Freelance copywriting

What is freelance copywriting?

Freelance copywriting is words – copy – which is done by a writer who is not employed within an agency or company. The individual usually accepts work on a contract or project basis. Freelance copywriting is done for a range of advertising or marketing materials and purposes.

Adverts, website copy, and blog posts are all examples of work that can be done by a freelance copywriter. As long as the copy is written with the aim of persuading or informing an audience, it is ‘copy’ rather than just words.

What is freelancing?

It isn’t just copywriters who can work on a freelance basis. Creatives from all areas can choose to freelance rather than be employed in-house or by an agency. Take a look at this article for more information to the question “what is freelancing?”.

Types of freelance copywriting: sectors and specialties

There are freelance copywriting opportunities available in most sectors. From engineering to healthcare and retail to pharmaceuticals. Wherever a business needs to inform or persuade an audience, you’ll find copywriting.

Within each sector is the opportunity for different types of copywriting. And it’s here that you can choose to specialise. For example, all sectors will need copy in at least one of the following forms:

  • SEO
  • Social media
  • Marketing (eg: digital, inbound, content etc)
  • Technical
  • PR
  • Bid writing
  • Thought leadership
  • Brand or creative

How to become a freelance copywriter

There isn’t really a specific route into becoming a copywriter. Copywriters come from all walks of life and will have very different existing skill sets, backgrounds, interests, and qualifications. What they do have in common though, is the ability to write. To share knowledge. And there isn’t really a correct way to get into this. However, there are a few things you can do to become a copywriter:

Write

It sounds obvious, but you can’t call yourself a writer if you aren’t actively doing it. And at this point, if you don’t have clients, use it as an opportunity to practice different styles of writing. What kind of things are you good at writing? Great – write more. What aren’t you as good at? Great – WRITE MORE!

All of this practice will make you more confident in your writing abilities.

This will help you with our next point.

Build a portfolio

A portfolio is a collection of examples of your work. It’s a great way to showcase both the writing you’ve done and the clients you’ve worked for. But if you’re just starting out, where do these examples come from?

Again, if you’re not writing for existing clients, write for your fantasy ones. Google example copywriting briefs and write your own response. Include as many forms, styles, and sectors as you can. For example, try to include social media messaging, short-, medium-, and long-form copy (biogs, blogs and articles), SEO content, editorial content, and web copy, etc. If you choose to do this when starting your portfolio, remember to make it clear that you have not actually worked for any of these clients. Once you start writing for real clients, you can replace the examples with ‘real’ work.

Market yourself

Once you’ve got a portfolio together, it’s time to get serious about looking for real clients and paid work. But where can you find them? Opportunities are everywhere. The secret is to market yourself so that people know what you can do for them. And where they can find you when they need you.

Where to find online freelance copywriting jobs

Perhaps you’ve just left an in-house role. It’s worth telling co-workers about your new enterprise. It’s also worth emailing people you’ve worked with to let them know about your new freelance copywriting business. Keep those contacts connected. It’s not about stealing clients. Instead it’s about giving them the chance to follow you on your new journey. This can be something you do on LinkedIn, if you don’t feel like email is an appropriate medium. At the very least, you can ask these contacts for testimonials to use in your marketing materials. 

Here are some other ideas on how to find clients as a freelance copywriter:
  • Build a website or start a blog. Showcase your copywriting, web copy, and SEO skills on your own platform.
  • Approach other blogs and ask to write a guest post. Everyone needs content when it comes to the online world. Guest posts are usually done for free but can be great for exposure. Check out the blogs’ guidelines and submit your medium- to long-form copy.
  • Look for businesses you think would benefit from having a blog and offer your services. This is similar to cold calling, so don’t be surprised if you don’t hear back. But it’s good to get on their radar and if they choose to start a blog, chances are they’ll think of you.
  • Sign up to freelance sites and search the job listings. There are a number of sites where you can find freelance copywriting jobs. Each comes with its own pros and cons so make sure you find the right fit for you.
  • Upwork isn’t just for copywriters but it’s a busy marketplace for freelancers of all kinds to pitch for jobs listed by clients.
  • PeoplePerHour is another large marketplace which brings businesses and freelancers together.
  • Copify is a UK-based job board which operates slightly differently to freelance marketplaces. Here, you can accept tasks and assignments without needing to submit bids or proposals.
  • Contently is a freelance network and content marketing platform which boasts some of the world’s top brands.

Qualifications for freelance copywriting

You don’t need to have any formal qualifications in order to become a freelance copywriter. While this is fantastic in terms of there not being a barrier, it also means that anyone who thinks they can write can write copy. And this isn’t always the case. You might not need copywriting qualifications, but you do need a very particular set of skills. Skills you have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make you a nightmare for people like…wait a moment… 

What skills do I need to become a copywriter?

As well as being able to read and write to a high standard, you’ll also need to have a range of other skills in order to be a successful freelance copywriter.

