OK, so you’ve figured out that copywriting is for you—and that you have the necessary skills to write effective marketing copy. Now, you’re wondering about the next step: how to start a copywriting business.
Below is my deep dive blog post, which provides simple steps for getting started. This is part of a longer series for beginning copywriters. Or you can watch the video version below from my YouTube channel: Ask The Copy Bitch.
Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer or an accountant. So whenever I talk about money or taxes, think of it as general info rather than specific guidance. Also! I’m based outside of Boston, Mass. I can only offer my perspective based on my experience in the U.S. Your mileage will vary depending on where you are. But the ideas below should provide a good springboard.
1. Choose a business name.
Sounds so simple, but you need a name, a brand identity, something to hang your hat on. We could go down a rabbit hole about strategies for naming a business. For your purposes, I wouldn’t overthink it. For solo professionals, like writers, using your name—or a version of it with the word “writer” or “copywriter”—is a good strategy.
EXAMPLE: Copywriting By Stewie
(For those who are new . . . Stewie is my sidekick sloth. See pic below.)
2. Register a corresponding domain name.
You’re going to need a website (more on this below). And you’ll need a custom domain for that website. The custom domain should correspond with your business name (as best it can).
Don’t stress too much if you can’t get a dot-com. People are used to seeing other extensions, like dot-biz or dot-us. So www.CopyWritingByStewie.biz would be perfectly OK.
3. Create a website.
I know, I know. This probably feels like the most daunting step of all! But you need a website. It serves as your storefront. Prospective clients can find you via search engines. Or they will go to your site to check out your credentials after you approach them (at a networking event, for example).
Your initial site can be simple. Basic. You don’t necessarily need to hire a web designer if your budget doesn’t allow for that. You can use a budget-friendly or free website builder to get the initial job done. Just make sure it allows you to have a CUSTOM domain. (Like CopywritingByStewie.com.) Most don’t. But I found a great article that lists six options, including one that was new to me: Google Sites.
What pages should your copywriting website include:
Regarding search engine optimization (SEO). If you’re not familiar with SEO, that’s OK, but get cozy with it SOON. Because SEO is the heart and soul of effective online marketing. Bottom line: You need to optimize your website so that Google can easily find it, index it, and serve it up for relevant searches. If you have only a four-page site, you’ll need to find four kickass phrases to focus on (one for each page). (Here’s a link that highlights free keyword tools.)
Having a blog gives you more flexibility because you can optimize each blog post for a keyword (and each post counts as a page in Google’s eyes). This gives your site more ranking opportunities.
I’ll talk about SEO copywriting in later posts, but the best place I can send you is HubSpot: The Ultimate Guide to SEO. That link will explain EVERYTHING you need to know about SEO. Bookmark it. Revisit it. Study it.
Your home page doesn’t need to be complicated. Keep it personal. Keep it conversational. Keep it error-free. Make it more about the prospective client reading the site rather than about you. Talk about how you can make their life easier by supplying clear, compelling copy for all their marketing needs—from websites to blogs, social media to premium offers.
Your About should be about you (duh!). This is the place to talk about yourself. Highlight your background and skills. Let your personality shine through. Include a picture. I like keeping things fun and light. A headshot of you smiling is a must. (Using your phone to take the pic is fine. Just make sure the lighting is good.) Add candid shots to further show who you are and your personality.
Your portfolio page proves your ability as a copywriter. This is where you show off your mad copywriting skills. Link to stuff you’ve written. If a prospect lands on your site, they want to see evidence that you know what you’re doing. If you’re a new copywriter, I realize this is a chicken and egg conundrum. If you’re just starting a business, you likely don’t have a lot of client work. I’ll get into this in a future video, but there are ways to get clips quickly.
- Got great writing examples from a previous job? Did you write anything for your previous employer’s website, social media platforms, email newsletter? Take screenshots and upload. (I recommend only showcasing public-facing items, unless you receive permission from your employer to share something else, like an internal presentation you put together.)
