What It Takes To Succeed as a Freelance Copywriter

What does it take to succeed as a freelance copywriter?

Well, I suppose it should go without saying that the first requirement is the ability to write good copy. But just for safety's sake, I will say it anyway.

That detail out of the way, here are some qualities less common among copywriters that are of equal importance.

The ability to treat your service like a business.
Too many copywriters are woefully ignorant of the realities of running a business (and a copywriting practice is a business, just like a law practice or any other professional service provider). If you are playing the role of the “temperamental artist as copywriter” it probably means you're a dreadful business person. Your clients (almost all of them skilled entrepreneurs) hold that sort of mentality in great disdain. Want more respect as a copywriter? Start acting like a businessperson.

The commitment to meet deadlines. Clients expect you to do what you say you were going to do, and they expect you to do it on the schedule you agreed to. There are no excuses. I have never missed a deadline. I have, on occasion renegotiated a deadline-but always ahead of time. Repeat after me: “Deadlines are sacred. I shall not break them.”

The skin of a rhinoceros. Look, I understand; writing is hard, and taking criticism is harder. But clients pay you to write, and they have an expectation that their input will be accepted by you. After all, they're paying for the end product. They are going to be critical of what you write. You're writing about their baby-their business. You've got to be able to smile when your clients are offering “constructive criticism”… even when they're wrong. You must be able to handle such situations with grace. A crucial skill for you: the ability to subtly persuade clients that your way is the correct way. Even more difficult, you've got to be able swallow your pride when your client has a good point… such as a point about some weakness in  your copy (which is accurate more often than most copywriters would like to admit).

These skills are more difficult to develop than the skills of actually writing copy-at least for most copywriters.

Most copywriters tend to be more right-brained and creative instead of left-brained and logical; I was gifted with a weird 50-50 combination of “artist/businessman” genetics.

I understand that not everyone was so fortunate.

But trust me… being conscious of the need for the skills I've outlined in this article, and becoming diligent in the development of these skills, will make you a much happier (and much richer) copywriter.

You might also avail yourself of my soon-to-be-released print newsletter designed just for you. You can't buy it as of today, but you can get on the Early-Bird VIP Notification List – that way you will be the first to know the minute it becomes available.

Ray Edwards is a world-renowned copywriter and communications strategist, writing for some of the most powerful voices in leadership and business including New York Times bestselling authors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and Tony Robbins. Ray is a sought-after speaker and author, hosts a popular weekly podcast, and blogs at RayEdwards.com.

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  • Leslie

    Ray, I honestly think this is your best blog post ever. Thanks for putting so bluntly so well.

  • Cathy Goodwin

    Definitely the skin of a rhiinoceros. Taking criticism is one thing, but then there’s the client who says, “My wife doesn’t like it. No, she’s not in business and she may have taken one marketing course a million years ago…” Or, “I took the liberty of asking my secretary to look it over and she’s made these changes…” My agreement keeps getting longer every year.

  • The skin of a rhinoceros. It sounds interesting. I’d add: the Chinese drop perseverance. Showing you care about the customer so much that you not only meet deadlines but serve her after you got the money, project done.

    Nowadays people need someone to rely on; Sell less, serve more.

  • MattLBrennan

    Yes. You have to value your skill set no matter what you do. If you don’t value it, no one else will. 

  • TheEmailWriter

    I wish my rhino skin was thicker. I’ve been working on toughing it up. 😉
    When you work with the same clients for years, and upper management keeps on shifting over your head, you need all the patience you can get.
    Especially when you’re responsible for producing sales in an environment where your best sales copy is rarely used and the rushed copy you were forced to write in forty minutes is the copy that gets sent out during the product launch without more than a cursory glance.
    I’ve had to bite my tongue so many times over the years and I never regret it. Because nothing good ever comes from giving your manager a verbal thrashing even if they deserve it.
    There’s a lot of copywriters out there who act like Gary Halbert (attitude!) but they don’t have his talent. The best advice I have for any of my fellow freelancers is to stay humble and admit when you screw up. You would be surprised by how many good ideas your clients have if you listen to them.
    The hardest part of being a freelance copywriter isn’t getting sales. That’s always the easiest part. The hardest part if being a team player and learning not to take yourself so seriously.
    Here’s to patience. It truly is a virtue.

  • Any freelance person needs to think like a business, and consider themselves an entrepreneur. I see so many of my talented freelance friends going out there and trying to make a name for themselves, but they think the talent they are selling is enough. They have to market themselves, understand how to put their financials togethers, and ultimately “manage their business” properly.

  • Alan

    Ray you’re right on target with “the skin of a rhinoceros”. I’ve found one of the biggest obstacles a freelance copywriter faces is his own ego. Putting it aside is essential. Not to say you shouldn’t champion your copy when challenged, but you would be wise to let go of ego and be prepared to listen to the client’s point of view.

  • Thanks for this great article. You don’t need to be a creative writer to be a good copywriter. All you need to write a copy is to research and write down the information. To succeed as a copywriter you also need to have the ability to change your writing style for different types of industries. Here’s a great site that I recommend. http://copywritercollective.com/freelancers/copywriters/