A Guide to Freelance Writing for 2019
The Most Detailed Guide to Freelance Copywriting. Ever
Everything You Need to Know Before Trying Freelance Copywriting
Freelancing used to have a negative connotation. Now it’s a symbol of freedom.
However you got here, know that you’re part of a special group.
This guide covers all the elements that go into creating a successful freelance writing business, complete with screenshots, examples, and strategies to attract and sign clients.
Forget the rat race. We’ll talk about how to invest in yourself so that you can create the lifestyle that you want.
For writers already in the trenches, this guide will help you take your business to the next level. I’ll share the strategies, tools, and processes that have made me successful. Plus, insight from other established writers who have built 6 and 7-figure mini-empires.
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Table of Contents
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Is Freelance Writing for You?
The idea of work is changing.
And most likely, you’re changing with it.
…just finished school and don’t want to hop into a career you aren’t really excited for. (Traveling the world > cubicle)
…were let go from a job that you’ve been at for years. But you’re taking it in stride and see a chance to create your own brand.
…have a journalism/writing background but want another way to get paid directly for your writing.
…already do copywriting for your company and you see freelance writing as a way to do your own thing (and make more money).
My story is closest to the first point. Freelance writing is a fun, wild world. You have to be open to new experiences…and be ready to work your ass off.
But it’s for you. No one else. And that’s why we love it.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is a copywriter?
A copywriter is anyone who gets paid to write copy.
Sales pages, websites, emails, blog articles, advertisements, landing pages — any written content that is meant to persuade is copy, and the process behind it is copywriting.
Copy is the foundation for every single business in the world. Every business needs to explain themselves.
The ultimate job of a copywriter is to persuade a reader to take action.
Despite the name, copywriters are more than just writers. They’re writers, salespeople, and behavioral psychologists all rolled into one.
Here are a few things copywriters do:
Prioritize information. To deal with people’s crazy short attention spans.
Cut the CUB. Anything Confusing, Uninteresting, or Boring. Getting rid of jargon.
Effective formatting. Shortening paragraphs, adding white space. Pairing copy with design to direct and maintain attention. Scannability.
SEO. Making sure the search engines can find you, and for the right reasons.
Trigger Emotions. Digging into the personal lives of the reader.
Storytelling. Knowing what type of stories will resonate.
Authority Building. Writing content to establish expert status.
In the words of Victor Schwab, copywriters are “professional enthusiasts.”
Copywriting is unique in that there is almost no barriers to entry.
I’ve met successful freelance writers come from all different backgrounds - teaching, sales, IT, engineering, even straight out of high school or college.
As with other forms of advertising, there is a huge creative element. That, in my opinion, is what makes it so fun, insane, and rewarding.
Why do companies hire freelance copywriters?
Freelance copywriters are a marketing team’s secret weapon.
They turn words into money without the office politics, delegation, confusion of responsibilities, all that. Writers write.
A marketer might be able to write a decent ad or landing page, but freelance copywriters have a way of blending their unique voice and experience with the company that hired them.
The need for good copy is at an all-time high, and only figures to grow.
Upwork is flourishing, and platforms like LinkedIn continue to play a bigger role in sourcing talent. Hugely successful companies love hiring freelancers and remote workers. The opportunity is out there.
In the next section, we’ll discuss the types of companies that are hiring writers, and what kind of writers are in high demand.
But before jumping in head-first into freelance writing, you need to consider your approach.
Evaluating your situation & managing expectations
Too many freelance writers stop before they ever pick up any momentum. That’s because they didn’t expect some of the harsh realities to be so...harsh.
Let’s get the ugly stuff out of the way first.
If you’re thinking about starting a freelance writing business, or even just using it as a side-hustle, there are three big fat ugly truths that you need to accept and plan for.
Ugly Truth #1: Your patience (and bank account) will be tested.
Freelance writers can make a great living -- more than you’d be able to make at your full-time job. That said, new writers are surprised when huge success doesn't happen right away.
If you’re starting from scratch, it could take up to a month to create your foundation, and maybe another month to start getting clients.
Between setting up your website and spending time writing out your story, you have to be willing to invest in yourself. The dollar investment is small, but the time investment is significant.
Once you have your foundation set (more on what that means in the third section), there will be a period where writing is your second priority. The first priority will be hustling to get your name out there. I’m going to show you exactly how to do that, but always remember — no one will help unless you're willing to help yourself.
As you start getting gigs, they might start off with numbers that you want to scoff at. Numbers that won’t pay your bills. Those big 4 and 5 figure paydays don’t come unless you’re totally focused…
…and you’re gonna have a hard time focusing if you expect otherwise.
I told you these truths were ugly. Next!
Ugly Truth #2: Running your own business is hard.
With a 9-5 jobs, there’s a path to follow. Not hard to figure out - just do what you have to do, and you’ll go home with money. It’s limiting but, reassuring.
Not with freelancing.
You’re responsible for every part of your journey. This isn’t “collect a check and go on your merry way.” You have to be willing to hustle.
If you treat it like a hobby, then that’s what it will be. Then you’ll get mad and wonder why you’re not getting any clients.
But if you treat it like a business and put in the time and consistent effort, your business will grow.
“Barely scraping by” applies to freelancers who are not fully committed.
Even writers that are at it for a long time can have trouble. Most aren’t able to reach that next level because they don’t dedicate enough to growing their business.
They get stuck working in the business, rather than working on their business.
You want freedom from the office and flexibility in your work, but are you able to motivate yourself? Are you ready for feelings of loneliness, instability, and the discomfort of not getting a steady check every 2 weeks?
For many freelance writers, they have to drop their ego and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
That’s 2. One more bit of ugliness. (And this one is really ugly)
Ugly Truth #3: Without a goal, you’re screwed.
Ugh, the G word.
I’ve never been good at setting goals. I was always eager to get right into work, and just get sh*t done, hoping it would all work out.
I avoided goals because I was afraid to confront reality. Luckily, I figured that out before it completely messed me up.
Working without goals is the number one reason new writers get discouraged and quit.
And listen — your freelance writing goals don’t need to be etched in stone. But being able to turn to your “truths” is how you stay focused when things get rocky.
Don’t freak out, just keep it simple. Here’s an exercise for new writers (this is useful for established writers too). Ask yourself:
What type of people/companies would I like to work with?
What kind of lifestyle do I want?
What type of income do I need to support that lifestyle?
For me, I was working a 9-5 and just felt trapped in the same building every day, all the time.
I wanted to have time to be creative - jump into projects, move around on my own time. I wanted to travel and see the world. I wanted to work on projects that inspired me.
I want you to think about these questions as you read this guide. Based on what you know right now, spend a minute or two answering these questions. Write them down.
As you learn about the elements of a successful freelance writing business, relate everything back to these 3 goals and think about how you envision it all fitting together.
It will be especially useful when deciding what type of writer you want to be.
Now that we’ve got that stuff outta the way, we can move onto something more fun: deciding what type of writer you want to be.
Deciding what type of writer you want to be
Companies have like, a lot of needs.
You can specialize in emails, ads, or even dog-centric about pages, but for the most part, every freelance writer will fall into one of 4 categories: direct response, web, technical, or content writing.
As we go through each one, I’ll include pros & cons along with screenshots of what each job post might look like, just in case you’ve already done some searching and want clarification on what’s what.
Sound good? Hell yea. Let’s start with the big boy.
Direct-response copy is anything meant to drive a direct action from the reader. They read your copy and act.
Direct-response writing is purely about conversions. It includes things like:
Advertorials (blog/ad hybrids)
Anything meant to get the reader to pull out their wallets.
Freelance copywriters are drawn to it because, more so than others, it directly turns words into money. For many, it’s the highest level of freelance writing.
Businesses often have a new product that they want to sell to their audience, or a sales page that they’d like to see convert at a higher level. Information publishers and affiliate marketers that make their money through online products understand the high value of direct response.
Direct-response is about sell, sell, sell. Not always hitting you over the head selling, but selling nonetheless.
Projects come in all shapes and sizes. Here’s what a direct-response copywriting job posting might look like on Upwork:
So why does direct-response copywriting bring in the big bucks? A well-written sales letter can theoretically be sent out an infinite amount of times.
A pro direct-response writer might work on a single letter for 6 months. Just on one thing. But - he could also make 6 figures upfront, and then commission based on how well it does.
There are lots of intricacies within DR writing. It’s known as the “most serious” form of copywriting. There are formulas, tried and trued methods, and swipe files (a collection of successful letters) that drive the niche.
Pros of direct-response copywriting
Highest earning potential. You can make thousands of dollars for a good sales letter. And you can even negotiate commission deals in certain cases.
More prestige than other forms of writing
Clients understand the value.
Can be used to sell affiliate offers
Cons of direct-response copywriting
Hard to break into
Sometimes the writing doesn’t feel natural or you can feel weird trying to make offers
Most good jobs go to established direct-response writers
Jobs are harder to find
Need stats/data to show your potential
Tons of revisions
This is where brands get to tell their story. Web copywriting can include things like home page copy, the about page, the services page -- all things that a potential client or customer needs to understand who this company is and what they’re offering.
Literally any website you go to, where there are words, is web copywriting.
