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I originally wrote this post in 2019 for The Freelance Chronicles, a blog that has since closed.
Back then, I was earning $3,000-4,000/month as a freelance copywriter (which worked for me at that stage of my life).
Now, two years later, I’m bringing in about $10k/month and booking out in advance. My clients get awesome results. I’m invited to speak on summits or events just about every month. And I feel way more secure in my business than I did back in 2019.
So I felt it was time to update this article.
Here are the 5 things that helped me go from amateur to professional in my freelance career.
1. Separated myself from my business
An amateur freelancer functions hand to mouth, working as a temporary employee in various different companies, receiving a piecemeal salary in the form of scattered invoices. There’s no business to speak of. It’s just you, a person.
When I went freelance initially, this was simply how I thought it worked. You take a job, you get paid. You take another job, you get paid. I struggled to see my work as a “business.”
But to shift into a true professional career, I had to own the fact that freelancing is a business. Which meant viewing myself as separate from the business and paying myself a salary that the business could afford (minus expenses and savings).
I wish I could say that I got this insight like a lightning bolt to the skull. But in reality, I gained this insight only after I eventually felt forced into having business expenses (like, saving for taxes).
The first move in the right direction was to get two bank accounts, which meant I had to pay myself every month from my business account. I realized that I feel clearer when I pay myself every month like an employee vs. getting paid random amounts at random times from various clients.
This separation allowed me to keep track of what I was earning and project into the future, which is key for setting revenue goals and being able to grow your business by hiring help.
2. Invested in coaching & mentorship
One day, I noticed that I wasn’t really earning more every month, and at this rate, I’d have roommates and no savings into my 30s. On top of that, emotionally, I felt isolated and unsure. There wasn’t anyone in my life who “got it” or could guide me in the right direction.
My first thought was to scroll through the internet looking at other freelance copywriters and writers who seemed to be earning a great living.
One website I found was Kaleigh Moore’s, a freelance content writer whose rates at that time started at $600/article, which was flabbergasting to me. She had a page on her website where she was offering freelance coaching to aspiring freelance writers. It suddenly hit me that I could hire someone to help me earn more money as a freelancer!
Her program was 1:1 coaching for 4 weeks, and it helped me wrap my head around what it looks like to build a business as a freelance writer. It was an important investment for me because it shifted so much of my perspective, helping me see that investing money into my business will likely result in more money earned by my business.
About 6 months later, I hit another financial plateau and was also struggling with major mindset issues. (Hello, imposter syndrome!) By now, I had learned that there are people who exist to help me with this kind of stuff — and their fees will come with an ROI.
So, I reached out to a business acquaintance of mine, Kylie Hodges, asking her if she had any suggestions for an ongoing business coach. In what seems like magical timing to me, she called me back and said she had recently gotten her certification in business coaching and was now coaching creatives like me through an organization called Creative Successful Entrepreneurs. I hired her.
This coaching relationship over the past year and a half has been life-changing. It helped me get over a lot of my mindset issues around being a “boss” and develop a business where I’m charging nearly triple what I used to, working with just a few clients per month, and enjoying stability in my business.
3. Prioritized my well-being
To prioritize my well-being was a hard-won lesson. I had heard people say that as the CEO or entrepreneur or freelancer, you are your business’s most valuable asset, so take care of yourself and blah, blah blah….
Well, I filed that away under “good advice.” But I did not internalize that idea. Instead, I kept rolling out of bed and scrolling through my phone, eating like crap, jogging occasionally, drinking too much, and completely ignoring any negative feeling that came around (which was often). I thought that because I wasn’t experiencing visible health issues (like illness, disease, or weight gain/loss), that meant I was “healthy enough.” Moreover, I felt that my priorities should be to work… not do “self-care” (which sounded extraordinarily indulgent to me).
