Being a freelance copywriter is primarily about doing the work: writing every day. However, being a successful freelance writer is also about being a good small business owner.
You need the same skills and tools to manage a writing business just like any other. Many freelance writers have the writing skills and creativity to be good writers, but not everyone also has the aptitude for accounting and recordkeeping, marketing and development, and service and management skills it takes to run a business.
Here are some tips for growing your freelance copywriting gigs into a successful business.
- Businesses Management Tips for Writers
- Small Business Marketing for Freelance Writers
- Freelance Writing Project and Client Management
- Self-Care for Freelance Writers
- Business Tips for Freelance Writers – Summary
Businesses Management Tips for Writers
Business Planning for Freelance Writers
Most entrepreneurs and small business owners start with a plan. They do research and write out a plan that includes:
- Market opportunities
- Competitor landscape
- Revenue expectations
- Growth potential
- Long-term projections (one year, five year, etc)
Many freelance writers start out by working with a content mill or picking up a few projects as a side hustle, and don’t create a business plan.
If you’re a good writer, that path may earn you enough money to live on and enjoy a decent quality of life.
But after a few years you may start wondering where this is going, what you want for the future, and how you can increase your revenue. You might want to become a creative writer and transition to screenwriting or fiction writing, earn enough money to retire comfortably, or grow your writing business into an asset that you could sell… no matter what your future goals are, you will eventually need a plan.
Freelance Writer Bookkeeping
Many writers have an antipathy for math and shy away from the bookkeeping side of business. But being disciplined with your bookkeeping helps you make sure you get paid on time and at a fair rate, as well as helping you avoid later problems with taxes. Here are the basics of bookkeeping for writers:
Adopt a system where you track all your income and expenses. Don’t just throw all your receipts in a box. You may want to simply keep a spreadsheet, or use accounting software. There are also apps and tools that let you quickly scan receipts, to reduce data entry and simplify record-keeping.
Make a template that speeds your invoicing. Your invoices should always include your tax ID number, the client’s contact information, the rate, units, and a due date. Many accounting software systems also have automated reminders that prompt your clients if invoices are paid late.
Ugh. If you are disciplined about keeping good records all year, your taxes are faster and easier to do. And remember to set aside money all year long to pay your tax bill.
- Content mills: if you are writing for a content mill, review their tax policies closely: some of them will file tax documents on your behalf, while some won’t.
- Local regulations: depending on where you are, review your tax laws closely. You may be required to file quarterly instead of annually, or there may be deductions you can claim as a business owner.
Hire an accountant
If you can afford it, hire an accountant. A good accountant is worth every penny and will know about possible deductions and exemptions you aren’t aware of. You may want to simply hire an accountant for occasional consultation, if you are confident about your record-keeping and your ability to file on your own. Or you may want to hire an accountant to manage your taxes for you. Look for an accountant that specializes in solo-preneurships and who you like and trust: ask for recommendations, read reviews, and find a good match.
Small Business Marketing for Freelance Writers
No matter how small your freelance writing business is, it’s important to be aware of your marketing. An ongoing investment of time and energy in your marketing plan helps you have a more robust business that isn’t reliant on a single client or a single opportunity.
Clients and potential clients will search for you online. Have a professional presence on LinkedIn, social media, and maintain a blog or a website. You may eventually want to invest in having a professionally designed logo or website to create a better brand.
Increasing your visibility is a great way to grow your business, but driving traffic to your own blog can be a whole separate full-time job. Instead, create or re-publish pieces that you are particularly proud of on your LinkedIn profile, as a pinned Tweet, or on a public platform like Medium or Substack. If you write for a content mill or are on a freelance writing job platform, curate your profile on that platform, cultivate good ratings, and work to improve your visibility within that framework.
It’s a good idea to build and maintain a portfolio of writing samples and work you are especially proud of. You may want to build a few different portfolios for different clients or projects: perhaps you want to make a portfolio of technical writing samples, marketing content, or journalistic writing. This helps you more quickly respond to new project opportunities or client requests.
