Some years ago, I was out for dinner with all parents at my son’s school. One mother I didn’t know asked what I did. When I replied, she responded, “How lovely to have a hobby like that.”
Reader, I was not amused.
Mention the word ‘freelance’ and people assume a life in which you take the whole of August off, spend your days in pyjamas and resort to daytime TV.
I’m not sure if anyone chooses to become a ‘permanent’ freelance copywriter. I had been made redundant four times and had a toddler the last time I was ‘let go’, fifteen years ago. But I’ve never looked back since and could not imagine returning to the ‘dark side’, ensconced behind a desk or snatching a seat daily on the District Line.
If you’re thinking about becoming a freelance copywriter, here are ten tips based on all my years of freelance experience that may help:
- Never ever think in terms of a monthly salary. Sometimes, you may be able to shop at Waitrose. Other times, you need to say hello again to LIDL. Either way, always keep money aside for when the tax man cometh i.e. just as you’re about to go on your summer holiday (July 31) or just when you’re recovering from Christmas debt (January 31). Oh, and don’t send a cheque to the Inland Revenue: mine was intercepted last year. Naughty Post Office people.
- Set up a separate bank account and get yourself a good accountant – and keep every single receipt, bank statement etc etc for six years. You’ll need to decide whether to trade as self-employed, register as a company or register for VAT.
- Get yourself a good lawyer – you need to sort out terms and conditions though, as a much cheaper option, there are some great templates such as at Simplydoc.
- How much should you charge as a freelance copywriter? That depends on your experience. There are now a number of sites where you can bid for work such as Elance and Freelancer – for peanuts. Please, please don’t. It lowers rates and quality for everyone. (Which is why I haven’t even added links to these sites; they’re a disgrace.)
- How will you charge your freelance copywriter rates? By the hour, day or project? What about allowing for revisions? Don’t forget to allow time over the phone and on emails with your client – you’ll be amazed how much this can eat into your day. No wonder lawyers charge for every single second spent on a client.
- What about payment terms – some clients assume freelance creatives lack any business acumen. Chasing up invoices can be tricky and time consuming, but it’s important to be like a rottweiler. If a client looks as if they may not pay, then tell them (email and recorded delivery letter) you’re entitled to charge interest and failure to pay will result on a small court claim. I add this to the end of invoices: Please pay this invoice within xx days. After this, interest and debt recovery costs are chargeable in accordance with The Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998 as amended and supplemented by Late Payment of Commercial Debts Regulations 2002. Pay On Time is packed with invaluable payment advice for freelance copywriters.
- Always draw up an agreement with your client before starting work. Make sure you know if they are a registered company or a sole trader. If a registered company, check their trading address at Companies House. If you ever need to take someone to the Small Claims Court, it’s vital to provide the right information.
- Are you going to ask for a deposit upfront? It’s a good idea to agree milestones in terms of timings and payments. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told a project is needed urgently, yet six weeks later I’m still awaiting feedback.
- On the subject of time, the advantage of being a freelance copywriter is that you have to be flexible. I always aim to deal with a project as soon as it hits my desk, as I never know what lies in store the following week. Yes, it can eat into my evening or weekend (which is when I’m writing this) but, on the other hand, I’m freed up to go to my daughter’s netball match. So, for me, it works both ways.
- Always agree a brief with your client, with all the info you need about USPs, competitor info, target market etc etc. You know the score. You are now creative director, account director and planner rolled into one.
Good luck! And if you have any questions about becoming a freelance copywriter, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org