Updated: Nov 12
Have you ever considered the fact that you can make money just by typing words into a box on a screen?
That you can launch an entire online business based on your ability to write?
Admittedly, I’m oversimplifying here, but I am SO fascinated by the fact that the business of copywriting can seem somewhat shrouded in mystery yet be so lucrative for so many people who learn the art of persuasive copywriting.
The ability to elicit emotion and action with words on paper (or screens) is a powerful skill that you can acquire and could very well change your life.
The possibilities are endless in this industry. With the right tools, direction, and dedication, you too can launch your freelance copywriting business and be well on your way to the freedom enjoyed by many people who excel at this craft.
That’s why we brought in Sara Estes, a former journalist and private investigator turned freelance copywriter, and now an expert in her own right (she’s the head copywriter at StoryBrand for crying out loud!), to teach us exactly how to get your freelance copywriting business off the ground.
So if you’ve ever had an interest in using your writing skills to make money and have your own business, here are Sara’s 6 steps to becoming a freelance copywriter!
Step #1: Educate Yourself in Copywriting
“There are so many areas that copywriting covers. Just a few years ago, I didn’t realize how much copywriting is actually in play across industries the world over.”
Copywriting is a world unto itself. It’s both a science and an art.
Anyone can learn the techniques and skills required – but you’ll have to work hard and engage in new ways of thinking.
“Copywriting” vs “Content Writing”
Often, clients will say that they want to hire a “copywriter,” when what they really want is a “content writer.”
Copywriting inspires readers to take direct action, such as purchasing a product or signing up for a program.
Content writing, however, includes blogs and social media posts, where the focus is on creating an organic relationship with your audience rather than asking for a direct response.
Assets and income
Copywriters create written assets that directly bring money into the client’s business.
The more money an asset brings in, the more you can charge.
Reusable assets (such as high-ticket sales pages or email sequences) can represent a lot of long-term income for your clients.
This makes copywriting an incredibly lucrative business for A-list writers.
(Sara knows plenty of high-end writers who charge upwards of $30,000 for an email sequence!)
Sara’s favorite copywriting books for beginners
If Sara was forced to learn from scratch all over again, these are the books she’d start with:
KickAss Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel (John Carlton)
The most accessible and comprehensive book to help you start your copywriting career!
Scientific Advertising (Claude Hopkins)
A classic in advertising education from a founding father of the industry.
Building a StoryBrand (Donald Miller)
Teaches you how to “position” yourself as a solution to your client’s problems.
Breakthrough Advertising (Gene Schwartz)
Holds fundamental keys to copywriting you’ll need to know.
Influence (Robert Cialdini)
Covers psychology-based techniques that allow you to influence the actions of others.
Step #2: Build a Portfolio
To get copywriting jobs, you’ll need a portfolio.
You can get started with Google Docs in a Google Drive folder. No fancy website necessary!
If you don’t have any portfolio pieces yet, you can create work “on spec” (for free, as a demonstration) for brands you like.
“Choose whoever you want. You can take the information that they already have from their website. Tweak it, make a much better version of whatever they have, and just get that practice and put that in your portfolio.”
Just be sure to let potential clients know that these are spec pieces, and not from paid jobs!
Keep it to the “meat and potatoes”
“You don’t have to have paying clients before you have an amazing portfolio. So don’t let the feeling of perfection or imposter syndrome get in your way.”
Remember, your portfolio doesn’t need to be pretty.
Clients care more about substance and writing quality than a perfect presentation.
Here’s a tip from Sara: make sure your portfolio is “shared” in Google Docs, so anyone with the link can view it.
If the client has to take extra steps to manually request access, this can slow down the process – or possibly cost you the job!
This one little tweak can help you sidestep the headache while making a great first impression.
Step #3: Put in the Reps and Get Testimonials
When Sara began copywriting, she “gave herself a runway” by working a regular nine-to-five job.
She gave herself a year to acquire some part-time clients and experience before transitioning into full-time freelancing.
Sara recommends this “safety net” approach for anyone just starting out!
“It makes you a little less desperate for work – and you can be a little more choosy with who you're working with in the very beginning, which is great.”
And while you do that – collect testimonials.
Quality testimonials are worth their weight in gold and are worth taking a pay cut in the short-term.
This acts as social proof to convince bigger and better clients that you can deliver results.
Amateurs want praise, professionals want feedback
“You know that you're actually getting good at what you do when you want that harsh feedback, because that means that you're getting better – and that means that whatever you're creating is being molded to be absolutely amazing.”
Getting feedback from clients can be scary!
This feeling is natural. But most clients will request several rounds of edits on any given piece, even if you’re a seasoned vet.
It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad copywriter… it’s just part of the game.
Plus, it means the client cares about the quality of their marketing materials. So don’t take it personally.
Taking criticism gracefully is an invaluable professional skill.
Cultivate it, and your copywriting skills will become razor-sharp in no time.
Step #4: Start Taking Yourself Seriously
Set up your operation the right way while it’s still small-scale.
