Freelance copywriter? How to learn when you’re the boss

I’m a freelance copywriter. Being my own boss, setting my own hours, choosing the projects I work on… It’s all brilliant. But the big thing I miss is colleagues. Specifically, senior colleagues whose desks I can swerve by to ask dumb questions on my way to something new.

And that’s the rub as a freelancer. How do you keep learning when you’re on your own?  Here are all the ways I’ve found to make every day a school day.

Copy copy

Gary Halbert recommends it, in fact, just about every writer recommends it. Pick some great ads and copy them down, word for word, on paper.

Research has shown that writing by hand improves learning.  The feedback to your brain from the physical action, the sensation of the paper and pen, the slower pace, all help you absorb the style and structure you’re copying.

And it doesn’t have to be the work of the icons of the advertising world. Copy Ogilvy, sure, but I look to the online portfolios of experienced working copywriters. If I can copy out their latest construction brochure or a fin services website they’ve written, that’s all good too. I look for formulas they’ve used, how they’ve structured text, where keywords sit, etc.

Listen to copywriters’ podcasts

To break the silence and feel like I’ve spoken to someone today, without the actual faff of speaking or changing out of gym gear, podcasts are winners. I gorged on Kate Toon and Belinda Weaver’s Hot Copy Podcast when I first started out and regularly plug in when I’m running errands. There’s a vast back catalogue of episodes covering every aspect of copywriting and running a freelance business.

Also, check out Copyblogger FM for weekly chat on copy, content, SEO and more. And the Copywriter Club Podcast with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. They do weekly interviews with expert copywriters and content creators.

Read freelance copywriters’ blogs

My favourite way to learn is through the generosity of other freelance copywriters who regularly blog from the coal face. In no particular order, here are the people I love to follow:

  • Writing from a shed in his back garden, there’s Gareth Hancock @thatcontentshed. Read this post, and you’ll be a convert.
  • John Espirian’s @espirian tagline is “the relentlessly helpful technical copywriter”, and it’s absolutely true. His blog is packed with useful stuff, and his LinkedIn advice is second to none.
  • André Spiteri @andre_spiteri is the man who finds everything and shares content and tips you could otherwise search a lifetime for.
  • Megan Rose @MegRFreelance offers fabulous advice in an enviably easy-breezy style. She’s never far away on Twitter, sharing great stuff from other writers to watch.
  • Check out the sweary and straight-talking Emma Cownley @EJCownley for snappy blog posts and videos that are packed with wisdom.
  • Author and freelance content writer, Matt Drzymala @indeliblethink1 shares the highs and lows of writing for a living. Read his blog if you’re thinking of making the leap.

Talk to copywriters in real life

Nothing beats talking to real people face to face. For introverts who like to terrify themselves now and again, search Twitter for #copywritersunite nights. Vikki Ross started the hashtag to connect copywriters, and now there are meet-ups all over the country. I find copywriters a genuinely lovely, supportive and friendly bunch, and they truly shine when offered a night in the pub.

Join a copy or content Twitter chat

To pick up hints and tips, ways of working faster and smarter, and generally catch up on what’s got people’s attention today, join a Twitter chat. They’re usually hosted by an expert, and you feed back on a series of questions. I like #ContentWritingChat, #ContentClubUK and #SEMRushChat. Search for the hashtags and find when the next one is on.

Follow copywriting heroes’ heroes

This was a tip from my awesome mentor Sarah Turner of Turner Ink (more on that later). Find people you admire on Twitter and then follow the people they follow. Instant quality in your Twitter feed.

And follow Sarah. She has some kind of secret search facility that means she’s always tweeting great stuff you won’t find elsewhere.

Join the ProCopywriters Network

Joining the ProCopywriters Network was a massive win for me. There are sample contracts, member spotlights, webinars and a constant stream of practical and helpful blog posts from members. And I do get work from my profile there, as well as a hefty search engine boost for my own site.

Learn from copy clients

Yes, when I’m working with clients, I’m the copy pro. But I make sure I squeeze every bit of learning I can from every client. Are there things I can do more quickly next time? Should I have approached a topic more bluntly? Asked more questions? Did I listen to the right stuff the client was telling me?

When I’m working with an agency or another copywriter, I write everything down obsessively, so I don’t miss a drop of useful stuff.

Take online copy, content and SEO courses

There are tons of online courses that you can take in your own time. I like the Yoast and HubSpot freebies when I’m doing something new or looking for a refresher. And you usually get a badge for your site if you want to use it.

Then there are paid courses run by distance learning colleges. And those by other copywriters. Andy Maslen’s Breakthrough Copywriting is on my to-do list, and Kate Toon and Belinda Weaver, of Hot Copy Podcast fame, both run wildly popular courses that sell out in hours.

Get a copywriting mentor

This was a game-changer for me. A year ago, I joined the SheSays Who’s Your Momma mentorship wait list and was paired with the fabulous Sarah Turner. Sarah is an incredible writer and a black-belt in freelancing. She completely changed the way I look at my business and the confidence I approach it with. Follow Sarah everywhere and read everything she writes, she’s pure gold.

SheSays is a global creative network for women and runs its mentorship scheme in six cities around the world. The London scheme is taking a break until early 2019 but keep an eye open for the relaunch. Vikki Ross is also a SheSays mentor. As well as being behind #copywritersunite, she organised and hosted this year’s CopyCapital with Andy Maslen.  You can find her presenting and teaching all over the place – snap up your tickets quickly.

Plenty of copywriters offer mentorship. Get Googling and see if you find someone who fits the bill.

Read, read, read, read and then read some more

Of course, reading everything and anything you can get your hands on is the best way to stretch yourself. If you are looking for great reads, try the recommendations of these people: The Copywriter Club, HubSpot, CopyBlogger, Express Writers, ProCopywriters and Growth Lab.

And, hot off the press, I’d add Glenn Fisher’s “The Art of the Click: How to Harness the Power of Direct-Response Copywriting and Make More Sales”, and Tom Albrighton’s “Copywriting Made Simple: How to write powerful and persuasive copy that sells”.

So, there you have all the ways I’ve found to keep learning. Who are your favourite teachers and how do you keep growing as a freelance writer?

8 thoughts on “Freelance copywriter? How to learn when you’re the boss

  1. Eleanor Goold says:

    Awesome post! I love to learn from other copywriters who are at the coal face. We all have something to share. I sign up to lots of copywriters and marketers email lists too (because I love email copywriting). I would also add Ash Ambirge of The Middle Finger Project who has some fabulous advice for freelancers.

    • amyboylanwrites says:

      That’s a great point, Eleanor. I do receive and love lots of newsletters (including yours, I still hold the ‘Venetian assassin’ as the gold standard for subject lines). I’m off to find Ash Ambirge now! Thanks ?

  2. Anna Lewin says:

    Thanks for the great tips, Amy – going to bookmark this to refer back to! There are so many opportunities to learn – we’re very lucky. Big fan of podcasts and I try to read as much as possible. Also, love that when you go on Twitter you’re pretty much guaranteed to learn something new. Sometimes I worry I haven’t carved out enough learning time but I think little and often seems to be the way. I went to my first #copywritersunite meetup last night which was brilliant! 😀

    • amyboylanwrites says:

      I’m delighted it’s helpful, Anna! Yep, the #copywritersunite gatherings are a lot of fun and a great chance to connect and compare notes. As you say, little and often works well for me when it comes to learning. Then it’s easier to put things into practise straight away and cement the lesson. Thanks for stopping by and please shout if you find other sources you love ?

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