Hard Lessons I’ve Learned in Over 10 Years of Copywriting

“Be a copywriter,” they said. “It will be fun,” they said.

If you don’t remember the “It will be fun, they said,” meme, I’m officially old enough for a night serum. But I digress.

I’ve been a copywriter and content writer for nearing 11 years now. I got my first paid writing gig for a university’s student newspaper (at a college I didn’t even go to) and got paid $15 an article. Not really enough to live on, even in 2011 Austin, Texas, but I knew I’d found something that not only was I really good at, but something that I really, really loved doing.

Flashforward to now, I own a copywriting agency with two full time writers, a COO, a designer, and a slew of badass freelancers who pick up work when they can. My career now is a far cry from my $15 articles, but what I’ve learned over the years has been worth every penny I didn’t make back when I first started.

The Biggest Lessons I’ve Learned (So You Don’t Make the Same Mistakes)

In over a decade, it’s safe to say that I’ve made a ton of mistakes. I’ve worked with clients I knew in my gut weren’t a fit, I’ve undervalued my skills, I’ve earned (and lost) a lot of money doing things the wrong way.

Here are the 7 biggest lessons I’ve learned during my copywriting career (so far).

1. Don’t Lower Your Prices to Undercut Your Competition

Your competition charges lower prices than you for a reason. Maybe they don’t have the skills you do. Maybe they don’t know their own value. Maybe they’re lowering their prices so that they can win a bid on another less expensive copywriter (which results in all of us underpricing ourselves, but that’s for a different blog post).

 No matter the reason, your competition’s prices have nothing to do with yours. Know your worth, charge your worth, and deliver.

2. Don’t Blindly Trust New Clients

Once you’ve been working with a client for a period of several months or years, and they’ve paid on time, every time, you’re probably safe to shift payment terms or invoice after the work is completed.

For first time clients, invoice up front for part -or all- of the project. And if for some reason you can’t, don’t submit work until it’s paid for in full.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve trusted new clients to pay at the end of their project for them to take the work, use it, and then completely disappear from the face of the Earth. 

3. Contracts. Contracts. Contracts.

In the earliest days of my career, all I wanted to do was land more clients. I didn’t know anything about contracts, I didn’t know how they protected me as a business owner and I didn’t know what should go into a contract. I never used them. 

I’m also a recovering people-pleaser, so I thought my attitude of “nope, no contracts needed. I’m easy to work with and I’ll do whatever it takes to make the client happy,” was going to earn me more business.

I couldn’t have been more wrong, for a couple of reasons.

One, I had clients take advantage of this and press me for more and more and more work (see: scope creeping, but I didn’t have anything to back myself up) without paying me what they should have. 

Two, when you don’t use a contract, people are less likely to take you seriously, and they assume that you’re either unprofessional or just don’t know what you’re doing. And in the end, they’re actually LESS likely to work with you.

Bottom line: Issue a contract. Every time. I don’t care if it’s your mother. Every client signs a contract. 

4. Last-Minute Copy Requests Should Have a Rush Fee

Last minute requests happen, even with your most consistent and organized clients. But that doesn’t mean it’s ok to drop everything else you’ve got going on (including other client work) to take it on. If you take last minute requests, it needs to be worth it for you. Rush fee, rush fee, rush fee.

5. Not Every Client is a Fit

This one can be really discouraging to newer copywriters. 

I totally understand wanting to take work from anyone who wants to hire you when you’re first building your career. But, working with the wrong clients will be detrimental long term.

The wrong clients won’t mesh with your communication style.

The wrong clients are in a niche you have zero interest in writing about.

The wrong clients give you a vibe…and you’ll know it when they do.

Working with clients who aren’t a fit for you will lead to extra work on your part, unnecessary stress, and in the end, work you aren’t really proud of.

6. Outsource What You Can’t Do

Freelancers are business owners. As your freelance copywriting business grows, your list of hats to wear grows, too.

If you can’t give 100% to your clients because you’re too busy doing your bookkeeping, project management, and keeping track of your calendar, it’s time to hire someone to do those tasks. Virtual assistants and bookkeepers will revolutionize the way you do business.

7. Stay On Top of YOUR OWN Projects

Spending all of your time on client projects can sometimes leave you drained at the end of the week, but don’t neglect your own projects.

Business ebbs and flows. That’s the way it is. You might be overloaded with work now, but your lead flow should be consistent. Staying on top of your own sales pages, social media content, outreach, blog posts, podcast,  and everything else that keeps you relevant in your space.

Take Heed, My Copywriter Friend

If I could go back and teach my 20-something year old copywriter self anything, it would be these seven lessons. So, learn from my 10+ years of mistakes and start your copywriting career off solid.

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