Then I started experiencing weekly debilitating panic attacks where my body would start to shut down terrifyingly fast. In a matter of moments, my vision would be gone, and I’d be huddled on the ground shaking and sweating, crossing my fingers that I wouldn’t pass out. I feared driving a car because I worried I’d have a panic attack and crash. I’d sometimes have these attacks in coffee shops or on busy sidewalks in the middle of Los Angeles.
These attacks (plus a sense of low self-esteem) drove me to therapy. I started improving rapidly. Within the first month, the panic was gone. Within six months, I had clued in to the idea that healing my past wounds was having drastic effects on the quality of my life, which stretched into how I was able to show up as a business owner.
Then, last year, I hired a health coach and nutritionist to help me combat chronic acid reflux. But what I got from that relationship was far more than simply eliminating that single issue — I learned how to take care of my physical self in the same way therapy had taught me to take care of my emotional and mental self and my business coach had taught me to take care of my business.
Now, I put my well-being before obligations. This means sticking to a morning routine that grounds me, taking strong assessments of my internal state, taking time off when needed, exercising in a way that energizes me (like jiu-jitsu!), actually having boundaries within my relationships, and eating a whole foods diet.
As a result, It’s rare now that a physical or emotional problem derails my day, which means I get more done and, moreover, feel like I’m able to trust myself to show up. This self-trust allows me to take risks in my business, because I know that whatever I decide to do, I will honor that commitment to myself and give it my all.
4. Niched to become an expert
I used to harbor a ton of imposter syndrome. I felt almost like I didn’t deserve to be charging anything for my copywriting work because I was “still learning.”
One memory that sticks out is a sales call with a potential client who was looking for website copywriting (before I specialized in this). Shaking, I quoted $400 for a 5-page website. (Something I now charge $5,000 for.) Even that way-too-low price of $400 felt way too high for me at the time.
The inner work I’ve done with my therapist and business coach and on my own is partly to credit for my ability to now charge appropriately.
But what also helped immensely was making the decision to become an expert in something. I could foresee (correctly) that if I could perceive myself as an expert (vs. a generalist), I’d feel more confident charging what I needed to.
So, I went about becoming an expert in something. Because I was too scared to niche into a specific audience, I decided to lean into the type of copywriting that I most enjoyed: Website copywriting. I took the Copyhackers 10x Web Copywriting course and I added SEO to my skillset through the Recipe for SEO Success course by Kate Toon.
Slowly, I built up my confidence as my number of completed website projects grew and started getting results.
Niching also gave me an important focus in my marketing and how I spoke about my services. Though I didn’t initially niche by audience, niching into a type of project actually helped me understand who was a good fit for me and who wasn’t. In turn, this enhanced my confidence on sales calls because I suddenly knew who would get an ROI from our work together so I didn’t feel shy about quoting them my prices.
Finally, niching allowed me to create packages for my services. Since I wasn’t quoting for any project that came along, I could anticipate what my clients needed for their website and create packages that aligned with those needs. I got really good at articulating why clients need what I offer in those packages, which allowed me to book more at higher rates.
5. Developed processes to hold myself accountable
Processes are the unsexy way to become a true professional.
For instance, there’s this study where surgeons started following a checklist during procedures and patient mortality rates were cut in half.
That’s the power of processes.
Though I’ve now done dozens of website copywriting projects, I still follow my detailed step-by-step process to ensure that I’m doing due diligence and never just “winging it.”
Similarly, I have written down processes for my business, including everything I do on my “CEO Days” (where I work on my business, not my client work).
I’ve found that having these strong, recorded processes holds me accountable for doing good work for myself and for my clients. They also help me avoid procrastinating because they eliminate the sense of overwhelm that can occur with big undertakings by giving me a clear starting point and a step-by-step plan to completion.
Not to mention, having strong, documented processes helps other people (e.g. potential clients) trust you that you can get the job done.
So, what should your takeaway from my journey be?
Personally, in my early years as a freelancer, I felt held back a ton by this feeling that I needed to be instantly successful.
