10 Tips for Aspiring Freelance Copywriters

10 Tips for Aspiring Freelance Copywriters

Every week I receive a couple of emails from people seeking advice on how to get into freelance copywriting.

While there’s no simple answer, and no answer which applies to everyone, there are a few tips which I believe will help most people make the move into freelance copywriting, and survive the first few months at least.

1) Invest in a website

The best place for any freelance advertising copywriter or website copywriter to start is to fork out for a website.

A website is invaluable because when you cold call and email prospects, you’ll need to direct them somewhere that gives them more information.

Keep your website simple, include a portfolio page, add any samples of any sort of copywriting you’ve done, talk about the places you’ve worked, the clients you’ve written for, and include any testimonials you’ve received.

Make sure you include your address and contact details as well, so people don’t think you’re a fly-by-night operation. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to include a photo either.

If you can’t say much about your experience, don’t say much. It doesn’t even really matter if you don’t say anything.

Remember, just like any other form of advertising copywriting, writing about yourself requires the art of subtlety.

If you lack experience, but you’re confident you can do the job, you can be very clever in what you don’t say, and most people will read it the way you intended.

2) Don’t target agencies

If you’ve never worked as an advertising copywriter or website copywriter before, don’t target advertising agencies and web design agencies.

They know exactly what they’re after, so if you don’t have a portfolio, you won’t stand a chance.

Managing an inexperienced copywriter and controlling quality takes a lot of time and introduces risk.

Most agencies are too busy to give unproven copywriters a break, even if you’re prepared to do the work on spec. Target end-clients directly.

3) Cold call, cold call, cold call

One of the best ways of generating business in the early days is to cold call potential end-clients.

It’s hard work and very time consuming, but you can generate some very qualified leads. For more information on cold calling, take a look at http://www.divinewrite.com/coldcallingcopywriter.htm.

4) Use a contacts & jobs database

No matter where you’re at in your freelance copywriting career, you NEED a database of contacts and jobs.

Kind of a scaled down CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool. Use it to record everything!

Particularly names, phone numbers, and the details of any correspondence (especially phone calls). I created my own database using Microsoft Access.

Visit http://www.divinewrite.com/downloads/contacts and jobs.mdb to download a 208KB working copy for FREE. You’ll need Microsoft Access 2000 to run it.

I’m no database expert, so it’s not a work of art. It’ll certainly get you started though. (TIP: When using the database, press Ctrl + ; to enter today’s date.)

5) Write a few samples

If you’re targeting specific clients or industries, don’t be afraid to write a few samples and send them through.

You can offer the pieces free of charge (everyone likes something for nothing) or at a discount, or you can use it as an incentive to sign them up for future work.

It all depends on the type of work and the type of client. The important thing to remember is that samples are virtually as good as a portfolio to most prospective clients.

6) Invest in an accounts package

Don’t be fooled into thinking you can handle your accounts manually (or with Microsoft Excel).

Even if you only have a few clients, you NEED a proper accounts package like MYOB or Quicken (they both offer small business versions).

You’ll understand why the first time you do your GST reports or annual taxes. In fact, you’ll understand why whenever you need to chase down outstanding invoices

7) Give great service

This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s important to remember that “great service” means different things to different clients.

Most of the time you’ll be working with direct clients (quite often startup businesses) and agencies. Both appreciate great service, but define it entirely differently.

Agencies rely on their freelance copywriters to meet strict requirements (get the work done well, get it done on time, don’t exceed the budget).

They have end-clients breathing down their necks, so reliability is as important as writing quality.

End-clients, on the other hand, need an advertising copywriter or website copywriter who sees their business the way they do, and can convey that vision.

They’ll probably need a lot of guidance as well, particularly if they’re just starting out themselves.

If you can, help them understand that copywriting isn’t just about telling people what products and services the business offers; it’s about conveying the benefits of those products and services.

A good advertising copywriter or website copywriter will be able to help their client think in terms of benefits instead of products and services.

8) Expect hard times

The first year or two as a freelance advertising copywriter or website copywriter will be difficult.

