When it comes to winning copywriting jobs, freelance platforms generally get a bad rap.
But, that doesn’t mean you should shy away from them, like you would a dead mouse in a Mountain Dew can. (Yeah, that was a thing.)
There are some good reasons to use freelance jobs sites, especially when you’re starting out.
In this post I’m going to share five reasons why the Upworks of the world could actually help you break into the wonderful world of copywriting, along with three easy ways to establish yourself on these websites.
When most copywriters hear the words “Upwork” or “Freelancer”, they generally have one thought:
But I’m here to say that ,while freelance job websites aren’t a sparkly dreamland of rainbows and unicorns, they’re not all bad either.
“We get no respect”
To paraphrase the comedian Rodney Dangerfield, freelancing websites get no respect from ‘true’ copywriters and content writers.
Why not? Well, let’s look at some of the popular perceptions:
- Only new, desperate or sub-standard copywriters float around such sites
- These copywriters desperately scratch for whatever pickings they can find
- The jobs they fight over are usually the out-of-their-mind “ten dollars for a thousand words” type
And to some degree, that’s all true.
There are a lot of new and under-performing copywriters hanging around freelancing platforms.
They do ‘low ball’ to score whatever job they can.
And clients are often looking for jobs that are cheap and fast, with scant regard to nasty.
But guess what? For most genuine copywriters, that’s a good thing.
Working in this kind of environment, as icky and unpleasant as it sounds, delivers some great experience and lessons. Lessons that are starkly relevant once the copywriter breaks out of their cocoon and emerges into the real world.
But let’s dig a little deeper.
Why freelancing websites don’t completely suck
1. They’re a perfect place to build experience
As a new copywriter, it can be hard to get clients.
You might have read books, done courses, and snagged the odd job off a friend or family member. But you still end up hearing this:
What’s a copywriter cub to do?
Well, you’re going to need practice. Lots of it. As quickly as you can.
Freelance writing platforms are positively bulging with opportunities to sharpen your copywriting skills.
One of my first jobs on Upwork was writing bi-weekly insurance blogs (yeah, fascinating subject) for ten dollars an hour.
Looking back, those posts weren’t my greatest work. But working on them for a couple of months improved my glacial writing speed no end.
Almost every job I did during my first 6-9 months on the platform taught me something. And I carry those lessons with me to this day.
Bonus experience benefit
Many clients don’t hire people sight unseen. If they come to you, they’ve either checked out your blogs, know of your work elsewhere, or will ask for some samples. Deliver first-class copy and content with those first jobs and you’ll quickly build a portfolio you’ll be proud to show prospective clients.
2. It lets you develop your business
Upwork (and other freelance writing websites) have a particular policy that’s gotten more than a few freelancers in trouble:
You can’t steal clients from Upwork and into your tender bosom.
Doing so will get you ingloriously booted off their site as soon as they find out.
But this doesn’t mean you can’t be working on your business in practically every other way.
Platforms such as these let you develop almost everything you’ll need when you strike out into the brave new world beyond:
- Processes: How will you get the info you need from a client? How do you handle unresponsiveness? How do you tackle feedback?
- Clients: Who are your ideal clients? What traits do you like in them? How do you deal with ‘pain in the you-know-what’ (PITA) clients?
- Marketing: How will you stand out from the competition? (More on that in a mo.)
3. You can practice your pitch
When you’ve got oodles of current clients or referrals flooding in, you’re set.
But when you need to hunt for clients, you’ll be pitching.
As a new copywriter, you need to sell yourself.
On Upwork, this takes the form of proposals. If you see a job that sounds like a perfect match, you write a ‘proposal (i.e. an eloquentified message that’s basically, “Pick me, pick me!”) and hope they get back to you.
A lot of copywriters hate proposal writing because:
- a) it takes time
- b) there’s no guaranteed return
- c) it’s freaking hard to do
Fortunately, a lot of writers lazily use a copy/paste approach. So if you’re prepared to put in a little work and refine your proposals over time, you’ll start winning work.
The truth is, until you’re established on Upwork you have to do a lot of pitching.
The nice part is this can and does turn around. When you have the experience and the results, clients will start to approach you.
When I started, my pitch wasn’t much more than:
“I’m a copywriter. Your job sounds great. Why don’t you hire me?”
I’m actually surprised it won any jobs at all.
