Wondering how to become a freelance copywriter? This beginner’s guide will show you step-by-step how to become a copywriter and start earning real money in this lucrative writing niche!
What Is Copywriting?
Before we get started on the nitty-gritty details, it’s worth taking a birds-eye view of the topic: What is copywriting? And what is a copywriter?
Put simply, copywriting is writing “copy”, which can be defined as words with the aim to sell, persuade, or influence. Any time a writer creates a piece of content with the aim to sell a product or service, the activity could be called copywriting.
The term can also relate to situations where the goal of the writing is to motivate a certain action from the reader. For example, writing with the goal of encouraging people to sign up to a newsletter, or make a political contribution, would also be considered copywriting, although there is no “selling” involved.
Some examples of copywriting include landing pages, small business websites, email marketing, online advertisements, product descriptions, magazine ads, and even cereal boxes.
On the other hand, examples of projects that are not copywriting could include standard blog posts, informational and “how-to” guides, and fiction novels.
Note: The terms “copywriting” and “copyrighting” are often confused. Copywriting refers to actual writing, while copyrighting refers to the legal process of registering a copyright or trademark. If you tell someone you are a copywriter, they may assume you work in a legal field!
How to Become a Copywriter: 8 Simple Steps for Beginners
Now, it’s time to learn the basics of how you can become a copywriter and start finding freelance copywriting jobs. The guide below breaks down our recommended process step-by-step.
Step 1: Evaluate Your Skills and Specialties
Before seeking out a copywriting position or freelance contract, it’s important to look honestly at your own skills and specialties. Some questions that may be beneficial to ask yourself include:
- Are you a good writer?
- Do you have examples to prove it?
- Do you have any sales experience?
- Do you have any knowledge of consumer psychology?
- Do you have any business or entrepreneurial experience?
- Do you need some training before confidently saying that you are a skilled copywriter?
- Do you know anything about search engine optimization (SEO)?
- Do you have any topics that you are a true expert in?
- Do you understand the difference between content writing and copywriting?
- Do you know when you read good copy, as opposed to bad or mediocre copy?
Copywriting is a skill that takes time to develop. By beginning with an assessment of your own current skill levels, you can be better prepared for what is to come.
Step 2: Understand the Basics of Freelance Copywriting
If you’re new to freelancing, there are some basic principles that you will want to learn. The world of freelancing is quite different from the world of traditional employment – and this can be especially true for copywriters, who generally need to frequently pitch to find new clients, and need to have not only excellent writing skills, but excellent sales skills.
If you’re interested in some guidance, the Freelance Writer’s Den is a paid community that helps freelance writers find well paying jobs, improve writing skills, and level up the business side of a freelance career. The Den has a ton of valuable courses and resources for copywriters and content writers alike.
For absolute beginners, here is a brief crash-course on freelancing, with a specific focus on freelance copywriting. You can learn MUCH more inside the Den, but here’s a good place to start:
- Most freelance copywriting projects will be charged per project, per hour, or per word
- Per-project rates may apply to projects like creating the copy for an entire website. Per-project rates vary widely depending on the scope and experience level – something like a website copywriting project may be as little as a few hundred dollars, or as much as $10,000+
- Per-hour rates are common for all types of freelance copywriting projects. Beginners may charge around $25 per hour, intermediate writers may charge around $50 an hours, and experts may charge in the range of $100 or more per hour in some cases. Top-tier copywriters may charge $300 per hour or even more
- Per-word rates are very common for content writing, but less so for copywriting where fewer words are often used.
- The rates for copywriting are often quite a bit higher than for content writing. However, more is often expected of copywriters.
- Copywriters can really charge as much as they want, so long as they can prove that their work is worth the cost. In many cases, copywriting can have a direct, measurable effect on business outcomes. If you can create copy that improves conversions on a high-ticket item by 10%, you can charge quite a lot. If you can’t prove that your work delivers results, clients are less likely to pay well.
- Copywriting rates vary by experience level and by the results produced.
