How Jessica Swanda Trained Herself To Become A Freelance Copywriter

Haris Halkic: Hi Jessica, thanks a lot for agreeing to share some tips on copywriting and your background. Let’s start with how you got started in copywriting? Please tell me more about your story.

Jessica Swanda: I studied English Language and Literature in college and had trouble deciding which career track to purse. (There’s far more options to choose from with an English major than most people realize!) One of the areas I was considering was marketing, so I took an unpaid summer internship in between semesters.

Although I was only doing simple jobs with this internship, I was intrigued by the world of marketing, branding, and customer psychology. So when a job as lead copywriter for an ad agency near my university was suddenly offered to me, I snatched it up. It was then that I fell in love with copywriting and brand storytelling.

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?

Jessica Swanda: Shortly after graduating with my B.A. in English, I got married and move from Georgia to Oregon with my husband. At this point, I needed to choose whether or not to find a new agency to work for in Oregon or to go into freelancing. I knew my husband would be making a career change within the next year or so that would involve us traveling full-time.

I also knew that finding a full-time job in the area was the safe, sensible thing to do, but at the same time, I truly wanted to make a go of freelancing.

I wanted the freelance lifestyle and thought it made sense to prepare for our future of traveling by creating a job that could travel with me.

There was no better time to make the transition. My husband was fully supportive of my desire to freelance, so I made the leap.

My advice is to be intentional about setting yourself up for success. Do as much preparation for the transition as you can while you still have your job. Build up some savings, take some online courses about freelancing, build a portfolio, decide exactly which services you want to offer right out of the gate, and start doing some freelance work on the side to gain experience and confidence.

This way, you don’t have to start from square one when you leave your job and can start making money sooner. One more thing:

Everyone’s freelance journey is different. Never doubt who you can become, just because the way you’re getting there is different than most.

Haris Halkic: Getting clients is one of the greatest challenges for freelance copywriters. Could you tell me more about how you get clients?

Jessica Swanda: I use a blend of three techniques: cold pitching new leads or past clients, using LinkedIn to get in front of potential leads and build relationships with them (so they know they can come to me when they need copywriting), and meeting prospective clients “in the middle,” so to speak, through job boards or Upwork.

Two awesome resources for getting better-paying, repeat clients: The Six Figure Freelancer Academy, led by Jenny Beres and Alex Grizinski, has been instrumental in helping me find new, high-level clients and uplevel my freelance mindset and business. (They also have a free Facebook group that’s awesome too!) Ashley Ambirge’s 25 Days to 100K email challenge is also really, really helpful (and fun to read!).

Haris Halkic: How did you learn to write copy? Are there teachers, books or resources that you can recommend?

Jessica Swanda: I never had a formal marketing education. I was purely self-taught by being thrown into the deep end of the marketing pool. As the ad agency’s only copywriter, I had to teach myself, ask questions, do loads of research, and learn as I went.

My story is proof that we can teach ourselves to do anything and become whoever we want, if we’re willing to work at it.

There’s sooo many resources for learning copywriting now that teaching yourself is simpler than ever before. A few of my personal favorites:


Haris Halkic: How do you prepare for a writing session?

Jessica Swanda: I go somewhere where I won’t be distracted by other people or loud noises, turn on my Hans Zimmer playlist, and do a brain dump of all the ideas and thoughts and references buzzing in my head. Once they’re all on paper so I won’t forget them, my mind quiets down and I can write more easily and less frantically.

Haris Halkic: Who’s your favorite copywriter or piece of copywriting?

Jessica Swanda: That’s a tough one. I love copywriters who allow for personal flair in their brands and have a little fun with their copy. One of my favorites has to be Kira Hug – her website is downright delightful. Each page features a different “Kira personality,” and she embraces her eccentricity in a very amusing way. And of course, she is an AMAZING copywriter. I’d probably want to buy a pet squid if she was the one writing about it.

Haris Halkic: In your opinion, what are the greatest advantages of being a freelance copywriter? What makes this lifestyle so special?

Jessica Swanda: I love how it gives me a front row seat to each project. As an employee, you don’t always get to build a relationship with the client, see the results of your work firsthand, or be a part of the overarching strategy discussion. You don’t always feel invested in the project.

As a freelancer, you’re in the trenches with the client, and you get to experience all the challenges, risks, and rewards that come along with that.

My client’s success is my success, so I’m naturally far more invested in the work, which makes me enjoy it even more.

The unique challenges that come with freelancing are also what make it so rewarding. You learn new things, venture far outside your comfort zone, embrace exciting opportunities, solve hard problems, and live the life of your dreams – all at the same time.

Haris Halkic: What one daily habit has contributed to your success more than any other?

Jessica Swanda: 

At the end of each work day, I pick one or two high-value things that I want to finish the next day. The next morning, those one or two things are my top priority, and I try to do them first.

This way, I’m not bogged down with long to-do lists, I’m able to give my top priorities the attention they deserve, and I still have time to take care of additional tasks that are less important too. This habit helps me be more efficient and less stressed, and it makes my day seem more manageable. (Which in turn boosts my spirits and productivity – it’s a lovely cycle.)

Haris Halkic: If someone wants to hire you, what is the best way to get in touch?

Jessica Swanda: Anyone who wants to contact me can reach me through my blog, portfolio, or LinkedIn.

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