How to run a successful freelance copywriting business.

What I quickly learned was that it’s one thing to be a good copywriter, and another to run a good business.

I first started working as a freelance copywriter around the time I decided to start a family. I wanted to continue working, but still be at home with my children while they were small. With a background in healthcare and professional services copywriting, it was logical for me to look at copywriting opportunities in these areas and today, most of my clients fall into those categories. Along the way I had to learn how to run a small business; something that didn’t really come naturally.

Let me share with you some of the  practical and sensible business-type things I learned that have contributed to my success in the freelance copywriting world.

Guard your reputation.
This is a small world and you’ll come across the same people over and over again. Make sure you always leave clients with the right impression; that of a professional who is enthusiastic and easy to work with. Your reputation will follow you and a positive client recommendation is one of the best and most cost-effective ways of winning new work.
Be willing to learn.
Most medical copywriters are only too keen to learn about the intricacies of a new drug or medical device so they can write about them with confidence and add to their store of knowledge. But there’s more to it than just medical knowledge. You may need to learn about how the client’s approval system works and how to use the software they employ. There may be a content management system, a desktop publishing platform or a job tracking system that you will need to interact with.
Be flexible.
While you may be drawing on a wealth of experience in providing your client with your recommended approach, they won’t always agree to go with what you suggest. When a client rejects your brilliant and potentially award-winning idea, it can be hard to take, but take it you must. You need to be flexible enough to adapt to their requirements, maintain your enthusiasm and still turn in a first class finished product. This is often easier said than done but it’s an important part of being a professional.
Be agreeable.
When a client calls with a new job, let them know how happy and keen you are to help them out. If you’re always cheerful and enthusiastic, people will enjoy working with you. Be particularly nice to the junior staff and interns who are likely to be your clients in the future. Being agreeable and likeable are powerful skills to have. (I’ve been amazed at the way clearly incompetent people are tolerated in organisations just because everybody likes them. And competent but grumpy souls are the first to be let go.) So I figure if you’re both professional and a pleasure to work with, you’re on the right track.
Forget about weekends.
In the freelance world you work when the work is there and take a day off when it’s not. This can be problematic if your family and friends don’t understand this and expect you to be available for impromptu events over the weekend. But turning around a job over the weekend can earn you lots of brownie points when your client is in a fix. I actually enjoy working on more complex jobs over the weekend because there are fewer interruptions. Some writers charge overtime for weekend or rush jobs but I don’t. I do warn a client in advance if I have a weekend commitment that will prevent me from working. Clients are usually OK with this because they normally take weekends off themselves.
If you don’t get a written brief, write your own.
Some clients are not sure what they want and expect you to fill in the blanks for them. In the past I’ve been asked to “Come up with something I can write my marketing plan around.” I don’t mind a creative or strategic challenge, but I do like to start in the right place: with a brief. When I don’t get one, I write a “reverse brief” and get it approved first. By taking the time to write a reverse brief outlining what you think they want, you can save yourself a lot of wasted time down the track.
Work out who pays the bill.
I used to find that getting paid was not normally an issue. I would submit a 30 day invoice and within 30 days a payment arrived. Not anymore! Welcome to the world of purchase orders, job numbers, approved suppliers, accountants who work only one day a week (and are often on holiday), being relegated for payment in 56 days even if you’ve agreed to 30 days, or being told you’ve missed this month’s cheque run because your invoice didn’t get processed on time. Chasing payment can be stressful, time-consuming and distracting. Very often your client has neglected to approve and pass on the invoice to Accounts. I’ve had clients who never even open my invoice until I go to chase up the late payment. Then they ask me to reconfigure the invoice to suit their internal system and add purchase order numbers. All this takes time, and time is money, so when you have a client like this, it’s worth building invoice-chasing time into the cost of the job. If you can find out who the Accounts Payable person is, phone them and ask when payment can be expected. But do it politely. Make it sound like you do this routinely and just need an answer. The Accounts Payable person is used to being asked this.

If any of this puts you off the idea of becoming a freelance medical copywriter, don’t let it. Now that you know some of the keys to success, you’ll be ahead of the game.

Do you have advice you can share about running a freelance copywriting business? Drop me a line.

Look out for my next blog: “When to Say No to a Job”


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