- Got a friend who owns a business? Offer to write a blog post and/or web page for free and add the links to your portfolio.
- Got a local charity you’re involved with? Many local charities need marketing help. Offer to rewrite their home page or any printed collateral.
Worst case scenario: Create your own examples. “Here’s an example of a series of emails promoting a webinar about X.” Once you start doing work for clients, you’ll swap in real clips and remove the examples.
Your contact page should offer multiple ways to get in touch. Offer an email address. And, ideally, avoid using a Gmail or Hotmail address or anything like that. You want it to be related to your domain name. So Stewie@StewartCopywritingServices.com instead of @gmail.com WHY? Perception. You’ll come across as a legit business.
In terms of what social media channels to include on your Contact page/website footer . . . unless you have an active, relevant, and professional presence on places like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and so forth, you don’t need to include any links—at least, not yet. Over time, you might transition one of your accounts—like Twitter—to be more copywriting-centric. You can always add it in.
The one exception: LinkedIn. I recommend having a strong LinkedIn profile and including it on your site. It’s another place for prospective clients to check out. And LI has the benefit of showing common connections (which might help seal a deal) and endorsements. Here’s a primer on how to create a compelling LinkedIn profile.
To blog or not to blog . . . that is the question. Blogging benefits include the following:
- You can show your writing chops.
- You can show your marketing expertise.
- You can optimize a blog post for a keyword phrase, which gives Google another opportunity to find you.
- You can solidify your own understanding of marketing topics. By writing thoroughly about a topic, you’ll cement your own knowledge.
The biggest blogging con is the time commitment: You need to commit to it. This doesn’t mean publishing a blog post every day or even every week. But once or twice a month is a must—and doing so regularly over time.
Do you need a logo? No, you don’t need one. If you want one, that’s a different story. You might be able to get an acceptable logo done on a shoestring budget from a place like Fiverr. Or if you have a contact—maybe a friend/relative is a graphic designer or dabbles enough to be dangerous—you could go that route. Or if you yourself have any design chops, you could play around with making one.
Again, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds when starting out. A logo is not going to make or break your business at this point—and it might be an unnecessary expense or distraction.
At some point, once your business starts gaining traction and you’re feeling confident that this is IT and you’re going to continue, you can always revisit the logo question—and the custom web design question. I DO think there’s value in going with a professional web designer (here’s the web design firm I use) when the time is right and you have the money to invest.
One final thought on developing a copywriting website (for now): This goes without saying, but grammar and punctuation matter BIG time on your website. Sure, typos happen and are a part of life. But it’s worth having another set of competent eyes proof the main pages of your site.
4. Open a business bank account.
Don’t wait until you’re making a lot of money to do this. Open a business banking account if you’re serious about starting a copywriting business. Why? Well, you should keep business and personal expenses separate. This will make tax time much, much easier. You will likely have some clients who will want to pay you electronically as well, and it’s just much more professional to be using a business bank account.
Be aware of fees, especially minimums. Make sure you get a business debit card, and try to pay all business-related expenses with this debit card (rather than cash or check). Why? Again, it makes recordkeeping easier since you’ll get monthly itemized bank statements. Keep all receipts anyway (especially if you pay with cash). But the monthly statement will save you a lot of grief.
My business and personal accounts are with the same bank, which makes things super easy. The bank has a user-friendly online portal. I easily transfer funds from my business account to my personal account every month (when I’m paying myself; you can also set it up to do so automatically, but I like going into my accounts regularly and seeing the balance).
5. File a business certificate (or its equivalent) with your town or city, if needed.
Not everyone does this. In fact, I’m the only person I know who does it. But I suffer from Big Catholic guilt and always follow the rules, so.
My city’s website says, “Business Certificates must be filed by unincorporated businesses located in Framingham which are conducting business under a name other than one’s own.” I think it cost me $50, and it lasts for four years. You might want to google “business certificate” and your city/town’s name to see what it requires.
