What it Takes to Make it as a Freelance Copywriter in 2015


Bob Bly

Bob Bly here, guest editor of The Writer’s Life this week.

Katie asked me to share with you what I believe it takes to make it as a successful freelance copywriter in 2015. It’s what I’ll be focusing on during my two Bootcamp presentations in October, and I hope to see you there.

In my keynote presentation, I’m going to talk about …

  • 15 ways the copywriting business has radically transformed over the past few years – and what it means for you.
  • The enormous new opportunities for copywriters created by the Internet.
  • My fool-proof litmus test for knowing whether you can earn six figures from a writing specialty.
  • How much money are freelance copywriters really earning today?
  • The 80/20 rule to a profitable and satisfying writing career.
  • The 10 best and worst things about freelance copywriting in 2015.
  • How to gain financial security as a freelancer with multiple streams of income.
  • 10 steps to launching your successful copywriting business.
  • And more.

But, the fact is, if pressed, I can boil down the keys to freelance writing success to just three essential items …

First, be really good.

When I launched my freelance copywriting career in February 1982, there were so few freelance copywriters that you could make a nice living even if you weren’t really that good.

In 2015, the market has been flooded with a new generation of newbie copywriters, so you face stiff competition.

Therefore, it’s not enough to be just okay. You have to be really good. Not great – few of us are – but really good.

You’ve already taken a big step toward getting good by studying with AWAI. Many freelance copywriters I talk with are not AWAI members. So, you have a huge advantage over them.

In addition to studying copywriting, you also have to practice – to write a lot of copy. This can be a combination of assignments for AWAI programs and other training, as well as actual promotions written for real clients. In my second presentation at Bootcamp this year, I’ll show you how to get those first clients.

Second, be dedicated.

Again, when I was starting out as a freelancer in 1982, a lot of copywriters had contempt for copywriting! They did it grudgingly to make money to support what they considered their “real writing” – books, novels, plays, poems, screenplays, whatever – which most never made a dime at.

I always put copywriting first and became a lifelong student and practitioner of the craft, doing it with gusto and enthusiasm. You should, too.

Third, find the right niche.

You can be a generalist. But specialists get paid more, are more in demand, and have an easier time getting clients and assignments.

How do you pick a niche? By asking yourself and then answering a few key questions. Namely, what are you passionate about? What interests you most? What do you know?

What is your education? Your work experience? Your specialized skills and training?

Then, determine which of these areas the market will pay you handsomely for. To paraphrase Aristotle: “Wherein the intersection of your interests and the needs of the public lie, therein lies your vocation.”

Tomorrow … how to get around having to compete with the top pros.

But for now, please take a minute to share your comments and questions here. What are your specialized skills and interests? How dedicated are you to turning that into a successful copywriting career this year?

About the Author:

Bob Bly has been a copywriter for 36 years, is the author of 85 published books, has a BS in chemical engineering, and writes both B2B and consumer direct response. McGraw-Hill calls Bob “America’s Top Copywriter.”

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Average: 4.6
Published: August 24, 2015

28 Responses to “What it Takes to Make it as a Freelance Copywriter in 2015”

  1. I love to travel.

    Georgette LeTourneau August 24, 2015 at 1:04 pm

  2. Hello Bob, I have been an AWAI member since April but haven't gotten very far into the course, spending my available time reading ferociously. I want to succeed as a writer and believe my marketing skills will help me but I am stuck. I am an excellent project manager and thought about using this to develop training materials. I love fitness and pondered incorporating my passion for my dog and garden into my love of fitness. I can't seem to take the plunge. Could you please give me a push?

    Lynn YAugust 24, 2015 at 1:26 pm

  3. Hello Bob,

    My interests are varied, however my degree is in marketing and I love doing research. I have recently launched a marketing solutions blog that to use for inbound marketing. As a copywriter I believe I will focus on b2b or perhaps email newsletters. I have a strong background in b2b marketing and sales. I am affiliated with Amway global and market tons of products and services as an independent business owner so all of this fits so well with where I am at and headed. thank you!

    JirehAugust 24, 2015 at 1:59 pm

  4. Dear Mr. Bly:

    It is a pleasure to read your impressions and suggestions regarding freelance copywriting. I have several of your books. You indicated that comments could be asked and answered. I have a Bachelors in Creative Writing and am learning the AWAI program. My novel "The Travelers" received a glowing review from prestigious PUBLISHERS WEEKLY but sales have not skyrocketed. What type of clients could attract with a niche in creative writing? Thank you taking time to answer. Keith McCoy

    Real McCoyAugust 24, 2015 at 3:08 pm

  5. Hi Mr. Bly, Is it possible to write in two very different markets such as Alternative Health and B2B? My passion is Alternative Health but my experience is in B2B.
    Thanks, Don

    Don DahlemAugust 24, 2015 at 3:17 pm

  6. Hi, Bob...I look forward to meeting you at my first Bootcamp this year! I I am finding that writing the copy for my freelance website is really helping me to zero in on my niche. I have gone from "I have no idea!" to "You know, I am really excited about writing blog posts, case studies, white papers and email newsletters....I love the idea of coming up with interesting content, and of successfully writing in a client's voice. I feel confident that, as I finish my website, I will discover which industries interest me. If not, my niche will be the type of writing I do. This is so exciting!

