10 Ways to Find Your First Copywriting Clients

Copywriting is an Excellent Tool for Freelance Writers

by Carol Tice

I’ve frequently discussed the virtues of adding some copywriting to your freelance-writing mix. But, many writers ask, how do I get started as a copywriter? Most copywriters break in by writing for a small, local business in their town.

The good news: Small businesses that need marketing help are everywhere.

Here are 10 ways to find your first business writing assignments:

1) Friends and family. Tell everyone you know you’re available to write for businesses. Let them know the types of copywriting work that interest you, whether it’s brochures, white papers, direct mail sales letters, or Web content.

2) Businesses you patronize. As you go about your daily life, you interact with many small businesses. You see a chiropractor, shop at a local organic grocer, or take your kids to a gym. These are all natural places for you to connect with business owners. Your secret weapon—you already know and like the business! You could also do a barter deal for writing work since you’re already a customer.

3) Your local downtown. Walk the business district of your neighborhood or visit the local chamber of commerce and pick up all their current brochures or fliers. Call or stop in at the ones that have weak marketing materials, introduce yourself as a copywriter, and ask if they’d like help creating more powerful messages.

4) Your local business park. Companies in industrial parks tend to be medium-sized or bigger, and in fairly low-glamour businesses — meaning they’re prime copywriting targets. They need to get out the word, as they don’t have a shop on Main Street customers can see. Also, they tend to get hit up less, so the competition isn’t as stiff. Before you knock on doors and introduce yourself, drive through once and write down all the company names. Go home and look at their Web sites (or discover they don’t have one), so you have something to talk about when you come back and try to meet the business owners.

5) Business networking events. Wherever large groups of business owners gather in your town—the local Chamber luncheon, weekly networking group, LinkedIn meetup, or whatever—you want to be there.

6) Social media. Work your networks and online forums and let them know you’re open for copywriting work. Find prospect companies and follow them — strike up a conversation, study their Web site, maybe provide some useful marketing-article links, then make your pitch. Use your blog to discuss your quest for copywriting work. Try InMail on LinkedIn — LI reports it has an impressive 30 percent response rate.

7) In niche industries you know. This is an easy way to identify prospects, particularly if you’re looking for work blogging or writing other online content. If you have an area of expertise, look at the Web sites of all the local businesses in that niche. Then call the companies with the worst Web sites and mention the most glaring omission in their marketing plan — might they need a blog, a white paper, case studies?

8. Through content-site profiles. While I don’t recommend trying to earn by bidding on projects on content sites such as Elance or Guru.com, it can be worthwhile to leave a profile on these heavily-trafficked sites. Small businesses looking for writers do scan these sites, and may find you and approach you off the site and hire you. I recently went on an interview to ghost a CEO’s book, and the company found me through an old Guru profile I’d forgotten all about!

9) At print publications. Magazines’ article assignments are often the tip of an iceberg at a publisher. There may be opportunities to write advertorial articles for the magazine’s advertisers, or to create special advertising sections. They may put on conferences that need marketing materials, or have a “custom publishing” arm that helps companies create training courses or books that commemorate company milestones.

10) By creating a sample. If you’re really stuck for a first client, create a marketing piece about your copywriting services. You can then use this as a mailer to send to prospects. Having a sample in front of them should help you sign up that first client. Personally, when I broke into copywriting in 2005, I used a variant of #2. I called on companies I had written about in my staff-writing job at a business journal to let them know I was leaving the paper. (Many folks do this when they leave a company to freelance, by turning around and freelancing for their former employer.) One of them asked me to ghost his blog and write advertorial articles for the company’s Web site. I made several thousand dollars over a few months’ time, and I was on my way.

If you’ve done copywriting, how did you first break in? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.

Photo via Flickr user ruthieonart


16 comments on “10 Ways to Find Your First Copywriting Clients
  1. Nathan says:

    Cool. Thanks for your input.

    Did you get a chance to check out my blog? I’d love to hear your feedback on my writing style. I am always looking to improve.
    Nathan recently posted…Lessons to be learned from Amtrak CrashMy Profile

  2. Nathan says:

    Of all the social media channels, which do you recommend is the most effective for getting your first clients? Why?

