Where Can You Start Your Freelance Writing Career?

When I started out as a freelance writer, I had no idea what I was doing. I was a wide-eyed dreamer fresh out of college, and I was looking for a way to use my philosophy degree.

 

Let me tell you this: freelance copywriting is a far cry from reading Donne’s poetry on the weekends while writing essays on Heidegger during the week!

 

I’ll admit I was a little out of my element at first. Learning how to find clients, write for an audience, and build my portfolio was a major challenge.

 

(The fact that I was guzzling coffee the way a Hummer guzzles gasoline didn’t do much good for my anxiety in those days…)

 

It was a rough time in my life. If I’d been smarter I would have had a plan for when I got out of college. But I learned my lesson, and now I’ve managed to come through with no harm done.

 

Why am I telling you all this? I’m telling you because I want you to know I started from the bottom. But with help from the right books and the right mentors I learned how to win high-paying clients, run my freelance business, and provide my clients with the persuasive copy they want so badly.

 

But here’s the thing: all that takes time.

 

It Takes Time to Build a Freelance Writing Business

No matter how much experience you’ve got, it can take some time to build up your freelance business from scratch.

 

There are a million little problems you’ll run into along the way, ranging from obviously important stuff like “How am I going to get enough business that I won’t end up on the street?” to less obviously important stuff like “How am I going to motivate and manage myself when I don’t have a boss to do it for me?”

 

(The flipside of being your own boss is that you have to be your own boss.)

 

I don’t want to scare you off by making these problems seem insurmountable. You’re not going to have to do anything you can’t do. Running your freelance writing business means you’ll have to stretch yourself, but if you want to do it, it’s just a matter of time and diligence.

 

But again: it takes time. Let me take a minute to show you a few of the ways building your freelance writing business is going to take time.

 

First off: it takes time to learn how to work with yourself.

 

Maybe it’s just me, but a lot of the time life feels like a constant battle between the part of me that’s gung-ho and wants to take over the world and the part of me that wants to sleep 20 hours a day and go for months between showers.

 

The bright-eyed, bushy-tailed part of me that’s always motivated and the part of me that wants to fling boogers at the wall all day long.

 

The thing about freelance writing is that you have to bring those two halves of yourself into balance. It takes some time to figure out how to do that.

 

Second: it takes time to learn how to get clients. (And it takes even longer to figure out how to win well-paying clients.)

 

You have to figure out your way of promoting yourself—and yes, you have to promote yourself.

 

Even when you’re a mega-successful freelance copywriter making gazillions a week typing up copy from your yacht in Honolulu, you’re going to have to promote yourself.

 

If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of self-promotion: get over it or get out.

 

Third: it takes time to develop a method and a feel for each type of project. I’ll get into more detail about types of projects in a later post, but the point is that you need to have procedures together for how to handle each type of project.

 

Does the client want content marketing? You need to nail down your methods.

 

Does the client want direct response copy? You need to be able to tell them what to expect when they work with you.

 

Does the client want you to do a case study? You need to have procedures in place for doing your interviews and getting the material together.

 

To sum it all up: at this point, you’re like Christopher Columbus right after he landed on the coast of San Salvador.

 

Freelance writing is a vast landscape full of brilliant opportunities and unknown dangers. It’s a great, dark, empty space on your map.

 

Before you can make the most of freelance writing, you have to learn all you can about what’s on that map.

 

Let’s take our first few steps.

 

Start With the Job Boards

If you want to get your feet wet in freelance writing, the job boards are a good place to start.

 

The job boards are the Caribbean Islands of the freelance world. You don’t want to stay there forever, but it’s a good place for the new explorer to start.

 

(Note: there are problems with the job boards. I’ll tell you about them a little later, but for now keep in mind that even though they’re a good place to learn what you’re doing, you don’t want to stay there forever.)

 

There are many, many job boards full of opportunities for freelance writers. Maybe you’ve heard of a few of them. You could try out Upwork, ProBlogger, or FreelanceWritingGigs if you’re interested in starting out that way.

 

(Technically, Upwork isn’t a job board, but it’s enough like one that it might as well be.)

 

The companies you’ll find on these sites are already looking for writers. They know what they want, and they already know what they expect from you. This gives you the chance to practice selling your services in an environment where your prospects are already in the market for your writing.

 

With the online job boards, the work comes to you.

 

You develop a feel for the process of selling your freelance writing services.

 

You learn how to manage the different types of freelance writing projects.

 

Most importantly, you get a life raft you can use to learn how freelancing works while you’re hunting for bigger and better jobs.

 

Why You Don’t Want to Stick With the Job Boards Long-Term

You’ll never hear me say a word against the job boards. They’re a brilliant way for a beginning freelance writer to learn the ropes and build up a portfolio.

 

That being said: you don’t want to depend on the job boards in the long term.

 

Think about it: businesses that are already looking for writers go to the job boards because they know there are hundreds or thousands of writers there, looking for work.