- Copywriters are typically brought on as independent contractors.
- Freelancers can find work by pitching small businesses, applying for posted projects, or partnering with web developers and agencies.
- The most common types of copywriting projects available are direct-response copywriting, such as landing pages and email marketing, and small business website copywriting. However, copywriting is used in nearly every business and industry, so there is a wide variety of work available.
- Often, work will be delivered via Google Doc, Word Doc, etc. and submitted for revisions. Expect clients to require revisions in most cases. Copy is something that will often need to be refined, and requires much more attention to detail than basic content writing or blogging.
- Copy is designed to sell or convert in some other way. Clients will expect results from your work, not just a certain number of words.
- Most copywriting does not focus heavily on SEO efforts, although SEO writing principles can still be helpful for website work. Copy is generally more focused on converting a reader who is already on the page, rather than just attracting that reader to the page in the first place.
- Copy is generally shorter, more direct, and more persuasive than standard content writing. Even writing a 5-word advertising headline is considered copywriting – and experts could charge hundreds, if not thousands, for those 5 words.
- Copywriting is highly project-dependent. The approach for a dentist’s website will be much different than the approach for an email marketing campaign for a nonprofit.
Step 3: Create a Portfolio Website
All freelance copywriters should create a portfolio website – even if they don’t yet have much of a portfolio to display.
Because creating your own website is the perfect opportunity to sharpen your copywriting skills, while also clearly displaying your copy to the world.
Consider this: If you can have a potential client land on your website and your copy convinces that client to hire you, that definitively proves that you do have adequate copywriting skills.
Is your initial portfolio going to be flawless? Absolutely not. It will likely be something that you revise many times over the coming months and years, as you further hone your skills. But at the same time, do you think a client will hire you to work on their website or project, if you haven’t even spent the time to create your own website?
Fortunately, building a website these days is much simpler than it used to be. For beginners, we recommend using Bluehost for finding your domain and setting up your hosting. Bluehost makes it very simple to set up a basic WordPress-based website.
Bluehost offers several benefits for new freelancers. It’s one of the more affordable hosting plans out there, and it also offers very user-friendly tools for web development, including 1-click WordPress installs.
For most freelancers, you can sign up for a basic shared WordPress hosting plan. Then, install WordPress and browse the variety of pre-built templates and themes. Remember, the point here is to show off your copywriting skills, not your web development chops – so don’t worry about using a template.
Step 4: Hone Your Skills in Sales, Psychology, Persuasive Writing
Now, it’s time to do some research and learning! Before you can reasonably complete any sort of copywriting project, you will want to learn the basics of persuasive writing and copywriting, as well as the basics of consumer psychology.
You don’t need to obtain your PhD in any of these subjects, but you want to learn enough that you could hold a reasonable conversation about any of the topics. The internet is a great place to start (including the links above), but don’t shy away from picking up a book or two on the topics that interest you most.
Copywriting is NOT content writing. I repeat, copywriting is not content writing. To create decent content for blogs or websites, you really just need basic writing skills and some knowledge of how the internet works. But to create good copy, you need to understand the psychology behind the words, and the mind state of the people who will eventually read your copy.
Moving on from the absolute basics, you will want to familiarize yourself with the core copywriting skills, including:
- How to write an attention-grabbing headline
- How to write a gripping value proposition
- How to write a landing page that converts
- How to write a sales email that is actually opened and read
- How to write advertisements that sell
- How to write scripts for videos, radio ads, etc. (if you plan to work in these areas)
There is a LOT to learn about here. Realistically, you should spend at least 10-20 hours studying and learning the basics before you even take on a project. However, recognize that to become a skilled copywriter, you need to actually get some experience under your belt. Which leads us to our next step…
Step 5: Find Your First (Unpaid) Gig
To truly learn copywriting, you need to practice. And with no experience, you will likely struggle to find paying clients in this niche since it plays such a pivotal role in a business’ succcess. So, this may be a case where it’s wise to start off with a few strategic unpaid freelance copywriting gigs.