Web projects come up for new companies, a rebranding, or when a company wants to refresh or update a certain aspect of their business. Here’s a good example from Marley Nonami:
Web copywriting is all about first impression. Focusing on the audience, and then persuade them to trust and eventually take action.
As a web copywriter, you’ll be pinned to work on lots of important, personal aspects of a company like the mission statement, taglines, value statements, and team bios.
Here are what some web copywriting job posts might look like.
Every type of business needs web copy
Chance to get creative, potentially work with their team
You help craft the foundation for a company - super cool
Can finish projects fast
Lots of back-end work: research, calls, deep dive into the story
Hard to juggle multiple web projects at a time
Lots of revisions
Must take client’s word/opinion
Technical writers are usually hired by technology companies that need to show their expertise in an industry or explain a complicated subject. Technical writers are generally responsible for things like case studies, white papers, and product manuals.
Technical writing jobs are common for IT products like computer software and hardware, but there can also be technical projects for less technical companies like workplace instructions, training materials, ebooks and assembly instructions.
(Technical writing ≠ technical copywriting. Technical copywriting is a form of web copywriting.)
Technical writers are good at making complex subjects clear and actionable.
And here are some job post examples:
Easy transition if you have a technical background
Able to focus on the clarity of the words, rather than branding
Companies are generally established with budgets
Subject matter can be dense
Projects can be long, monotonous, devoid of life and flavor
Mostly one-off projects rather than on-going work
While blog writing makes up the majority, content writing (also known as content marketing) also includes things like email newsletters, social media captions, and video scripts.
Unlike direct-response, content writers don’t write to sell (not directly at least), and it isn’t as much pure branding as web copy. Here the main idea is to create inbound content (inbound = the leads come to you) to educate, entice, entertain, engage, or empathize.
When combined with other forms media, the results can be huge for a company’s authority.
B2B companies use content to sell million dollar contracts. Coaches use inbound content to sell their services. Buzzfeed uses it to annoy you. Influencers use it to sell flat tummy tea.
Needless to say, content writing is needed everywhere, all the time, for everything, always.
If there’s something you’re into, chances are there’s a company in that industry that needs content.
Here’s what some job posts might look like:
Content writing is probably the easiest way for new writers to get in the door. It’s how companies establish their authority and become thought leaders. There is always a need.
Regardless of the industry you’d like to get involved in or where you want to do business... every company needs to create some sort of content. (An important tidbit that you can draw on to get more jobs - more on that in section 4).
Wide range of industries - anything you’re interested in
Infinite number of topics and angles to take
Big opportunity for retainers & on-going work
Fun, free-flowing copy rather than technically sound
Some find it soulless
Tons of cheap labor to compete with
Harder to set yourself apart
Lower paying jobs
Relies heavily on self-promotion & referrals
Ok so now that you understand the different types of freelance writers, you need to understand the concept of niching down. In other words, specialization.
Not niching down is dumb. It makes no sense. Think about it.
If you needed an opinion on heart problems, which type of doctor would you choose to do the best job possible: a general practitioner or a cardiologist?
If you were a B2B SaaS company who needs a technical case study to close a 6 figure contract, you would not go to someone who claims to write everything.
You cannot expect to make a splash or a name for yourself by saying you are a general copywriter, willing to take on anything. Not only does that lessen your brand, it lowers the price that you can reasonably ask for.
Very few clients want a jack-of-all-trades. They want someone that knows a specific area, and can be trusted to crush it.
And hey, I get it. Decisions make me nervous too. But when it comes to choosing your focus, remember this: this is just your first niche! My niche changed like three times.
Things will change, you will improve, you will see clients that you like, you will see clients that you do not like. It’s just a case of having a base to work and grow from.
There are three ways to niche down your writing:
Tech, sports, health & wellness, cryptocurrency, construction, etc.
By type of business
Ad agencies, e-commerce stores, local businesses, startups, coaches, etc
By writing services you offer
Sales Letters, Email Marketing Campaigns, Newsletters, Landing Pages, Websites, Webinar, Video, Scripts, Case Studies, Testimonials, White Papers, EBooks, Ghostwriting Articles, Proposals
So... how do you choose the right niche?
Kind of a tough decision when you don’t know much yet. Most writers don’t know what type of writer they want to be right away. That’s perfectly fine.
Here’s a few questions to ask yourself to help niche down:
- What topics are you good at researching? It doesn't have to be something you love, but maybe it is something that comes naturally to you based on your interests, past experiences, or even your upbringing.
- Do you want to work with companies or individuals? In almost every industry, there are individuals food need writing to help build authority and sell their products. As a freelance writer, you can decide whether you enjoy working with entrepreneurs on their personal projects, or with brands on bigger, company-wide champions.
- Do you need variety to stay motivated? For some, a 30 page sales letter sounds amazing. A one-project beast that you can work on without needing to run around with multiple clients. Others like to balance 3-4 smaller clients at a time to keep things interesting, cranking out copy as it comes along.
I highly recommend choosing a niche, or else it’ll be very hard to stand out.
Just know that you will be able to change it, change your offer, as much as you want, whenever you want. Don't let it slow you down or stop you from moving forward
Don't limit yourself (but don’t lie to yourself either)
The idea of becoming a direct-response master, commanding 6 figures for a single letter might sound great, but that can be a tough road.
If you have the time and dedication to train and spend months crafting stuff, go for it. But if you’re juggling 100 things like a job or family, and you just want to get your feet wet, maybe you start with content writing to get your foot in the door.
Many new writers just want to choose the niche that will make them the most money. There’s no shame in that.
At the end of the day, you'll make more money (and lose less sleep) doing the type of writing that suits your goals. (Remember those?)
You can make good money no matter what type of writing you do. If you've done any research, you probably find all of these sources telling you that direct response is the most profitable.
Generally this is true, but the most profitable form of writing is the type of writing and the type of businesses that fit you and your personality and your goals.
Your past work experience is a great start, but never feel limited by it.
Also keep in mind that choosing a niche doesn’t necessarily shut you out from other types of freelance writing. Web copywriters get content writing jobs all the time. Again, it’s just about having a base to grow from.
You need focus as you start to set up your foundation.
Set up your Foundation
Your freelance writing business needs a home base. A few, actually.
One of the best parts about freelance writing is that you can test the waters without having to leave your job. Once you have a foundation up and running, you can focus on the fun stuff like engaging and talking to potential clients.
Setting up your website and social profiles is not hard. It’s actually kinda fun.
Ultimately, you want to go wherever your clients are. But you need somewhere solid to lead them.
When visiting any of your website or social media pages, potential clients should be able to clearly see the following:
Your USP (unique selling proposition)
The services you offer
An easy way to get/stay in touch
(This is where having a niche is super important.)
Luckily you don’t need to set up a million different profiles. The only three places you need to worry about getting set up are a personal website, Upwork, and LinkedIn.
Setting up your writer website
Your writer-ness needs a home.
Even if the majority of your prospects come from a specific platform like Upwork, having a website is a signal that you’re a professional.
It doesn’t have to be fancy (unless you want it to be - I’m all for it), but it does have to be complete.
We're going to keep this simple. Assuming you don't want to spend a lot of time confusing yourself with software & design, this is the route to take when setting up your website.
The number 1 thing to consider before setting up your website:
More specifically, the person that you want to hire you for a job.
It’s all about them. You want anyone landing on your website to say to themselves, “Wow, this person could really help me.” That means knowing who you’re targeting — having a buyer persona.
(Sidenote: Understanding buyer personas is a hugely important part of running any business, especially a freelance writing business. If you have some time, check out this article I wrote that covers the major points: The 7 Ingredients of a Buyer Persona)
Back to setting up your website.
If you haven’t bought a domain and stuff yet, do so. Just use yourname.com.
(If you have a brand name that you’re dying to use, fine. But just know that potential clients may look at you as an agency rather than a freelancer.)
I HIGHLY recommend using Squarespace over Wordpress or Wix. Wordpress has more features, but you just don't need them. Wix, from my experience, is terrible.
If you need a guide on how to set this up, YouTube it. Once you have a blank site with your domain, it’s time to fill it with content that will show potential clients who you are.
USP - Welcome to your World
The main focus of your writer website should be communicating your USP.
It feels a bit strange to think about your unique selling proposition as a writer. Those aren’t terms we think of ourselves in. But it doesn’t have to be weird. When it comes to positioning yourself as a writer, your USP should be an answer to the following questions:
What do you do?
Who do you do it for?
What makes you different?
Keep your audience at the forefront of everything you do here. The niche you’ve decided to serve is who your USP should appeal to.
Position your services from a benefits perspective. You don’t simply write white papers. You help help B2B companies become authorities, share their client wins, and organize data in a way that attracts new customers.
You never want to position yourself as the value option. You can be the easy, fun, adaptable, quick option. But never the budget option. Be the secret weapon for a specific person.
Introduce your USP on the home page with a headline, and then dig into it more on your about page. Here’s an example from super cool freelance writer Jill Pond:
So it’s pretty clear that she offers sales copy. She isn’t saying that explicitly, but instead she says that she’ll help you convert “browsers into buyers,” a great way to position benefits.
