This post was written by TCCS member, Andrew Lau
Over the years, a lot of people have told me they want to become freelance copywriters like me. They want to free themselves from the 9 am to 9 pm rat-race. They want time flexibility. And they want the freedom to pick and choose clients they really want to work with.
And yes, this dream is achievable.
You can do all these things as a freelance copywriter. You can say goodbye to horrible 12-hour days in a corporate cage because you’re the boss. And if you just happen to hate the colour of a potential client’s tie, you have zero obligation to service them.
But here’s the discombobulating reality that most copywriters don’t talk about:
You’re a business person first, and a copywriter last
You probably think that sounds bonkers, or even stupid. After all, a copywriter’s job is to write copy, isn’t it? Isn’t their role to generate words that persuade everyday punters to spend their hard-earned cash on services and products?
Isn’t the job about being creative with language?
Nope. At least not yet. Let me explain.
Before you write a single word…
— you’re a marketer, a salesperson.
You see, you’ve gotta get out there, let the world know who you are, what you can do, and the value you add to a client’s business. Otherwise, you’ll never write a word of copy.
To be more accurate, you’ll never be paid for a single word of copy you write. Let’s face it: you’re not interested in writing copy just because you love words. Survival is the driving force here.
You’re trying to make some bacon.
A lot of people want to become writers so they can escape the icky grossness of business-wank chatter. But the reality is, nobody’s handing out copywriting coupons. Especially not to Mr/Mrs/Ms/Miss Hidey-Hole.
Copywriting is a business, and in business you have to sell yourself. You need to draw some attention to yourself. You need to show clients you’re so creative with words that you’re worth hiring for money you can actually live on.
Again, it’s about makin’ bacon. Which means it’s business!
So you’ve sold yourself and won a project
Good on you! But you’re still not a copywriter. In fact, you’re not even in the vicinity of being a copywriter.
You’re now an accountant, business manager, information interrogator, researcher and notetaker — all at the same time. But you still don’t get to be a copywriter yet.
How’s this possible?
Let’s say a client has nominated you, the ‘chosen one’, to write their next 5,000 Twitter posts.
It’s time to put your accounting hat on. Punch in those numbers and make that invoice. You have to charge your client a deposit (or ‘commencement fee’) of some kind. It’s madness to start work if they haven’t made a monetary commitment.
Think about it. What if you start writing and the client cancels the project? That’s time down the toilet. And time equals money.
Put your business manager hat on and get them to sign the damned, dotted line of that contract. Protect yourself legally from getting bent over backwards and snapped in half. Remember, A – B – C. Always. Be. Closing.
Only closers get coffee around here.
Can you be a copywriter yet? Nope. Now you’ve got a pile of client meetings to attend, a ton of notes to make, and even more research to do.
You need to ask the questions that must be asked. What are the services and/or products that must be sold? What tone of voice is needed? What’s the core of your message? Who are your competitors? Have you got any business intelligence and statistics that can be used?
What do you, my beautiful behemoth client, really want to say and achieve?
If you’ve elicited all this info, you’re getting closer to writing the copy.
Can I write the damned copy yet?
No, you cannot write the copy. Not just yet. You still need to do a few things before you type that first word or put pen to paper.
You need to be smart.
Start by controlling expectations and mitigating risk around delivery of deliverables (try saying that five times fast). You need to manage your time, because who knows? You may have won a few other projects in the meantime. And you can’t do all the things at once.
So put your project manager hat on. Get your calendar out and mark down when your Twitter campaign of 5,000 posts begins and ends, as well as where your other projects will fit into the grand scheme of your beautiful freelance copywriter life.
When does the client need their work delivered? Does it need to go through their legal team? How long will the approval process take? If the workload is too big, can the delivery be made in phases over an extended period of time?
Get the answers. You got ‘em? Good.
Writing the copy (finally)
Okay, now you can get creative with those ideas and words.
But can you see how much you need to do before you get to the work implied by the glorious title of ‘copywriter’?
Having time flexibility and being able to cherry pick your clients is awesome.
But make no mistake. If you think a freelance copywriter just sits on white sandy beaches with crystal blue water lapping at their feet while smashing out words on their shiny, golden MacBook Air (oof, take a deep breath), read this blog post again.
Whether you’ve been a copywriter for 30 days or 30 years, the same rules apply as when you jumped into the freelance game for the first time.
You’re no longer surrounded by a cushy corporate infrastructure made up of accountants, business managers, researchers, statisticians, project managers and other creatives.
You’re on your own. And as a freelancer, all that responsibility is now on you. That is, at least until you make your first zillion bucks and can afford to hire copy minions to do your bidding.
Discombobulated yet? Great. Now go make some bacon.
Editors note: Veggie bacon!
PS — It’s okay to be discombobulated. Now say ‘discombobulated’ ten times really fast.
BIO: About Andrew Lau
Andrew Lau is a copywriter, partly obsessed with deep fried chicken drumsticks but wholly obsessed with the movies. What a nerd.