My Top 10 Tips for Aspiring Freelance Copywriters
May 6, 2010 • Glenn Murray
I get many emails asking for advice on how to become a successful freelance copywriter. I love helping, but I’ve always wished I had a better way of doing it. I think these videos are that better way.
In these two videos, I discuss my top 10 tips for becoming a successful freelance copywriter. Not just writing tips, but business tips too.
A great new copywriting course
Since recording the above video, my good friend and copywriting great, James Chatrand, has started what I believe is the best copywriting course available. If you truly want to break into copywriting, this is the course for you.
Links to copywriting resources mentioned in the vid
- ShadowProtect PC backup solution for data & system
- Carbonite online backup solution for data
- My streamlined copywriting quoting process
- Robin Hobb: ‘The Farseer Trilogy’
- Anne Tyler
- John Irving
- Patrick Rothfuss (forgot to mention him)
- My SEO copy ebook, ‘Practical SEO Copywriting’
- My SEO ebook, ‘SEO Secrets’
Please comment if you have any questions
Obviously there’s only so much I can cover in a vid post, so if you have any freelance copywriting questions, please feel free to ask. You can either comment here or send me an email (although I definitely prefer a comment, so my answers can help everyone).
Hi, I’m Glenn Murray, I’m an SEO Copywriter. I own and run Divine Write Copywriting which is an SEO copywriting studio. I have been a freelance copywriter for eight years and before that I was a technical writer in the software industry for nine years. I write everything that goes out the door at Divine Write, so really it’s just me. Divine Write is my company name but I’m really just a freelance copywriter.
The reason I’m recording this blog post is because I get a lot of emails from aspiring freelance copywriters asking for tips on how to become a successful freelance copywriter and I love, don’t get me wrong, I love getting those emails and I love helping out, and I always do, I always do help out with quite detailed responses, but I find myself being asked the same questions and answering those questions with the same answers every time. So I thought I’d record a video blog post to house all my answers and hopefully it can be more helpful than each of my individual responses are.
My top ten tips, that’s what I’m going to go through today, my top ten tips for becoming a successful freelance copywriter, start at number one with cold calling. Always, you, when I started out in my first year of copywriting I made a thousand cold calls, and I mean cold calls on the phone, I didn’t go door-to-door because the geography is too vast, so I made a thousand cold calls not to a thousand different companies but, you know, a few were call-backs and that sort of thing, and it’s hard work and you’ve got to be prepared to take a few knockbacks and a few people will be rude to you but that’s the name of the game. It did result in a few clients and, quite a few clients, and some of those clients I still have to this day. So, the number one tip is to cold call.
Number two tip is to write stuff for free, and I don’t mean for other copywriters or really for agencies, ‘cause agencies will take you for a ride if they can, I mean for direct clients ‘cause they’re the ones who, who will value that free copy the most. A good example, when I started out, I wrote, I went through the local newspaper and looked at the property section and saw a house for sale and thought, “That copy sucks.” So I rewrote it and contacted the Real Estate Agent and said, “Look, I’ve re-written this copy, you’re welcome to it if you want. If you like it, give me $100, if you don’t I’m happy to go away.” They did like it, they did pay me, they called me in, we had a chat and then for nearly a year I wrote all of their property descriptions for their more upmarket houses for $100 a pop. In the end it just wasn’t sustainable for me because it was, you know, four or five hours worth of work and, including a site visit and talking to the owner and then writing up the copy and going through multiple versions of it, so I ended up giving that away. But it did get me my first client and it did give me a lot of experience and some good work for my portfolio.
Another example, if you don’t want to write property descriptions because they are, I believe they’re pretty low value for the actual Real Estate Agent, you could go through your local paper and look for a real estate bio, so, you know, some Real Estate Agents will include a full page ad of a bio of them, an ad for them, and if you find one of those and it looks poorly written then rewrite it and take it into them and see what they think.
Tip number three, don’t focus on qualifications. And this is one of the most common questions I get, “What qualifications, what courses would you recommend?” Well I don’t recommend any because I’ve never done any, I don’t have any formal writing qualifications.
