Copywriting Basics - Marketing Your Copywriting Services
In this article, we address the crucial question of how to attract clients for your copywriting business.
We start by looking at the main potential clients for a copywriter - businesses and advertising agencies. We examine agencies in some detail, looking at what they do, how they are structured and how they normally operate (crucial knowledge if you hope to work for them!) We go on to examine why clients may need your services, and what they will expect from you as a freelance copywriter.
The article then discusses how to actually apply for work, including a model letter you can adapt to your own circumstances. We discuss the 'Catch-22' dilemma of how to get the experience clients to require when you are starting out, emphasizing the need for patience and persistence. We advise on creating a portfolio to impress potential clients. And finally, we look at setting up your own website to promote your copywriting services, including a basic guide to website planning and structure.
THE MAIN TYPES OF CLIENT FOR A COPYWRITER
As indicated above, the potential clients for a copywriter fall into two main categories:
businesses and advertising agencies.
Occasionally, because copywriting work is so diverse, you may come across other types of the client as well, including charities, schools and colleges, publishing houses, national and local government organizations, and even private individuals. In general, however, businesses and agencies will be your main sources of work, and they are likely to be the best potential clients to target initially.
Such clients can be wide-ranging, from manufacturers through to wholesalers and retailers, service businesses through to professionals in many different fields. All businesses, however, must attract clients or customers, and copywriters are needed to help produce the marketing materials that will accomplish this. Copywriters may also prepare job advertisements, packaging copy, newsletters, press releases, and other PR material, email and website content, and a wide range of other items.
So far we have said little, however, about agencies. These can be a very important source of work for copywriters, so the time has come to take a closer look at them.
ALL ABOUT ADVERTISING AGENCIES
As the name suggests, advertising agencies help businesses (and other organizations) advertise their products or services.
Agencies liaise closely with their clients to find out what their requirements are and agree with an overall advertising strategy with them. They write and design advertisements and book space for them in appropriate publications. Larger agencies will also produce and book advertisements for other media such as radio and TV when required.
Not all businesses use agencies, but many do. Reasons for using an agency can include the fresh, independent perspective they bring to the advertising, as well as the breadth of experience and expertise within the agency. Some businesses use agencies to handle all their advertising, while others may only use them from time to time, e.g. to organize a high-profile advertising campaign or prepare publicity for a new product launch.
Advertising agencies come in all sizes, from one or two-person operations (which tend to rely on freelance assistance to deliver their services), through small-to medium-sized agencies, to large independents and giant, multi-national conglomerates.
Most traditional agencies - also known as full-service agencies - work on a combination of fee- and commission-based charging. The fee is paid by the client for whom the marketing is being done. The commission is a payment made by the advertising media to the agency concerned and is usually equal to 15% of the cost of the ads booked. The main media that pay commission to agencies are newspapers, magazines, television, radio, posters, and cinema.
Full-service agencies aim to meet all of a client's promotional needs within the same organization. This type of agency provides advertising services such as strategic planning, copywriting and design, media buying, and so on, as well as other related services such as organizing sales promotions (e.g. consumer competitions) and corporate branding.
In addition to traditional agencies, in recent years a new brand of the interactive or digital agency has sprung up, specializing in advertising for online media. This opportunity arose because traditional agencies were initially slow to adapt to the new opportunities presented by the Internet. There is also, however, a growing number of 'tradigital' agencies which aim to combine expertise in both traditional and digital media.
How Agencies are Structured
Agencies are typically divided into two or more departments. The two most important are the creative department and account services or account management.
The creative department is the core of the agency. It contains the people who actually create the advertisements: copywriters and art directors. Modern agencies usually form their copywriters and art directors into creative teams. These may be permanent partnerships or formed on a project-by-project basis. The art director and copywriter report to a creative director, usually a creative employee with several years' experience.
Although copywriters have the word 'write' in their job title and art directors have the word 'art', one does not necessarily write the words and the other draw the pictures - both generate ideas to represent the proposition (the advertisement or campaign's key message). Creative departments frequently work with outside design or production studios to develop and implement their ideas.
The other major department in advertising agencies is account services or account management. This is the sales and client-liaison arm of the agency. An account executive (who works in the account services department) meets with the client to determine his goals and creative strategy. He or she then takes responsibility for coordinating the creative, media and production staff behind the campaign. Throughout the creative process, the account executive keeps in touch with the client to update them on progress and get their feedback. Once the creative work has been completed, the account executive is responsible for ensuring the ad's production and placement.
Another department found in larger agencies is media planning and buying. Media planners decide how to best communicate the client's message to its desired target market. They determine what combination of TV, radio, magazines, and so on, would reach as many target consumers as possible at the lowest cost, and set this out in a media plan. Media buyers then take this plan and negotiate its purchase from a range of media as cost-effectively as possible.
