How to get your first copywriting clients

When you start copywriting, getting your first clients can seem like a daunting task.

After all, you’re putting yourself out there where plenty have been before. So what makes you different? That’s an important question to answer as soon as you can because it is what will help define and sell your services.

However, answering that at the start of your career – when you just need a little experience – is probably impossible. You won’t know what you enjoy writing about, and what you’re good at writing about, until you start.

So here are some tips to help you.

  1. Join a content mill

Yes, they’re woefully underpaid. But if you have zero experience and can afford to spend a few months working for next to nothing, then it’s a good idea. I wrote about content mills in a previous post, so I recommend reading that first.

  1. Tap up your contacts

LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+… all these avenues are reeling with potential clients. Get your CV up to scratch and delete those personal photos. Now start linking to your blog posts/articles regularly and make it known you’re looking for new clients.

Former companies you’ve worked for might also be willing to offer you a job writing the odd piece of copy for them. If you worked there for a while, showed real initiative and left on good terms, why not drop an email to your ex-boss asking if they need someone who knows the business to write a press release?

  1. Scour the internet

You need to spend a lot of hours scouring the internet, so get good at thinking up search terms that can pinpoint you to a repository of freelance jobs. Some job board sites include Work in Startups, Network Freelance, Blogging Pro and Glassdoor. Small-scale publishers, Gum Tree or Student Gems (which you can use if you’ve graduated within the last 3 years) are also great unknown places. You’d be surprised how many businesses list their odd copywriting jobs on there.

  1. Networking events

Search your local area for groups of likeminded people and their latest talks or events. Or groups of professionals in an industry that you want to start writing for. MeetUp is a great site to show you what relevant groups are getting together and holding events around you. Go armed with business cards and the intention to meet as many people as possible to spread your word.

  1. Send out a press release

The media is a great way to get your message across, but the press will only publish your release if it is relevant and interesting. The fact that you’ve gone into self-employment isn’t exactly newsworthy. But perhaps your new job is a million miles from what you used to do. Or maybe you worked in a particular industry for ten years, making you something of a specialist? A magazine in that industry might be interested in publishing your release.

Other angles include offering an incentive, such as money off for new customers or a free trial for the first 5 local businesses who get in touch. Make sure it’s well-written and concise before sending it to local press, trade press and relevant bloggers.

  1. Send out a sales letter

Do you live and work in an area with plenty of independent businesses? They too have a product to sell, and they need help doing that. Craft the perfect sales letter and send it to a list of say 50 businesses. Remember to follow up a week or two later, and try to do it in a memorable way so that it doesn’t get lobbed out with the junk mail, as per this example!

  1. Leave a trail

You’d be surprised by the effect of simply dropping information about yourself. Eventually, someone will call. Physically, a trail might be business cards you leave in venues, pin to noticeboards and hand out at networking events.

Online, this trail could be profiles you set up with different websites. Consider posting a profile on freelance bidding sites such as Elance and Freelancer with links back to you (although I wouldn’t use these sites to get your actual first job). Social media, online copywriting networks and portfolio websites – the more, the better. Try to keep them up to date with your experience and contact details. That is if you can remember where you’ve dropped all your crumbs!

  1. Go free

I know, I know, you need to eat! But if you’ve tried all 7 steps (and I mean really, really tried) and still have no joy? Then find a few worthy causes in your area. Charities, community groups, people who need your services but can’t necessarily afford them. Be honest and say you’re looking for exposure and experience. Offer to write them the occasional blog post, an advert or press release (for free) and you’re on your way to building your portfolio.

You can bet they will tell everyone they know because good deeds do not go unremarked in this day and age! They might even find their own way to reward you. Cake, anyone?

Finding your first copywriting client isn’t the easiest thing, but it’s so rewarding when it works.

How did I do it? A combination of content mills while studying, writing for my old employer, landing a job through Student Gems and writing for free for many publications. But it takes time, especially if you’re not going full-time freelance straight away.

But remember. What many copywriters don’t tell you is that there is also no definite end point. We are all – me included – still on the journey to gaining new and more diverse clients. So it’s important to regularly target new clients through these methods, otherwise your business will stall.

Have you found a better way to land your first copywriting client? Send me a message or leave a comment and let us know how.

 

Should I join a content mill?

Whether you’re just starting out as a freelance copywriter or you’re a seasoned pro looking for a side gig, you might be wondering if joining a content mill could work for you.

What is a content mill?

A content mill works like a digital noticeboard for freelancers. Businesses list any web copy jobs they need doing – from blog posts to product descriptions, one-off jobs to full projects.

There are two main kinds:

  • Free-for-all platform (where you may be ranked according to your quality – e.g. between 1 to 5 stars – and jobs are posted on a forum on a first-come-first-served basis)
  • Bidding platforms (where clients list their brief and freelancers bid what they’re willing to work for; or the client sets a fee and freelancers pitch to win the contract)

Content mills aren’t for everyone. They don’t pay well and they aren’t a substitute for networking and getting to know clients on a one-to-one basis. However, they work well to get you started if you have zero experience and/or need a little short-term cash.

