Freelance writers need to earn repeat work. Of course, finding new clients is vital too, but to give yourself as much job security as possible and to actually earn a decent wage, you need to get clients coming back to you with more assignments, time after time.
Repeat work from SEO and digital agencies can be a great earner for freelancers, because they’re likely to have multiple clients in need of quality copy, potentially month after month. And if they’re any good at their job – and you’re any good at yours – their need for copy will increase, and you will get first refusal of that work.
But how can you get into this position of being a sought-after writer with an increasing pool of work to dip into as your capacity allows?
Well, as an editor for an SEO agency (and longtime freelance copywriter), I’m in a pretty good position to tell you.
Be bloody good at what you do
Alright, you know you need to deliver quality writing to an agency, but spending time on your work so it’s really bloody good is so worthwhile. There seems to be an almost endless amount of professional copywriters out there offering their services. But the problem is that most of them suck! Like, really suck.
They can’t spell, they’re incapable of grasping basic grammar, their work is formatted wrong, they use unnecessary quotation marks…
I’m going to break off that rant before I get carried away, but that is the stuff that really annoys editors. If your incompetent or lazy work means that I have more work to do, your chances of getting repeat work from me are not looking good.
But, if you can stand out from the crowd by promptly delivering exactly the copy I have briefed for, I am likely to be happy, and my client is likely to be happy. That means repeat work – and more of it.
I won’t go down the writing tips rabbit hole too much right here because that’s covered widely, and if you’re a professional copywriter you should know how to write. But I will touch on a couple of points that are worth mentioning.
Read your brief carefully
In order to deliver quality work, you’ll need to write exactly what your editor asks for. Don’t be tempted to skim-read your brief. A good editor will keep it concise but include everything you need to know.
SEO copy has specific requirements such as targeted keywords, internal links and anchor text, which are important for that content to be effective.
Style and tone are hugely important too when writing for numerous different clients. Your aim is still to write engagingly and entertainingly but in the voice of that particular brand. A good brief should include guidelines on this but read the client’s website for a better clue to their style and tone.
If, after reading you’re still not clear on any points in your brief, don’t be afraid to drop the editor a message. I would much rather answer a couple of queries than receive copy that needs rewriting.
A solid brief should include:
- Client name
- Client website
- Recommended title
- Description of task
- Intended reader
- Brand guidelines/style/tone
- Example of a similar piece
- Keywords – primary and secondary
- Word count
- Internal link suggestions (& anchor text if apt)
Keep lines of communication open
Managing numerous projects is a useful skill as a freelance copywriter. You have to write various different pieces, potentially with vastly different briefs, and fit them all into your schedule, often while seeking out new clients and sending leads quotes for your services. But you also need to be quick to respond when clients contact you.
An agency will understand that you’re not a full-time member of their staff, and you won’t be expected to reply to that email or message immediately, but being able to respond to questions and jump on requested edits quickly will certainly help your cause.
You also need to communicate if you’re having any problems with an assignment and you might miss the deadline. If this isn’t a recurring issue and you keep everyone in the loop, you’ll gain more trust from the agency you’re working for.
Three tips for communicating well with an SEO agency:
- Check your emails regularly – you don’t have to check every 10 minutes – you have work to do after all – but monitor your inbox and check perhaps every two hours
- Have your phone nearby – many SEO agencies handle most communications by email or instant messenger but some old school types still prefer the phone
- Be available on Skype, Slack or whatever – SEO agencies live on these messaging platforms so embrace them for easy, quick comms
Gain some SEO knowledge
Many digital agencies will expect at least a basic level of SEO understanding from copywriters. This will help you understand elements that often appear in briefs such as H1 tags, anchor text, metadata and so on. It will also help you get work from agencies and help you deliver what the editor wants.
If you don’t feel clued up in this area there are courses available, conferences (some costly, some cheap or free), meet-ups, tons of books and blogs that could help you gain some purchase in the SEO copywriting world.
Here’s a great beginner’s guide from Moz.
Ask for a fair price
If you have an hourly or day rate, or a rate per word, don’t be shy to let an editor know this. They may say ‘Fine’, or they may come back with a set price they’re prepared to pay. Then it’s up to you to decide whether that’s enough. Consider that it could lead to more work down the line.
As a writer, I would never advise someone to charge less than they felt was fair. Writing is a challenging job, after all. Yes there will always be someone willing to work for less than you, but often you get what you pay for, and editors know this. Pay peanuts, get monkeys (no offence monkeys, but your literary prowess is yet to be established).
And remember, it’s cheaper for an agency to pay a fair rate to a freelancer than hire an in-house copywriter, who would incur ongoing costs such as paid holidays, sick pay and pension contributions.
Hit your deadlines
‘I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.’
I like Douglas Adams’ quote. It makes me smile. Freelance copywriters missing deadlines, however, does not.
As a fledgling journalist in a previous life, I missed a few deadlines. Partly because fledgling journalists are rarely paid for their work (I’ll save that rant for another day), partly because I didn’t think the odd day or two was a big deal. Later I became an editor and realised that it really was, and is.
Even more so in the world of agency copywriting, where numerous other things may be waiting on your copy. A product or website launch, a new marketing campaign, a series of social media posts. And you think you can hold everyone up because you once read a witty quote from the bloke who wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?
To be honest what you think matters less here than what an editor would think. And if you miss deadlines regularly, no amount of skill will earn you repeat work.
As an editor I’ve realised that the formula for copywriting success is pretty simple:
Deliver quality work + hit your deadline = I WILL GIVE YOU MORE WORK!
Become integral to the agency
The best way to gain repeat work for an SEO agency – or any agency – is to become an integral part of the team. This means doing everything mentioned above, plus a few other things:
It’s pretty basic but if the agency you do work for likes you, you’re more likely to get repeat work. Be friendly, polite and try and get to know the people you have contact with.
If you’re able to work in the agency’s office this is a great opportunity to get to know the team and show them you’re not an awful human, and actually you’re someone they’d be happy to work with again.
Be willing to adopt processes & software
If an agency uses Google Docs and you send them work in MS Word, they will find this a little annoying. Just a little, but still annoying.
You can integrate much better with an agency by adopting their ways of working. This means processes and software. Many agencies use task management software such as Asana or Wrike to assign tasks, and if you’re willing to get on board with their technology, it will save them time and make it easier for an agency to send you work, therefore more likely!
Set time aside for edits
If you’re delivering multiple pieces of work to an agency try and set aside a little time each day for edits, so you can take care of them impressively quickly.
You won’t be expected to do any massive rewrites without adequate time, but when just a few tweaks are needed your editor will be very happy if you can jump on it and wing it back to them.
If you can follow these tips then you have a great chance of becoming an integral part of an agency’s copywriting team, earning repeat work and as much of it as you can handle.
Author bio: Sam Butterworth is an editor and copywriter at Aira, an award-winning SEO agency based in Milton Keynes, UK. Sam has worked as a freelance writer for more than a decade and he now oversees content strategy and manages a team of digital copywriters.