The number one question I get asked by people when I tell them I’m a freelance copywriter is “How can I do that too? How do I start?”. And of course, the usual “How do I find freelance writing clients?”
These are easy enough to answer, and there are a ton of blogs out there covering the basics. But in this article I want to share everything I’ve learned about how to become a well paid freelance copywriter.
If remote work and freelance writing have been on your mind but you weren’t sure where to start, this will hopefully answer some of your questions!
Being paid well means different things for different people. Some people are happy with an income that lets them work from home, support their loved ones, and live comfortably. Other people want to build a lifestyle where they can work and travel easily. And others want to get really good at their craft and earn a ton of money.
The number one thing to remember is - your copywriting business won’t work unless you do. And you'll need to Do The Work.
When you take the leap into freelance copywriting, you’ll be working on a contract basis writing for clients. These might be big companies, small businesses, agencies, or solo entrepreneurs. Anyone that needs the power of words to promote and sell their products and services can use your help. (Hint: every business needs you!)
If you’re on this page, you probably know a few good reasons already!
This is a hotly debated topic among writers. The truth is those lines are blurry and there is a ton of overlap. Content writers aren’t just “bloggers” -- they’re responsible for creating marketing material that ranks in search engines, builds authority for companies, and warms strangers up to the possibility of becoming customers for a business.
Content marketing isn’t just article writing. It can also involve things like creating ebooks, case studies, white papers, reports, and building out content strategies and editorial calendars for clients.
It’s a myth that you need to be a Mad Men-level agency copywriter to be successful and earn decent money. There are plenty of freelance blog writers who have 6-figure businesses, simply because they know how to find and attract clients that both value the work they do and have the budget to pay them well.
You can be a copywriter for online media, offline media, or both! For example:
Online media - blogs, ads, social media posts, emails, sales letters, video scripts, product descriptions, website copy, sales funnels, landing pages, guides, launch campaigns, press releases.
Offline (print) media - product packaging, billboards, magazines, brochures, manuals, advertisements.
Sadly (but also happily) the bar to entry for the copywriting world is very low, and there is no governing body that qualifies people.
That’s good for you, because we all have to start somewhere, and most of us start out with a LOT to learn. As long as your English writing and grammar skills are solid (most clients in the US and UK require writers with first language level proficiency), you’re qualified enough to start your foray into copywriting. Some clients might require you to have a university degree in English or similar, but in all my years of freelancing, I’ve never been asked.
All clients want to work with a writer who is reliable, honest, enthusiastic, easy to work with, and most of all -- someone who can get them the results they need.
It’s tempting to get stuck in the course-taking trap when you’re starting out as a copywriter. There are ton of good courses out there, but also plenty of terrible ones. Do your research! I have heard some horror stories, and have also purchased a fair few crappy courses myself.
Ask around about any courses you’re thinking of buying in copywriting groups and forums so you can talk with people about their experience. Some of these trainings can set you back thousands of dollars and deliver mediocre results.
You can get amazing training and advice for free online. These are my top picks to get started:
Copyhackers - by legendary conversion copywriter Joanna Wiebe
Expensive training and mentors can be worthwhile, but it’s a good idea to get your feet wet first to see if you enjoy copywriting before you do any heavy investing.
Once you’ve looked at the basics of copywriting and have an idea of what you’d like to write, and who you’d like to write for, it’s time to find your first client.
There’s a whole world of copywriters out there. Some are generalists, while others focus on one or two different industries. Whatever you do – don’t let choosing a niche get in the way of you starting your freelance copywriting career.
“Choosing a niche is not a death sentence. It’s not something you have to do forever, and the benefit is that as soon as you establish yourself as an expert in one space, it’s very easy to start moving into adjacent spaces” - Josh Garofalo, Sway Copy
At the start, you should try and take every gig that you can manage to get some experience, and to try your hand at different forms of copy. After a while, you should have a good feel as to the industries you’d like to work in, and know how to connect with clients to get work in those areas.
You don’t need to niche, but it does make it a lot easier to find clients -- and it’s a lot easier for clients to find you!
B2B (business to business) means that you write for businesses who sell products to other businesses. For example, you might be writing emails for a software company who sells accounting programs to help other businesses manage their finances.
B2C (business to consumer) copywriters help their clients sell directly to consumers. So you could be writing product descriptions for online retail stores, or creating all the copy for packaging on beauty products.
You don’t have to pick one, but most copywriters will have a feel for the style of copywriting they want to do. If you enjoy writing about and selling fun consumer products, you might not enjoy the “dry” tone of B2B writing so much - and vice versa.
Reality check: you probably won’t be earning $500 for a blog post straight out of the gate. Because when you start out, you’re going to suck.
I'm happy to admit that I sucked until I understood how to deliver exactly what clients wanted in terms of content, tone, formatting, and results. We all have to start somewhere, and that includes taking a few low paid projects to begin with so we can learn as we work.
I personally do not recommend sites like Fiverr or Upwork. These are saturated with thousands of freelance writers all over the world who compete for projects by pitching the lowest rates possible. Finding good work there takes a lot of time.
