Copywriting is one of the most lucrative jobs in the online marketing world, and it fills a critical need for any modern business.
Think about it—great copy is like a high-powered sales rep, generating interest and closing deals. The only difference is that this sales rep doesn’t sleep, complain, or ask for a raise. It’s an automated sales machine that keeps working long after the writer has finished the job.
Online businesses need to have strong copy in order to generate any sales. That’s why the skills of a copywriter are in such high demand these days and, as a result, can command high rates.
If you are interested in learning more about what it takes to embark on this career path, then you are in for a treat. In this post, you will learn everything you need to know to get started as a successful freelance copywriter.
Let’s jump right into it.
What Is a Copywriter?
A copywriter is anyone who is paid to write copy, meaning any text used to market and sell a product or service. Such copy is often part of the following online elements:
- Sales pages
- Landing pages
- Social media posts
- Ebooks and white papers
- Case studies
Despite the name, copywriters are more than just writers; they’re a mix of advertising creatives, behavioral psychologists, and salespeople.
That means, to become a great copywriter, you must be creative and know how to catch your reader’s attention. You must be able to influence their behavior, and you must lead them all the way to the shopping cart.
As Neville Medhora puts it, “A good copywriter is not just a writer. They are a keen studier of the human psychology behind purchase decisions.”
Why Would You Become a Freelance Copywriter?
Copywriters exist as both freelancers and as full-time employees. If you’ve seen Mad Men, then you have some idea of what the latter looks like (albeit in a very different era).
You work long hours working for hot shot clients on big projects. This type of work can bring home a sizable income, but often involves working endless hours, constantly stressed and worrying whether your client will like your ideas or crush them in one blow.
Freelance copywriting, on the other hand, comes with many of the benefits of being a corporate copywriter, without many of its downsides.
One of the main benefits of becoming a freelance copywriter is that you can be your own boss. That includes working only with the clients you like, on projects that (usually) interest you.
You can work from home, on your own schedule, no stressful and expensive commuting necessary. If you get lonely, you can always hit up a coworking space or your favorite coffee shop.
Finally, if you feel like copywriting may not be the your one true calling, or if you can’t get enough clients to sustain a business in the beginning, you can also do it as a side hustle. This is totally doable—all you need is a simple plan, as we outline in this piece:
That said, sometimes freelancing can feel like a rollercoaster. There are weeks and months when you rake in a whole lot of money, and others when you find yourself clicking the refresh button on your inbox, waiting for a new client to show up.
But if you have the necessary skills, and follow the steps below, you should be able to develop a steady volume of work and limit the uncertainty.
How to Build a Freelance Copywriting Business
Step 1: Build a Portfolio
Any potential client will first need to know who you are and whether you can do the job they need done. Are you capable of doing what you’re promising? And will you deliver results?
Your first job as a freelance copywriter is to answer those questions, whether in your own site’s copy, your discussions with your clients, or through the work you do with other clients.
You must prove that you are a skilled copywriter, that you can improve conversions, generate sales, and bring a positive ROI to your clients.
To do so, you want to start building a portfolio of work, including testimonials and case studies demonstrating the results your clients can expect.
If you don’t have a website, you’ll want to create one right away with tools like Carbonmade or Contently. Ideally, you want your website to go beyond just collecting your past work, explaining why you do what you do, what’s special about you, and more.
We’ve written extensively about these first steps and the costs associated with them, so be sure to check out the following post to learn more:
Once you have your website set up, create a “Portfolio” page and start adding the projects you’ve worked on. This can include social media posts you’ve created, an email campaign for a company you used to work for, or anything else that’s relevant.
In the future, you may look at these pieces and cringe a bit—I know I did. But in the meantime, you want to show off any copy you’ve ever written for a business.
Step 2: Get Your First Projects
More likely than not, you won’t have that many, if any, projects to show off to your potential clients.
To overcome the typical conundrum where you don’t have clients because you don’t have a strong portfolio and your portfolio can’t grow because you don’t have clients, you want to start working at a discount, or, under certain special circumstances, for free.
I know this feels wrong. Too often, freelancers slave away for low wages for no good reason. They think they’re not “good enough” to command respectable rates and end up working for clients who take advantage of them.
The key here is to only offer discounted or free work to the right clients for the right reasons, while being clear with the client and yourself that this is a unique arrangement.
For example, if you can get an influential person or company from your industry to work with you, that can build your confidence and credibility, almost serving as a form of mentorship. Imagine if you worked in online marketing and had the chance to work with Gary Vee or Neil Patel. That’d be huge for your career.
Another possibility is offering your services to a friend, colleague, or peer, with the understanding that you’re still getting your footing. In this case, two friendly parties are doing each other a favor.
You always want to use your cheap or free work as a networking tool. If you satisfy these clients and overdeliver with your services, they’ll recommend you to others. And if these people are truly influential, you could end up with a big list of potential clients.
When approaching potential clients, follow this advice from Jay White:
Instead of focusing on what I DIDN’T have, I focused on what I DID.
You see, I had a more in-depth knowledge of this niche than most copywriters, and I knew I could knock it out of the park pretty quickly if given the chance.