Communication

Communication in freelance copywriting isn’t just about the written word. You also need to be a good verbal communicator. You’ll be dealing with clients from all sorts of backgrounds and levels of understanding. Which means that you need to be able to talk to everyone. Whether you’re explaining ideas, discussing the client’s needs, or requesting information, you need to communicate clearly.

You also need to keep a paper trail of all communication with the client if possible, as this could come in handy if queries or concerns are raised. It’ll also help you keep track of everything that goes into a job. And can be used to itemise costs.

Listening skills

Strong communication skills go hand in hand with listening skills. You’ll need to be able to listen to the client and interpret those conversations. Sometimes a client doesn’t really know what they want. They know what they don’t want. But that’s harder for you to work with, which means you’ll need to listen closely. Look for clues within the instructions.

Research skills

No one expects you to know everything about every single topic in the world. However, if you commit to a job, you need to write as if you do. Which is where good research skills come in. You need to be able to find relevant information and key statistics from trusted sources in the field.

Within the area of research comes the need to be a quick learner. For example, if you’re asked to write about sports betting, but you have no prior knowledge, you need to learn enough about it to write with authority. Your role is to inform the client’s audience. To do that you should gather relevant information, interpret it for the end reader, and write in the brand’s tone of voice.

Attention to detail

Having a good eye for detail goes a long way in the world of freelance copywriting. You need to be able to write, proof, and edit your own copy. And to check for spelling and grammar mistakes along the way. Give yourself time before the deadline to properly read through everything. Make sure you dot the i’s and cross the t’s.

Work alone and as part of a team

As a freelance copywriter, you might think you’re a lone wolf. And while you’re likely to spend a lot of your time working alone, there will be a lot of collaboration. Depending on your clients, you may work alongside members of their in-house team. At the very least, you’ll probably have a key contact, but with some projects you could get quite involved in things.

Ask for and take criticism/feedback

Criticism can be a hard pill to swallow. But constructive criticism is a necessary part of freelancing copywriting. Afterall, the customer (client) is always right…Your ultimate aim is to provide them with copy that fits the purpose and solves a problem. You need to know if you’re fulfilling the brief. As well as their idea of the brief. Unfortunately those two things can be very different, so it’s important to make sure you’re all on the same page as early on in the process as possible.

A wide vocabulary

You need to talk the talk when it comes to copywriting; whatever the language. Having a wide vocabulary will put you in good standing to pick up sector-specific vernacular. And write for any level of understanding, which is important in terms of speaking to the target audience correctly. If you don’t have a wide vocabulary, buy a thesaurus.

Social media

As well as writing copy for social media, you may be required to schedule it. Social media is a separate skill to copywriting, but one that is closely linked within Marketing. Make sure you know the basics of how the most popular social media platforms work. At the very least, you should understand the organic side of things but paid social knowledge would be a huge asset too. The more skills you can add to your skillset, the more value you can offer to the client. A streamlined marketing strategy can only appeal to a client. If they’re impressed with your work, they’re more likely to buy-in to add-ons. It means they’ll get work they’re happy with from a trusted source without the need for a lot of moving parts.

But aim to become a one man band, rather than a Jack of all trades.

Time management

This is one of the top skills you’ll need as a freelance copywriter. If you’re successful, the chances are that you’ll be managing multiple projects at once. And often across a number of clients. Some will have longer deadlines than others, which means that you’ll need to prioritise work. Be organised. Create and stick to a schedule, as this will help you use your time wisely.

How much do freelance copywriters make?

How much is a piece of string? The answer to the question “how much do freelance copywriters make?” is a difficult one. There are so many variables. For example, some people do this full time, whereas it’s a side hustle for others. And because set hours aren’t really a thing in freelancing, the average hourly or daily rate can differ greatly too.

We looked at some of the UK’s leading recruitment sites for an idea on how much freelance copywriters make on average. Please keep in mind that the sample sizes are very small here, so these are just a guide to freelance copywriter earnings.

Indeed

Based on the reported salaries of 18 freelance copywriters, the average day rate is £72.12 (updated August 5th 2021). 

Glassdoor

Glassdoor estimates an average annual salary of £29,372 (updated August 14th 2021). This estimate is based on the salaries of 11 freelance copywriters, which ranged from £16,000 to £53,000.

Talent.com

Based on 123 salaries, Talent.com estimates the average salary of a freelance copywriter in the UK to be £36,400 per year or £18.67 per hour. The reported salaries ranged from £18,000 to £72,800. It is unknown when these figures were last updated.

ProCopywriters

Since 2016, ProCopywriters have asked copywriters to share their experiences. For their 2020 report, they gathered responses from 640 copywriters and found that there was an increase in average earnings (11% full-time, 18% part-time) compared to the previous year. The report also found that the average day rate for copywriters had risen to £379 (from £349 in 2019). It’s important to note that not all of the responders are freelance copywriters. We’ll look at some of the report’s other findings a little later on.

How much should I charge?

As you can see from the averages above, there’s quite a large variation in how much a freelance copywriter can make. So how do you know how much to charge?