It takes a while to generate momentum and during that time, you’ll probably find yourself wondering if you’ve made the right career choice.

While it’s possible to earn six-figures each year, you have to be patient (so it’s not ideal for new or intending parents or anyone with huge mortgage commitments).

9) Don’t spend too much on training

In my humble opinion, no money spent learning is wasted. However, you have to weigh up the return on investment.

I don’t know much about what copywriting courses are available, but if they’re expensive, I’d think twice.

In my experience, most clients (be they agencies or end-clients) value copywriting ability over training.

10) Know you can do it

Confidence in your copywriting abilities is a must. If you’re not adamant you can produce the results the client is after, you’ll never be able to convince the client.

Remember that everyone feels daunted at the start of a new copywriting job.

There’s always a steep learning curve in copywriting, and generally quite a bit of time-consuming labour.

Don’t fall into the trap of focussing on what you don’t know and what you haven’t done.

Good luck, and happy writing!

How to Make the Most of Your Website Copywriter

Many people feel uncertain when dealing with copywriters.

Like any artform, writing is subjective; instead of black and white, most business owners and marketing managers see indistinguishable shades of grey.

But copywriting possesses one key element that most other forms of art don’t – a commercial imperative.

Because the copywriter’s audience is driven by the realities of the business market, so too is the copywriter.

Although the good ones love to write, they don’t necessarily love to write about toilet paper and real-estate.

Copywriters – in particular website copywriters – write because it’s their job.

And like any job, copywriting has very defined objectives and parameters which determine how the copywriter works, and the kind of material they produce.

So, if you need black and white, this is where you’ll find it.

There are two primary commercial realities for a website copywriter. Understand these realities, and you’ll understand the writer.

Ignore them, and your job will take longer, be more frustrating, be less engaging, and earn you less money.

A website copywriter needs to adhere to certain guidelines to ensure your website is both reader-friendly and search-engine-friendly. This is black and white.

Because most websites rely on search engines for their traffic, your website copywriter has to write for two broad audiences: human and computer.

This introduces a number of complexities because, quite often, these audiences want different things.

For instance, with humans, less is generally more. But with computers, more is more. Humans need to understand, so the fewer words the better.

Search engines, on the other hand, are programmed to think that anything important enough to be ranked highly has to have a lot of words.

A website copywriter must balance these conflicting requirements. Your copywriter will work faster and more efficiently if you don’t demand too few words or too many.

TIP: If your site needs both humans and search engines, try not to set your heart on less than 100 words per page or more than 300 words.

Generally speaking, somewhere in the middle is a nice compromise for both audiences.

And it’s not just the number of words used that’s important. Humans tend not to like repeated words, whereas search engines do. Humans will understand from your heading what it is you do, and if it’s relevant. Mention it once, and they’ll generally remember. Search engines are not so smart. They need to be told again and again. This is how they figure out how relevant your site is.

TIP: Don’t ask your website copywriter to be a minimalist. The search engines won’t like it. By the same token, don’t ask them to simply jam every page full of hundreds of your primary keyword phrases, because your human readers won’t like that (in fact, neither will the search engines). The trick is to expect each page to repeat one or two primary keyword phrases 5-10 times.

TIP: Remember, balancing human and computer requirements is time consuming. Try to have a clear understanding of the objective of each page before your writer starts. You’ll get a much better product with fewer time consuming iterations.

A website copywriter deals in benefits, audiences, products, services, and features. This is black and white.

These things may be painfully obvious to you, but they won’t be to your copywriter. And although a good copywriter will be able to draw them out of you, they won’t be able to accurately and comprehensively identify them alone.

TIP: Before you engage a website copywriter, make a list of what you do, who you do it for, and what benefits it gives them. Your job will cost more if your brief consists of one line, “I want to increase sales!”

When it comes down to it, a good website is written around benefits. Customers are only interested in how you can benefit them. This means benefits are the website copywriter’s inspiration. By the end of the project, you’ll be sick and tired of hearing your copywriter ask, “But what are the benefits of that to your customer?” You’ll definitely thank them for asking though.