 

That means the average writer’s odds of getting picked for a specific job are pretty low.

 

It also means the average writer isn’t going to be able to command a good price.

 

I don’t want to say that all of the companies you’ll find on the job boards are looking to get low-quality work done on the cheap, but many of them are.

 

And the ones who are looking for the best work are still drowning in applications.

 

Perhaps the best reason to avoid the job boards: lack of respect.

 

In the eyes of the companies who hire you, you’re just another employee.

 

You’re not a skilled professional offering a valuable service. You’re just another shlub who found the way into a stack of applications.

 

If you became a freelancer because you wanted to be your own boss, don’t spend more time in the job boards than you have to.

 

As a way for learning the ropes and doing your time, the job boards are great. But they still won’t beat finding an experienced mentor who can guide you through the process.

 

Let me know if you have any questions or concerns about freelancing. I’m always trying to tailor this blog to your needs, so I’d appreciate the help.

 

And I know some of you don’t like to post publicly, so feel free to contact me by email at geofreycrow@crowcopywriting.com if you’d rather do it that way.

 

Good luck, and good copywriting!

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The 3 Crucial Rules for Beginning Copywriters

 

So you want to be a copywriter, eh? Join the club.

 

Copywriting means different things to different people. Some people write cheap, useless, badly-written blog posts for their clients and call that copywriting.

 

(Luckily their clients don’t pay them very well for their trouble, because they know what they’re buying.)

 

You don’t want to be that kind of copywriter, do you?

 

Of course not. And there’s no reason you should be! There’s no reason a clever, forward-thinking writer should have to work for peanuts. There’s no reason a clever, forward-thinking writer should have to work on projects that aren’t challenging or interesting. There’s no reason a clever, forward-thinking writer can’t make a very good living from freelance writing.

 

I hope you’re detecting a theme here. It’s clear as day: if you want to make a good living as a copywriter you’ve got to be clever and forward-thinking.

 

And what does that mean? Well, I’m glad you asked.

 

First off, it means becoming a copywriting master. It’s not enough to have run-of-the-mill skills and a run-of-the-mill plan. You need excellent skills and an excellent plan.

 

Would you go into battle without a plan and expect good results? Of course not. Then why would you go into your copywriting without a plan and expect good results?

 

I want you to imagine something: imagine you’re the most brilliant copywriter to ever live. Your words weave a magic spell that makes your reader helpless to resist you. Every line you put down is so perfect that your readers can hardly wait to throw their hard-earned greenbacks at you. You have such brilliant powers of persuasion that you can get anyone to do anything.

 

That’s a nice image, isn’t it?

 

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to write copy that’s that persuasive. You can’t write anything that’s going to convince people to buy something they never wanted in the first place. That would be wrong and unethical, first of all. And second of all it would take more persuasive power than any human being could possibly have.

 

No, friends, I’m not going to claim that good copywriting can spin straw into gold. You won’t be retiring to a beach house in Tahiti next week.

 

It won’t be easy. It won’t be overnight. It won’t even be automatic. But if you follow the principles I’m about to set out for you, you will be able to improve your copywriting.

 

And that’s the first step.

 

The Golden Rule of All Copywriting: Know Your Mark

Imagine you’re on vacation at the beach in Saint Augustine, Florida. You’re looking out at the iron-gray waters of the Atlantic, lying with your head up and a tasty drink at your side. You feel the sunlight on your skin, all shiny and warm in the afternoon.

 

You’re daydreaming about dolphins. You don’t have a care in the world. You wonder if you can find a service to let you ride a dolphin…

 

“Excuse me,” says a salesman who appears out of nowhere, “Would you be interested in buying a full-length winter parka?”

 

What do you say? Would you be interested?

 

Of course not! This guy doesn’t have a clue who you are or where he is. What’s he doing, interrupting a perfectly good day by asking you if you want to wear a winter parka? What an idiot!

 

You don’t sell winter parkas to vacationers on the beach in the middle of the summer.

 

It’s not that it’s a bad parka. It’s not that these people will never need a parka. It’s not even that they’re constitutionally opposed to buying a parka. It’s just that the salesman was clueless about context.

 

If you want your mark to buy from you, you’ve got to make contact with them when and where they’re receptive to your message.

 

People want to buy things. People like to buy things. But they don’t like to be sold to.

 

That’s why it’s your job to know who you’re dealing with, what they want, and how it’s going to help them. But most importantly, it’s your job to know these three things about your mark:

 

  1. What are their pain points? The mark who is on the point of buying from you has one big problem you can solve for them. They want to buy the reassurance that you know their pain and know how to resolve it. So you must understand their pain.

 

  1. What are their dreams? Maybe they want to retire to a nice place on Key West. Maybe they want to write pretty love poems every day. Maybe they want to be rich enough to buy the Earth itself. Whatever it is, you want to know what your mark wants and how buying from you will move them closer to their ultimate desire.

