Copywriting Confidential: What it’s really like to be a freelance copywriter
June 8, 2023 • Krissy Davis
I recently watched Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, where they touch on his book Kitchen Confidential, you know, the one where he exposes the underbelly of New York commercial kitchens. Well, it sparked a profound reflection on my personal journey and the underbelly of a career I could expose: freelance copywriting.
When people hear the words “freelance copywriter”, they automatically picture a beach setting, sun lounger, laptop on lap and cocktail in hand. However, despite how awesome it may sound, it’s just not (always) the case.
Firstly, have you ever tried working on a laptop in the sun? You can’t see a thing! And secondly, yeah, when you’re a freelancer, you’re lucky enough to work from whenever, wherever, but it’s not always as glamorous as you might think.
So in this post, I decided to “be like Anthony” and shed some light on the realities of being a freelance copywriter. Some (most) are great, but it’s definitely not what everyone imagines.
The cons of being a freelance copywriter
While these points may not resonate with all freelancers, they could still provide value to those exploring the idea of branching out independently and becoming one. They’re certainly things I wish I had known before venturing on my own and becoming a freelancer.
There’s no such thing as 9 to 5
Ask my fiancé, and he’ll tell you I often blurred the line between work and personal life. Whether answering emails on my “day off” or making edits to an article at 11 pm on a Friday because I couldn’t say no to a client, I struggled to find the perfect balance.
The lack of watercooler talk
When I was freelancing, I was usually home alone for 40+ hours a week. As an ambivert, I didn’t mind it for the most part. But I did miss the interactions I shared with my colleagues back when I worked in an office: the banter, those coffee breaks, and the opportunities to connect with fresh faces. The solitary nature of working remotely can sometimes be very lonely.
Even after five years, I still had difficulty pricing my work. You don’t want to over-quote because you don’t want to lose the client. But you also don’t want to undercharge because you would never make money. I don’t often have to quote people these days, but I still get nervous when I do.
Most clients can’t guarantee ongoing work, and unless you sign a contract (which, let’s be honest, hardly ever happens), they can let you go without notice. This unstable environment means you need to always be on your toes and actively looking for new gigs.
No sick days, annual leave or public holidays
This one’s tough. In the five years I spent freelancing copywriting, I can count on one hand the number of times I managed to enjoy more than three consecutive days off. If I wasn’t working, the money faucet turned off. And don’t even get me started on Christmas parties or work get-togethers. They’re nonexistent unless you book a party for one (yep, guilty as charged).
Feeling the need to ALWAYS keep your clients happy
Don’t get me wrong, a big part of freelancing is having a great rapport with your clients; a happy client means more potential work. But here’s the thing, when you start jumping at every command like a super eager bunny, it’s time to establish some boundaries. You don’t have to be glued to your inbox, replying instantly to every email or agreeing to absurd timeframes. Trust me, that kind of pace just isn’t sustainable.
I used to be terrible at managing my time efficiently, and I’d spend too little time on some projects and go overboard on others. I got a lot better when I developed a set of rules and routines that kept me on track, but it did take a while to establish.
Taxes and bookkeeping
If you’re entirely new to the world of accounting, you’ll want to research and learn as much as possible about how business tax works in your country and if you need a business number. Trust me, the last thing you want is to be on the wrong side of the tax man. Keeping track of receipts, organising invoices, and setting aside a cut of your hard-earned cash can be stressful, so do your due diligence.
Yep, some clients are going to make getting paid challenging. Luckily, I only had to do some gentle nudging a handful of times, and it was usually just a case of them forgetting, but I’ve heard some horror stories from other freelancer copywriters. So be prepared to track down a few invoices, and don’t hesitate to give them a little nudge when needed.
Now you’re probably curious as to why anyone would continue being a freelance copywriter. So let me share a few pros.
The pros of being a freelance copywriter
Flexibility and freedom
Freelancing gives you an amazing sense of freedom! I had the opportunity to travel and experience life in different countries, something I would’ve missed out on if I were stuck in some office. I set up shop in three different countries and explored countless destinations across the globe.
I also loved that I could go to the gym, the hairdresser, or the supermarket in the middle of the day, smack dab in the middle of the week, while everyone else was stuck on the 9 to 5 grind. You can enjoy complete flexibility and freedom if you manage your time efficiently.
Work with who I want
You get complete freedom over who you work with. If there’s a client you’re not vibing with or a project that doesn’t light your fire, you simply pass on it. This way, you can ensure you’re doing work that fulfils you and keeps that burnout at bay. It’s all about finding that sweet spot.
Variety of work
From condoms and cakestands to AI chatbots and hypnotherapy, I’ve written about all kinds of products and services, so the work never gets tedious. Most copywriters find a niche and develop a portfolio in a particular area, but freelancing is the perfect career path if you’re like me and can’t write about one topic for too long.
Working from home (and everywhere else)
Two words: “no traffic”! Oh, and also, “no alarm to get up for work”. I live in Auckland, NZ, where the traffic is worse than in LA, so I’m thrilled that I don’t have to deal with the chaos – my poor fiancé, on the other hand…
The amount of money I save not going out for lunch and the delicious meals I get to eat because I have access to a full kitchen cemented my love for working from home (which I still do). No more packed sandwiches or overpriced lunches.
Learning and growing
From the moment I started freelancing, I saw some significant personal growth. I discovered so much about myself and undoubtedly became more confident and disciplined. It’s been quite the journey.
So while the drawbacks of being a freelance copywriter might seem difficult, the advantages outweigh them by a landslide. If you’re not already doing it, I’d say you should definitely give freelance copywriting a go.