Write Copy, Make Money

“I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork.” The famous quip by Peter De Vries hints at the writer’s single-minded obsession with the page, blank or printed. But if you’re a freelance copywriter, you can only be single-minded about the page most of the time; sometimes you need to think hard about yourself as a business. So says Andy Maslen in his new book, Write Copy, Make Money.

The book is a helpful, thoughtful guide for anyone venturing into the world of freelance copywriting and a refreshing tonic for those of us who have been at the game for some time. It covers everything from ‘taking the plunge’ into life as a freelance through to how to sell your services. Along the way, Maslen provides sound advice on setting up your office, pricing your services, salesmanship, estimating, negotiating, working with designers and other pursuits that are discussed rarely in print but form an essential part of our working hours. The sections on ‘getting to £100,000’ and ‘the single biggest mistake you can make’ offer particularly valuable insights, but I’ll leave him to impart the ideas rather than spoil the impact by repeating his advice here.

The book’s sub-title – How to build your own successful freelance copywriting business – underlines Maslen’s assertion that we copywriters need to invest full and proper time in our commercial activities, as well as our commercial writing. He says this should inform everything we do, including (of course) how we think about income. He writes:

‘There’s a really important shift in attitudes you have to make when you start your own business. From now on, forget about salary. You should be thinking about either turnover (sales) or profit (sales less costs). This will help you think like a businessperson and not just a jobbing freelance.’

That might seem obvious, but sometimes we freelance writers forget about the basics of good business when we’re trying to hit a series of fast-moving deadlines. Such a short-term perspective can be deadly if you’re trying to build an enduring business.

The author makes a strong case for charging per project, rather than per day or per hour, but I do think he over-simplifies the role of day rates in fees and budgets. The day rate can be an enormously important tool for setting expectations in the mind of a prospective client and positioning yourself within a project/organisation – before, during and after estimating a fee. It can also act as a simple unit from which to extrapolate an overall budget for a job. In other words, you need days + day rate to get close to an initial figure for a project budget. I also think it would have been helpful to underline the importance of generating very strong demand for your services, because the more the phone rings with invitations the more selective you can be about which projects you take on and how much you charge. The worst starting point for negotiating fees is an empty diary.

I’m not keen on the interviews that fill the final section. With a few exceptions (most notably an excellent contribution from 26er Tom Albrighton), these pieces seem under-edited and lacking in detail and substance. The writers chosen represent a fairly narrow band within copywriting, and some have little that’s interesting to say about the subject of the book. It’s a shame, because there’s plenty more to be discussed. For example, I would love to have heard the thoughts of a successful writing agency MD (like Martin Hennessey or Joe Lang). That said, Write Copy, Make Money will prove an excellent investment for a wide range of freelance copywriters. Hopefully, the effect of Maslen’s sage advice will be reflected in the next 26 Wordsworth Salary Survey, one of the few research initiatives to look at freelance copywriters’ income in any detail.


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