Becoming a freelance copywriter

how-to-be-a-freelance-copywriter-melbourne-copywriter-camilla-peffer

I have taken a liking to reading tarot.

This morning, I pulled out this card somewhat ominous card from my deck (psst: it's from Lucy Cavendish. Pretty, right?).

The Tower.

Cue ghost wailing. It symbolises looming change, but also opportunities for growth.

Which is spookily spot-on for me right now, because I'm half way through my 2nd week of full-time self-employment.

I, Camilla Peffer, am 100% solopreneur. I am the HBIC of my own domain.

 

I'm a full-time freelance SEO copywriter based in Melbourne.

It feels amazing to even type that because for so long, I was told being a freelance writer IS HARD. 'You will not get paid', they told me. 'You will be poor and drink lots and watch Gilmore Girls to feel good again,' I thought. So when I quit my very fucking cool job at a popular online publishing company/digital agency two months ago, my colleagues were confused. I had really whipped out my finest job-hunting-ninja skills to get that gig and hounded a lot of people. Now I was up and leaving. Already.

I had ummed-and-ahhed for weeks about quitting. Should I stay, or should I go? Should I leave Australia's top online publishing company + a steady paycheck, or should I do what I'd always wanted to do and work for myself? 

I had a lot of feelings:

  • Was I giving up too soon? I'd only been with the company for 6 months. Should I wait another 6 months to see how I felt?
  • How would I eat, or pay bills, or eat, or have fun, or most importantly eat, without a weekly pay cheque?
  • Was I too young to work for myself?
  • Was I good enough to work for myself? Or did I need to keep clinging to the name of an established company in order to validate myself?

Then, as I lay in Savasana one morning at the end of a 6.30am yoga class, I knew it was time. I was in a great role - but it wasn't for me.

The email had been saved in my drafts folder for a week.

I pressed send. And I breathed out a long sigh. And I smiled.

When I handed in my resignation to my boss - along with a very heartfelt thank you and a tinge of apprehension - I had a lot of fears I had to overcome in order to get through the next 6 weeks. Of course, taking that first step and handing in a very gracious resignation was the first brave step I took. But it was just the first of many baby steps towards where I wanted to be.

 

Becoming a freelance copywriter (it's a trip)

I, like many communications students, never imagined I'd be a freelance copywriter one day. I don't think many people list writing website copy as an aspiration (they should though. It's a pretty sweet gig). I went to university wanting to come out and begin my fabulously glossy life as a full-time feature writer for a magazine. Then one day I would have my own publication. With an office and free loot from the best brands around. I would give away mascara and handbags like spare change, because they just weren't my colour.

I sort of 'fell' into copywriting in my final year. Print publishing was dying, and I'd found an unlikely niche with a small, local business in Perth.

From there on out, I landed a few small freelance content writing gigs here and there, and then eventually a spot on the Everguide contributing team covering Perth's events.

I landed my first full-time job in my final semester of uni. In the interview, my soon-to-be manager asked me what my career goals were.

"I want to be a full-time writer, and I want to help people convey their message in a way that's easy for people to understand."

He then asked me:

"Then, why aren't you working for yourself?"

In all honesty, I felt too inexperienced at the time to ride it out on my own.

So what changed? Why did I quit my job and become a full-time freelance copywriter? There's a few reasons.

 

Open office structures = WORST

I've always been one of those people that needed absolute utter silence in order to work effectively. The kind where you can hear a pin drop. If I as so much as hear a Youtube video of babies laughing, I practically burst a blood vessel. I love peace and quiet, because it means I can focus, fine-tune my intuition to freakishly good levels, make sense of my thoughts, and then churn out some darn good prose.

It turns out that most people value this peace and quiet, too. In a study conducted by the University of Sydney last year, the researchers found that the advantages of open plan offices don't outweigh the negatives. Essentially, there's a privacy-communication trade off, and from what the report claims, it appears as though people really don't like open-office spaces. The main problems? Little privacy, high noise levels, less space, and apparently, worse temperature control.