6. Get thee a writing machine.
Obviously, you’re going to need a computer, laptop, and/or tablet. This is where the writing happens. If you can swing it, I highly recommend having two machines and making them mirror images of each other. Meaning if you’re working on a Word doc on one machine, it will automatically sync to the other. This way, if one machine goes down—which will happen at some point—you don’t miss a beat. You simply switch to the other machine. I also recommend building in redundancies. I save things to the cloud, but I also have two external hard drives, one for each machine.
7. Invest in reliable Internet.
Along the same lines, make sure you invest in reliable Internet. This is one area where I don’t recommend skimping because you will notice the difference—and it will likely frustrate you. You need speed and reliability. Again, pay with your business bank card.
8. Get comfortable with word processing software.
I’m assuming since you want to be a copywriter that you’re already set with this, but I’m mentioning it just in case. I’m a Microsoft Word girl. I use it 90% of the time. The other 10%, I work in Google docs. But I always write in Word first before uploading to Google docs. I use Outlook for email. I use Excel/Google sheets probably 5% of the time. (Usually for editorial calendars or project plans.) I often need to read PowerPoint presentations, but I rarely create any these days. Your mileage will vary, of course.
That said, the majority of your clients will work in either Word or Google docs. (You’ll want to make sure you can read and create PDFs, too.) So make sure you’re familiar with both and that whatever machine you choose can open/work in Word.
9. Keep good records.
This ties in with the business bank account. You want to make sure you keep records/receipts for all business-related expenses. You should also have a basic profit & loss statement. This includes revenue, cost of goods sold, general expenses, other expenses (think taxes), and net income. Remember my disclaimer at the beginning of the blog post? I’m not an accountant. Here are some links:
- What is a P&L statement (also known as an income statement) – includes a free template
- FreelancerTaxation.com – includes a wealth of info for freelance writers, making this a good site to bookmark
Do you need an accountant/bookkeeper right away? Like so many things in life, it depends. I’ve used one since the beginning. You’ll want to pay quarterly estimates, too, and an accountant can help forecast the estimates, answer questions, and the like. But you need to make that decision for yourself.
One thing to keep in mind as you decide: Consider what your time is worth. Let’s say you spend 10 hours doing your taxes. But let’s say your internal hourly rate with clients is $65/hour. (Note: The word “internal” is key here—I don’t recommend giving clients hourly rates, only project quotes. I’ll be talking about hourly rates vs project quotes in a future blog post. Still, you need to have an internal sense of what an hour of your time is worth to you.) So let’s say your accountant charges you $500 to prepare your taxes. It takes you ten hours (essentially, $650 worth of your time). You can see it makes more economic sense to pay someone else to do your taxes and to use those ten hours making money.
Again, your mileage will vary—and it will change over time. Figure out what works for you. Keeping good records is smart whether you do your taxes yourself or you outsource the work.
Bonus Items for How to Start a Copywriting Business
- Do you need a printer? I have one and hardly use it.
- Do you need a fax machine? It isn’t 1995. You don’t need a fax machine. When I started, I used eFax (and I still have an account I keep forgetting to cancel).
- Business cards. I do have ’em. I can’t remember the last time I handed one out. But as you start your copywriting business, you’ll likely be doing much more networking. So get some business cards. Don’t overthink it. VistaPrint and Moo offer budget-friendly options.
- Office supplies. Basics only. One of the nice things about a copywriting business is the low overhead. If you’re going to spend money anywhere, put it towards a good chair. You’ll be spending a lot of time in it!
Note: I’m assuming you have a smartphone. But I know what they say about assumptions. You need a phone. I use my cell as my business phone. I also have a landline that I use when talking to clients/interviewing subject matter experts because I find the sound quality is better—and a landline is more reliable. This is my own preference. You don’t necessarily need a landline, but it’s worth mentioning.
Is this an exhaustive list of steps on how to start a copywriting business?
NOPE! But something the hardest part about getting started . . . is simply getting started. My goal: to provide actionable items that you can tackle. If you do all of the above, you’ll be in good shape—and then you can build/adjust from there.
Thanks for reading. Wishing you much success with your new venture!