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Going it alone: ten top tips for starting your freelance copywriting business

Most writers, at some stage in their career with an agency or in-house, think about breaking free and exploring the wide open spaces of freelance copywriting. 

Some of us even go ahead and do it! (That’s me in the picture, living the dream… I wish!)

It’s scary, leaving the security of a regular salary and colleagues you’ve known for years. But most freelance copywriters will tell you it’s the best thing they’ve ever done.

If you’re tempted to follow the call of the wild and make the jump into freelancing – go for it! You don’t need me to tell you how to write, but here are my top ten tips for successful self-employment.

1. Plan ahead

You might be jumping into unknown territory, but by planning ahead you can make your landing as soft as possible. Tell people what you intend to do and cultivate useful contacts; make sure you have the funds to support yourself for a couple of months; decide where and how you’re going to work.

2. Remember you’re more than a copywriter now

As a freelance copywriter, you’re running your own business. And unless you have others to help you, you’re going to be responsible for finding the work, doing it, invoicing it and (most importantly) making sure you get paid.

I can’t emphasise enough how important that last one is! For most writers – especially those who have been in big agencies – becoming a credit controller takes a bit of getting used to.

3. Don’t forget the taxman! (And insurance, and your pension…)

When you’re an employee, your tax, national insurance and everything else is taken care of. But as a freelancer, you are responsible for making sure your legal and tax obligations are covered from the income you receive from clients (see the gov.uk website for details on taxes payable by the self-employed).

My rule of thumb is whatever I earn, 25% of it is earmarked for the taxman (or more if you earn enough to pay tax at the higher rate). You’ll generally pay less tax as a freelancer, so following this rule should mean you have a little bit left over after paying your tax bill at the beginning of the year – just when you need it.

While we’re talking about money, unless you want to work forever or have enough saved for your retirement already, it’s a good idea to earmark a regular sum for your pension.  Professional Indemnity Insurance (also known as professional liability insurance) is a no-brainer and, if your HQ is your spare room, home office insurance is worth looking into.

4. Get someone else to do it

Not the chargeable work, but the bits that don’t add value to your business or clients. As soon as it’s affordable, I’d recommend outsourcing work that takes time you can’t charge for – like your accounts, and book-keeping if you find it onerous.

Another useful rule of thumb: multiply the time it takes to do the non-profitable work by your hourly copywriting rate. If it’s more than it would cost you to outsource, then give it to a professional. Your time is more profitably spent on chargeable work or new business activity.

A good accountant is worth his or her weight in gold and can help save you time and money, as well as making sure you’re compliant with tax and financial regulation. They’ll advise whether you’re better off as a sole trader or a limited company, what costs you can offset and what are the financial implications of different business set-ups.

5Keep up to date

No-one needs to tell you how to write copy? Wrong! You’re never too old, or too good, to learn something new – especially if you write for the web or social media and need to keep ahead of the algorithms, or send emailshots and are confused about GDPR.

There’s a wealth of online and offline training available to freelance copywriters from quick, free webinars over a coffee at your desk to day-long conferences with top speakers and opportunities to socialise and network.

6. Know what you’re worth

Money. We hate talking about it. We’re writers. Our minds are on higher things.

Not any more. As a freelance copywriter, you’re a business person and your focus needs to be on maximising your income. So many copywriters undervalue themselves and get paid a derisory amount for the work they do – especially if they work via a content mill.

And female writers? We can be our own worst enemy.

If you’ve clicked on either of those links, you’ll see they point to the Professional Copywriters’ Network website. I can’t recommend it highly enough, for freelancers and employed writers. Apart from a useful shop window for potential clients (I’ve had several enquiries via the site), they also run an annual survey showing how much members are charging (here’s the 2019 survey) and have a handy guide to suggested rates.

7. Be seen in all the right places

Like talking about money, self-promotion doesn’t come naturally to us copywriters.  We’re shy, retiring types. But the truth is, however many mates you have promising you work, you still need to put yourself out there and push your services.

Luckily, a lot of it can be done online. Make sure you’re on social media: LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter at the very least – and Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest and Google+ if that’s where your audience is.

Potential clients need to be able to find you on the internet, so if you don’t have a website, get yourself one now – ideally one with a domain name that matches your business name and your email address. If you can’t afford a professional website designer, there are plenty of ‘build your own’ options such as WordPress and Wix. At the very least, make sure your domain name points to a page with your email address, phone number and social media links.

There are loads of online directories you can join (many for free) which will all help increase your online visibility to companies searching for a copywriter. Another plug for ProCopywriters as one of the best.

8. Work the net

Social media isn’t only great for cute cat videos and Donald Trump memes. It’s a great place to find support, too.

LinkedIn and Facebook have members-only groups providing invaluable information, tips and support to writers and freelancers at all stages of their career. My current favourites are Freelance HeroesThe Freelance Lifestylers and  Freelance PRs on Facebook – a friendly place to ask questions, give and receive tips, and pass on referrals.

9. Get dressed occasionally

Since becoming a freelancer and not having to commute, I’m in danger of spending more time in front of a screen than my teenagers. And that’s a lot.

While it’s easy and efficient to do almost everything online, actual, physical networking (involving getting out of your PJs and leaving the house) can also be useful too. Meeting clients face to face at their premises usually results in a better brief than talking on the phone or Skyping. And while the internet means we’re capable of working with anyone, anywhere in the world, offline networking can be helpful for making contact with potential clients in your area. The local Chamber of Commerce is a good place to start looking for events to attend.

10. Enjoy it!

Yes, it’s important to plan ahead and be business-like, but the best thing about freelancing is you’re in charge. You can build your work around your life – great if you have kids or other caring responsibilities, or want to take the summer off and go
surfing.
If it’s sunny and you don’t have deadlines – go to the beach or the park and sunbathe. Chances are you’ll spend plenty of time burning the midnight oil, so enjoy the breaks you can make for yourself. And you’ll probably earn more money too!

Any other tips? Get in touch and let me know!