Small agencies may not have separate media planning and buying department. This function may be outsourced to a specialist media buying agency, or it may be handled in-house by the agency's account services department.
Agencies use freelance copywriters for a number of reasons:
- Very small (one- or two-man) agencies may not have any specialist copywriters and instead use freelancers as and when required. Such agencies are often run by people whose primary expertise lies in graphic design or media planning/buying rather than copywriting.
- Agencies may bring in freelances to assist during very busy periods or to provide cover for staff members who are on holiday, maternity leave or sick leave.
- Agencies may also use freelances to provide a fresh perspective. With long-term clients, especially, they may need a source of new ideas, and bringing in a freelance can be one way of achieving this.
Finally, we should say a few words about PR (public relations) agencies. These provide services for business clients, including writing press releases, brochures, articles, newsletters, and so on. Unlike advertising agencies, they do not normally receive any commission from the media, so their income derives entirely from fees charged to clients.
Some large advertising agencies also have PR departments, but in general PR agencies are separate organizations. They tend to be smaller than advertising agencies, and there is not the same dividing line between the 'creatives' and account services. Most PR agency executives liaise directly with the clients for whom they perform writing and other PR tasks. PR agencies can also be a good source of work for freelance copywriters.
UNDERSTANDING CLIENTS' NEEDS
To run a successful business in any field today, it is not enough just to go out and sell your services. You must adopt the marketing approach, as set out in the definition provided by the Institute of Marketing. This was included in Copywriting Basics - Advertising and Copywriting Tips, but just to remind you we have reproduced it again below.
'Marketing is the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably'.
It follows that to get work as a freelance copywriter, your first task must be to put yourself in a potential client's shoes. As a quick exercise, therefore, write down on a separate piece of paper all the reasons you can think of why a potential client, in a business or in an agency, might need your services. We have already mentioned some possibilities when discussing agencies, but see if you can come up with some others as well. Don't read any further until you have completed this exercise.
Your list of reasons for organizations needing to use freelances might have included the following:
- Lack of expertise. This is often the case in small to medium-sized businesses. For example, a manufacturing company may be excellent at producing widgets, but know little or nothing about producing a press release or creating a company newsletter.
- Lack of time. In some organizations (e.g. publishing houses) the expertise may be present, but the staff simply do not have the time for the detailed work required. The office working environment may also be less than ideal.
- Cost. It may be more cost-effective to hire a freelance rather than have an in-house employee devoted to this work. Freelancers do not receive sick pay, holiday pay or other benefits from their clients. The organization does not have to pay for a freelance's National Insurance contributions or even the cost of his office space.
- Need for specialist expertise. Some businesses might have a particular project for which specialist knowledge - e.g. copywriting for TV or radio - is required. They will seek out a freelance whom they believe has the knowledge and experience they require.
- Dealing with peaks and troughs in the work cycle. Copywriting services may only be needed at certain times. Using freelances means that an organization pays writers only when it actually needs them.
- Greater control over quality. From a client's point of view, it is much easier to sack a freelance if his work is poor than would be the case with a permanent member of staff. Freelances may be better motivated than employees if only because they know they will not get paid until they have turned in a satisfactory piece of work.
- A fresh pair of eyes. We mentioned this when discussing why agencies might bring in a freelance. An in-house writer might, for example, have worked on a particular client's account for months or even years, and may benefit from someone coming to it fresh to suggest possible new approaches.
- Cover for staff who are absent. Also as mentioned earlier, freelances may be brought in to cover temporary absences, e.g. if in-house employees are on holiday, training courses, maternity leave, sick leave, and so on.
How did your list compare with ours? Quite likely, you thought of some other reasons we didn't. There are two important lessons to be drawn from this exercise. One is that different types of the client have different needs, and your approach to each type must reflect this (for example, your approach to a small manufacturing business would be different from that when applying to an advertising agency). And second, it is important when applying to demonstrate that you understand what a client's needs may be, and show that you are ready and able to meet them.
HOW TO APPLY FOR WORK
There is a wide range of methods of applying for work as a freelance copywriter. However, we must say from the outset that you should not expect getting your first assignment to be easy. Of course, you may be the lucky first time out. In all likelihood, however, you will have to make several approaches before you find an organization that needs your services and is willing to give you a trial. It is therefore imperative that you adopt an organized strategy for finding work. Here we will look at a number of possibilities:
- Applying for advertised jobs
- Applying to agencies
- Advertising your services
- Online work exchanges
- Personal calling
We will discuss each of these in turn.
