Professional writers have never had more choices.

The amount of available freelance work is staggering.

Unfortunately, too much of it is of the low-paying, “SEO article” variety, where the finished product isn’t an “article” as much as fodder for search engines.

If you’re working at this level, but want more, then here’s an idea: why not divert time spent writing low-budget articles into building a sustainable, well-paid copywriting business?

Interested? Here’s my six point plan to help you get started:

1. Craft a Web Presence

It’s the 21st century. Today’s copywriter needs a presence on the Web.

The good news? A Web site is cheap, and let’s face it: writers and the Internet were made for each other.

So reserve a domain. Build something on top of it. And while you’re doing it, consider building a blog-centric site. For a writer, it’s a natural.

Most blogs even support “static” pages, so you could build your whole Web site atop blog software.

Finally, don’t limit your Web presence to your own site. Get out, take a walk around the Internet, and leave a few traces behind.

If a client Googled you right now, what would they find?

2. Make it Your Business

Writing is a lifestyle for some, a passion for others. But freelance writing is a business.

Which means you need to act like a businessperson.

Maybe it’s the little stuff. Like spellchecking your e-mails.

Or developing a set of electronic forms so your estimates, proposals, queries, copy forms and invoices look professional. (And yes – it’s time to change the “singing squirrels” answering machine message.)

Your clients need to know they can count on you. They need to know you’re a pro.

And they need to know you’re worth what you’re charging.

3. Develop a Thick Skin

I don’t want to belabor this point. But a healthy perspective on your work is required, especially if longevity as a writer is your goal. Otherwise, you’ll end up eating Prozac by the handful.

There are times when you’ll get it wrong, a business client will shred your copy, and they’ll be absolutely right.

And there are times when they hand your copy to the summer intern, and what results is criminal.

It’s a shame when it happens. But it’s not cause to question the client’s parentage (well, maybe in private).

Remember; you’re a hired gun and the client has a right to be happy with the final product. Do the best you can, offer your expertise to the client, but don’t make it personal.

4. Learn. Then Learn More.

The successful copywriter’s biggest asset isn’t his ability cleverly order words. It’s curiosity.

Becoming a copywriter means embarking on a lifelong “Learningpalooza.” Every client, every product and every audience demand your attention and curiosity.

Learning about customers and their markets is essential, and so is learning about copywriting.

For example, Brian Clark’s Copyblogger “Copywriting 101” series of posts are a must read.

Michel Fortin’s blog offers a lot of resources, though his “Three Tips For Getting Copywriting Work” post is an excellent starting point.

He also just posted a list of copywriter’s courses (he’s a coach himself), which could hack away the steepest part of the learning curve.

An excellent counterpoint to the online sources is a classic book: Ogilvy on Advertising. Formulaic perhaps, but an interesting glimpse at advertising.

Finally, I hear good things about Peter Bowerman’s The Well-Fed Writer, but haven’t read it myself.

5. Make a Plan.

You’ve built an Internet presence, developed the proper attitude, and want the business.

How do you get it?

You craft a marketing plan.

The goal is to avoid flailing about wildly, or handing out business cards and wondering why nobody calls. Nobody will.

Instead, pick markets, locate potential customers, and pitch them. In one sense, it’s similar to pitching articles to editors (except the money’s better).

Here’s a Simple, Low-Cost Plan

Calling a prospect and blurting out “I’m a writer, got anything you need written?” is a non-starter.

Instead, survey the Web sites of the businesses in that space. Most will have holes. No white papers, case studies, customer success stories… you get the picture.

Identify a short list of the companies you want to work for, and attack them. How?

  • Call the company and explain you want to mail something to the Marketing Director. They might give you a name. It works surprisingly often.
  • Create a list of names and addresses, and send them a carefully written sales letter (or better yet, go with the lumpy mailer tactic I describe here).
  • Outline the benefits of working with a professional copywriter, and tell them you’ll be getting in touch within a week
  • Call them (here’s where the lumpy mailer pays off: they’ll remember you).
  • Don’t wander. You’ve only got a few seconds to convince them you add value to their business, so consider writing a script like: “I noticed you’re in a competitive market, but your Web site doesn’t contain any stories detailing the successes of your customers. Research shows these are powerful selling and credibility tools – and I can help plug that hole for you right now.”
    • Offer to send a proposal.

    This is clearly “old school” stuff, but still works as well as it used to. Even if a client isn’t looking for a case study, they might have other needs.

    Newer copywriters should also contact nearby public relations and design firms. In my experience, both are good sources of work, and many are willing to take a chance on a new writer.

    I’ve used pay-per-click ads at times, but that’s not targeted. Your goal is to make something happen.

    Of course, it’s never a bad idea to plow through Craigslist or the job sites (Freelance Writing Jobs, Golden Pencil or the Writer’s Resource Center), but don’t let them distract you from your plan.

    6. Execute!

    You’ve built a site, developed your professional identity, and made a plan. What’s left?

    Do it!

    [tags]freelance copywriter, copywriter, copywriting, business writer, business writing, freelancer[/tags]