And notice her word choice. “Slay” appeals to only certain people, just how she wants it. Trying to look good for everyone is how you connect with no one. Be unique and specific.
Here are (in my opinion) the answers to Jill’s USP:
What do you do? Convert browsers into buyers.
Who do you do it for? Bold businesses that like money.
What makes you different? She’s a rebel that doesn’t do anything boring or weak.
Here’s another example:
Gary has one of my favorite websites ever.
He makes it beautifully clear what he does, and more importantly, what he doesn’t do. It tells potential clients that he’s focused on his work, and can be trusted to treat your copy like his obsession:
What do you do? Pure, 100% copy with wit and light-heartedness.
Who do you do it for? Businesses who want personality in their copy.
What makes you different? He doesn’t waste his time with other forms of marketing.
Even though these homepages look amazing, you'd be surprised at how easy it is to set one up. Browse through the Squarespace template library and see what catches your eye.
Remember, you don't need to get fancy. Your homepage just needs to introduce the reader to the idea of you as a writer. Be quirky. Be interesting. Use flattering images of yourself.
After landing on the homepage, the first place people usually go is to the about page. This is where you continue your story.
Your about page does not have to be extensive. It does not need to dig into the most personal details of your life if you don’t want it to.
But what your about page does need to do is confirm to your reader that you’re qualified, likeable, and the type of person that they want to do business with.
Your about page should be a continuation of the message you started to share on your home page.
Think back to the Jill Pond example, and how she introduced her USP on her home page.
When you go to her about page, and your suspicions and hopes are confirmed:
Even though it was somewhat assumed from her headline who she was talking to, she makes it 100% clear on her about page.
One of the coolest parts of an about page is the freedom you have to talk about all those little quirks and interesting times in your life that got you to where you are. It’s your opportunity to be memorable.
Look at Gary’s about. First he continues the theme from his home page:
And then he goes into some specifics, using that same light-hearted tone:
Past work experience and successful projects are important, but it’s equally important that a client feels that they know and understand you. Make yourself likeable. Don't be too serious.
Speak directly to the reader, and give them part of your story. Don’t be afraid to brag a little.
The Services You Offer
It’s amazing to see how much effort some people put into a home page, and a deep diving story... but then they fail to say out what they actually offer.
Don’t make it difficult for potential clients to figure out how you can work together.
Lay out every single piece that you want to offer (look at section 2 to see full list of things you can offer). The cleaner the better, like Nadini Jammi’s site:
If you're serving a particular niche, be specific when talking about your services.
If you’re in the health & wellness niche, maybe you offer “health guru webinar scripts.”
If you write for coaches, maybe you offer new client onboarding sequences.
Don’t limit yourself, but at the same time, don’t offer the whole world. Do what makes sense for you, your goals, and your experience.
Always include a way to get in touch with you on your service page. It can be a form, your email, or an invitee to a discovery call like on Nandini’s page:
Should I list my prices?
If you’re just starting out, I don't recommend it.
Even if your rates are fair, it can send a mixed signal to anyone that doesn’t yet know you. If they think it's too high you're hurt, if they think it's too low they think you suck. Wait to deliver the price until you get them on a call. (More on how to do that later)
If you do want to set expectations, rather than listing out prices, include a small note like Kayla Hollatz does right before her contact form:
Don’t have your pricing nailed down yet? No worries. We’ll get to that soon.
A Sample of your Work
If you have some work to show, show it.
While it does help show your ability, the real value is in seeing that other companies trusted you with their copy.
You don't need to include everything you've ever done on your website. 2-3 relevant pieces is all you need for your website.
Use imagery. Screenshots of completed work or even links to a Google Document is fine. Again, no need to get too fancy. Just make sure it’s relevant.
Are is a good example of a portfolio page from Hank Herman:
Or, rather than sharing client work, you can use a testimonial like Jacob McMillen:
Just as effective. Any CEO of a digital marketing agency now has zero qualms about hiring Jacob.
What if you don't have any clients yet? No worries. We'll talk about that in the next section.
For now, just know that it is important to have some sort of example of your work on your website.
Tease the potential clients, but don't feel the need to give everything away. Too much will cause distraction. Create a curiosity gap so that they’ll want to visit your contact page and get in touch.
A Way to Stay in Touch
In other words, a contact page. But don’t just leave your email and hope for them to take it from there.
Here we take a tool from persuasive copywriting.
You’ve grabbed their attention, and made it clear why you’re a good fit. But before they take action (contacting you), you need to persuade them so they can grasp it all.
Tell them why they should get in touch with you. Challenge the reader.
Nandini includes it at the bottom of her services page:
“Discuss your upcoming project or get a brutally honest second opinion.”
Don’t leave it up in the air. Don't worry about making it pretty. Worry about making it easy.
Some people like to have a call scheduler such as Calendly available. Getting your client on the phone is always a good strategy (more on that later). If you’re comfortable on the phone, then by all means.
Others, like Chidinma Nnamani, like to have a simple contact page:
Never a bad idea to include your email. Her form continues by asking relevant questions that, by answering, shows a strong interest from potential clients.
Makes it very clear what her focus is, and gives the potential client a chance to explore their project. Being asked to describe what they need help with is a good for both sides.
One last example — you know I couldn’t leave Gary out of this:
However you want people to get in touch with you, make it easy.
Let them know what they can expect to hear from you. Make sure they can easily find you on social media and your blog if you have.
And that, ladies and germs, is all you need for your freelance writer website.
Now on to LinkedIn.
Setting up your Linkedin Profile
LinkedIn will be a source for lots of your networking. It’s the social network of choice for decision-makers.
It’s not likely that someone will hire you for a job among their first time visiting your profile, but your goal is just to get on their radar. Hopefully there’s something on your profile that catches their eye.
You should set up a profile that not only tells people that you’re a writer, but also invites people to get in touch with you.
We’ll go into how to actually use Linkedin later, but for now let’s talk about the important step of setting up your profile, starting with the headline.
Just like every other headline ever, your LinkedIn profile headline needs to catch the attention of your network and the people that come across your profile. It should make it very clear who you are and what you do.
You pretty much have two options when it comes to your headline: Either say what you are, or, what you do.
Here’s are a couple examples of saying what you are:
If you’re building a more serious brand, maybe aimed at bigger, more corporate/established companies, just say what you are. B2B Conversion Copywriter. Expert Email Copywriter. Etc.
If you are looking to work with entrepreneurs, or maybe a specific , less-traditional niche, maybe you use a “what I do” angle. In other words, who you help, and how you help them.
And here’s a couple examples of saying what you do:
Neither is right or wrong. It kind of depends on how you want to position yourself, but mostly it’s just personal preference, and your personal brand.
And then, there’s the best of both worlds option. Combining what you do with what you are.
Mention your specialty, and maybe the type of people you work with.
Here’s an easy way to get some inspiration:
Do a quick search for freelance writers on LinkedIn, and scroll through some of the profiles.
Take note of the ones that stand out to you, and why they stand out. Use them as inspiration for your own headline and summary.
Your LinkedIn Summary
Your summary can be simple, but it should give a peak into your personality.
This is your professional story, but don’t feel the need to be too buttoned up. Especially as a freelance writer.
Clients would rather work with someone qualified and interesting, rather than just someone that’s qualified.
Talk about what you offer, who you offer it to, and what makes you different. There should be continuity from your headline to your summary.
In general, LinkedIn is pretty buttoned up. That leaves a big opportunity for you to show off your personality.
You can show off your wit, like Jay Manheimer:
Or you can take a more straightforward approach, driving home the benefits of your awesome writing services. Here’s a good example of that from the awesome Sophia Dagnon:
Clean, focused, and a professional vibe overall.
Again, the goal is to appeal to your target client while sharing some of your personality. Don’t feel the need to try and be unnaturally witty if that’s not who you are. Your goal is to give people an honest representation of who you are, what you do, and why you do it.
First of all, you absolutely need to list your freelance writing website and, if possible, a little sample. Here’s Sophia’s:
Create a company page for your business, and add it as your top work experience. Don’t worry about filing this company page for content. Just create the page so you can use it as work experience.
Feel free to mention your USP again, and invite people to get in contact.
Ok, that’s a go. But then the question many have is this:
Do I list my old, unrelated work experience?
I’m a proponent of including every single aspect of your professional career. The beauty of freelance writing is that there is no one path to being a good writer. Many come from a sales background, or technical background, or something else. All things that can be used to make you a more unique freelancer.
Will that turn off potential clients? Will it seem weird that you chose to go from that industry to freelance writing?
You’d be surprised.
Here’s how I set up my teaching experience:
You don’t need to create an in-depth description, or try to explain why it’s relevant to your freelance writing business. The value is in showing your unique background.
And even others that are, at first glance, less closely related.
Add media! Videos, slides, PDFs, anything that shows your chops.
Add your education, certifications, and if you can get some nice recommendations from people you’ve worked with in the past, go for it. The more the merrier.
Don’t worry about creating a perfect LinkedIn page. Worry about clarity.
Setting up your Facebook
Facebook is an absolute goldmine for freelance writers. And for one reason only: groups.
There is an incredible number of active and engagement facebook groups to find jobs in.
