One of the fastest ways to grow a profitable writing business is to learn from people who’ve done just that.
Today, Will Hoekenga answers some of our questions about becoming a high-demand copywriter, including how he attracts high-paying clients.
I trust Will’s journey will spark new ideas and encouragement for your own.
Q: Will, how did you transition into full-time freelancing from what you were doing before?
I was very fortunate to be able to do full-time freelancing right out of college back in 2010. A series of improbable events led to me helping an artist manager named Robert Smith out with a bio. He liked the work I did and kept offering me more. He (and the people he represented) eventually became a client so large I didn’t need to look for an office job when graduation rolled around.
Robert was a huge mentor for me (and still is) and helped me grow my business, find more clients, and become a better copywriter. Coming out of college as an English major, I had no idea work like this even existed. Saying “yes” to that first email asking if I could help him with a bio changed everything for me.
Q: What was your biggest obstacle or source of anxiety, and how did you overcome it?
Early on, it was thinking too far into the future—things like, “What will I do if this client goes away?” “Will I be able to continue finding enough people who want to work with me…whom I also like working with?”
I’ve never actually been in a tough spot where I couldn’t find clients. These were things I’d think about when everything was going great.
What’s helped alleviate those thoughts over the years is blogging. Making serious investments of my time into producing high-quality, unique content and then figuring out ways to attract and build an audience around it has brought me into contact with enough potential clients to assure me that the well won’t run dry.
Blogging really helped me realize there are so many more businesses out there that need copywriting and content marketing help than I ever imagined. It’s also increased my confidence in the value of the services I provide.
Q: What mistakes did you make? (Or, what would you do differently?)
The blog I have now (Copygrad.com) was actually the third one I started. The first two were not nearly as effective at attracting an audience of potential clients (or an audience at all, for that matter).
They were ineffective because I didn’t define a clear, focused vision for them from day one. The content was all over the map, and really was created more to indulge myself than actually help people write better copy and gain more customers.
I don’t think I could have done anything differently with them because I really didn’t know what I was doing at the time. Tons of mistakes were made, but learning from those helped me build Copygrad into something of actual value.
Q: How do you drive new business or find high-paying clients?
The two best ways I’ve found are
- Producing highly valuable, actionable content and promoting it.
- Regularly engaging with the email list I’ve built because of that content.
A lot of people try #1, but most overlook #2. When you have people subscribing to your content, don’t stop at just sending them links to more content—ask them real questions, figure out how you can help them, and then take the time to do it without asking for anything in return.
When you do this, two things happen:
- You discover how you can best help people, and you get better at it.
- The people who are the type of high-quality clients every freelancer wants to work with will want to work with you.
Producing and promoting content has been the best way I’ve found to create your own word-of-mouth.
Q: What’s surprised you the most in your freelancing journey?
How little “competition” matters. It’s been really cool to see how, for the most part, supportive copywriters are of one another. I think it really hurts you to have a fear-based mindset in that area.
Q: Who’s an ideal customer for you? How did you land on this niche?
My best customers have been personal brands (like authors/speakers) and software startups. I predominantly focused on the former until my experience with LeadPages, which really gave me a love for marketing software, particularly SaaS. Those are the two types of businesses I enjoy working with the most now, and also the ones I feel I provide the most value to.
Q: When was the last time you fired a customer (if ever), and why?
In May of 2014 I fired all of my customers to take a job on the marketing team of a startup called LeadPages. I wanted to go all in and give LeadPages everything I had, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to focus on clients. I even stopped writing on Copygrad for over a year!
After an incredible year with LeadPages that made me grow by leaps and bounds as a writer and marketer, I found myself missing freelancing and decided to return to it full-time. Fortunately, the biggest clients I had parted ways with were happy to see me back, so the transition was smooth.
Q: Anything else you’d care to share with copy/content writers looking to build a high-income freelance business?
I’d just like to emphasize how easy it is today to connect with kinds of brands and people you most want to work with. The entire series of events that led to LeadPages offering me a job began with a blog post I wrote analyzing how they do feature launches. I didn’t write it because I wanted them to hire me (I actually wasn’t even looking for a job at the time)—I wrote it because I loved their approach to marketing and wanted to show others how they were doing it.
When I published it, I tweeted it at their company account and at their CEO, Clay Collins. He saw it, read it, liked it, and DM’d me about working together.
A similar thing happened when I wrote a blog post about how Seth Godin writes copy. I put a ton of time into it, made sure it was valuable, and then I emailed him a link to it. He saw it and left a super complimentary comment on the post. I now use that comment as a testimonial.
That’s not to say getting a client is always that simple. But I do think it’s good to remember that it’s really easier than ever to get your work in front of the type of people you want to work with. Produce valuable things that will help or interest them, and then show it to them. They may not hire you on the spot, but good things tend to happen if you keep at it.
Q: Where can people connect with you?
I’m always happy to connect and chat over email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can check out my writing and grab some free stuff at Copygrad.com.
And, of course, on Twitter, where I like to ramble about pretty much everything.