Starting a Freelance Copywriter Business

Interview with Susan Greene, Freelance Copywriter

Susan Greene is a freelance copywriter who has been working out of her home in Orlando, Florida. She has been designing websites for worldwide clients since 2000.

Copywriter Susan Greene shares with us some hints, tips, and perks of going freelance.

What's the name of your business?

When I first started my copywriting company back in 1994, I used the name Greene Marketing & Advertising. That name worked well in helping me secure a variety of projects on par with a full-service ad agency.

But around the year 2000 I realized that discerning clients were seeking out freelancers. They no longer wanted to work with ad agencies, citing long delays, cold receptions when they provided their feedback on creative, and big bills. From that point on, I began using only my name, Susan Greene, as the name of my business.

Where is your business located?

I operate my copywriting business out of an office in my home in Orlando, Florida. I've done the downtown office thing, and prefer working in my house. I can see my kids when they get home from school. I don't pay rent. I get some tax breaks for having a home office. I save on gas. Can't beat the commute. And I can walk around in shorts and a t-shirt all day long. Love it!

Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?

My business is copywriting. However, the types of copywriting I'm doing have definitely changed in the past few years.

In the beginning, I dulled my pencils writing print copy -- brochures, press releases, and even annual reports. But in the past few years, web copy has been my focus, one determined not so much by me, but by demand. Every company needs web content -- websites, ezines, online articles, e-newsletters, blogs, PPC ads, etc.

The internet is the best thing to ever happen to copywriters since the invention of the word processor!

How did you get started in the freelance copywriting business? How did your career progress?

I've been writing my whole career. I'm one of those people who knew right away what I was meant to do in life – write. My love affair with words started as soon as I learned to read at about age 6. By the time I was a teenager, I kept a detailed journal, had about a dozen penpals with whom I corresponded regularly, and wrote poetry for fun.

In high school I obtained my first real job. It was with The Miami Herald writing classified ads for consumer customers.

During summers at college, I interned at a Miami TV station, the NBC affiliate, working in the News Department as an assistant to reporters doing research and some copywriting.

After I graduated college, my first real job was with an ad agency in Manchester, New Hampshire. I started out as an account coordinator and then moved up to a copywriting position. After three years at that ad agency, I decided to strike out on my own and opened a communications company, writing and producing corporate videos. Since then, I've had a couple of different companies, all related to copywriting in some form.

What do you like most about being a freelance copywriter?

The best thing about being a freelance copywriter is the variety. By working with so many different clients, I'm continually learning about new products, new businesses, new technologies, new concepts, and more. I've become quite a generalist, although my husband claims I know just enough about most topics to be dangerous.

That sounds interesting, but do you have competitors?

My main competitors are other freelance copywriters. Because of the internet, I no longer compete only with other local writers but also with copywriters nationwide and even worldwide. On the other hand, I too, am able to compete for projects outside of my immediate area.

So, how do you compete against other freelance copywriters?

I've long since given up trying to compete on price. Someone is always willing to undercut you. Instead, I've tried to differentiate myself. Back in the 90's I billed myself as a technology copywriter, able to write about complex industrial and high-tech subjects that most other writers avoided.

These days I specialize in writing websites. I not only provide web copy, I am an SEO (search engine optimization) expert and can help a client's website rise to the top of search engine rankings.

I also am skilled at writing copy that helps convert visitors into customers. And really, that's what good web writing is all about.

How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?

Like many people, I was a bit naive in the beginning. I trusted everyone, and I got burned a few times by clients who either didn't pay their bills or took advantage of my time.

Over the years I've developed more confidence in my skills. I now am more selective in the clients with whom I choose to work, and I don't hesitate to charge what I'm worth.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently?

Not really, it's been a constant learning process, and an adventure-filled ride. If there were one thing I could change, it would have to be that the Internet had been invented sooner. It has truly altered everything for the better.

I no longer have to cold call for new clients, as they all find me via my website. There's an abundance of available work, as everyone needs content for their website. And finally, I enjoy writing web copy more than the print copywriting that I was doing when I started my career.

What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?

By far the single strategy that has most impacted the growth of my business was building my website. Within about two months of launch back in 1998, I suddenly had a steady stream of new business coming in the door courtesy of the search engines.

Over the years that stream has become a river, bringing in far more business than I can handle. It's allowed me to cherry pick my clients and also to set up a referral service in which I farm out leads to colleagues and other vendors for a finder's fee. That service has become a nice source of passive revenue for me.

What would you say to somebody who wanted to start a similar business?

Learn to write for the web. That's where the money is. Practice writing conversationally. Become an expert in SEO (search engine optimization). Explore social networking and blogging. Stay up on all the latest marketing techniques and trends on the web.

We appreciate your stories and your time, Susan. Thank you very much.

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