How to get your first copywriting clients

When you start copywriting, getting your first clients can seem like a daunting task.

After all, you’re putting yourself out there where plenty have been before. So what makes you different? That’s an important question to answer as soon as you can because it is what will help define and sell your services.

However, answering that at the start of your career – when you just need a little experience – is probably impossible. You won’t know what you enjoy writing about, and what you’re good at writing about, until you start.

So here are some tips to help you.

  1. Join a content mill

Yes, they’re woefully underpaid. But if you have zero experience and can afford to spend a few months working for next to nothing, then it’s a good idea. I wrote about content mills in a previous post, so I recommend reading that first.

  1. Tap up your contacts

LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+… all these avenues are reeling with potential clients. Get your CV up to scratch and delete those personal photos. Now start linking to your blog posts/articles regularly and make it known you’re looking for new clients.

Former companies you’ve worked for might also be willing to offer you a job writing the odd piece of copy for them. If you worked there for a while, showed real initiative and left on good terms, why not drop an email to your ex-boss asking if they need someone who knows the business to write a press release?

  1. Scour the internet

You need to spend a lot of hours scouring the internet, so get good at thinking up search terms that can pinpoint you to a repository of freelance jobs. Some job board sites include Work in Startups, Network Freelance, Blogging Pro and Glassdoor. Small-scale publishers, Gum Tree or Student Gems (which you can use if you’ve graduated within the last 3 years) are also great unknown places. You’d be surprised how many businesses list their odd copywriting jobs on there.

  1. Networking events

Search your local area for groups of likeminded people and their latest talks or events. Or groups of professionals in an industry that you want to start writing for. MeetUp is a great site to show you what relevant groups are getting together and holding events around you. Go armed with business cards and the intention to meet as many people as possible to spread your word.

  1. Send out a press release

The media is a great way to get your message across, but the press will only publish your release if it is relevant and interesting. The fact that you’ve gone into self-employment isn’t exactly newsworthy. But perhaps your new job is a million miles from what you used to do. Or maybe you worked in a particular industry for ten years, making you something of a specialist? A magazine in that industry might be interested in publishing your release.

Other angles include offering an incentive, such as money off for new customers or a free trial for the first 5 local businesses who get in touch. Make sure it’s well-written and concise before sending it to local press, trade press and relevant bloggers.

  1. Send out a sales letter

Do you live and work in an area with plenty of independent businesses? They too have a product to sell, and they need help doing that. Craft the perfect sales letter and send it to a list of say 50 businesses. Remember to follow up a week or two later, and try to do it in a memorable way so that it doesn’t get lobbed out with the junk mail, as per this example!

  1. Leave a trail

You’d be surprised by the effect of simply dropping information about yourself. Eventually, someone will call. Physically, a trail might be business cards you leave in venues, pin to noticeboards and hand out at networking events.

Online, this trail could be profiles you set up with different websites. Consider posting a profile on freelance bidding sites such as Elance and Freelancer with links back to you (although I wouldn’t use these sites to get your actual first job). Social media, online copywriting networks and portfolio websites – the more, the better. Try to keep them up to date with your experience and contact details. That is if you can remember where you’ve dropped all your crumbs!

  1. Go free

I know, I know, you need to eat! But if you’ve tried all 7 steps (and I mean really, really tried) and still have no joy? Then find a few worthy causes in your area. Charities, community groups, people who need your services but can’t necessarily afford them. Be honest and say you’re looking for exposure and experience. Offer to write them the occasional blog post, an advert or press release (for free) and you’re on your way to building your portfolio.

You can bet they will tell everyone they know because good deeds do not go unremarked in this day and age! They might even find their own way to reward you. Cake, anyone?

Finding your first copywriting client isn’t the easiest thing, but it’s so rewarding when it works.

How did I do it? A combination of content mills while studying, writing for my old employer, landing a job through Student Gems and writing for free for many publications. But it takes time, especially if you’re not going full-time freelance straight away.

But remember. What many copywriters don’t tell you is that there is also no definite end point. We are all – me included – still on the journey to gaining new and more diverse clients. So it’s important to regularly target new clients through these methods, otherwise your business will stall.

Have you found a better way to land your first copywriting client? Send me a message or leave a comment and let us know how.

 

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How to write a business strategy

Writing a business and marketing strategy when you’re a freelance copywriter might sound overwhelming. It might even sound unnecessary. Believe me, it is both simple and necessary!