Whether it’s a specific group surrounding a certain industry, or a group of writers that helps each other out, there are tons of groups where you can get your name out as someone looking for writing.
There are TONS groups dedicated purely to getting copywriting jobs:
And they deliver.
You’d be crazy if you didn’t want a piece of that.
And there are tons more groups dedicated to specific niches, and even specific copywriting niches with people who do what you do -- there’s no better resource than that.
LinkedIn is great for connecting with professionals, but their groups are nowhere near as useful as Facebook's.
You can even use these groups as resources to get feedback and critiques on your own client projects. Facebook groups are seriously a godsend.
We'll get into how to navigate these groups, but for now, you just need to make sure your profile is set up completely.
Optimizing your profile on Facebook is not difficult. Here’s what my profile “about” looks like:
It shows who I am, and provides links to all my stuff. I’ve also got a couple pictures so people know I’m a real person that doesn’t just hulk over my keyboard all day.
Notice where it says “The Logo at TJK Copywriting” and “Manages TJK Copywriting.”
Your personal Facebook profile needs to be a path to your business page for your freelance writing business.
Creating a Facebook Page for your Freelance Writing Biz
A couple reasons why having a page for your freelance writing business is crucial:
You can be found by local clients easier
Gives people insight on your biz without having to leave Facebook.
You can pitch your services there and share it from your personal profile which might be nicer
If you ever want to run ads, you need a biz page.
It's also a good place to post content since it lets you automatically generate captions for your videos, and gives you the option to boost your content if that's something you want to do as part of your promotion strategy. We'll talk about that later but for now just have a simple setup.
As you can see, I simply named mine TJK copywriting. You can do something similar. You can even use your name.
Create a header image that shows what you do or what you offer or a tagline. Clarity is key.
Here’s a great example from Sarah Anderson:
There’s no mistaking what she offers.
If you look at the lower right corner of Sarah's copywriting page, you can see “Our Story.”
Facebook gives Pages a little space to write a story about the company. Don't skip this. You can make it something very simple. Here is what Sarah’s full story looks like:
It really doesn't have to be more than that. Just a brief overview of you, your services, and how a potential client should get in touch.
Be sure to add a link to this business page to your personal profile. Don't worry about having any work samples, or price references on your Facebook profile or Facebook page. You can share this type of stuff through Messenger, should anyone show interest.
Page likes aren’t too important, but it never hurts to get a few likes from close friends or family either.
If you really want to keep your personal Facebook separate from your “professional” profile, you can. But I wouldn’t recommend it. The goal is to make real, genuine connections.
Once you have your personal profile and your business page setup, you're good to go.
Setting up your Upwork Profile
Facebook and LinkedIn are social networks. Upwork is a straight up job board.
It gets a lot of hate from writers who complain that there are only a bunch of low-paying, low-quality jobs on Upwork. But I’ve seen some pretty good results:
And that is not counting the countless opportunities that I have found through upwork, but taken off the platform and manage personally. (shhh)
Some of my longest, most consistent clients started with me on Upwork. Seriously— if it wasn't for Upwork, I would not have been able to make it as a freelance writer.
Yes, there are fees. Yes, there is a lot of saturation and crappy writers making good writers look bad. But it is easily the biggest and most active job board, so you would be foolish not to use it.
There are definitely ways to stand out, and it starts with setting up a good profile.
It’s where I found a lot of success, so I’m gonna just use my profile as an example.
I prefer to keep my Upwork headline pretty straight forward.
My angle was to show potential clients that I understand marketing funnels and fitting copywriting within that. It is not a flashy headline, but it elicits the feeling and skills that I want.
Use keywords that describe what you do. Think about what your target client is looking to achieve. Rather than trying to fit every single point into your headline, create a curiosity Gap that is supported by your summary.
As with any headline, Your Upwork headline should be either powerful and dynamic, or uncommonly simple.
Here are a couple other examples to inspire you:
Whatever headline you used for LinkedIn, you can use here.
Again, your Upwork headline should serve as a curiosity gap to get a potential suitor to check out your summary and skills.
Your Upwork Summary
This is where you tell potential clients why you are the best freelance writer for the job. There needs to be continuity between your headline, your summary and everything else that follows on your profile.
This is where your USP comes into play. Your goal is to persuade and convince the reader that you are the best writer for the job. Some ways you can do that:
Quotes or testimonials from past clients
Conversion numbers that you have gotten for clients
An explanation of why you have an affinity for your particular niche
A reason why you are such a joy, pleasure, and valuable resource
Relevant past projects or work experience
What you do not offer ( communicating this can be just as important as saying what you do offer)
Your beliefs and philosophies when it comes to writing and storytelling
How you will drive conversions with your copy and make sure that the client is happy
What you include should be a genuine representation of your personality and your experience based on the your target audience.
When you create a summary that shows your personal interests, you stand out to potential clients and make them excited to work with you...rather than you having to sell your services.
You never know what someone will relate to. And it shows you have a personality.
DO NOT create an Upwork summary like this:
I fell asleep twice reading this summary. Don’t be afraid to add some spice! Like this:
Remember that it is all about the client. You are here to help them achieve their project goals. that means they want someone easy qualified and good.
Always Include a Video your Summary
Invitation messages like this are a clear example of why you need video as part of your summary:
Video is the best way to get potential clients to feel like they know and like you.
I list it here in the Upwork section because it’s the one place that specifically has a spot to place an intro video that you can use to sell yourself.
But if you ask me, you should have an introduction video everywhere. Your website, LinkedIn, Facebook profiles can all benefit from a nice bit of face time.
You can use the same video for each platform. Here are the 3 things your introduction video as a freelance writer should include:
First off, just say hello. Too many people just go robot mode and feel like a freelance writer with no soul. Be human. A smile and a hello disarms the audience, and creates a good first impression.
After that, explain your deal. What you offer, who you offer it to, and why you’re a force to be reckoned with (and hired).
Last but not least, and this is the most important step. Tell the person watching what to do next.
It should short, energetic, and focused. Don’t dive too far into your story - just give them the big points. And remember what they’re after — a freelancer that they can trust.
Of course, no amount of witty personal details will help if you do not have examples of your work.
If you want any chance on attracting freelance writing jobs on Upwork, you need to have at least 2 pieces of content in your portfolio. And take a bit of time to make it look nice.
When adding your work samples, fill everything out. Describe the project in a way that can be transferable/relatable to a new client project in a similar scope.
Make it as clean as possible. I recommend creating simple graphics to serve as the cover image for each work sample. You could just grab rough screenshots of the work sample and throw them together like this...
But taking 10 minutes in Canva to put together a nice, clean cover for each portfolio sample makes your business looks much more organized and attractive:
If possible, show the copy and in its completed stage. Linking to Google Documents is okay, but it looks better if you can show the final product.
Setting your Profile Rate
Lots of new freelance writers freak out here. They think that because they haven’t worked, they have to put a ridiculously low rate to show that they’re a beginner.
Here’s the worst kept secret about Upwork: your hourly rate doesn’t really matter.
Here’s an example. Take a look at Dayana M’s profile rate:
But take a look at the jobs she has completed:
This is totally ok and extremely common.
Your rate isn’t so much about giving the client a budget for their project, but moreso to communicate that you’re an expert. That you know what you’re doing.
Now, I’m not saying that as a totally green freelance writer it’s OK to go ahead and set your hourly to $150 and start applying to jobs as a seasoned pro. I’m not saying to lie about your experience or skill level.
What I’m saying is that 80% of your jobs will be project-based. We’ll talk more about that in section 6, but for now you just need to know that giving yourself a high hourly rate gives you wiggle room to secure jobs.
As someone starting out, I recommend setting your hourly rate to at least $50.
As you move forward with clients, that will be a good rate to start structuring your project prices so you’re not just throwing a random figure out of your ass, and you have an intelligent rebuttal when they press you on the price.
We’ll talk about this more in the next section.
I did a breakdown of one of the better Upwork profile’s I’ve found. It’s about 4 ½ minutes long, but worth a quick watch if you have some time.
Which leads us to the next section.
Documents to have ready
Once you have all your customer-facing profile set up, you want to have your documents set and ready for you to interact with clients and make deals happen.
There's nothing more unprofessional then a huge delay between the discovery call and the follow-up. Have your stuff ready to go.
You will use these throughout all of your platforms. To turn freelance writing leads into clients, you will need these three things.
Also known as work samples. Also known as the number one thing stopping freelance writers from getting started.
Before you scramble for things to show off, keep in mind what your goal is:
To demonstrate your ability, confidence, and experience in a specific niche for company type.
Potential clients are looking for a voice and skill level that matches what they have in their minds. You’re not trying to look good for everyone, just that one person you want to hire you.
That means you need to show that you’re a specialist. The freelance writing niche that you chose (you did choose one...right?) needs to be highlighted.
In general, you want to have at least two to three pieces that you can show potential clients as an example of your successful writing.
And as with most things, it's quality over quantity.
This leads us to the most common question from new freelance writers:
How do I create a portfolio without any clients?
Well, you have a few options.
Self-publish within your Niche
Create a blog post that shows your knowledge and expertise within your specific industry or service offering. You can either create a blog within your website, or use writer platforms like LinkedIn or Medium to publish your stuff.
