If you’ve been spending all of your free time Googling “how to start a freelance business” — this one’s for you, and I’m about to save you a lot of time and money.
When you’re first starting out, it can be difficult to know which advice on the Internet to trust. It feels like everyone and their mother is trying to sell you something (because they are) and you can become overwhelmed very easily. I know I was. The final straw for me was a couple weeks into my “I’m going to start a copywriting business” idea, when I was scrolling through informational resources about copywriting best practices. I somehow landed on the site of another creator, selling a “copywriting certification” course for $5,000.
Now, I’m a launch copywriter—meaning I work with course creators all the time—so the course wasn’t the problem. It was the manipulative use of the word ‘certification’ that really put me off. I obviously knew that there was no such thing; you don’t need to be *certified* in copywriting to offer copywriting services. But what if someone else who didn’t know that came across this same site, and thought they had to spend five thousand dollars (!!!) to get certified before they even got started?!
From that moment forward, I vowed to teach myself everything I needed to know for free. No one was gonna scam me! Mmm, mmm not this girl. I continued on with that mindset for a couple months, until I realized that investing in myself wasn’t a bad thing, as long as the investments were worth it.
I could talk about starting a freelance business for daysss—and I’ll definitely be writing more blog posts like this one—but today’s focus is my go-to advice for DIYers.
Let’s start off with something no one told me when I was first starting out: you can teach yourself (almost) everything you need to know if you’re willing to spend the time combing through the resources and doing the work. If you don’t want to spend the money on a course right away, don’t feel like you have to! There is SO! MUCH! valuable information out there.
However, as I mentioned earlier, it can get overwhelming, and knowing which information to trust can be tricky. When you’re researching a subject, look for repeat information (aka the same tips from different creators / business owners) so you can be sure that you can trust them. Never take anyone’s advice too much to heart, and always trust your own gut.
Beware: when you download a freebie, you’re also consenting to a welcome sequence, and probably a weekly or monthly newsletter for the rest of eternity (or until you click unsubscribe). Using a separate email (aka not your primary or work email) to download all your favorite creators’ lead magnets is the easiest way to save yourself some time — and to stay productive while navigating your inbox.
I’m all for a solid freebie, and oftentimes I remain subscribed to whoever I downloaded it from because their emails are valuable enough to keep my interest. But having them flood my work email? No, thank you.
I didn’t create any social media for my business until I was 6 months in. I had no Instagram profile, no Pinterest account, no Facebook page… nothing. I knew that if I focused on growing a social media account, my progress would actually suffer — I’d be too concerned with what I was posting, who was following me, what my presence in the online space looked like… and none of that helps you become a better copywriter.
I knew that I would have spent too much time getting consumed by all that stuff rather than focusing on getting paying clients and developing my skills. I wanted to establish my place in my field before I established my place on Instagram.
Although a website can seem like a scary and daunting task, it’s important to get it up sooner than later! While saying “done is better than perfect” in reference to website copy sort of goes against everything I preach as a website copywriter, it’s better to have a quick landing page up that explains who you are, what you do, and how to contact you, than having no website at all. Having a link to point potential clients to is a great way to seem more professional as a newbie, because unlike social media, there’s no way of knowing how new a website is.
The hardest part of starting your freelance business is hands down getting your first few clients. Despite popular opinion, I’m actually on team cold pitch email for brand new freelancers! However, that being said, there IS a right (and definitely a wrong) way to do it. To get my exact formula—like, literally what I sent to my first-ever clients—for cold pitching (and my formula for about a million other types of emails), download my free email tips guide.
This is by far the most random tip on this list, but I wanted to include it because I think it’s such a great one. When you send someone a calendar invite for a meeting, putting your name (or business name; in my case, I put “BTL”) first limits any confusion on their end when they quickly glance at their calendar. Genius!
I’m not an accountant and I do not claim to be one, but I am someone passionate about financial literacy, and I’m telling you right now: do not forget to save 30% for taxes. You definitely don’t want to be in a sticky situation come next April when you owe tens of thousands of dollars and you don’t have to cash to pay up.
Side note: if you’re keeping clear records of your business expenses, contributions to retirement accounts, student loan interest, and other possible deductions, you likely won’t have to use all of what you’ve put aside for your tax bill, so it’ll feel like Christmas morning when you have some extra cash come tax season to either reinvest in your business or use for a little I-deserve-this moment.
…because, let’s be real. You’re probably not charging enough. I don’t know what it is about freelancers, but we’re seemingly addicted to undervaluing our services. It’s rooted in insecurity, and that scarcity mindset is actually hindering your process. More thoughts on pricing here.
When you’re first starting out, it can be difficult to know how much time a client project is going to take you—especially if you’ve never done it before. Give yourself more time than you think you need to complete it, so you have a buffer if it takes you longer than expected. Extra time for research and proofreading? Yes, please.
I’m a classic perfectionist. Like, I get a stomachache thinking about messing up a project. Perfectionism can be crippling sometimes, and at least in my own life, perfectionism often manifests as excuses for not doing something. I use to hide behind the value of perfection, as opposed to just going for it. I was the type to take tons of time researching, learning, enrolling in courses, reading books, taking notes…for months and months on end…before actually DOING anything.
As James Clear says in his award-winning book Atomic Habits, learning is the easy part. Actually taking action is the hard part. Take it from me: you’re better off if you just do it—you can learn along the way, and failing isn’t as scary (or as frequent) as you think it’s going to be.
If we haven’t had the chance to *virtually* meet yet, hi! I’m Sara Noel—website copywriter and marketing mentor for creatives, copywriters, and all-around cool people. If you like my content and you want even more BTL in your life, here are a few ways you can connect with me:
Subscribe to my newsletter! I send one marketing tip, once a week – and, according to my subscribers, it’s “the best marketing newsletter on the Internet” and “the only reason to wake up on Tuesday mornings.” So… yeah. You’ll love ‘er. 😏 Click here to subscribe!
Check out my services. I write website copy, sales pages, email sequences, blog posts, and brand messaging guides for entrepreneurs of all kinds! Maybe you’re my next favorite client.
Read the rest of my blog. It’s home to everything from copywriting tips, to marketing education, to freelance advice, to portfolio-worthy projects… if you like this post, you’ll love the blog. Here’s a quick roundup of my most popular posts.
Sign up for my web copy course. Actually, it’s not *only* about website copywriting—I also teach modules on copywriting basics, developing your target audience, search engine optimization, blogging, and email marketing.
Enlist me as your mentor. I have an entire in-depth blog post about my one-on-one consulting process for new and aspiring copywriters, if you’re interested in having a big-sis-style mentor to help you grow your freelance copywriting business & get results.
If you're an entrepreneur, business owner, or course creator with big dreams of success and growth—and a big, scary blank document standing in your way every time you sit down to write your own copy—nice to meet you, I'm your new solution.
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