Starting a Business Ideas: Freelance Copywriting

Are you looking for “starting a business” ideas? In this article you’ll learn how you can build a completely location free business that is well paid and that gives you a lot of freedom! Copywriting really is one of those careers and things you can do that only requires a laptop and your brain. You don’t need any fancy software or a big initial investment to get started. 

I’m going to give you the step by step on how to do all of that without making the same mistakes that I did, that slowed me down. If that sounds good, then let’s get straight to it! 

Step 1: Educate yourself

To become a copywriter, you firstly need to educate yourself on what copywriting actually is, and what the purpose of your writing will be. And then secondly, continuously study and educate yourself on how to actually become a good copywriter, and how to hone your craft. 

So what is copywriting? 

Copywriting is essentially any piece of writing that’s used in business with the end goal or purpose of making sales. It’s actually quite simple. But a lot of the time, copywriting gets confused with content writing. Content writing, on the other hand, isn’t focused on conversions (i.e. making sales, or inciting the reader to take action) in the same way that copywriting is. 

So where would you find copywriting? Well, it could be in any type of content for example:

  • Social media posts
  • Email copy
  • Web copy
  • Online brochures
  • Online PDFs
  • Ebooks
  • Letters

Really in any sort of copy, whether that’s online or offline, that has the purpose of driving sales for business. Now that you know that, you can pretty much understand why copywriting is such an in demand skill. It’s because any business, whether they are big or small – a startup or an established business, they’re going to require copywriting to do business. And that’s exactly where you come in!

The 3 essentials for becoming a good copywriter

A big misconception is that you need to have studied journalism, or to have some fancy degree in writing to be a good copywriter. But that’s just not really true. I would say the three main things that you do need to actually be good and enjoy being a copywriter is to:

  • Be a good communicator: When you speak to people, when you tell stories, or when you write emails or any form of writing, you’re able to get your point across effectively. 
  • Be empathetic and have emotional intelligence: because a lot of what you’re going to be writing about is driven by human psychology. So you need to understand people. 
  • An interest in business and also in psychology and sales: Again, if you have an interest in why people buy and what drives them to take action, then you’ll enjoy learning about it. 

I would say that they are the three prerequisites. Everything else you can learn and become better at. So if you feel like you have ticked those three boxes, then the technical stuff is what you need to educate yourself on. 

How to educate yourself 

So your first step, I would say, is to take a copywriting course. There are tons of these available on Udemy. That’s how I started; I took a couple of super affordable copywriting courses that were quite straightforward. I took the time to learn the basics and I still use those basics today, four or five years later. I think I paid £10 or something around that for my first copywriting course. I think this is a really good way to dip your toe in to see if it’s actually something you want to do before you invest even more time and money into it. 

I remember doing that course and learning something, but also having really enjoyed doing all of the exercises and the practice tasks. So that to me was a good indicator that I would actually enjoy being a freelance copywriter. So make sure you do your research on Udemy or a website like Skillshare. Look at all of the reviews and just pick a copywriting course and in a few hours, or maybe half a day, you’ll be up to scratch on everything you need to know in terms of principles and basics. 

Then when you are satisfied that this is actually something you want to do, then I would start reading up on psychology. Everything that you do in copywriting (and I would argue business) is to do with human psychology. This is where the education never stops. To get better and better, you should constantly be reading books on psychology and marketing, and really just making sure that you are up to date and that you’re honing your skill. 

The first book I would recommend is ‘’Influence and Persuasion’’ by Robert Cialdini. This is almost like the Bible on psychology/sales psychology. This book is just going to be really useful for you to actually learn how the human mind works and how influence and persuasion works in general. Then you can start understanding how you can apply those principles to your writing.

Another book I would recommend is ‘’The Choice Factory’’ by Richard Shotton. It basically looks again at human psychology and all of the biases that we use in our behaviour when we make purchasing decisions. I would really recommend it; it’s super concise and easily digestible. I can guarantee that your writing will get better after reading that book.

The next book I would recommend is David Ogilvy – “On Advertising”. Now this is an absolute classic. Actually, I might say that this is the Bible of copywriting. David Ogilvy was one of the really famous ad men, who was one of the pioneers of advertising. In this book, he literally takes you through all of his learnings throughout his career. This book is going to teach you the old school principles of direct response marketing, or in other words –  copywriting. 

The reason I found it interesting was because even though Ogilvy was talking about print ads, billboards and newspaper ads, what he was saying was actually really applicable to online marketing. So it just shows just how timeless his advice is. 

Now, the final book I would recommend is ‘’Building a Story Brand’’ by Donald Miller. The story brand framework is relatively new. However, I found that I’ve used it a ton of times in my freelance copywriting career. Even if you don’t read the whole book, just familiarise yourself with the framework and the principle as I think it’s super useful. 

