Yay, you’ve done it! You’ve hung out your virtual shingle and started your own copywriting business. NOW WHAT? You need business. Here’s how to get clients as a freelance copywriter . . .
If you’d prefer watching a video about this topic, I’m embedding one below from my Ask the Copy Bitch YouTube channel.
1. Reach out to family/friends who own a business (or who work in marketing).
It’s important to give examples of the work you do because guess what? Most folks who hear the word “copywriter” don’t know what it means. Even within the world of copywriting, people have vastly different definitions. When it comes to defining copywriting, I tend to take a broad view. To me, it’s any writing that markets a product, service, or cause. Synonyms include content marketer, content writer, marketing writer, and website copywriter (to name just a few).
If the business in question has a marketing manager, ask for an introduction. That’s the person who would assign you a project. If it’s a one-person shop, the goal is to let them know how you can make their life easier with their marketing. Are they having trouble getting out a monthly newsletter? Creating an engaging website? Keeping up a lively social media presence? Let them know those are the sorts of things you can help with, either as one-off projects or ongoing monthly work.
Note: The goal is to get regular monthly work. If you can blog a couple of times a month for a client and do their email marketing newsletter, that’s a nice piece of work you can count on, month-to-month. From there, build and get other clients who give you similar work each month. Mix in one-off projects as well.
2. Network, network, network.
You have options. I did Business Networking International (BNI) when I first started out. BNI is a commitment—it costs a pretty penny to join, but the value is that you’ll be the only copywriter occupying a seat in your chapter. The idea behind BNI is to generate referrals for one another—a “givers gain” philosophy.
PRO TIP #1: Before joining a chapter, visit it (I believe you can do so two times). Every chapter is a little different. You want to get a sense of the vibe—and whether you’d be a good fit.
PRO TIP #2: Look for chapters with complementary colleagues. By that I mean:
- Web designers
- Graphic designers
- Marketing specialists
- PR consultants
Those folks need writers—and writers need them. So you create this little power “sphere” of activity where you can bond and help each other out. The web designer who is wooing a prospect can say “I have a great writer who can create SEO copy for you.”
The key to BNI success:
- Show up. You must attend weekly meetings, often at 7 AM.
- Do the one-to-one meetings. BNI encourages you to meet one-to-one with people in your chapter so that you can get to know them and their needs—and vice versa.
- Be willing to serve as a substitute in other chapters. Being active on the sub-circuit means you can expand your reach and visibility even more.
- Participate in leadership roles. I recommend holding off on this until after you get your bearings, but leadership roles can offer even more opportunities.
Other networking groups:
- Chambers of Commerce – These often have after-hours meetups and breakfast meetups. The key with joining the Chamber is making sure you push yourself to take part in these events.
- Women’s organizations, like Polka Dot Powerhouse
- College alumni organizations
- Marketing organizations
- Meetup groups
3. Keep tabs on marketing firms/agencies.
Many of today’s marketing agencies like to have a stable of freelance copywriters. (And once you prove yourself invaluable, you will quickly rise to the top of their go-to list).
PRO TIP: Look for true firms/agencies—not one-person shops. Check out their careers section—they often list what they’re looking for (and if they’re looking for writers).
Be careful about sending a cold email—if they’re not advertising for freelancers, they might not need them. While it probably won’t hurt to send a polite email, it’s always better if you have some sort of intro. This is where LinkedIn can come in—look for connections in common and ask for direct intros whenever possible.
A good roundup of agencies that “get” content creation: the HubSpot Solutions Directory.
4. Create relevant alerts on job curation sites that promote freelance work.
The sites below are good places to create a presence and to subscribe to relevant job alerts.
Some sites have paid subscriptions, which might be worth trying when you’re starting out (or if you find you have luck with a particular service). The key with these sites? Being the first to pounce on listings. So that adage about the early bird most definitely applies.
5. Make sure you connect with everyone you meet on LinkedIn.
So when you reach out to those business owners, connect with them on LinkedIn. Connect with the marketing managers. Connect with the people you meet when networking. Connect with clients once they officially hire you.
PRO TIP #1: Always send a personal message along with the invite.
PRO TIP #2: Stay in touch. Every quarter, say hi through LinkedIn and remind them you’re there. You’re priming the pump so that when they do need a writer—or they’re talking to someone who needs a writer—your name is the first one that pops up. This is a longer-term strategy, but it’s important.
6. How to get clients as a freelance copywriter? Ask happy clients for referrals.
Have you just done work for a client and they loved the results? Ask them for a referral to fellow business owners they know. And/or look at their LinkedIn connections and see if anyone catches your eye. Then, ask for an intro.
7. Get friendly with other like-minded writers.
This might sound counterintuitive. Aren’t “other writers” the competition? No. There is more than enough work out there for everyone—honest. Content drives everything these days, so there’s no shortage of work. And remember, you’re just one person and there are just so many hours in a day.
I regularly have to turn down work (and this isn’t meant to sound boastful, either—I just like to eat, sleep, and play; I don’t want to work all the time). So becoming friendly with writers you can refer business to—and who can do the same for you—is another smart strategy for how to get clients as a freelance copywriter. Keep in mind that everyone brings their own specialties to the table. I’m not keen on financial writing, but I have two friends/colleagues who are awesome in this area—so I refer to them. (And they have both referred to me.)
A word about content farms/content mills . . .
I’ll be doing a longer blog post and video about this topic: Should you work for content farms? The short answer is (like so many things in life): It depends. My biggest beef with content farms and mills is the incredibly low payments they give to writers, which devalues the important work writers do.
THAT said . . . when you’re starting out and you’re trying to drum up examples to include in your copywriting portfolio, working for a content farm can be a great way to get clips—and to learn how to work quickly without losing accuracy. My general advice: It’s OK to do it in the short term and/or to have it be one piece of your revenue mix. At some point, you’ll outgrow the farm, and that’s OK—and a good goal to strive for.
On a similar note, DON’T fall into the trap of working for only one or two clients. Diversification is critical. If one client goes silent (or worse—out of business), you’ll be in trouble and scrambling. But if you have a diverse roster of clients and one goes down, you won’t be in panic mode. Yes, you’ll look to fill the open spot, but you won’t be struggling to pay the rent.