Harvard Business Review also put together two charts based on the report. Here's one:

And according to this recent study, workers who switch from office work to working from home see their stress levels drop by 25%.

Open-office spaces can be productive environments for some workers. But not for me, because....

 

I'm an introvert

Another writer once asked me how I worked.

"...at home, behind my computer?"

"Like a true writer," he replied.

I don't think there's any 'right' or 'wrong' way to write - whatever helps you be more productive is up to you. I've found that peaceful environments are most conducive to my productivity levels, so I tend to opt for quieter locations with people who won't distract me too much. I work best in spaces that facilitate introspection, and where I can tune out the chatter of everyone else and make sense of my thoughts. That's not to say I hide myself away from the world for weeks on end, talking to my cats (although I do talk to my cats. Don't judge me). I think co-working spaces are beneficial for solopreneurs, and I'm just about to take up residency at one close by soon (I'm an introvert, not a hermit). As Susan Cain, author of Quiet, told Fast Company:

I think they can be wonderful if they have enough pockets of privacy in them...These are spaces where people can innovate. Solitude is a crucial ingredient in innovation.
— Susan Cain, author of 'Quiet'

There's also something inauthentic and uncomfortable that I've found with prearranged office social events. I've attended team building activities worth a fist pump or five, and I've attended some events that left me feeling awkward and insecure. Because I work for myself, I get to choose the people I want to be around, the people I work with, and the places I go to. I get to set the terms for when it's time to leave, leaving me completely free to indulge my inner introvert.

 

I'm multi-passionate

Source: unknown

Source: unknown

When you work a 9-6 job, your time is a precious resource. As a self-employed copywriter, that time is still as valuable to me as diamonds. But with a 9-6 job comes a time vortex, where the majority of your time and energy is dedicated to being an employee. There are 24-hours in a day, and theoretically, you spend only a third of them at your job. But there's also the time you spend thinking about your to-do list before work, the time you spend commuting, the all too increasing out-of-office work load, and then the stress that hangs around like a specter once you've left the building. It can feel like you have a 'from when I open my eyes to when I close my eyes' kind of contract, rather than an 9-hour a day job.

Some people make great employees. I applaud them. I'm jealous, even. As a person with a variety of different things they want to do with their career - including multiple career-paths - I found it impossible to focus as an employee. I'm a copywriter, but I also practice Reiki. I'm planning to complete a Yoga Teacher Training course next year. I'm a meditation junkie. I'm a health and wellness enthusiast.

None of these things meshed well with my previous working environments.

So I created an environment that facilitated my passions. One where I can pursue my other interests, and not on someone else's time.

 

Taking a leap: sage advice

It would be far too bold and narcissistic to hand out advice to would-be solopreneurs so early in my game. So I'll leave you with this juicy pearler from rock star writer and creative consultant Jessica Larsen over at Hello Wordsmith. She was so generous as to give me a bit of advice, which I'll be sharing more next week.

As the goddess Nike counsels, ‘Just do it.’

You will always feel fear. Honestly, truthfully, it will always be there. As soon as you finally take a leap and master one thing, another will pop up and you’ll want to expand outwards again, and you’ll ram right into that wall of fear – AGAIN.

Life isn’t about not having fear – it’s about learning to live with that discomfort and acting anyway.

So set goals, some of them scary. Practice putting yourself outside your comfort zone. Start taking baby steps. Do one thing every day that moves you forward. Connect with people who are trying to walk the same path. Commit to learning your craft. Immerse yourself in the world you want to be a part of.

And more than anything else, just get started. The Universe rewards action, and you’ll figure out the details along the way.
— Jessica Larsen @ Hello Wordsmith

Resources

Fast Company, 'You're Not Alone: Most People Hate Open Space Offices', 2013.

Journal of Environmental Psychology, 'Workspace satisfaction: The privacy-communication trade-off in open-plan office', 2013.

Harvard Business Review, 'Research: Cubicles Are the Absolute Worst', 2013.

 

All images my own unless otherwise stated.