As copywriters, we want to focus on what we do best—writing powerful and persuasive copy. But there’s a lot of competition out there, and finding new clients is, least to say, tough.
So what can you do about it? Happily, there are a few tactics for getting clients who can work extraordinarily well when done right, which (for one reason or another) not everyone uses. And that’s precisely what you and I are going to be talking about in the rest of this post.
1. Use work marketplaces, like Upwork, Freelancer, and PeoplePerHour, more smartly.
You’re not just a copywriter. You’re a business owner—even if you’re the only person employed by it. A copywriting business offers services to customers, which it finds through marketing and sales.
Work marketplaces like Upwork, Freelancer, and PeoplePerHour are simply one of your marketing and sales channels for customer acquisition. And your success rate on them depends on how well (or, should I say, how smartly) you use them.
You only have 24 hours in a day, and you’re probably not willing to spend all of them working. If you follow the societal norms introduced to us by the Industrial revolution, that leaves you with 8-9 working hours a day (of which not all are productive).
The less time you spend pitching your services on work marketplaces (and the higher your success rate of winning jobs), the more time you can spend working on projects that make you money.
So here’s my best advice to all freelance copywriters: if you haven’t read The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris, do it now.
The scammy title aside, this is one of those books that will save you from spending your entire work life with your eyes wide shut.
The 4-Hour Workweek will get you thinking about the perks of delegating your work to others, like virtual assistants that you can hire per hour, and automating it with tools wherever possible.
The principles Ferris outlines in his book are highly applicable to the copywriting business, which is full of manual, low value-added tasks (especially when you’re hunting for jobs) that eat your productive time away.
To apply one of those principles, you can hire a virtual assistant (VA) and let him or her look for jobs for you using pre-defined search filters. At first, you can keep costs to a minimum by asking your VA to save a link to each job in a Google Sheets spreadsheet so that you can bid on them once a day or a few times per week.
If your VA does well, why not work out a way for them to big on projects instead of you (using pre-defined templates in Google Docs)? Ask them to send you only those bids that require your time and attention. If you have a well-written profile and you’ve received good ratings from your previous customers, you will consistently win new work without putting in that much effort yourself.
You can finally spend more time writing and less time applying for jobs. Since that time will be paid, you will have more customers and higher revenue.
Some freelancers, as you will see in the video below, are already doing this:
2. Niche down—and brand yourself as the go-to copywriter for a particular type of client and need.
The number one mistake that’s holding you back from winning high-paying copywriting clients today is the fact that you’re not niching down enough.
If you’re positioning your services as a commodity, which many copywriters out there unfortunately do, you’ll be in a place where you have to compete for the worst clients, the least profitable projects, and the lowest price.
The alternative is to niche down and focus your time and know-how on serving a distinct customer segment. As counterintuitive as it may seem to you, niching down will, 9 out of 10 times, bring you more customers and generate more revenue for you.
Take Kelsey O’Halloran, who helps creatives, coaches, and entrepreneurs find their voice through copy consulting and writes interview-inspired content for their websites, for an example.
O’Halloran has selected a specific niche for her services and targets a small group of ideal customers with it. These customers are aware that they have a problem and are looking for an expert in the field who can help.
This probably took her years (and plenty of trial and error) to make. If you’re a copywriter struggling to find clients, you don’t need to have a business as niched-down as hers. The important thing is to get started somewhere. Create a hypothesis and test it out.
Think about your life story and the types of clients you’ve resonated with the most. Tweak your Upwork and LinkedIn profiles to speak to them, and try bidding only (or, if you’re worried about your earnings, mostly) on jobs posted by customers who fit that ideal profile for a few months.
After a month or two, reflect on your successes and failures—and adjust your plans. If you need to course-correct and test out a new hypothesis, remember to stay focused on one ideal customer profile at a time until you find your perfect match.
In the startup world, this course correction is called “pivoting,” and that moment when what you have to offer matches what customers are actually looking for is called “product/market fit.”
3. Do that one extra thing your competitors are too lazy to do.
In the copywriting business, there are things that everyone claims to do in theory, yet virtually no one does in practice. If you identify them and stand out from the crowd by putting time and thought into them, your customers will see and appreciate that.
Happier customers mean more referrals. More referrals mean more testimonials. More testimonials mean a profile that attracts more customers. It’s a little like the self-reinforcing cycle of success.
To show you what I mean, here’s one example I’m sure all of you reading this article will agree with me on. Everyone who offers writing and translation services on Upwork claims that they can write SEO content.
