Melissa Blamey is a successful copywriter based in Buckinghamshire, with over 12 years experience writing for print and online media. She has written over 1,000 product descriptions for a leading food and drink wholesaler, web pages for an international gaming company plus many more. Her specialisms range from property and housebuilding to parenting and pregnancy, which certainly is quite a difference! She was willing to share her freelance experiences with me and her insight into today’s industry.
How did you first get started writing and into copywriting?
Although my degree was in English Literature, it wasn’t my intention to become a freelance writer. I was formerly the Media and Communications officer for a large new build insurer for ten years. It was during this time that I really honed my writing skills as my day-to-day work involved creating a wide variety of content, from press releases to magazine feature articles. I was also editor-in-chief of the quarterly staff magazine. The more I wrote, the more I realised I enjoyed and wanted to focus on the writing element of my role rather than the PR responsibilities.
Following maternity leave I decided to bite the bullet and pursue a freelance writing career. However, despite having strong writing skills I realised I was at the bottom of the freelance writer pile in terms of hands-on experience, not to mention knowing how to run my own business.
First off, I started a blog (parenting and lifestyle) and started pulling together examples of my writing, such as the staff magazine and published press releases, to showcase my writing skills. From there I approached agencies and was taken on by a great SEO copywriting agency. It was a steep, occasionally daunting, learning curve.
As well as mastering Search Engine Optimisation, I had to adjust to writing knowledgeably about any industry, from wedding planning to pharmaceutical production processes. I also had to turn around large amounts of copy in a short amount of time.
It was challenging and I had to take an eye-wateringly large salary cut but it gave me the experience I needed in order to set up independently.
How long have you been freelancing?
I have been a freelance writer for six years.
Do you think in today’s industry it is sustainable to be a freelance writer?
I think so, yes, but it takes more than writing talent, you have to be prepared to graft too.
In the beginning I worked for very little and wrote articles for magazines and online blogs for free to increase my portfolio range. I know some writers are against working for free but, as long as it’s within reason, then it’s a great way to demonstrate your skill, commitment and build up examples of your writing.
I also think it’s important to manage your expectations. When I started out as a freelance writer I was adamant I was only going to write juicy features for national magazines and newspapers, and although I’ve had hits, getting the occasional article published isn’t going to put food on the table.
I realised if I was going to earn regular money I needed to establish myself as a copywriter first and indulge my passion for writing articles on subjects that I wanted to write about, second.
How important do you think social media is in sourcing freelance work? What kind of methods do you use?
In my experience I think social media is great for building relationships, not necessarily sourcing direct work.
If there’s a company or publication in particular you’d like to write for, connect with them on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook and introduce yourself. Be sure to share and comment on their posts – obviously not everything, be a talker, not a stalker! – but show interest in what they do. I have secured writing gigs on Twitter and Facebook this way and also made some really valuable, supportive freelance writing contacts that are happy to dish out advice.
In terms of sourcing freelance writing jobs there are plenty of sites out there advertising writing vacancies but competition is high. I think it is more worthwhile following media and copywriting agencies which outsource jobs from time to time.
My freelance work comes from a variety of sources. In the beginning it was largely ad-hoc agency work and enquiries via my website. Now it tends to be client referral, which is lovely, web enquiries and web design agencies.
I also can’t help myself – if my spelling and grammar antenna picks up poorly written wording on a web page, brochure or product packaging – I contact the company and say I can help. So prospecting is a good way to find work too!
What are your thoughts on freelance platforms such as Elance?
Personally, I’m not a fan. There are a lot of freelancers bidding for the same jobs and it is time consuming creating a quality personalised proposal for a writing job, only to have it whipped away by someone who’s willing to do it for peanuts. On sites such as Elance you also have to have a few positive ratings to be considered for a job, so it requires a lot of determination to succeed on these sites, especially if you’re just starting out.
I am not sure whether these sites specifically are driving costs down but there are certainly people out there prepared to offer crazily low rates to produce tonnes of copy.
I think at the end of the day, like everything, you get what you pay for. Good quality, well-crafted copy brings many benefits, from higher search engine rankings to increasing sales, so hiring a freelance writer should be viewed as an investment not as a quick buck ‘add on’. Of course more experienced writers are going to charge more but the payoff is that they are more likely to deliver powerful content that brings real business benefits.
I also think the bidding war approach encourages clients to hop from freelancer to freelancer when there is genuine value to be had in building a long-term relationship with a freelance writer. This is because it allows a writer to really get under the skin of a business and its customers’ needs, enabling them to create even better copy.
What would be the one piece of advice you’d offer to a budding freelancer?
My advice is twofold. It can be really tough in the beginning, especially if you have to work for free, so to give your freelance writing career the best chance, firstly, make sure you have enough money to tide you over for a few months. And secondly, never give up! It’s easy to get disheartened by the deafening silence of editors and company directors but perseverance – backed up by a solid website and portfolio – is the absolute key.
How do you think the industry has changed since you first started freelancing?
I started when the demand for web copy was starting to really take off. It wasn’t enough to have a glossy hard copy brochure; companies needed a professional well written, user-friendly web presence too.
Six years on the industry has expanded even more so that now it’s not just the big names who need enticing web copy, it’s everyone – from one-man band businesses to small local shops. Combined with the rise of online content marketing and the fact that search engines love up to date, quality content, such as shareable blog posts, I think there is more scope than ever to start a rewarding freelance writing career.
Thank you, Melissa, for your thorough and informative words. You can reach Melissa at http://www.melissablamey.com