Six months ago I took the jump into full-time freelance copywriting. I was ready to start working from home. I had the writing skills, the clients and the workstation. And a stockpile bourbon biscuits. Oh god yes.
But what really strikes me half a year later is just how steep the learning curve has been. I’ve had to adapt my expectations, learn completely new skills and look for support in areas I didn’t even know I didn’t know.
So for any other businesses which are just starting out, here’s a quick summary of what I’ve gleaned from my first 26 weeks:
1. Building your own website is like parenthood…
…in that the boundary between heart-bursting pride and nervous breakdown is much more flimsy than others might imagine.
Like the vast majority of freelance businesses, I didn’t have a budget to pay for a fancy website. So I built one myself through a combination of online tutorials, Reddit, Youtube and trial and error. And error. And error.
In addition to WordPress build tutorials, I learned basic html and css coding. It was worth it, but there were many times where the only thing preventing my head from hitting the computer screen was my inability to lift my face off the desk.
Even now, I am continually tweaking, re-writing, redesigning. Codecademy offers free, interactive courses. I recommend it. If you get stuck, there are amazing communities of programmers willing to help (shout out to Reddit.com/r/css and Reddit.com/r/wordpress).
My advice is to look at the websites in your industry that you admire and learn from them. It’s not about copying, but understanding what makes a good layout, how you navigate through the site and where you’re presented with a call to action.
Obviously, having a decent copywriter in your corner can help too (see what I did there?).
2. Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll come
Field of Dreams is a film that owes small businesses everywhere an apology. Okay, the quote wasn’t directly referring to building a website, but the implication was there, which makes it a low-down, dirty liar. Having an online presence doesn’t mean you’ll start getting enquiries immediately.
Optimising your new website for both leads and SEO takes time; it is an ongoing process at both the front and back end, based on testing, keyword research, testing, building quality backlinks, testing, social shares and testing.
PPC advertising requires refinement to get it right too. You need to get your quality score high enough for your ads to appear regularly, and this means making sure your landing page and adwords are in total synchronicity. How? Yep. Testing.
Don’t be disheartened. Think of refining your website’s content as not so much a marathon but part of your weekly routine. Test and test again. There is always room for improvement.
3. You can grow your business for free. The trade-off is time
As a new business, your reputation is currently zero. Zip. Nada. Niente. Which means you need to expand your presence in order to win new customers. The good news is there are ways to do this for almost no initial outlay, but the downside is they are all labour-intensive.
But that’s no reason not to go ahead. Here are three suggestions for building your client-base on the cheap:
- Get networking. Seriously, it’s nowhere near as daunting as it’s made out to be. In Manchester you can join the Business Growth Hub, which offers regular free seminars and networking events. Nationally, there are some great, sociable groups like 4Networking, which you can attend for free up to two times before shelling out any of the cold hard stuff. Otherwise, check out the free communities on MeetUp, where there are plenty of opportunities to build relationships, get advice or even just have some company while you work.
- Build your social media profile. And I don’t just mean update your details on LinkedIn. Start making new connections, commenting on relevant posts and offering your own *valuable* contributions. The more you show appreciation for others’ input, the more they will reciprocate. Put in a little bit of time every day and allow your own reputation to grow.
- Start a content marketing plan. So here’s the dream: you create something that’s valuable enough to potential customers that they come to you. Why not? You’ve got the expertise. You know how to solve your customers’ pain points. You just need to put that into a format that is accessible, useful and shareable to your target audience. This can be through a blog, email campaign, white paper or even via social media. The beauty of good content is that much of what you create can be used to drive enquiries for a long time afterwards. Hubspot is a good place to start if you’re new to content marketing – they explain the theory and how to put it into practice.
It’s been an incredible six months, at the end of which is a long list of things I still need to do. I have a plan and I’m following through on it. If you’re wondering if it’s right for you, the least you owe yourself is an attempt. And if you need some help with the writing, just let me know.