I want to be a writer. Words spoken by every student at one point or another and often recanted the night before a critical essay is due.
For many, a professional and successful writer are one and the same thing: An individual who makes a sustainable living delivering quality, written content that fully meets a given brief and is then paid for it.
But while this may seem like a simple definition on the surface, understanding what makes a professional copywriter is a difficult task. In this article, we will unpack the definition above and see how sustainability, quality, and payment are key factors for all professional writers.
So, what is a professional writer and what is it possible to learn about best-practice?
What is a professional writer?
A big element of maintaining a professional career is sustainability. This means being able to reliably produce work of a high standard and continue to do so for a potentially indefinite (Re: mortgage paying) period of time.
So, how do you become the best version of a professional writer?
1. Avoiding burnout
Famously, George Gissing’s ‘New Grub Street’ features a copywriter who is literally killed by the stresses of overwork. While this is unlikely to happen in reality, many careers have been killed by the mental and physical stress that comes from working hours, lack of sleep, and the anxiety that accompanies it.
Managing your mental health should be of high importance for everyone and being able to spot the signs of unhealthy working practices and knowing when to take time to yourself is not only a good sign of professional working but improves sustainability.
Managing your workload
Once you have a sustainable, healthy workload, efficient management becomes the next step. All-in-one apps such as Gsuite are invaluable when it comes to maximising your output and tracking your progress. Time tracking software can help you keep a realistic handle on your daily effort and returns. And when it comes to efficient proofing, free apps such as Hemmingway or Grammarly can help you acquire additional insight on a piece when it may be needed most.
Building your pipeline
Whether you’re freelancing or salaried, you’ll want to be able to ensure that you have a steady stream of content to help support your business. Companies such as WordPress or Squarespace allow you to easily set up, manage and metricise your website – allowing you to backlink to produce articles and host regularly updated blogs and articles. These can also be linked to social media profiles on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram which can be managed under all-in-one apps such as Hootsuite.
While some may think this is less of a concern if you are a salaried professional, building your social media profile is invaluable when it comes to lead generation, having a publicly available portfolio and interacting with other professionals and networking efficiently.
Delivery of quality content
If you want to maintain a long professional career, you will want to produce work that is high-quality, and fully meets a client’s expectations.
Understand and validate your brief
The cardinal sin of every copywriter – young and old – is not adhering to the brief. This can be due to overconfidence, managing time constraints, or poorly worded instructions from a client. The golden rule here is, simply: “if in doubt…ask.” Geographic locations can be inaccurate, briefs can be presented based on outdated research, or there may simply be a better angle on the story. Catching issues at the start of the process will same ten times the effort further down the line – remain diligent and critical no matter the size of the project.
Define what ‘quality’ truly means
Simply put – spending eight hours making one 350-word article is not a good use of your time and is fundamentally unsustainable. Aim to understand how much value the work has financially, what it means to the client, and the potential risk/rewards of polishing a piece. When it comes to small value adds – embedding keywords, backlinks, or information relevant to your client’s message can be useful at little cost to your time or overall workload.
For many writers, the definition of being ‘professional’ is being paid – as Stephen King famously wrote: “If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.”
At its core, getting reimbursed for work you have completed is an immovable part of enjoying a prolonged career. While we have written before on how to invoice for freelance work, here are some troubleshooting tips that can be of benefit to all writers:
Understanding your value
First and foremost, understand your rate and understand why you are being hired to undertake the work. No copywriter will go through their life without an unqueried invoice and being able to legitimise how your time was spent and demonstrate the content that was produced over the period.
Knowing how to chase late invoices
Chasing invoices is inarguably one of the worst elements of being a professional writer – drawing you away from your work and drawing you into potential conflict with clients. Systems such as Wave Invoice or FreshBooks can help you quickly review your invoices and send templated reminders to relevant individuals.
As with any sector, there will always be occasions where a client will simply not pay – whether it is a small business that has gone under, a business has restructured, or a busy employee has simply forgotten. After trying to resolve the matter, potential options include turning to any professional institutions you may be part of such as the NUJ who can intercede on your behalf or taking the matter to a small claims court if the individual refuses.
At Copify, we provide content writing services for all kinds of businesses, and we offer professional writers as well as our standard copywriters. Find out what makes a professional writer here.