A Day in the Life of a Freelance Copywriter
September 6, 2006 • Glenn Murray
Ever wanted a job where you could spend all day, every day, writing clever and inspiring prose? Yes? Well don’t become a freelance copywriter!
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great job, and for some of us it’s a calling that won’t be denied. And you definitely do get to write clever and inspiring prose. It’s just that you don’t do it all day, every day. In fact, when you sit down at the end of the day and think about what you’ve done, the percentage of time spent writing is surprisingly low.
So what does a freelance copywriter do other than write copy? Well, basically, they run a business. This article discusses 11 daily rituals involved with running a freelance website copywriting or advertising copywriting business (other than writing). It also provides some tips for performing them successfully.
Freelance copywriters serve many masters. They generally have quite a few clients, and spend quite a bit of time quoting on new jobs. When you quote, you’re calculating how much to charge for the job. For a freelance copywriter, there are a number of important factors influencing quoting. You need to have some way to accurately estimate time. Generally the best way to achieve this is to be diligent in your tracking. If you know how long past jobs have taken you, you’ll be much more confident and accurate in your estimates. You need to know how much time you spend not writing (as you should try to cover as much of this as possible). You need to have a feel for what the client is prepared to pay (are they a big or small company, how highly do they seem to value copy, etc.). You need to know how much your competitors are charging for the same thing. You need to understand what differentiates you from your competitors. You need to think about how badly you want or need the work. And, of course, you need to estimate how time-consuming the client will be.
2) Submitting Proposals
A quote is not the same as a proposal. A quote is generally contained within a proposal, but it’s not the same thing. When you submit a copywriting proposal, you’re marketing your skills, your solution, your work ethic, your customer service, your commitment, and your experience. Basically, you’re justifying your price, and differentiating yourself from your competition. And it’s not just about WHAT you say. It’s also HOW you say it and how you PRESENT it. Everything about your proposal plays a part in the client’s decision! If possible, include additional helpful information. Use a title page, a table of contents, headers, and footers. Introduce at the beginning and summarise at the end. Include your price, but call it an “investment”, not a “cost”. Show the client you’ve thought their job through by summarising their requirements. Outline your proposed solution. And most importantly, give the client a clear call to action (“Where to from here?”).
3) Chasing reviews
The freelance copywriter is almost never the bottleneck in a copywriting job. In 99.99% of copywriting jobs, the bottleneck is the review process. Most clients take a long time to review. In fact, about a third of clients need to be prompted at least once before they’ll get back to you with their changes. It’s not uncommon for a one-day writing job to take a full month to reach sign-off – or longer. Some clients will put the copy review on the backburner for months (just another reason to request a deposit before commencement of work)! As a result, freelance advertising copywriters and website copywriters spend a lot of time chasing reviews. Make sure you factor the delay and the chasing time into your quotes as best you can. And always record which clients take a long time, so you can be prepared when discussing deadlines on the next job.
4) Project scheduling & tracking
No matter whether you work on big projects or small, project scheduling and tracking are vital. You need to know the exact status of all work in progress (tracking), and you also need to be very aware of what’s coming up and how you’ll manage it (planning). If you’re doing it right, you should be using your tracking and planning tools several times a day. In fact, they should be the hub of your business. TIP: A good way to track copywriting projects is to use a job (and contact) tracking database. I created my own database using Microsoft Access. Click to download a 208KB working copy for FREE. You’ll need Microsoft Access 2000 to run it. I’m no database expert, so it’s not a work of art. It’ll certainly get you started though. (TIP: When using the database, press Ctrl + ; to enter today’s date.)
Issuing invoices, processing payments (and part payments), chasing outstanding invoices, recording expenses, managing bank accounts, putting tax aside… It all takes a lot of time. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can handle your accounts manually (or with Microsoft Excel). Even if you only have a few clients, you NEED a proper accounts package like MYOB or Quicken (they both offer small business versions). You’ll understand why the first time you do your GST reports or annual taxes. In fact, you’ll understand why whenever you need to chase down outstanding invoices
6) Visiting clients
Although the wonders of modern email let a freelance copywriter get through about 95% of their work without ever leaving the office, it’s sometimes still a good idea to do things the ‘old-fashioned’ way – especially if you expect to work with them quite a bit. Shake hands and put a face to a name. And remember, everything about the meeting reflects on you and your business. As with your proposals, think about WHAT you say, HOW you say it, how you PRESENT. Always organise the meeting with plenty of notice, confirm the day before the meeting, be on time, summarise the meeting, and provide a call to action. (Try to do these last two both at the end of the meeting and via email after the meeting.)
7) Office admin
Even for a low overhead business like copywriting, there’s always something! Changing phone plans, upgrading/fixing computers, your internet service is down, your website is temporarily unavailable, you’re enhancing your data storage procedures, you need new printer or fax ink cartridges… Office administration takes up a surprisingly large chunk of your day. Make sure you allow for it. This means allowing time to do the work, and factoring that time into your quotes. If you don’t, you’ll be continually working into the wee hours and/or losing money.
8) Marketing strategy
How do you generate business? Cold calls? (See 12 Handy Tips for Generating Leads through Cold-Calling.) Website? (See Copywriting & SEO Articles for numerous website & SEO articles.) Networking? Word of mouth? Repeat business? Agencies? (See also 10 Tips for Aspiring Freelance Copywriters for some tips on succeeding as a freelance copywriter.) No matter what your strategy, you need to give it the time it deserves. It’s a good idea to average around an hour a day to thinking about and implementing marketing strategy.
9) Industry research
Stay up to date on the latest copywriting industry research. Read research on usability, readability, and scannability (visit Jakob Nielsen’s website on usable information technology or GoodExperience.com and subscribe to their newsletters). Read up on search engine optimization (see SEO for CEOs – Search Engine Optimization Unmasked for CEOs or try subscribing to a newsletter from WebProNews.com or Site-Reference.com). Try to track how day-to-day language is changing (what buzz words to use, what buzz words to avoid, what rules are being overlooked in spoken English, what sounds make a positive impression on people, etc.). Know the difference between writing for the web versus writing for print versus writing for search engines (see Copywriting & SEO Articles for some relevant articles). If you want to scratch the surface, spend 10 minutes every day.
10) Subject matter research
Whether it’s website copywriting or advertising copywriting, to do a good job, you need to know a lot about your subject material. This means both specific knowledge about the client’s product or service as well as more generic ‘domain’ knowledge. Clients have a tendency to not supply enough information. Make sure you interview them thoroughly. And then let them know you’ll probably need to ask further questions. Even then, you may find yourself doing a bit of independent research. The Internet is your saviour, but always run any information by your client before publishing. When you’re quoting on a job, try to figure out how much detail the client will be able to supply. You can even ask them to estimate how much they’ll supply (i.e. All, Most, Some, or None). This is a good technique as it gets them thinking about your requirements while at the same time giving you some idea how much time you’ll spend researching.
In one important respect, website copywriting and advertising copywriting are no different from any other form of writing; planning is vital. For more specific planning information, see Engage Your Customer – Write About Benefits and Writing Benefit-Driven Web Copy – 4 Steps to More Sales.
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