Step right up and learn from the master! When I was first starting out, I made a ton of mistakes and lost out on an awful lot of money. Want to know how?
There’s nothing that I necessarily regret. It was all valuable learning for me, and it lets me pass on that learning to you so you can avoid making the same mistakes.
But did I do stupid stuff? Absolutely! Did I miss out on lots of money? You bet! I made some real rookie business mistakes. And would you like to avoid doing the same? Here’s what to avoid.
Not Regularly Prospecting for New Clients
Inconsistency, thy name is Nicki. (Or, at least, it was.) I would be a good business person and prospect like crazy, but once I got work in, I’d drop prospecting like a bad habit.
And that, of course, led to dry spells and worrying about money. Not a great place to be, no matter where you are in your career.
Here’s the secret about dry spells: they only happen if you let them. Dry spells are not inevitable. In fact, learn from my mistake: you can have an entire career without any dry spells!
How Freelance Dry Spells Happen
Freelance dry spells don’t come out of no where. What often happens is you have a ton of work. You’re not thinking about new clients or projects because you don’t have time! Therein lies the mistake.
Let’s say you’re so busy in July. You know you’ve hit your income goals for the month and you’re feeling good! But you’re not prospecting. Come August you’re still buzzing along with work, but it starts to wind down toward the end of the month. You’re still OK with it. It’s a welcome break.
Then September comes. You look up from your desk and realize you have no work for the foreseeable future.
Dry spells don’t happen suddenly. They happen because a month or two ago we stopped pitching. And when we stop pitching, work dries up.
How to Prevent Freelance Dry Spells
The good news is that you have the power to prevent freelance dry spells. What it means is you need to set aside time to pitch new clients. (Reminder: these are value-based pitches; not mass templates.)
Our head copy coach, Kate, does client work Mondays through Thursdays and sets aside every Friday to focus on her copywriting business. This is time she uses for sending invoices, adding clients she wants to pitch to her pitch list, and, yes, writing and sending pitches.
Not every client will reply to every pitch. And even if they did, you do not have to start the project right away. Kate has a business rule that she starts new projects at least two weeks from when the project is discussed. And that’s a minimum.
When you’re first starting out and building a client base, you will send more pitches than when you have a steady client roster. But even when you have a steady client roster, you need to continue pitching, even if it’s just sending one or two emails a week.
Not only does this help you prevent dry spells, it ensures you have new clients in the queue should you want to move on from any of the clients you work with—for any reason!
Continuously pitching ensures you have control—and stay in control—of your career.
Being Unprepared to Pitch Ideas
I’d land a meeting with a potential client, dress myself up for the meeting like a professional, sit down to chat…and go mute when they asked, “So, what could you do for me?”
It’s not their job to come up with ways you can be of value to them; it’s ours. If you head into a meeting without any ideas for things you can do, be prepared to head back out without the job.
You need to send value-packed pitches. And you need to be prepared to come to any discovery calls you land with ideas for how you can help the business.
Being Lazy About Creating My Portfolio
Guess what? It’s not enough to just throw some images up on a page. (It’s also definitely not enough to just through them up on a blog. Guilty.)
You need to be judicious about what goes up there. You need to organize it. And you need to give context to your samples by explaining what problems you solved for the company and how you solved them. Being lazy about your portfolio is a career-killer.
Prospective clients want to see not just the final outcome, but understand your thought process. As you know, copywriting is about more than writing. By explaining your work, you can show your strategic thinking. You want to show that you’re a partner, not a producer.
Need a checklist to help you knock your portfolio out of the park? Here’s how to put together your copywriting portfolio >>
Not Having My Portfolio Ready to Show
When you get a call from a recruiter or potential client, you need to be available to come in and meet immediately. OK, maybe not right that second. But within the next day or two.
You know what doesn’t work? Saying, “Oh, um, yeah…I need to update my portfolio. Can I push that meeting back a few days?”
Almost as bad is taking the meeting, but having to spend all night updating your portfolio. You’re not going to give your best interview on no sleep. Believe me.
Even if you’re just starting out, you can put together your portfolio with spec pieces. Even better, you can build your portfolio by pitching work to nonprofits. You may not make a ton of money (nonprofits aren’t notorious for having giant budgets). But, if you’re looking for samples, and real-world experience, it’s a way to get started.
Failing to Identify Why People Should Hire Me
I used to think that once I got the meeting with the potential client, I was home free. I could show my portfolio, be personable, and they would just know that I was the right one for them.
Not so much.
We’re always going to be up against competition for any job, and if we can’t concisely and confidently explain what sets us apart from everyone else, we’re not going to get the work. It’s not enough to be nice, it’s not enough to have good samples, and it’s not enough to really want it. You need to be able to explain what you bring to the table that no one else does. What’s your benefit to consumer?
Just like you’d help your clients identify what makes their product or service better or different than their competitors’ offerings, you need to identify what makes you different than other copywriters.
What can you bring to the table that no other copywriter brings?
Have you made any rookie mistakes (that you’ve learned from since)? Let us know in the comments below!
Last Updated on October 4, 2023