Since I ditched my day job, I have been busy trying to cultivate a growing customer base as a freelance writer.
I won't bore you with the usual list of benefits of having a Twitter feed, Facebook page or LinkedIn presence. Or how to write a killer CV, interesting blog or enthralling cold email. There are far more qualified posts about such marketing methods.
But I have stumbled on some more unusual ways to find clients and win business as a freelance writer. Here they are:
1. Scour the job boards
How do you know if a company needs your services? As a freelance writer, I scour the job boards for companies looking for bloggers, copywriters, marketers and PR experts. I will then contact the company in question and offer my services in the interim as they try to fill that position.
Some companies use me on a temporary basis to fill a much-needed hole in their resources - giving me a new contact. Others sign me up on a more permanent basis as they realise the benefits of outsourcing their copy and not employing a permanent member of staff.
2. Think local...
As a freelance science and technology writer, I'm perfectly positioned to approach the vast range of science and technology companies based in Cambridge. The city is a hub for innovative startups and established tech businesses alike, matching my skill set and writing specialisms perfectly.
The ability to meet up with potential clients and have a face-to-face meeting is a huge benefit - highlight this fact. Ask a potential client you can pop into their office - it's helped me to bag some big names and also learn a lot from the individuals I've meet up with.
3. ... don't discount going global
The world is a tiny space thanks to technology. Businesses and individuals have contacted me from all over the world so I've perfected a way of working with international clients. Collaboration tools are a must. Use Skype, Google Drive and other such systems so you can easily demonstrate to such clients that you can work closely - even when you're working remotely.
4. Competition time!
The technology sector contains many specialist outlets with a narrow niche of target audiences. If you already work with a company that develops, for example, specialist pharmaceutical software - you want to approach other companies that work on similar products under the proviso that you understand and have experience with this niche market.
Finding these specialist outlets is difficult - but it can be done. Try searching through industry-based competition entries to find businesses within your targeted niche.
5. Remember me?
My USP as a freelance writer is that I've worked in the science and technology industries I write about for the last 10 years - giving me a level of expertise and experience that many writers cannot offer. I've been amazed at the number of previous employers and old contacts that signed up to my services through LinkedIn and the odd introductory email letting them know about my new venture as a freelance writer.
As I continue to work as 'the freelance writer who gets tech', I'm sure I will stumble across more weird and wonderful ways to find clients. What experiences have you had finding business as a freelancer? Let me know in the comments below.
The world is full of copywriters. Our work is all around you.
But, as I change careers to become a freelance writer, many perplexed when I mention that copywriting is one of the many weapons in my writing arsenal.
Only last week I received an email that went along the following lines: "I've got a great idea that’s going to change the world, please can you give me some advice on protecting my idea?"
I then had to explain that a copywriter is nothing to do with copyright. It's a common mistake. Copywriting and copyright. It's a simple case of spelling.
Copywriting is a diverse occupation that is difficult to pin down. Every copywriter is different. Some pen adverts and some write technical documentation. Some work as a freelance writer and others work in-house.
I can forgive those individuals who are confused by the term copywriter - it's almost beyond definition. But there is one aspect that binds all copywriters together: working with words on a daily basis.
More than words
When I put on my copywriter hat (I also have a journalist hat, blogger hat, ghost writer hat and a fez) I spend all of my time writing. Hats off for the copywriter stating the obvious: as a freelance copywriter, I write.
But, as the real world and virtual world increasingly overlap, a copywriter is more than just a writer. There are a lot more hats to wear and a lot more skills and tasks to carry out.
A modern copywriter needs to understand the accessibility and usability standards of the web. It all goes back to the target audience. I need to know how people use a specific website to write effective copy for that website. I need to understand SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) principles so people can find my work, write call to actions and work with other experts to make sure every word is optimised for the audience it's hungry to find. My time working as a web developer has helped, but it's a mammoth task.
