To be a successful copywriter, you need to be a concise, clear, clever, creative writer.
You must be able to write using all sorts of “voices”, you need a sound knowledge of grammar rules (and an understanding of when to bend them), and flawless spelling (or the ability to navigate a dictionary).
But if writing skills are all you have, then chances are the freelance copywriting life is not for you. This is a list of seven non-writing skills I’ve found I needed in order to enjoy success as a copywriter working the freelance lifestyle.
One of the most important things you will need as a freelance copywriter (or as any sort of freelancer, for that matter), is time management skills. Especially if you work from home.
With no supervisor standing over you and breathing down your neck as they crack a whip, the onus is on you to ensure that you don’t slack off. And that can be easier said than done.
There are so many possible distractions when you work from home. Social media is literally a click away, and so are all the other potential online time wasters. Personally, I find household chores that are yet to be completed to be incredibly distracting. The un-washed dishes call my name like the mythical Greek sirens of old (which is ironic, considering washing the dishes is my least favourite chore EVER). And I swear the floors just always seem to need vacuuming.
Any and all distractions are at their most dangerous when you are having trouble writing, or are working on a project for which you are yet to find even a skerrick of inspiration. Discipline is key, but it’s not easy. I even bought myself a robot vacuum cleaner, just to take away one of my main distractions. Thankfully, I’ve also had lots of practice with time management in the past, so I’ve done pretty well. But let me be clear: if time management is your Achilles heel, then freelance copywriting may not be for you.
The blessings of having been brought up by a father with an Accounting degree have become all the more evident to me since I embarked on my career as a stay-at-home copywriter.
Every freelancer needs accounting skills (or, failing that, they must be able to afford to pay someone else to take care of the money matters for them). You need to know how to send and keep track of invoices, follow up on late payments, keep track of your tax obligations, and budget your money wisely. The last one is a skill everyone should have anyway, but it’s particularly important when you’re starting out as a freelancer and not yet earning a full income.
If money and numbers do your head in, you will need to set aside enough of said money to pay someone else to take care of it. Otherwise, it’s up to you, so brush up on your understanding of tax law, break out that calculator, and re-memorise your times tables.
Verbal Communication & People Skills
If you want to succeed in your freelance copywriting career, you will need verbal communication and people skills. Period. This is one you can’t get away from, and you can’t pay someone else to do it, either.
Why do you need people skills? You are the person prospective customers are going to contact. You’re the one they will speak to, the one they will meet with, and the one who ultimately has to close the deal when you quote them on a job. You’re also the one who will represent your business at networking events. If you’re too shy to speak to strangers on the phone or in person, then you have some serious work to do.
But people skills alone are not enough. You also need to get your message across clearly. I’m presuming that as a prospective copywriter, you can write pretty eloquently. However, if you’re anything like me, the words you put to metaphorical paper are much more eloquent than the ones that come out of your mouth, because you re-wrote a good chunk of them several times over. Unfortunately, however, eloquent written communication isn’t enough. You need to speak well too.
While I’m no expert, if you’re looking to improve your verbal communication and people skills, here are a few ideas:
- Speak slowly: If you’re anything like me, when you’re nervous you’ll have a tendency to talk really, really quickly. Don’t. Take a deep breath, and speak clearly and slowly so that the person on the other end of the phone can actually understand you. Speaking slowly will also stop you from waffling or going off on tangents, as it gives you the time to think about, and plan, what you’re about to say.
- Practice on your friends: It may sound a little childish, but why not do some role plays? I hate role plays, but even I will grudgingly admit that they seem to do the job. So enlist a friend and give it a go!
- Plan ahead: When I was younger, I hated talking on the phone to strangers. I never knew what to say, and I had a fear of looking or sounding stupid. Even calling up a restaurant to make a reservation made me nervous. So one day, my wise mother (someone please score me some daughter points by making sure she sees that I wrote that) suggested that I write down what I was going to say. That way, I wouldn’t have to think on my feet so much. It worked wonders. Obviously you can’t plan everything you will say in a client phone call, but if you write a cheat sheet with a few key phrases and points, I can assure you it will work wonders!
- Perfect your pitch: Learning to create and deliver the perfect pitch is one of the five steps Daniel Priestly outlined in his book about becoming a Key Person of Influence in your industry. Your “pitch” is the answer to the question ‘what do you do?’ It must be compelling and engaging, and it must get people excited. Stay tuned for the story of my first “perfect pitch” experience, coming soon to a blog near you. This one, in fact.
Social Media Marketing
Social Media marketing is an important inbound marketing technique, and one you will have to learn if you want your business to succeed. Some freelance copywriters offer social media marketing packages for their clients, but even if you don’t plan on doing that yourself, you will still need the skills for your own business.
How do you get these skills? Learning social media marketing is a mixture of experimentation, trial and error, and ongoing training. Read all the top blogs on social media advertising, and follow those who do it well so you can learn from their examples. In addition to this, work hard to discover what works best for your brand and your customer base. Experiment a little, and use the different social media analytics tools – plus a dose of your own common sense – to see what seems to work, and what needs improvement.
If you’re a freelancer, you’ll need a website. And you’ll need that website to be optimised for search engines. (But make sure you optimise it for humans, too!) That means you’re going to need some sweet SEO skills for your website, and if you’re planning on being a copywriter in today’s world, chances are you’ll need these skills anyway, because you’ll be offering them to your clients.
So learn. And keep learning. Devour anything and everything you can find from quality sources about SEO. Where do you find these quality sources? Well let me give you a hint – you’re already reading one of them *wink, wink*. There are also industry sites and the like floating around in cyberspace just waiting for you. In addition to this, it’s important to check out what the key people of influence in the SEO industry are doing and saying, because they’re the ones with the know-how who are making money doing SEO. Learn from them. And once you’ve learnt from them, share the love by giving back and sharing your expertise with the internet and the people who use it.
Basic Web Design
Like I said before, if you’re a freelancer, you must have a website. And that means you need to know how to update and run it. I’m not saying learn to code, though you’re welcome to if that floats your boat. But you must acquire the know-how to maintain your website, because your website will be your online business card.
Literal balls might be optional, but to succeed in a career as a freelance copywriter, you’re going to need a pair of metaphorical balls. Freelancing is tough. It’s scary. It’s challenging. And you need to be brave enough to face all the challenges it throws at you.
Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom. Freelancing is also incredibly exciting and rewarding. It can be fun, and when done right, it’s flexible and it’s a lifestyle. But as with many things in life, in order to enjoy the rewards, you first need to brave the trials. So get your balls on.
Your comments make me feel happy, and I love learning from the insights, thoughts, and perspectives you share. So don’t be shy – leave your mark in the comments below!
Do you have what it takes to be a successful freelance copywriter? For all you freelance copywriters out there, have I got it right? Am I on the money, or have I missed something? Let me know!