Even if blog posts are not a service that you want to offer, they are the best way to show your expertise and your ability to research and speak intelligently about a topic.
If you are able to demonstrate your knowledge of the subject, potential clients expect understand that you know how to actually write them. It's a win-win.
If I am a technical writer, I could self publish a blog post about the six most important elements of a technical case study. Even though it wouldn’t be for a client, it’s not hard for clients to make the connection, and feel comfortable that I know how to write case studies.
If I want to offer ads, I could write a blog post that says five ways to make your ad stand out. Obviously, for this one I would want to niche it down into the industry, but you get the idea.
Getting the most out of self-publishing:
Keep it short & focused. 500-700 words is fine.
Cross-post on your blog, Medium, and Linkedin
Use data & cross-referencing from reputable sources
Don't be intimidated by other writers that have written for household names like Business Insider and Tech Crunch. You don't need any high-profile names. You just need to be relevant within the niche that you're targeting.
There are an infinite number of blogs covering an infinite number of industries. Even if they don't explicitly advertised guest blogging opportunities, you’d be surprised at how many of these editors are open to the idea.
Not only does guest posting provide an opportunity to establish your expertise, if you're slick, you can find guest posting opportunities on websites that your target clients read on a regular basis. If they see your name as a guest blogger, then the chances of them trusting you as a freelance writer for their business skyrockets.
When I was just getting started, I did a couple guest posts for a marketing agency called KlientBoost. I wrote the article almost four years ago but I still use the sample and get compliments from potential clients on it all the time. I knew that being on a marketing agency website would show my expertise for companies looking for copy.
When looking for guest posting opportunities, think back to your buyer persona. Hopefully you've identified a few brands that your target client gauges with. Find those brands (or similar brands) and ask about guest posting opportunities. You always want to be where your client is.
A couple ways to find guest posting opportunities:
Google “your niche + guest posting”
See what topics other guest posters in your niche have covered, and find a way to put a minor twist on it. You don’t have to think of totally new subjects.
Have a topic ready that would resonate with their audience. Not just a headline, have a few bullet points to share that gives the publisher an idea of what you want to work on.
Follow editors of brands you want to write for on Twitter
Editors love Twitter.
Target editors on Twitter (just search the company), and start engaging to get on their radar.
Some editors are open to pitches (they say so in their bios), but others will need some massaging.
As with any form of outreach, your goal is to start a conversation. Show them that there is synergy, and that their audience would benefit from some of your writing ideas.
When contacting blogs and publishers about guest posting opportunities, it’s important to show that you've done your research. Have pitches ready for when they finally respond.
Use Guest Posting Websites
Make time each week to go after guest posting opportunities. Rather than free work, think of it as a low-risk investment.
The second document you need to have ready is a proposal that you can quickly tweak and send to your potential freelance writing clients. The tenets of a good proposal:
Your proposal document should include your key information, space for your client’s customer information, a space to itemize the services you are delivering, prices that were agreed to between the two of you, signature spaces, and your terms for revisions, payment, and anything else that needs to be mentioned.
Here’s the one I use. I’ve been tweaking it over the years and now it’s been my go-to format.
Your proposal in this case can double or triple as a proposal, contract, agreement invoice. That's what I do. I like to minimize and keep things simple. Generally, so does the client.
Websites like and.co are good options too, but I prefer having an editable document on hand, rather than having to log in and input details to a third party.
Have a blank template ready to go for clients. For anyone that agrees to your services, you will want to send this proposal as soon as possible. You don’t need to add things like NDAs, unless a client specifically asks.
More on that later.
The last document you need to have ready as a freelance writer is a rate sheet.
Having a rate sheet is important to look professional to potential clients. Think about it. If you asked a doctor how much your visit will cost, and they stutter and reply “Let me get back to you,” you will not want to be seeing that doctor.
Having a rate sheet gives you credibility, and the confidence to talk about your prices without sounding shaky or unsure about yourself. You don't have to share this rate sheet publicly, but having one on hand will help guide your conversations on discovery calls.
Here’s a snippet of a rate sheet from Black Bow Communications:
Have a price range gives you some wiggle room when talking with your client, and it takes account of the fact that not every similar type of content is created equal. Some landing pages are simple, some are not.
Here's what to do if you need to create or update your price ranges:
First, use the Copyhacker calculator to find your rates for the services you want to offer.
Take the price it gives you, and turn it into a range. If it says to charge $700 for a landing page (based on your experience), write that down as $600-$800.
Repeat for every service until you have ranges for everything you want to offer.
You can also include other details such as expected turnaround times, any bonuses, and things that you want to include for revision policies.
We’ll talk about how to use this range to talk to clients and learn about their budget, and even how to get the job when they say you’re too high.
Ok. Now at this point you have your foundation, you decided on the niche, and you have all your documents ready, and you know who your target is. Now it's time to start attracting clients.
So at this point, you’re making some serious progress. You’ve got an idea of the type of work you want to do, and you’ve set up your foundation.
Now...how do you get freakin’ clients?
The Client Funnel
The freelance writing client funnel is basically the same as any other industry.
Let's start at the top.
Prospects / Target Audience
A prospect is simply a person who would potentially be interested in your services.
This is who you're going to be targeting. As a freelance writer, you’re responsible for putting together a list of prospects to move them down your funnel.
Your goal is to learn everything you can about this person. Their wants, their fears, their goals, what they like for breakfast. Everything.
You must have a user persona created for your prospects if you want to target them effectively.
You need to create a story about your ideal prospect.
With a story, you can think about where they are and what they do in real terms, rather than being theoretical. It may seem like a minor difference, or even an extra step, but taking this perspective improves your marketing tenfold.
Here is the user persona I used when I was targeting tech companies to write their website copy in direct response copy:
I know that Mark is a small business owner looking to build and grow. He probably built a network on LinkedIn, although since he is busy with his business he might not use it very much for networking.
Most likely he is on Facebook, where he gets feedback from Facebook groups and other people who have already built businesses. Knowing that, I would find Facebook groups with people like Mark looking for help with their marketing, specifically, their writing.
You need to think creatively about your prospect. You won’t know their exact story, but you should be able to create a realistic story.
Your goal as a freelance writer is to help them solve problems. This is why it's very important to think about their goals frustrations and motivations as a potential client. Understanding where they are in their process can help you target your approach and help you figure out where they are hanging out.
To further my example, let’s say my best prospects are founders of tech startups who are getting ready to make their public appearance. Knowing that, I need to think creatively about their situation.
They’ve probably already established their business plan, marketing, and strategy, now they need a website that will showcase it all. So I know 1) where in the business they are, 2) that they’re new and excited to get their voice heard, and 3) they don’t have anything to test against, although they probably have some websites that they “like” via their research.
You can also include things about where they are in their business. Maybe they've just received funding, or maybe there an established business that has been going for a few years.
To create an exciting and successful freelance writing business, you need to be a bit selfish. You dictate who you want to work with. That is the number one driver of someone happy with their business. You're in charge.
Starting off, you really shouldn't have more than two user personas. You want your targeting to be as specific as possible so you can go ahead and get your first few clients. As you learn more about your target client, update your persona.
Your three most important sources for prospects will be LinkedIn, Facebook, and Upwork, but there are plenty of other areas like AngelList (great if you’re targeting tech companies), and other trade association sources.
Once you have a user persona, you can start prospecting across specific platforms and websites.
Prospecting on LinkedIn
Sales Navigator is great for targeting but you don't need to pay for that to get started with prospecting on LinkedIn.
My advice: Take advantage of hashtags.
Search for content from potential clients that use specific hashtags for their industry.
As an example, let's say I want to work with coaches. All I do is go to the search bar, type in “coaches,” then click the content tab.
All I have to do now is engage with this content and get in there thinking. My goal here is for the coaches or whoever my potential client is, to know that I exist. No pitching yet. Just want to get on their radar.
If you want to get detailed, you can make a spreadsheet with 100 prospects that you will engage with over the next month or two. You want to keep your efforts focused.
As you start engaging, these people in your target audience will start showing up on your newsfeed, and if you are producing content, you will start showing up on theirs.
If they view your profile or respond to your comment, that's a good signal to send them a connection request. Then you can start a conversation, and eventually offer your services to them, ideally once they've seen some of your content. More on that later.
Remember, your prospect is an individual, not a company. Someone within that target company is making the content decisions - that’s the person you need to appeal to.
Prospecting on Upwork
Job boards are a bit different when it comes to prospects. While you still should have an idea of who you would like to work with, Upwork is an opportunity to get gigs fast, and teaches you the art of job bidding.
Even 5 years in, I’m in no way too good for Upwork. I consistently get 4-figure contracts on Upwork.
Yes, it helps that I’ve been active on the platform for a while, but even new people can get some great leads if they know how to work it.
A quick search for “copywriting” gives you an idea of how active the platform is:
If you are in the US, I suggest using the US only filter. Fewer jobs (in this case 517) but generally they are willing to pay higher rates.
Upwork gives job posters quite a bit of freedom. That means you will run into many different types of posting. how the job is posted gives you some insight into the person themselves, and potentially how to interact with them.