First of all, you should decide if you want to charge per hour/day or per project. Choosing to cost each project separately means you can assess the demands of individual projects. Whereas if you charge a flat rate, you could end up under/over charging and even find yourself out-of-pocket.

Your skills as a writer are valuable. Yes, practically anyone can pick up a pen, dictate into a machine, or open up a Google Doc on their laptop. But that doesn’t mean everyone can write copy. So don’t undervalue yourself. The amount you charge should reflect your copywriting experience, as well as the demands of the project. Things like your skills, experience, training, more experience you have, and the more prestigious the brands you’ve worked for, the more you can charge.

There are a few elements that should be taken into consideration when pricing up a project. For example:

  • Does the brief cover the problem sufficiently?
  • How long will the project take?
  • How much research will you need to do?
  • What is the deadline?
  • How many revisions are you prepared to include?
  • Are you prepared to offer further revisions?
  • How technical is the language you’ll need to use? Who is the content for?
  • Will feedback be given face-to-face or via email?

When you scope out a project, you need as much information as possible. It helps you make a judgement on pricing. And it’s important to get as many of the questions above answered as early on in the process as possible. That way, you’re able to see the bigger picture.

Talking about money can be difficult. Especially if you’re new to freelance copywriting and running a business. But it’s important not to feel awkward when pitching an amount. The client needs to know how much you charge so that they can work it into their budget. At the end of the day, it’s up to them to accept the price or not. And you also need to know that they value your abilities. So with that in mind, it’s better to give a ballpark figure as soon as you can so that those decisions can be made. By giving an idea of costs early doors, everyone has a better view on what the end-to-end process will look like. With as few ‘nasty’ surprises as possible, along the way.

Key stats about freelance copywriting

We talked earlier about ProCopywriter and the annual study they conduct. The 2020 report gathered responses from 640 copywriters. As well as the average earnings of UK copywriters, the report also features a number of other interesting stats. For example, what tools do you need as a freelance copywriter? According to respondents, these are some useful tools to get to grips with:

  • Microsoft Word (90%)
  • Google Analytics (50%)
  • Trello (included in ‘Other’)
  • Grammarly (included in ‘Other’)
  • Mailchimp (29%)
  • HubSpot (12%)
  • Moz (12%)

Having at least a working knowledge of as many of these tools as possible could make your role as a freelance copywriter easier. Find the tools that work best for you. Streamline your workflow and enhance your skill set. You may also be able to integrate yourself more quickly into the client’s workspace which could be useful in cementing a great working relationship. It could also be handy when it comes to selling in more work.

In fact, according to the ProCopywriter 2020 report, respondents talked about the importance of having skills other than copywriting. What other skills could you offer to clients?:

  • Copyediting (83%)
  • Proofreading (69%)
  • Content management and strategy (57%)
  • Search Engine Optimisation (50%)

That list isn’t exhaustive. There are so many strings to add to your bow. In fact, there are so many, let’s throw in another metaphor. You could really become a fantastic one-man band of copywriting-related offerings. 

The 2020 ProCopywriter report also found that one of the best ways to find new clients is through word-of-mouth (89%). Which indicates the importance of networking when it comes to the world of freelance copywriting. Other methods respondents find work for them include:

  • Social media (57%)
  • Your own website (49%)
  • Advertising (11%).

For more interesting stats, take a look at the 2020 ProCopywriters report for yourself. While you’re there, check out some of the fantastic resources they have on offer for copywriters.

Sole trader or limited company?

How you set yourself up as a freelance copywriter is completely up to you. As a sole trader, you are the business. Which means that there’s no distinction between the two and if there are debts, for example, you are responsible. However, as a limited company, you’re an employee…of your own business. But not of yourself – that’s the difference. In this case, the business would be responsible for any debts.

Whichever option you choose, you’ll need to pay tax. As a sole trader, you can fill in a self-assessment tax return on the HMRC site. However, as a limited company it makes sense to employ an accountant to sort this for you. If you can, talk to other freelance copywriters and ask about their experiences. This will help you decide what’s best for you and your freelance business.

One of the main things to keep in mind whether you’re a sole trader or limited company is keeping track of all incoming and outgoing money. Bookkeeping is where you keep a record of everything you spend and earn. You can either do this using a spreadsheet or an accounting service like SAGE. This will help you when it comes to filling in your self-assessment tax returns at year end.

Speaking of tax, there’s quite a bit to get your head around but let’s keep it simple. When it comes to profits, you’ll pay income tax as a sole trader and corporation tax as a limited company.

As with most of the side hustles on the Make Money Online Hub, registering for VAT isn’t necessarily a legal requirement. In the UK, you only need to register for VAT if your taxable turnover exceeds £85,000. Please be aware that if you are not VAT registered, then you can’t charge VAT on your freelance work.

For more information on working for yourself, please see gov.uk.

If you’re not a writer but like the idea of freelancing, check out this article for more information about freelance work. Or take a look at the MMO Hub for ideas on the different ways you can make money online, such as dropshipping or online comping.

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