Freelance Copywriting Questions & Answers From the Live Facebook Chat with AWAI’s President, Rebecca Matter

On Friday, September 5th, AWAI’s President, Rebecca Matter answered reader’s freelance copywriting questions via live chat on Facebook.

She wanted to know – what you needed most to move forward with your freelance career goals.

The response to this live event was amazing! Over 25 unique questions were asked and Rebecca answered each and every one with some top notch advice.

Weren’t able to make it to the live chat?

No worries. The full transcript from the live chat is displayed below, so that you too can benefit from these common freelance and copywriting queries.

Make sure to join us on Facebook for future chats and events.

Question #1 – I just want to be a freelance writer and don't know where to start … Any tips? – Kesha J.

The first step is to choose a path. There are numerous opportunities for writers to make a living. But typically you should choose one to start. I usually recommend copywriting, because it gives you a lot of flexibility. But I know many successful writers who make a living writing resumes, grants, social media updates, travel articles and more. So pick a path, and then get the skills needed to do the work. If you want to learn more about copywriting, there’s a good report at www.thewriterslife.com.

Question #2 – What should I be prepared with to get a client as copywriter? – Raju B.

It depends on what services you’re offering, and who the potential client is. Some – like me – will want to hear about what you think you can do that’s specific to my company. I’m not really interested in portfolios full of copy that isn’t relevant to my business. But other clients will want to see writing samples, so it’s a good idea to have a few examples of any services you’re offering to write. I also recommend having a website. It’s a great “test” to see how well the writer can write/sell.

Question #3 – What are some pointers on reaching out to clients now? – David T.

Remember the first impressions are crucial, and you don’t need to worry about closing them on the first connect. Your job as a writer is to provide solutions to a problem/challenge the client is having. So start the conversation by identifying some solutions you bring to the table. Example: “Hi Rebecca, I’ve been reading your eletter for years and I think some content videos would help you engage with your readers on a deeper level. I’ve got some ideas and could help you create them quickly.” I would provide more detail when emailing the client, but you get the idea. You want to make it easy for the person to say “yes, let’s do it.”

And then keep the conversation warm by following up with them regularly – providing new relevant information, and reminding them what you can do for them. As a side note, Li Vasquez-Noone just landed a gig by doing this exact thing. It's why the example was so fresh in my mind!

Question #4 – Having no experience with copywriting, what is the best way to get clients to hire you? Clients tend to look for those with experience, but how do you gain the experience if no one will give you the opportunity? – Kellie H.

One way is to offer to write on spec. AWAI member Roy Furr was actually a master at this when he started out. You offer to write the copy for them for free. And if they’re happy with it and want to use it, they pay you. If they’re not, no worries. You now have a sample you can show the next potential client. Keep in mind once you land a few of those though, your strategy changes, and you no longer offer to write on spec. It's just a way to get started.

Also remember, you don’t need to tell people that you’re “new.” I know plenty of writers who studied hard and were very capable of writing good copy with their very first client. So make sure you have a good website that sells you as a high-quality copywriter. And never reveal just how much experience you have unless it comes up. Let your writing speak for itself!

Question #5 – I have taken the Live Accelerated Program and loved it! I have since purchased several programs, but not sure which one to start first in order to get my freelance business going. Here are the classes I have: Email Copy Made Easy, Freelance Website in Four Days, Making the Leap, Roadmap to Web Writing, and Web Copywriting 2.0. – Kellie L.

You have plenty of good programs to get up and running. So based on what you already have, I would recommend taking Web Copywriting 2.0 first. Then it’s time to launch your web-writing business. So put up your website, using Freelance Website in Four Days, and start going through the Roadmap to Web Writing put together by Mindy McHorse. (She’s a great person to learn from by the way – a true success story with a proven track record. Her advice is based on real experience.) Then you can take Email Copy Made Easy so that you can offer email campaigns to your clients in addition to web copy. And finally, Making the Leap comes into the mix when you’re ready to transition to full-time freelance. That one was put together by Roy Furr – another true success story with a proven track record. Hope that helps!

Question #6 – Can my blog writing be used as experience for clients? How do I get experience any other way and once I have experience how do I let perspective clients know, or even find those clients? – Joshua S.

Absolutely – especially if the blog content is relevant to the clients you’re targeting. As for more experience, one way is to offer to do work on spec as I discussed above. But really, if you have a good website, and you’re able to effectively write emails to sell yourself to clients, you should be able to find paying work.

