The business side of starting a freelance SEO copywriting shop

Candy coinsAh, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard, “So, it’s easy to be a freelance SEO copywriter, right? All I need to do is learn SEO copywriting, find clients and start writing.”

Well yes. And no. Certainly, finding clients is important. And if they’ve paid you, clients really appreciate when you actually do the work and write the copy. But being a freelance SEO copywriter is more than writing catchy taglines and doing killer keyphrase research. If you don’t have a handle on the business side of your business (you know, the un-fun stuff like legal and accounting,) you’ll be out of commission before your first year.

If you’ve decided on a SEO copywriting career, consider lining up these five things before you launch your online writing business. Your life will be easier in the long run if you do. Trust me.

  • Client contracts. Yes, I know that contracts seem so...businesslike and impersonal.  They are also incredibly important. A good client contract outlines the SEO copywriting work you’ll perform, discusses what (and when) you’ll get paid and discusses other details like how many revisions you’ll do and what happens if a change is out of scope. 

    A common newbie SEO copywriting mistake is figuring that you’ll deal with contracts when you’re making more money. Get over it. You need them now.


  • A good bookkeeping method (or a good bookkeeper.) Creative people are really good with creative stuff. We’re not so hot when it comes to numbers and taxes and “having to get tax forms in on time.” Setting up a good bookkeeping system before you start your business (or enlisting the help of a trusted friend) can save you hours of frustration later.

    I know many writers who use QuickBooks – although everyone has their personal favorite.


  • A solid marketing and networking plan.  Many SEO copywriters are fantastic online writers, and can skillfully craft fantastic promotional copy for any-sized client. When it comes to promoting themselves…well…not so much. It’s true that if you’re an introverted writing type, getting yourself out there (whether online or face to face) is remarkably scary. 

    One way to help make it slightly less scary is to outline a very specific marketing plan. Who is your target audience and what are their exact needs? How can you start a conversation with them? Once you start a conversation, what will you talk about? Whether online, offline (yes, people still create and use print brochures) or on Twitter, it’s crucial to have a solid start-up marketing strategy.

    The good thing is, once you’ve done the hard part (planning your strategy) and you have a focus, doing the networking stuff doesn’t seem quite as frightening. Really.


  • Money. One of my favorite small business war stories is how I started SuccessWorks with a $1,000 gift from a friend – with no money in savings. I was also single and lived in a house with a very inexpensive mortgage, so although what I did was still incredibly risky, I had a solid handle on the situation.

    No matter how confident you are that you’ll be able to gain new clients immediately, take the time to figure out the financial side of things. How much should you have in savings “just in case?” How much money do you need to make a month to pay your expenses, pay taxes and pay yourself (knowing that you may not be able to pay yourself right away.) Many a freelance online writer’s business has failed because she didn’t make enough to live on.

    I love TaxMama for small business money and finance tips (and Eva Rosenberg, the owner, is an incredibly wonderful woman.)


  • Make yourself a “real business.” Some new freelance SEO copywriters don’t get a separate business account and fail to file for a business license. Outside of the tax ramifications, getting a business license, filing tax forms and setting up the bank account is important for psychological reasons.

    A business license proves that you have an actual business.  You’re not just someone with a hobby. You’ve taken the plunge. You’re living the dream. You’re out there.  And that’s a very exhilarating (and incredibly addictive) feeling.

Now, what “must-do” startup steps would you add?

9 replies
  1. Matt Ambrose
    Matt Ambrose says:

    I’d add creating a website using WordPress and put up samples of your work (even if you have to create a few of your own to start with). Starting a blog also helps as long as you invest the time to regularly update it with useful content of interest to potential clients that demos your expertise.

  2. Jim @smashadv
    Jim @smashadv says:

    Great advice Heather. I’m not an seo guy (specifically), but a lot of what you talk about here is perfectly relevant to any copywriter who’s going out on their own. Especially the stuff about getting help with all the business stuff (the non-creative stuff). 😉

  3. Heather
    Heather says:

    Matt – yes, having a Website is incredibly important, and thanks for reminding us about that crucial step. If you want to be a SEO copywriter, your clients will want to see samples of your work – even if you are so new that the only samples you have are on your own site.

    And Jim, thanks for your comment! Yes, getting help with the non-creative stuff is a crucial step. Thank goodness for super- organized people who like things like making files, doing books and handling paperwork! :)

  4. Adam
    Adam says:

    These tips are pretty evergreen for any kind of freelancing business – IMO most new freelancers don’t write contracts and typically charge very little because they lack experience.

    Specific to SEO I would add this: A portfolio of exceptional SEO content for clients that has proven to perform well in Search Engines.

    If you are truly skillful at writing copy, clients will find you, and soon you’ll have to turning business away.

  5. Patti
    Patti says:

    Perfect timing again, Heather. Received a request for a bid today in my in box. The only other suggestions: I have an office set up in my house and regular business hours. My clients know that they can reach me during the regular business day via email or phone. Answer your business (cell) phone as if it were a bricks and mortar business. Get businesscards of course.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Sometimes it is hard to admit, but you don’t know everything. There are many legal aspects to owning your own business and, unless you have a business degree, you should consult with an attorney or other legal expert when dealing with the business side of freelance copywriting. […]

  2. […] Sometimes it is hard to admit, but you don’t know everything. There are many legal aspects to owning your own business and, unless you have a business degree, you should consult with an attorney or other legal expert when dealing with the business side of freelance copywriting. […]

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