You’ve hung out your shingle as a copywriter and you’re ready to live the freelance dream. All you need are a few more good clients, but how to reel them in? Here are five ways to stand out from the pack and attract more freelance writing gigs.
1. Be more than just a writer
Many clients think writing is a commodity they can purchase from the lowest bidder. The easy way to escape this mindset is to emphasize your unique attributes and skills. For example, I’ve done a lot of work for the creative industry. That makes me much more valuable to designers because I understand the tools they use and common challenges they face. I can produce higher-quality work for them in less time because I already “get it.”
Many copywriters are afraid to specialize because they worry about closing doors to other work. While that’s true to a certain extent, it’s not a big deal if you use it to pre-qualify clients. Build a specialization or two around markets that can provide you with the type of work that most interests you, and the jobs that get shut out will be the ones you didn’t want in the first place. And don’t worry, you can always add or change specializations later. I’ve done it three times!
2. Be proactive and help your clients see the big picture
Don’t just write for your clients — think on their behalf. Listen to what they’re saying and make sure it’s reflected in the copy. Suggest solutions to problems before they occur. Look for other ways to make their lives easier. Embrace a customer-service mindset.
These things sound simple, but if you do them you’ll outperform many writers who are content to do “just enough” to send an invoice and move on. Clients will love you for this — especially if they’ve been burned by a lazy writer in the past — and will be more likely to recommend you to others with freelance writing gigs.
While the goal here is to build your value and credibility rather than to sell more writing work, you can sometimes do both. For example, I advised a client that her topic idea for a blog would work better as a series of three, and that we could later combine them into a white paper to drive subscriptions to her newsletter. She was thrilled, and I got four assignments instead of one.
3. Leverage your solo superpowers
Being a small player isn’t a disadvantage, so don’t try to pretend that you’re a big creative agency with only one employee on the “Team” page of your website. You can do things some larger organizations can’t (or don’t), like providing personal attention, responding faster to market changes, and throwing in other human touches — like actually answering your phone.
A few years ago I beat three creative agencies for an ongoing job by showing that I understood the client’s highly specialized field. I’m sure the agencies had several copywriters with similar expertise, but it was easier for me to convince the client because I was the only wordsmith they met face-to-face. Being the “little guy” is your competitive edge with clients like these, and I’ve found that they’re some of the best people to work for.
Don’t overlook another value you can provide as a freelancer, which is offering your perspective as a trusted and objective resource. As I was writing the previous paragraph, my email lit up with this message from a regular client who’s grappling with a new product launch: “Can you read this brochure copy and write a more ‘consumer-friendly’ description? I think we’re too close to this to do it right.”
In my opinion, that’s the “power of small” in a nutshell.
4. Forge connections with other freelancers
Forming relationships with other freelancers makes good business sense at any stage of your writing career. Graphic designers are good matches because they regularly need copywriters and are quick to send repeat business to the ones they like working with. Design partners also expand what you can offer if a client needs more than writing.
Strange as it may seem, other copywriters can also send jobs your way. I have referral agreements with several colleagues who specialize in other fields. I send them about as many freelance writing jobs as I get in return, and we all come out looking great because we can still give clients a solution when we’re not able to provide it ourselves.
I’ve also stepped in temporarily for writers who’ve gotten too busy, gone on vacation, or taken time off for maternity leave. One fellow writer even offered to transfer a client relationship when she downsized her business. I’m a firm believer that there’s plenty of work for everyone, so it pays to think of other freelance writers as partners and colleagues, not competitors.
5. Create a marketing plan and stick with it
Building a thriving copywriting business takes time. Diligence, perseverance, confidence and ongoing self-promotion are your best allies. Whether you’re just starting out or hitting a mid-career slump, keep making calls, sending out email newsletters and attending networking events. The freelance writing gigs are out there, and it will all pay off eventually if you do quality work and commit to building your brand.
Think a freelancing career could be right for you? Read our post, What is Freelance? Myth Vs. Reality.
Tom N. Tumbusch writes copy that creates action for creative professionals and green businesses.