TIP: Don’t confuse features with benefits. A feature is what you do or how you do it. A benefit is what advantage that brings to the customer. Your list should make a clear distinction between the two. This will save your copywriter a LOT of time, and save you a lot of money. Most importantly, it will MAKE you a lot of money because your website will engage your customer.

Website copywriting is an artform. But because it’s an artform with a commercial foundation, it can be understood by anyone in business. And when you understand the commercial realities of the copywriter, the greys of the artform will begin to seem more like the familiar black and white of the nine-to-five. Then, and only then, will you be able to make the most of your website copywriter.

Pharmaceutical Copywriter? Maybe?

So you are just getting out of college. You want to earn your living as a writer, and you decide on a career as an advertising copywriter. Naturally everyone wants to write the next great sneaker ad, or be the brainchild of the newest 20-year Vodka campaign, right? Not so fast.

While a career in “consumer” advertising has always been the benchmark of the industry, more and more young copywriters are finding their way in the growing world of pharmaceutical advertising. So why would someone want to write about a depression drug rather than a soft drink?

Here are three major reasons for this trend:


With Job security as low as it has been since the crash of 1929, young creatives in general consumer advertising on Madison Avenue are finding themselves out of work an alarming rate. Pharmaceutical advertising is generally a bit more stable, as the market is simply smaller.


Initially, the salaries earned by consumer and healthcare copywriters is roughly about the same. That is to say, not very much. However, successful healthcare writers see larger salary increases and title promotions sooner than their consumer counterparts.

Sense of Importance:

At first glance the content, regulations and demographic would imply that pharmaceutical advertising wouldn’t allow for as much creativity as a general consumer advertising. And while your “creative box” may be a bit smaller in pharmaceutical advertising, the work does allow and lend itself to a more dramatic and strategic end result. Furthermore, many creatives in pharmaceutical advertising love the fact that the message matters, and feel that their work truly is important.

So while writing the dream sequence spot for that new video game is fun, at the end of the day you’re simply marketing a video game.

Pharmaceutical writers are asked to really devour the product; it’s chemistry and most importantly how the condition for which the pharmaceutical product is indicated affects patients. In many cases, writers are asked to interview and meet patients to talk about their condition(s). It has been debated ad nauseam if medication is truly the best therapy. And while I’m smart enough to not opine on that topic, there is no arguing that awareness and education for both patients and healthcare professionals are necessary.

In any case, we can be certain that medicine has historically done more for society than any sneaker, soft drink or video game ever has.

To learn more about a career as a pharmaceutical copywriter please feel free to email me at [email protected]

Anthony Hemsey is a Sr. Trainer/ VP Placement Specialist at Dola Group Professsional Development. Dola Group is a consulting and executive search firm dedicated soley to the medical pharmaceutical advertising and marketing arena. To learn more about Dola Group’s current program and job openings please visit dolagroup.com

To begin a dialogue with one of Dola Group’s professional consultants please send an email to [email protected]– and mention this article!

Sales Letters that Sell!

The average consumer is inundated with sales pitches. So if you’re selling a product or service to today’s ad weary consumer, if you want your sales letters to get results, you’ll need a step-by-step plan that breaks down the barriers to buying. A plan that bypasses the head and goes right for the heart.

If the heart’s in it, the brain will follow.

Buying anything is largely emotional. Whether it’s paper clips or plain paper copiers, emotions lead the purchase. Facts, specs and the like are simply used to justify the decision, once made. Which means that everything about your sales letter, every sentence, every phrase must appeal to your customer’s emotions.

What emotions?

The simple truth is, there are only two emotions that really motivate people: The promise of gain or the fear of loss–with the fear of loss being the stronger. Example: Given the choice of headlines: “Save money in legal fees.” Or “How to keep from being sued.” The latter will probably get a better response.

