After fourteen years in a secure job as an academic advisor in higher education, I decided to transition to freelance writing. I wanted the freedom to choose my hours, be my own boss, and write for a living. I watched youtube videos on copywriting and read blogs on topics including emails, landing pages, sales letters, ebooks, white pages, creating content, and case studies. Next, I tackled the niche debate, most favored by the younger copywriters in the field. Those in the business for ten years or so suggested being a generalist with the following mantra: They were, and look at them now. They emphasized staying open to avoid missing opportunities. Who knew the older generations would cry FOMA (fear of missing out), but the millennials got my vote regarding specializing.
I cannot speak to copywriting a decade ago, but I can guarantee vast differences. Niching down creates a focused path without feeling overwhelmed. Ironically, during my research, few YouTubers or blog posts discussed the business side of freelancing unless specifically googled. I don’t recall any training charging thousands of dollars showing modules dedicated to online software services to consider when beginning your business and how to use them as a freelance writer. Occasionally, I would pick up a SaaS suggestion, but they blurted it out so fast I had to rewind the video to decipher it. People far removed from when they launched into freelancing forget the details, struggles, and steps necessary when starting out. Most importantly, many online services offered today evolved or were nonexistent five years ago, let alone before that.
Coming from a background in higher education at a public institution, I became intimately familiar with many SaaS (software as a service) systems. They almost always consisted of the three Cs: complicated, clunky, and confusing. Each time administrators guaranteed it would do “everything” I could want and more, but inevitably it didn’t. By the time I tendered my resignation, I had used at least ten different services to do my job daily compared to half that when hired years earlier. The concept of one software service solving every problem is as elusive as finding a soulmate. But that does not stop salespeople from painting a picture of perfect SaaS matrimony and the only one you will ever need. Effectively running a freelance business ultimately requires multiple platform partners. Committing to one SaaS program, thinking it can do everything, will leave you frustrated and broken or just plain broke.
A professional website with a unique domain name and dedicated email was the one area all the generations of YouTube freelance writers agreed upon. Starting with a website made the most sense since it would be the foundation of marketing and showcasing my business. After hours of online reading, I settled on WordPress for its versatility and landed on Bluehost to host my site. They had reasonable introductory prices, positive reviews, and they were among the top recommendations by many bloggers. After days of meditating on a domain name, I downloaded WordPress and paid for my annual hosting plan.
WordPress, BlueHost, and GoDaddy, Oh My: But Your First Is Rarely The One
I excitedly began designing my first webpage. I spent hours creating a page equivalent to cave drawings made when troglodytes roamed the earth. After mounting frustration, I decided using WordPress was like taking on a massive home renovation project with skills limited to assembling IKEA furniture. I required something more straightforward and pre-built. The next day, I switched to Weebly, a drop-and-drag editor I could purchase using the same hosting company.
I quickly got to work on my new homepage but immediately noticed problems. The domain automatically changed to bcbcopywriting.com/index.html in the web browser but should have displayed as bcbcopywriting.com. When I published changes, they saved to Weebly but not to Bluehost, defeating the purpose of additional hosting. I contacted tech support, and after countless interactions and different answers to the same questions but no resolution, I requested a refund. The company allowed cancellations within 30 days for any reason by calling the main number or initiating a chat online. Left on hold for nearly an hour the first time I called, I finally hung up. Two online chat techs later informed me they were not on the front lines and could not complete the transaction. They assured me they had escalated my problem to the appropriate department, though.
I emailed Bluehost billing and received a response asking for the last four characters of my password to verify my account, which made me uncomfortable. I called the main number, again told they could not process my request. The agent instructed me to respond to the email. I hung up in disbelief and called my credit card company. Despite spending several days sorting it out, I still ended up losing $13 for the domain registration that I opted not to use. I did not want any ties to this company, and certainly not for my precious domain. I gave up custody and walked out on that dysfunctional relationship.
I rebounded with GoDaddy’s website builder. I used the free trial to learn the layouts and whether they satisfied my simplicity needs. I chose this as a perfect match and moved forward to generate my new domain. The experience was smooth, stress-free, and fun like all securely attached relationships should be. I decided on ccbcopywriting.com as my new domain, spent two weeks building it, and months later, I am happy to report we are still together.
The Final Price: $132 the first year and then approximately $195 the following year
Email and Web Meetings: Enter Google WorkSpace
Creating a professional email with a website domain, another agreed-upon nonnegotiable by all the freelance writing YouTubers, ranked next on my to-do list. Most hosting companies allow customized emails at an extra charge, but I also wanted the ability to set up online meetings with potential clients.
I craved something else after recently working with Teams, Zoom, and Webex. I integrated Google Calendar with my previous appointment system at my old job for years until Outlook came between us and took Google away from me. But you always remember your first, and sometimes old habits remain hard to break. Picking the new and improved Google WorkSpace seemed the obvious choice.
