For everyone who is a freelance copywriter, there are days when the security of employment looks incomparably attractive.
But if you’re employed, the idea of quitting your job and working for yourself as a freelance copywriter can look even more appealing.
If you’ve always been an employee, the desire to leave behind bosses, office politics and fixed hours for ever can be particularly strong.
But for lots of people in this position, the most frightening and challenging part of pulling this off isn’t really to do with writing, or with what they know about marketing, or even with how to go about finding work.
It’s to do with how you’ll be able to organise your life to cope with the transition from the security of a regular salary to the insecurity of freelance project fees.
Like most challenges though, it looks less intimidating when you break it into chunks.
Step 1. Understand your situation
The first thing to do is take a cool, clear look at your situation, and in particular at your fixed costs, and see what you can reduce and what you’re stuck with.
Everyone needs a certain amount of money each month, and you need a clear idea of how much that amount is for you before you walk away from the security out of your current job.
(Don’t be too sentimental about that security though. If you think about it, lots of employment for copywriters is actually fairly interim, anyway, meaning lots of writers have to go find a new role every year or two as it is. So it’s really not that different to being a freelance copywriter to begin with.)
Whatever your monthly outgoing, there’s still no real reason to turn away from the idea of a freelance life.
You just need to be aware of what you’re putting at risk, so you can think about how you’ll cover yourself if things take longer to get going than you hope.
Step 2. Be realistic about what you need.
If you’re in your first job, maybe in your early to mid twenties, your costs each month are probably quite manageable.
You’ll maybe have rent and bills to pay, plus the cost of your food, clothes and entertainment. Even though that still mounts up to a decent amount for most people, it’s about as good a position as you’ll ever find yourself in.
What you’re being paid in your job probably isn’t all that much either.
So the amount you’ll need to make from copywriting to cover your costs and match your salary won’t actually be that high.
If you’re fifteen years into your career, on the other hand, you’ll have more of a challenge.
The commitments that most of us wrack up during a decade or more of comfortable employment mean that you may have a mortgage, loan repayments or even some dependents to think about. And that’s before you get anywhere near having any fun!
So if you’re going to turn your back on your salary, you’ll need to be able to hunt down and complete quite a lot of well paying copywriting to carry on hitting your target.
Step 3 – Write some copy for free
I usually figure that new plans need a year to get going.
It can be less, and sometimes it’s more, but a year is a fair crack at making something as big as a career transition happen.
So think about this. Let’s say you have a £24k salary.
And, to keep it simple, let’s also say you have a £24k overhead, but you would like to walk out the door and start a new career as a copywriter.
You need to ‘phase’ the transition.
Right now, the job is paying you £2k a month, and you have no income from copywriting.
But let’s say that next month you spend a bit of time trying to turn up some small copywriting work from family and friends? “Can I rewrite your website for free?” “Would you like me to write you a little brochure?”
That kind of thing.
If you hate the idea of doing anything for free, then you could try your hand on People Per Hour or Elance or a similar site, but without any track record at all, you may struggle even there to land anything.
And the point of this is not to earn. It’s to get together some samples of actual work you’ve done for live clients.
By the time the month ends, you’ll have made no money from copywriting, but you’ll still have your £2k from salary. And, just to be conservative, let’s say exactly the same happens the next moth as well.
Step 3 – Write some copy. Make a little money.
So, we’re now into the third month.
This time, you’d try to get one small assignment that you could do out of office hours, and maybe make £200 from.
So you’ll make £200 from copywriting and so need only £1800 of your salary to make up your £2k. (You’ll still be getting your full pay packet of course, so this month you’ll have £200 extra. Result!)
Step 4 – Getting to 50/50.
After that, you just keep going the same way.
You have to try to get yourself to the point, after six months or so, where you’re fairly consistently earning £1000 a month from copywriting.
If you can, then you’ll be making half of your monthly need from copywriting.
It’s better not to overstretch though. You’ve got to be able to drum up the work consistently. If that seems to you like something you’ll have trouble doing (and it’s harder than the writing itself), then it’d be rash to walk out of your job.
If you do feel you’d struggle to hit your work target consistently, then you’ve uncovered the fundamental truth of all freelancing.
Actually doing the work is easy and enjoyable. That’s the part you love, and want to do. But getting the work in to begin with, week after week, is hard. It takes lots of time, can be a bit lonely and it calls for skills that have nothing to do with writing.
(However, if you’ve got a background in Sales, or in CRM, for example, you may find this less of a challenge.)
Step 5 – Quit your job. You’re a Freelance Copywriter.
One day, you’ll get to the point where you’re happy that you’re pulling in a fairly consistent amount of work each month, and your evenings and weekends are getting eaten up by it.
At this point, the only thing that’s really stopping you from making your full £2k target each month from copywriting is your job!
For as long as you’re doing it, there just won’t be enough hours for you to chase new work, bring it in and actually do it.
And this is when you have to be brave, tell your boss you’ve decided to try working for yourself, and hand in your notice.
There’s no getting away from it: it’ll be scary.
But you’ll have done everything you possibly can to pave the way out of employment and into freelance life.
Oh. One more idea.
During your transition year, it’s only sensible to try to save the money you earned from copywriting (while you were still getting a salary), along with anything else you can stow away.
That way you’ll have some money in reserve once you start your freelance life, should you find you hit a slow patch.
And that’s about it.
There are other ways you can make the move, and everyone’s circumstances are different. (You may be reading this thinking, “If only I only needed to make £24k!”)
But the point is that you’re really not trapped in employment.
Plan. And jump!