11 Things I Learned in my First Month as a Freelance Copywriter
And why I took the plunge in the first place.
My name is Noah Jade. I’m a 29-year-old newbie freelance copywriter, with a lifetime of experience writing fictional stories that no one’s ever read, and a portfolio full of free and spec work.
I’ve written full journals of poetry, short stories across all the genres (even a spicy one), and have an army of half-finished novels I’m “not ready to finish.”
None of that, apparently, counts as anything other than skill-building.
The only genuine experience I have is running a little blog called “Unlimited Ambition” with a consistent daily post for two whole years. That’s 730 blogs, but who’s counting?
Everything was going well, but I lost my job and landed back in the job market. After a while, I missed a day, then I missed a few days, and before I knew it, I’d given up the blog entirely.
That was back in 2014.
Yep, it’s been eight years, and all of those blogs are long-lost relics in email addresses I’ve lost access to.
It’s probably for the best, honestly.
So why 2022?
Why now, after all these years, am I charging straight into the 24/7 life of a freelance copywriter?
Here’s what happened.
I logged in to work every day with tears in my eyes. One person trying to cover the work of three because the higher-ups are too cheap to hire a third member for the department.
On top of the heavy workload, I’m spending half of every day with tech support. I try to nudge them about getting it replaced. They replaced every removable piece of the device, and still, the glitches persisted.
Worse still, I was being hounded by management to bring up my scores despite proof of my technology issue saga.
You don’t know how stressful doing nothing is until you’re on hold with tech support. Getting punished for experiencing issues outside of your control, while being refused a new device.
I wish that were all, but the story doesn’t end there.
See, that department I worked in was “niche”. The type of department you can’t easily replace an employee for. The training to deal with antiquated systems alone puts any trainer at a disadvantage.
It took a full year to train me on most of the processes and systems, which they considered fast. During that time, I accumulated eight total raises. Hell yeah, right?
Wrong. Just before employee reviews, the corporation raised the minimum wage to 30 cents less than my salary. Wage compression. If you’ve ever worked at a call center or corporate office, you’re probably familiar with the term.
It’s the reason people who’ve been there for twenty years are making barely more than new hires. All the biggest companies do it, and yes, you’re expected to just accept it.
So, I thought it would be a good idea to bring up all of my concerns about understaffing, tech issues, and wage compression to my manager during our annual review.
I spent weeks going over all the major points of why it would benefit the company to compensate me fairly. Sounds silly to fight for something that should be common sense. They want to offer bonuses to new hires while screwing the employees who’ve proven valuable and loyal.
I rehearsed my bit, probably 500 times, in my bathroom mirror. I binge-read “Never Split the Difference,” by Chris Voss for an edge up on the discussion. Butterflies were fluttering in my vocal cords.
Finally, it’s time. I log into the annual review zoom meeting, and the boss runs through the whole thing. Praise for my good work, exemplary work ethic, and near-perfect numbers. All expected, all good.
My attendance was “eh.” Still acceptable, but you know, covid takes a toll on your report card.
That’s when things went sideways…
There’s a section where you rate yourself on several key skills. The options are: agree, in between, or disagree. Fair enough, that makes sense.
My boss rates me as “in-between” for more than half of these skills. Why? Because he feels he doesn’t know enough about my job to judge. The butterflies turn into bees.
But I’m a professional. I push the fury in my throat down for another time.
When it’s my turn to speak and turn this review into a negotiation. I go into my spiel with numbers and data to reflect that I deserve a raise to counteract the damage that wage compression took from the value of my salary.
Every word flowed out of my mouth smooth as butter. After all, I practiced until my tongue considered falling out.
Without even considering it, he informs me that my attendance (which was not over the “legal limit” in raise terms) was too high to consider a raise.
The supervisors had unanimously agreed that the best response to wage compression would be no response at all. They made very few exceptions, and I was not one of the lucky ones.
My boss said, “Well, it’s just one of those things we’re going to have to deal with. Maybe we can see about a little raise next quarter if your attendance is better.” And that was the end.
After having that lovely little talk, I got a warning from my boss about being with tech for too long the day before.
The day after that, I was told that the department desperately needs me, and boy they would be in trouble if I left. Not the first time I would be told I’m virtually irreplaceable. I wonder if they say the same thing to the doormats. Guess even desperation doesn’t warrant a raise.