As far as reaching out to prospects goes, as you gain more and more experience, it’s always ok to follow-up and say, “Rebecca, I just wrote this incredible email campaign for XYZ company. It gave me an idea that I could write about for you.”

And finally, with regards to where you can find clients, we’ve recently put together a report that you can download free right now over on The Barefoot Writer on 10 places to find clients. http://www.thebarefootwriter.com/free-reports

Question #7 – Is B2B still a huge industry that is needing lots of good copywriters? How does the Healthcare Market look in B2B? – Lisa B.

I don’t know a lot about healthcare specifically, but YES, B2B is still huge for writers. And it’s often the right path for most aspiring writers. The reason is that you can leverage all of your past working experience when promoting your copywriting business. So for example, let’s say you have 15 years experience in healthcare, and I have 15 years experience writing. If a healthcare company is looking for a copywriter who’s knowledgeable about his industry, you’ll win out every time.

Question #8 – How exactly do you start? There is a lot of great information available for you once you begin your copywriting business, but how do you begin? What is the first thing to do? – ChurchSec1

First step, define your business and choose a niche. You should be able to say something like: “I want to be a <insert type like B2B, web, etc.> copywriter, working in the <specific> industry, for these types of clients, writing these types of projects. Once you have that step done, you’re able to put together a plan on how to proceed. You’ll know exactly what skills you need to learn, and you’ll be able to research potential clients because you’ll have an industry focus. Then you’ll put up a website that clearly lays out the services you provide and who your ideal client is, and start contacting them!

Question #9 – Can we use our spec assignments on our website? If so, what would they be called, samples or something else? – Lisa B.

Absolutely! I can think of two people off the top of my head that launched their entire copywriting business with their vitamin assignment from AWAI’s Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting. As long as you don’t use the company’s name, you can call it a sample. Because it truly is a sample of your writing – and when clients ask for samples, that's what they want. A sample of your writing. You just don't want to name the company unless they’re a real client. Change it something fictitious if need be.

Question #10 – Do you recommend that those of us just starting our own freelance businesses incorporate? I read Will Newman's article about this, which was helpful, but do you have an opinion one way or the other? – Tim M.

I’ll always advise you talk to a lawyer or accountant for any legal or accounting advice. But I can tell you that I did not incorporate my own business until I had quite a bit of income flowing through it, and was sure I was going to keep doing it.

Question #11 – When applying for jobs in a field for which you've not written yet, is it better to send them samples of other work or to work up a sample of something related to their field? I'm struggling with what to include when applying for opportunities on line. – Diane

It’s always going to be stronger if you can present samples that are relevant to the company. That being said, you have to value your time too. My advice is to try and focus your prospects a bit to a few industries, so that you can come up with ideas and samples that are relevant, and not spend a lot of time recreating the wheel every time you reach out to a new prospect.

Keep in mind too, often a well-written sales letter or website can be just as good as samples. So keep that in mind when approaching companies.

Question #12 – Assuming that a person has written as an employee for several years (e.g., sales literature, higher education curriculum, display ads, etc.) and is now jumping into the freelance side of copywriting, what advice would you offer for kicking things off in the next four to eight weeks? I've joined The Barefoot Writer and enrolled in AWAI’s Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting. I'm jumping in with both feet! – Guy

Welcome Guy! And congratulations on your next chapter. My advice would be to get through the Six-Figure program, choose your niche, and get your website up (all at the same time). Then define the clients you want to work for and get cracking. With your experience I have to assume you’ll have plenty to show potential clients, and assuming you’re able to make a good first impression should have no trouble getting your foot in the door. The key for you will be time management. Ensure you’re focused, you have a plan every week, and that you’re spending time on the efforts that have the most impact.

Feel free to reach out to me directly if there’s anything more specific you need help with, especially as you start moving forward with promoting yourself. Good luck!

Question #13 – 1) Can you give a checklist or talking points cheat sheet about communication with a client? Someone calls and says, "Well, I'm trying to do this, and I need help with XX." What are the major points to cover in beginning a client relationship and getting a potential job off to a good, clear start? 2) how much formatting should my letter include? For instance, side bars, testimonial boxes, fonts, graphs, text wrapping, photos, etc. Do I include any or all of that, or do I send a relatively clean Word document and let the client's design department format? Also: footnoting proof elements: if I cite numbers and such, do I just put footnote numbers through the document and list sources on the final page? – Collette R.

