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Don’t put your daughter on the stage (or let her become a Freelance Copywriter)

Now don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I get to create AND pay the bills – how cool is that!

It’s one of those jobs that when it goes well, it really is the best job in the world (after Maldives Snorkel Tester and Caribbean Cloud Buster).


That’s a big but. It’s not as cosy as ‘they’ would have you believe.

If you are seriously considering setting out as a Freelance Copywriter, this is a stiff and honest warning.

The freelance pool is getting fuller by the minute. There’s old plasters, hair and even the odd turd floating in there. Not to mention the sharks.

And at the same time, the conditions are getting tougher, especially for those new to the game.

Get ready to down a deadly cocktail: frozen budgets, cost of living nonsense, AI, and a shed load of misdirection from Copy Ninjas who couldn’t even Ninj their way out of a shed made of wet rice cakes.

As smooth as a navvy’s backside

OK, you’re still up for it. Good. But, don’t expect a smooth ride.

To be fair, every job, every client and every month are different. But at the moment, it seems like 1st gear or neutral is normal for most.

You have a meeting with a prospect. They love you and your work. They’ll be in touch. Six months later, they drop into your DMs, apologising because they’ve been hectic with whatever.

Meanwhile that big project you started at the end of last year has ground to a halt. You chase in January; nothing, not even a reply. You chase two weeks later, “Sorry, we’re still trying to get input from the rest of the team”. Eventually it kicks off again. Final draft is sent five months after being given the purchase order. They take a month to come back with two minor changes, then another three weeks to sign the work off.

Two and a half months later, the balance (you were smart enough to get a deposit) is in your account – nine months after starting the job. Damn, you could have grown a whole new tiny human by now, and it wouldn’t have been half as painful pushing it out.

Think I’m making it up? OK, here’s my WiP sheet from the first week of March 2024:

WiP sheet – Jonathan Wilcock

I had ten live projects on at the time, some of them fully alive, some limping to the finish line and some, barely breathing. Here’s a breakdown:

1) ToV guidelines for a B2B consultancy.
Kicked off 3rd week in Feb, all done and dusted by end of March. Cash in the bank, very happy client and led to another project. ★★★★★

2) Value proposition, messaging and strapline for an insurance company.
First flagged last week of Feb. Briefed 1st week of March. Signed off end of March, cash in bank 1st week April, happy client. ★★★★★

3) Creative theming, brand narrative and strapline for a heavily NDAd sporting event.
First approached 2nd week Feb. Very happy client, but project stalled 2nd week March. Agreed to issue credit note for time not used against a future project. Cash in bank 3rd week of April. ★★★★

4) ToV, website and brochure copy for new London office block.
First approached 1st week Feb. Site visit and ToV work sent 3rd week Feb. Project ground to halt, waiting for feedback and final brochure pagination up until May 8th. Brochure copy eventually sent May 14th; minor changes sent May 15th. v3 sent May 30th, waiting for feedback. ★★★

5) Campaign copy and strapline for Mediterranean residential complex.
Briefed 2nd week Feb, signed off 3rd week April, doubt I’ll get paid before end of June. ★★

6) Brochure and flyer copy for Swiss international institution.
Briefed and deposit invoiced last week Jan, stage one copy sent 1st week Feb. Chased for feedback at beginning and end of March. Brochure signed off, still waiting for brief details on flyer (as of 13th June). Deposit not paid until end of May, don’t imagine I’ll get the balance until July. ★★

7) ToV development and coffee table book concept/copy for private bank.
Briefed 3rd week June 2022!!! Deposit paid 2nd week August 2022. All copy sent 3rd week August 2022. Radio silence. 2nd week April 2023, work is put on hold (big question mark over project direction). Client ‘regroup’ 3rd week May 2023. Balance invoice paid 2nd week July 2023. 3rd week Oct officially back on hold. Still waiting for next steps 24 months since initial briefing.

8) ToV, web copy and case studies for an architectural practice.
First approached 3rd week July 2023. Initial briefing chat 1st week August. Deposit paid and client questionnaire sent 2nd week August. Answers received 2nd week October. Lots and lots of chasing, nagging and begging. Final sign-off on everything 3rd week April 2024 (9 months, told ya). ★★

9) Creative theming and ToV for refurbished London office building.
Briefed 3rd week Oct 2023. Deposit paid 4th week Oct. Stage 1 work sent 3rd week November. Ground to a halt. Three false starts and still waiting for feedback over 7 months later.

10) Series of LinkedIn/blog posts for a start up design agency.
Briefed and deposit paid 3rd week Jan. Signed off by an ecstatic client 1st week Feb. If only all copywriting projects were like this one. ★★★★★

Three smooth projects, 1 smooth-ish, and six of varying levels of pain, from stubbed toe to privates caught in flies. I know what you’re thinking, ‘Why don’t you fire those awkward clients?’ Well, those awkward clients also give me lots of other work that’s less painful, and yes, I may also be slightly mad.

Anyway, let’s just say, if you’re going to survive, you’d better have at least one or two reliable clients, a few quid in the bank and a sense of humour.

So, why do you do it at all, Mr. Wilcock?

Good question. One I’ve asked myself a few times over the years. One time I even tried to escape completely, running a pitch in a Sarf Lahndan market (which only convinced me even more, that I was better off being a writer).

The thing is, I really do love what I do. All the pain, all the self-doubt, all the long hours of client wrangling, self-promotion and bookkeeping are fine. Because I get to write for a living.

I’m accepting of the fact that I have to keep grafting at what I do, and I’m happy to do it. I like the challenge. I like the little highs that go with the inevitable lows, and I learn from all of it.

I’m prepared to put the hours in. I’m excited by the idea of developing my craft. I love solving creative problems and I love the people I get to work with.

If I didn’t, then I’d definitely, categorically, indubitably be in the wrong job.

Question is, do you have the stamina, patience, talent, humility and absolute conviction you’re inevitably going to need? Do you really, really, REALLY want to be a Freelance Copywriter?

Yes? Well, here are three more posts I urge you to read:

Sorry, but talent will only get you so far

How to make your clients fall in love with you

What design agencies want from Freelance Copywriters

Best of luck, you beautiful fool, you.

Love and patience

Jonathan xx

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter.
You can drop me a line here, or email