But as I slowly worked out how to market myself, these proposals became more conversational. I asked more questions, and talked about how I’d theoretically go about doing their job.
Pro tip: Clients love it when you give feedback on their projects from the get-go. It can be a lot of extra effort, but if you find a job you really want to win it’s a great strategy.
4. You can actually build relationships
On freelance writing sites, jobs are usually one-off affairs with little more than a “That’s great, thanks. I’ll close the job and complete payment”.
But sometimes a job turns out to be more. Much more.
I’ve built numerous relationships that started as a single engagement.
One of the best examples is a couple of e-commerce emails I wrote for an online furniture retailer. It turned into a series of weekly blog posts, and became a complete rewrite of their website. All up, a couple of thousand dollars of work.
If you’re improving your skills and business processes (points 1 and 2), these relationships develop without any extra work on your part.
Professionalism isn’t common on freelance writing platforms. It’s a semi-rare, valuable resource. And clients love it.
5. You can earn some extra cash
I left this one ‘til last, even though it’s usually the first reason people are on places like Upwork.
This one’s so far down the list because if you’re intent on becoming a copywriter and building your own business, cash at this point is almost secondary.
Sharpening your skills, improving your processes, knowing how to pitch and building relationships are all more important reasons to be spending time on freelance platforms.
In light of these, whatever cash you earn is effectively a bonus.
That said, whatever funds you bring in can be put to good use. If your full-time work is paying the bills, the odd writing job can boost your business with things like:
- Getting a website built
- Buying some courses
- Getting some coaching
- Grabbing a few tools (e.g. templates. And here’s just the place for that)
All without having to pay for them out of your own wallet.
But before you dive in…
Maybe you’re new or somewhat inexperienced in the great game of copywriting.
And maybe you’re thinking of jumping onto a freelance writing site right now and banging out blogs ‘til the cows come home.
If that’s the case…
The biggest trap people fall into on these platforms is thoughtlessly hurling themselves in—signing up in a flash, slapping together a profile, and sending proposal after proposal in scattergun style.
But you’re going to be different.
There are dozens of ways to give yourself an edge. Bu let’s zero in on three.
1. Prepare your profile
Your website (if you have one) is your sales page. Your LinkedIn profile is another.
And so is your profile page on any freelance writing platform you’re part of.
It’s something a lot of people don’t realise. They just dash one together and go hunting for work. By simply paying some attention to this, you’ll have an immediate advantage over a lot of your competition before you send out a single proposal.
Without going into too much detail, Here’s what you can do to stand out:
- Use a tagline that’s eye catching and specific
- Choose keywords to attract the types of job you want
- Structure your overview or description just like you would a sales page (e.g. open in an interesting way, spell out big benefits, use testimonials, end with a call to action)
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for the rate you want
There’s plenty of ‘race to the bottom’ competition on Upwork.
You don’t want to be one of them.
Sure, your first few jobs might not bring in the big bucks. That’s fine. Everyone has to start from somewhere.
But if you can do a job well, and demonstrate you do it well, set your price and show your value. There are clients who appreciate that on these platforms. And, if you deliver the results they’ll happily pay you for it.
If at first you don’t succeed…
When you first jump on Upwork and apply for some jobs, you might win some.
But you might not.
Freelance writing platforms are as much an exercise in persistence as anything else. You can do all the right things and not get a nibble some days, only to find two or three clients chasing you the next day without having done anything differently.
If you’re not winning many jobs early on, don’t give in to the temptation to quit. There are two big things you can do to turn the tide:
- Keep refining your pitch: Are you writing proposals that would sound interesting or exciting if you were looking to hire?
- Look at how you qualify jobs to apply for: Are you grabbing at anything, or only jobs you’re well-suited for? Target jobs that complement your specific skills.
Be there for a reason
As the poem goes, people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
Upwork – or any freelancing website – won’t be part of your copywriting life forever. But they do serve a purpose, especially when you’re a fledgling writer uncertain of how to start.
Use these platforms wisely, and you’ll soon have the skills and experience you need to launch your copywriting business into the world.
Over to you
Have you ever used a freelancing website? What was your experience with them?
Dean Mackenzie is a Melbourne-based copywriter who specialises in direct response copywriting — that is, copy specifically designed to sell. His work focuses on landing pages, emails and sales pages, along with the odd website and blog. He’s also fond of a good cup of tea.