There’s nothing wrong with being new. Even the most seasoned, successful copywriters were once new to copywriting. So if you’re starting out right there at square one, guess what? You’re in exactly the right place.
That said, though, no one wants to hire a brand-new copywriter. It’s nothing personal: YOU are a fabulous human being. But hiring anyone to do anything is a risk, and hiring someone who’s completely green to handle one of the most important parts of their businesses (their messaging) is just a bad idea.
But wait – if it’s okay to be new to something, how do you transition from “Hi, I’m new here!” to “Yes, I AM the skilled copywriter you need to hire?” Basically, how can you be new without seeming so new that no one wants to hire you?
The first step, obviously, is to know what you’re doing. To learn how to write copy effectively and to practice your skills. Let’s just assume you’re already doing that, right?
The second step is to avoid doing a few things that clearly mark you as a newbie—things that (even though you might not realize it) are big red flags for your would-be clients.
7 Telltale Signs That You’re a Brand-New Copywriter
1. Mixing Copy and Content
You and I both know that there’s a big difference between copy and content. (As a refresher, copy is writing that is designed to persuade or to sell. Content is writing that’s designed to educate, inspire, and/or entertain. Companies’ sales pages, emails campaign, brochures, even About Me pages? Copy. Blog posts and articles? Content)
But the problem is that there are a lot of would-be copywriters out there who don’t know the difference. And you know how you can tell? When their “copywriting” portfolio is full of content.
And, while you’re savvy enough not to do that, you may be making a similar mistake: mixing copy and content samples within your portfolio. And I get it; you want to show off all of the great work you’ve done. But when you put both copy and content samples within your copywriting portfolio it looks almost as bad as just having content samples.
So what’s the solution? Put your copywriting samples in your portfolio, and have a separate section for “content samples.” It demonstrates that you know the difference between the two, and that copywriting is your main focus—but that you may be available for content writing work.
Hear more about the differences between copy and content >>
2. “Explaining” Copywriting
It can be challenging for new copywriters to come up with what to write on their portfolio sites. It’s hard to write about ourselves! (And for that exact reason, entrepreneurs need and value us a great deal.)
But the problem is when new copywriters spend valuable space on their site explaining what copywriting is and why clients need it. As in “Copywriting is the art of creating words that compel your audience…” and so on. Here’s the problem—and why it marks you as a newbie: By the time a potential client gets to your site, they don’t need to be educated about what copywriting is or why they need it. They’re there to determine if you’re the copywriter they’ll hire.
When you waste time with unnecessary copy, it speaks to your copywriting skill and it speaks to your understanding of your audience—and neither one of them are in your favor. When someone gets to your site, it’s up to you to convince them of what you can do for them and why you’re the exact right person to do it.
Get inspiration from these three knock-out copywriter portfolios >>
3. Charging By the Word
This is a crucial point, but not only because it marks you as a newbie. This one can also cost you a whole lot of money. Let me make it very clear, right off the bat: Professional copywriters absolutely never charge by the word. They charge by the project or by the hour (depending on the situation), but never by the word.
Part of our value as copywriters is to create the most effective message and to do it as efficiently and concisely as possible. When you charge by the word, you’re actually penalizing yourself for doing your job well! Charging by the word is a very clear signal that you—and I say this as gently as I can—don’t know what you’re doing.
Learn more about how to charge >>
4. No Portfolio Site
Okay, I feel compelled to put this one in here just to cover my bases: If you don’t have a portfolio site, you’re not a professional copywriter. Plain and simple.
Listen or watch for more on why you NEED a portfolio >>
5. Letting Them Take Charge
When you get on a phone with a potential client, it’s true that they’re “interviewing” you to see if you’re right for them. But…a lot of clients don’t know what’s right for them. Or what to look for.
When you let the client lead the discussion, you’re putting them in charge—and that’s the mark of a newbie. As the professional, it’s up to you to lead the conversation. To ask them questions about their situation, their needs, and their goals, and then to connect those answers to what you have to offer, how you can benefit them, and why you are the exact right person for the job.