Hey Collette! There is a lot in this question. But here goes …

For the first one, defining the scope of a project, that’s way too much to cover in this chat. I highly recommend you get access to AWAI’s new Essential Business Templates. (You’re COS – right? So you get for free?) There’s an “intake form” as one of the templates that will help you. (Details here: https://www.awai.com/essentialbusinesstemplates). But the bottom line is you want to make sure you understand what the client wants – from length, tone, results, all of it. The more you understand what their vision is for the final piece, the more likely you’ll end up submitting something they’ll be happy with.

RE the formatting, don’t worry about that. Just be clear in your document with **** and highlighting like: *** sidebar starts *** sidebar ends ***. That being said, if you feel strongly about the design, and want to make sure the designer understands your vision, you can definitely include more formatting. And if you’re writing for the web, it does help to show the client where things will go visually. But no matter what, a clean word document that does not have a lot of formatting should be included. That way the production team doesn’t have to strip all of it out.

And finally, for footnotes, you can do it either way. As long as the client has the proof/citations somewhere, you should be fine.

Holler if you need more specifics on anything!

Question #14 – I'm about to do a direct response mailing advertising my copywriting services much the way Bob Bly did (500-600) pieces. I'd like to know a little more about that. That is, which size envelope- # 10? If so, I guess a standard size reply postcard wouldn't go in this package? If you have a logo, should it be printed on the postcard and/or the letter? And, if you write several types of formats (web, letters, ads, white papers, etc.), how many services do you mention – list all, most or a few? – Faith S.

You can use a #10, but it's great if you can get your piece to stand out from the stack of envelopes on the clients desk. And you don’t necessarily need to do a standard size reply card. You could direct them to your website, or a phone number to follow up. And logos are great because they show you as a professional.

As for number of services you offer (and this is relevant to websites too), focus on the ones that are most in demand and have the highest value. Clients don’t want a “jack of all trades,” and regardless will ask you if you can do other things if needed. Focus on the ones that will most likely get them in the door.

I'd love to ask Mac Bull to also jump in on this one. He’s been very effective at getting clients using direct mail and will have some more specific advice for you that’s based on his own proven results. And he just wrote a great piece about it on http://www.b2bwritingsuccess.com.) For some reason my tagging isn't working for some people on this chat – but if you head over to the B2B Copywriters FB group, Mac is active there and actually has a thread on this very topic.

Question #15 – One recurring problem I've been faced with in "tracking down" potential clients is actually getting a specific name; something to follow the "Dear … " in any letter of introduction, cold call, etc. I've got my niche, have compiled a sizeable collection of potential client companies, but I'm hitting a wall when it comes to getting in touch with the specific individuals who would be in need of my services. I'd be interested in any tips you may have regarding this. – Dan D.

LinkedIn is a great resource. Often times most people have their job title and company listed in their profile. The other way is the tried and true way of calling the receptionist and doing a little intel to uncover the right person. Once you have them, let them know the person who “recommended” you speak to them. It often drops the “cold call” guard they may have up. Example: “I write web copy for the solar technology industry and NAME recommended I speak to you.”

Question #16 – I attended the recent webinar on copywriting. However, I'm still unsure how I can start working as a copywriter. Where & how to start. Picking a niche & finding clients, etc. I'm still feeling like I need some other training. Can a course be developed to assist? – Lanice

Hi Lanice – I always recommend AWAI’s Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting. Along with giving you the skills you need to get out there and start working, it ends with direction on getting clients and picking a niche. And if you need more help with those topics, we have a great program by Nick Usborne called Marketing Confidence. He walks you through everything step-by-step from defining your business and picking a niche, to identifying good prospects and actually reaching out and closing the deal. Those two programs will easily give you everything you need to get started.

Question #17 I'm currently doing the program and I am writing down side notes as I re-write the exercises in hopes that I can discover what I'm finding. What things should we look for, specifically? There were examples in Part 1, but I don't understand what to look for, even then. – Cayce B.

First let me congratulate you on doing the exercises – many are tempted to skip them, but they play a very big role in learning how to write effective persuasive copy. As you move through the program though, you’ll learn more and more things to look for. At first, you’re looking for the promise, picture, proof, and push. And later, you’ll be looking for the pieces of the sales letter – the headline, lead, offer, PS, etc. And then ultimately you’ll be able to spot bigger things like the big idea and USP. It’s all covered in the program, so don’t worry – it’s coming! Eventually you won’t be able to read a piece of sales copy without spotting all the elements – even when you’re not trying.