Applying for Advertised Jobs
This is such an obvious approach some people overlook it - yet it can and does pay dividends, and should certainly form part of your strategy for finding copywriting work.
One of the best places to look is the Guardian newspaper on Mondays (the Creative & Media section).
Other places worth looking are the Independent newspaper (Wednesday) and trade magazines, including Marketing, Marketing Week and Campaign. The latter is not generally sold in the shops but may be available in your reference library. Alternatively, you can subscribe directly, the cost of any such subscriptions will be tax-deductible.
There are also various websites where copywriting jobs are advertised. As well as the
Guardian site, mentioned above, they include:
Advertised jobs may be on an employed or self-employed basis, full - or part-time. In general, if a job involves working set hours from an employer's premises, you will be classed as an employee and have tax, NI, etc. deducted at source. If you work from home and are free to arrange your own daily schedule, you are most likely to be classed as self-employed. Self-employed staff should be paid at a higher rate, to recognize the fact that they do not receive sick pay, holiday pay, etc.
When you apply for any advertised job, you will face stiff competition. It is therefore important to take time and trouble over your application. In particular, try to work out what may be the needs of the organization concerned (check out their website and ask to be sent a copy of their annual report if you're not sure what they do), and in your application take pains to demonstrate how well your skills and background match this. This should help your letter stand out from others. We will talk more about the art of writing letters of the application later on under 'Mail Shots'.
When scanning the job ads in newspapers and magazines, don't look only for obvious 'copywriter wanted' type vacancies. Some similar posts are advertised under different titles. It is at least worth considering any advertised job for a researcher, information officer, writer, media/publicity officer, and so on. Many such jobs involve a high proportion of copywriting.
Applying Through an Agency
Some recruitment agencies specialize in the marketing sector. They recruit copywriters (and other marketing professionals) for short-term and freelance assignments with their clients, as well as longer-term and permanent contracts.
If you are starting out and looking for work they are worth trying, though bear in mind that the rates will usually be lower than you could expect to earn from working directly for a client, as the agency will take a proportion of your fees.
To find suitable agencies, look in the jobs sections of the newspapers and magazines mentioned earlier. You will see a number of agencies who regularly advertise jobs in this sector, and it is well worth registering with them (which will typically involve sending in your CV and/or filling in a form on their website). Note that most such agencies are based in or around London, and you may be at a disadvantage with them if you do not live within a reasonable distance of the capital.
An agency specializing in recruiting people for marketing jobs is Blue Skies (www.blueskiescareers.co.uk).
Advertising Your Services
Relatively few copywriters do this, and yet it is well worth trying. Rather than the national press, however, we recommend using lower-cost options that are guaranteed to reach a useful audience. Local business publications, such as your local Chamber of Commerce magazine, would be a good place to start.
You should also aim to get yourself listed in as many freelance directories as possible. Nowadays many of these are on the Internet. A good one to start off with is at www.mad.co.uk. This is the marketing, advertising, and design website run by Centaur Communications, the publishers of Marketing Week and other marketing industry magazines.
You could also try advertising in directories such as Yellow Pages and Thomson Local. These reach a large number of readers, though many are private individuals rather than businesses. Advertising in such directories can be expensive, so you might want to start off with a small 'lineage' ad and see how this performs for you.
With all advertising, you should monitor your expenditure carefully, to be sure that you are getting a good return on your investment.
We discussed mail shots in Copywriting Basics - Sales Letters and Direct Mail Tips. On that occasion, we were looking at them from the perspective of writing one for a client, but there is no reason why, as a copywriter, you couldn't try using this technique yourself.
A mail shot is, of course, an application sent 'on spec' to a range of potential clients. Your hope is that one at least will arrive on the desk of someone who needs the services of a freelance copywriter at that moment, and sees your letter as the answer to their prayers! Failing this, you will hope that at least the recipient will keep your letter on file, and contact you when he needs your services.
Essential to a successful mail shot is a good letter (indeed, this may be the only component). As a copywriter looking for work, your letter needs to accomplish the following aims:
- demonstrate that you have the skills the client requires
- show that you understand and can meet his needs
- highlight your relevant experience and qualifications
- convey the message that you are a serious professional
- encourage the client to contact you with offers of work
One important aspect of this - as mentioned in the previous article - is presenting a professional, business-like image. If you are planning to try a mailshot, therefore, be prepared to spend a bit more than the bare minimum in order to create a good impression. In particular, buy good quality white envelopes - at least DL size (110 x 220mm) - and use white A4 paper of at least 80 gsm.
The content of your letter should be professional and business-like. It should be concise, but long enough to achieve the five aims set out earlier. The kinds of thing to mention in the letter include the following:
- Relevant educational qualifications: An 'A' Level in English (or indeed a degree) would come into this category.
