Tips for Aspiring Copywriters
Honestly, I’m surprised as you are that it took me so long to create a post like this.
I’m chalking it up to imposter syndrome, following too many people in my field, and – ironically – trying to find my voice in a sea of impressive, award-winning copywriters.
Although I can now proudly say “I have a copywriting business” when someone asks the dreaded career question, I’m still met with a look of pure confusion as to what my business entails.
But what is copywriting? What exactly do you do? Is that something to do with the legal system?
Surprisingly enough, these questions extend far beyond small talk. When researching copywriting as a potential career pathway, I was met with a lot of generic articles that glossed over the nitty gritty of the occupation.
Sure, I found out how much I could charge an hour at an introductory level *cue moneybags flashing across my eyes* and the different roles I could play as a copywriter, but I was at a loss when it came to personal accounts, opinions and experiences of those in my field.
So, in the honour of sharing knowledge, and debunking myths, I thought I’d answer some of my most commonly asked questions (which is quite thrilling, in itself).
It’s been a real privilege to be profiled, emailed and dm’d about running a copywriting biz, and although I don’t consider myself an expert in the traditional sense, I have experienced a lot since embarking on this journey and am more than happy to share what I know.
*Disclaimer: all of the advice and tips are based on my personal experiences and research. What works for me may not work for you – and that’s A-OK.
Do you need a degree to be a copywriter?
It depends on where you plan to go. If you’re planning to work for an agency, then it’s likely that they’ll expect you to have some form of writing or communication degree. But times are changing – and employers are *slowly* becoming more flexible with whether or not you need formal qualifications to do your job correctly (spoiler alert: you totally don’t). If you’re planning to jump straight into freelance, or start your own biz, then – like most things in business – you can learn on the go. As long as you start out being a good writer, and are prepared to continually upskill, read and listen to feedback, then you’ll be fine.
How did you get your first client?
My first client found me through a free online course that we were both enrolled in! I forced myself to be super active in the Facebook group (a task that I normally loathe) and shared links to my website and socials and was soon approached by a lovely woman in the process of launching a website for her business. I had no money for advertising, and had no previous referrals (aside from my agency work), so the power of social media really pulled through.
How do you get clients now?
It’s coming up to a year since I launched our website, and am still pleasantly surprised at the mix of where clients come from. Some are referrals from previous clients (heart eyes for those generous individuals), others are Instagram, and some are directly through the website. I also made an effort to tentatively pitch to a bunch of local design agencies at the start of the year, letting them know that I was available for freelance projects if they ever needed a writer. 90% of my clients aren’t local, so I believe it comes down to having a strong, interesting website, and nailing your chosen social channels.
What services can you offer as a copywriter?
The typical route is either website copy, brand voice/identity and blogging. There are, of course, a lot of niche pathways from there, but I’ve noticed that they are the typical services new clients require. I’ve done lots of other things though – from editing ebooks, writing email sequences, writing podcast blurbs and product descriptions, assisting with website relaunches and consulting on digital brand direction and strategy. I find that a lot of clients come to me asking for one thing, but after we sit down and have a chat they usually end up needing three or four. So always be flexible, but set clear boundaries so you don’t get stuck doing shitty jobs for the sake of it.
How do you figure out what you want to specialise in?
I truly believe this comes with trial and error. At the start of Rust, I heavily focused on social media packages, because they were at a lower price point and seemed easier to sell. It took me a few months to realise that they weren’t the star of the show, and that people were coming to me for my writing knowledge, rather than socials – which I was stoked about. Start broad, then after working on a few projects you’ll start to figure out what you enjoy and feel passionate about working on. Then you reassess your offerings, and niche the heck down, baby.
How do you set pricing?
Ah pricing, possibly the biggest pest for a new biz owner. I’m sad to admit that I grossly undervalued my worth and experience when initially setting my prices and quoting clients. I think my initial cost was around $40-$50 an hour (before tax) which was more than double what I was currently earning in my agency role. Even though that seemed like a lot at the time, it certainly wasn’t enough to live off, especially with the majority of projects being billed once a month. Since then, I’ve removed my price list from the website and work strictly on a quote-by-quote basis. Quoting is everything, and so are contracts. I always make it very clear that the quote includes 2 revisions only – because some people really do like to take the piss and expect 87 revisions for the same cost as two.
How do you set up billing?
My Diploma of Graphic Design was super handy in this instance, as it taught me to always request 50% of the bill upfront, no exceptions. This covers you in a number of cases (think: late invoices, projects that go over a number of months) and ensures that you have *something* in the bank before you dedicate your time to a project. For smaller projects, say under $400, I request the full payment upfront. This is a personal choice, and one that I made after one too many follow up emails for a dismal amount like $50 or $100. If you’re working with a regular client, then I’d recommend setting up a monthly retainer, which gets billed at the end of the previous month (e.g. bill for April at the end of March), and needs to be paid before work begins (another design trick that I learnt from one of my old colleagues). I’m yet to have a client complain about my billing structure, and I think that as long as you communicate your clear expectations from the start then there’s rarely going to be any drama.
Do you need a brand to be a copywriter, or can you put it under your own name?
