6 truths about being a freelance copywriter

Ah, second post time. Here, we can get the ball rolling a little bit. It’s always awkward writing the first entry (see previous introductory post), so it feels good to be getting into the swing of things. With this post, I wanted to focus on business and share some truths about being a freelance copywriter. From my experience, anyway.

Whether you’re wanting to get into freelance copywriting yourself or you’re generally just bored and/or a bit curious, here are six truths about what I do and how I do it…

1. I’m making it up as I go along…

Well, not really (but kind of). I fell into freelancing by accident (I’ll go into this another time) and have been very fortunate to gradually acquire a few loyal clients, so everything has happened quite—for use of a better word—organically. So in terms of my grand plans of getting to where I am today, there weren’t really any. It’s for this reason that I don’t really have much to say on the actual technical aspects of running a business and how to ‘scale-up’. Because all I have to really think about is meeting deadlines, pleasing clients and staying afloat.

That said, I value how lucky I am to have the luxury of working freelance and being my own boss. I was afforded it because I decided to move out of London after my in-house copywriting job wanted me to move to Berlin (which I really didn’t want to do). I was also growing a little tired of London (yes Samuel Johnson, I hear you) and wanted to see if I could really work as a freelance copywriter. I’d done it for a year in 2012 and knew a few people I could contact to ask around for work. And so I gave it a go and moved back in with my mum for a year to see how I got on.

Luckily, the businesses costs of being a freelance copywriter are fairly low. In fact, I only really use my laptop and (many, many) notepads and pans. And free from the shackles of London’s sky-high rent and constant leisure temptations, my outgoings dropped drastically. With a few bits in savings, I was able to test the waters of working freelance. Truthfully speaking, I thought I’d last six months before I’d have to reach the conclusion of finding full-time employment. But before long, I had some clients. And then some experience and testimonials. Soon after, I was working as an actual freelance copywriter.

2. I find it really difficult to talk about business in social situations

Tell somebody you know you’re a teacher and you might get a couple of questions about which subjects and/or classes you teach. Tell someone you know that you design greeting cards and their eyes will light up. But a copywriter? What the hell even is that?

In all honesty, I had no idea until I became one. And I studied Fashion Journalism. (Disclaimer: this was in the late 2000s when the financial crash and digitalisation was causing havoc to the print sector, while at the same time opening doors to other industries). The scope of being a copywriter is also quite varied and the purpose and intention of what you do differ with every job. It’s for this reason that I find it quite difficult to explain what my work entails. Throw in the added issue of me actually actively disliking talking about myself to people I don’t know (I’m getting better at it), and work rarely comes up in conversation.

That said, I should say that I’ve had a few people really taking the time to ask questions about what I do over those years. And to those people, I’m eternally grateful for their genuine interest. I’ve also had some people think I do patents or something, which I can’t help but find quite funny.

3. I don’t think or plan too far ahead…

While planning is essential in many realms of life, I’m really not a big believer in long-term plans. Sure, having a sense of direction is important, but I think ultimately you’ve got to just go with it. Life will always throw a curveball anyway, so it’s good to be adaptable. And I mean this in both a personal and professional sense.

With work, I am sometimes asked about my plans to ‘scale-up’ the business. And I’m not going to lie—a snake of anxiety slithers inside me and makes me slur my words: ‘Errr, ahh, buu….’. The truth is I don’t know what my long-term business plans are at the moment and or where I plan to take my business. Things are going well as it stands *knocks on wood*, I’m busy *bangs on wood* and I’m enjoying my work life *breaks the wood with excessive bashing*. You never know, I might be back on here in a few months’ time to announce something wild but for now, I’m trusting the process of letting things unfold naturally.

4. I’m really superstitious about money

My earnings are complex, particularly now I’m a limited company. All my earnings go into my company account and I then pay myself a salary and dividends to live on, with the rest of my earnings sitting in the business to cover things like office space, phone bills, work subscriptions etc. I don’t know if it was the fact that living in London was so bloody expensive and eternally scarred me financially, but I am really cautious about money. And also a little superstitious.

To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever disclosed how much I’ve earned, except to my boyfriend, my brother (who both kind of work in finance) and the annual copywriting survey I feel compelled to partake in with the belief that it’s anonymous. I don’t know why this is because I’m 100% for transparency in the workplace, particularly when it comes to fighting for fair pay and reducing the gender pay gap. I’ll work on this, I promise. But maybe not in a blog post.

5. I’m only just learning about boundaries (in life and in work)…

I probably and unfortunately fall into the category of being a people pleaser. I’ve been told that in social situations with people I don’t know well, I often sit back and do a lot of listening (unless I’ve had copious amounts of prosecco). Aside from the fact that I’m very interested in other people (I love asking questions), I have a few theories as to why I’m like this but I’ll get into those another time. Anyway, the problem with not having boundaries—apart from feeling guilty about anything and everything—is that it’s exceptionally detrimental to your inner needs and desires. By going along with what everyone else wants to do or constantly chasing about for fear of feeling bad about saying ‘no’, you’re ultimately prioritising the needs of others and not yourself.

This for me was one of the biggest lessons of lockdown. I often developed what they call ‘Zoom fatigue’. I’m sure we’re all well acquainted with the phrase by now, but for the sake of this blog post, ‘Zoom fatigue’ is when the thought of a group conference call on an evening after a day of being on technology phone frightens the living daylight out of you (phone calls with my mum were the only exception). Some days I was up for it of course, but other days I found the thought of it physically and emotionally exhausting. Even if it was with my family or closest friends. This is when I realised that people-pleasing was bad and that boundaries were good (thanks, Alain de Botton for this vital lesson). It’s therefore for this reason that I now try not to say ‘yes’ to everything all the time. At the same time, I also respect when people have to say ‘no’ to me. In the past, I might have been offended if somebody cancelled, but now I realise it’s sometimes necessary (within reason of course).

Applying this to work, saying ‘no’ is one of the hardest things about being a freelance copywriter. If you turn down work, you have the fear that you’re sentencing yourself to a career of doom (see superstition point above – how dare she turn down work). But actually, it’s necessary to say ‘no’ sometimes if you’re too busy or you don’t feel like you have the mental capacity or time to do a great job. Saying ‘no’ or offering a raincheck isn’t always a bad thing. If the client is kind and understanding, they won’t hold it against you. And neither will your friends or family.

6. I feel guilty for turning down work, but I’m learning

This might as well be named ‘Part 2’ of the previous point, but it really is one of my biggest struggles. I should issue a disclaimer here that I’m not exactly turning down work offers every night and every day, but when work does come in, I’m always compelled to say ‘yes’ straight away. But of course, I can’t do this.

Today, I now have three main clients that I prioritise and give myself realistic deadlines to complete the agreed work for. If I have any extra spare time and an offer comes in that feels right, I’ll grab it. Otherwise, spare working time is reserved for reading, researching and hey, writing this blog post. I can only work so many hours, after all. I also don’t work weekends anymore unless it’s absolutely necessary. It’s important to have a break and leisure time to clear your head and recharge your batteries.

After all, nobody wants to work with a burned-out copywriter…

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Thank you for reading. Come back next week, when I’ll be discussing (err… I haven’t decided yet. See point 3 above).