Again, it’s just another tool in your toolbox for when you are writing  copy, but that is by no means an exhaustive list. Those are just the books that have been most influential and most useful to me in becoming a better copywriter. But also, I massively geek out over this, and I read about this in my spare time, online and in other books. So if this is the career you’re interested in, then you will do the same as you just want to constantly be learning and getting better. 

Step 2: Specialise

I know that when you’re just starting out, niching down can be scary. It can be counterintuitive because you get the feeling that you’ll be turning clients down and turning money down. Even though this may be the case at the start, it’s actually going to help you in the long run because businesses are going to hire you based on your niche experience. So the first few projects that you undertake are really likely to set the direction that your copywriting takes. This means you do want to be quite intentional and strategic with the type of work that you take on when starting a business from home. 

Not only this, but specialising is really going to help you with branding yourself and differentiating yourself from other copywriters. You will also have less to learn because you’ll only be learning about one small part of copywriting, and then you’ll be able to become an expert at that much much faster. This means you will attract clients and generate business a lot faster. 

I would say there are two factors to bear in mind when you are thinking about specialising: Firstly, you want to narrow down on the industry that you’re in. So whether that’d be travel, property investment, health etc. and the second thing you want to do is choose what type of copy you actually want to specialise in writing. So whether that be web copy, email copy or social media content; I would make sure to choose something that you enjoy. But more importantly, choose something that there is actually demand for in copywriting. There are certain niches or industries that command higher rates by nature than others, namely: 

  • Finance/investment
  • Real estate
  • Science and tech
  • Health and fitness

These are just some of the industries that tend to actually command higher rates for copywriters, just because they are slightly more technical. They have higher barriers to entry and therefore they likely have fewer copywriters actually providing that service. 

On the other hand, less well-paid niches include:

  • Travel
  • Beauty
  • Fashion
  • Lifestyle 

They simply have lower barriers to entry and therefore there are more copywriters serving those niches. So you will probably have a harder time commanding higher rates if you’re writing about something like that. 

When I started out, I basically had two areas that I felt that I was an expert in. One of these was property because I invest in property and the other one was social media and content marketing. Now I could have become a social media copywriter, creating social media content for people. But there are just so many copywriters also providing that service, whereas something like property and real estate investing is actually quite niche. It’s quite a complex and technical topic. 

I was finding that a lot of the clients I was working with had trouble finding copywriters in the past that understood their business. That’s why I was able to gain a lot of traction, gain a lot of business and actually demand really good rates for my work. I actually niched down even further and started serving clients in the real estate sector with their social media marketing. Eventually I was doing social media copywriting but as I evolved, and I grew, I actually specialised in website copywriting. Currently, that is the only type of copywriting project I will take on. 

Step 3: Build your network 

An important tip for becoming a freelance copywriter is to network both online and offline. This is going to allow you to secure your first client and, most importantly, get a glowing testimonial. I would say securing testimonials is your priority because it’s what’s going to allow you to then attract even more clients. Your first step is to find a local event in your area that’s specific to this industry, or just any general networking event where you know that those people that you want to target will be hanging out. You just have to go there, socialise with people and just tell people that you’re a copywriter, and that you’re offering copywriting services. 

Now for your first clients, I would actually work for free. It’s a bit of a controversial topic. But it’s a choice that I made at the beginning of my business, I actually did a few projects for free, because I knew that I just wanted a testimonial. I found someone that I wanted to work for and I was happy to take that hit in the short term, because I knew it would pay off in the long term. So your options are to either do a project for free, so you can get that under your belt, or at least provide some sort of discounted pricing. I would really say for your first few projects, charge something like half price or just something that’s really, really affordable for the client, because you want to make it a no brainer. 

When you meet someone at networking they might mention that they’re potentially interested and that maybe their website needs looking at. But even if they don’t, just take their business card and then when you get home, find their online copy. For example, find their website and just look at it critically, asking these questions: 

  • What would you change?
  • Do you think it could be improved?
  • How would you do it?

Then I would follow up with that person just saying something like “Lovely to meet you! I’ve just had a look at your website and I actually think it would benefit from xyz … “ and list out what you would do, and then ask them if they would be interested. If you’re offering to do that for free, there are very, very few people who are actually going to say no. This is why copywriting is one of the best “starting a business” ideas.

Now at this point, even if you are doing it for free, you may be asked for previous work. So it’s just a good idea to have in Google Drive just a link to some previous work that you’ve done. Obviously, it’s not going to be for other clients, but you should have at least practised your copywriting by now. So you can just have a few pieces in there that you’ve done in your own time just to provide as examples of your writing. 

So once you’ve secured your first client, your next goal is to absolutely wow them with your work! That won’t be difficult if you have already educated yourself and especially if you’re doing it for free, or for a discounted price. The reason that absolutely wowing that first client is really going to help you is because they are likely to then refer you to some of their contacts, who might also need that service. 