- Relevant writing experience: If you have ever worked in a profession which involved the use of English, this is certainly worth highlighting. Examples might include teaching, journalism or public relations. Even when your previous experience is not obviously relevant, if it involved - say - writing reports, this is certainly worth mentioning as well.
- Relevant specialist skills and knowledge: If you are applying to a specialist organization - for example, a pharmaceutical company - you should say if you have any relevant skills and knowledge in that subject area.
- Training and qualifications in copywriting: There are several online courses and resources available, both paid and free, to give you an edge in the copywriting business.
- Personal strengths: Clients want copywriters who are conscientious and reliable, as well as being creative. Above all, they want people who will be business-like in their dealings, and not create endless headaches for them. If you consider you have these strengths (and you are unlikely to succeed in this field without them), you should not be shy about saying so. At the very least, it will demonstrate to a potential client that you understand what he is looking for from a freelance.
- Previous clients: If you have worked for any other companies or organizations you should say so, and mention them by name. At the beginning of your freelance career, of course, this will not apply.
Address your letter to the Managing Director in the case of small business and with larger companies the Marketing Manager. With organizations you are especially keen to work for - perhaps because you have relevant specialist expertise - it is a good idea to phone up the company to check the name and position of the best person to write to. Ask if you can have the name of 'the person who deals with recruiting freelance copywriters'. You may find you have the opportunity to speak to this person directly, and if that is the case you should certainly accept the offer. Explain who you are and why you are phoning, and ask politely if you may send in your details. You might even be offered an interview there and then!
A sample letter of application which you can adapt to your own circumstances is included later on in the article.
Online Work Exchanges
Online work exchanges are websites where people with freelance vacancies advertise them, and anyone wishing to can bid for them.
Once all bids are in, the client goes through them carefully. He chooses the bid he judges best overall - which may not always be the cheapest - and gives the successful bidder the good news. He also provides the freelance in question with a detailed brief.
The freelance then goes away and does the job. Once it is completed to the client's satisfaction, the client pays the freelance the agreed fee, usually via the work exchange site. In most cases, he also gives the freelance feedback on how he did, and this will appear on his profile on the site. Many sites also have a rating system, allowing clients to score freelances on the quality of their work, meeting deadlines, and so on.
Online work exchanges make their money in various ways, but you may not be surprised to hear that it is generally the freelance rather than the client who pays. Some charge freelances a monthly membership, others take a percentage of the fees they earn through the site, and some do both. Sites may also impose extra charges on both clients and freelances for certain premium services.
There are literally dozens of online work exchanges. Most are US-based, though British and other non-American freelances can usually bid on them. The best-known include Elance (www.elance.com) and Guru (www.guru.com) - these both regularly advertise copywriting vacancies. Another site, PeoplePerHour (www.people perhour.com), is London-based, and unlike the other sites mentioned operates in UK pounds rather than US dollars. Here are a couple of jobs that were being advertised on PeoplePerHour at the time of writing:
Copywriter Needed for Fashion and Luxury Website
I am in the process of developing a unique website/business aimed at high net worth people. The service will ultimately allow them to manage their extensive and valuable wardrobes online from anywhere in the world. I need a copywriter who understands how to craft copy for the site which will be aimed at a clientele who live in a rarefied world. The site is about luxury and exclusivity, yet is understated - like an original Hermes Kelly Bag. The site will be private and not accessible to the public.
Large Scale Copywriting Project
I am looking for a competent copywriter to take on a large-scale content project for a leading UK Retail Directory. The aim of these articles is first and foremost to be Search Engine compliant, but must also be legible and be genuinely informative to the user. The content topics will primarily be based around UK retailers but may also stretch further afield to European and International retail brands. I am ideally looking for someone based in the UK, for their greater knowledge of UK retail and to streamline communication between myself and the winning bidder. Each piece of content is required to be around 300-350 words in length and have a keyword frequency of around 8 throughout the article.
When you are starting out, online work exchanges are worth considering as a way of building your portfolio. Because of the way they operate, however, you are unlikely to be able to charge as much as you would if you were working for a client directly. This is partly because you will be competing against other writers across the world (some of whom live in countries where the cost of living is much lower), and partly because the work exchange itself will take a slice of your fee. On the plus side, however, if you do a good job for a client, he may become a regular source of work for you in the future.
Finally, you could try visiting potential clients in person. Of course, this method won't appeal to everyone - but if you do nothing else, we would certainly recommend visiting your local print shop (or shops).