First, consider any business owners in your family or friend group. Take a look at their websites or promotional materials. Could they use a re-do? If so, approach them to ask if they would like help – for free. In exchange, ask them for two things: Detailed feedback, and permission to use the work as a sample on your website.
Once you’ve completed a project or two, it’s wise to get feedback from an experienced copywriter. You can ask the community in the Freelance Writer’s Den, or reach out to someone you know in the industry. Ideally, you want detailed feedback, not only from the business owner, but also from someone with actual experience as a copywriter. Use this feedback to make revisions and improve your copy.
Step 6: Find Your First (Paid) Gig
Finally, it’s time to get paid with some real freelance copywriting jobs. Your first few projects likely won’t be the best paying jobs ever, but the point here is to gain real experience through real clients – ideally ones that you don’t know personally.
Where can you find freelance copywriting jobs?
A good place to start finding gigs is to pitch businesses.
Think about some small local businesses that may have outdated or poorly written copy on their websites or promotional materials. There will be lots of these. Maybe it’s the local gym you go to or a favorite restaurant.
You can then approach them (in person if you know them or via email) with a pitch on how you can improve their copy, and how much you would charge. However, pitching will be more effective once you’ve built up a more impressive portfolio.
There’s also the option of finding freelance copywriting jobs on quality job boards. But just know that not every opportunity you come across on these boards will be worthwhile, so filter accordingly and approach with some level of caution.
Here’s just a small list of some options:
- Our own Freelance Writer’s Den Job Board
- FlexJobs (get 30% off with promo code FLEXLIFE)
- The ProBlogger Job Board
- Reddit’s /r/HireaWriter
- Reddit’s /r/ForHire
- The Blogging Pro Job Board
- Plus many more online writing job boards
There are also gig platforms like Upwork and Fiverr, however, we largely recommend avoiding these platforms. They take substantial fees out of your earnings, the rates are often poor, and it can be very difficult for new writers to land their first gig.
Step 7: Improve Your Skills
Copywriting is a skill that must be continually studied and practiced.
Once you gain skills and experience, you can easily start charging more and more – but in the beginning, you will need to be patient.
You can continue practicing, reading books and blogs on the subject, and carefully reviewing the work of other writers to learn copywriting techniques and sharpen your skills. On that last point, when reading the copy of other writers, don’t just look for words and phrases to steal — think about the psychology and reasoning behind the copy to understand why the writer is using those words.
You can also check out some great copywriting tips here.
And don’t be afraid to get some training either.
One of the best ways to level up your freelancing game is to join the Freelance Writer’s Den. This subscription service includes more than 300 hours of exclusive classes, boot camps, eBooks and various other learning materials. Plus, you’ll be able to ask questions and learn from a community of over 1,500 like-minded freelance writers!
The Freelance Writer’s Den has resources for honing writing skills (the SEO bootcamp has some great info for becoming an SEO copywriter), landing new clients, improving productivity, and managing the day-to-day aspects of running a freelance business. It’s useful for both copywriters and content writers (and you will find that you may wish to do both).
Step 8: Run Your Business
Here is something important to remember: As a freelancer, you are a business. And as a business, there are various tasks that you will need to handle. The list below covers some of the most important tasks:
- Invoice clients to get paid on time (check out our freelancer invoicing guide)
- Keep accurate records of both income and expenses
- Set aside money to pay for self-employed freelancer taxes (we recommend setting aside around 20-25% of your income)
- Following up with old clients to determine if they have any additional needs
- Seeking out new clients and projects
- Continually improving your skills
- Pitching your dream clients
- Adding new samples to your portfolio, and taking off less-impressive projects
- Networking with other writers, business owners and marketing professionals
So there you have it: How to become a freelance copywriter in just 8 steps!
This guide sets the foundation for you to build a thriving freelance copywriting business – but of course, you will need to put in the work to make that dream a reality. As you sharpen your skills, bolster your portfolio and gain confidence, you will be able to land increasingly higher-tier jobs, and make more money!