Ten things to get your head around if you really, really, really want to be a freelance copywriter
Mention the word ‘freelance’ and people assume a life in which you take the whole of August off, spend your days in pyjamas and resort to daytime TV.
I’m not sure if anyone chooses to become a ‘permanent’ freelance copywriter. I’d been made redundant four times and had a toddler the last time I was ‘let go’, fifteen years ago. But I’ve never looked back since and could not imagine returning to the ‘dark side’, ensconced behind a desk or snatching a seat daily on the District Line.
If you’re thinking about becoming a freelance copywriter, these tips based on all my years of freelance copywriting experience may help.
Ten key things to consider when freelancing as a copywriter
1. You need a good accountant
Set up a separate bank account and get yourself a good accountant – and keep every single receipt, bank statement etc etc for six years. You’ll need to decide whether to trade as self-employed, register as a company or register for VAT.
2. You have to pay tax
Never ever think in terms of a monthly salary. Sometimes, you may be able to shop at Waitrose. Other times, you need to say hello again to LIDL. Either way, always keep money aside for when the tax man cometh i.e. just as you’re about to go on your summer holiday (July 31) or just when you’re recovering from Christmas debt (January 31). As soon as I get paid by a client, I transfer about 60% of the money into another account which is my little pot of gold for the tax man and quitter times. Oh, and don’t send a cheque to the Inland Revenue: mine was intercepted last year. Naughty Post Office people. Always pay your tax online via the HMRC website.
3. How much should you charge for freelance copywriting services?
That depends on your experience. There are now a number of sites where you can bid for work such as Elance and Freelancer – for peanuts. Please, please don’t. It lowers rates and quality for everyone. (Which is why I haven’t even added links to these sites; they’re a disgrace.)
4. How should you charge out your copywriting services?
By the hour, day or project? What about allowing for revisions? Don’t forget to allow time over the phone and on emails with your client – you’ll be amazed how much this can eat into your day. No wonder lawyers charge for every single second spent on a client.
5. What kind of payment terms should you agree with clients?
Some clients assume freelance creatives lack any business acumen. Chasing up invoices can be tricky and time consuming, but it’s important to be like a rottweiler. If a client looks as if they may not pay, then tell them (email and recorded delivery letter) you’re entitled to charge interest and failure to pay will result on a small court claim.
I add this to the end of invoices: Please pay this invoice within xx days. After this, interest and debt recovery costs are chargeable in accordance with The Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998 as amended and supplemented by Late Payment of Commercial Debts Regulations 2002. Pay On Time is packed with invaluable payment advice for freelance copywriters.
6. Draw up terms and conditions
Ask a lawyer to help you sort out terms and conditions for clients to sign. However, as a much cheaper option, there are some great templates online such as at Simplydoc.
7. Get your client to provide details and agreement in writing
It’s essential to get agreement on what you’re proposing to do and how much for, before you start. You also need to get the right contact and address details. This isn’t just for invoicing purposes: if you ever need to take someone to the Small Claims Court, it’s vital to have the right information. Make sure you know if your client is a registered company or a sole trader. If a registered company, check their trading address at Companies House.
8. Ask for a deposit upfront
Don’t forget to agree milestones in terms of timings and payments. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told a copywriting project is needed urgently, yet six weeks later I’m still awaiting feedback. If your client has payment terms of 30 days, that’s a long wait for your money – especially if the project is small. Don’t be afraid to ask for a deposit upfront, I normally request 25 – 50%, depending on the project size. I usually suggest a further x% after I’ve submitted the concept or the first draft, with a further payment at a mutually agreed stage.
9. Plan your time wisely and well
One huge advantage of being a freelance copywriter is that you can be flexible. One huge disadvantage of being a freelance copywriter is that you have to be flexible.
Clients may tell you their deadline is ‘tomorrow’ but, trust me, days and days can pass before you get a) go-ahead or b) feedback.
I always aim to deal with a project as soon as it hits my desk, as I never know what lies in store the following week. Yes, working can eat into my evening or weekend (which is when I’m writing this) but, on the other hand, I’m freed up to go to my daughter’s netball match. So, for me, it works both ways.
10. Get agreement on your client brief
As with Ts & Cs, get as much confirmed in writing as possible. Whether you’re writing a leaflet, brochure, press ad or website, pull together all the info you need about USPs, competitor info, target market etc etc, and ask your client to check and sign off. You know the score: after all, you’re creative director, account director and planner rolled into one. If you need a creative brief template, take a look at mine.
Good luck! And if you have any questions about becoming a freelance copywriter, feel free to drop me a line.
Written by Caroline Gibson, freelance copywriter