In June and July of 2006 I committed to doing three things: (1) buy and read Bob Bly’s book The Copywriter’s Handbook, Third Edition: A Step-By-Step Guide To Writing Copy That Sells; (2) buy and read Steven Slaunwhite’s book Start& Run a Copywriting Business; and (3) start a freelance copywriting business by September 2006.
And I did. Starting my own freelance copywriting business was easier than starting a small business typically is because I started off right – emotionally and managerially. I quickly embraced my new reality – that launching and running this copywriting business was going to be a fun and challenging experience, but that starting off right meant, I needed to fix my mind-set. Although this business was going to be a big and important part of my life, it was going to have a life of its own; it would be my freelance copywriting life, and I needed to be prepared for everything that promised to come with it (you know, the highs and the lows: the first huge client payment of $2,500.00; then the frozen computer on the day of a “can’t miss” deadline; the ecstatic customer with the glowing testimonial about your work and who sings your praises to powerful decision makers; then the late arrival of your business cards before your meeting with JP Morgan Chase’s marketing team . . . and you have none left – you know that stuff).
So there. Strapped with my borrowed, yet reliable mantra “Just do it” and these few tidbits, I stepped out on faith:
•Don’t let poisonous folks whisper in my ear, even the well-meaning ones;
•Develop and follow a simple strategy and stay focused;
•Don’t let things get overly complicated and stay focused;
•Allow only one captain to steer the ship – me – and stay focused;
•Keep tweaking things along the way when they need modifying;
•Launch this thing, and learn the rest along the way . . . WHILE STAYING FOCUSED.
And I did. And I still am.
Following are practical business reminders I learned that helped me tremendously in starting my freelance copywriting life off right and keeping it right, and I am confident you will find them helpful too:
Your Passion . . . Not!
Don’t wait for that mythical fixation called “your passion.” Some of the most happily successful people have found it. Most happily successful people, it’s safe to say, have not. What the two groups of happily successful folks have in common, however, is: they have a knack for what they do and they find enjoyment in some aspect of what they do. If you wait for this passion thing to materialize, you may never get that freelance copywriting business off the ground.
Perseverance and the Threat of Rejection
One of the most common hindrances to perseverance is fear of rejection. I don’t like guarantees, but this one is unmistakable, so I’m going to share it. You will experience rejection in one form or another. If dealing with rejection is a challenge for you, then from the outset, you have to find a mechanism to help you cope with it. It could be anything from Yoga to meditation, from training for a 5K to venting in a supportive online community. Whatever you choose, just monitor the strategy, because if it’s not working, you need to tweak that plan. And, speaking of supportive online communities – there are loads of them out there for copywriters and freelance copywriters from linkedin copywriting groups to warriorforum copywriting threads. It behooves you to join one or more. Besides being comforting, they can be quite informative, and great places to get educated feedback on copy drafts you’ve done, or to simply hang out, “coffee clutch” or network.
Make Good Habits a Habit
Unless you are crafting a flyer for your grandmother’s church picnic, use a contract. An elaborate contract is the safest bet, but a simple contract can work also, provided all of your bases are covered. Heck, if her church has a board of directors, you may want to use a contract for that church picnic flyer too. Nothing personal grandma!
At the very least, your contract or agreement should contain:
♦the date of the agreement;
♦your name and address, the name and address of the business hiring you and the signer’s name;
♦a detailed description of the project, including the medium and format of the work;
♦the number of pages, if it’s a print document;
♦the various parts and stages of the project;
♦the number of edits and revisions you will allow;
♦the dates of delivery for each stage of the project, if more than one stage;
♦your fee and its due date(s);
♦a list of terms and conditions; and
♦both parties’ signatures.
Keeping Records – Phone Calls
No one remembers everything, especially when you are busy. When you speak to a client, particularly if you verbally agree to do or not to do something, it is a very good idea to memorialize the phone conversation in a follow-up email. This serves a number of different purposes. It jogs yours and your client’s memory. It solidifies what was said. It helps you recall what you said you’d do or not do. It creates a paper trail in the event something happens and you need proof.
Keeping Records – Billing
If you do nothing else, spare yourself some stress by having some place to drop your receipts and records of incoming payments. If this is too much of a hassle for you and the thought of even doing this much organizing stresses you out, then use as few ways to make purchases as possible. For example use one credit card and one Intuit Merchant or Paypal account. This way, when it’s time to sit down with your accountant, all of your financial information is in only one or two places. The ideal solution is to keep your files organized in off-line or online folders, categorize them and use one of the gazillion simple accounting software programs out there like Lessaccounting.