Pros of content mills

  • A good way to build a portfolio when you’re starting out
  • A crash course in working to a client’s brief (including familiarity with language, keyword requests, and formatting)
  • Flexibility over when you work and what work you accept
  • Casual earnings when you need it

Cons of content mills

  • Compared to working directly with clients, content mills are very poorly paid (typically as little as a penny a word)
  • On bidding platforms, you run the risk of wasting your time and not being picked for jobs
  • There can be a wait to receive payment 
  • Work is not guaranteed – sometimes mills can run dry
  • They can be a dead end in terms of networking and finding prospective clients

Some sites to check out

Because of the potential for ripping off naïve and earnest writers, there are a lot of scams out there. When you’re looking to join a mill, run a Google search and see what others have to say about it. In the meantime, here are my top content mills:

  1. Great Content
    The best content mill in my experience. You submit a short 2-300 word article to register and they grade you on that. Your rating will improve the more you write and the more positive feedback you get.This mill gets a lot of good and regular clients. I have written for an international fashion website, a cosmetics company, and online opticians to name just a few. Clients often add you to a group of similar writers if they have jobs coming up they’d like to work with you on, and group orders pay better. I’ve also had a number of even better-paid direct orders (you set your own fee) and bonuses for working on long-term projects. It’s a good, friendly platform to help get your portfolio off the ground.
  1. Copify
    Jobs posted on this first-come-first-served (FCFS) board range from articles on marketing, fashion and legal topics to landing page content for boiler repairs. Pay is no less than £0.01 per word and sometimes more. However, deadlines are often the same day and it can take up to 30 days for your work to be approved and you to get paid.
  1. Textbroker
    This platform was one of the big names in FCFS content mills but has failed to keep progressing. It’s pretty badly paid and again you will submit a piece to be graded. There’s the possibility of moving up the ladder but I eventually gave up on it. There’s also a LOT of competition for those lower-graded jobs (which are also lower paid) because everyone usually starts out as a level 3 writer before being upgraded.
  1. Pure Content
    Pure Content is a little different to the standard models. You can register as a writer and/or editor and the company email out jobs for your taking on a first-come-first-served basis (meaning smartphone notifications are essential regularly). Jobs can be few and far between (and pay terribly). The writing jobs aren’t worth the effort in my opinion, but the editing ones are quite quick to get through.
  1. Contently
    OK, so this isn’t a content mill. However, it’s a great place to set up a free portfolio where you can post any work you’ve done, list your specialisms and include your contact info. When businesses go to Contently for help finding a freelancer, they assign them to one of the writers on their database, so it’s a good way to get noticed and is especially useful for journalists.

Make content platforms work for you

Starting out, a content mill or platform is an easy way to get a bit of experience. But don’t become complacent.

True, you need to stick at them to maximise your return (such as getting better grading, pay and more repeat work) but use them as a go-to, a little something on the side. If you’re serious about getting into copywriting, they should not be come your sole earner. Keep your eye on the prize and always work towards a clear plan for building your freelance copywriting career.

Next week: I’ll show you how to write a business strategy.

Lifetime ISA: a lifeline for freelancers

If you’re self-employed, you might have let out a little cheer on Wednesday after the Chancellor announced the forthcoming budget.

For once, savers are being rewarded. In particular, young savers. And as copywriting is (so I’ve heard) a young person’s game, this should come as welcome news.

But young people are also renowned for not saving, and I’m interested to see if this stems to freelancers.

Common sense

As a self-employed person, I would find it incredibly hard to operate without savings. Projects come and go and there’s no reliability in the same way as with full-time employment.

Once you embark on a career path comprised of ups and downs, it’s common sense to put a little away in the fruitful months to help you through the barren ones.

For me, saving is inbuilt from childhood. But as I’ve followed my path into freelancing, I truly appreciate the value of having a safety net to catch me –  for example if work became thin on the ground, or I needed to move flats and had to pay 6 month’s rent up front (when self-employed, it’s hard to get a property otherwise).

Lifetime ISA: a lifeline

Interest rates have been somewhat dismal in the past eight years since the recession kicked in. But the government’s proposed Lifetime ISA could well provide lifeblood to those ailing savings.

For those who weren’t paying attention, the Lifetime ISA is specifically for young people (anyone under 40 – thank you George!). It pays a handsome 25% interest rate on deposits up to £4000 per year and you can use it for a mortgage or your retirement. They’d rather you kept it in until you were 60; however, they’re looking into ways you might be able to take money out and repay it.

Either way, this is good news for freelancers, especially those just embarking on self-employment who will be earning a very modest wage.

Freelancing: the disadvantages

Like everyone, we benefit from the increase in the personal allowance, but not from employer sick schemes, bonuses, wage rises, holiday pay, and the recent pension auto-enrolment with employers forced to pay in for employees. All this is left up to us.

And because our wage can be considerably lower than most full-time jobs, especially when just starting out, cash ISAs don’t do much for us with their dwindling rates at a stagnant 1%.

The Lifetime ISA, however, will reward those who can’t afford to save a huge amount with a very generous rate, making the future look not quite so gloomy.

You do the maths

If you could save just £50 a month, you’d earn £150 in a year from the government; pay in the max of £4000 a year and you’d get £1000.

That money then goes on to accrue year on year, giving you a firm foundation for retirement. This new ISA also promises to be easier to manage than a pension, and more transparent.

Save for your future today

If you’re a freelancer who doesn’t have savings, now might be a good time to start paying some interest, in order to get some back in return.

The Lifetime ISA doesn’t come into effect until April 2017, but in the meantime, you could start saving in a high-interest current account (see TSB or Santander), which will give you regular rewards on your cash, helping you accrue some capital for when it does come into effect.

Take it from me and my own experience, it’s always worthwhile having a little money in the bank because you never know when you might need it.