Question #18 – B2B seems like a lucrative niche with a huge demand, but … is there an opportunity to earn royalties/residual income within this niche? – Lisa L.

B2B is awesome for many reasons – but royalties are not one of the benefits. And the reason is that so many pieces go into the sales process … so no one sale can be tracked back to a specific promotion. It would make royalties impossible. The good thing, however, is that B2B companies expect to pay professional fees, are loyal, and have un-ending projects. So you can make a very good living with only a few clients. If you go this route and want to also make residual income, I would recommend also putting up a money-making website.

Question #19 – If you have taken the six figure course and web copy 2.0 – are you really ready to take clients? – JNL

Absolutely. I literally have taught those programs to in-house copywriting and marketing teams through consulting arrangements, and felt confident walking away knowing they had what they needed to write good web copy. And I require every copywriter who works for me to take them if they haven’t already. You have what you need – so go out there and get started!

Now will you get better with experience? Of course. I’ve been writing for over a decade and every few years look back and feel slightly embarrassed by the work I thought was so good at the time. But it WAS good back then – it’s just not as good as what I can do now.

Question #20 – Where can I have some samples reviewed and honed by more experienced writers? – William D.

There are loads of people offering review services. I suspect if you do a search you'll find plenty of people wanting your business, and I'd be surprised if someone doesn't pitch you right after this chat. But what you need depends on where you are in your education – if you're far along and want to hire a mentor to review your work before sending it to a client, then I'd go for an experienced copywriter with a proven track record – people like Roy Furr, Sean McCool, Joshua T Boswell, etc. (I can give you more if you'd like). But if you're just starting out, remember that a lot of AWAI's programs come with copy reviews – including the Six-Figure Copywriting Course, the Companion Series, Circle of Success, and Email Copy Made Easy, and often we run specials a few times a year where we'll offer critiques with programs like Web Copywriting 2.0. So you're welcome to call Member Services and see if you already have access to a free critique.

Question #21 – What's the typical size of a B2B copy? It seems like it's almost the equivalent of writing a research paper or a dissertation but with a selling undertone. Is this true? – CJ

They vary from project to project. You're thinking of a white paper, which is only one type of B2B copy. Case studies (success stories) for example are around 1500 words, lead gen pieces can be as small as a 500 word email, video scripts usually equate to a page per minute, etc. B2B copywriters have a variety of project types that they can offer – it's one of the many benefits of B2B!

In addition, other than lead gen pieces which are typically trying to "sell" the person to give their contact details so the company can follow-up, most B2B pieces actually don't do much selling.

Question #22 – When you say, "choose a niche" Does that mean choose a specific business industry like healthcare or bed and breakfasts or hotels or radio broadcasting etc? – Joshua

Yes, when I say choose a niche, I usually mean pick an industry like healthcare, alternative health, golf, etc. And often times – if the industry is huge like healthcare – I'll then recommend you choose a more specific niche (or niches) within that industry. It makes identifying and reaching out to potential clients easier, and it allows you to specialize and increase your perceived value.

Question #23 – When creating a website for your clients to see, what should it look like, exactly? What time of "domain" and "name" should you create for it? Also, do you send it in as part of a resume when you are sending in your specs or samples to a potential client? – Cayce

I recommend you spend some time checking out some of AWAI's successful copywriters and the websites they have for themselves. People like Roy Furr, Pam Foster, Sean McCool, Joshua T Boswell, Christina Allsop, Christina Gillick, Jim Wright … they will give you a good idea of what you're looking for. And yes, you'll want to include your website (which can include your samples if you have any) when communicating with potential clients.

Question #24 – How do emotions and benefits work together? – Sheila

When writing persuasive copy, part of your preliminary work is to determine which emotions you're going to try and stimulate in your prospect. And then you'll want to find the benefits in the product or service your selling that stimulate those emotions, solve the problem you've identified, etc.

We talk A LOT about emotions and benefits in the Six-Figure Copywriting program.

Question #25 – I have no way of being able to afford these programs … Are there scholarships available? – Joshua

Interesting idea Joshua! And one that we've actually talked about doing in the past for our annual Bootcamp. But we have loads of free content on the AWAI website. I recommend you start there, and as you start to make money, then consider investing in more training that can speed up your progress. It takes a bit more work to go that route, because you have to filter through everything on your own, but it's definitely do-able. And in the meantime, I'll bring up the scholarship idea with my partner, Katie Yeakle.

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Published: September 10, 2014

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