Copywriters are often associated with sales and marketing efforts. We're the people behind the catchy headings and snappy strap lines. Just do it? Every little counts? That's us. I understand why so many make the link. But copywriting is more than writing standout sales pieces. A lot more.
Copywriters are the writing equivalent of chameleons. The role demands the flexibility and skills to adapt to different projects, clients and formats. One day I may be writing about the nuances of tax legislation for an accountancy blog, the next I'm putting together a series of articles for a niche optics magazine. Copywriters adapt quickly and meet tight deadlines.
Copywriters can also understand and write for a target audience.
This is the must-have skill: the ability to think about who our audience is and how we can reach them with our writing.
There is always a goal with a copywriting assignment. Whether it's to sell a particular product or get users to click through to specific page. Copywriters influence people's behaviour with their words. You can only achieve this if you know who you're writing for. That involves a hefty amount of research and analysis, which is something I am all too familiar with as a former research scientist.
Because of the link with the advertising world, some people believe copywriting is a little insidious in nature. A sort of style-over-substance way of writing. Others think the opposite is true and that copywriters are over-functional and soulless individuals. Both are complete misconceptions.
Every copywriter needs to find the most appropriate and clearest way to communicate with their audience. You can't ham a subject up, or dumb it down. Just find a simple way to transfer a message.
Is that it?
Afraid so. It's impossible to pin down everything I do as a freelance copywriter in just a few hundred words. But that is the point of this post. I'm a flexible brand of writer and every copywriting job I complete is different to the next.
That's why I love being a freelance copywriter. I get to write in all manner of voices for a wide range of audiences. This hones my skills as a professional freelance writer. It also means I get to wear a lot more hats.
Fellow copywriters - what misconceptions have you come across about your role? Please share your experiences in the comments below.
Cheating in school is a popular option. Cheating would be prom queen if it could rent a snazzy dress, bring a member of One Direction to the dance and twerk the night away.*
I am not condoning ghostwriting a thesis or coursework. If you're reading this post to find someone to effectively do your university or school work on your behalf then please go away and do not darken my virtual door again.
I am condoning blog ghostwriting.
A blog is a brilliant business tool to boost your search engine rankings, educate and engage with customers, and win new ones.
But most business owners do not have the time or resources to do it right - and that's when outsourcing your blog to an expert is a clever move.
When I work with clients on ghostwriting projects, they often regret that they are not writing the article themselves. One recent customer actually said: "I don't normally cheat. I feel so guilty using a ghostwriter." This is a common but incorrect assumption. Ghostwriting isn't cheating.
Not everyone is a writer. Just as everyone isn't a butcher, baker or candlestick maker. If I have a great idea for a new outfit, I wouldn't try to make it myself. I'd go to an experienced dressmaker with my ideas and let them use their expertise to make those ideas come to life.
The same is true for business owners that are experts on their brand, but are not expert writers. You still need to have a polished product to sell your business.
You provide the ideas, concepts and direction of the piece. I'll provide a well-written post that you can show off as your own - because it is.
How does ghostwriting work?
The secret to blogging success is to consistently provide high-quality content. This is not an easy ask so I will work with your subject matter experts and complete my own thorough research to translate in-depth and complex information into a post that's easy for customers to understand, without dumbing everything down.
The process often involves a bit of a learning curve. I will need to research your business, industry and specific requirements to find your voice. This is one of the most enjoyable parts for me - the learning process. It's why I love to write.
Once this speed-bump is passed then the process streamlines and usually involves a couple of exchanges of information with your ideas, a few edits and then a final draft.
When I ghostwrite I ensure every blog post is:
So why shouldn’t I blog by myself?
But blogging is not your business. You’re in, well, your business. And you barely have time to get your own work done. Let alone write a blog, market it, promote it, and make sure people know about it.