Why do you need a business strategy? Because with the best intents and purposes, getting your foot on the copywriting ladder can be a bit difficult.

To make the best impact and not become dispirited, it’s good to implement several different tactics at once. Having a plan will help you stand back, look at the overall direction you want to head in, and start moving.

Before we begin

Jot down all your ideas in a notepad for establishing your routine and marketing your services. Once you’ve got an outline, you can type them up in Word.

There’s no set formula but I use a basic table with 3 columns (first column for publications/activities; second for detail; third for deadlines). You can tweak what I suggest to make it work for you and your business – that’s fine!

Content

Your content is the most important thing to your business. But writing to promote your own cause when you’re probably not being ‘paid’ for it can make you likely to waver. By creating a regular plan detailing which days you write for what publications makes it much more likely you’ll stick to it.

Make a table with three columns. In the first, list publications you write for and then list those you would like to write for (there’s a really good article here about planning to approach new publications). In the next column you can go into more detail such as genres/article types. In the final column list the timeframe, such as when you will publish this content or, if you plan to approach a new publication, the deadline you will set to do that by.

Remember, by publications and businesses I mean those you write for under your own name. This plan is about getting your name out there – not any clients that pay you to write their articles anonymously. At present you might only be writing for your blog. Look for websites that take contributions. Even if it’s unpaid, you’ll be getting your name out there and earning lots of experience.

Digital activity and social media

This includes promoting your articles through social media and e-newsletters etc. On your table, detail which digital avenues you work with (e.g. Reddit, LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, Twitter, your online portfolio…) and next to each one write the days of the week you will promote certain links/campaigns/others’ posts through these avenues.

Try to have something to promote each day (Mon-Fri). For the days when you don’t have original content of your own, ensure you’re reading others’ work and retweeting/sharing. This earns followers and you can highlight the causes/topics you’re interested in.

Remember to use the social media ‘forum’ with respect: interact with other users and post observations. You could even start a regular segment such as your favourite blog or app of the week that you always run on a Friday. It is more engaging for your followers than merely seeing a series of links coming from your account!

And what about starting a monthly e-newsletter through your website? Setting one up is easy with free tools like MailChimp and gives you something free to ‘sell’ to your followers. You can use it to collate your articles from various different publications or even entice followers with articles solely published in your newsletter. Plus you can update your followers with tips, news and offers.

Advertising and promotion

Your copywriting is still a business that can benefit from promotion and advertising. This encompasses print/digital ads, direct mail, sending out a press release

Think about who needs your service. It’ll mostly be other businesses, so where might they find out about you? In your table, list possible publications (e.g. trade magazines, local paper) to advertise in or approach with a press release, as well as businesses you could approach directly with a sales letter, etc.

Then spend an afternoon getting quotes, contacts and artwork deadlines. If you’re going to attend networking events or conferences you’ll need business cards. These are also useful for dropping off in venues where customers can pick them up, such as restaurants, exhibition centres and libraries.

Events

Freelancing can also be a lonely business, so it’s refreshing to make a network of contacts through digital or in-person events. Scour Google for virtual conferences and webinars, and sign up to copywriting websites such as the Pro Copywriter’s Network and Copyblogger, a great way to get information on events. Hootsuite also often has virtual learning sessions helping you learn while connecting with others in your field.

Physical events are also ideal to get you out of the house. A site like Meet Up can help you discover what’s going on in your area that ties in with your interests. List these events under the first column in your table including any dates and activity/materials you want to have completed (i.e. business cards) in advance of them.

Bringing it together

You’ll notice how each field begins to overlap. This is good because you’re drawing connections between your activities. So long as all activities have the same end goal – to bring you more business – they will strengthen each other and, in turn, your brand. It also helps when setting yourself deadlines since one thing usually depends on another.

Next is buying or creating a calendar in Word. Detail everything (so make sure it’s a biggie!). Jot down the days you’re writing for which publications. Then the days you’ll spend devoted to finding new followers, for example, followed by the days you have any events, as well as print deadlines. And so on…

Tip: Use colour-coded keys and back up your calendar with a simple Excel planner like these templates from Hootsuite for more in-depth info on what you’ll be writing each week. That way your main calendar remains like an easy-to-read overview.