Read more about how NOT to tackle a client phone call >>
6. Accepting Any Rate
It’s exciting to get work! And it’s exciting when a client wants to work with you. But that doesn’t mean you need to accept a rate that’s much lower than your standard hourly rate. (Bonus tip: You need to know what your standard, or at least your lowest acceptable hourly rate is.)
When you quote a price to a client, they counter with a much lower rate, and you just accept that lower rate without any qualms or negotiations, it’s a big tip-off to the client that you’re a very inexperienced copywriter.
Professional copywriters know their value and know that people will pay for that value. Also, professional copywriter’s rates aren’t arbitrary—they’re based on calculations of time and effort estimated by what they know about the project.
Accepting a much lower rate than what you quote either looks like you haven’t thought through the project very well or that you’re desperate. And, of course, neither one of those reflects very well on you.
Watch this video for more on pricing your services >>
7. Not Following Up
Here’s something that shouldn’t be a surprise: People are busy. Really busy. So busy, in fact, that they might not have time to respond to you. Or, they might be so busy that your email gets lost in their inbox. So let’s be clear: One outreach email isn’t enough.
Professional copywriters know that pitching clients is a process. (Luckily, it’s a pretty easy process to systematize, but still.) It’s going to be exceedingly, exceedingly rare that you can send out one email to a client you’re interested in working with and get a response. Usually, you’ll have to send at least a few follow-ups.
When you send just one email and vanish, it’s a clear sign you’re new to this. Even if a potential client hung on to your email to maybe get in touch later, it’s not going to reflect well on you that it’s the only email they ever got. That fact alone is likely to get them to delete that single email.
Newbies send out one email and cross their fingers. Professionals are disciplined. Professionals add value. Professionals reach out to potential clients multiple times, offering new ideas or resources each time.
See more ways to stand out from other copywriters >>
And there you have it! Being new doesn’t have to count against you—as long as you don’t act like or conduct your business like you’re new. Behaving like a pro when you’re starting out will catapult you out of “newbie” status faster than you can imagine.
Your turn! Which of these mistakes have you made or which are you going to fix first? (No judgment—this may be completely new information!) Let us know in the comments below…
Last Updated on April 5, 2023
This is a great post! I’ve been a copywriter five years now, but it’s always good to remind myself of the basics. I’ve made the mistake of negotiating by-the-word rates before (thankfully the project didn’t go through) and of also accepting any rate. It can be really tempting to just say yes to whatever value the client suggests because brand-new copywriters need the money. But just under an hour of planning and calculating before closing a deal can earn us sometimes thousands of dollars more.
I would add another tip: study the client/project before making your pitch. The more you can argue about their business, the more likely you’ll close the deal. All it takes is a little YouTubing and website browsing to familiarize yourself with what the client does. This will impress them and show them you genuinely care. Going the extra mile always pays off, because even if you don’t get the job, you’re training your mind to adopt the habit of doing research and being curious – two essential traits of all successful copywriters.
Nicki Krawczyk says
I absolutely agree – a lot of these mistakes can be chalked up to fear and/or trying to move too quickly. And that’s a great point about studying the client before crafting the pitch. It’s essential.
Thanks for commenting!
Avion Anderson says
This is so true, because I have been very guilty of four of the seven, that you have listed, which I did not have any idea that I was doing wrong until a client pointed it out to me. I’m grateful, that they still wanted to work with me, and I was able to provide them with good quality articles, despite there was plenty rewrites done. Lesson learned.
Nicki Krawczyk says
They’re very common mistakes – but how lucky for you that your client was willing to point them out! There’s always plenty to learn. 🙂
Thanks for commenting!
I’m two years deep and booked consistently, but I still haven’t added a portfolio to my site.
It’s on the to do list but I’m never sure how to display my work effectively!
The Filthy Rich Writer Team says
Hi Lisa! Here’s a few links to podcast and blogs that our team has produced discussing just this!
So much great information here. I’m still in the beginning modules, but so thankful for this information and all that is available. I believe it is a game changer and will truly set us apart as professionals if we follow it.
The Filthy Rich Writer Team says
Hi Beth! Welcome to the CCA! Thanks for the feedback!