Are You Putting Your Freelance Copywriting Business at Risk?

“I’m working my butt off and writing all the time, but I’m barely scraping by. What’s wrong with me?”

You know the difference between a successful copywriter with disposable income and one that’s just getting by?

The first copywriter isn’t just a good writer. She’s a smart businesswoman, too.

Every year, I hear about new copywriters entering the space – and that’s a wonderful thing. But there’s a scary side to this too. Although these folks may be whip-smart copywriters, they may not know a darn thing about running a business.

And that will, eventually, bite them in the butt.

Here’s a reality check: if you don’t have the business side of your business tight and wired, you will fail.

You won’t make the money you can make.

You’ll burn yourself out.

You may find yourself “stuck” paying a tax liability that you weren’t expecting to pay.

You may need to refund money to a client due to a bad contract.

In short, you’ll feel like you’re on a hamster wheel of a lot of work for little pay.

And that’s not why you’re in business for yourself.

Want to avoid this trap? Get business-savvy. Now.

Whether you’ve been in business 10 minutes or 10 years, here are some things to think about:

  • Are you writing what you love to write? Or are you gritting your teeth before every gig? If you’re not enjoying what you do, you’re not going to do a good job.  What other writing tasks will make your fingers fly, your heart soar and your pocketbook fill with cash?
  • Does it feel like every client you have pays late (if at all,) is a pain in the ass to deal with and doesn’t appreciate your work? You’re attracting the wrong type of client. It’s time to let some clients go and track down a new target audience.
  • What is your contract like?  I’ve seen a bad writing contract almost bankrupt a writer. Don’t let this happen to you – even if you feel like you can “trust” your client. Find an attorney who can help – it’s not going to cost as much as you think.
  • How many prospects are in your sales pipeline? How do you find prospects? Do you wait for them to contact you (bad idea.) Or are you proactively tracking them down?
  • What happens if you get sick or tragedy strikes? Do you have a colleague who can fill in and handle the work (because flaking out on your client is never, ever an option.)
  • Are you working with a tax professional? There is nothing worse than discovering that you have a huge tax liability that you could have avoided with a little planning. A savvy accountant will make sure that you’re in the best financial position.
  • Are you spending hours creating proposals and then not getting the gig? How is that working out for you? Have you considered that there may be another way of packaging your services?
  • How much money do you have in your business savings account? If you need something – like a new computer – how do you plan to pay for it? And no, saying “my credit card” is not a smart option. :)
  • What’s your unique sales proposition (your U.S.P.) How do you communicate your U.S.P. to prospects? If you can’t communicate what makes you unique, you won’t land the gigs you want.

Your business is like your baby – and you need to do everything you can to protect it and help it grow. That may mean spending money on contracts and consultants. Or incorporating your business. Or even firing some clients and retooling your sales and client acquisition strategy. Any time or cash that you spend improving your company will always pay off  – and you’ll enjoy the freedom (and fun) of a well-managed, profitable copywriting business.

Photo credit: KatJaTo 

10 replies
  1. Tess C. Taylor says:


    I gotta say this is one of the best “no holds-barred” posts I’ve seen on the topic of freelance writing in eons!

    You made a very valid point about what writers can do to eliminate pain in the rear clients with: “It’s time to let some clients go and track down a new target audience.” How true!

    I made this decision a couple of years ago, by focusing in on the clients I enjoyed working with, and then asking THEM for referrals. I also decided to target my actual biggest paying client market, instead of taking on every single person who approached me to do writing. Being a freelancer, we do have the unique ability to accept only the clients who are a good fit for us. It’s worked out fabulously so far!

    Keep up the great posts…you inspire the rest of us!

    – Tess

    • Heather says:

      Thank you so much, Tess, for your kind comment (and what a wonderful thing to read first thing in the morning!).

      Congratulations on letting your pain in the rear clients go. It can be a VERY scary step – but well, well worth it.

      Enjoy your day!

  2. Pamela says:

    This is a wonderful article that benefit all writers – regardless how long you’ve been in the business.

    Yes, a writer must look at writing as more than something they love to do. Just as you clearly mentioned, you must have a business perspective to it in order to succeed. Otherwise, it’s nothing more than a hobby. And when you’re trying to make a living off writing, you can not in any form afford to consider it a hobby.

    Thanks for the information, Heather.

  3. Daphne Gray-Grant says:

    I agree — writing is a BUSINESS. And if you want to succeed at it you need to pay attention to the business side of things. I think many writers are allergic to math (that certainly described me in high school) but here’s the thing: the kind of math you need to do for business is actually pretty simple — more or less grade 5 level. (Grade 3 level if you don’t include percentages.)

    Perhaps a better way of putting it is: You need to MEASURE: your time and your money. And you need to do this ALL THE TIME!!!

    Good post, Heather!

  4. Shirley says:

    Hiya Heather!
    I’ve been writing for about 6 months and I love it. I’m at a point now where I have finally put proper systems and business stuff in order. But your post serves as a great reminder of how important it is to treat freelance writing as a business.

    I found your site by accident. Whew!…I’m so glad I did. YAY! Thank you for all that you do!

  5. Matt Brennan says:

    Excellent post. As a business owner and writer you definitely need to be considering the best uses of your time. Should you be mulling along with a difficult low paying client, or pursuing better work? It’s not just about finding work. It’s about finding the most profitable work.

  6. Grey says:

    This is a great post. You can be great at something and have a niche in a market but if you can’t run a business then you won’t make it. Thanks.

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      You’re so right, @Grey. I’ve seen super smart copywriters write 20+ hours a day and burn out – plus not make much money. Ugh. It’s sad. That’s where good business skills come into play. :)

      Thanks for your comment!


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.