 

  1. What are their fears? Are they afraid of getting kicked out and having to live on the streets? Are they afraid of failing to live up to their potential? Are they afraid of missing out on the biggest chance of their lives? Sometimes people need their fears to encourage them to take action. Know their fears so you can deploy them when the time is right.

 

Action Step: Imagine your ideal client. With that client in mind, answer all three of the questions I just laid out. The more in-depth the better. (You can never have too much knowledge!) Write at least a paragraph in answer to each question. You’ll be surprised what you can already discover!

 

The Second (But Equally Important) Rule of Copywriting: Know Your Product

Let’s go back to your salesman on the beach. Just for the moment, let’s pretend you’re not entirely uninterested in what he has to say.

 

“What’s so great about that parka?” you ask.

 

“Well, uh…” the salesman says. He looks down at the parka in his hands. He scratches his nose. He says, “Well, it’s got really nice pockets!”

 

You’re not having any of this. “So does every parka I’ve ever seen. What’s so great about this one?”

 

Our salesman doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know his product. He only knows he wants this scenario to end with you holding the parka and him holding your cash.

 

A clever, forward-thinking copywriter always knows the product.

 

That means all the “dry, boring details.”

 

That means all the exciting benefits the product has.

 

That even means anticipating all the objections a prospect might have before purchasing.

 

You want to know your product so well that when you close your eyes you see the design specs on the back of your eyelids.

 

Okay, I’ll admit it: you don’t have to know it that well. Don’t tattoo any design specs to the inside of your eyelids. But you get the point.

 

In order to be an effective copywriter, you need to know the product you’re selling in detail. You need to know what it does. You need to know all the problems with it. You need to know.

 

A professional copywriter takes time to get to know the product. If it’s something you can try out for yourself, go ahead and do that. If it’s something (such as a staffing agency) that’s way beyond your needs as a freelance writer, take the time to get to know the process and the people.

 

Maybe you won’t use all this knowledge, directly. But it’s important to know this stuff, because it’s going to color your copy in ways you can’t anticipate.

 

I know that sounds vague, but you’re a writer. You know exactly what I mean. Sometimes when you’re writing, the spirit takes you and you end up producing a phrase you never thought you could have found before. And what’s true of writing a poem or a story is still true of copywriting: it’s when you fondle the details that you get your best results.

 

So get to know the details. Even if you don’t use them directly, the knowledge will come through in the authority of your tone.

 

Action Step: Imagine your ideal client again. Why are your copywriting services absolutely what your ideal client needs? Why might your ideal client object to buying from you? How do you plan on meeting those objections? Answer these questions, and you’ll be on the right track.

 

The Third (and Honestly the Most Important) Rule of Copywriting: Write the Best Words

Much as I’d like to return to our salesman on the beach, that analogy isn’t going to work here. I want to talk to you straight out, writer to writer.

 

Copywriting isn’t a form of expressive writing. You’re not here to express your personality or to develop your own unique style.

 

Copywriting is about writing the words that cause your reader to take action.

 

Every expressive writer’s heart sinks a little at those words. Believe me, I know that pain: when I put on my “copywriting hat” I have to take off my “novelist’s hat.” And I won’t lie to you. It stings a little.

 

It stings because I’m using words as tools instead of as a free play of expression. It’s worth it because it pushes my writing skills to the limits, so I learn things I never would have learned any other way. (Not to mention the fact that it pays the bills!)

 

The reason I’m telling you all this is because I want you to understand that copywriting is a different type of writing from any other. It’s as different from poetry or fiction as poetry or fiction are different from each other.

 

It’s got a different texture. It’s got a different structure. It’s got a different set of conventions and a different method of preparation.

 

You’ve got to learn how to make words cause action. When you put on your “copywriting hat,” you not only have to make your readers feel, but you’ve got to convince them to do something. It’s quite a challenge, and it gets harder every day.

 

You’ll have to seize your reader’s attention.

 

You’ll have to arouse your reader’s desire.

 

You’ll have to make your reader afraid of not acting.

 

And you’ll have to become the best at it. You’ll have to become so good at it that it becomes second nature. You’ll have to become so sure of yourself and your writing that it all comes off as if you’ve never felt a twinge of self-doubt in your life.

 

It’s quite a challenge. But if you can learn how to connect with your reader, you’ll be able to do things you’d never have thought you could.

 

You’ll be able to help people find solutions they’d never have been confident to seize otherwise.

 

You’ll be able to amaze your clients with your clever words.

 

And most importantly, you’ll be able to make that dream of making a good living from writing into a reality.

 

Let me know if you have any questions or concerns about copywriting. I’m always trying to tailor this blog to your needs, so I’d appreciate the help.

 

And I know some of you don’t like to post publicly, so feel free to contact me by email at geofreycrow@crowcopywriting.com if you’d rather do it that way.

 

Good luck, and good copywriting!

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