There were lots of stories out there of people launching freelance careers and, seemingly within the first 6 months, hitting 6-figures. Other copywriters, whom I encountered from a distance, seemed impossibly put together and not very approachable. And there was the pressure to “prove myself” to my family, who did not support my choice to work for myself.
So, I guess my hope for anyone reading this is that you’ll see me in this story painfully and slowly learning lessons that may seem obvious to an outsider…. So you can feel better about the pace of your own progress.
Also, get other people to help you. It’s worth it.
If you want practical, structured advice for building a freelance copywriting business (or learning copywriting), here are some folks who can offer that:
LEARNING BEGINNING COPYWRITING SKILLS:
- Belinda Weaver of Copywrite Matters. I took her foundational Copywriting Masterclass course (it’s awesome for people pivoting into copywriting who want formal training!). I’m now a proud affiliate for her course.
- The Copywriter Club. This is a free Facebook group and podcast. The Facebook group is great for crowdsourcing advice (use the search feature to get answers to popular questions) and getting feedback. The podcast is great for hearing how other copywriters structure their businesses and approach their work.
LEARNING ADVANCED COPYWRITING SKILLS:
- Copyhackers CopySchool. Copyhackers specializes in conversion copywriting, so their courses are ideal for anyone interested in writing sales copy. I’d recommend taking their courses if you have already taken a foundational copywriting course because the Copyhackers’ courses get pretty technical, granular, and specific to the platform (like email, websites, sales pages, etc).
- SERP Slayer by Kerry Campion. This is a coaching program for copywriters who want to learn SEO content marketing/blogging by an expert SEO content writer (who also happens to be hilarious!). I have not taken this program, but I know Kerry & her work and can vouch for her. I’m a proud affiliate for her program.
BUILDING A COPYWRITING BUSINESS:
- Confident Copywriting, a mentorship group for copywriters, also by Belinda Weaver — I was a member for several years. This membership is a group of other copywriters building businesses that you can bounce ideas off of + you can ask for feedback directly from Belinda on your client work (invaluable for building confidence). This mentorship group is a good option for those looking for business coaching on a budget. I’m now a proud affiliate for her mentorship group.
- Eman Ismail of Inkhouse Writing. Eman is a Confident Copywriting alumnus, too, and I can vouch for her brilliance. She has several offers for learning copywriting and building a copywriting business (including a pick-my-brain consultation call you can book from her website). Since she focuses on email copywriting, this might be the best option for those who are interested in that specialty.
- Kaleigh Moore. Kaleigh is a content writer for SaaS and E-commerce, and she has a 4-week 1:1 coaching program for writers (which I took!). This is probably the best option for you if you’re interested in having a career in content writing or serving SaaS or e-commerce companies.
ORGANIZING YOUR BUSINESS, LEGAL, & FINANCES:
- Profit RX, getting business finances & legal in order: Braden Drake offers a low-cost membership (~$30/month) to his programs/courses that guide you through everything business finance, from forming an LLC/S-Corp to taxes and profit. It’s been immensely helpful for me, as a non-numbers person. Click here to sign up! I’m a proud affiliate of this membership.
- Contract Vault, also by Braden Drake. Access to all the contracts you’ll ever need for your business! Wayyy less expensive than hiring a lawyer to create custom contracts for you. I’m a proud affiliate of this membership.
- Systems Over Stress by Do the Damn Thing. This is a group program that teaches you how to organize your business backend and automate tasks so you can be more of a CEO vs. a task rabbit. I took this program, and it’s helped me streamline so much. I’m a proud affiliate of this program.
BUILDING YOUR NETWORK:
- District Bliss. Paying a small membership fee for a quality networking group is THE way to go vs. attending random free events that are filled with sales pitches. District Bliss events are intimate and virtual, with mainly folks in creative business. As an introvert, I’ve felt very welcomed and cared for in this group, and I think it’s because the founder, Sara, is such a genuinely good person (hard to find in networking industry). I’m a proud affiliate of this networking membership & a current member.