Choose a quiet time, and ask if you can speak to the proprietor. Say that you have set up as a freelance copywriter. Explain that you are currently building your client base, and would appreciate any advice or assistance he can offer. You could also place an order for some business cards and/or headed stationery at the same time.
Depending on the type of work he takes on, it's quite possible the printer may need the services of a copywriter himself from time to time. Even if he does not, he may know of other local businesses who could require your services. A polite inquiry could unearth a range of potential clients. At the very least, the proprietor should be willing to leave your business card on display for the interest of his other clients (especially if he has printed it himself!)
Quite apart from any philanthropic inclinations, he may have, the print shop proprietor will know that it is in his best interests to assist you. Not only are you a potential client, but he will also be well aware that in due course you could be recommending your own clients to him. So it is well worth his while to be helpful to you now.
MODEL LETTER OF APPLICATION
As promised earlier, here is a model letter of application for you. This can be used - suitably adapted to reflect your own circumstances and background - in mail shots, or to target individual businesses you have identified as potential clients.
This is just one example of how a letter of application could be written, but we hope it will give you some ideas. We have deliberately kept this letter short and simple. Other things which might have been mentioned include previous clients (if any) and relevant specialist expertise.
You could, if you wish, enclose with your letter a short (one-page) CV. This is worth doing if you have substantial relevant experience. If you do not, a CV may be more of a hindrance than a help at this stage (in which case, simply state in the letter that your CV is available 'on request'). Finally, you could enclose photocopies of any relevant examples of your work.
You will notice that the letter does not include any mention of fees. At this stage, your aim is simply to get an expression of interest from a potential client. Negotiation of fees can be left to a later time.
Finally, the last-but-one paragraph of the sample letter refers to taking a test of your professional abilities. With advertising agencies especially you are quite likely to be asked to undertake a test exercise before being offered work, so it does no harm to mention your willingness to do so here. The test will be designed to assess your creativity and also your standard of written English. It goes without saying that you should take time and care over completing it.
OVERCOMING THE 'NO EXPERIENCE' PROBLEM
One problem you will inevitably face during your early days is that clients naturally want people with experience - and it is impossible to gain experience without getting work. So how do you escape from this Catch-22 situation?
As mentioned earlier, when applying for copywriting work, it is important to emphasize all the relevant experience you have. Anything in a previous job which involved writing and/or marketing will be helpful. If, even so, you have little experience you can refer to in an application, one way around this could be to take on some unpaid work.
All over the country, there are many thousands of under-resourced charities, schools, and community organizations who rely on volunteers to perform tasks such as editing newsletters, writing publicity brochures, creating fundraising materials, and so on. By volunteering for jobs such as these, you can build a portfolio with which to impress potential clients. Sometimes, too, working as a volunteer can open the door to paid work, if funding becomes available within the organization.
If you like this idea but are not sure where to apply, a good starting point is your local volunteer center. These organizations act as 'introduction agencies' for volunteers and local charities. They should be able to put you in touch with organizations who need your help and can give you the experience you need.
Note: Charities and community organizations are looking for people who are willing to offer a certain level of commitment, however. If you agree to take on an unpaid job, you should give reasonable notice if you need to step down, rather than dropping out as soon as you have enough paid work. Bear in mind that you might always want them as a reference one day!
A few other tactics for overcoming the problem of lack of experience are listed below:
- In the early days, be prepared to accept a lower rate than you would ideally hope for. View this as your apprenticeship - an opportunity to hone your skills and gain experience, and hopefully a stepping stone to better things.
- Emphasize your qualifications, especially any related to business and marketing and any to copywriting. If you have attended any related short courses, mention these as well.
- Even if your long-term aim is to work from home as a freelance, consider taking a job that involves copywriting to help build your experience. Many such jobs exist, including those with titles such as publicity officer, information officer, marketing assistant, and so on. Payment rates vary, but as a means of building your experience, such jobs are well worth considering. If you get a part-time job, you may be able to combine this with freelancing when you are starting out.
- Try registering with local office services agencies for work in the marketing field (e.g. temporary marketing assistant). Although you are unlikely to get a copywriting position this way, many such jobs include an element of writing, editing and/or proofreading. The pay is unlikely to be great (and the agency takes its percentage), but any work you can get this way - even if it is only short-term and temporary - will be another useful addition to your C.V.
- You could also apply for work experience with local advertising agencies. Competition even for unpaid vacancies (sometimes known as internships) is fierce, and you will need to ensure that your application is well-written and compelling. The potential rewards are considerable, however. As well as providing invaluable experience and eye-catching addition to your CV, working in an agency will give you a range of useful contacts, and could result in the offer of freelance work or even a paid position if you want it.