The business starter incorporated a calendar, email, and Google Meet for web calls. I signed up for the free trial and synced up my domain to create my email. Without issues, I tested the email and picked some aliases, including info and billing @ccbcopywriting.com. There is nothing like the ease and comfort of returning to the familiar- oh, Google - together again.
The Final Price: $72 a year billed $6 a month per user
Taxes, Expense Reports, and Invoices: Meet Wave
As I purchased office supplies and SaaS technologies, I started recording them to avoid a Freddy Kreuger nightmare later. I initially looked into Quicken, but the expensive cost deterred me. I came across Zoho and experimented with it for free, but it felt too complicated. Then I met Wave, and I knew he was the one. I tried it out, and the free version impressed me, so I said yes. I entered my expenses, finding the interface intuitive and easy to read - simple yet powerful with everything I hoped and wished for. Plus, Wave produced invoices, accepted payments that could link directly to bank accounts, and performed many other functions related to business bookkeeping.
The Final Price: Free
Creating the Portfolio from Scratch: You Know When It’s Right
Freelance writers agreed on needing a portfolio but disagreed about how to establish one. Most suggested using job boards, guest posting, or writing for free. I preferred Christine Gomolka's YouTube Channel suggestion to display samples on spec and highlight them on Clippings.Me. When I logged into the portal, I instantly loved the layout. Free sign-ups allow ten writing pieces before upgrading to a regular plan. Linking unpublished articles to another location dedicated to presenting portfolios elevates the experience rather than showing them on your business page.
The Final Price: Free
I Now Pronounce You A Freelancer: Forever Write Engaged Stuff
Now let the planning, fun, anxiety, and writing begin. Focusing on a niche makes this process more manageable. Developing a roadmap allows you to create multiple samples centering around your selected specialty. To promote myself, I decided to feature illustrations of SaaS services consisting of two short blog posts, an extended one, two email samples, and one sales letter. Knowing what type of material and how much to produce allowed me to explore SaaS tools to facilitate my writing effectively.
🔹 ChatGPT and AI Content Analyzer: Covering Up The Affair
I experimented with ChatGPT for a thrill, never expecting it to mean anything. Artificial intelligence or AI gathers information on various topics within seconds, making it a valuable starting point to aid in the creative process. ChatGPT’s inability to access current subject matter within the past two years remains its biggest limitation. But it’s a fantastic consultant to draw up a freelance contract, put together outlines, and handle minor social media posts.
There are mixed opinions on using AI or ChatGPT specifically, but I embraced the new technology rather than dismiss it outright. As a resource, ChatGPT adds value, but I still felt like I was sneaking around doing something untoward, even though the final thoughts and ideas were all mine in the end.
I recommend using it as an AI virtual assistant and rewriting in your voice to avoid getting caught with your ChatGPT pants down. If you value discretion, using AI Content Analyzer to evaluate your text serves as your personal online detective. It shows where likely AI sentence structure occurs, so you can change it if you choose to. Your love affair with ChatGPT forever stays secret unless you get careless.
The Final Price: ChatGPT, Free; AI Content Analyzer, Free
🔹 Grammarly, Headline Analyzer, and Vecteezy: Remember When We Could Write All Night Long
With the first draft finished, I beamed with pride. Confident the copy was close to perfection, I commenced proofreading. Instead of award-winning writing, it was like reading a bad horror movie script where you scream at the kids to get out of the house. I flashbacked to English class and the dreaded red pen mucking up my entire paper.
After several rounds of edits and revisions, I pasted the article into Grammarly for suggestions. Completely smitten, I paid full price despite the availability of a free version. Although I tried both Hemingway Editor and ProWriting Aid, they left me wanting. Grammarly offered the most value and was worth the cost.
The following SaaS tool, Headline Analyzer, suggested ways to improve headlines making them noteworthy and searchable. I will likely invest in a subscription at some point, but the free version meets my current needs.
Before publishing, I needed to find appropriate graphics to illustrate my story and add the final touch of professionalism to my content. I stumbled upon Vecteezy, which included ten free daily graphic downloads. Create a login, save all your pics in customized folders, and download the ones you need. The free version of Vecteezy requires giving credit by listing Vecteezy.com underneath any graphic used. But upgrading to a monthly or yearly pro membership avoids attribution. I opted to go with the annual plan since my need for perfection mandates trying different graphics before committing, requiring extra downloads.
The Final Price: Grammarly, $144 annual subscription; Headline Analyzer, Free; Vecteezy, $108 annual pro subscription
🔹 Answer The Public, Wordstream, and OneLook: Just Because I Can…
I found the following three golden writing nuggets while watching copywriting videos on Udemy, an online educational resource. The first one, Answer The Public, generated ideas showing what keywords people were googling or asking about on the internet. This site can narrow a broad topic or open up one too specific.
Next, Wordstream’s keyword tool also examined words in your title, comparing subjects and monthly search volume. If you are stuck or eager to ensure competitive and searchable content, hit up Answer The Public and Worstream to optimize your writing for keyphrase browsing.
