One of the (many) great things about being a copywriter is that it’s a very flexible career: In many ways, you can work for whom you want to and work how you want to.
But that much flexibility and so many opportunities can be overwhelming for people, so I often get asked if it’s better to focus on on-staff or freelance copywriting careers.
The first thing I want to make clear is that you don’t have to choose just one for the rest of your life. I’m entirely freelance now, but I’ve been on staff for several years and I’ve also been a contractor for several years.
Generally, I bounce around when I feel like a change. And you can absolutely do the same. If you focus on freelancing and then later decide you’d like a little more structure to your day and you’d enjoy going into an office and working with people in person, you can move to on-staff.
Or, if you’re on-staff and you start to feel like you’d like a little more control of your days and your schedule, you can switch to freelance.
The point is that making a choice right now doesn’t mean it’s a permanent choice. Try one way and, if it’s not quite right, switch it up! Or, as I have, switch it up whenever you feel like it. Starting out on-staff or starting out as a freelancer doesn’t mean you have to do either for life.
People also ask me about the “safety” of each one, as in “Is it safer, income-wise, to be on-staff or to be a freelancer?”
A lot of people like the predictability of getting a regular paycheck and having their company pay for health insurance, and that can make being on-staff very appealing. The downside of that, though, is that you’re not in charge of whether you continue to work there or not; the company is. Sadly, layoffs do happen.
That’s one reason I suggest that copywriters who are on-staff still periodically take freelance work. Not a ton, of course—just a project or two a month. Maintaining freelance clients helps keep you creatively fresh, brings in extra cash, and makes it easier to transition back to more freelance work if you suddenly find yourself in need of a cash infusion.
With freelance work, it may come as a surprise to people who’ve never freelanced, but you’re much more in control of your work and income. If you’re doing it right, you’re not at the mercy of the whims of clients; you’re ensuring that work is regularly coming in.
The system of pitching that I teach my students means that they’re always reaching out to get in touch with companies and business owners about potential opportunities and, as such, there are always opportunities coming in. If a freelancer wants to make more money, they increase their pitching efforts. If their schedule is booked, they can dial them back a bit.
People fear a “freelance dry spell”—the period when, all of a sudden, no work is coming in at all. But dry spells don’t come out of nowhere. Generally, when you’re pitching, you’re talking to clients about projects that will get started anywhere from a few weeks to even a few months in the future.
So, when a dry spell comes up, a freelancer should always take a look back over the past few weeks and months: That dry spell is the result of slacking on pitching in favor of other activities. Keep pitching and you’ll keep the business coming in.
So, which is better? Neither one is better in and of itself; it’s really a matter of which one is better for you. Which one will help you have the lifestyle you’d most like to live? Which one suits your style of working better? Which one suits your schedule better? Which one will give you the kind of resume or career trajectory you’d like to have?
The answer to each question is deeply personal but important for you to think about because the answer to each one will help you determine the right direction for you.
Feel like sharing? Let me know how you’re setting up your copywriting career! Post your thoughts in the comments below.