Since there aren’t really any strict guidelines for job posts, you’ll run into a few different types of posts. Some crazier than others. I like to call this one the “say everything in one breath” job description:
Not always a bad sign. Yes, maybe it’s someone new to the copy game...but that doesn’t mean they don’t have money to spend.
Other types of job posts include:
The “zero information” post
The “promise for future work” post
The “I know copywriting” post
And many others. We’ll do a future post showing you how to identify and navigate each one of these, but for now, just keep your eyes peeled for signs of a solid client.
Here are a few things to help you find good prospects on Upwork:
Look for posts that specifically mention something that you are an expert at.
Look for posts that give off a friendly but professional vibe.
Search in the morning and evening.
look for jobs with less than 10 applicants. You'll have the best luck finding fresh jobs in the morning and in the evening.
Look for verified profiles
Look at how much money the client has spent on upwork. If they have spent at least five figures, they are probably very active in hiring. Go after these guys.
Make it a habit to look for high value, offline industries. Examples:
They tend to have a lot of money than solopreneurs and digital-only businesses.
Upwork makes it easy to save interesting jobs so you can prospect daily, or even twice a day. Prospecting in the morning and in the evening is a good start if you want to be aggressive.
While you can save jobs, you’ll be most successful if you prospect and apply right away. You want to get an early if you want better chances to get the job.
Upwork gives you 60 free credits per month. Each job posting takes two credits. Use ‘em or lose ‘em.
Try out different search terms. If you are a direct response writer, search “direct response.” Same with blogging, emails, landing pages, etc. If you are serving a specific type of business, like that into the search bar with copywriting or content. (“health copywriting” or “finance content”)
Spend some time seeing which terms give you the best prospects. You can save your search terms so you can easily hop in and do some prospecting.
Later we’ll talk about what a successful submission looks like, to turn these prospects into leads.
Prospecting on Facebook
For me, prospecting on Facebook means engaging in groups.
With your user persona in hand, find groups where your potential clients are hanging out in. I have found that every single industry has a group of marketers and people looking to get things done.
Let's say I am looking to target B2B software companies.
Thinking back to my user persona, the person hiring at a software company will probably be in the marketing department. Using Facebook search I type in “B2B marketing” and come up with this:
Tons and tons of active groups with people working at real companies with real budgets.
Of course not every group is specifically made to hire Freelancers or freelance writers, but you can bet there are conversations and job posts happening in these all of the time.
I recommend only joining the five groups that make the most sense for you.
Again, play with different search terms. If you can find a specific group for your target, join and become a helpful member.
Remember: Not everyone in these groups is a prospect. You first need to establish yourself as a helpful number, and then you can organically make relationships which can lead to jobs. It is never cool to go in and just pitch. More on that later.
Prospecting within your Personal Network
Approaching people you already know it's a great source of leads...and almost no one does it.
Find people who trust you, and know that you are a responsible, professional person. Start with the people that know you best -- friends, colleagues, and relatives. Tell them what you do and how you can help.
You might be surprised at the opportunities that exist within your circles.
Be mindful of your relationships. You don't want your friends to feel like you are using them. Take them out to coffee, make it casual. You would be surprised at how many people know somebody in their Network that is looking for some content help.
If you are targeting local businesses, don't underestimate the power of door-to-door prospecting.
Almost nobody creates flyers or any physical promotion materials - dropping off a few flyers at local businesses and see how they’re running their marketing.
Suzanne Stewart is an expert at this, and in a facebook group explained how she does it, using simple flyers like this.
If you live near an area with a lot of shops, just walk around and talk to shop owners. Introduce yourself, give their store a compliment, and ask what they are doing for advertising.
Most people scoff at cold email. But if you do it right, it can work wonders.
The one thing you need to remember: Cold email should never be truly cold.
When you can reference a piece of content from them that you have seen, or something specific to them that they can respond and react to, your chances of a response will skyrocket.
Charlie Price is one of the best experts on male at Cold emailing. He has built thousands of followers, projects, and dollars using cold email.
Check out his course here.
Now that we’ve gone over a few ways to find prospects, let’s talk about how you can turn them into leads.
Leads / Interested
Leads are the lifeline of your freelancing business.
Leads are prospects who have shown some interest in potentially working with you. They’re not saying “sign me up,” but rather ‘I see you, and I’m somewhat interested in what you do.”
Having a steady flow of leads ensures that you’re not chasing new clients every single month.
So how do you turn people from prospects to leads? By showcasing your valuable expertise.
Turning prospects to leads on Upwork
When you reach out, you need to stand out.
Here’s what most proposals look like to a hiring client:
Can you see how people are messing this up? They are mostly just long-winded introductions of themselves.
Turning Upwork prospects into leads isn’t about showing off your experience. It’s about starting a conversation.
Let’s use a real example. Here’s a pretty standard job posting for a lead magnet:
Rather than saying, “I believe I am qualified because I have extensive landing page experience, and understand the inner-workings of email and blah blah blah,” I responded with this:
See what I'm doing?
I'm showing that I understand part of the complexities and I'm offering ideas to get this thing moving. I'm showing that I'm willing to explore and take this on.
I'm offering value and using the power of reciprocity. Reciprocity says that if I scratch your back, you scratch mine. The fact that I took the time to offer solutions and look into the problem makes her more likely to feel the need to respond and at least acknowledge the work that I put in.
Ask a question, get a response, keep it brief.
Once you get a positive response, you move to the next stage of the funnel - opportunity.
Getting Leads on Social Media
So what about Facebook and Linkedin, and the rest of the internet who does not have a specific freelance writer job post? Showing expertise through content creation.
Most people approach inbound content marketing the wrong way. They only offer value without thinking how it ties to their actual offer.
If you solve their problems with your free content, what reason do they have to explore your paid services?
Everything you publish (for free) should be pre-selling your prospects. That includes:
Thought leadership Articles
Helpful comments on social media posts
Capturing a prospect's attention by emphasizing the problem you solve.
Lead generation is a long-term game. There’s no way to trick it. Trust me. Pitching and spending money on ads does not make sense until you’ve created an organic content strategy as a foundation.
Prospects lead can come along in a few different ways:
Someone reads your content and reaches out directly to you
Someone signs up for your email list or submits a contact form
A job posting on upwork
A direct message on Twitter
A response to a cold email
And if this is a positive response along the lines of tell me about your services oh, well, then you got an opportunity.
Opportunities / Qualified
Once someone has expressed interest in your freelance writing services, they become an opportunity. In this context, opportunities are leads that present a real chance at becoming a client.
It’s important to be able to differentiate from leads and opportunities. Here are a few ways that leads turn into opportunities for freelance writing work:
You’ve been posting on LinkedIn, creating videos and engaging with people in your target list. Someone sends you a private message, asking about your services.
During one of your coffee outings, a close friend mentions that someone he works with needs some copy for their new campaign. You send an email and agree to a call to discuss the project.
Some in one of your Facebook groups publishes an update about needing help for their project. You send them a message, and you start exchanging information.
Someone hears you speaking on a podcast
A job poster on Upwork responds positively to your message, or invites you to their project.
Once you have an opportunity, your next step is to get them on the phone.
But you need to use some finesse. Don't rush them. Your goal is to verify that they're thought but you might be able to help is correct. That they made the right decision by reaching out to you.
The key is to ask intelligent questions. As they open up and share more information with you, they will become more invested in you.
Here's an example of someone reaching out on Linkedin:
That’s an opportunity. Handle it casually and professionally.
Your ultimate goal at the opportunity stage should be to get them on a discovery session.
Try not to waste too much time going back and forth through messenger. Answer their questions directly (and promptly) and get them to schedule a discovery call.
Discovery calls are your opportunity to make a personal connection.
The Discovery Call
A discovery call is the best way find the specific opportunity that exists to turn this person into a client. It’s not enough to just be chummy with them. Your discovery needs to get certain pieces of key information.
Remember, even though your client thinks they want copywriting services, what they really want is the results that you can create.
A few questions you need to ask:
Can you tell me more about the project?
What’s the challenge you’re looking to overcome?
Is there something specific you’re looking to capture/focus on within your copy?
And even though we call it a discovery call, you should go into it with every intention to close.
Here's how my calls usually go.
The first two to three minutes are polite jabber. Ask them where they are located, refer to something in the conversation.
Then, I transition with something like “So, I really appreciate you helping on a call with me I'm really excited about this project.”
Then I would overview the project based on what I know, and what I want to find out:
“So it sounds like you need a an email sequence for your new clients. Do you have any specifics on how you want to speak to them?”
Then, most likely they will give you just another iteration of their job post. But that's good. The more they talk about their project, the more comfortable they feel. You listen, they talk.
Some questions to ask from there:
What solutions have you tried in the past?
Who is your customer?
What's your biggest challenge right now?
What has been your top performing content?
Asking good questions is key to a client being comfortable with you. Keep the questions relevant. Don't ask questions just to ask questions.
At some point there will be a point where you need to start wrapping things up. This is where you ask the expected result questions.
“What's your end goal for this project?”
“What are you ultimately looking to accomplish?”
“Do you have any numbers that you're looking to hit?”
