Say whaaaaat? Eight unexpected things I’ve learnt in my first year as a freelance copywriter



1. Tax is a bastard


Like rubbing your eyes with chilli-chopping fingers or giving birth to a 10lb baby, your first tax bill is going to make your eyes water. Until you have cause to explore the UK tax system, you might not realise just what a gouge your first-year trading is going to be.


Because you don’t just have to pay the tax you owe, you have to pay the tax that HMRC think you’re going to owe in the first half of next year too! Whaaaaaat?!


It is called payment on account and it sucks! So make sure you put enough aside for both. You’ll need to save about 30% of your freelance income. That means I’m only about…erm…30% short so far.


2. Read Aloud is last minute lifesaver


Let’s clear this up right now. Unlike Nigel Farage and nipples on men, proofreaders exist for a reason.


And I am not a proofreader.


I’m not paid to be the best speller in school. I’m paid to create messaging that makes you memorable. To apply my knowledge of SEO to attract visitors to your site. To convert those visitors into customers.


Many clients won’t pay for a proofreader. They expect publish-ready copy that is crisp and error-free. And if you’ve ever tried to proof your own work, you’ll know typos are damn hard to spot. The answer? Read Aloud in Word.


Just set the robotic voice in motion and he’ll read your whole document to you, making misspellings leap out and box you on the lugs. It has saved me from a fair few blushes and I’m forever grateful to proofreader extraordinaire, Lorraine Williams of Lighthouse Proofreading, for the tip.


3. You don’t have to work from home


Working from home isn’t always the lying-in-till-noon-and-noodling-around-in-your-PJs dream lifestyle you might expect. Working from home can actually be a bit of a bore. That toast you burnt at breakfast? It’s going to be up your nose all day. The laundry that needs doing? Gonna be calling you like a siren until you put it in to wash.


WFH can be full of distractions (especially since lockdown threw toddlers and pre-teens into the mix). So I started working from cafes, sneaking into a Costa and buy copious cappuccinos to justify squatting on their sofas to work. Full of guilt and caffeine, I’d work in two-hour batches before moving on. Man, what a faff.


Turns out there are people you can pay to let you work from their lovely office spaces. If you’re in the North East, check out my faves, Co’Shabang.


4. Everyone thinks they’re a copywriter


There is no barrier to setting up as a copywriter. Anyone with a rudimentary grasp of written English and access to Wix can set themselves up a website and start selling their services. And this is where the problems start. Because writing and copywriting are two totally different things.


Copywriters aren’t just people who can string a sentence together. They’re marketers who understand how to persuade for profit. They have technical knowhow about SEO and user experience. Copywriters know to sell the sizzle, not the steak.


It puts me in mind of the much-maligned Donald Rumsfeld famously saying ‘we don’t know what we don’t know’. This is very evident in the current cohort of side-hustle copywriters who don’t understand the limits of their knowledge.


Need more convincing? Take a look at Johari’s window and see who’s waving to you. A great copywriter will be right there in the open window. Avoid anyone in the others.





5. Accounting apps are amazing


I don’t think I can ever forgive QuickBooks for their brilliant ‘tax doesn’t have to be taxing’ slogan because I really feel like I should have come up with it. And whilst tax is, as we’ve proven, a bastard, there are things you can do to make it easier. And use an accounting app does just that.


Until I discovered the fabulous FreeAgent was included as part of my business bank account package with NatWest, I faffed about using Excel for tracking invoices, Word for creating them, Outlook for mailing them. Now I just click-clack-tap and they’re done. It saves me hours every month and is my top tip for freelancers.


6. Fellow freelancers are your friends


It’s tempting to see fellow freelancers as competition for clients but I’ve discovered that just isn’t the case. Within a week of going freelance, I approached a fellow copywriter (the marvellous Mark Grainger of Blossom Tree Copy Agency) for a coffee. I felt very apologetic, tapping him up for advice that might lead to me stealing away some of his clients.


But, as a veteran of these things, he knew that we’re not really in competition. Our interests, our specialisms, our personalities and our availability make us all attractive to different clients. The day after meeting Mark, he tagged me in a post looking for a copywriter and I landed a gig that made up a quarter of my income for the year. And in return, I’ve sent him clients that I couldn’t help at the time.


7. LinkedIn is what you make it


If you’d rather have eyeball acupuncture than use LinkedIn, you’re not alone. LinkedIn can be a dull place full of salespeople pitching into your DMs. Not to mention the sleazy approaches and the cowardly misappropriation of your content by people too lazy to create their own.


But, LinkedIn is also a place of friendship, support and camaraderie. A place where just putting yourself out there can attract amazing opportunities for your business. You just need to get on there and engage with people. Lurking isn’t going to get you any business.


Approach it with generosity and the aim of helping others with your professional expertise and you can’t go wrong. And remember the block option for persistent dick wigglers and post stealers.


8. Comfort zones hold you back


Comfort zones are, by their very definition, comfy. Who doesn’t like comfort? No-one browses the DFS sale for a sofabed of nails and fibre glass. But professionally speaking, staying where you’re comfortable means you don’t get to grow. And that means opportunities are going to wing past above your head, just out of reach.


The thought of recording video terrified me. But I knew that I wanted to reach more people with my expertise. So I bit the bullet and went for it. No, it wasn’t perfect. Yes, I cried that night because I felt so uncomfortable. But when people started signing up for my video course on content marketing, I felt bulletproof. And that felt way better than comfy.




Libby Marks is a freelance copywriter in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

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