I want everyone reading this to focus on getting paid well, not writing for pennies.
Any new client will want to see some sort of portfolio so they know you can provide them with a good service. This is a problem if you’re new and don’t have any samples to show them!
Before I pitched for my first project, I spent time creating two very in-depth blog posts to use as samples. Looking back, they were terrible, but I got by using them until I had better samples to show off.
Other ways you can get samples are by:
Showing up as a copywriter online
Having an online presence makes you look instantly professional.
It’s a good idea to set up a very basic website (even if it’s only one page) to promote yourself and your work. Don’t invest heavily in logos or an expensive fancy website at this point, because you don’t need them yet. You just need to get started.
A great alternative to creating a website is to use a free portfolio site to host your writing samples.
Publishing articles on Medium can also be a good way for potential clients to get a feel for your writing ability.
Create a profile on LinkedIn - this will help you get in front of potential clients, share your samples, and also build a network of other copywriters and business owners who can support you and help you grow your business. You can network and find clients on other social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram too.
Finding freelance writing work
If you need more advice and inspiration on how to find copywriting clients, I thoroughly recommend the Fishing With Dynamite training by Joel Klettke. It’s money well spent and will give you a ton of ideas on how to attract well paid client work online. I revisit this training whenever I need some fresh inspiration.
If you work for agencies, many of them will simply tell you what they’re going to pay you for each project. This makes life a lot easier - but remember that the agency can be charging the actual client 3-4 times what they’re paying you. That’s why it’s helpful to learn how to negotiate and work directly with clients.
If you’re on a call with a client and they ask your rates, giving them a ballpark “between X and Y” figure can be helpful to feel out the rates they’re willing to pay. Based on this, you can prepare a proposal with a firm quote after the call, or offer a couple of different pricing options depending on the scope of work.
To check if you're pricing too low, ask other copywriters how much they are charging for similar projects - or you can use the handy freelance rate explorer from Bonsai.
Factors to consider when you’re working out what to charge include:
Most copywriters charge per project. This lets you work out all the moving parts of a project as I mentioned above - and charge based on the value you provide.
Flat rates and hourly rates can work against you, and charging per word devalues what you do.
If you charge hourly, the client will expect you to work faster so they don’t need to pay as much - but it’s in your best interests to work slower so you get paid more! This can cause friction, and the client is likely to micromanage you to ensure you’re not slacking off while they’re paying you.
If you charge flat rate fees for projects, you might end up doing a huge amount of research and endless revisions that will make your life a nightmare and mean that you end up earning next to nothing for your work. Quoting to each client's exact scope and needs is the best method.
Trust me - charging per project will keep you sane!
Eventually you’ll get a good feel for how long certain projects will take you. Then you can figure out what you’d ideally like to earn per hour, and do the math on how much you should charge. For example:
Say you want to earn $60 an hour. The client has asked for a 1,000 word blog post. You estimate that it will take you around 5 hours for research, formatting, writing, and editing. So you quote the client for ($60 x 5 hours) = $300.
Ideally you should ask for a 50% deposit before you start writing anything, and the remaining 50% when you hand over your completed work to the client. Your first projects will probably be small, and in that case payment on completion of the work is okay too if you trust the client.
Ensure that you send a contract to the client detailing the work you’ll be doing, how much they’ve agreed to pay you, and the timeline for the project.
If the client sends you a contract, make sure you read it carefully so you don’t sign off on anything you haven’t agreed to.
There are a few software options online for creating legally binding contracts. I use and recommend And.Co because you can easily send proposals, contracts, and invoices where clients can sign everything online and then pay you immediately and securely with their credit card. Getting paid is one of the highlights of this whole copywriting thing!
Once the client has signed the contract and paid the deposit, it's time to start researching and writing.
Get into the habit of asking for testimonials from all the clients you work with. Social proof is super important for helping you get more work (and better paid projects) as you grow your business.
Put these testimonial snippets on your website, in your social posts, on LinkedIn, and anywhere else that prospective clients might see them. Talk about the results you get for clients, and if you have any amazing results (e.g. your emails made a company $100,000 for a product launch) don’t be afraid to shout it loud and tell the world about it -- you never know who’s watching!
Referrals are one of the keys to becoming a well paid copywriter. A referral is a potential client that has been recommended to you by somebody that they trust. This means they already know a bit about what you do, and somebody has vouched for your skills. Projects that come in this way tend to be higher quality and are easier to close.
After you complete a project for a client, tell them that you’d love to work with other clients like them, and would they know anyone else that could use a copywriter in the future? Business owners always know other business owners - so asking for referrals can send extra work your way.
When people start to know who you are, what you do, and that you do a good job, referrals will start to come in - both from other copywriters and organically. This takes the pressure off having to constantly look for new work - because there’s a steady flow of copywriting leads coming right to your inbox.
I hope you’ve found this post helpful on your journey towards becoming a copywriter. Check out the rest of this website and the recommended books listed below to learn more.
The Copywriter’s Handbook by Robert Bly
With Without Pitching by Blair Enns