Asking these questions shows that you're focused on results. It is also something important to reference when you quote them your price.
The last part of the discovery call is negotiation. This is where it gets scary for most writers.
How to transition the conversation to prices negotiate and get the job
The goal is to set expectations of your price without scaring them away. That's why I recommend giving a price range.
Here's how the conversation should go:
“So yeah - I’m excited. I’d really like the opportunity to work with you on this. For something like this my price range is usually $700 to $900. Does that fall within your budget?”
They’ll respond one of two ways: “OK!” (to which you respond: “Great, I'll follow up with the proposal”), or “Ooof...that’s a bit higher than we expected.”
Almost half of the time, they will say your price is too high. (Some sales gurus even say that if they don’t think it’s too high, your price wasn’t high enough.)
Here is how the conversation might go from there:
Client: To be honest that's a bit out of our budget.
You: I understand. Even though that is about the going rate for professional copy for something like this, I think we could work something out. What is your budget for this project?
Client: Our budget is $500.
You: Okay. If you would be okay with me delivering this project in 10 days rather than 5 days, then I would be able to meet you down at that price
Client: Mmmmkay let's do it.
Notice that you aren't lowering your prices just to get the job for no reason. You are making changes to be helpful and go within their budget. Other ways that you can lower your price without devaluing your services:
Offering less time for revision
Offering fewer concepts
Bundling it with another project to lower the price of each
Adding in a content strategy or SEO package for free
You can also use this negotiation tactic when there’s hesitation after you’ve sent the proposal.
However the call ends, either with them accepting your rate, or them saying that they need to think about it, you need to follow up immediately.
Do not wait a day. Do not even wait an hour. Send them an email while everything is fresh on your mind.
Securing the Job with the Follow Up
Strike while the iron is hot.
Send an email telling your qualified lead that you appreciate the time, think there’s a great synergy, and (if applicable) to review your proposal.
Keep in mind - you MUST have these set up ahead of time.
As a review, here are the three things a solid freelance writing proposal should have:
Personalize your template with your client and project details. Double and triple check for mistakes.
Description of Work
Plug in the details of what you and the client discussed into your proposal template. Be specific.
If you’re hired to do the website copy, don’t just say website copy. Break it down into each page.
Payment & Revision terms
Include how you prefer getting paid. Most of the time clients will be comfortable paying with PayPal. If you’d like, you can offer other ways like bank transfer, but it’s best to keep it simple, especially when starting off. You also may want to include terms like NET30 or NET15, although these are usually almost only used with bigger companies.
It’s also not a bad idea to include your revision policy.
I recommend offering a 5 day window after delivery of your final first draft. Rather than offering “rounds” of revisions, giving a time window makes them feel like they’re getting the value of unlimited revisions while still being realistic about how long you’ll offer help.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, much of a successful freelance writing client relationship is about setting and managing expectations from the jump.
Here’s how your follow up email should go:
Great chatting today.
I’m ready to get started. Attached is the proposal. After we knock that out, I can start looking looking through the marketing materials and get this thing moving. Okay with you?
Speak with confidence that you already have the job and you want to get going. Notice I didn't mention the price. You don't want to seem like you are just trying to get the payment, you want to seem like you're eager to get started.
What do you do when a client does not pay the first 50% to get started?
Unfortunately it’s pretty common for a client to sign the proposal, but wait around on the first 50%. If they still haven't paid you the first 50% after the first three or four days, send a follow-up email:
I've got your sign proposal and everything I need to get started. If we're going to hit your target deadline, I will need that first 50% to get started and finished on time.
Please PayPal it over at your earliest convenience.
What do you do when a client ghosts you completely?
It is not uncommon for clients to disappear after you send their proposal. Either they stopped responding, or keep putting you off. This is where you need to take control of the situation.
Send an email letting them know that your availability will not be open forever:
I sent over the proposal a few days ago and I'm still waiting on a response. At this point I still have room in my schedule, but my availability will be changing soon.
Please let me know if any changes are needed for the proposal. If you are still working on a final decision, please let me know so we can follow up on a later date.
Send this email once a week for about a month until you get their proposal signed. If you still have no response after a few emails, let them know that you will be following up at some point soon.
Even though your discovery call might have gone perfectly, and they said that they eat they want to work with you even after sharing your price, they might say something along the lines of
“Let me check with my partner”
“We have to knock out this other priorities first, but then we'll can get started with you.”
Push back a little bit. Remind them that you’re eager and ready to get started.
Make a habit of nurturing your opportunities that did not become clients. They have shown interest, and most likely they did not follow up with you because of something on their end. Stay present. Send them an email once a month just as an update to see how they are doing and you will probably get those jobs at some point.
You’ve got your 50% deposit for the project. All is good, and the hard part is over. Now you just need to do the job.
We’re not going to talk about how to write good copy (although I am working on a course for that), but just as important is how you present your copy drafts, and communicate changes and opinions with your clients.
Delivering the final first draft
How you deliver the copy will affect the lens that your client reads it in.
You want to communicate the fact that you did some of your best work and you can’t wait to team up and get this thing finished.
We call it a final first draft (rather than the final draft), because there will be revisions. It’s important to phrase it this way so your client knows that you welcome their feedback. Here’s a script you can use:
Attached is the final first draft. I’m really excited about how it came out.
Keep in mind that you may find things you want to remove, or things to add. Feel free to leave your comments directly in the document. I normally offer 5 days for as many revisions you need until they’re perfect, but happy to handle a special need.
Feel free to message me with any questions or comments.
Tweak as you see fit, but you get the idea.
Under no circumstance should you ever deliver anything that is incomplete. That sets a terrible precedent and makes you seem like you need help doing your job.
How to Handle Revisions
At the end of the day, you’re being paid to develop your client’s vision. What they say goes.
But that doesn’t change the fact that some clients will be less than pleasant if they feel that you’ve missed the mark. Don’t ever get defensive! Just be calm and approach the situation methodically:
Explain your approach
Ask for specifics
Set a deadline
No one benefits from endless back & forth. Get the facts you need, and force the client to be specific.
If they say “this doesn’t feel right,” ask them why.
If they say it needs a different tone, tell them to be specific.
In the previous section I mentioned offering 5 days for revisions. I like giving a specific window rather than a certain number of rounds because rounds feel limiting. Plus, you don’t want to offer 2 rounds of revisions, and have that second round come in 3 weeks later. Annoying, and much more common that you might think.
Be firm and confident with your policies! Don’t let any client bully you. Make them respect you.
As long as you’re prepared and professional, they will.
A rule of thumb: No client is working on only one piece of content.
Even if it was a one-off project, you need to speak to your client lovingly and tell them how much you enjoyed working with them. Before saying goodbye forever, ask them straight up: “What other content needs do you have?”
Asking a client that you just finished more working is the lowest-hanging fruit that exists. It’s very rare that any client will only be working on one piece of content at any given time. There are always plans for more, and if you delivered a good service, you shouldn’t be shy to inquire.
Let them know that you’re available and actively looking to fill your calendar. If they say that there’s nothing that they need help with at the moment, thank them and then tell them not to hesitate to hit you up when they need anything.
Even if they say there’s nothing on schedule, make some suggestions!
If you just created a blog post for them, offer to create a lead magnet, mini-course, or email sequence to go with it.
If you wrote their ads, see if they’re interested in you taking a look at their landing pages.
Be creative! Closed mouths don’t get fed.
How to ask for a testimonial
If you provided a good service and both sides came out happy, you should never feel shy or that you’re being annoying about asking for a testimonial. But just to be sure, you want to make it as easy as possible.
Create a simple Google form that they can click on. It doesn’t have to be any more than 2 questions. Make sure to get their name, and then simply ask “what did you think?” in more or less words.
Here’s what mine looks like:
You can also add a third question: “Can I use this testimonial on my website”?
If you do ask and they say yes, add this testimonials somewhere on your website.
Also, don’t be shy if you get at testimonial that you want to request a change for. In this case, it’s usually easier to make the tweak, and then ask them if they approve. 9.5 times out of 10 they’ll say go ahead.
Take Notes on How it Went
How’d it go? Learn from your client experiences.
What could you have done different? Were there any hiccups or awkward moments that could’ve been avoided? Was there anything your client said or suggested that you can use for next time?
These points of analysis are important to note for the next stage of your freelance writing career: growth. Even years in, I still find new things that influence how I work with new clients.
The last section might be most important. (especially for those of you who are already in the game). Let’s talk growth.
Freelance writing is all about keeping up the momentum. Now that you’ve gotten your feet wet, gotten paid, you have two primary goals: get better, and let everyone know that you’re out here.
For the most part, these activities will work together. Work on getting better, and letting everyone know you’re here to stay.
Creating Inbound Content
Creating inbound content is how you attract prospects into leads, but it has to be a long-term commitment. You can’t expect hungry business owners to find that one article you posted 3 months ago.
If you’re posting content and engaging like you should be, people will reach out. And trust me, it happens everywhere. On Linkedin:
And even on Instagram:
Here are some tips for creating content that gets you jobs:
Focus on Problems
Everything you publish needs to pre-sell your services by outlining the problem that you solve. by bringing clarity, focus, and realness to your audience’s problem.