Why You Must Be Persistent
In case what we have said about the difficulties you are likely to face when starting out has left you a little depressed, we would like to emphasize once again that, even in times of recession, there is always a demand for good copywriters. It may take you a while to break in - but once you have completed your first two or three commissions and made a good job of them, more will certainly follow.
And consider - you need only two or three regular clients to have the basis of a good, profitable business. If you do the work well, those same clients will come back to you time and time again. So if, initially, the going seems hard, remember that it is the same for everyone when starting out. Those who think it will be easy - who expect the work to fall into their laps like ripe apples from a tree - are the ones who will give up at the first obstacle.
Suppose, as is not unlikely, you have to send out a hundred speculative applications - two hundred, even - to get one offer of work. If that organization then becomes a regular client, your initial investment of time and money in sending out the applications will be repaid many times over. We would like to share one of our favorite quotes with you here, by Josh Billings: 'Consider the postage stamp: its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there.'
HOW TO CREATE A PORTFOLIO
As a copywriter touting for work, one thing any potential client will expect to see from you is a portfolio. You will need to buy a portfolio carrying case (from an art supply store) and add to this a copy of every advert, newsletter, brochure, press release, and so on, that you write. Whenever you are meeting a potential client for the first time, you should take your portfolio along.
But what if you are brand new to copywriting and don't have any clients yet? No problem! You can create your own 'speculative' advertisements.
Another method is to find a bad ad (take a look in your local paper or Yellow Pages) and rewrite it from scratch. Place the old ad and your re-worked ad side by side, and that will count as a piece for your portfolio.
Creating your own ads is actually a great way to show off your talent because you get the chance to write about a product of your own choosing. In the real world, you won't have much choice as to what projects you work on, so this is your chance to shine. Of course, you probably won't have a designer to create artwork for you, but that doesn't matter. Modern word processing software such as Microsoft Word allows even non-designers to create reasonable-looking text-based ads. And the text is, of course, the main thing any potential client will be looking at.
Hint: If you are creating your own speculative advertisements using a word processor, use a table to set out the text on different lines, create borders, and so on. You can actually create some quite passable-looking 'display ads' in this way!
Finally, don't forget that items you have written for a previous employer can be relevant as well. You should ensure that your ex-employers have no objection to you using such materials in your portfolio; but assuming they don't, this can help get your portfolio off to a flying start.
Of course, nowadays most copywriters display their work online as well, so we will close the article by taking a closer look at how to do this.
SETTING UP YOUR OWN WEB PAGE
In this technological age, having a website is becoming a must for anyone running a business - and that certainly includes copywriters.
There are several reasons for this. The first is that many potential clients looking for a copywriter today will turn to the net. If they find your site - and are impressed with it - there is every chance they will contact you with offers of work.
In addition, a website gives you a place you can direct potential clients. Say you're applying 'on spec' or responding to an advertisement. Rather than sending your CV and a selection of cuttings, in your letter of application, you can simply direct the client to your site for further information. Not only will this save you time and effort, but it will also help you present the image of a modern, switched-on, technologically-aware individual.
And finally, having a website is fast becoming an expectation for people in 'professional' businesses (such as copywriting). Some clients at least, if they see that you do not have a website, may be deterred from using your services. This is likely to become even more the case in the future.
Assuming, then, you're persuaded of the need to create your own website, your first decision will be whether to build it yourself or engage a professional website designer (as discussed in Copywriting Basics - Setting Yourself up in Business Tips). There are pros and cons to both options.
Using a Website Designer
- more professional look
- save on time
- benefit from the designer's experience and expertise
- costs more money
- less control than if you do it yourself
- choosing a good designer can be tricky
Doing It Yourself
- total control over the design
- learn useful skills
- may look less professional
- more time consuming
- not everyone wants to learn HTML
The decision of whether to use a website designer is one you will need to make for yourself, based on the considerations set out above. As we noted last time, it is actually not too difficult to produce a basic site yourself, and we will look at some of the options for doing this shortly. If you prefer to engage a designer to do the job for you, however, here are a few points to bear in mind.
First, of course, you will need to find your designer. They normally advertise in local papers and Yellow Pages - look under Internet Services. If you don't feel the need to engage someone local (and there is no compelling reason to do so unless you want to discuss the project face to face) you can also search for website designers on the Internet.
A designer will normally quote you a set fee - starting at around $300 - for designing your site and installing it on the web for you. Once you have found someone you think might be suitable, you should arrange to meet them (or to discuss the project on the phone if they aren't local). At this meeting you should:
- Ask about their experience. They should have a portfolio of websites they have designed that they can show you or refer you to. Take the time to review these sites and see if they are the sort of thing you would be happy to have to represent your business.
