Behind the Scenes: What Exactly Does a Freelance Copywriter Do?

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Today I want to give you some practical tips and a better understanding of exactly what happens behind the scenes if you're a freelance copywriter.

 

What Exactly is a Copywriter?

Writers refer to themselves with all sorts of different terms: freelance writer, content writer, blog writer, copywriter.  

A copywriter usually does different types of content but it is content to encourage some particular type of engagement.  Many copywriters focus on sales copy, which drives a person to take a very specific action after reading it, such as clicking a buy button, scheduling a paid consultation, or something of that nature. Copywriters might also work on email messaging and may even be involved in web content messaging. 

A lot of the work that I do is based on SEO content. It's a two-fold purpose, which is a little bit different from copywriting specifically. Many copywriters will also infuse SEO tactics. This can make things more difficult to understand as you're launching a freelance writing career, but as an SEO content writer, I'm putting on a little bit of a different hat than when I'm doing specifically copywriting.

For me, SEO content writing also includes putting together materials that speak to search engines. I have two readers in mind when I'm creating SEO content: the search engines and the end reader.

However, when I'm doing copywriting, I'm mostly not worried about search engines, if at all. Occasionally, my clients may ask me to put in information about search engine optimization, but copywriting is specifically speaking to the end reader.


 

My Copywriting Process

Say a client comes to me and says, “We want a three-email series on xyz topic.” Here is an overview of my process:

  1. Research
  2. Strategize and generate ideas
  3. Create a very rough draft
  4. Make a refined draft to share with the client

When I write down my ideas in a rough draft, this could be every version of three different emails I might come up with. I might have nine or ten ideas and I pare it down to the best three. Maybe I'll pick one theme for those three emails that's going to be highlighted in a different way each time. hen I'm going to put together my drafts. This is a totally different day from when I went to gather all that research and put it into the main ideas that would want to be covered.

A typical day for a copywriter is going to include a number of different types of tasks. You'll find freelance copywriters who do all of their same tasks on the same days (batching or time blocking) or they may do a little bit of everything every single day. However, there are very similar processes that are involved in putting together a finished piece of copy for a client.  


Begin with the End in Mind - Research Phase

First of all, you have to understand the end purpose. With my clients, I do a lot of what I call “brain dump phone calls.” I pick their brain, asking specific questions or sitting there almost as a silent participant on the call, collecting as much information as I can. At the end of the call, I may follow up with questions. I might also be reviewing old marketing materials they have in the form of webinars, emails, PDFs, etc. to kind of get a sense of who they are and what they intend to accomplish.

 

Generate Ideas

After the initial research phase, some copywriters are able to jump right into putting the copy together. I don't do that. I need to wait a while for the ideas to gel. I'm typically not doing a client's copy beginning to end in the same day. I like to spread this out over a couple of days. I'll do my research first, let that gel for a while, work on other projects, go on walks, do other things I need to do. Then from that process of thinking, ideas start to come. I get ideas for phrases, subject lines, and main things we want to emphasize.

 

Create a {Very} Rough Draft

Then I put all of these ideas in a document. Now I'm starting to actually flesh out ideas. This is the roughest form of a rough draft. I'm definitely not showing this version to my client. I keep two versions of my Google documents. One is for me - this is super messy. It's really just free writing, dumping out all the ideas that I've had after doing my research.

 

Refine

Then I'm probably going to take at least half a day, ideally a whole day, before I come back and make this into a refined piece of copy. I copy over my good ideas and flesh them out in a second Google document that I share with the client.

It seems like this process is really long. This is why copywriters are paid really well. They are not just completing a particular task. They're actually strategizing. They're thinking about the messaging, the audience who's going to receive this, and the format in which the audience is going to read the content.

For example, if I am creating webinar emails that are going to be dripped out over three days, it's a totally different piece of content than if I'm creating a direct mail letter to try to drive someone to the same event. I might hone in on some of the same ideas but ultimately, it's two different types of marketing.

As a teacher -- my background is in education -- we're always striving to reach different types of learners: our audio learners, our video learners, our kinetic learners, people who need to hear things multiple times to kind of understand the concept.

The same idea applies when you are marketing. So the same ideas that you're pulling together for one piece of copy may be infused in various forms of that copy but they address different types of readers. A lot of the work you do as a copywriter is figuring out the right way to give a message at the right time.  

 

More Than Writing

Behind the scenes, what exactly does a freelance copywriter do? It's so many things - this is just the writing end of it. A good copywriter will also infuse some strategy based on their personal experience. I've had a lot of clients come to me and say, "I know I should do content marketing. I know we need emails going out to our list but I don't know how to start it."   

When I create webinar promotional emails, that's driven from my own experience getting people to attend webinars. Every time that I approach a project, and anytime any freelance copywriter approaches a project, we're thinking about the client's overall goal and then the person that we're speaking to.

It really helps if you're thinking about the one person who's on the other end of reading that piece of copy. What is going to motivate them to action? It's not about what would motivate us to action. You really have to put yourself in the shoes of these other people.

In this sense, you're the "middle man" who bridges the gap between the client and the reader. The client wants the reader to take specific action. As the copywriter, you have to motivate the reader to take that specific action. You are blending these elements together in a piece of copy.  

Good copywriters are very open to receiving critiques of their work and constantly improving. They educate themselves about the business of copywriting and about the science behind how we encourage people to take action.

It's even important to know little details about when are the best days to send emails, hold webinars, get people to receive something in the mail, and sign up for live events. There’s science and psychology behind all of that.

Good copywriters are people who love doing a variety of different activities and really find the fun in putting the puzzle pieces together to bring those clients and those end readers to a goal.  

Questions about becoming a freelance copywriter? Post them below.

For more information about establishing your own online freelance writing career and how I've used Upwork as a tool to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of leads, visit my YouTube channel, Freelance Freedom.