Supporting the promise of gain and the fear of loss are seven key emotional hooks or basic human needs. No matter what your product or service, to be effective, your sales letter must directly address as many of these basic needs as possible:

* Safety/Security
* Wealth
* Good looks
* Popularity
* Self-satisfaction
* Free time
* Fun/Excitement

So how do you get them to act? How do you go from head to heart? What’s the copy paradigm? Imagine you’re in a baseball stadium facing an audience in rows of bleachers. It’s the game of the century, ninth inning, bases loaded. And you’ve got a bag of peanuts you absolutely must sell or the boss will fire you on the spot. What would you do to get their attention? Yell “Peanuts?”

Start with a verbal “2×4”

You’ve got to hit them over the head with an emotional motivator. And that means you start with the envelope. Remember– gain or loss–it has to be right there on the outside, in bold. (When was the last time you rushed to open a plain white envelope?) Two examples:

Gain– “We Put a Money-Making Miracle in this Envelope.”
Loss– “Throw This Away and Work Hard for the Rest of Your Life.”

Okay. They’ve opened the letter and what do they see? A boring paragraph about your leadership in the industry? Stuffy sentences about commitment, innovation and dedication?

Whoosh. In the round file it goes.

Time to visit our key motivators–gain or loss. Again, it’s got to be there in a headline they can’t miss. And it must reinforce the headline that compelled them to rip open that envelope. Both headlines must dovetail in their message and emotional impact.

Example: “Finish reading this letter and you’re halfway to becoming rich.”
Next comes the all-important body copy. What to say to leave them begging for your product. For this we go right into the consumer’s emotions, mining for clues to the perfect selling pitch.

What’s the problem?

A while back, McDonalds was beating the pants off its competitors. So Burger King hired a big powerhouse ad agency to gain them market share. They tried everything–analyzing secret sauces, elaborate contests, toy tie-ins. Nothing worked. Finally, they sent out questionnaires, did focus groups, and literally stopped people on the street. And you know what they discovered? Not what consumers liked, but what they didn’t like about hamburgers. For on thing, the leading hamburger came practically “factory made” with everything on it. Some folks liked pickles, others hated onions or mayo. That was “the problem.” The solution was simple: hamburgers made to order, followed by the now all-too-familiar slogan “Have it Your Way.” The point is, you’ve got to find and exploit your consumer’s problem. And make your product the hero.

Life without your product–miserable

So, you’ve succeeded in getting your reader’s attention. You’ve discovered their “problem.” Now it’s time to remind them how many ways that problem affects their lives. If you’re selling a cordless electric lawnmower, you’ll want to remind them of all the headaches of their old gas powered mower. Like running out of gas, finding the gas can, taking it to the gas station, driving back with a can full of smelly gas in the car, maybe spilling gas on the carpet. Once at home, there’s the annoyance of yanking the starter until your arm feels like a wet noodle. And the fire danger of having a can of gas in the garage with kids playing near it. The point is, you want to paint a very troublesome picture of life without your product.

Life with your product–absolute bliss

Now that you’ve raised your reader’s interest by making them feel the pain of life without your product, it’s time to provide your solution. Here’s where you’ll briefly introduce yourself and your product or service. No more running out of gas, no more smelling gas cans in your new car, no more yanking that starter cord till your arm falls off. Just flick the switch and you’re ready to mow. Plug it into your electric outlet and it charges overnight. Your worries are over. You go on and on, hammering home the fact that your product or service is the perfect solution. At this point, your reader will probably ask, “Sounds interesting, but who the heck are you to think you can solve my problem? I never heard of you.”

Credentials time

Here’s where you build trust by detailing key facts that build confidence in you and your company. You could start by listing some testimonials from satisfied customers. If these come from people in the industry who your prospect is familiar with, so much the better. And if you can get photos, phone numbers and so forth, it will add even more to your credibility. This is also the time to mention how long you’ve been in business and any articles that about your company and/or its products that have appeared in the local or national media (these can be particularly valuable, since they come from an impartial source).

Now that you’ve assuaged their fears about doing business with a complete unknown, they’ll want to be totally sold about your product or service. Here’s where you go into detail. And this is the perfect time to do so, because you’ve established trust. They won’t be thinking about who you are, but what you can do for them–how you’re going to solve their problem.