But how many of them have taken the time to truly understand search engine optimization—and develop a process for researching and writing content that consistently ranks high on Google?
People who buy copywriting services are well aware that when the typical copywriter says that they produce content optimized for search engines, they simply stuff a few keywords here and there and don’t put any analysis or much thought into it.
So be the one who stands out by using a specific set of tools for your keyword research, like Keywords Everywhere, and who writes his or her content with semantic analysis tools like Surfer SEO or Market Muse. Make sure to describe your process in your pitches on projects.
I know that this is the easiest example to give, and coming up with other ideas is the tricky part.
Or is it?
Say you’ve niched down into writing about classic cars. And you happen to live near a museum, where you can take photos (even if not professional) of the cars and parts you’re writing about.
Why not offer that as an add-on service?
Your customers get a professional copywriter who knows classic car makes and models and a hobby photographer who can take photos of them in one of the few places on earth where they’re being preserved. That’s an offer almost no listings site or blog owner can refuse!
The trick to making this work is to think about the areas where you have an unfair competitive advantage compared to your peers. Perhaps you worked for the Marketing team of a Fortune 500 company a few years ago, and you know digital inside-out. Or you grew up in a family of lawyers, and you have an innate sense of writing about the law.
Dig deep and do some introspective work to uncover your unique experiences and know-how that you can turn into a significant source of competitive advantage for your business.
This tactic is especially powerful after you’ve niched down since it will only amplify your value proposition to your ideal customer profile.
4. Reach out to successful copywriters in your niche and offer them extra capacity when they’re overloaded.
Even if they are the most productive person on this planet, a copywriter will only have that much capacity to do client work.
When that capacity is at its peak, they are confronted with two options:
- Turn clients away;
- Work with ghostwriters.
Since most copywriters haven’t even considered the option to partner up with someone else, they’ll usually go for option one and start turning clients away.
Open them up to a new world of possibilities and offer to help them on projects that they can no longer take on by themselves, even if that means that you’ll become their ghostwriter.
A ghostwriter is someone who writes text that others get publicly credited for. Often, they do it in the tone of voice and style of writing of the person who gets the credit. Politicians, musicians, and even authors (including Alexandre Dumas and Tom Clancy) have all worked with ghostwriters.
Here’s the breakdown of how you can make this tactic work for you.
Make a list of the top copywriters in your niche (start with a simple Google Sheets spreadsheet and get googling).
Next, create a template for a personalized email reach out—and introduce yourself to them, hinting about your willingness to extend their capacity for any clients and any projects where they’re struggling with it.
You’ll essentially act as a sub-contractor, and all of the communication with clients will go through them if that’s what they prefer. At the end of each month, you’ll send them an invoice and get paid for the hours you’ve put in to help them.
As with any cold email outreach campaign, don’t expect to have a high response rate. Some of the responses will most probably be cold-hearted “thanks, but no thanks,” but keep calm and don’t let that discourage you.
Let’s imagine that you wrote to 50 people. You started a conversation with 5 of them, and your email exchanges with 2 led to the creation of a couple of business partnerships that bring you work every month for years.
Tell me in the comments below if you disagree with me, but that’s a pretty good return on investment (ROI) for a few hours of work.
5. Reach out to entrepreneurs and public figures in your niche and offer to become their ghostwriter.
Almost every entrepreneur or public figure has thought about writing a book. Few of them have done enough research to know that they could hire a ghostwriter—and have them write their autobiography or memoirs for them.
This is where you come into play. Similar to the previous tactic on my list, you’re basically selling ghostwriting services. But here, your ideal customer profile wants a different outcome.
Some will dream about having their name on a non-fiction book, with which they can tell their self-made success story and share their lessons with newcomers in their industry. They keep seeing all of their friends doing it—and making it on the New York Times bestseller lists.
Others, as professional ghostwriter Greg Larson explains in a LinkedIn Pulse post on the topic, will want to tell the story of their family and leave behind a legacy for their children.
Now imagine the number of referrals you can get and the business that this can bring you if you do it right! In a few years’ time, you could be the one looking for other writers to extend your capacity.
6. Look for a mentor who’s had more success with copywriting than you (or with building a copywriting-related business).
Successful people have a lot to share. Most of them are happy to tell their story to others and help them learn from their mistakes. The problem is that everyone thinks they know better—so almost no one is willing to listen…
Look for mentorship-based groups on Facebook and LinkedIn and post that you’re looking for a mentor. Describe in that post where you are in your journey today and where you’d want to get to “tomorrow.”
