So I’m one month into freelance copywriting now. I know this still makes me a little lamb in the lion cage of freelance copywriting but I’ve learned a lot in the past 30 days or so, mostly good.
I said mostly good. I suffer desk guilt. That is, the guilt one feels when one leaves one’s desk for a minute. I get up at the same time as my partner, she leaves to go to work, I go to the study and work till 1pm. Then I have lunch, read the Guardian, do the crossword (the quick one, I’m not clever enough for the hard one), then continue again from 2pm till 5.30pm. So I have a good, disciplined approach to what I’m doing.
But even though I know I deserve – and need – that hour, I feel bad about it. I take occasional breaks between times, sometimes just to wander off and make a cup of tea while thinking about the best way to sell a client’s web services or word an award entry, sometimes just to stroke the cat absent-mindedly, but every second I’m away I’m thinking I should be at the desk. Because time is money. I’m sure I’ll get over it. The guilt that is, not the bit about time being money because…
Time is money
I’ve worked in agencies long enough to know this. I must have documented my every working moment on timesheets for the past four years. But it’s not until you sit down with the client and talk about how you can make them money, then go home and work out a quote for that money, then do some work – for money – that you realise, very tangibly indeed, that it’s all about the money. I think sometimes the chain of command in agencies distances you from this. And when I’ve seen agency screens a-buzz with Instant Messenger, Twitter and Google Chat, I know it.
I thought I would find this difficult. I know I’ve said I wander off and stroke the cat, but really these are necessary distractions for a copywriter. I’ve written before about the copywriting process: you cannot just sit down and reel it off. You need some time out to let the ideas come back. But I’m finding I can sit down and just work, without the office distractions. OK, so office chat can be productive – not in the ‘hey, let’s talk communications’ kind of productive, more the cross-seeding, synergistic, getting-along-with-people-and-having-new-insights-into-your-work productive – but I prefer being in the zone.
I’m being really productive. I can work several hours at a stretch and it feels like several minutes. I’m getting far more done than I did working in an office environment. And the best thing about this is that, when I need to work longer hours, I know I’m being paid for it. The 10, 11, 12+ hour days I’ve worked at companies past have been largely down to personal commitment but it’s nicer to be paid for that commitment. People who work outside these hours are actually working for free. Worse than that, in agencies, they’re over-servicing. Time is money – unless you’re not being paid.
One unexpected thing I’m discovering is that I’m good at selling. Perhaps I should have been a salesman. It’s half down to just being able to sit down and have a chat, but also learning the art of figuring out, quickly, what the client wants and needs, and tailoring your pitch to that on the fly. Maybe this is part of what makes a copywriter: putting yourself in your audience’s shoes. Saying to yourself “What would I do if I were you?” Sometimes you find yourself asking “What would I do if I were me?” which is usually the right time to go and stroke the cat. Thing is, because you’re going in to do the sell-in you tend to get nice people smiling at you, offering you coffee and biscuits. This is a change for someone used to working in the engine room, eating dead mice and beetles that have fallen behind the radiators and drinking antifreeze.
A freelance copywriter does everything. I look after my own sales, with a set of Google docs listing potential sales value, actual sales, to invoice, to pursue, hot leads, cold leads, big ones, small ones, some the size of your head. My marketing, I’ve decided, is my blog. Twitter’s my advertising. I’m considering setting up a Facebook group for people who want to be copywriters. That’s my community (if I find time to do it). All my social media presences are my networking. And there’s good old fashioned email to ex-colleagues and acquaintances too. I’m doing my own accounting. I’m doing my own pitches (see above). I’m multi-tasking, and I think I need to be especially proud of this, being a man and consequently owning a brain whose hemispheres barely connect.