So I crafted my marketing message to focus on my NICHE experience — not my WRITING experience — and the prospects came out of the woodwork to talk with me.
What they REALLY want is someone who knows their market inside and out … a writer who can talk to their prospects and customers in a way they can instantly understand and respond by taking action right NOW.
Again, you must be resourceful. Whatever it is you have, you need to use it to your favor.
It’s important to make sure you pitch your clients without underselling yourself or setting up the wrong expectations.
- Don’t mislead, but do focus on your strengths
- Be open to negotiation, and don’t offer your services for free right away
- Don’t talk about results you can’t prove
Instead, following White’s advice, show your passion and interest in helping them.
When it comes to the actual pitching, you may find that you will have to send dozens, if not hundreds, of emails to potential clients.
The shotgun approach can work, and has worked for many people (including myself), but a better approach is to try a “multimodal” pitch.
If you’re curious as to what this is and how it works, check out this post.
The entire purpose of this stage is to get yourself some traction. You won’t be able to make much money yet, so if you have a full-time job, don’t quit yet.
You want to spend a few months building your portfolio and mastering your skills, so by the time you decide to do this full time, you have a roster of clients waiting for you.
Step 3: Start Promoting Yourself
At this point, you’ve been hustling to land those first, critical clients. There’s a good chance, however, that these clients won’t be that profitable—if they are profitable at all.
Once you have a few clients and successful jobs under your belt, it’s time to start pitching yourself to bigger fish who can afford your full-priced services.
Mastering the art of promoting your newly-born freelance business could be the topic of a whole other article. But to simplify things, there are three main ways you can start promoting yourself:
Your industry is filled with potential clients ready to open their wallets to you. The best way to connect with them is to make yourself known, so they begin to come to you organically.
Building your portfolio as outlined above is one important way to do so, activating the power of referrals and word of mouth in your city, region, or niche. You can also speak at events, participate in them, and even organize them so people in your industry get to know you.
If you’re wondering how to carry out this latter tactic, you can follow the steps in the following article:
Content marketing is a skill that any freelancer—copywriter or otherwise—should master in order to succeed online. For one, there’s high demand out there for good content marketers, so it’s a good potential source of clients. But you can also use content marketing to promote your own services.
In the simplest terms, this means creating online content that helps out your potential clients and builds their interest in your paid services. Think of it as offering a free sample of your expertise to lure in new clients.
This content can take the shape of:
- Blog posts on your website
- Podcast episodes
- YouTube videos
- Guest posts on other websites
The content you publish should aim to prove that you are an expert in the world of copywriting, and your particular niche within the field.
Whatever the type of content you create, aim for a mix of tutorials, opinion pieces, and case studies. Foundr, for example, publishes a lot of tutorials on our blog, including this post. They help the reader solve a specific problem or answer a question.
One common concern freelancers raise when exploring content marketing is that they don’t want to share their “secret sauce” with their clients. If they give their knowledge away for free, the fear goes, nobody will hire them.
Let me just tell you that this is BS.
Chances are, your clients (good clients, especially) are way too busy doing their own thing to start trying to do your job too. The key with content marketing is to help them out and point them in the right direction, but the content will never replace the particular skill and labor that you are able to provide.
If a potential client reads your advice, but then tries to skip hiring paid copywriting talent, they will learn very quickly that they need professional help to get the job done. And who will they think of when it’s time to call in a pro?
You can earn extra points if your tutorials are based on your personal experience, something like this post:
If your content demonstrates a specific result achieved using your skills, trust me when I say that you will slowly but surely start generating clients.
Freelance online marketplaces like Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer get a bad rap. And it’s true that you can end up working for pennies if you don’t know how to position yourself on these sites.
The same bad experiences that you can go through in any freelance scenario can be repeated on these platforms. But on their own, they’re not the cause of the problems.
We have written extensively about this topic, and to learn more, you can check this piece that lays out the entire process for you:
In a nutshell, you want to start with a clear profile that states your value proposition. In a way, your profile can present proof of your copywriting skills. Take a look at this popular copywriter on Upwork:
As you can see, this guy does a terrific job of catching the readers’ attention and leading them to the desired action. Not surprisingly, he has generated over $50,000 in revenue.
When you see projects you like, you want to pitch yourself, once again, by using your copywriting skills.
Catch their attention, reiterate the problem they have, show how you can help them, and close with a call to action.
While the platforms mentioned before are filled with potential clients, there are other great freelance platforms you can try. They include nDash (for writers) and CloudPeeps (online marketing), among others.
While freelancer platforms can be constraining, if you start getting clients and you make them happy, you will slowly build a good portfolio and a popular profile that help you get more clients—basically, a virtuous cycle.
Step 4: Charge What You Are Worth
You may be inexperienced or you may not have a large portfolio, but no matter your situation, you need to charge what you are worth.
Too often, new freelance copywriters start their careers with enthusiasm, only to quickly end up making pennies for their work. No matter what stage in your career you are in, if you provide a service that generates results for your clients, you deserve to be paid accordingly.