I have a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Linguistics and have a Master of Arts in International Communication, but I don’t have any formal writing qualifications, I’ve always just been a writer. Even as a kid I was a writer and that’s just what I do. When I was looking at outsourcing work and employing people, when people sent me their resume I rarely looked at it, I didn’t care what qualifications they had, what I was only interested in was the quality of their work. I would ask to see samples and I would ask to know their rate. So I would look, I would assess their abilities by actually looking at their work, and I think that’s the most important thing.
It may be, qualifications may be more important to non-writers, so if you’re approaching clients directly it may be more important but any, most creative agencies and all copywriting agencies will be able to assess the quality of your writing by simply looking at it and qualifications will make no difference to their opinion of you. So I wouldn’t bother.
I mean that’s not to say those qualifications are unimportant but they’re certainly, and they can help and I’m sure they will help, but if you don’t have them, I would start at other places; I wouldn’t say that’s your starting point for getting into a freelance career as a copywriter.
Tip number four, SEO, search engine optimisation is where it’s at. You have to have a website obviously, and I’m taking that for granted. If you’ve got a website it has to rank and then you can, you can stop spending money on, or time, on attracting clients. As I said, in my first year, I cold called a thousand clients, then I figured out how to rank my website. After I’ve, since ranking well, for all of my key phrases, I’ve not spent a single cent on promotion in the last seven years because my clients all come to me through my search engine presence. So spend every spare moment you can on search engine optimisation. And you’re in a good position; as a writer, you have the ability to write lots of content and content is half the battle in the search engine war. So focus on SEO, so spend every spare moment.
The next tip, what are we up to, tip number five, while you’re spending every spare moment on SEO, spend every spare dollar on web design. Again, you’ve got to have a web design, you’ve got to have a website and, if you’re going to have a website you’ve got to make it good. Your website reflects the quality of your service and it reflects your professionalism and it reflects your value. And if you have a poor website people will think that your service is poor and your value is negligible. So make sure it’s really good. Get a good web designer to do your work and don’t cheap out; it just, in the end, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.
Tip number six, back up your work. Don’t, you don’t need a fancy computer but you do need a good Internet connection, but whatever you’ve got, back up your work because there will come a time when your computer will crash – guaranteed. My computer has crashed a number of times and I’ve been saved by back-ups numerous times. And I would recommend that you back up and back up your back-ups. I back up locally to a USB hard drive and I use a product called, what’s it called, I can’t remember the name of it at the moment, Shadow Protect, that’s what it’s called. Shadow Protect, it’s a very good back-up solution; I’ve tried numerous back-up solutions including Microsoft supplied ones, and Shadow Protect is undoubtedly the best. It’s quick to back up and quick to restore and it all happens automatically.
So every day, eight times a day, my computer is backed up. For any changes that have occurred are automatically backed up. Actually these days I just do it to, I’ve got a second drive in my computer and I back up from my D drive to my E drive. Periodically, I’ll back up that back-up to an external drive and I will also back up – that’s all data, so business data – I will also back up periodically my system partition, which is actually my installed version of Windows and all my applications – you can’t back that up just by copying it, you have to do a system back-up – and again I use Shadow Protect for that and I back that up to a USB drive and I store that offsite.
Now, back to the data, I back up, I have a secondary back-up of all my data off, in an online location, so I use Carbonite, it’s carbonite.com. I think in Australia now there’s carbonite.com.au – it’s the same service, it’s just the Australian version. The US version, which is the one I originally set up on, it’s US$50 per year for unlimited space; it automatically backs up all your data, so whenever you make a change to a file it sits there and it waits for you to be inactive. After making that change it identifies the change and then waits for you to be inactive and it will then back that, back that file up and copy it across to Carbonite so that the latest version is on Carbonite. And if you lose your computer you can always download all that data from Carbonite directly, and it will save you.
Tip number seven is just write. Write, write, write, write, write all the time. Practise your writing and don’t stop; it’s really important to practise, to hone your skills. The more you write, the more you’ll find you are doing wrong, the better you’ll get, the more objective you’ll get about your writing, the more things you’ll learn about what you’re doing and what you’re not doing, the quicker you’ll get, the better systems you’ll develop. So just keep writing.
