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becoming a professional writer what you need to know Copify 1

Becoming a professional writer – what you need to know

If you Google ‘becoming a professional writer’, there are almost 12 million results, and on the first few pages, most of the results are about writing a fiction book. So, if you’re searching for how to get started with freelance writing, you could be forgiven for being confused.

However, some of the advice that applies to becoming a fiction author also applies to choosing freelance writing as a career:

1. You are running a business

becoming a professional writer what you need to know Copify 2Whether you’re working on the next NYT bestseller or on becoming a freelance blogger, you’re still running a business and you have to deal with everything that comes with it.

You absolutely can work in your pyjamas all day if you want to, and you can set your own hours to a great extent. If you write better by getting up at 5am, jumping into an ice bath to start your day, dictating your work for the next four hours solid and then having the rest of the day off, then great. Do it, if it works for you. But you do have to take what you do just as seriously as you would if you worked for someone else.

There are lots of advantages in working for yourself. Yes, you totally can take the afternoon off on a weekday, go and see the latest Star Wars and then idle an hour away in a coffee shop (guilty as charged!). If you want a holiday, or need a doctor’s appointment, or you need to be at home to let in workmen, you don’t have to ask anyone permission. You don’t have to wait on anyone else to tell you if you can do that. It’s totally down to you – as long as you’ve met your deadlines, finished everything you need to do for that day, and you’re not keeping clients waiting.

Want to know what else is down to you? Everything. Sorting the accounts is on your to-do list, marketing your business, dealing with sometimes difficult clients, sorting out the legalities of your business, including paying tax, chasing invoices, and the admin that goes with running a business – all down to you.

And if you’re not making money, that’s on you, too.

2. You need to be professional

All the things you’d do in a ‘normal’ job where you work for someone else, like dressing appropriately, turning up on time, being polite, respecting other people’s points of view and their time, meeting deadlines, etc, are things you’ll still need to do when you run your own freelancing business.

If you miss deadlines without good reason, turn up late to client meetings, and produce sloppy work, you will not have clients for long, and certainly not repeat clients.

Professional writers don’t wait to be inspired. They write as if it’s a job because it is! You wouldn’t go to your employer and say ‘Oh, I can’t weld that today. I’ve got welder’s block,’ or ‘I’m not feeling it today, boss. I’ve got plumber’s block.’ And if you want a professional writing career, you can’t do that either. Write anyway. Fix it later. That’s what editing is for.

3. Your ‘to-do’ list will never end, and that’s okay

becoming a professional writer what you need to know Copify 3If you can’t live with the idea that you’ll never get to the end of your ‘to-do’ list and be finished, don’t start running a business of any kind. And that certainly goes for a freelance writing business.

There’s always something to do, from the actual writing to marketing, speaking to clients, editing, sending pitches, learning new skills and growing your business.

That might sound daunting, but that’s one of the advantages of this profession. Every day is different. There’s always something new to learn and more ways to develop as a writer.

4. Always be learning

If you only ever write sales emails for widget manufacturers in Bognor for the rest of your life, you’ll get bored, and quite possibly go crazy!

There’s a whole world out there of different types of writing and different ways to do things to improve your marketing, streamline your sales funnels and build your business.

Check out what we’ve said about the best copywriter training courses to help you develop and learn. And one of the best things you can do is follow other successful freelance writers and learn from them. Here’s our list of the top ten copywriting experts to follow.

Never, never stop learning. Your competitors won’t.

5. Rejection and criticism are part of a freelancing life

becoming a professional writer what you need to know CopifyYou won’t win every pitch you send. You’ll have days where you feel like you can’t win anything! Sometimes potential clients will write back and tell you how much they didn’t like your pitch and exactly why. And I’m not going to lie. That can utterly suck.

It’s hard to get a ‘no’ when you really wanted that job. It’s especially hard when that ‘no’ comes with a criticism of what you did wrong.

Not only that, but you have to be prepared for edits when you send off a piece of work. Sometimes (occasionally!) your work with go through with no changes at all, and other times you’ll wonder if the editor cut their finger and bled all over your page when there’s more red pen than actual copy.

There’s no getting away from these aspects of freelancer life, but you do need to be prepared for them and find your own way to deal with them. Take your time when you get criticism. Don’t fire off an angry reply. Think about what’s been said and see what’s justified and what you can learn. In general, editors don’t say things to upset you. They correct things because they know the edits will improve the piece. Take what they say that’s valuable, keep learning and implementing, and you will be a better writer for it.

6. You have to get used to marketing

As soon as the word ‘marketing’ is mentioned, some people get an automatic image of a sleazy salesperson pushing rubbish that nobody wants and bullying people into buying it.

Drop that image out of your mind right now, because marketing – proper, ethical marketing – isn’t like that at all. Plus, you do need to do it if you want to eat and pay bills. Nobody will come and find you and give you jobs and money – you have to go out and get them.

You have to market yourself consistently and regularly to keep bringing in the work, and you should keep marketing even when you’re really busy so that you don’t suddenly run out of clients and have nothing new coming in.

So much has been written about marketing that we couldn’t possibly cover it all here, but when you’re talking to new clients, bear this in mind: You’re not trying to bully them into something they don’t need. You’re offering them an incredibly valuable skill that will help them develop their business, and it is worth money. What you can do is worth paying for, so don’t sell yourself short. Keep in mind that you are helping your clients and talk about what’s in it for them. And if you struggle with the dreaded imposter syndrome, here’s an article from CopyBlogger to hopefully knock that on the head, once and for all.

If you’re just starting off with marketing and wondering how to get your first clients, here’s a great article from Brent Galloway of Digital Freelancer covering just that.

We’re not saying all this to put you off. Freelancing is great fun. It’s satisfying, it’s creative, you have so much freedom in how you manage your time and what sort of clients you work for, but it is work. We don’t spend all day swanning about in our fluffy dressing gowns and slippers while staring vacantly at Netflix. What does a copywriter do? We write, we market, we keep learning and growing.


Main image credit: bruce mars
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Gill Fernley

The director of her own copywriting firm, Gill writes B2B and B2C content for SMEs and digital marketing agencies. She has a background in performing arts and writes conversational, direct sales copy for businesses on a range of topics. She’s also a keen writer of chick lit.

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