More importantly, they will provide you with a testimonial. Getting this testimonial is really going to help you secure subsequent clients. And when you go to speak to your next client, you will actually be charging full price as you’ll have your testimonial or your social proof. And that will allow you to attract your first proper paid client!

Step 4: Price by the outcome, not by the hour 

The reason pricing by the hour doesn’t work for you is because as you get more experienced, it’s going to take you less time to write a piece of copy. Now, does that mean that you should be penalised and get paid less because you now have more experience? No. So a really good habit to get into from the start is to actually price by the project. 

As you get better and better you’ll find that your time required to complete that project decreases and your pay increases. I find that pricing by the hour is also actually really bad for the client because when you say this is my hourly rate and you give an estimate of how long it will take, it’s still an estimate. There’s no concrete price for the client, which is a lot of uncertainty for them. Also a lot of uncertainty for you, as it’s really hard to budget and plan financially when you don’t actually know just how much you’re going to be getting from a single project. 

Now, the secret here is this: You need to actually know how long it will take you! You never want to associate the actual project cost with the number of hours it will take you to the client – this is just a calculation that you need to do on the back end. So at the beginning, you may quote something and you may start tracking your time and realise that actually, you spent way too long on this type of project. Then you know, next time that you need to charge more, and this is something that you learn as you become better and better, you start to understand how long it takes you to do specific things, and then you know exactly how to price for that. 

At the beginning, you want to just roughly estimate how long it will take you and then give the client a price off of that. Don’t tell them this is how much I charge per hour. The key is to tie your pricing to the end result or the outcome that the client has working with you. So what are they actually going to gain from it? They’re going to gain a highly converting website, a website that acts as their 24 hour salesperson for example. This way you’re looking at the benefits, as opposed to tying your pricing and your renumeration to the number of hours that you put into the project. 

Retainer clients = dream clients 

If you come across a client who wants to work with you continuously, then I would suggest working on a monthly retainer basis. A retainer is essentially when they pay you a certain sum every month for delivering on a set scope of work. Retainers are great both for you and the client because you know how much money you’ll be getting from them every month. Therefore you can plan accordingly. It’s the same for the client: they can budget and plan with their spending. The only thing I would say if you’re doing a retainer is to have a contract in place, or to have guidelines in place about what your role actually is. 

A big mistake I made with one of my first clients is that I was on a retainer with them (great!), but I didn’t set boundaries (bad!). And what that meant is that they basically treated me like an employee, they gave me loads of work that wasn’t included, they expected me to be working for them all of the time and to always be responsive. And that was really my fault, because I didn’t set out the terms of the agreement in a contract. 

If you’re looking for “starting a business” ideas, becoming a freelance copywriter is absolutely amazing! You can literally work from a beach, anywhere from your laptop, you can travel, you get paid quite well. If you enjoy it, it’s just a really fun thing to do. But I find the reason that most people don’t get to enjoy that stage is because they don’t have boundaries with their clients, and they don’t have the right pricing structure. And what happens is, the copywriting just ends up turning into another job. And that takes away all of the benefits. So make sure you implement these tips to avoid the mistake that I made! 

Step 5: Build your online presence

Leverage social media and really build your brand, your profile and your authority online, because one of the first things that people are going to do is Google you. If you don’t have that online presence, and you don’t have those testimonials and that social proof up there, then they’re probably not going to hire you. 

Your online presence as a freelancer is really, really important. So even if you don’t actually use LinkedIn, you don’t post on it regularly I would just make sure that your profile is optimised so that you at least have “copywriter” in your job position. I remember I had a “freelance copywriter for property, finance and investment” in mine and I got a ton of inquiries that way because recruiters and business owners were literally typing that into the LinkedIn search bar. You might also consider adding your testimonials and your social proof as Google reviews so that if and when people Google you, that can be one of the first things that comes up. 

Now a really good trick that you can use as a freelance copywriter is to actually use your social media as an example of your writing and a portfolio of your work. I actually had a lot of clients find my profile on Instagram and hire me because of my writing in the captions (which was direct response copywriting – exactly the service that I offered). They saw that as the portfolio of my work and hired me off the back of that. I would say that you do not need a website at this point. It’s something that’s going to take a lot of time to set up, and it’s just not something that’s really going to move the needle and get clients. Only when you feel like you have the breathing space, you have time and you have multiple testimonials and social proof, then you can start thinking about creating a simple website.

That’s why copywriting is one of the best “starting a business” ideas!

Anyway, if you’re looking for “starting a business” ideas, then I hope that this article has persuaded you to consider, or at least look into, becoming a copywriter! Copywriting is what ultimately allowed me the financial breathing space to start my online consulting business. And it’s a skill I use every day in online marketing. 

Also check out these relevant blog posts:

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