    Joyce HAugust 24, 2015 at 3:53 pm

  7. Finding the right niche is the biggest problem I have ran into. I worked for the government and have a history degree. I'm passionate about traveling. I haven't figured out how to work that into a particular niche yet.

    Guest (Lorie)August 24, 2015 at 4:58 pm

  8. I think the biggest issue I've had is in choosing the right niche. I've worked with accountants, with writers, with churches, trainers and sales people. I'd love to hear advice on how to know which niche is THE niche?

    Thank you!

    Guest (Jenny Hansen)August 24, 2015 at 5:12 pm

  9. I'm trying to reconcile what appears on the surface as a possible contradiction. (I'm currently in the "6-figure" course) All the AWAI promos say the demand is outstripping the supply. Get in now because the "pickins" are abundant. The other side of that is there are more new copywriters coming on line than ever before and therefore a lot more competition in that balance. I'm guessing both are true but clarification would be helpful. Thanks.

    Guest (Neal Browne)August 24, 2015 at 6:05 pm

  10. Hello Bob (my writing hero!) - I'm glad you brought out these 3 points for success as a freelance writer. After retiring from my long-time position as a water utility director, I've started H2O Writing. I'm banking on my 35+ years of water industry experience to write for people who provide those products and services. I have the dedication part down. Now, I just have to get really good!

    Donna KaluzniakAugust 24, 2015 at 6:31 pm

  11. I am so excited to learn from Bob Bly this week! I am working through the "romance" in the Accelerated Course (part 3) for my sales package project. I am a writer and journalist, new to copywriting, and loving it! My experience and passion is in copywriting for the online/virtual education industry. See you in October!

    SherriCAugust 24, 2015 at 10:45 pm

  12. Hi Bob, The Horticulture niche is the logical path for me to follow. My extensive experience is laden with knowledge and passion.
    Do you think I need to choose a specialty within this niche to initiate my writing journey...or will "Aristotle's intersection" ultimately identify my ideal, profitable niche?
    Thank you, GaryM

    GaryMAugust 25, 2015 at 8:04 am

  13. Dear Bob,

    I'm a literary translator by profession. My interest is writing, anything to do with words, love them. Writing copy, especially short copy, is very interesting to me. I know I can be good at at.

    I wonder if writing for the Web may be considered a niche?

    Thank you, Sasha

    Sasha A PalmerAugust 25, 2015 at 8:31 am

  14. Thank you Bob for the testimony and justification of the work and experience you have acquired for now over 30 years, and for working in close partnership with AWAI.
    I have no doubt about it because I have read several documents and writeup from AWAI, and got not only interested but inspired to test my skills in writing.
    However,my shortcoming is that I have failed to strike an agreement with AWAI officials,about how to rout payment to them.

    Guest (KIGOZI ALEX)August 25, 2015 at 9:57 am

  15. (Sorry about all those exclamation points in my previous comment-- wow, in my enthusiasm, I appear kind of hyper, which I am not.) Looking forward to today's installment. ;-)

    SherriCAugust 25, 2015 at 12:15 pm

  16. Hi Bob!
    I'm looking forward to this week. On one of your bullet points, I'm curious about the 80/20 rule that you mentioned. I am also exploring my options as to a niche. Right now I am looking at B2B, and may eventually settle on two or three niches. We'll see. :-)
    The stress and long hours of my current job is enormous, but I am keen on getting my first paying client before the end of the year. I cannot make it to Bootcamp this year but planning NOW for my attendance there next Fall. Cheers!

    RockyBalladAugust 25, 2015 at 3:11 pm

  17. Good Afternoon Bob, great article.

    I stepped past the 6 figure course, took Research, then Smart Start Copy-writing, then Creating eMail Newsletters.

    My niche is Alternative Health as I have always used this, and done research on it as well.

    MY Niche is B2B within Alternative Health, and I intend to write eNewsLetters, delivered by eMail in the HTML format. I do not wish to compete in sales within the niche with the next greatest product.

    I will happily work with B2B companies to support their existing and prospective relationships.

    I am leaning toward writing one for my business as a founder with ICANetwork, and the QR code etc.

    Please let me know if I am all wet, or here I can fine tune some more.