- Find out what they would charge for creating your site, and what exactly this includes. In particular, you should check whether their fee includes hosting for the site (the cost of placing and keeping it on the Internet).
- Check what they will charge for updating the site in the future. You might also want to discuss with them whether you may be able to update some aspects of the content yourself.
- If you want to offer any additional features on your site, e.g. an email newsletter, you should also raise this now.
It is a good idea to get quotes from two or three website designers, as fees vary considerably. In addition, you may find that some seem to be more on your 'wavelength' than others. This can actually be an important consideration. Your website will be your presence in the online world, and it is important to have a designer who understands what your business is about and how you want it presented.
Once you have found a suitable designer, take the time to brief them thoroughly about what you require. In particular, you should give them a list of the main pages you want on your site, and provide the text and any images (e.g. your photograph) to go on those pages. We will talk about site planning and structure later in the article, so even if you intend to hire a designer, you should still read this carefully. Your designer should give you the opportunity to view your draft website and request any changes before it is uploaded to the Internet and 'goes live'.
Creating Your Own Website
You'll know a bit about HTML since we discussed it in Copywriting Tips - Writing For Online Markets Tips, but what you really want is a method that will streamline the technical aspects of website building and avoid having to spend hours on tedious coding. In this section, we will set out a few options and resources you might like to consider.
The first method is to use a popular website building tool such as Microsoft Expression Web (previously FrontPage) or Adobe Dreamweaver. These are both powerful tools that will automate much of the actual coding for you. Both give you the option of WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editing, where you work on pages as they will appear when published or editing the 'raw' HTML directly.
Expression Web and Dreamweaver are great tools for professional website builders, but for our purposes, they do have certain disadvantages.
- There can be a steep learning curve. You will need to set aside some time to learn how to use the software, and possibly go on a training course.
- Neither program is particularly cheap. Dreamweaver, in particular, is likely to set you back several hundred pounds.
One option that can make life simpler for non-expert website builders is using templates. These are basically pre-constructed 'skeleton' sites. They are designed so that you can add content to them quickly and easily, without worrying too much about the design aspects.
Obviously, with a template you don't have as much flexibility as to when you are designing from scratch; but working with a template makes the site-building process much faster, and means that the trickier aspects of designing and constructing a site are handled automatically for you.
Both free and low-cost templates are available. Here are a few sites offering templates to start you off:
Once you have chosen your template, you can open it in your chosen editing program, add content and make any other changes you require, then publish it to the web. Before doing this, of course, you will need to have arranged to host for your site and bought a domain name for it (e.g. www.yourname.com).
Even using a website-building program in conjunction with a template can be quite time-consuming, however, so here are some other options to consider. These methods can offer advantages in terms of cost and convenience, though your design options may be more limited.
- There are various free online services that will allow you to build a simple site by doing little more than pointing and clicking. One of these is Weebly at www.weebly.com; another is Google Sites at http://sites.google.com. The price you pay for using these services is a loss of flexibility, e.g. you will have a limited number of templates around which to base your site. But if you have even the smallest knowledge of HTML, you should still be able to tweak your site's design to make it more distinctive. With both the services mentioned, hosting is included free.
- You could set up a blog and use this as your website. A blog is really a kind of online diary, but with a little ingenuity, it is possible to use one as your homepage as well. The advantage of using a blog is that you will have to do little if any programming - you simply use one of the templates provided and enter the text as required. Some blogging services also offer free hosting: Blogger (www.blogger.com) from Google is one example.
- Another option is to use the free, open-source Wordpress software. Wordpress is really a blogging platform, but Wordpress blogs can be easily customized by means of templates and plug-ins, to the point where - if you wish - they no longer look like blogs at all. As a result, growing numbers of people are using Wordpress as the basis for their sites. This is a free (apart from your domain name and hosting costs) and relatively easy method, although you will need to learn how to install and configure the software. There is plenty of information on the Wordpress website at http://wordpress.org.
- You might also consider investing in SiteBuildIt (SBI) at www.sitesell.com. This popular program is a part training course, part website editor. It takes you from designing your site, through building it and optimizing it for the search engines, to generating traffic and increasing visitor numbers. Buyers also get domain name registration and hosting included. SBI currently costs several hundred pounds a year, and it can only be used for one site. If, however, you are new to the website building business and want a service that guides you every step along the way, it is definitely worth considering.
Website Planning and Structure
Whether you are building your site yourself or engaging a web designer, you should have some knowledge of basic website design principles. In this section, we will set out the bare bones of what you need to know.
Most websites consist of several pages. The homepage is normally the first one a visitor lands on (although visitors referred by a search engine can easily arrive on another page). A more technically correct name for this page is the index page.