We’ve explained this before in much greater detail in the following article. While it focuses on consulting, you can apply the same principles to freelance copywriting:
In it, Allie Decker suggests that in order to define your worth, you want to:
- Check the market values. A quick Google search like “INDUSTRY copywriting rates” or simply “freelance copywriting rates” will give you an overall idea of what you can charge.
- Check your competitors. See how much they charge and compare their services, positioning, and experience to yours.
- Check your expertise. As always, the more experienced you are, the more you can charge. “Can” is a critical verb in here because you can be experienced and still charge little, or vice-versa.
When it comes to how you charge, there are four main options:
- Hourly rates. You set an hourly rate (check the above post to see how to calculate this) and the client will pay you per hour worked.
- By project/deliverable. You set an exact rate for a specific project or deliverable. The difference between the two is that a project is sometimes made up of multiple deliverables you could charge for individually.
- By retainer. Your client will pay you a set amount monthly.
- Commission/bonus. You define with the client the specific amount to be paid for every sale generated (commission) or for any extras (bonus).
No matter what you settle on, undercharging is a chronic problem and an easy trap to fall into. That’s why Dean Rieck from Men with Pens recommends charging at least $50 per hour.
Because of downtime, office work and expenses, as well as the uncompensated time you spend marketing, $50 an hour may translate into only $25,000 a year if you’re working full-time. Of course, certain types of work, such as technical writing or editorial, may offer you less per hour, but more steady, longer-term projects add up to more income.
This pricing, while still a bit arbitrary, can help you insulate yourself from cheap, demanding clients that tend to more trouble than they are worth.
Another way to price your work is to use value-based pricing. To do that, you need to consider the customer lifetime value and the number of customers your client wants to get. From there, you calculate the value you can generate with your services.
Here’s an example:
- Client X wants four clients/customers as a result of your services
- Each client is worth $10,000
- Your services can bring $40,000 of value
From there, you can charge 10% of the total value, which makes the expense a no-brainer.
In this example, you’d charge $4,000 for the entire project.
Whatever option you take, at the end of the day, your pricing is a decision you make on your own; don’t let others dictate what you should charge. If you end up receiving bad feedback from your potential clients, adjust your price accordingly until you hit the sweet spot.
How Much Can You Make as a Freelance Copywriter?
The answer to this frequently asked question depends a lot on how you position and sell yourself.
One way to do so is by using previous clients and the results they got from your copy (e.g., sales, leads, etc.), to follow the value-based pricing approach described above: charge 10% of the value generated, plus a retainer fee.
So if you tell your clients that a sales page will bring, let’s say, $5,000 in revenue, you charge $500 for it, plus another $100.
Ultimately, your rates will depend a lot on your experience, the niche you are in, and the type of content you write.
The more experienced you are, the better.
A survey done by ClearVoice found that 58% of copywriters with fewer than three years of experience commanded anywhere between $1 to $40 per hour. On the other hand, 51% of copywriters with more than seven years of experience command more than $80 per hour, double the highest rate beginners charge.
Still, this study shows large variations among freelance copywriters. Many “beginners” may charge less than they’re worth because they believe they must, given their lack of experience.
Another estimate comes from freelance copywriter Neville Medhora, who says part-time or inexperienced freelance copywriters make between $3,000 to $15,000 per year. Those who have strong networks and put the time and effort into becoming successful copywriters can make between $75,000 to $150,000 per year.
The difference lies mostly in their capacity to position themselves as experts and learn the most effective copywriting techniques available.
Whether they take courses, read books, or watch YouTube videos, learning is paramount for becoming a successful freelance copywriter.
If you are interested in reading more about this topic and learning from the best, check out these leading copywriting books:
- Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples (I’m a big fan of this one. It’s amazing.)
- Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz
- Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy
- Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy
- Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins
- The Robert Collier Letter Book by Robert Collier
- The Ultimate Sales Letter by Dan Kennedy
- The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries & Jack Trout
- Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got by Jay Abraham
- Influence by Robert Cialdini (Note: This book isn’t about copywriting, but about consumer psychology)
Books are great, but courses are even better. They show you the exact step-by-step process to learn copywriting in an interactive way.
Foundr has partnered with Arman Assadi, one of the best copywriters in the online marketing industry, who has worked with people like Neil Patel and Lewis Howes, to create a course that goes over all the topics touched on today and much more. Learn more about that course here.
It’s Time to Start Your Freelance Copywriting Career
Today we have gone over the main road you can take to kickstart your freelance copywriting career.
There’s still a lot left to cover. For example, we’ve not talked much about how you can launch this new business on the side. To that extent, you can check the following article: How to Start a Consulting Business on the Side: 5 Things You Need to Know.
You also need to consider the costs of launching your business, something that you can learn more about in this article: How Much Does It Cost to Start a Consulting Business? Get the Details Here.
And if you want more detailed information on this entire process, check out our in-depth guide on how to become a freelancer.
But at this stage, what matters the most is that you get started. There’s no better day to start your business than today.
Keep learning about copywriting, start looking for ways to pitch your services, and work hard.
Before you know it, you will have become a successful freelance copywriter.
Are you interested in becoming a freelance copywriter? If so, what obstacles do you feel are stopping you from getting started. Let us know below.