Advertising Career Profile: Freelance Copywriter

What is a Freelance Copywriter, and What Do They Do?

Freelancer
Freelancer Copywriter. Getty Images

Anyone who is freelancing in the advertising industry is acting as an independent contractor, either on their own, or through a recruitment agency. Freelancers are loved by agencies because they allow them to "staff up" on big projects or pitches, giving them the flexibility to take on more work and alleviate the load on various departments. 

A freelance copywriter is simply a copywriter who is not employed full-time by an ad agency or in-house department.

The freelancer writer will be asked to help on any number of projects for either an hourly rate, a day rate, or a "per project" basis. 

Not only do you write copy for a variety of materials, you're also your own billing department and marketing team to get new clients. You are your own boss and you do get to set your own hours. However, you'll find your "open for business" hours will change when a client calls at 5 p.m. on a Friday in a panic, needing a complete direct mail package by Monday morning.

Most freelancers work from home, or are given desk space in an agency. They can work alone, or with a team of designers, writers and art directors, but usually don't meet most of their clients in person.

Salary Range:

Full-time freelance copywriters can make anywhere from the low teens to six figures. Salaries vary based on the freelancer's experience, own rates, clients and even persistence to seek out new clients when just starting out.

Special Skills:

  • Excellent writing talent and a knack for persuasive copy
  • Ability to come up with high-concept ideas quickly
  • Lateral thinking and 
  • Confidence in yourself and your writing skills
  • Ability to work on multiple projects at once
  • Meeting or beating deadlines is a must
  • Turning around full projects in a very short time if the client needs a rush job completed
  • Must be well-organized to serve as a copywriter, act as your own business manager and market yourself all at the same time
  • A professional demeanor is required to deal with your clients
  • Flexibility to meet client's needs even if that means working outside your preferred hours
  • Must be able to work well alone or in a group
     

Education and Training:

Some freelance copywriters do not have a formal education or training in advertising. They may start by taking a copywriting course online or by mail. They can also use SPEC ADS to attract clients and they tend to start out working with smaller clients to build their advertising portfolio.

Some of the most successful freelance copywriters, though, have worked at advertising agencies (and usually as copywriters) before branching out on their own.

Typical Day:

There is not usually a "typical" day when freelancing as a copywriter. One minute you could be doing high-concept work for a blue chip client, the next you're writing body copy for a credit card website. But here is just a brief rundown of what you may encounter:

  • Brainstorm to come up with copy ideas
  • Submit completed copy to the client for approval
  • Email your contract to the client to accept a new project
  • Check in with clients who need updates or if you have questions about a project
  • Make edits to copy in progress and copy the client has requested changes on
  • Proofread copy before submitting it to the client
  • Field calls from potential clients
  • Conduct research for a project you're writing
  • Email your info packet and/or marketing materials to prospective clients when you're looking for new business
     

The Advantages of Freelancing:

As with any freelancing career, there are ups and downs to the business. Depending on the experience under a freelancer's belt, and his or her connections, it can be a lucrative career:

  • Pay is much higher than full-time employment
  • Set your own hours
  • Decide which projects you work on
  • Take vacation days whenever you like
  • No boss to report to
  • No ties to a company or location
     

The Disadvantages of Freelancing:

Of course, freelancing is a double-edged sword.

While there are a lot of benefits, it can be a daunting prospect to go on your own and pay your own way:

  • No guarantee of work
  • Constantly hustling for projects and assignments
  • No company-paid healthcare or other benefits
  • No regular work colleagues; it can be lonely
  • You have to work when you get it, or risk missing out
  • It can take months to get paid
     

Common Misconceptions:

Freelance copywriters just starting out often feel like they need to act as graphic designers. If you have specific training in graphic design, it can help you but most advertising agencies and clients are specifically looking for freelance copywriters and do not expect you to be a graphic designer.

Another misconception is that freelance copywriters are involved in the creative decisions. Most don't usually get to help the creative department come up with ideas for the client. Generally, they are only let in on the project after the big creative decisions have already been made.
 

Getting Started:

Many freelancers keep their current job until they get a couple of regular freelance clients. They work at their freelance business on the side before leaving the steady 9-5 gig (and paycheck).

You can begin your freelance copywriting career on a shoestring budget, even for as little as $100. Business cards, a Web site and other vitals are some of the small tasks necessary to get your new career path off to a good start. Setting your freelance rates and deciding if you should charge by the hour or per project is another area where you have to make big decisions before you start selling yourself to get clients.