My name is Julie Cortes and I go by the moniker “CopyDiva.” I’m a full-time freelance copywriter, working in the advertising and marketing realms ― anything from websites to brochures to videos to commercials. I’ve been running my business for almost 20 years now.
About 5 years into my career, I realized that there were so many freelancers out there facing similar challenges. In 2003, I founded an organization called The Freelance Exchange, and we cater to anybody who is self-employed in advertising and marketing. We don’t only cater to creatives (writers, designers, photographers) but also those in sales, media, and PR. We provide continuing education classes. We serve as a mentoring program, a social support. We also cater to area businesses; anyone who needs freelance talent can come to The Freelance Exchange and find a freelance worker.
For us, it’s all about education ― not only educating within the group, but also going out to colleges and other organizations. This should be in all schools right now; students don’t always think that they need to take any sort of business class, but it’s necessary experience. We cover everything from corporation basics to contracts and licensing to intellectual property. We teach about client management, project management, and how to succeed on your own.
It’s important to realize that freelancing isn’t just about the work, such as the copywriting. You have to run a business. You have to be very motivated. Realize you’ll be wearing all the hats. You can certainly partner with somebody else, and that’ll lessen the burden, especially if their strengths complement yours. But know that there are plenty of resources out there. There’s plenty of free or affordable guidance. I would suggest you know what you’re getting into and, more importantly, to continue to educate yourself along the way.
Getting Your Clients to Take You Seriously: Business Plan and Work-Life Balance
All lot of freelancers end up freelancing because they’re in between jobs. Those are the people who give the term freelancer a reputation because they don’t take their business seriously. When I decided freelancing was going to be my career, that’s when I got serious and wrote down a business plan. There’s a lot to be said for having that deeply motivated
It’s important to have a work-life balance. For example, if my phone rings after 5 o’clock, I generally won’t answer it. I recommend this practice to all entrepreneurs. You have to train yourself first, then train your clients. Let your clients know they can’t take advantage of you. It’s important to set policies and procedures. Do what you have to do and stick by it.
Branding: Going Beyond Your Logo
Branding is critical. A really good brand goes far beyond just having a great logo: it also encompasses your company name, perhaps a tagline, your vision, and any sort of company pillar. What is your personality? What makes you different from your competition? Don’t use something that anybody else can say. Find something truly unique and highlight it throughout all of your marketing. It’s important to have a good brand presence. Everyone should have a website; however, you need to promote your website.
One of the best ways to do this is to go to networking events, even if you find networking painful. I sometimes speak about networking for introverts, and there’s also a lot to be said about mindset. You have to go in with a positive, optimistic attitude. Do your research, find out if there’s anyone you know. There’s no pressure: as long as you do your research, that’s a huge win. At networking events, remember it’s about quality not quantity. Don’t worry about taking 20 business cards; worry about making five solid contacts. Follow up with them after the event, maybe set up a lunch. Relationship marketing is critical as well: it’s all about cultivating relationships.
Social media presence is integral. If you’re active on social media, it’s free PR and you can position yourself as the expert. Many companies will post twice or more a day, and it keeps their name relevant. So social media is a definite, whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, or certainly LinkedIn. Beyond that, just see what else can help you get your name out there.
Keep in mind that all business relationships should be beneficial relationships. When you are trying to sell yourself, remember to offer something in return. You could provide a referral or network resources ― something that they can remember you by. Once you’ve completed a project for a client, ask them to keep you in mind. Ask them for a referral or recommendation that you can put on LinkedIn. Continue to ask: what can I do for you? You can send them a note or take them out for lunch. Clients love to feel appreciated. The more they know that you appreciate their business, the more likely they are to give it to you.
The Price Is Right: What to Charge Clients
Your price will vary based on your experience, skill level, and availability. You have to put everything in perspective. I personally prefer to talk to others in the industry. I also like to ask the clients for their budgets. Often you may find the clients have more in their budget than what you were going to charge on an hourly basis. There are many ways to set your prices; you just need to evaluate your best options.
For project management, there are so many different things that you have to deal with. Like I said before, you wear all the hats. You just have to manage your time, use good resources, and keep track of your company progress. Schedule time for yourself, whether it’s weekly or monthly, to go through the list of your expenses, income, profits and losses.
There’s something we call “feast and famine.” Some months you’re super busy and other times you have no paid work. Of course, you should plan for that through constant marketing. And in the times that you’re super busy, you have a decision to make. Depending on the opportunity, you might not want to turn it down. You could ask your client to hold off for a week or two, or you could outsource to another contractor.
When I first started my business, I had lost my job like many freelancers in the advertising and marketing community. Honestly, I didn’t have time to look for another job. I decided to continue freelancing until I had more time, but I never found a job that I liked. That’s when I decided to become serious with my own business. I realized that I won’t have to “work for the man,” but I also didn’t have anyone else: it was just me. Honestly, money is a huge motivating factor, which is why I include it in my monthly goals. You work hard and you’ll get something in return. There will be highs and lows, but just power through. At the end of the day, remember what your mission is and you’ll be successful in the long run.
About Julie Cortes
Julie Cortés has run her own advertising/marketing copywriting and proofreading business for nearly 20 years, working with ad agencies, design shops, corporations, small businesses and just about everything in between.
A lifelong leader, she founded The Freelance Exchange—a professional trade organization that caters to freelance creatives, offering a network of support and continuing education, and also to agencies and business, providing an easy and free resource to find talent. With years of advocacy, mentoring and coaching under her belt, Cortés developed a college-level Freelancing 101 course and is now an adjunct professor teaching at the renowned Kansas City Art Institute. Widely sought out for speaking engagements and media interviews, Cortés truly lives her passion of helping others become successful through ‘solopreneurship’.