When it's time to get it solved or when you offer to solve it, they will be much more easily inclined to explore the opportunity with you.
This does not make you seem like a doomsayer. Quite the opposite actually. By pointing out all the problems, you are a helping Aunt. You are helping people identify things before they hit them in the face out of nowhere. By emphasizing problems, you condition them to expect you to have the solution.
Share commentary about an experience or observation.
Verify your target audiences thought on it. The point is to make yourself seem like a part of their industry like they are a partner.
Use phrases and themes like “Maybe you've seen this happening” and “We all know the feeling of…”
Make it feel like you're in it together. That those thoughts in their head are correct. Use a vantage point to flip or add to an idea.
“I agree, but...”
“Yes that's true but did you also know that...”
“Doesn't that sound insane? It's not. Here’s why.”
“I don't like it either but this much is true”
Use continuity in your content
Think about creating a series, or at the very least, reference past content. It creates a curiosity gap — they’ll want to go back and see whatever it is you’re talking about.
This is where hashtags can be super useful, especially on LinkedIn.
Stay in the know
Stay up-to-date about what is happening in your industry that you are targeting and talk about it. Find and share nteresting articles, comment on interesting threads, and anything else you can to make it known that you have a pulse on what is happening. Don’t be afraid to be polarizing if you don’t agree with something.
Make it Easy to Find You & Your Content
Have all your links visible across all your profiles. Your email signature. Your guest posts. Don’t try to seperate your freelance writing persona from your personal persona. They’re one in the same.
Your personal side is often a huge source of clients and referrals. Work it all in together.
Take advantage of SEO
Do you like free promotion from search engines? Yes, yes you do.
A lot of writers dismiss SEO, thinking that there’s no way anybody will find them through search. There’s like, a ton of websites. How would anyone find little old you?
A business owner sees your LinkedIn post while scrolling on their phone. They’re already sitting at their computer, so they quickly throw your name into Google to see if anything interesting comes up.
If your website isn’t correctly set up, they won’t find anything except the LinkedIn profile. Not a good sign.
If your site IS correctly set up, they’ll find your home page, your blog posts, your about page, and any other place that you may be featured. That’s what you want. It shows that you’re a high-level writer.
You may not be interested in SEO, but trust me. You’re better off getting it set up. You don’t need to go into a detailed checklist when first going. The 2-3 things you need to make sure are setup are:
Your meta tags
It seriously takes about 30 minutes to set everything up, and you’re good to go.
You gotta stay up on game. 90% of the conversations in any Facebook group or LinkedIn conversation is about the business of freelance writing. And I get it! It’s a wild business.
But there are a lot of writers who put the entirety of their career on the assumption that they will improve as writers as long as they keep having clients. There’s no doubt that you get better as you work through clients. No doubt.
But there are a shit load of amazing resources from writers who have made millions of dollars and dedicated their lives to this stuff. You’d be remiss not to explore ways to improve your writing skills.
Here are some ways to do that.
Dig into your Niche
If your writing path is focused around a specific niche, then you should become the all-knowing expert about that niche.
Even if you have a background and genuine interest in it, there’s always more to know that not only can show up in your content, but is important to share and talk about in your social circles as a signal that you are the subject matter authority. That’s how you command higher rates.
As an example, my friend Joseph Kennedy is an environmental copywriter. In fact he promotes himself as the #1 environmental copywriter in the UK. It’s a lofty title that he needs to live up to, so you bet your ass he stays up to date and figures out all the shit that he needs to know to be considered the expert.
At the bare minimum, you need to be subscribed to a bunch of blogs in your niche. Use Feedly. You can create segments and get updates. Here’s what mine looks like:
Learn from other writers
Before I connected with other writers, I certainly felt pretty lonely. That I was dealing with these problems all by myself, and that no one could relate.
Freelance writing is a community. It’s unlike anything that I’ve seen because, even though technically many of us are competitors, we are still there helping each other out and answering questions. Most writers are happy to share their personal experiences and feedback to help you get better as a writer and grow your business.
Most of us are the only freelance writers in our social circles from school or where we live. Getting some feedback from others is super necessary.
Regardless of your opinion on it, Facebook is by far the best place to connect with other writers. Specifically, Facebook groups. Here are some of the best groups to learn and soak up knowledge from other writers:
Those are just a small sample, there are tons of specific groups for your niche. Not only does it let you soak up knowledge, you can participate in discussions to show some of your expertise and help others along.
Whenever you join a group, treat it like a new group of friends. You wouldn’t walk in the room and announce that you need a job and assume that everyone’s gonna jump to help. No, you have to work your way in. Provide value, engage in discussions, and just be a helpful person.
Introduce yourself - something simple like this works:
Remember, give more than you take.
Make yourself a valuable member of the community, and you'll find jobs coming to you when you least expect it.
Getting better at writing
Writing is an art that you get better at over time with consistent practice.
As you continue finding projects in your niche, naturally you’ll get better at writing it. Do more landing pages, get better at landing pages.
But there’s more you can do.
Try different formulas & techniques. Copyhackers has a ton. See what you vibe with, and create your own little custom ways of speeding things up. Give yourself room to try new things one in a while.
You should also do your best to improve your persuasion techniques. The Copy Chefs Course is a great option.
Systematize your days
Some parts of your freelance writing business will come naturally, things that you will want to hop on first thing everyday. Other things you will not want to do, and you say that you will do them when you feel like it.
You need to systematize your day so you can make sure that you are hitting every aspect property. You need to make sure you're prospecting regularly, generating leads, creating content, engaging in groups and networks, learning and improving your craft, and more.
There are lots of moving parts. However you do it, make sure you're hitting them all.
Take it Offline
Taking your business to the real world is a huge opportunity for business. And almost no writer does it!
We get stuck in our bubbles of social media and Google Docs, forgetting that there are real people walking around who sure as hell need some copy. Presenting in front of people is a great way to prove your worth, and get them interested in your services.
Here are a few IRL opportunities:
When you introduce yourself to people, tell them you’re a copywriter. You’ll know pretty quick whether or not they have any idea what a copywriter is. From there, you can wow them and create a relationship.
Get good at explaining what you do
It’s important to know how to explain to people what it is that you do.
Every freelance writer knows the feeling when a family member asks the simple question of “what do you do?” and you squirm.
“Erm, uh, I’m a copywriter..”
Oh, ok. So you work with trademarking and stuff?
“No, like, I’m a writer. For companies.”
Oh ok. What kind of companies?
This person might actually know someone that needs your services. But you have to know how to explain yourself if you want them to make any sort of introduction.
Sometimes you feel awkward saying you’re a writer. Inevitably they’ll perk up and say oh what kind of books do you write? Ugh.
There’s no perfect answer, except to know who you’re talking to.
If you’re talking to someone you met via Linkedin, there’s a good chance they know what a copywriter is, and have an idea of what they do and the value they provide.
If it’s Thanksgiving and your Aunt asks how work is going...well, good luck.
Make yourself Official
I waited to mention it until now, because truthfully, if you’re just starting out, you don’t really need to worry about this. But once you’ve got a couple clients under your belt, it’s a good idea to make sure your paperwork is good to go.
Even established freelance writers pass this stuff over when they first get started. (I know I did.)
For most writers, an LLC is all you’ll need. Tie your business to a business bank account so you can start tracking all of your business activities.
Hiring a VA
Same with this. I hesitate to add it because most writers try hiring a VA way too quickly.
A VA is not a replacement for tasks that you haven’t quite figured out yet. Not at the level you’d be hiring. Never hire a VA for something that you don’t already know how to do.
The whole point is to take the task out of your day. If you’re constantly having to learn and tweak along with the VA, you’re wasting money.
What a VA is good for, at least for a relatively new writer, are tasks like transcribing videos and compiling lists.
Schedule your own social media with Buffer. Manage your own emails and outreach process with tools like Mailshake. Take the time to get used to the process, so later, when it is time to hire it out, you’ll know exactly how to tell them how to do it.
Where do you go from here?
There’s a lot to love and look forward to about being a freelance writer.
You’re able to use your creativity to help businesses make money, and for yourself, you have ultimate flexibility. It’s not easy but the journey is certainly worth it.
So after reading all this stuff, what do you do next?
Take a look at your current situation.
Maybe you’ve already started a freelance writing business, or maybe you’re reading this from your office at work (we won’t tell).
If you’re serious about pursuing this, you need to be realistic about your goals, commitments, and what you’re willing to sacrifice to become a freelance writer.
And then, take action.
No one expects you to just pick it all up and go. Choose two or three strategies or things that stood out to you and make those your plan of action for this first week.
And if you're already working, I highly suggest setting aside days for personal development.
Pick two or three days a week that you do not work on client work. This was suggested by Sophia Dagnon’s beautifully titled Copyhacker article, How to be a freelance copywriter when you suck at doing what freelancers are “supposed” to do. Give it a read.
We all come from different backgrounds and want different things. Don't gauge your success by other freelance writers business. Think about what success means for you, and how you and your unique self can bring value to clients.
Freelance writing is not easy by any means. But even with the struggle, if you asked any writer if they ever want to go back to the corporate life, you’ll probably hear a similar answer.
“Not a chance.”