Having spent 17 years as a freelance copywriter – and longer at ad and branding agencies – here are 10 copywriting lessons I’ve learned.
Some problems and situations crop up time and time again with freelance copywriting, so I hope these copywriting lessons, tips and suggestions will be the paracetamol to your frequent headaches.
Here’s what to do if…
…you’re approached by a start up client and asked to give a ‘good price’
If they’re not a friend and they’re not a charity, think carefully about lowering your costs. Whether you’re starting out or an old hand, I think this is one of the most invaluable copywriting lessons across the board.
Let’s face it, you’re not going to charge them a Saatchi-size bill yet they’re still going to get your Saatchi-style advice. Quite often, start ups need a lot of help and hand-holding. It’s the nature of the game. If you’re having a quiet patch, take the work on. Otherwise politely say you’re tied up for the next few months.
Or, if relevant, see if you can counter-offer with a suggestion of speedy payment or even an exchange of services. (I’m not too proud to admit I’ve had a gym membership, granite kitchen worktops and haircuts this way.)
…you’re approached by a charity and asked to give a ‘good price’
It’s lovely to be able to work on a good cause, so why not. Charities also give you a brilliant opportunity to do work that can pack a powerful punch and tug at the heart strings.
Obviously you need a balance of fee-paying work, so you may want to make it your policy to just take on one or two charity projects a year, like a lawyer with pro bono work.
…you’re phoned by someone who asks straight out how much you charge?
Ignore them. You’re not a menu of costs. You have value to add and advice to give…but they don’t want that. They want copy at Poundland prices.
…you receive several enquiries all in one week
I’ve added this in because I’m going to be boastful. I’ve had nine enquiries this week. Gulp.
It takes time to chat through requirements, work out costs and put together a proposal. So sometimes, it’s just worth getting straight to the point and asking the prospective client what their budget is. Another time-saving tactic is to say – at the risk of sounding like Linda Evangelista who wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 – that your policy is to only take on projects worth £xx.
…you’re asked if you can take on a copywriting project right away but are still waiting for feedback three weeks later
Time planning can be tricky when freelancing. It’s always a good idea to agree a timescale up front and often to request a down payment on submission of the first draft.
Time ticking on? Give your client a gentle nudge to let them know what your current availability is like and if another big project is looming and likely to tie you up.
…you’re stuck coming up with an idea
Leave it. Go out. See a film. Browse in a bookshop. Think about another copy brief. Wait until the next day to start again and inspiration will come. I promise!
… you’re worried about chasing up a client for payment?
Don’t be. Set up another email address from your account eg ‘email@example.com’. That way you can remain impartial and they can remain oblivious.
Or have a look at my blog on how to get copywriting clients to pay.
… you’re really quiet and there’s no work around
Relaxxxx. Enjoy the time to tidy up your website and do some self-promotion, whether updating your LinkedIn account or building up a few blogs.
Try offering an incentive such as ‘10% off costs for the next two weeks.’ Or chase up old clients, contact people via LinkedIn now working in other companies or attend a local business networking event.
If you’ve expertise in a particular sector, target a few companies by email and follow up with a call to create a relationship.
…you’re on your fifth round of copy revisions
This is one of the biggest copywriting lessons I’ve learnt. It’s always a good idea to agree on this upfront. Do you want to include a few sets in the cost? Or charge all revisions as extra? Several factors can help you decide this: how well you know the client; how many people will be involved in the decision-making process; how clear the brief is; how simple or complex the subject is.
If the revisions are tiny, just absorb them. If not, let the client know in good time that you’re approaching the estimated time limit.
…your client doesn’t like the content you’ve written
The answer to this depends on how far along you are with the process. I recently worked on a lucrative project for someone in the art world who wouldn’t work to a brief and couldn’t clearly articulate what was needed. I provided a few options. Then a few more. And a few more. Eventually, I decided that neither of us was getting very far and we agreed to end the arrangement.
Always ask your client to provide a creative brief so that you both have a foundation to work form and check back to – feel free to download my client briefing template as an example.
Discuss and suggest a copy style that suits the brand. If writing content for a website, ask about other websites they like or dislike. (If they’re after a style that’s, e.g., ‘dynamic’ or ‘witty’ or ‘cool’, their interpretation of those words could be quite different to yours.)
Once you’ve started the work, it’s sensible to feed pages through in batches.
But if things go wrong and you believe the work to be on brief, you need to have an honest discussion – based on that all-important brief – which may then require starting again, getting a second opinion, or calling it a day and working out a mutually-agreeable payment. Always be clear from the start that you are charging for your time, not just for the work you produce.
What sort of situations crop up for you as a freelance copywriter? What are the copywriting lessons you’ve learnt? I’d love to know. And if you’re considering the world of advertising as a career, head over to my blog on how to become a freelance copywriter.
Written by Caroline Gibson, freelance copywriter, whose worry lines are hidden by a fringe. (Hardly surprising, having done this for 25+ years.)
E: firstname.lastname@example.org T: +44) (0) 7957 567766