How to start freelance copywriting when you’ve never even had a client before

I’m at once the most and the least qualified person to be writing this article.

The most because – oh hey – here I am, spending nighttime and weekend hours breathing life into a copywriting side gig. And although my number of previous clients isn’t zero, you can certainly count them on one hand.

The least because, uh, I’ve never done this before. Shouldn’t you go read something from some expert who at least ranks better on Google?


Well. Alright. As long as you know just how uninformed yours truly is, you’re welcome to read what I’m doing these days. Maybe something will ring true for you – or maybe you’ll have some sage advice for my first steps. I’m all ears.

1. What you’re looking at is an MVP.

I’ve been long indoctrinated into the ways of the lean startup. I mean, I’ve been working full-time at tech startups in Barcelona for the previous four years – The Lean Startup is practically required reading, if only so you can follow all the acronyms people like to throw around.

This mini-site is an MVP (a Minimum Viable Product – something with just barely enough features to get you started and no more). It’s designed to get my foot in the door to see what’s on the other side – without requiring heavy time investment beforehand.

My goal is to attract a good handful of early adopters, a.k.a. clients, likely in the form of Barcelona-based startups. This way, I can find out more about the market firsthand before attempting to refine the presentation of my product.

Starting with an MVP site allows me to invest time into actually seeking and working with my first clients, rather than building a complex digital monument to a product that no one wants.

2. I’ve done my homework.

When I want to know what something is like, I read everything I can lay my hands on.

These past weeks, I’ve combed through issue after issue of ConvertKit’s TradeCraft, opened too many tabs of Copyhacker, and pored over the blogs of other freelance copywriters perhaps a year or so ahead of me.

You see, I’ve been constructing a mental profile of freelance copywriters to consider whether I’m a potential good fit among their ranks.

I’ve read about what it’s like to find ideal clients, to set your own pricing, to file freelancer taxes, to set your own working hours, to congratulate yourself after a job well done. I’ve looked into what’s awful and what’s rewarding.

Impostor syndrome aside – which is a hallmark feature of anyone working for themselves, anyway – I’m convinced I’m a great fit. Freelance copywriting is a perfect match for my skills and experience, plus the rhythm fits how I want my life to evolve over the coming years.

However, it was critical for me not to paint too rosy of a picture of what’s to come. Which is why…

3. I’m gearing up to fail, repeatedly.

I’m going about this process with the full knowledge that many strategies I try will fail. And that it’ll hurt.

That’s a tough one for anybody. We’re not used to heading into a challenge with the anticipation of falling down. Me least of all – I was the kid who aced everything without really studying.

That’s quite unhealthy in the long run. Turns out kids who are rewarded for how smart they are (as opposed to how hard they work) end up taking fewer risks and learning less.

But if I want to grow, I’m going to have to break new ground, to connect a few heretofore detached neurons. I mean, that’s literally what learning is.

And that will, in all likelihood, mean plenty of false steps.

Lucky for me, people seem to be gravitating towards authenticity over perfection these days. I’d rather present myself as an enthusiastically fallible human than some kind of ooh-shiny word machine.

The ability to recover well from mistakes is one of the most valuable skills that anyone can have. So I’m polishing my eraser. So to speak.

4. I’m starting this as a side gig.

Errors are anticipated. Falling off the side of a cliff is not.

One of the most valuable pieces of advice I took from ConvertKit’s newsletters is that the best time to start freelancing is when you already have a job.

At the time of writing this article, I work full time as a copywriter and content manager at a tech startup in Barcelona. My freelance work takes place at nights and on weekends.

Over time, if I find success, I hope to shift to working half my time in the office and the other half as a freelancer. All the benefits of a steady income plus the scheduling freedom of working for myself. Why yes, I’ll have my cake and eat it too – thankyouverymuch.

But that’s somewhere down the line. Right now, the least risky way of finding out if freelance copywriting is a good fit for me is to try it without sacrificing the stability of having a job. This way, I won’t be forced to take on clients or projects that I’m not excited about because I need to pay the rent.

Even better, my day job hones the exact skills that I use while writing for clients. I can almost look at it as training.

The downside, of course, is that I only have so much time outside of work. And sometimes I like to play video games (current obsession: Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime). And cook Ottolenghi recipes. And mess around in the photo lab at the Pati Llimona civic center. And just plain roam around Barcelona.

But this project is teaching me that there are more little pockets of spare time each week than you think. On deck: a piece on how to find the time to start up a side gig when you have a full time job.

5. I’m starting locally.

I’ve read plenty about how important it is to find your ideal client. But I think even more important is just to get started in the first place. And the simplest way to do that is to meet people and talk to them in person.

One of the first activities I did to put together the concept for this project was filling out Kayla Hollatz’s ideal client profile worksheet.

I know who my dream client is. Her projects are creative, feminist, queer, and sex-positive. She dreams of giving voice to marginalized artsy types. She crafts cutting-edge tech tools to help people talk and create. She’s earnest, optimistic, unabashedly enthusiastic, and not a little geeky.

Even just writing about her gets me all fired up. My dream client and I will find each other.

But first: I will get started.

And the way that makes the most sense to do so is right here in Barcelona. I’ve been based here for the last four years, and I’m quite familiar with the Barcelona startup scene. I speak both English and Spanish. And I’m well aware of how much demand there is for great English copywriters locally.

Face-to-face communication is the best way to engender trust, and that’s critical when you’re just starting out. I will attend entrepreneurial meetups, poke around job fairs, follow Facebook groups, and put my name out there far and wide. I will schedule coffees to talk shop.

An important note: Just because I am not holding out for my dream client does not mean that I am willing to compromise my values. My policy will always be to only work on projects that legitimately excite me. It’s the only way you’re going to get the most out of my writing.

I won’t be collaborating on any project I don’t think is actively making the world a better place.

6. Finally: I use the buddy system.

Accountability is critical to getting anything done. That’s what so many people go into offices/co-working spaces every day.

My project isn’t big enough to justify a physical co-working space just yet (the café down the road will do for now). So I’ve set up a kind of digital co-working arrangement with one of my dearest friends, Anna Hetzel.

We’ve known each other for over a decade now, and we’ve both ended up in copywriting. And it happens that each of us is presently in a place where we want to start freelancing.

So we talk about it, almost every day. We share what we’ve learned and what we’ve been grinding on. We encourage each other and ask for advice. And we constantly ask what the other has been up to.

It’s easy to let yourself down, and it makes the instant gratification monkey giddy with glee. Consistently letting down a good friend is another story.

I can’t face telling Anna that I haven’t made any progress for days. I tell her in advance when I think I’m going to have a chunk of time to work on the project, and she checks in with me afterward to see what I’ve done. I do the same for her.

I’m incredibly lucky to be on the same page professionally with a beloved friend.

These are my starting blocks for getting this project moving.

A project in its infancy is a precious thing. Although I’m quite convinced to make it happen, it still feels unreal, and probably will until I send out that first invoice.

My goals are to have a mini-site that I’m proud of by the end of the month, and to have found my first client by mid-October. I’ll keep writing and publishing learnings as they come my way.

Are you on a similar track? How did you get your freelance project up off the ground? Talk to me below.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s