If anyone recognizes themselves in what you have to say, I guarantee you that they’ll reach out. This tactic works incredibly well for connecting to retirees from the advertising and marketing industries who want to connect to and communicate with young people in the business.
Or find the top copywriters in your niche on LinkedIn—and send them connection requests, introducing yourself in the message, telling them where you’ve been following them, and asking them if they’d be open to becoming your mentor.
Even if they don’t have the time or desire to talk 1:1 with you every month, you’d be surprised by the relationships you can build just by connecting and chatting to others (you won’t believe the names of people I’ve exchanged emails with over the years by doing this).
I realize many of you who are working as copywriters are introverts. And I know that networking doesn’t naturally come to you if that’s the case. Do read Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone.
It’s arguably the best book on the topic—and it will help you understand how to connect to others and form meaningful relationships with them enjoyably and genuinely.
7. Find companies hiring copywriters. Offer your services to them if they don’t find a good candidate.
Unless they’re looking to get hired as an employee of an agency or company, most freelance copywriters will never look at job posts. If you’re one of them, you’re missing out on opportunities to win clients and get high-paying work.
Despite the number of copywriters out there, the truth is that most companies struggle to find suitable candidates when they post a job opening.
There are many reasons for this: from the fact that the best copywriters tend to be self-employed and not willing to work for one organization to the restrictiveness of most organizations’ location policies and the way this limits their pool of candidates.
With or without a copywriter, business is business—and the show must go on. Nike won’t postpone their Olympics campaign just because they couldn’t hire someone internally in one of their offices.
So head on to LinkedIn Job Search, Indeed.com, and Glassdoor, and look for the job postings for copywriters by the companies in your area.
Email them introducing yourself, and tell them that you’re here to help *just in case* they don’t find any suitable candidates internally and need the help of a professional writer to meet their projects’ tight deadlines.
Do this systematically for three-four months, and your schedule will get so full, you’re going to have a hard time squeezing in all of the clients reaching out to you for last-minute help.
8. Ask every customer for at least two referrals. Consider giving them an incentive (or finder’s fee) for every customer they bring you.
Given the number of leads that this tactic generates, it’s surprising how few freelance copywriters are actually using it.
Maybe it’s because asking for referrals is scary. A client can tell you, “Sorry, I can’t give you any.” Fear of rejection is a real thing—and even those who face it every day, like call center sales reps, suffer from it.
At the end of the day, as Tim Ferris, the author of one of the books I recommended to you earlier, likes to say, success is determined by the number of uncomfortable conversations you’re willing to have.
For many of us, asking for referrals is uncomfortable. So do the hard thing and ask every customer if they can introduce you to two friends or peers who can benefit from working with a copywriter.
To take this tactic to the next level, turn your success into your customers’ incentive. Offer 1,000 free words on their next 10,000-word order if they bring you a customer.
Or why not a 10% finder’s fee on the first year of revenue their referrals bring you? You don’t even have to pay them; you could subtract the amount from the future invoices on your work for them.
9. Create a portfolio website and showcase your best work on it. Get featured on prominent media outlets by responding to queries on Help a Reporter (HARO).
You don’t need a big budget for this. You can do it yourself with a visual website builder like Wix or Squarespace, though, as regular readers of Maker’s Aid know, I’d recommend WordPress on a managed hosting service like Namecheap’s EasyWP on any day.
Keep it simple. All you need is your own domain (like yourname.com), a well-written “About me” page that tells your story, a “My services” page where you explain your services and rate, and a few links or examples of your work. For the time being, substitute the logo and fancy design for your name and WordPress’s default template.
Sign up for Help a Reporter (HARO) as a source and subscribe to their “Business and Finance” section. You’ll get a list of requests for quotes from reporters, delivered straight to your email inbox, three times a day every weekday. Start replying to relevant queries with one- or two-paragraph-long quotes and a link to your website.
Here’s an excellent introduction to and overview of HARO from Morten Storgaard, professional blogger and creator of the blogging course Passive Income Geek:
Use HARO consistently and reply to reporter’s requests for sources in a helpful and quotable way, and you will soon start to get featured on the likes of Reuters, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and many others.
Don’t have the time or skills to build a website? No problem! Simply sign up for HARO and give out a link to your LinkedIn profile. This is something that many professionals who want to get their name out without building up an entire presence on the web tend to do.
As you can see, there’s more than one way to get more copywriting clients. Each of them requires you to think like a business owner and be willing to go the extra mile.
The essential thing is to focus on finding the clients you want—and offer them the outcome they’re looking for.