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40 freelance copywriting survival tips

Jonathan Wilcock – freelance copywriting survival tips

Freelance copywriting has its ups and downs.

I freelanced in the late ’80s, through the mid ’90s into the mid noughties and once more I find myself in the familiar, yet choppy seas of the freelance creative world.

If you add it all up, I’ve spent a good 19 years without a boss, routine or guaranteed salary. Along the way I’ve picked up a few tips that can mean the difference between plenty and starvation / sanity and insanity.

40 freelance copywriting survival tips

1) There will be troughs as well as peaks. Keep some savings back for rainy days.

2) When self-doubt comes knocking, remind yourself that you’re at least good enough to have got this far.

3) Explore ways to collaborate with other creatives. It opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

4) Go outside now and again – Vitamin D / human contact / exercise…

5) The grass only appears to be greener. Employees get made redundant, business owners fold their companies – there is no solution that’s any better than freelancing per se.

6) Extend a helping hand wherever it’s needed. And you never know, the person you helped, might be helping you back one day.

7) Allow yourself a holiday. Even if it’s just a 10 minute walk round the block.

8) Put as much love into the small jobs as the big ones.

9) Work hard, but don’t give yourself a heart attack.

10) If there’s no paid work to do, there are three basic options – knock on doors, put energy into an extra-curricular creative project or take the day off. They’re all equally beneficial.

11) When things get tough with a client, pick up the phone.

12) It’s a numbers game. If you want 5 new clients, start with 500 prospects.

13) Be patient. It will happen.

14) When the job’s finished, they won’t remember whether or not you hit the deadline or if you were cheaper or more expensive than anyone else. They will, however, remember the quality of what you did and what it was like to work with you.

15) If you’re working on-site, there are three things that will get you off to a bad start: turning up late, constantly checking your emails and not offering to make a cup of tea.

16) If you hate working for a client, stop it.

17) If you love working for a client, let them know somehow.

18) Get a simple system going to keep track of jobs, billing and everyday tasks.

19) Back up your hard drive. Seriously. Do it.

20) Know your value. If, for whatever reason you reduce your rate, don’t go so low that you end up resenting doing the work.

21) Put money aside for the taxman. The only other options are stress, pain and possible bankruptcy.

22) Ask for testimonials. You can tell me all day how good you are, but it’s better coming from someone else.

23) A day off social media is not business suicide – honest.

24) Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.

25) If you are running over on time or budget, flag it immediately.

26) When the spec of the brief begins to creep, explain politely why you will have to charge more.

27) If you give a huge discount for the first job, don’t expect the client to be happy paying more later.

28) Your portfolio is precious. Ask for file copies, keep back ups, don’t throw away great ideas that never ran.

29) Whether virtual or physical, keep good company – learn from the best and ignore the naysayers.

30) Your website and social channels are the windows on your professional life. Keep them clean.

31) If you need a favour, ask. The worst that can happen is they say “no”.

32) There is no such thing as a lost opportunity. Keep the door ajar, leave a good impression and keep in touch.

33) When you meet potential clients, show the best version of you, but don’t pretend to be something you’re not.

34) As a freelancer, you are unimportant to your clients; until they really need you. Don’t take it personally.

35) If you want to be treated with respect, be respectful.

36) Sometimes it may feel like a calling, but freelance copywriting is a job. Do it well and don’t get all up yourself when a client doesn’t like your work.

37) Don’t do work that goes against your core values, but don’t let your family starve because of a rigid set of principles.

38) Admit to and apologise for your mistakes.

39) Make sure you get a purchase order or email clearly stating that you have the go ahead to start work.

40) Somebody at some point will probably tempt you back into the fulltime pool. Think carefully before you put your swimming costume on.

So, what life saving tip would you add to this list?

Related freelance copywriting posts:

The agony of a freelance copywriter
What design agencies want from freelance copywriters
How to survive as a freelance copywriter – lessons learnt the hard way

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

I can’t believe I didn’t add this to the list. Ignoring it a few years ago basically ended my freelance career and forced me back into the normal world.

41) Don’t rely on one client for your bread, butter AND jam. As alluring as that juicy retainer is, if they went bust could you still cover your bills?