Succeeding at being self-employed isn't easy. But being a freelance copywriter isn't as tough as some would have you believe. Think about it: people who're trying to sell you online writing courses, freelance writing seminars and books on how to blog need you to think you couldn't possibly make it otherwise. But all you really need to succeed are the essentials: writing ability, a good grasp of SEO, a fluid 'voice', some basic marketing ability and very basic negotiation skills.
Now, we're not talking George R. R. Martin or J.K. Rowling type skills here. The good news is, writing copy is basically researching the topic and then writing down the information-which means it's easier for most people than creative writing, which needs a plot, imagination, characters, and so on. A spellcheck and dictionary should be all that you need, no matter how lacking in confidence you are about your writing ability. If you're writing something that's more academic or upmarket, a thesaurus might come in handy. Proofreading and second attempts will polish up your pieces.
One of the first things you'll notice when you start out as a freelance copywriter is that some clients will request you insert certain phrases into your copy. That's SEO-Search Engine Optimization. There's a lot of chatter about SEO techniques, but to succeed at freelance writing all you have to do is insert the SEO text twice into your article. There's no need for heavy-handed repetition, as this will give your copy a commercial, unprofessional feel. It won't 'flow' and your clients won't be pleased.
A Fluid 'Voice'
This is essential. Even if you're only copywriting for one industry (say, medical or financial copywriting), you will still need to alter your voice for different assignments. A magazine, blog, industry journal and company website all require different writing styles, from the edgy and cheeky to academic and professional. Try altering the words you use (a thesaurus may help), the length of your sentences and the use of punctuation. For example, exclamation marks and question marks are all good for most magazines and blogs, but would look unprofessional in a trade journal. Similarly, ask yourself if slang words and informal language (awesome, great, pretty, totally, yeah, crap) are appropriate. And sometimes it's best to avoid common sayings and clichés-though for less formal publications they actually work well. If you're unsure, think about the audience you're trying to reach. For example I'm writing to you, the public, right now. So my tone is informal-but it's not too informal. If you're asked to write as someone else (e.g. a fictitious company employee, which I have done many times) think about what sort of colloquialisms they'd use based on location, age and social background. If you're going to lie for money, you might as well make it believable.
Basic Marketing Ability
Most of us want to run a mile when we hear the word “marketing”. Let's face it, you want to write, not waste time trying to sell yourself. But all you really need to be a successful freelance copywriter are the basics: a website and a social media profile.
Your website should look professional. It's a reflection of you. Write a bit about yourself and showcase a few writing samples. You can create websites for free with Wordpress, though some freelance writers prefer platforms like GoDaddy.
Having a social media profile will help you connect with other freelance writers and follow industry news; you can get tips and make contacts this way. LinkedIn is best for this, but Twitter has plenty of potential too- you can even use it to network, search for and contact potential clients. People sometimes advertise freelance writing work on Twitter. If you're going to tweet, though, keep it professional-no drunken photos, silly conversations with mates or whinging about personal problems. If you want to interact with friends on social media, consider creating two accounts and use one solely for work.
And remember that marketing opportunities are everywhere. Shout it to all your Facebook friends and spread the word to your friends, colleagues/ex colleagues and neighbours. If you've got a blog, create a page advertising your freelance writing services. The quality of writing on your blog will showcase your writing skills, and you'll be marketing to an existing audience who already know you. With PayPal, it's even possible to do this if you blog anonymously, as you won't need to reveal your real name to be paid.
Finally, business cards are very cheap and can be useful at events or even if you suddenly spot a marketing opportunity during a conversation or when you're out and about.
Negotiation Skills (Of The Very Basic Variety)
I'm not even talking actual negotiation here- just the ability not to get seduced by the offer of bulk or ongoing work to the extent that you take any assignment going. Even if the client pays well, if you're doing hours of research for every blog post or having to study all the ins and outs of a particular industry, is it worth it? The time you're spending might mean that you're really earning much less than your usual rate, even if it appears you're being paid well. That said, to be a successful freelance writer you have to be willing to step outside your comfort zone and be comfortable researching and writing about topics you don't know about. That's pretty much what freelance writing is- even if you stick to writing on a single subject or for a specific industry. The trick is to work out how much research time will go in to each project you're offered, and adjust your rates accordingly. For example, I'd charge less for writing product descriptions than blog articles, even if both are exactly the same word count- because with product descriptions all the information is provided and there's no need to research.
Freelance writing isn't hard. In fact, it's freeing- you decide which offers to take, you set your own rates, and best of all you set your own working hours. And if you can get a hold of these basics, freelance copywriting can definitely turn into a rewarding career.
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