Haris Halkic: Hi Dave, thanks a lot for agreeing to share your best tips on copywriting and your background. Let’s start with how you got started in copywriting. Please, tell us more about your story.
Dave Schafer: Thanks for the opportunity, Haris! I love talking about copy and freelancing, so it’s my pleasure.
I’ve always loved to read, write, and tell stories, but I actually sort of fell into copywriting, which it seems is true for many. My background was in retail management, but I left my job so that my wife could take a gig in a new city. For a while I did the stay-at-home dad thing, and I was looking for a way to make some extra cash in the evenings. I realized freelance writing was a thing, and the rest is history.
Haris Halkic: How did you transition to freelance copywriting from your previous job? What’s your best piece of advice for someone who is employed and wants to become a freelance copywriter?
Dave Schafer: Since I didn’t have another job to transition from, I was fortunate enough to avoid this whole ordeal. I’ve watched others go through it, though, and it’s tough. For someone who’s currently employed and wants to go freelance, I think the smartest approach is to pack away some savings, gather a few clients, and make it a weekend gig for a while.
Once you reach critical mass and feel confident you can replace your full-time income, then you can leave your job and go into business for yourself. Jumping right in with no safety net can work, and it’s very motivating for some, but it’s risky.
Haris Halkic: Getting clients is one of the greatest challenges for freelance copywriters. What ways do you use to get clients?
Dave Schafer: These days, nearly all of my work comes through repeat clients and referrals, and the rest comes to me directly through my site or social media. I haven’t actually had to go looking for work in quite a while, which has been such a blessing.
When people ask this, I always tell them the same thing.
Pick a method—cold email, social media outreach, job boards, snail mail—they all work. Land a couple jobs, and blow those clients away. Just go above and beyond to be the best damn freelancer they ever worked with.
Then start asking for referrals. Let them all know you want more work, tell their friends. You can’t be shy about it—you do have to sell yourself a little, and that’s maybe the hardest part of the whole thing. But your existing customers are your best source of new customers, and eventually you pick up enough momentum that the work comes to you and you can focus on other, bigger-picture things.
Haris Halkic: How did you learn to write copy? Are there teachers, books or resources you can recommend?
Dave Schafer: Mainly by reading and studying the work of others. I’ve always read books, blog posts, and news articles voraciously, and since I picked up copywriting I now pay attention to web copy as well.
I just soak up as much as I can from others who are actually doing the work, both in my own niche and just in general.
As far as specific resources, Copyhackers is of course amazing, and so is Copyblogger. The Men with Pens blog was one I read a lot when starting out, and I think it contains a lot of good wisdom for beginning freelancers.
Haris Halkic: How do you prepare for a writing session?
Dave Schafer: I don’t really have any special ritual or anything. If I’m sitting down to write, I try to block out time with no interruptions, although that’s not always realistically possible. Strong coffee, some good tunes, and a place to spread out my notes are my must-haves.
Haris Halkic: Who’s your favorite copywriter or piece of copywriting?
Dave Schafer: Man, this one is tough. There are so many great writers out there today, and of course then you have the old-school greats that everyone studies. I’m a big fan of Joanna Wiebe’s work. Joel Klettke is another conversion copywriter who’s been killing it lately. Eugene Schwartz (and his book, Breakthrough Advertising) is a classic.
Haris Halkic: In your opinion, what are the greatest advantages of being a freelance copywriter? What makes this lifestyle so special?
Dave Schafer: For me, working for myself is about flexibility, being able to decide how much and what type of work I want to do. I enjoy the business aspects of freelancing. It’s been great for personal growth. It’s also meant I’ve spent a lot of time with my kids that I might not have gotten otherwise, since I’m often home during the day.
Haris Halkic: What one daily habit has contributed to your success more than any other?
I think consistent, professional communication and follow-up with clients has been the single biggest thing that I can point at and say, “that’s had an impact.” Just constant communication.
Project updates, requests for new work, consistent follow-up emails until I get a response—this is basic stuff that, ironically, nobody does. So, just by doing it, you immediately set yourself apart as a professional, which is honestly half the battle. Your copy still has to be good, of course, but if you’re on the ball about communicating and handling your business, you’ll have clients beating your door down to continue working with you.
Haris Halkic: Are there areas you specialize on as a copywriter and if someone wants to hire you, what is the best way to get in touch?