One of the best things about being a freelance writer is the freedom you have to choose your own work. There’s a buzz that comes from never quite knowing what exciting opportunities might come your way next and, if you want more of one thing and less of another, you’re free to search out clients and projects that fit the bill.
But while the variety that comes from this freedom can be exciting, it can also be terrifying. New freelancers, and freelancers who are going through a dry patch can find themselves longing for a bit of stability.
A great way to gain some security and regular earning power in your freelance writing career is to target agencies. A good copywriter is hard to find (trust me, I’ve been on the hiring end) so if you can convince a busy agency you’re a good bet, chances are you’ll be on the receiving end of some writing work sooner rather than later.
Benefits of working with agencies
For me, working with agencies has always been a pretty positive thing. I’ve chosen my agency clients carefully and had long, friendly relationships with all them – we’ve all got what we wanted from the arrangement, and I enjoyed a number of major benefits each time.
Get down to writing
Running your own business takes time and energy. There’s so much to do and you’re the person who’s going to do it all: invoicing, marketing, planning, business development. Some weeks, you can be so swamped with all the stuff it takes to keep a business ticking over that you hardly seem to do any writing at all.
Working as a freelance copywriter for agencies gives you the chance to get back to what you’re best at – getting words down on a page. Instead of going all round the houses – finding clients, pitching, negotiating, agreeing a brief – you can pick up that brief and get writing, safe in the knowledge that all the ugly stuff (looking at you, late invoices) is being handled in-house.
Regular human contact
I’ve had a number of long-term, regular blogging arrangements with agency clients and, on each occasion, I’ve dealt with one main person, usually at a similar point each week. Without any formal arrangement, we’ve tended to fall into a pattern of having a weekly phone-call to catch up on work done and outline work to do.
Freelance copywriting can be an isolating job, and days can blur into one another without you ever needing to speak to someone in person, so connecting regularly with a friendly agency client can become a welcome part of your week.
They understand your value proposition
I’m not going to say that agencies always recognise your value (no getting away from money negotiations, I’m afraid), but they should definitely understand your value proposition – what it is you do, and why it’s important.
With direct clients, a lot of the work in attracting and securing them is actually convincing them that well-written content is important, and that the $3 articles they saw on the content mills aren’t going to do the same job that one of your blog posts will do. It’s tiring and, often, not an argument you’re going to win.
It’s a great way to build your reputation
Copywriting is a big part of content marketing, so it’s worth remembering that freelance copywriters and marketing agencies are on the same side, even though one of you is the supplier and the other is the client.
There’s likely to be a significant cross-over of expertise and connections, which means that happy agency clients are in a great position to sing your praises with relevant testimonials about your specific skills (perfect for boosting your LinkedIn profile) and refer you on to other clients.
Bigger clients, bigger projects
While there’s no stopping freelance writers pitching huge, high profile organisations directly, it’s fair to say that most big companies hire agencies for their content marketing. By hopping on board with an agency, you’re increasing your chances of writing for some big names that will look brilliant in your portfolio.
Some agencies will ask you to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), meaning that you’re not able to put your name by the content you produce or even talk about it. Others might not, so discuss with them whether they’re happy for you to 1) acknowledge your working relationship with them publicly and 2) mention the clients by name. Some will, some won’t – always check.
What agency clients want from their freelance writers
Every client connection is a two-way thing: for every benefit you get, you’ve got to be delivering one in return. Agencies are looking for:
Top quality work
It goes without saying that you should be delivering your best work to all of your clients. When you’re working for an agency, though, it’s important to bear in mind that it’s not just your reputation at stake, it’s theirs. If they’re trusting you with their clients, it’s vital that you’re delivering first-rate work.
Only take on projects you know you can handle. If you don’t know how to do something – say, write a standard press release – turn down that job, and – if you want to take on that kind of work in future – go and get trained up. Communicate clearly with the agency – they may be happy to lend a hand or let you train on the job – but never over-sell yourself or over-promise.
Just as you’ll be expecting a clear brief from your agency clients, they’ll need consistently good communication from you: when you’re available, what kind of work you’re able to take on, how much you’re quoting for a job, and when you’re going to be getting back to them.
If you’ve agreed something over the phone, follow up in writing – a quick, neat email will do. A mail trail will keep them in the loop, and protect both parties in case of any perceived miscommunications.
A thorough understanding of their clients’ needs
You won’t necessarily have experience in writing for the sectors in which your agency’s clients operate, but it’s important to consider the kind of writing they’re likely to need. If you’re a predominantly B2B writer, it’s probably not the wisest decision to target an agency with all B2C retail clients. They’ll need different kinds of copy, and you’ll need research and training before you’re in a position to provide it.
Even if you and your agency client are a perfect fit, you’ll still need a thorough discussion with them before taking on work for a new client of theirs. Make sure you know the right questions to ask: you’ll need to think about brand identity, target markets, short-term vs long-term aims, to name but a few.
A clear sign that you’re serious about what you do
Many agencies receive pitch after pitch from freelance writers looking to get a quick gig. So how are you going to catch their attention? By making it clear that you’re a professional. A well-stocked LinkedIn profile; a neat, informative website; updated and relevant social media feeds and a decent pitch to the right person in-house are the minimum requirements for snaring a decent agency client.
It’s not always a question of a formal covering letter and CV – as a copywriter, you’re free to be a bit more creative in your approach. But what your prospect needs to be able to see at a glance is that you’re out there, doing business, and doing it well.
Availability and reliability
Once the job’s in the bag, it’s a question of keeping up the momentum. You might be available for 10 blog posts a week, you might only want one job a month. But whatever it is you’ve told your agency you’re up for, now’s the time to deliver on those promises. Be available when you say you are, hit the deadlines you’ve agreed to, and communicate clearly and in plenty of time if anything’s going to change.
It’s worth remembering that you’re in a chain with agency clients – if there’s a change in your circumstances, they need to account for that in-house before the ripples reach their clients. Don’t let them down.
How do you feel about working for agencies? Have you had positive experiences? Are there any points you think I’ve missed? Comment below or come and chat on Twitter – I’m @LorrieHartshorn 🙂