So, I sat down in my home office and drafted up a plan.
How much money do I need to survive? How much are my bills? When are they due? How much will my 401k be after taxes and penalties?
After it was all said and done, I settled to tell my boss on March 21, 2022, that I would quit immediately. Yes, I know that the bridge is burnt, and I would burn it again.
Trust me, I’m not recommending you go out and rage quit your job, but every person has a limit to the crap they’re willing to take.
I pulled the 401k that I’d been building for 3 years to use it as a cushion while I flounder through entrepreneurial growing pains.
It’s been about a month and a half since that day.
What have I done with that time?
First, a recruiter contacted me to compete for a spot as a junior copywriter for Dell Blue. It was a great opportunity, and for a second, I even thought I might get the job.
They loved me and my portfolio, but not enough to choose me over the guy with a college degree. Ouch.
I used that couple of weeks as an excuse not to send pitches. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to get lucky off the bat? No such luck.
Took a couple of days to lick my wounds, but then I started working my way through 5 pitches a day. Well, for a couple of days.
Then another job came through with the potential to work from home, and it came at the recommendation of a good friend. Why not?
I put pitching on hold again because I didn’t want to get involved in too many projects if I was taking on a full-time job. Bold of me to assume I would just be so overloaded with work.
Yeah, I didn’t get that job either.
So I finally got back to pitching again. It’s been almost a month of me dallying.
I commit to writing and sending 5 email pitches every single day, and reaching out ten times on LinkedIn. It wasn’t bad. I did that for two more whole days…
Another potential agency partnership conspired.
I stopped pitching again to focus all my time on creating the 5-day deadline sequence that could land me the job.
I say it took all my time, but in reality, I just didn’t use the rest of my time. Yes, I’ve been a little lazy.
But that project is in the final stage of the decision-making process. I can tell you I made the cut as one of three writers to be sent on to the client.
Now it’s in his hands, and soon, I’ll find out if I’ve gotten the job, or if I’m back into the sea of pitching.
Truthfully, a one in three chance isn’t bad at all. And they enjoyed my particular flavor of story-based copy. So maybe I’ve got it.
Either way, I’ve started a 30-day challenge where I write and send 5 pitches every single day. Even on the weekends. All the juicy data of a newbie freelancer’s struggles and wins will be detailed on the blog page. You can go there directly by clicking this link.
With no further interruptions, here are the things I learned in my first month and a half as a freelance copywriter.
Don’t stop pitching just because you might have landed a job.
Now that I say it, it seems really obvious, but hindsight is twenty-twenty. Who knows how many clients I would have right now had I kept sending pitches every single day.
That’s money and opportunities that you never get back.
Getting second place twice in a row feels like rubbing salt in my empty wallet, but knowing I counted on deals that weren’t sealed is what really hurts.
Until you have clients, your job is to find clients
When you get started as a freelancer, you might have a weird daydream about what your life is actually going to be like.
The glory of working long, hard hours in pursuit of building your business. You’ll be writing so much, and finally getting paid for it.
But you forget… you’re new.
Currently, the only job you’re doing is sending pitches and blogging about your experience for free. ;)
Am I living the dream yet?
Make yourself a procedures manual
If you’re used to the 9 to 5 life where you have a daily schedule, a queue to work through, and a trainer to ask questions when you need help. Freelancing is going to be a culture shock.
You wake up in the morning, and technically you don’t have to be at work yet. You make your own hours now.
And when you sit down to work… What do you do?
There’s no procedure manual for cold pitching — though I intend to write one ;) — and you can’t afford to spend $500 on another course yet. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
How the heck do I prospect a list? How do I get verified emails? How do I do it for free because I’m still broke?
As you learn to do things that are now part of your everyday task list, start making a procedures manual.
Write the steps of sending a cold pitch. Create a quick word document to remind you how to create a prospecting list. Make notes about what you think you’re doing well, and what might need to be better.
Hell, make templates of everything. You’re on your own now, so it’s best to figure out your process.
Speaking of being on your own. Schedule yourself.
Maybe this is just me, but if I don’t know that I have to be somewhere at a specific time, I don’t get out of bed.