Tip number eight, read out what you write out loud. Pretend you’re, it sounds cheesy but pretend you’re a radio announcer, you know, read out your copy with the sort of inflection that you would expect a radio announcer to use because, if you can’t read it with that sort of contrived excitement – I know it’s contrived but there is a level of dynamic excitement in the way that a radio announcer reads copy – if you can’t generate that sort of dynamic excitement from your copy then it’s probably missing something; the rhythm’s probably wrong, the balance is probably wrong, so use that sort of tone and you’ll quickly find where the flaws in your copy are.
Observe, tip number nine is observe other writers. So, if you like the work of other writers, read their portfolio, read the work that you know they’ve done and see, try and figure out why they’re doing it, what they’re doing, what their little tricks are, and observe their business practices as well because obviously running successful freelance businesses, if anything it’s half success, it’s half about the writing and half about the business. So observe what they’re doing that’s, within their business, that’s making them streamlined, that’s giving them more time to write and allowing them to focus less on their overhead, on their business administration and that sort of thing.
For instance, I’ve got a blog post that I recorded a while back with the screen cast of my streamlined quoting process, and I’ll link to it in this blog post, and it saves me massive amounts of time, and I can plug out quotes within, you know, two to five minutes with a 15 odd page proposal, fully personalised with the details of the client, the company, the quote amount with an approval of quote form, testimonials, payment details; all those sorts of things are all in there and I can do that in a couple of minutes, and it’s all because of the technology and the system that I use. So, observe the systems and the business approach of copywriters who you admire and, or who you think do a good job, and see what you can learnt from them.
And, of course, number ten is, just as I’ve advised you to write, write, write – read, read, read, and I don’t necessarily, I don’t just mean read other copywriters – we’ve already discussed that – I mean read anything, anything that you think is good quality. And, again, I don’t, that might be reading texts on how to become a good copywriter or reading texts about what’s involved in advertising or, you know, you’ll see – I’ve got a few books here along those lines – and I’ve read some or all of some or all of them. But it’s not just about reading how to copywrite, to write copywriting, it’s about, it’s about reading examples of good writing, whether it’s copywriting or not. You know, you’ll get plenty of examples of copywriting by following your favourite copywriters and seeing what they do, but I find a lot of copywriting is a little bit too formulated, a little bit too, maybe a little bit too cynical, a bit too salesy, so you don’t get a lot of variety in writing and my experience has been that a lot of my clients come to be because they like the originality of my writing; they like my fresh approach, they like the fact that I don’t always follow those rules that a lot of copywriters have been following for years. So, right or wrong, that’s what a lot of my clients like.
So read other things, like read novels. Fantasy novels are a great example – Robin Hobb, she writes brilliantly, really easy-flowing writing. Anne Tyler is a novelist, not in fantasy, and she writes beautifully from the heart, you know, everything is heartfelt; she’s able to capture emotion and that’s really important in copywriting. She’s able to capture emotion succinctly and so beautifully and, if you can do that and if you can gather what tips, gather, glean from her work and Robin Hobbs’ work and John Irving’s work and whoever you feel really captures emotion well, read their work and really deconstruct it and see what they’re doing that is really capturing emotion because, again, I can’t stress it enough, when you’re copywriting, capturing emotion is what it’s all about.
So they’re my top ten tips. You have to know you can do it, obviously, and bear that in mind at every step of the way. If you do want to buy a book that you think will be helpful, I sell two; one is a specialist SEO copywriting book, so if you’ve, if you want to learn how to become an SEO Copywriter – the techniques involved, that is, not the business but the techniques involved in SEO copywriting, how to balance the needs of Google against the needs of readers – then that’s the book you can see here on my screen. It’s Practical SEO Copywriting and I think that’s usually, it sells at US$39 odd. And I also sell a book called SEO Secrets and that’s about SEO generally, and again SEO is search engine optimised copy, search engine optimisation; SEO copy is search engine optimised copy. SEO Secrets is about SEO generally and it’s about how to, what SEO is and how to make your site rank well. SEO copy is a subset of SEO generally. So, SEO Secrets retails at US$79 I think and you can buy them both from my website.
So they’re my top ten tips. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask, maybe in a comment on this blog post, that’s fine, or email me if you’ve got something longer or you would like to keep it private. I will, I will endeavour to answer your questions as best I can and be as helpful as I can. So, good luck with your freelancing copywriting career and I’m sure we’ll speak again soon.