Visual of buses along Oxford Street to show that Creative copywriting briefs often come all at once, just like buses, so knowing how to juggle them is one of the essential copywriting skills

The Skills Every Successful Copywriter Needs

Every successful copywriter needs certain copywriting skills – above and beyond talent

I’m not talking about the ability to nail a client brief or punctuate to perfection or have a knowledge of alternative words to match Roget’s Thesaurus or a few D&ADs gathering dust on the mantelpiece. I’m talking about the everyday realities of copywriting life. Based on my lengthy experience, here are the most helpful copywriting skills needed…

The ability to be responsive

Clients normally want an answer like there’s no tomorrow – even though it may take them several weeks to get back to you. I’ve sometimes found that replying to an email right away has given me an edge. Maybe it shows eagerness or availability or reliability (or just that I’m sadly always glued to my Mac).

The ability to juggle

There are times when, like buses, those freelance copywriting briefs all come in at once. So what happens when you get several enquiries all at once. Do you think, ‘Fantastic, lucky me.’ Or ‘Hang on, how will I manage?’ Say yes to everything and don’t panic. Inevitably, a few client briefs may come to nothing, be delayed or linger around. If you’re lucky, one may go live right away.

Visual of buses along Oxford Street to show that Creative copywriting briefs often come all at once, just like buses, so knowing how to juggle them is one of the essential copywriting skills

This week, for example, I was lucky enough to get six enquiries of which two turned into meetings, one went elsewhere and I’m still wondering about the others…..

The ability to be efficient

I know this is one of those copywriting skills that may not apply to everyone but, because of the point above – and the one below – it’s wise to crack on with work as soon as it hits the desk. You just never know what’s around that Sunday corner. You may be manic, you may be quiet. And just because a client says they need something for the following week, there’s no guarantee it will happen.

Freelance copywriting can be a fine balance of keeping aside time for the unexpected, and filling your week with stuff you can invoice for. I can’t tell you how many times a client has requested help urgently…and I’m still waiting for feedback three weeks later. That’s just the way it goes. It’s fine.

The ability to not get distracted

Horse wearing blinkers as a metaphor to say how freelance copywriters need to avoid distractions when working at home - unfortunately this is one of a few copywriting skills that may not come naturallyIf you like a bit of Catchphrase or the lure of a cheaper show at the Odeon mid-afternoon, then a freelance lifestyle may not be the life for you. No, it has to be head down 9-5.

Well…actually, it doesn’t have to be – I like freelancing because it gives me the flexibility to work when I want to and, yes, I do disappear at times, but have to make up for it later. Let’s retitle this as ‘The ability to be disciplined’.

The ability to keep the cash flowing

If the project you’re working on isn’t signed off for three months, that’s actually four months before you’ll get paid. So, always try to agree a downpayment upfront: anything between 25-50%. If the project is worth a chunky amount, request payment in several stages along the way. Having problems getting paid by a client – you’ll find stacks of advice at ‘The secret to getting clients to pay on time – and what to do if they don’t‘.

The ability to work in odd places

And at odd times. An hour working on the tube or train is often immensely satisfying. I’m typing this at 8.20pm on a Friday night at Acton Pool while my daughter is at swim club. I have to admit it’s quite nice and really productive: no distractions for a good 90 minutes, with a glass of wine to look forward to afterwards! The great joy of being a freelance copywriter is having such a flexible and portable career.

The ability to say ‘no’

Maintain sanity and a life. This is one of the easier copywriting skills listed here: just try to say no to answering the phone to clients after 6 or at weekends. Say no to emails with just ‘Hi’ instead of ‘Hi Caroline’, or without a company email address. (I can tell if people have taken more than a fleeting glance at my site because I have different email subject headers for the home page and contact pages.)

The ability to manage your money

When first going freelance, it’s hard not to think in terms of achieving your previous monthly pay packet. ‘Did I earn as much as I used to?’ ‘Will it be ALDI or Waitrose this week?’ Out of all the main copywriting skills I’ve gained, that took the longest to acquire. You have to think differently; most important of all, you have to remember a tax bill will loom each January 31st so cream off an amount each time you get paid and stick it into a separate account.

Piggy bank with hand putting money in to illustrate the need to save income regularly if freelancing as a copywriter or content writer as it's one of the most important copywriting skillsDon’t forget you need to pay your National Insurance too.

There’s more, still. The tax man also requests a payment on account. This is worked out by calculating your previous year’s tax bill. So if you had a blindingly good year the previous year but face one as dry as a desert this year, you’ll face a nasty surprise. Martin Lewis of MoneySavingExpert recommends putting aside £30 for every £100 you earn. If you pay the top rate of tax, then put aside more. Just make sure you’ve built up a decent reserve.

Which copywriting skills would you suggest are needed for freelance success? If you enjoyed this blog, do check out ’10 lessons learned from 25+ years of copywriting’.

Written by Caroline Gibson, freelance copywriter and expert juggler who’d love to have piano playing as a skill – obviously not a copywriting skill – but nevertheless tried and gave up.

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