Freelance Writing Project and Client Management
You can’t run a business without customers, and your business can’t thrive without repeat customers. Project management skills help ensure that you deliver quality work on time, and client management skills help ensure that your clients want to work with you again and again.
Successful businesses have entire departments that do nothing but take care of clients full-time. Freelance writers have to do it on their own, while doing everything else. Your client management strategy requires you to:
- Be responsive. Respond to every client or potential client within 8 hours at most. Many freelance writing jobs are awarded to the first person who responds, and clients never want to be anxiously waiting to hear from you.
If they ask a question, answer the question. If they provide information, acknowledge that you got the information. If you receive a request for a pitch or proposal, even if you aren’t going to participate, respond promptly and politely decline the request, leaving the door open for future projects.
- Be proactive. Don’t leave things until the last minute. If you have a question about a project, ask it upfront. If you foresee problems with the specs or schedule, communicate with the client right away. For a long-term project, provide regular informational updates (for example, if you have a month to create an e-book, email the client once a week and briefly let them know how it’s going and that you’re still tracking on schedule).
- Be thoughtful. If a client has shared personal information (it’s their birthday, their child has the flu, etc), respond thoughtfully. Many small businesses cultivate customer relationships by sending holiday cards, or thank-you cards, or get-well-soon flowers.
You don’t have to send large, ostentatious gifts (and you shouldn’t – some companies have policies about receiving gifts from vendors), but take some time occasionally to let clients know that you care and appreciate them.
- Be professional. Look, everyone has an annoying client some times. For writers, it can be a huge challenge to remain calm and professional when receiving negative or conflicting feedback, or be asked to provide endless edits and revisions, or drop everything and respond to a client who always seems to be in crisis.
In those moments, it’s a good idea to take a deep breath, set aside your ego and frustration, and look at the situation impartially.
As a business owner, are these requests outside of the scope of the project? Are there processes you can implement or questions you could ask that would prevent these situations in the future? Is the rate you are charging fair compensation for the amount of time you are investing?
Try to suppress the urge to defend your choices as a writer, and instead communicate with the client as a professional and as a business owner.
Successful small businesses manage their time and schedule so that they can keep their commitments to their customers. Freelance writers need to do the same.
I’ve written a whole article about How to Track Your Copywriting Projects before, so I shan’t go into too much detail here.
Making and keeping a good schedule lets you know when you can deliver work to your clients. It lets you balance conflicting deadlines, communicate accurate expectations, and keeps you on task. Develop a schedule for each project and your own daily schedule to stay organized and meet your deadlines.
Time management and productivity
If you find yourself constantly distracted, working late to meet deadlines, and feeling out of control of your schedule, that’s no way to live. It’s stressful and frustrating for you and your clients. Research time management and productivity tools to help you use your time better.
Self-Care for Freelance Writers
When you work for yourself, it’s easy to lose sight of healthy self-care. But it’s just as important for freelance writers as it is for any small business. Think of yourself as a business owner, and consider the work environment, schedule, and benefits you’re offering yourself as an employee. Are you being a good boss?
Workspace and Ergonomics
Freelance writers can strain their eyes with screen glare and bad lighting, damage their wrists with repetitive keyboard actions, and harm their bodies with prolonged sitting. Good employers provide healthy work environments and ergonomic equipment to protect their employee’s long-term health and wellbeing. Can you do the same for yourself?
Breaks and Holidays
Give yourself breaks. Give yourself holidays. Writers require healthy breaks and vacations, because the work demands so much creativity and can be mentally exhausting. Also, creating breaks is so easy to do, because you control your schedule.
Perks and Benefits
Unlimited coffee. Working in your pajamas. Flexible schedule. A lot of employees would love those kinds of perks. Are you also giving yourself health insurance? A retirement plan? Discuss it with your accountant.
Business Tips for Freelance Writers – Summary
Being a freelance writer is like operating a word-producing factory. Half of you is wearing a tie and calling the shots, and the other half is wearing a hardhat and doing the grind. Make sure you’re taking care of both sides of the business, and yourself, for long-term success.