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Making A Living As A Copywriter; Freelancing Versus Agency

By Expert Author: Philip Johnson

So You Want To be A Copywriter?
Wannabe copywriters often check out my site for information relating to my services and fees. And quite right too! I still give my competitor's websites a 'gander' every now and then, in case they're doing something that I should be doing.
I receive many emails from students working towards their marketing or other media degrees, asking for a few tips about securing work in the 'Copywriting Industry' I didn't realise we had an industry! If we have, it's surely a cottage industry because most copywriters are freelancers who work on their own and usually from home.
"Well what about advertising and marketing agencies?", They enquire. "Well what about them?", I ask. And so it goes on and on until they realise that a copywriter who works for a structured and institutional organisation, is a totally different animal to that of the freelancer.
Institutional versus Freelance
So what are the differences between them? There are many. Let's look at the agency writer. He or she is likely a talented person with creative skills and a good command of the English language. They will have learned, from their course work, the psychology of selling, aspects of communication and how to write in a flowing and interesting style.
Each day, at the agency office, they will work on their assignments, which have been delegated to them by their manager. Their work will be scrutinised by their manager or team leader, who, in the interests of their company, will decide whether it's worthy of publication.
After a couple of years, doing similar 'run of the mill' stuff, they may be offered the opportunity of coming up with something completely original. All by themselves, with no guidance, un-tethered by their mentor. And, in the interests of the company, not to mention their job security, they will produce something as institutional as they have been doing previously. They'll play it safe. Well wouldn't you?
Eventually, their creative awareness and talent may break through the institutional membrane and they'll want to move on. They'll want to do something for themselves. They may even become a freelancer.
A freelancer is just about anyone with a passion and a flair for writing. Some have started out on their career path by working for agencies, some have graduated in English and just feel 'qualified' to do the job, whilst others come into the 'industry' from a variety of other routes.
By whichever means, once they become a freelancer, they quickly learn to survive. To survive and prosper as a freelancer you must have the ability to adapt, diversify and develop the skill of writing in any and every style humanly possible. But there's more! You will have to meet deadlines, sometimes work for less than the lower national wage limit and learn to turn your brain inside out. Sounds painful!
What does it all amount to? What's the bottom line?
Let's summarise thus far.
A copywriter working for an agency will work in a nice warm office with nice friendly colleagues, writing simple institutional letters, brochures, ads and information packs. They'll be paid somewhere between 18K to 26K, get 4 to 5 weeks annual paid holiday and get to slag off the boss at the office Christmas party.
Sounds pretty good to me. If you want to be a copywriter, I recommend you go down this path. It offers a good salary and a steady secure position.
The freelancer's life is not so clear cut. They mostly work on their own, write all kinds of stuff about everything and wonder where their next packet of fags is going come from. They only take short breaks, get stressed and slag everyone off at any party.
They're self-employed, so have to keep accounts. They have to buy all their own stationery, stuff their own letters and post off their mailings. They have to advertise or even worse, they have to compete to sell their services for a pittance to unknown clients through some online freelance website. The pits!
Sounds terrible doesn't it? Then why do we do it?
The uncovered truth about freelancing
Well, obviously I can't speak for everyone so I'll tell you why I do it and how I do it. "Listen up"
The main reason I write for a living is because I love it. I've always been a creative person so writing comes as second nature. And let's face it, it's not very difficult to do.
I love the challenge that each assignment brings. I have ghost-written several books for clients and each has been on a completely different subject. The downside of ghost-writing is having to sign away all rights to the work, which means you can't showcase it or put it in your portfolio. The client gets all the credit for your masterpiece.
I've written many articles for websites, emails and sales letters. I write poetry, humour and boring stuff like FAQ's and product information. But I'm never bored because the work can be so varied.
Then there's the money of course. A good freelancer should be able to make around 50K a year. Some make less but some can make over 100K a year. There really is no limit. Make a name for yourself and not only will you be earning a good living, you could possibly find yourself in the enviable position of being able to pick and choose the work you do.
Still want to be a copywriter?
Good! Now let's dispel a few myths by answering a few questions that I get asked all the time.

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