From here

Now your strategy is all typed up, scheduled and ready to go, it’s time to implement it. Write down the immediate action points that have arisen from your plan. Use these to inform your workload for the next week or two, to ensure you meet your deadlines.

Don’t forget that your business strategy will evolve over time and regularly need updating.  Depending on how quickly you work, set aside time to update it – every month…or three – whatever helps it stay relevant and progressive for your business.

Finally, good luck! If you have any questions, drop me a comment, I’d be glad to try and answer them.

Next week: I’ll show you how to find your first copywriting clients

Should I join a content mill?

Whether you’re just starting out as a freelance copywriter or you’re a seasoned pro looking for a side gig, you might be wondering if joining a content mill could work for you.

What is a content mill?

A content mill works like a digital noticeboard for freelancers. Businesses list any web copy jobs they need doing – from blog posts to product descriptions, one-off jobs to full projects.

There are two main kinds:

  • Free-for-all platform (where you may be ranked according to your quality – e.g. between 1 to 5 stars – and jobs are posted on a forum on a first-come-first-served basis)
  • Bidding platforms (where clients list their brief and freelancers bid what they’re willing to work for; or the client sets a fee and freelancers pitch to win the contract)

Content mills aren’t for everyone. They don’t pay well and they aren’t a substitute for networking and getting to know clients on a one-to-one basis. However, they work well to get you started if you have zero experience and/or need a little short-term cash.

Pros of content mills

  • A good way to build a portfolio when you’re starting out
  • A crash course in working to a client’s brief (including familiarity with language, keyword requests, and formatting)
  • Flexibility over when you work and what work you accept
  • Casual earnings when you need it

Cons of content mills

  • Compared to working directly with clients, content mills are very poorly paid (typically as little as a penny a word)
  • On bidding platforms, you run the risk of wasting your time and not being picked for jobs
  • There can be a wait to receive payment 
  • Work is not guaranteed – sometimes mills can run dry
  • They can be a dead end in terms of networking and finding prospective clients

Some sites to check out

Because of the potential for ripping off naïve and earnest writers, there are a lot of scams out there. When you’re looking to join a mill, run a Google search and see what others have to say about it. In the meantime, here are my top content mills:

  1. Great Content
    The best content mill in my experience. You submit a short 2-300 word article to register and they grade you on that. Your rating will improve the more you write and the more positive feedback you get.This mill gets a lot of good and regular clients. I have written for an international fashion website, a cosmetics company, and online opticians to name just a few. Clients often add you to a group of similar writers if they have jobs coming up they’d like to work with you on, and group orders pay better. I’ve also had a number of even better-paid direct orders (you set your own fee) and bonuses for working on long-term projects. It’s a good, friendly platform to help get your portfolio off the ground.
  1. Copify
    Jobs posted on this first-come-first-served (FCFS) board range from articles on marketing, fashion and legal topics to landing page content for boiler repairs. Pay is no less than £0.01 per word and sometimes more. However, deadlines are often the same day and it can take up to 30 days for your work to be approved and you to get paid.
  1. Textbroker
    This platform was one of the big names in FCFS content mills but has failed to keep progressing. It’s pretty badly paid and again you will submit a piece to be graded. There’s the possibility of moving up the ladder but I eventually gave up on it. There’s also a LOT of competition for those lower-graded jobs (which are also lower paid) because everyone usually starts out as a level 3 writer before being upgraded.
  1. Pure Content
    Pure Content is a little different to the standard models. You can register as a writer and/or editor and the company email out jobs for your taking on a first-come-first-served basis (meaning smartphone notifications are essential regularly). Jobs can be few and far between (and pay terribly). The writing jobs aren’t worth the effort in my opinion, but the editing ones are quite quick to get through.
  1. Contently
    OK, so this isn’t a content mill. However, it’s a great place to set up a free portfolio where you can post any work you’ve done, list your specialisms and include your contact info. When businesses go to Contently for help finding a freelancer, they assign them to one of the writers on their database, so it’s a good way to get noticed and is especially useful for journalists.

Make content platforms work for you

Starting out, a content mill or platform is an easy way to get a bit of experience. But don’t become complacent.

True, you need to stick at them to maximise your return (such as getting better grading, pay and more repeat work) but use them as a go-to, a little something on the side. If you’re serious about getting into copywriting, they should not be come your sole earner. Keep your eye on the prize and always work towards a clear plan for building your freelance copywriting career.

Next week: I’ll show you how to write a business strategy.