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Crash course in freelance copywriting?
January 14, 2009 2:02 PM   Subscribe

I need a crash course in freelance copywriting.

Yikes! I posted an ad to craigslist offering freelance copywriting, copyediting, and transcription services. I had no idea that it would pay off so quickly - I've got an offer for a job sitting in my inbox right now. And I have no idea what to do next.

I've done plenty of marketing writing, but it's all been within a full-time job. I've done some freelance writing for magazines, but that feels a bit different from a situation where I'm a vendor providing services to a client. What do I need to do to set up shop and provide good customer service?

- How do I figure out the scope of the work? The job entails writing copy for a revamped website. Do I simply talk to them, find out the pieces they need, work on a tone with them, and go?

- How do I get details on the product? Should I expect them to send me a spec sheet or existing marketing copy?

- Is it better to charge an hourly or flat rate for a project of this type? What do clients expect?

- How do I need to get set up, business-wise? Do I need to file any kind of paperwork or form a company, or can I just have the client cut a check to me, Jane. Q. Individual?

- How do I write a simple contract? Do I need to get a lawyer involved?

Any other tips or reminders about steps I've missed would be very helpful. Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (5 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
I can't answer all your questions, but I'm a fellow creative. So here goes

How do I figure out the scope of the work? You can't ask enough questions. Better to get every last facet of what they want then to have them come back and say "you know, we want to add XYZ to that, you can do that without extra charge, right?"

How do I get details on the product? Should I expect them to send me a spec sheet or existing marketing copy? I design sites (as well as print and illustrate) and this is my experience. You'll get something kind of put together but it won't be concise. Expect revisions. But yes they should have at least *something*

Is it better to charge an hourly or flat rate for a project of this type? What do clients expect? Estimate your costs, say this is an estimate only and it could fluctuate and whatever you do REQUEST 50% UP FRONT!

How do I need to get set up, business-wise? Do I need to file any kind of paperwork or form a company, or can I just have the client cut a check to me, Jane. Q. Individual? I've been having checks made out to my personal name for years. I do have a business and I actually get irked when checks are sent out that way because it always makes for a hellish time at the bank.

How do I write a simple contract? Do I need to get a lawyer involved? I've been doing this for around 10 years and I've never once gotten a lawyer. What I do is tell them my estimate is my contract. If you'd like, MEFI-mail me and I'll send you a sample contract/estimate I use. I have, however, had to get a lawyer after a client for a broken contract.
posted by Hands of Manos at 2:21 PM on January 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm not a copywriter, but I do provide writing and editing services to magazines and other clients. My two cents:

- To figure out the scope of the work, yes, just ask your clients. This shouldn't mark you as an beginner; since client expectations differ from job to job, you simply want them to be as explicit as possible, to ensure you meet their goals. Likewise, ask how they will be supplying the product details.

- You didn't mention where you live. In Canada (where I am), I didn't need to file any paperwork to establish myself as a freelancer. But I did eventually register for a business number to collect taxes (it's required once you make more than a certain amount of money). You will, of course, want to double-check the rules in your country.

- I don't generate my own contracts for writing assignments; the company usually does so. At the very least, I would recommend having some sort of document outlining the fees, payment schedule, the rights purchased, and the deadline. I've never needed to get a lawyer involved.
posted by curiouskitty at 2:37 PM on January 14, 2009


Here's my view as someone who recently hired a copywriter for my organization:
Do I simply talk to them, find out the pieces they need, work on a tone with them, and go?
Yes do this exactly

Should I expect them to send me a spec sheet or existing marketing copy?
Ask for these, if they have them it would be useful to you.

Is it better to charge an hourly or flat rate for a project of this type? What do clients expect?
I expect a flate rate based on how many hours you estimate the project will take.

Contract templates are so easy to download off the internet (just google for them) it would be silly not to have one.
posted by entropyiswinning at 5:28 PM on January 14, 2009


You have no idea what to do next? Write back and tell the client that something has come up and you can't do the job.

It's not ethical to offer to provide services before you can actually do so. Pull your ad and get your act together first! Freelancing for Dummies is actually a pretty good book for getting answers to your questions, and there are plenty of Internet resources (including this one) where you can ask followups.

Otherwise you are setting yourself up for disaster -- black marks for you and a failed project for your client. Do the right thing here, anonymous.
posted by gum at 12:24 AM on January 15, 2009


Relax, be transparent, and talk things through. Don't come across as a nickel-and-dimer; hopefully this is the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership for both side. It may take a little time to find the sweet spot.

There's no crash course. Calling oneself a freelancer is easy -- but creating a successful, sustainable business model is harder. After 12 years, I can't count how many things I read in a book, but had to learn on the ground.

It's tempting to agree with gum. Going into a recession, I certainly don't mind seeing the talent pool shrink a bit as competitors leave the field.

But your questions mainly concern administrative issues. They're not unimportant -- screw up too often and you'll disappoint clients and soon be out of business. The detailed comments others have made should put you on track.

The main questions are: Are you a good enough writer? Is the subject matter generally within your competencies, or at least accessible to you? If so, you should be able to satisfy the client.

Contracts: For most of my work, I lay out the essentials in a brief email, and ask the client to agree by email. I've been burned, but only for a couple hundred bucks in 12 years.

Project or hourly: Hourly is safer, obviously. A project price, on the other hand, offers risk and reward: You might make big bucks, but you might lose your shirt. Few things in the world are more painful than watching your actual rate fall as you labor through a project you misestimated but are obligated to finish.

Most clients prefer project pricing. If you offer it, take the time to price it out carefully using an hourly rate, and offer the client something like that.

And consider a volume discount: I give one client 15 percent off as long as he guarantees me $12,000 a year, and I have never regretted the arrangement. Reliable, budgetable income has a value beyond the actual dollars.

Recommendation: The Well-Fed Writer, by Peter Bowerman.

Good luck!
posted by Brzht at 6:49 AM on January 15, 2009


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