Freelance Copywriters: Stop handing in second rate work!

When I’m busy with other work, I sometimes outsource copywriting work to other freelancers.

Working with project partners, I often have to read the copy submitted to my partners by their freelance copywriters.

Here’s the shocker…

More often than not, freelance copywriters hand in garbage.

These are good, professional copywriters, all capable of producing outstanding work.

But the work they submit is rubbish.

Maybe the opening is weak. Maybe the flow just doesn’t work. Maybe there are factual errors, or spelling errors. Maybe part of the offer description from the brief is missing. Maybe the headline is just plain wrong.

Or maybe it’s not terrible, but clearly in need of some more polish, with a second or third draft required.

You think I’m joking? I’m not. I see this again and again. In fact, I see unfinished, unpolished copy more often than I see well-crafted, error-free copy.

The bottom line is – most freelance copywriters fail to hand in their best work.

This is insane, because you will be judged by what you send in to your clients. And it is immensely frustrating for your clients, because they often know what you are capable of, and don’t understand why you would send in anything less than your best.

Maybe you thinking, “Hey Nick, sometimes we send in a draft just to get feedback, before we move on to the final draft.”

That may sound like a reasonable excuse, but I think it’s just that – an excuse.

If you have questions you need to ask your client, ask them. But don’t send them a weak draft, in the hope that they’ll help you make it better. You are meant to be the expert. That’s what they are paying you for.

“But Nick, I have a lot of clients and tight deadlines. I can’t spend forever on each project.”

Well, you won’t have a lot of clients for long if you send in second-rate work.

Let me ask you a question – don’t you have in pride in your craft as a copywriter?

Do you feel good when you send in work that is less than your best? Does it feel OK to do that?

It’s complete craziness. As the saying goes, you are only as good as your last job. And if your last job was second rate, so are you.

Work for fewer clients and spend longer on each job, so you can hand in your best work every time. And as you build your reputation as a copywriter who always submits great work, you’ll be able to charge higher fees.

Fewer clients. Better quality. Higher fees.

Doesn’t that make more sense?

And believe me, with so many copywriters submitting second-rate, unfinished copy, there is a huge opportunity to brand yourself as the freelancer who always delivers his or her best work.

First, figure out what you love to do. Then figure out how to make money doing it.

writers desk in 1979
writers desk in 1979
My desk at home in 1979, including my full writer’s kit – paper, pen, manual typewriter, ashtray, coffee mug, and a small bottle of Bell's Whisky.

I pretty much stumbled into my first job as a copywriter. Up until a few days before I sat down to write my first ad, I didn’t even know that copywriters existed.

I was working as a management trainee at an ad agency in London. That meant I was being shuffled from department to department, so I could get a rounded education in the agency business. I was 22 years old.

After a stint in the media and production departments, I was passed on to the creative department. The creative director sat me down and asked me whether I was a designer or a writer. I told him I was a writer. Sure, I had done a stint at art college, but at heart I had always liked writing best.

Since the day I wrote that first ad – for a forklift truck company – I have been writing for a living. (They stopped shuffling me around, and left me in the creative department.)

I had always loved writing, and at the age of 22 I had found a way to make money doing what I loved. Lucky me.

Today, over 30 years later, I coach a lot of freelancers who seem to be trying to do this the other way around. When I ask them why they want to be a copywriter, designer, programmer or freelancer in some other way, they usually tell me they have heard it’s a good way to make money.

I think that approach makes things a lot harder for them.

I have succeeded as a copywriter and then a web writer simply because I love to write, and I’m fascinated by business.

Back in my early twenties I would work all day, and then spend many of my evenings and weekends writing ads simply as practice. I didn’t have to. I did that because I loved what I was doing. And I became better and better at writing as a result of all those extra hours.

Freelancers receive all kinds of good advice about how to make a decent living. Goal setting. Finding a niche. Marketing. Commitment. Mental toughness. Organization.

This is all good stuff.

But it won’t help you much if you don’t love what you’re doing.

And if you do love what you are doing, all those other elements will fall into place more easily.

So before you leap into your next venture, ask yourself the question, “Do I love doing this?”

If you don’t, pause for a moment and ask yourself this question:

“If I had followed the path of what I loved to do back when I was 22, what would I be doing now?”

Whatever the answer, perhaps you could start doing that now.

When you love what you do for a living, everything changes.

The best advice I can give any freelancer.

There is a ton of advice I can give, and have given to freelancers.

But I think the best advice I can give is this:

Always put aside an emergency cash fund equivalent to about two months of earnings.

Why? Because there are always ups and downs in the life of a freelancer, whether you are just starting out, or have been freelancing for years.

It doesn’t matter whether you are just doing OK as a freelancer, or you a superstar. You will always have an occasional month that doesn’t deliver the money you need to cover the bills. Or maybe one month you have an unexpected expense. Or maybe you are sick and can’t work.

You need to have a cash reserve to make up for those months. This is a simple business practice. It’s called cash flow management. Every company, large or small, has to manage its cash flow.

When you have good months, you put some money aside for your cash reserve.

Why is it so important? Well, the first and obvious answer is that you need to pay your bills. But, just as important, you need to KNOW you always have enough money to pay your bills, and have some extra cash left over. You need to FEEL relaxed about your money.

When you are short of money in your business, or even coming close to being short of money, you will feel the stress and become distracted.

As soon as you feel stressed and distracted, your productivity will suffer. You may also start making bad decisions about which jobs to take on – simply because you are feeling desperate.

That feeling of desperation will then undermine your ability to do a good job estimating for projects. You will submit low estimates, just because you need some cash coming in quick.

When you estimate too low for jobs, you undermine your feelings of self-confidence, and undermine your brand.

Suddenly you find yourself in a downward spiral, low-balling on your estimates and having to work even harder to make enough money.

Yes, this is a bad place to be.

For this reason, it is essential you create that cash reserve. Do it before you pay off your credit cards, before you buy the flights for your next vacation.

As soon as you have a cash reserve, everything changes. You dip into it during bad months, and build it up during good months.

Most important of all, you never feel desperate for work.

This means there will be no negative pressure on your productivity, and you can always remain focused on building your business, and seeking out the best, high-paying engagements.

If you don’t have a cash reserve yet, make it a priority, and start working on it today.