have to try and research, compute and translate into simple words that readers can understand. On the upside, you will almost always kick ass at general knowledge games, and you will be smarter for all the research you do.
> Adapt or die. Even after all these years of freelancing and writing for the web, I still find myself humbled. Realising that you don’t know every trick in the book, and that there are always ways to improve your writing skills is important. Finding new opportunities, boosting skills you may not have but find you need, accepting that you cannot be good at every single writing job and making mistakes keeps things real.
If You’re Serious About Becoming a Freelance Writer…
Take the time, energy and effort involved to invest in your dream. Contribute to other blogs that are outside your usual niche. Do a course in copywriting, editing, blogging or other fields if you lack formal qualifications. Look for side jobs to build up experience while you keep your full time job. On that note, don’t quit your day job until you are 100% sure that you can support yourself on a freelance income.
Also, be prepared to have some months of being in the clear, and other months of earning peanuts. Be prepared to work your butt (or fingers) off some months, and hardly work at all, other months. Keep hustling, keep writing and keep the faith!
P.S. Have any specific questions you’d like to ask about getting started, setting rates and other such stuff? Contact me and I will give you some advice based on my own journey to becoming a full time freelance copywriter.