It’s so bad. Fifteen ultra-loud rooster alarms, every morning, and I somehow sleep straight through it. I’ve considered paying my brother-in-law to dump water on me… it’s that bad?
But then, I scheduled an interview at 7:30 am. The alarm works. I get up without a problem, and my day goes smoothly.
The next day. Same alarms. Same rooster. Fully ignored every single one of them.
If I don’t schedule myself ahead of time, for an exact time, then I can magically ignore the alarm. It’s an impressively annoying skill. 10/10 would not recommend.
If you relate, try spending a few minutes before bed writing a to-do list and scheduling your “clock-in” time.
The best way to do this is to write it all out on a notecard, repeat your tasks a few times, and then tape it up to your mirror.
Keep reading and writing copy every single day.
Just because you’ve finished a course or a book that taught you the basics of writing copy does not mean you’re done learning.
You should be constantly looking for new information to upgrade your skills. Examine copy in the world, review it, and try to improve it. Keep this stuff fresh so that your skills don’t get rusty before you land your next client.
Try to set a goal to get just a little better at writing every day. I recommend setting aside at least a half-hour to learn something new. You can read a blog post, a chapter of a book, watch a YouTube video, or even a Skillshare class.
Just get your mind digesting new ideas about copy and writing as often as possible.
I’ve found it helps to keep the imposter syndrome demon at bay, too.
Don’t be afraid of pitching. I promise it’s just an email.
As we’ve discussed. Pitching is your new job as a baby freelancer, and so you’re going to have to stop fearing it quickly.
Unless you can use Facebook ads to generate leads or have the time for content marketing to bring clients knocking at your door.
If you’re like me and your back is against the wall…
Pitching might be your best shot.
I promise you, it’s only scary until you’ve sent a few out. Once you demystify the event, it feels just like any other job.
The rejection stings a bit, but it’s just something we all have to learn to deal with.
Do all of your prospecting for the week in one day, if possible.
The best advice is to do at least 5 pitches every working day of the week. That’s 25 total opportunities to score a client every single week.
But where does the list of potential clients come from?
You have to create, update, and maintain that list yourself.
Unless you want to spend the first hour of every day prospecting. But, if you’d rather spare yourself that misery, then set a time once a week to add 25 new contacts to your spreadsheet.
This one goes out to everyone who works from home regularly. Please, for the love of God, go outside.
Let the sunlight hit your face. I promise you won’t start sparkling or burning. Bring the garlic if you must, but get out there.
Cabin fever is a real thing that affects real at-home workers every single day. It hit me hard during the pandemic, and the one thing that saved me was planning time in my day to just exist outside on my patio.
Now I take walks as often as possible to upkeep the ever-depleting serotonin.
And if you’re not getting enough sun, then talk to your doctor about vitamin D. Not to sound like a pharmaceutical ad, but a deficiency of that vitamin made me feel like hell for months.
Self Care is Critical
The stress of starting your own business is off the charts. Especially if you are in a true-to-life sink or swim situation.
Nothing less than success is an option, and that’s going to take a mental toll.
If you want to keep up with the demands of running at full steam every day, then you’re going to need repair time.
Exercise, read a good book, connect with your friends or family, and take a hot shower. I don’t care how much time you don’t feel you have; you have enough time to take care of yourself.
What good are you to your business if you’re too burnt out to run it?
Take breaks just like you would at a regular job
I use my break time every day to take my dogs for a walk, brew some coffee, and take a few deep breaths.
I don’t schedule them, but every time I need to shift gears into a new type of task, I take a few. Might be five minutes, might be thirty.
Just come back when you’re ready for the next task.
You’re going to make it. You’re going to find clients who want to work with you. And when you get those clients, you’re going to blow their minds.
But until then, focus on the process, and be patient.
Take the rejections with a grain of salt. Keep going even when you keep scoring second place. Just keep stepping up to the bat because eventually, you’ll hit one.
You just need someone to give you your shot. And if you keep at it, then someone eventually will.
Alright, my friends, that’s all I’ve got for the first month and a half as a full-time freelance copywriter. Make sure you check out the first article of my new series “Freelance Copywriter tries cold pitching for 30 days”
Or you can subscribe straight to my email list if you want updates and the downloads of all the pitches I send. (redacted, of course)
Until next time, copy on. :)