Getting Freelance Copywriting Gigs: What You Need to Know
In a comment on a post I wrote about updating copywriting skills, a writer asked whether copywriting courses could help writers update skills for current media, such as social media, and help make connections for work.
Loaded question. Let me break down the business so that you can evaluate opportunities for training and paid freelance copywriting gigs.
What Copywriting Courses Can and Can’t Do for You (And How You Could Train Yourself for Free)
Whether you’re thinking about entering or reentering the copywriting business, online courses may help familiarize you with what markets exist for these skills. They might help you understand and develop the writing skills that would be required to serve today’s businesses.
But I’ve harped before about coaching and training that can exaggerate opportunities. Always look at when they achieved what they’re saying you can achieve. How long ago was it? If it wasn't within the past couple of years—and I do mean just a couple!—I'd be inclined to take a pass. The Internet and social media are evolving rapidly. I've even noticed that what worked for me even as recently as 5 years ago doesn't work now.
Who developed or is presenting the course? Who do they write for now? If they don’t serve a clientele similar to the one you seek to serve, what they teach may have little value. B2B (business to business) and B2C (business to consumer) can be completely different copywriting worlds.
In response to the commenter’s question, I would say that the best way to understand how to write for new media channels, such as blogs and social media, is to get active on blogs and social media. If you have zero experience and exposure to the medium you want to write for, you are writing in a vacuum. Plus, you can get this experience for free since almost all social networks have free user account options.
If you’re willing to spend some money, you could even run some experimental ad campaigns for your own writing business to test your skills. It would probably be less than you’d spend on an online course. And you’d learn how to monitor the analytic data from the campaign, which is another valuable skill to have.
For making genuine connections in the copywriting field, online courses are probably not your best bet. Do you think the course presenters would risk their reputations in the industry to promote someone who just took their online course? I doubt it. I wouldn’t! The most they'll probably do is tell you what markets are "hot" right now. So how can you make connections?
If You Have to Ask About How to Get Copywriting Gigs . . .
Copywriting is like any other creative field such as art and acting, or any field for that matter. No one is going to anoint or discover you as the next hot new talent. That is a fantasy that we, as a culture, have bought into. You have to have connections. So if you have to ask about how you get copywriting gigs, you probably have no connections.
There are two distinct freelance copywriting paths. Either you want to work for an ad agency, or you want to sell your services directly to businesses.
Okay, so how do you find either these agencies or businesses?
For agencies, you may find help wanted postings on the online job boards. But you may need to put on your salesperson hat and do research and networking to connect with your target organizations.
While agencies may hire freelance talent, you would likely have to have a portfolio showcasing your talent and how well your work has performed for your clients. And they'll be looking for current work in current markets. Remember, too, that copywriting is done to create awareness and sales. So these days, agencies may ask how well your work has performed, proven with analytical data such as stats for sales, web traffic, click-through rates, clicks-to-conversions, etc.
Smaller businesses are more likely to use online freelance marketplace sites such as Upwork and Fiverr. On these sites, you’ll be competing for projects with hundreds to thousands of other copywriters. But at least you have a chance at booking freelance gigs.
What About Online Freelancing Sites?
Two of the most prominent players in the freelance talent space are Upwork and Fiverr. You can set up your seller profile for free. These sites will charge you a fee for every gig you book. Currently on Fiverr, that fee is 20 percent of the gig price. Sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t if you consider that you don’t have to maintain the site, potential clients could find you in their directories, and they collect payments for you.
I have gone with Fiverr since I like the procedure for booking gigs. (I currently use the site for offering my editing services.) Potential clients contact you. You’re not allowed to reach out to buyers, except in response to their inquiries. That’s a good thing!
Conversely, on Upwork, potential clients post their projects, and writers submit proposals to the client. This is a lot of work! Plus, when I was registered on the site, I noticed that for every writing gig that seemed interesting, there were already dozens of proposals submitted by the time I saw the listing. There are people who are constantly watching the project posting boards and submit proposals, often at very low rates, within minutes after they’re posted. That’s not how I want to spend my days.
There are no experience or expertise requirements to get listed on these sites. They are truly the open market and are extremely competitive. While that may tempt you to lower your fees to get gigs, be careful. I offered lower rates in the first few months I was on Fiverr just to gain some experience working on the platform. Now I don’t. It lowers the number of gigs and inquiries I get, but I refuse to work for minimum wage. Over time, like me, you’ll find a sweet spot for your fees and the services you offer.
If you’re trying to create or rebuild your portfolio, and you have no connections, these freelance sites are definitely worth considering to test your skills and markets.
Small Business Culture Shock
Word of caution for copywriters who may have had big agency or corporate experience: Scaling your skills for small business is tough!
Because getting into or reentering an agency environment can be challenging, some copywriters may think that they’ll just hop onto Upwork or Fiverr to serve small businesses until they get a break. That may be the only work you can get while you wait, but realize that serving small businesses is a completely different world. I learned this myself when I made the leap from a corporate copywriting scenario to the world of small to medium-sized businesses. Culture shock!
Here’s what you can expect:
- Clients expect to recoup their ad spend quickly. While the goal of any ad spend, at any level, is to make more than is spent on advertising, small businesses have zero tolerance, patience, and capability to handle failures of advertising to make sales. So they can be super demanding. I have sympathy for them since it’s their personal money they’re using. Big corporate and agency folks get a salary even if a campaign fails.
- They don’t know how to evaluate results. Measuring advertising effectiveness is tough for even the largest organizations. Yet, small businesses are prone to thinking they can measure it with ease. They’ll evaluate it by completely nonsensical measures such as customers mentioning their ads, or the likes their ads get on social media... the list of useless measurements is endless. You won’t be able to convince them they’re wrong either.
- They don’t know how to evaluate creativity. If you thought not being able to measure results was bad, evaluating creative can be worse. Sure, big corporate agencies and advertisers can be arbitrary in their evaluations of graphics and ad copy. But small businesses add a personal slant to everything. Did I ever tell you the story of the “logo” that a client’s kid created? That should probably be another article in itself.
- They often have tiny budgets and will drop you in a heartbeat. As noted earlier, small businesses are closer to their money than big corporate or agency folks. So when things are not working out (as they perceive as not working out), they’re done NOW. This is where being on a piecework freelance site like Upwork or Fiverr can work to your advantage. They have to pay you for work delivered, but there’s no obligation to keep working together.
Copywriting Is a Career
Whether you pursue it full- or part-time, copywriting is a career. So before you leap into it, understand that it will take some effort and experimentation to get into it, and an investment in keeping those skills current.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2019 Heidi Thorne