Five lessons from my first year as a copywriter
A guest blog post by Joanna Brown of The Word Hen
As my copywriting business approaches its first birthday, I find that I’ve exceeded my targets – don’t get too excited, I had very modest targets! Perhaps modest expectations are the first lesson! Well, here are another five.
- Don’t become a copywriter because you love writing. Stop right now, in fact, and write a novel instead. A love of words is important, but the main attribute I need is a love of seeing things correct and fit for purpose. Loving writing alone is not enough, and may leave you very miserable. As a copywriter, I write and edit words that I don’t agree with, that I find cumbersome or jargon-y. I try to improve them, and advise the client of better ways, but at the end of the day, I am paid to write what she wants.
- Clients don’t know what they need. Gill Pavey was very clear about proofreading vs copywriting recently, and you will get a lot of “Can you just spend five minutes to proofread my. . .” Beware! It is never just five minutes and when they say proofread, they often mean punctuate, spellcheck, correct, and rewrite, oh, and format it to look pretty too.
Everyone can write (after a fashion), so new clients will always think that what you do is quick and easy (and therefore cheap). I recently quoted to edit and format a technical manual. It was expensive: editing complex information – and formatting it – takes ages. I didn’t get the job, and at the time of writing, his manual is still unfinished.
- Don’t give away too much. This was a painful lesson! I was gratified by four enquiries within my first fortnight in business. I wanted to emphasise that I am thorough and knowledgeable. I looked at their websites in detail, I sent long analyses of what worked and what could work better, I told them what I would do to put it right. What an idiot! One of them replied with kindly advice: don’t ever tell me so much! He even paid me for the consultancy work I had put into the quote. I didn’t hear from the other three.
- Exploit everyone you know. All the advice is to start small and build up a portfolio that can be a shop-window for future clients. This will involve low-value or even free work. I have not had to do this. All my business has come through contacts. I am lucky in that my previous job was with senior executives, and they have recommended me widely. If you don’t know such people, then writing for a local group or charity, asking friends to let you edit their CVs, and so forth, is the way to start.
- Get schmoozing. This was an unpleasant discovery. I am a self-employed writer partly because I like my own company; but I can’t escape it – networking is vital. The old-fashioned, face-to-face type and also the online kind. People buy from and recommend people they like, and networking is the way to get them to like you. Depending on the type of clients you wish to attract, you need to be active on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on. It is not enough to post up your company details and wait, you have to engage, comment, share, like, and chat.
Those are the five headline lessons I have learned in 11 months of doing this professionally. Perhaps I was naive, but none of them was mentioned in the reading and training I did beforehand, so I hope that they prove useful to you! I’d love to hear what you would add.
Joanna Brown, B.A., M.Sc., is the owner of The Word Hen, a copywriting and SEO content creation service. She regularly blogs about writing and the self-employed life, and is very happy to chat on LinkedIn , Twitter , or Google+.