This is why businesses either outsource or grow - there are certain tasks they don’t do very well, or want to do very well. A graphic designer doesn't want to understand the nuances of tax legislation. An accountant doesn't want to spend time designing a snazzy logo. And you don’t want to spend two hours writing a blog post, twice a week, eight times a month, 12 times a year.
Also, what if you don't enjoy writing? Or don't write as well as you would like? I'm a professional writer. I love words, writing, language and this isn't just my day job - it's my hobby, my sideline and my profession. A blog post that may take you four hours to write could take me a mere hour.
So can you do this yourself? Absolutely. Should you? Depends on whether you love writing, have the time, and the know-how to manage your blog.
If you don’t, that’s where I can help.
For more information about my services, or to learn more about my blog ghostwriting service, fill out the form below.
* I have no idea what is popular in school anymore. This is a random guess. I suspect this statement will out me as a complete geek with no idea what is and is not cool. Just like when I was at school.
The deed is done. The notice is handed in. The new job title is "freelance writer". Bloody hell.
Today has been quite a day for me. I have decided to leave my steady, well paid and wonderful job as a web developer to fully immerse myself in the world of freelance science and technology writing.
It's not been an easy decision. I love working in the technology sector, particularly within Cambridge where so much innovative work is happening. I love my current role, the company and the team I work with. They offer me the flexibility to see my children, the right level of career progression where I feel challenged yet not overwhelmed and, perhaps most importantly, an awesome coffee machine and free biscuits.
So, how have I done it? Why leave a secure job? Can I self motivate as a freelancer? Can I survive without the free coffee? These are all questions that my colleagues, and I, have all asked as the announcement was made.
Let me take you through a few of the answers now:
How have I done it?
Becoming a freelance writer is not a snap decision. Like so many that decide to leave the world of regular work and go freelance, I have been quietly building a client base and combining my 'real' job with my freelance writing.
It's been quite the juggling act. It has involved resurrecting old contacts from my time as a science writer and making new contacts. So far my approach has been broadly reactive to inquiries from those wanting my services and I'm hoping to be more proactive in the coming months (you have been warned).
During this time of testing the water, I have had a lot of help and advice. I've picked anyone and everyone's brains about whether this decision is the right one to make.
One standout source of help has been specialist accountancy firm Nixon Williams. I signed up to their services a few weeks ago and they have made the process of setting up as a limited company as seamless as I think is possible. This takes the strain out of one of the most stressful parts of freelancing - getting the right advice on my finances.
And this would be the biggest bit of advice I can give anyone planning to go freelance - outsource as much as possible. Don't waste your time and energy researching the nuances of tax legislation or SEO or whatever specialism you need help with. It wastes your time and takes your focus away from your business.
And now, my time is also my money.
Why leave a secure job?
I've reached the point where my freelance work is demanding more time but paying better rates than the world of permanent employment. I know I cannot commit fully to both roles so something has to give. It's time to take a calculated risk and become a freelance writer.
And there have been plenty of calculations over the last couple of weeks. Projected incomes. Worst case scenarios. Best case scenarios. Business plans. The cost of an awesome coffee machine.
With all those figures to back me up, plus the promise of a more flexible way of working and a better work/life balance, it's a gamble I want to take. I can quite confidently predict my income over the next few years if I remain within the realms of permanent employment - but the sky's the limit now I'm fully in control of my finances and future as a freelance writer.
Now the deal is done and the resignation letter has been signed, it's up to me to answer the next couple of questions over the coming months. Can I self motivate as a freelancer? I believe so. Can I survive without the free coffee? Maybe.
Between my usual posts on technical wizardry, scientific discoveries and Lego, I will be sharing my experiences as I become a full time freelance writer. I'm hoping it will be a worthy and interesting read. A story of success. Or a tale caffeine withdrawal woe.
Whatever the outcome, I'm ready for the ride. Now the only question left is - do you need any copy? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll answer your questions.
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I'm the freelance writer who gets tech. So, I blog on three core topics:
Science and Technology