Totally up to you, my friend! If you plan on ever having another employee, then I’d recommend coming up with a business name and getting that bad boy registered asap. You can still work as a sole trader with a business name if you’re not ready to dive into a company structure yet. Regardless of the direction you choose, having a solid brand from the get go is so dang important. Before launching Rust, I made sure I had a name, logo and branding suite, website and social accounts all set up. All of that took me about four months to DIY, but you could obviously get it done a lot faster with professional help (or if you’re not working, studying and trying to launch a biz at the same time, haha).
What social media channels should you be on?
Where is your audience? Personally, I’m so over Facebook for biz, and have seriously been neglecting it in recent months. Yes, it can be incredibly powerful when used strategically, but it wasn’t really doing anything for me without paid advertising. I also have a personal and biz account on LinkedIn, which I use primarily for sharing blog posts and articles I’ve written. LinkedIn is great for connecting with specific people, but my main channel at the moment is Instagram. It’s where I’ve built a community, am most active, and enjoy spending my time on. Instagram is also where I get the most enquiries, and find is the easiest to connect with my target audience. Plus, I really love the visual side of things. Pinterest is something I’m planning to revamp, as it can be a really powerful redirection tool back to your website. In short? Do your research, but also stick to the platforms that feel accessible and realistic for you.
What are your thoughts on working for free/service swaps?
This is a tricky one. Most people flat out say NO, but if you really are starting from scratch, sometimes you need to do a bit of work for free. In saying that, you need to set boundaries and clear expectations for the party that you are doing a freebie for. Service swaps are a lot less yucky, but still can go south if in the wrong hands. A great service swap (in my opinion) goes something along the lines of writing a designer’s website copy in exchange for them designing your brand/website. If you’re both at the same level, and both deliver, then it’s a win-win situation. But if one half takes advantage of the other? Total nightmare. I actually had to cut ties with someone I was doing a service swap with pretty early on, because they were completely abusing my generosity and not delivering on their end. It was a real wake up call, and taught me a valuable lesson in knowing when to cut ties (do I sound like your mum yet?).
Do you do any work for charities/nonprofits?
Yes, and I’m so pleased to do so! I’m currently an ambassador for Yes Queen, and have pitched to a couple of other nonprofits to contribute to their blogs. When I first launched Rust, I wrote down a list of dreams and wants from running this biz, and one of them was to support nonprofits that I align with. I’m yet to do any substantial projects for an NP, but with my current workload I love being able to contribute with a monthly blog post or two. Working with charities/nonprofits is also an amazing way to build up your portfolio whilst doing some good. I’d recommend doing some research and pitching to them to get your foot in the door.
Will pitching help me get more clients?
Abso-freakin-lutely. My pal Amanda Campeanu has a really great ebook on pitching that I recommend to anyone new to the pitching game. It will be terrifying at first, and a little heartbreaking when you receive your first rejection email (if they even respond) but it gets easier – and faster – with time. I still pitch to a lot of magazines and blogs that I want to write for and have had excellent results. It’s also a good idea to canvas socials to check out what businesses are startups/don’t have websites yet. You can connect with them via dm or email and put your hand up to help if they ever need it. I’m still surprised by how many business owners don’t realise they need a copywriter – until they have a beautiful, empty website. Another great tip is to connect with graphic designers and web developers. Honestly, making friends in the industry has been my secret weapon – they keep me sane, we can swap tips and refer clients to each other.
How do you balance professionalism and your personality in emails to new clients?
Emails are tricky on a good day to get your personality across, so I tend to focus on writing short, clear sentences, that also feel warm, welcoming and helpful. If you’ve ever emailed me in a professional capacity, you’d know I love me some spacing, exclamation marks and the occasional smiley face to get my point across. This is partly due to my brand values/voice, but also because I want the people I talk to feel that we can connect in a safe space and that no questions are stupid questions (particularly in the quoting stage). The more you work with a particular client, the easier it’ll be to gauge how much bland or interesting they like their email comms to be.
Do you need a blog on a copywriting website?
I see blogs as a free resource for valuable information and entertainment. I personally love when a website, regardless of industry, has an active blog, as it shows that they’re committed to delivering interesting content to their audience. As a copywriter, it makes sense to showcase your talents through a blog – particularly if you’re new to the internet. If you’re yet to have a list of impressive testimonials, then a blog is where you get to showcase your work to potential customers. So yes, run a blog. It certainly won’t do any harm, and it gives you a space to further build your brand – and write whatever you damn please.
Is being a copywriter profitable?
Of course, but like many jobs and businesses, it all comes down to structure, service offerings and pricing. I know plenty of copywriters who are successfully running their biz full time, and I also know a lot of other fantastic ones who are rocking it part time. If you back your pricing, be open to learning and pitch for projects then you can make a very lucrative biz. There’s also plenty of opportunity to diversify your income streams – whether that be through ebooks, digital courses, workshops or consultations, you don’t just have to write to make money.
Okay, I’m going to stop there before this turns into a novel. I hope this post was useful or insightful for you in some way. And if you are one of the wonderful aspiring writers or copywriters that follows Rust, please don’t hesitate to reach out at any time. Seriously. If you can’t already tell, I love sharing and having a good chat, so if you ever need a hand, or just fancy a second opinion, you know where to find us.
Until the next brew,
Viv + Team Rust
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