    • Carol Tice says:

      It really depends on your goals, the types of writing you do, and the types of clients you’re going after, Nathan. I think Twitter is huge for bloggers. But in general, if you’re only going to do one form of social media — make it LinkedIn. It’s the only one where it’s totally OK to ask people for referrals and let people know you’re looking for clients. Here’s some tips on how I’ve used it: http://www.makealivingwriting.com/ways-writers-find-gigs-linkedin/

      • Nathan says:

        Cool. My next question is, to specialize or generalize? I just want paid writing assignments, but I heard you get paid more when you specialize, but don’t want to abandon other paid writing opportunities either.
        Nathan recently posted…Lessons to be learned from Amtrak CrashMy Profile

        • Carol Tice says:

          I think that’s a common fear, Nathan — but taking any and all writing gigs unfortunately doesn’t build your income very well. It wastes too much time, reinventing wheels as you figure out who the experts are, where the good research stats are, for industry after topic after beat.

          Where if you stick to a few key topics, it gets easier and easier to report and write your stories…so your hourly rate goes up over time. And life gets better.

  3. David HUnter says:

    So you think it’s a good idea to just do a rewrite and include it with their ad and the sales letter?

    Instead of the rewrite, how about offering a free copy critique? That way the prospects have to respond, rather than getting a free rewrite whether they respond or not.

    Thanks again, Carol!
    David HUnter recently posted…Build Your Mailing List With A FREE Book Offer (And Get Other Advertisers To Pay For It)My Profile

  4. David HUnter says:

    Great tips, Carol!

    I’ve gotten a few clients from online ads/forums (mostly just for marketing), but I’m going to start doing some copywriting for local businesses.

    Kind of like your idea in #3… I’m thinking about finding ads in the newspapers/yellow pages/postcards/etc. and attach them to a sales letter and send them to the prospects offering my copywriting services. That way they’ll notice their ad right away.

    Thoughts?
    David HUnter recently posted…Build Your Mailing List With A FREE Book Offer (And Get Other Advertisers To Pay For It)My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I think that doesn’t prove much — I think the point of that technique is to REWRITE their ad so it’s snappier, and attach it to your rewrite.

  5. Martha says:

    I’m attempting to branch out into the copywriting world, as well. Thanks for the very helpful article. I’ve just sent out my first direct mail piece, so we shall see how it goes! I’ll definitely implement some more of these strategies in the coming weeks.

  6. Emilee says:

    I have read so many articles but I stay discouraged. I just don’t know where to START. I graduated with a BA in MDS concentrated on Professional writing and recently left a short stent with a local newspaper as a reporter. I love to write and copy writing from home sounded like a great avenue to explore but I feel like I am in a maze constantly hitting walls. I need to know where to start my career when I have no experience in the genre.

  7. Sipho says:

    Carol,
    I’ve just finished my distance learning copywriter course. I come from a secretarial background and having done proposals, training manuals, brochures, etc for my employers in the past, I know where I want this to take me, its the how to that gives me sleepless nights. Its 2am and I’ve just read your article. Thank you for such an invaluable article. I suppose its no guts no glory in freelancing, you’ve just got to get on with it. Merry Christmas.

  8. Ms. Carol,

    Excellent advice and article. As a Jr. Copywriter, I have had a very hard time finding clients. I have used direct mail, email, blogging and social networking sites, but not too many clients yet. I’ll try your suggestions too.

    Thanks again for an excellent article!

    Mark Ellis
    Mark Elmo Ellis recently posted…Former U.S. Army Jazz Trombonist Learns Brutal Lesson…My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      If your marketing isn’t paying off, Mark, then it’s time to learn more about how to do it.

      I have a couple resources for the above — one of my ebooks is How to be a Well-Paid Freelance Blogger…and in my Freelance Writers Den community, we’ve got a bootcamp on how to get gigs through social media. I haven’t done direct mail but have heard good things from people who did – you might check out Chris Marlow for tips on how to do that better.