Tuesday, December 30, 2008

25 freelance copywriting tips from someone who's learnt the hard way

I remember buying The Copywriter's Handbook in Foyles on Tottenham Court Road in the mid nineties, then reading it sat on the grass in Soho Square, dreaming of being an advertising copywriter.

A few years later, I'd be writing in an agency whose offices looked out on that exact spot of grass.

Well, the reality of the job was a lot different to those dreams I had and my success wasn't all down to that book, but you have to respect its author, Bob Bly, who makes a very nice living from copywriting thank you very much - and in a pretty great location, too - just across the river from Manhattan.

And if you're interested in making a living from freelance copywriting in 2009, here are 25 tips to get you started. Why, as they say, learn from your own mistakes, when you can learn from somebody elses?

No. 3 I thought was particularly interesting.

1-Work with clients whom you genuinely like - or at least have
good personal chemistry with.

2-Your freelance copywriting business exists to serve your
clients. Without them, you'd starve.

3-If you want to have the final say on your copy without being
told what to say and how to write it, market your own line of
products, and make yourself your primary copywriting client.

4-Do not promise your copy will generate a specific result. It
is unethical and not true: no one can guarantee a particular
response rate.

5-Proofread every piece of copy before you send it to the
client. I recommending hiring a freelance proofreader; it is
difficult to proof your own copy well.

6-When can you raise your fees? When you have so much business
that you can afford to lose clients who are not willing to pay
the higher fees.

7-Use a standard PC with Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and other
standard software packages. Don't write on oddball word
processors, use antiquated software, or send nonstandard file
formats that your clients can't open and read.

8-Number each page in your copy manuscript, so that if the pages
get separated, you can easily put them in order. Also, in a
discussion, it lets you and the client reference sections on
specific pages.

9-The easiest way to prevent yourself from getting ripped off by
deadbeats is to get half your fee in advance before you even
start the job.

10-Never work without a written contract that the client has
signed off on. Verbal go-aheads are not enough.

11-Trust your instincts. If you have a bad feeling about a
client or a project, turn it down. Your gut feelings are right
95% of the time.

12-Be humble, not arrogant. If you are a nice person and your
copy doesn't work, the client will give you another chance. But
if you are a jerk and your copy flops, you're out.

13-Find a peer or someone else whose judgment you trust. Give
the headline and lead of every promotion you write (the first
page or two will usually suffice) to that outside reader for a
second opinion. Never send out copy that at least one person
other than you, even your spouse, has read and commented on.

14-Use more charts and graphs in your copy to support your key
claims. Even when the reader doesn't really understand a chart
or graph, the fact that there IS a chart or graph helps convince
them that what you say must be true.

15-Keep up-to-date in your field - both in marketing as well as
the topics (e.g., health, investments) you write about.

16-The only way to become a better writer is to read and to
write. Read and write every day. Read magazines, newspapers, and
books during your leisure time.

17-Get up early and dive into your toughest copywriting
assignment first thing in the morning, without delay. Work until
you tire. In the afternoons, you can tackle less demanding tasks
like reading background material or answering e-mails.

18-Create a workspace that is comfortable, isolated, and quiet.
Barking dogs, ringing door bells, TV in the background, and
screaming kids all harm your productivity.

19-Give yourself small rewards throughout the day for
accomplishing various work-related tasks; e.g., going out to a
coffee shop for lunch instead of eating at your desk.

20-While negotiating the work agreement with your client, ask
for at least a week more than you need. As a corollary, never
accept jobs that must be started and finished overnight.

21-Don't take it personally when a client calls and says "I
don't like the copy." Instead say: "I want to make it as strong
as we can. Tell me your thoughts and suggestions."

22-Should you argue with changes your client suggests if you
think they are wrong? Only if you think they will depress
response. If the client does not change his mind, acquiesce
pleasantly and make the changes. But send a polite e-mail noting
your objection and keep a copy in the file.

23-Get adequate rest. If you are not rested after a night's
sleep, start going to bed an hour earlier. You need to be
mentally sharp to write copy, and you won't be if you're tired.

24-Read your copy aloud at a normal speaking pace. Doing so
will reveal awkward constructions that you would otherwise gloss
over when reading copy silently.

25 -- Write in a conversational manner, using words that your
prospects would use to help create rapport with the people
you're selling to.


Chris said...

I got The Copywriter's Handbook for Christmas. Hopefully it'll have a similar effect on me as it did you.

These are useful tips, fella.

On proofreading, a tip I was given by a professional was to "read sentences backwards". It's time consuming, but makes it much easier to validate the sentence because the meaning of the sentence is avoided. Great for spotting a double entry of of words – especially if they're on separate lines.

I've set up my Mac to talk, too. If my copy makes sense and is interesting when read by a monotonous robot, I think I'm on to a winner.

Hayes Thompson said...

Chris, you already have a writing job!