How I started out — for new freelancers

Every now and again, someone starting out as a freelance web copywriter will get in touch to ask me for tips. I’m happy to help and share my own experience — when I began, the lovely Jo Tidball gave me lots of guidance.

It’s only right, then, that I pass on the good karma. However, I find myself saying the same things each time, so this post contains a few pieces of ‘wisdom’. And I may add more in the future, if anything important comes to mind.

Get yourself a website

A personal website is very important indeed, especially if you’re a web copywriter! It shows people:

  • that you’re serious and professional about what you do
  • that you practise what you preach and you’re credible
  • what you can do, even if your portfolio is small or non-existent at this stage.

Before my website was ready, I contacted people by email to introduce myself. But it was only once the site was live that I started getting bites and projects.

With your domain name, you can set up a ‘proper’ email address too. (Hotmail addresses, for example, don’t shout professionalism.) And these two things lead to…

Think about your branding

I don’t have a plan to create a company. I’m happy freelancing and being a lone ranger at the moment. But I thought up a name for myself because you never know what the future may bring. And ‘Concise Content’ describes what I do.

It also helped to give me a sense of purpose and put my mindset in that of a professional service provider. Of course, many freelancers are happy using their name — and that’s fine too. Just don’t overlook this consideration — it’s harder to change in the future.

At the start, I made my own rather ‘rough and ready’ logo. It was only in 2010 that my designer friend Mariana Murabito (Monok) created the brilliant logo that you see on the website today!

Don’t be shy — contact everyone

Because I came from the construction and engineering sector, I decided to focus on this industry as a starting point. I simply contacted as many (relevant) people as possible in that type of business.

I researched firms that I was interested in and then sent the right person an email, introducing myself briefly and including links to my website. And from there, I got one client and then another.

I also won some work through the web agency that my old employer used — they knew me there and were happy to give me a go. Once I had those clients (and a larger portfolio), I started gathering a bit of speed and small projects in other sectors.

My original plan was to stick to engineering and construction but I’ve ended up focusing on mostly B2B work in all sectors. It gives me lots of variety and I love it. I also regularly search job boards — even if I’m not quite right for a project, I often write to introduce myself.

Network however and whenever you can

There seem to be bucket loads of free and paid-for events and conferences in the UK. If I lived there, I’d go to them! However, the scene is a lot quieter here and also caters for a market in which I don’t work much at the moment.

So online networking is my biggest opportunity to put myself out there and introduce myself to the right people. It’s even easier in some ways than face-to-face networking — I can check their job titles before engaging in a conversation!

As well as this blog and an occasional newsletter, I use LinkedIn and Twitter a lot. I’ve found them to be the best tools for my purposes. And these four channels take up quite enough of my time, so I haven’t engaged in any others to date.

The tricky question — pricing

Such a delicate subject! Think about the experience you have to offer and how much you need to earn — it’s very easy to underestimate. Never calculate an hourly rate on the basis of working 231 days (a year minus weekends and 30 days’ holiday), 7 hours a day. You’re unlikely to have that much work!

I priced myself very competitively when I first started out in 2008 — it reflected the experience I could demonstrate and also made me attractive to digital agency budgets. At the time, I charged about 20-30 GBP per hour, depending on the work, client or project size.

There’s also lots of guidance available online. I suggest taking a look at the recommended minimum rates for hiring copywriters proposed by The Professional Copywriters’ Network.

Impress them with your speed!

The majority of my clients are UK based and the distance isn’t an issue for them. I just make sure I’m super fast to respond and easily available (Skype is amazing but also sometimes a curse!) so that they don’t think twice about where I am.

However, this also applies if you’re just an hour down the road. Be efficient, reply quickly and show them that you want their project! And my own personal approach is to be very friendly and chatty — it’s how I’m comfortable and so I perform at my best.

Well, I hope this has all helped a bit. There are lots of books out there on setting up as a freelancer, so I don’t want to go into too much detail. But if you have a question for me, just leave it in the comments below and I might add an answer to this post.

Update 25/09/15: Here’s an excellent post from copywriter Tom Albrighton — How to become a freelance copywriter

7 thoughts on “How I started out — for new freelancers

  1. I followed your link on Twitter to read this Helen and had a lovely surprise when I saw myself mentioned in the first paragraph! Thanks 🙂

    All really sound advice for people new to freelancing and a helpful reminder to those of us who’ve been around for a while too.

  2. You’re very welcome, Jo! And I’m pleased that you agree with the advice I’ve suggested — everyone has their own way of doing things but I hoped that these tips were broadly universal. Thank you again for all the advice you gave when I started going down the freelance route back in early 2008!

  3. Great advice, thanks Helen. I am your target market for this article 🙂 Hay sol en espana?
    🙂 (that was possibly not v. good Spanish. My degree was a long time ago.)

  4. Hi Mel! You’re welcome, I’m glad you found it useful. Your website looks very good too; it’s easy to read and navigate. Good luck with freelancing — I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. No te preocupes, me parece perfecto la frase! Y además he descubierto que hay una diferencia sutil entre ‘hay sol’ y ‘hace sol’ — gracias 🙂

  5. Thanks for kind comments about my site. I’m chuckling here because I had NO idea that there’s a difference between ‘hay sol’ and ‘hace sol’. But then I am the girl who translated the Spanish for binoculars as ‘twins’ during my finals…oh god I’ve gone hot with shame remembering that!

  6. Thank you Helen for the sound advice! Expect a many more questions to come you way shortly…. Charlotte

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