Freelance copywriter: who’d want to be one of those?

22 August 2015

Freelance copywriters these days seem to be ten-a-penny. The rise of digital content has created a new breed of writer, one that prompted The Guardian famously to declare last year that the traditional freelance copywriter role is dead.

Reports of death might be exaggerated, but if you’re looking to get into the business, it’ll pay you to know what kind of freelance copywriter you aspire to be.

Back in the day, of course, print was king and media ads were nothing but clever. Then the Internet occurred and lines got blurred. Something called content was now wearing the crown and a whole new set of skills suddenly took over.

Freelance copywriter: the skills

So what are these skills you’ll need to become a freelance copywriter? And what kind of copywriter will you be?

If content writing turns out to be your thing — that’s writing blogs, ebooks, podcasts and social-media posts — you’ll need a decent grasp of English, probably to A level standard, and the ability to absorb a remedial grasp of SEO (i.e., sticking keywords in the right places).

If you’re aiming for the kind of traditional copywriting that builds brands and shifts products, rather than the stuff written purely for Google’s spiders, you’ll definitely need a cat. If you haven’t got one, get one.

Secondly, you’ll obviously require writing skills. That’s a given. But don’t get hung-up on this: lots of editorial types see dangling modifiers and possessive apostrophes as the be-all and end-all. They’re not.

Freelance copywriting is selling

What really matters in freelance copywriting is the ability to sell. Whether that’s directly, in the case of direct mail, or indirectly through subtle persuasion and simple emotional psychology.

You’ll also need a stubborn ability to guts it out alone. Working on your tod is not for everyone and plenty a freelance copywriter has gone scurrying back to the safety of the monthly pay cheque.

Those happy with their own company and with sufficient creative writing skills will enjoy:

•Flexibility. Sun’s out? Head to the beach. Work there; work in a coffee shop; don’t work at all. Do it in the evening instead of watching Corrie.

•Satisfaction. You see your work on the web and in print. I’ve read my own work on the packets in Tesco, worked with a number of celebrities and heard my ads on the radio.

•Perks. I’ve had weeks with full bed and board and full day rate for a week or so in some rather nice hotels, from Dudley to Dusseldorf. I’ve had free products and even a paid day at Center Parcs.

•Variety. Work in-house and you write about the same-old, same-old, day in, day out. My working week can encompass a website for a telecoms firm, a radio ad for a pottery company and a video script for a kids’ out-of-school club.

The downside? There will be lean times. Put cash aside, market yourself constantly and keep your chin up — things always turn around. Finding work is all about what works for you. We can’t all be page one on Google. Network. Cold-call. Get well-in with some decent design agencies. Pay other writers or designers a percentage for referrals.

Freelance copywriting — the work

What do freelance copywriters work on? It’s generally a mix of advertising, writing for the web, brochures and other literature, direct mail, eshots, white papers and case studies, press releases and editorial spots, such as feature articles.

Should you specialise? Ha. Don’t get me started. You should specialise in being a writer. If you can specialise in anything else, you’re not a writer. You’re a chemist or an engineer or a childminder who happens to write. If writing isn’t your primary skill, you’re probably not a writer.

As a freelance copywriter, you need to know enough about a product or service to flog it. Any more than that and you should consider writing encyclopaedias for a living.

And that’s all from me for now. Drop me an email if you desperately want to hear any more.

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