Detail benefits, not features

A key caveat here. Don’t get your reader quagmired in “Featurespeak.” It’s easy to do and it’s what most unskilled writers fall victim to. Featurespeak is for your sales team, not your potential customer. Avoid things like “Our new cordless electric mower features the X9T Autoflex handle, or the PT600 Zenon Battery. Better to say, “Our new electric mower’s handle easily adjusts to your height for maximum comfort.” Or “The easily rechargeable battery lasts up to 5 years without replacement.” If your product or service has more than three major benefits, list them in bullet point form to make them easier to read.
Make them an offer they can’t refuse

This is the crucial part of your sales letter. Your offer should be compelling, irrefutable and urgent. You want your reader to say, “This is a great offer, I’ve got nothing to lose but my problem.” Try to combine the big 3 in your offer–irresistible price, terms, and a free gift. For example, if you’re selling a cordless electric mower, your offer might be a discounted retail price, low interest rate, and a blade-sharpening tool. Try to raise the perceived value of your offer by adding on products or services–for electric mowers, it might be an extended warranty or safety goggles. Augment this with compelling benefits these additional products or services will provide.

Assuage with a guarantee

There’s a little voice in the back of every customer’s head that whispers, “Buy this and you’ll be sorry.” So make your offer bulletproof. Take the risk out of the purchase. Give the absolute strongest guarantee you can. It tells your reader you’re confident in your product or service. Enough so to back it up with a strong guarantee. Don’t be afraid to make this final commitment.

Motivate the procrastinators

So they’re reading your letter and are pretty convinced that your company and your product or service can solve their problem. They want to buy. The mind is willing but the flesh is weak. Time to bring in our key motivator–fear of loss. One way to tap into this fear is by convincing your reader that because this is such a good deal, only a scant few mowers remain. Or that the extended warranty is being offered only for the next few days, or for the next 50 customers. Our old motivator–gain–can be used here as well. Example: “Buy now and get a $20 gift card–FREE!”

Call to action–KISS

You and your staff know what readers need to do to buy your product or service, but your readers are inundated with offers every day. And each offer has a different procedure for buying. Give them a break and walk them through the order/purchase process. And KISS (keep it simple stupid). Use simple action words like “Pick Up the Phone and Call Now!” If your phone number spells out a catchy slogan or company name, always add numerical phone numbers. If they need to fill out a form and mail it, say so. And if possible, use large type on your form–especially if you’re selling to seniors. Be clear on what they’re ordering and for what price.


Follow Alec Baldwin’s admonition in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross–“ABC…Always Be Closing.” Sprinkle your call to action throughout your letter. Ask for the order. Then when you give the call to action at the end of the letter, it won’t come as a surprise, but just another reminder. Better still, if they’re ready to order halfway through your letter, they’ll know what to do.

Postscripts are magic

Nobody reads postscripts, right? Wrong. The P.S. is the third most read element of a sales letter–after the headline and any picture captions. The top wordsmiths use several (P.P.S) in their letters. It’s one of the best places to remind readers of your irresistible offer. But you have to be brief and compelling, establishing urgency and value, and drawing on your key motivators of gain and loss.

Drive it home on the order form

The order form is where some of the greatest sales are won or lost. It’s where that little voice in the back of your customer’s head comes alive once again and says, “You’ll be sorry” or “You sure you want to buy this now?” It’s what I call Preemptive Buyer’s Remorse.” Time to bring in our top gun persuaders–gain and loss–one last time. Use the same persuasive arguments as before–only be brief, more compelling and urgent.

Do you want the steak knives or the El Dorado?

Okay, you’ve got the prized Glengarry leads. And the formula for writing a winning sales letter. Start by knowing your prospect’s problem, then drive home key benefits using the emotional motivators I’ve described. And don’t forget Alec Baldwin’s other maxim, AIDA–Attention. Interest. Decision. Action. Get their attention, build their interest, convince them it’s the right decision, and finally, urge them to act. Good luck. You’ve got 26 letters in the English alphabet. How you use them can make all the difference …between getting the steak knives or the Cadillac El Dorado.