Networking and Marketing
Yes, I used to hate this too – networking. But, I soon learned that I was really good at it. I still don’t love it, but it works wonders and brings me in a lot of business, sometimes more than I can handle alone. Whether you do it online or off-line, marketing your business is a must. And don’t be fooled into thinking you only need to market when business is slow. Any self-respecting freelance copywriter will tell you that the optimal time to market your business is when you have customers coming in the door. This way, you are more likely have steadier stream of income. And, by the way, marketing your freelance copywriting business needs to be a big percentage of the time you spend on your business – around 35% of the time.
In addition to networking, there are myriad ways to market your business:
-Article marketing. Write and publish a few articles on sites like ezinearticles.com or goarticles.com. Include your URL in your resource box. The resource box is a section at the end of published online articles where you get to promote yourself and your business;
-Bartering. You can, for example, offer to consult with a business that agrees to plug your freelance business in their newsletter;
-Cross-promotions. You promote a local business on your site in exchange for them promoting yours;
-Distribute a press release on a few free press release directories like Press Method (www.pressmethod.com); Free Press Release Centre (http://www.free-press-release-center.info/); SB Wire (www.sbwire.com); or PR.com (www.pr.com), just to name a few;
-Free classifieds (e.g., craigslist); and
-Social media (Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin).
Take your eyes of the marketing media road for more than a month and you may feel completely lost when you turn your attention to the trends again. Between social media, mobile media, cloud this and cloud that, the marketing media environment is growing by leaps and bounds! It’s imperative that you keep learning. As a part of your routine, subscribe to (and read), a few newsletters or blogs that keep up with the trends of copywriting, freelancing and best small businesses practices. To keep on top of what’s trending, you can monitor Twitter hashtags like #smallbusiness using any number of free tools like Hootsuite.
Check your site and make sure your information is still relevant. Make sure your links all work. Sometimes, unbeknownst to you and for a number of reasons, a link will suddenly die. This happens with WordPress blogs on occasion, so check them periodically just to be sure everything’s in working order.
Check your online business image. Make sure you’re not tagged in that photo you took at your cousin’s wedding with the chandelier on your head where you’re drunk and dressed only in your bra or boxers. Put security limits on the accessibility of your personal Facebook page(s) so that only folks you want looking at it can see it. Business people will definitely go searching for your personal Facebook page. So, if you’re doing anything on your personal social media page that could offend your customers and make them go elsewhere in search of a different copywriter, put some blocks in place.
Part of checking yourself, includes checking your competitors. You want to stay a step ahead of them or appear to anyway. There is competition out there for almost every copywriter, but particularly for narrowly niched ones. If you are one of 10 copywriters in your niche, definitely keep your eyes on your competition. One way to legally spy on them is by using Google alerts and Twitter alerts by signing up with sites like Tweetbeep. You can use these sites to have emails sent to you when Google or Twitter finds things like web pages, news articles, blog posts,etc. that match your search item (i.e, your competitor’s name and the name of their business). It only takes about 3 minutes to set each of them up initially, and they’re both free.
Oh yeah, and do this: Unfollow small fries who aren’t following you back on Twitter. Don’t look socially desperate. If they don’t respect you enough to follow you back, unfollow them. You don’t want to be one of those Twitter members who is following 500 people, but who only has 90 people following them back. Businesswise, that’s not a good look.
Even with its ups and downs, the freelance life, as so many people will testify, can be a great experience, and the best way to do that is to start out right. Go in with the proper mind-set and with realistic expectations. Decide you are going to give it your all, but that you are not going to lose yourself in it. Whether you choose to do it full-time or part-time, if you have the knack for it and enjoy copywriting and want the freedom that comes with self-employment, get your mind-set, make sure you have a plan you can live with . . . then JUST DO IT!
P.S. Some of the blogs and websites that keep up with the trends of copywriting or freelancing or small business best practices are as follows:
Escape from Cubicle Nation
Copylicious Direct Creative Good Copy, Bad Copy
Harrison Amy Copywriting
Jeff Sexton Writes
Men with Pens
The Well-Fed Writer Blog
Words That Begin With You