Start an LLC, keep track of your expenses and receipts, set up merchant accounts and payment methods for your business, create professional invoices, and so on.
It’s a mindset shift
“If you’re not taking yourself seriously, then why should you expect a client or a prospect to take you seriously in your work and what you do?”
The key to reaching your freelance goals quickly is to look at this career as a business from the start.
When you look like a professional, you’ll be seen as one, you’ll feel like one, and you’ll solidify in your mind that this is “real!”
Tools of the trade
You’ll need the right tools to manage your workload.
There are many free options available to help run your business at a pro level.
Here are a few that Sara recommends:
A project management platform to help you and your clients coordinate tasks
Easily send screen shares of documents to clients
Video-share your face and voice
Video conferences with clients
Notes and documentation
“It's very important to have software to help you keep your entrepreneurial life organized because it can get very difficult – especially the bigger you get and the more clients you have.”
One benefit of copywriting as a business model is that you don’t need to invest much (if any) money to get started.
Most of the time your main tools will be a text editor and your wits.
Don’t hide behind a screen!
“You want to get on camera, you want to be on audio, you want to be a real person that these people are working with, and that's how you build those client relationships.”
Many copywriters shy away from face-to-face communication with clients.
That means you can stand out from the crowd just by putting your own face and voice out there for clients through Zoom, Loom, and other video/audio apps!
You’ll give yourself a huge competitive advantage by building this human connection with your clients.
“If I write something, I send the client a Loom and say, “Hey, here’s why I'm doing it this way. This is why I approached it at this angle, etc.”
It really helps them understand what the copy is doing in a high-level way. And it's personable, too.
It's like, “Oh, Sara just dropped into my office here and she gave me this message” as opposed to, “oh, here's an email thread.””
Step #5: Learn How to Sell Your Services
Many new copywriters call it quits once it comes time to get on live sales calls with clients.
They’re often great at selling other people’s products but choke when it comes to selling their own services.
Learning how to handle sales calls is not always intuitive, especially for writers who are naturally introverted.
View yourself as a salesperson
“At the end of the day, every single person who owns a business is a salesperson, first and foremost.”
Client acquisition and pitching yourself to prospects will always be a big part of the business, so this is one hurdle that can’t be ignored.
The good news is – even if you don’t have a “salesperson personality,” anyone can learn to handle sales calls with ease.
Focus on the frameworks
“You’ve got to put in the reps, just like an athlete. They have to do it consistently every single day to get better and better at it.”
Sara recommends taking sales classes, especially if you’re a beginner.
Building those foundational face-to-face persuasion skills will go a long way with just a little bit of time investment.
Plus, it’s perfectly okay to use interview scripts and templates to help navigate those initial discovery calls.
You don’t have to come at this as a “lone wolf…”
When Sara started out, she got involved in a copywriting group with experienced copywriters who helped show her the ropes.
Having teachers and fellow entrepreneurs on hand to give you feedback is the best way to fast-track the learning process.
With the right teachers, persistent practice, and a bit of courage, you can get this part of your business handled – and keep those skills with you for life!
Step #6: Create Authority Content and Build a List
“This is how you let people know that you are actually a leader in your space.”
Authority content is simply your own original thoughts and opinions that you put out to the world.
When you build your own audience for this content, you position yourself as someone customers and clients should listen to.
Platforms for authority content include blog posts, YouTube videos, podcasts, emails, and so on.
“I think this is my favorite one because for so many years I ignored advice to start my own email list. This has already opened up different worlds for me and different connections.”
With an email list, readers can opt-in to receive your authority content and promotions directly.
Plus, you own your list completely – no algorithm can take it from you, even if Google and Facebook were to blow up tomorrow.
You’ll still be able to sell directly to the customers on your list, without paying a dime in ad-spend.
That’s why it’s the most valuable asset a business can have, especially as a freelancer.
Sara recommends starting a list early, even if your audience is tiny to start. This is a long game.
Simply document your experiences, share them with your list as practice, and grow your audience as you go.
Let’s Put a Bow on It
Sara has a wealth of copywriting knowledge and we’re so happy she dropped by to share it with us!
She’s an incredibly successful copywriter doing great things in the industry and she knows how to go from nothing to something quickly.
To get more of Sara’s full story (plus more golden nuggets of copywriting wisdom), head on over to https://copytiger.com/.
PLUS: make sure to hop on Sara’s email list – she’ll send you a FREE training that teaches you how to write a killer sales page in just 3 minutes!
(If you’re just starting out with your portfolio, this is a great first step to flesh it out and impress your dream client. I snagged it for myself and went through it. It’s absolutely spot on. Go grab it!)
If you’re ready to take action on your copywriting business idea, take these 6 steps to heart and also be sure to grab our FREE BUSINESS COURSE. This combo platter will have you ready to take on the world with your new copywriting business! Want to keep the learning going? Be sure to check out Episode 54: Fail Forward Fast where we talk about taking fast, effective action in your business!