The third resource, OneLook, is a dictionary with synonyms and antonyms. But you can find words beginning with a particular letter, a certain number of characters, ones that rhyme, and many other valuable options. Sometimes finding the perfect way to express an idea takes persistence, and OneLook can help.
The Final Price: Free Free Free
Finding Clients: Just Like Dating, You Have To Kiss A Lot Of Frogs Before Your Prince Appears
Applying to listings through FlexJobs and LinkedIn provides more traditional options. Unfortunately, regular openings require submitting a resume with hundreds of others and going through the official interview process. A willingness to play the numbers game and cold pitch affords the best opportunity to charge your worth and find freelance work no one knows about.
🔹 LinkedIn, Canva, and Crunchbase: Every Relationship Takes Work
Again, on the advice of Christine Gomolka, founder of Paid Copywriter, I decided to go with cold pitching using LinkedIn. You can direct message (DM) individuals with brief notifications not in your network, even on the free plan. Update or make a LinkedIn profile and business page to connect and start DMing.
Using Canva to design an original business graphic adds another layer of professionalism that builds your brand. I used the free version, and creating a simple logo for my LinkedIn profile took roughly ten minutes which I also displayed on my other social media accounts.
When evaluating organizations to pitch, Crunchbase helps determine business financials and size. Targeting larger companies with a budget for marketing increases the likelihood they hire freelance writers. But don’t rule out start-ups that tend to be smaller because they need good copywriting, too, especially when launching their business. Using Crunchbase narrows cold pitching targets to specific companies, industries, and budgets to boost your chances of landing a gig.
The Final Price: LinkedIn, Free (but may upgrade to monthly plan: $60); Canva, Free; Crunchbase, Free
🔹 ClickUp and OneNote: Never Forget Those Special Dates or Occasions Again
SaaS project management models range from fairly intuitive to incredibly complex. I tested out Asana, Wrike, and ClickUp. Asana seemed too complicated for me, and Wrike felt too simplistic and not customizable for the free version, but ClickUp was the perfect companion. The free version delivered everything essential to track clientele with color-codable and customizable fields. Adjusting the templates made creating my task lists a matter of editing. By organizing cold pitches, following up consistently becomes effortless. With ClickUp, you can track client onboarding, writing assignments, and other related activities.
In my previous life employed in education, I fell in love with OneNote, a Microsoft product. I used it as a way to organize emails. Rather than rewriting the same information from scratch, I used OneNote to create an online notebook of all possible responses. Cutting, pasting, and modifying them to specific recipients took seconds. Do the same for freelance writing emails rather than continually rewriting the wheel to save time - cut, paste, tweak, and send. OneNote organizes with tabs across the top and down the side with endless uses. It also serves as storage for almost 30 usernames and passwords, enabling me to access all my confidential SaaS logins from one convenient location.
The Final Price: Free and Free
🔹 MailChimp or MailerLite: Time To Make The Big Announcement
There are many different online choices to capture emails for sales leads by using landing pages to get visitors to sign up in return for freebies like blog postings, reports, informative PDFs, webinar training, or newsletters. The two I explored, Mailchimp and MailerLite, both featured free versions. Built-in templates made creating landing pages easy. Mailchimp allowed sending 1,000 emails monthly and 500 contacts for free, while MailerLite’s free version extended monthly emails to 12,000 and 1,000 subscribers.
The clear winner based on value goes to MailerLite. Even the subscription plans offered a better return on investment than Mailchimp. Be aware that due to anti-spam laws, you must attach your business address at the footer of any email you send with SaaS email platforms, even with free trials. If you prefer to use something other than your home address, opening a P.O. Box at the post office is an option.
The Final Price: Free
PayPal: I Now Pronounce You Paid
Some organizations use PayPal, the last SaaS product recommendation, to compensate their freelance writers. Setting up PayPal allows you to send invoices directly to your customers, where they conveniently pay with their account, debit or credit card, or Venmo by clicking the link within the email. Factor service fees into your rates or explain those charges in advance as an add-on. Link a credit card or bank information to your PayPal and safely transfer money. I recommend a separate account for your business to simplify calculating and filing taxes.
The Final Price: Free Setup; Fees Per Transaction
Becoming a freelance copywriter involves more than generating ideas and creating content. I soon discovered as a solopreneur that I needed many industrious and reliable SaaS assistants to be successful and grow my business. I also concluded that most of this software required purchasing and integrating before finding paying opportunities.
Setting up all your SaaS programs, especially tracking clients, must be thought through from the outset. Changing fields later becomes difficult, if not impractical. Getting this as right as possible from the start saves countless hours later, leaving precious time to write. It is a substantial effort on the front end, but you will be thankful once you build your clientele.
Ultimately, the applications you choose will be as unique to your start-up needs as mine were to me. Like dating, we all have our preferences, specific needs, and desires for what we want and are willing to live with. Still, the tools outlined in this article explain the importance of additional software to consider before the real business of paid writing begins.