25 Lessons I Learned from 25 Years as a Freelance Writer

Steve Slaunwhite accepting his 2016 Copywriter of the Year Award from AWAI
Katie Yeakle, Rebecca Matter, Steve Slaunwhite, and Gordon Graham celebrate Steve’s 2016 Copywriter of the Year win at Bootcamp

This month, I celebrated 25 years as a self-employed copywriter (slash consultant, slash trainer, slash other vocations I’ve tried!) So, I thought it would be interesting to list all I’ve learned about being a successful freelancer and share that with you.

Frankly, when I started making this list, I wondered what I would write that had helped me over the years. But, as my list grew, I realized that I had more than a few ideas that might help my fellow compatriots succeed in this competitive world of solo-ing.

So, here goes (in no particular order) …

1. Don’t be a low-end service provider. Offer a premium service; something you can be proud of. Price accordingly.

2. Never stop marketing. Prospecting, networking, etc. Even when you’re booked solid. Especially when you’re booked solid.

3. Love your clients. After all, they pay for the many things — if not everything — in your life. (I’m paraphrasing my friend and famed UK copywriter, Andy Maslen.)

4. Make friends with fellow solo professionals, ideally those a little more successful than you.

5. Give new freelancers a helping hand whenever you can. Share your advice, freely. When you do, you’re not only doing the right thing, you’re investing in the health and vibrancy of this profession.

6. Pay yourself a regular “salary.” Like a good business owner, commit — really, really commit — to never missing your payroll.

7. Give your clients a 5-star experience when working with you. Every time. Don’t take long-time, regular clients for granted. If anything, you should be giving them a 6-star experience!

8. Don’t envy successful people in your field. Learn from them.

9. Strive to be the best at what you do. You may not end up being the best, but you’ll probably get close. Push yourself to be a little better each week. Strive, grow.

10. Don’t miss deadlines. If the client doesn’t give you one, set the deadline yourself. (A tip I learned from Bob Bly.)

11. If you wake up in the morning not looking forward to your day, something’s wrong. Find out what that is. Fix it, fast.

12. Return client calls and emails promptly. If possible, the same day.

13. When you take a day off, really take it off. No work. No emails. No business reading.

14. Earn a Ph.D. in your client’s business. Learn all about what they do, what they sell, who their ideal customers are — and how you can help. You’ll need this to accomplish #15 …

15. Become a linchpin in your client’s business. Be “that guy” or “that gal” who’s indispensable to them. (For a great definition of this, read Seth Godin’s Linchpin.)

16. Get to know the players. In your field. And in the industry you target.

17. Reach out to and, if possible, meet with one new contact each week. Ideally, someone who could potentially hire you, recommend you, or just be a valuable professional connection in some other way. (Nod to Lindsay Ratowsky.)

18. Create a positive, stimulating environment in which to work. For me, that’s my home office, with my paintings adorning the walls, guitar in the corner, favorite books on the shelf. Make your workspace an oasis.

19. Don’t hang onto the past. Things change. Chances are, you’ll need to update your skills, or do a complete pivot, every couple of years. Don’t be the freelancer who still specializes in software CDs when the industry has moved on to SaaS.

20. Be good with money. Be “Suze Orman” good. Have enough in the bank to pay your business and personal expenses for at least six months. If you can’t do that now, make it a goal. Even if it takes you five years of scrimping and saving, you’ll be glad you did it.

21. Take on the occasional tough or unfamiliar project. It will stretch you. Years ago, I taught a 3-day seminar having previously only handled half-day sessions. I was as nervous as an acrophobic about to do a bungee jump. But now multi-day workshops are within my comfort zone.

22. Act like a consultant, not a temp employee. You’re an equal with your client. You offer a valuable business service. Always present yourself that way.

23. Success isn’t about getting gigs, it’s about building relationships. One-off gigs will make you tired. Regular clients with recurring projects will make you inspired.

24. If you’re not getting half your new business through referrals, you’re doing something wrong. Fix it. (Tom Stoyan told me that 20 years ago and I never forgot it.)

25. Never submit your work to a client unless you’re in love with it yourself. That means doing your best, wow-worthy work, every time.

After 25 years, you might think I follow these tenets religiously these days. Ahhh, no. Not always. I slip up more times than I care to admit. But, as I said in #9, it’s all about striving to be the best you can be.

So, my overall advice to my fellow freelancers is … keep on striving!

I recently recorded an interview with Rebecca about the B2B market and what I see happening in the industry right now. You can check it out here.

Do you have any questions about getting started as a B2B copywriting freelancer? Share them in the comments so we can get you the answers.

Modern B2B Copywriting

Modern B2B Copywriting

Learn everything you need to know to succeed as a B2B copywriter from marketing your services to writing copy and everything in between. Learn More »

Click to Rate:
Average: 5.0
Published: August 31, 2020

5 Responses to “25 Lessons I Learned from 25 Years as a Freelance Writer”

  1. Yes.
    So for B2B emails or sales letters, sometimes you're writing to multiple business owners who are prospects, how do you study that wide array of prospects? Normally, in B2C, you consider the prospect as one person cause the list of prospects have one particular desire to fulfill or problem to solve, but how do you handle that with B2B, where you may have different prospects with different businesses, and maybe different fears or desires? Also, how do you address those different prospects?

    Fadeela Ali

  2. Thank you Mr.Steven for your pearls of wisdom which not only apply to copy writing but to any work you do be it as an employee or a freelancer.I especially liked point nos 1-10 with no.1 being most important.
    So many people desperate to get clients charge nickel and dime rates then complain about not getting well paid clients.You must see yourself as a professional and charge accordingly.


  3. It is amazing when a veteran can tie up twenty years worth of solid experience in twenty five compressed and compact statements. statements that touches everyone in the profession, no matter how senior or junior you are in this profession or any other for that matter, there is a feast of advice in this template to follow. Great stuff, well done.

    Prolific Penster

  4. Steve, your tips are like pure gold to create and veteran copywriters. I especially like number 12. Your clients have time constraints just like you do. Don’t leave them out in the cold. Answer those emails and calls promptly. Your clients will fee rewarded that you care for them, and it will make you feel good too.

    Guest (Pam Lokkerrsquos )

  5. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences! I'm experienced in both PR & writing, though I'm branching out on my own for the first time. I'm trying to figure out the best "pitch" to get in the door. And what about the best platform to do this .. I hear successes on LinkedIn, though I can't say the same. Thanks in advance for your advice! - Christina

    Guest (Christina )

Guest, Add a Comment
Please Note: Your comments will be seen by all visitors.

You are commenting as a guest. If you’re an AWAI Member, Login to myAWAI for easier commenting, email alerts, and more!

(If you don’t yet have an AWAI Member account, you can create one for free.)

This name will appear next to your comment.

Your email is required but will not be displayed.

Text only. Your comment may be trimmed if it exceeds 500 characters.

Type the Shadowed Word
Too hard to read? See a new image | Listen to the letters

Hint: The letters above appear as shadows and spell a real word. If you have trouble reading it, you can use the links to view a new image or listen to the letters being spoken.

(*all fields required)