This page will normally be named index.htm (or index.html) in the website code. On the Internet, pages with this title are allotted special status. If someone enters the URL of a website without any additional page details, this is the page that will open by default.
Since visitors may arrive on any page of a website, it has become customary to include a menu bar at the top or left-hand side of the screen which includes links to all the main pages of the site. This menu will normally appear on every page and provides visitors with a quick and easy way of navigating the site.
A copywriter's website is unlikely to need more than a dozen or so pages. To begin with, you may want to consider having the following:
Examples of work
Writing services offered
Testimonials/list of clients
Your homepage (or index page) is the most important page of your website, as it is here that most visitors will arrive. The text on this page should reveal the purpose of the site. It should also include plenty of copywriting-related keywords so that search engines will list the site in as many relevant searches as possible. You could, for example, include the terms copywriter, freelance writing, PR writing, editing, advertisement writing, press release writing, scriptwriting, and any other relevant words and phrases that occur to you. Here's how it might look:
Thank you for visiting my website. My name is _________ ___________ and I am a freelance copywriter. I offer a range of copywriting services, including advertisement writing, PR writing, ghost-writing, TV and radio scriptwriting, newsletter editing and article writing. Click on the links in the left-hand menu to read more about my copywriting services or view examples of my work.
One other thing you might want to consider putting on your homepage is a portrait-style photograph of yourself. This can help make you and your site look more friendly and approachable (as long as your photo doesn't resemble Godzilla, of course!)
In summary, your homepage needs to explain the purpose of the site clearly and succinctly, so that search engines can categorize it correctly, and any person looking to hire a freelance copywriter knows they have come to the right place. The page should give a professional but welcoming first impression, and thus reassure potential clients that you will be the right person to meet their copywriting needs.
Let's move on now to look at some other pages you might want to add.
As mentioned previously, it is a good idea to have a page showing examples of your work. You could include advertisements, articles, interviews, press releases, and so on. If you don't have anything that you have written for a real client yet, simply use your own 'speculative' advertisements, as discussed earlier.
You might also want to have a page that lists what sort of writing work you can do and describes them in more detail than on your homepage. How specific you want to be here is up to you, and depends on the range of writing jobs you're providing.
It's also good to have a page of testimonials from satisfied clients (never be afraid to ask your clients for testimonials, by the way - most will be happy to oblige). You can include the clients' website URLs, which will provide some extra publicity for them (and give the testimonials greater credibility). Obviously, at the start, you won't have any testimonials to display, so you may want to add this page later.
You will also need a contact page for people to get in touch. You can publish your email address, phone, and fax number here, but if you're working from home, for security reasons it's probably best not to put your home address. In fact, though, there's a good case for not putting your email address either, as if you publish this on a website, it is very likely to be picked up by spammers. You can then expect to receive a torrent of annoying and irrelevant advertising emails.
A good alternative is to put a contact form on your site. Visitors can enter messages in this and they will be automatically forwarded to you, without visitors ever seeing your email address. Creating a contact form does require a bit of HTML knowledge, but it isn't that difficult. Alternatively, you can use the free online service at www.freecontactform.com to create a 'Contact Me' form for your site. You then just copy and paste the HTML generated by this service into your web page.
Lastly, you might like to include a links page. On this page, you provide a list of links to other websites that might also be of interest to your visitors. Why do this? One important reason is to facilitate link exchanges. To get visitors to your site and raise its visibility in the search engines, you need to get links from other sites on the Internet. One way of doing this is to exchange links with sites that are related to yours (although not direct competitors). Having a links page will make this easy, and may also make your site more interesting and useful for your visitors.
One other thing we would strongly recommend is studying other copywriters' sites. Enter a term such as "freelance copywriter" or "copywriting service" in your favorite search engine - hundreds of copywriters' sites should appear in the results. Take time to visit these sites and see how they are structured and what content they include. This will give you a range of useful ideas for your own website.
Whether you choose to build your own website or engage a designer, we hope the advice in this article will help you decide what you want your site to look like and how it should be planned and structured.
In this article, we discussed the crucial question of how to attract clients for your copywriting business.
We started by looking at the main potential clients for a copywriter, businesses and advertising agencies. We examined agencies in some detail, looking at what they do, how they are structured and how they normally operate. We went on to examine why clients may need your services, and what they will expect from you as a freelance copywriter.
The article then discussed how to actually apply for work, including a model letter to be adapted as required. We discussed the 'Catch-22' dilemma of how to get the experience clients to require when you are starting out, emphasizing the need for patience and persistence. We advised on creating a portfolio to impress potential clients. And finally, we looked at setting up your own website to promote your copywriting service, including a basic guide to website planning and structure.