So, do you want to be a freelance copywriter? All right, boy. Roll up your sleeves, fire up that pot of Joe, and warm those fingers up. Let’s start writing.

Oh, before I say more, here’s my best advice for those thinking of freelancing fresh out of college: don’t do it. Becoming a successful copywriter takes years of perseverance and determination. Most copywriters have already worked full-time in companies or agencies for several years before going self-employed.

So, don’t be fooled by those work-from-home schemes that sell workbooks, seminars, or widgets that promise overnight success. There is nothing overnight. Periods of boom and bust, feast or famine affect everyone, from talent, portfolio, or address book. Still interested? Working as a freelance writer can be very rewarding and a lot of fun. I still get a charge from people who found me on the web, liked my work, and need help writing. It’s an opportunity to put all my word nerd knowledge to good use, for people who appreciate it.

Follow these tips to jumpstart your career as a copywriter:

  • Volunteer for local nonprofits. Animal shelters, eco groups, hobby clubs, and philanthropic associations ALWAYS need someone to write press releases and grants.
  • Network, network. No one will hear from you unless you promote yourself. Creative Connects organized by the Boss Group, as well as the Society of Professional Journalists and the Public Relations Society of America have monthly meetings. It’s a great way to find job opportunities and make connections.
  • Get a portfolio online. If you have good samples of work, it is easier for everyone if they are available on the web. GoDaddy.com offers templates and hosting. You can also post samples on free blogs like WordPress.com and blogger.com.
  • Connect to your alumni network. Reconnecting with old classmates is a great way to meet new people and find new opportunities. You are more likely to get a job if people already know you.
  • Friend connects. Anyone you know starting their own business or going back to work for the family business? Ask about how to write your brochure or web content.
  • Keep looking for full-time work. Freelance can be very unstable at times. Developing your portfolio of freelance writers while working another full-time job is a smart and safe investment.

Getting a job as a freelance copywriter requires skill, experience, and reputation. But unlike many other vocations or trades, it does not require a degree and is largely self-taught, so there is nothing to stop you. Starting a career may require working for pennies or free at first. But remember: success in this business is not measured by income, but by the ability to accumulate a large number of contacts and clients who will provide you with regular writing work and refer you to others.

While the work won’t pay much up front, building a business based on solid writing work and integrity will pay off in the long run.

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