    Dale

    Guest (Dale - NoMoHype)August 25, 2015 at 3:21 pm

  18. Thank you Bob for sharing your experience and expertise. Frankly, I am having difficulty finding the right niche. I am a pharmacist that has also been a leader. I have been in sales to the biomedical research market. I love medicine, business, and discussions on leadership. Then too, I love to discuss the stock market and commodities.

    My best "shot" from what I can determine is to write technical papers for b2b. I would love to become the next great White Paper guy!

    Bradley GAugust 25, 2015 at 4:09 pm

  19. Thanks Bob for your wonderful in sites and suggestions. My background is in Commercial Interior Design, which I've done for over 30 years. With that said, my passions are photography, traveling, Green Design, Eco-Fashions & Sustainability. With Design-Project Management experience, I'm hoping to find a niche in one or more of these fields. I'm not seeing a lot along these lines, so any and all advise is welcomed as I truly aspire to be among the gifted & talented copywriters of our day!

    Gemma MooreAugust 25, 2015 at 8:43 pm

  20. Hello Bob,

    Thanks for sharing your insights.

    I have worked for in the hi-tech telecom industry for several years, have a Masters in engineering. But the "right side" of my brain also blossomed with many achievements in writing/video production/music etc.
    I have recently launched my full-time B2B freelance copywriting after getting trained at AWAI. My niche is software, hi-tech, companies who innovate next generation of Internet technologies. That's my interest and I know it well, I also know there's a need for good writers in this sector. But do you believe copywriting/content would be appreciated/valued by this sector enough so I can make a good living writing only for this sector for next 5-10 years?

    Guest (Sravani)August 26, 2015 at 9:12 am

  21. I write a good blog that gets a fair amount of attention. I rank page one for several keyword phrases. I want to start writing more focused blogs on the topics readers seem to want -- determined by google analytics and what people are searching and finding me for.

    I'm definitely determined...

    Guest (Katherine)August 26, 2015 at 9:54 am

  22. Bob, I'm "really good"; "dedicated"; and have definitely "found the right niche." Architecture. Though, lately, it's not getting the bills paid. How can I invoke my tangential writing skills into a customized copywriting niche that can best make use of my tremendous sketching ability and 3D analytic thinking? 500yrs ago, for example, my hero Leonardo da Vinci lost his last client in Italy and, at 62 (like me), fled his motherland to do party favors for King Francis of France. No thanks.

    Guest (Chris Morris)August 26, 2015 at 11:36 am

  23. I have a BA in English, with license to teach. Is there work for a proofreader? I go nuts when I see mistakes and I want to correct them! Sorry, but ending a sentence with a preposition is a rule in English. I have read that breaking rules is something done in copywriting, I may have a hard time with this idea. I am in the 3rd section of six-figure course and again sorry for noticing this mistake. It's a habit!!! I think your great and I also would love for my niche to be in education. Writing for McGraw Hill is awesome! When I read that my heart sank though, I couldn't possibly compete with you. I am going to order your handbook soon. Happy writing.

    Guest (Lisa Osborn)August 27, 2015 at 9:24 am

  24. GREETINGS Bob,

    Sir, thank you for this wonderful article as it produces ideas and adventures to become a copywriter.

    Namely, what are you passionate about?
    I really love working on older cars like 50's to 70's, Hiking.
    What interests you most?
    Hiking, Outdoors, machines, science, research.
    What do you know?
    What I know is not suitable to continue struggling along. What I will know from A.W.A.I. will further my learning and education to sustain our future.
    What is your education?
    See above.
    Your work experience?
    For 40 years I have simply blundered along. A.W.A.I. will dramatically alter the course.
    Your specialized skills and training?
    All skills and abilities, I am as yet unaware of a "specialty".

    Thanks B 2 You!
    CHEERS!!

    G Eric GaitherAugust 31, 2015 at 9:10 pm

  25. I love history, astronomy, alternative health, and biology. I've worked mostly government jobs, the most satisfying was with the IRS trying to help others resolve their tax problems. I've been a counselor or sorts at a therapeutic boarding school for at-risk teenagers. I have a keen desire to assist others to their full potential. What industries could use me?

    Guest (Chapp)September 2, 2015 at 6:51 pm

  26. Confidence in your copywriting abilities is a must. If you’re not adamant you can produce the results the client is after, you’ll never be able to convince the client.
    Good luck and happy writing!

    Guest (ApprovemeDigitalsignature)September 8, 2015 at 1:33 am

  27. Hi Bob, You always give us some valuable insights into the world of copywriting with great suggestions to help us succeed... thank you for sharing your 30+ years as a top writer, with us!

    A comment another reader made that I think is vital to success ... CONFIDENCE in your ability is essential!

    Christopher McCargarOctober 13, 2015 at 12:23 am

  28. Confidence in your copywriting abilities is a must. If you’re not adamant you can produce the results the client is after, you’ll never be capacity to convince the client.

    Guest (EsignatureApproveMe)November 4, 2015 at 11:57 pm


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