Writing for a living
The folks from Albert met up with Matt Price. Having won numerous awards for his copywriting, he knows a thing or two about how to add colour to words. He has been writing for a living for over a decade, turning freelance just over a year ago. Since then, he hasn’t looked back.
1. How did you start your career in writing?
Matt: I was always good at writing and enjoyed it. I relished opportunities to write in the jobs I did before I became a full-time copywriter so, in the end, I decided to find a job in which I could concentrate on writing most of the time. I spend most of my days in advertising agencies, where the work can include anything from TV commercials to websites and social media. For my private clients, I’ll write anything from white papers and case studies to sales collateral and even speeches. I’ve written for companies of all kinds over the years but today, I tend to focus mainly on technology, cars, financial services and other business-to-business markets. My long-term ambition is to write a novel, but right now I love the flexibility and variety my freelance profession allows me to have.
2. When did you start freelancing and why did you choose this path?
Matt: Just over a year ago. I'd done permanent in-house jobs for over 10 years previously and built up a good network of contacts. I had also observed that wherever I worked, the happiest people were usually the freelancers!
"MY LONG-TERM AMBITION IS TO WRITE A NOVEL, BUT RIGHT NOW I LOVE THE FLEXIBILITY AND VARIETY MY FREELANCE PROFESSION ALLOWS ME TO HAVE."
3. What sets in-house and freelance writing apart?
Matt: As a freelancer, you need to be able to hit the road running and pick up e.g. new topics, technology, products, customer cases very quickly. Instead of a structured briefing or induction, you will often be given a piece of paper to read for five minutes before you start to work on the copy. And people quite often expect you to get it right the first time around. After all, they're paying you by the day. On the plus side, freelancing means much more variety, so if you're easily bored, it's a great life. And you can just keep your focus on the job at hand, and ignore office politics.
4. How did you find your first customers?
Matt: At first, I got work through people I had worked with before. Over time, it became apparent that I was recommended for projects by happy customers. Word-of-mouth is always the best advertisement. LinkedIn is good tool for getting new customers and projects too - I found myself getting requests from people I didn't know, but who knew people for whom I'd done work in the past.
"I HAD ALSO OBSERVED THAT WHEREVER I WORKED, THE HAPPIEST PEOPLE WERE USUALLY THE FREELANCERS."
5. Besides referrals from happy customers, how do you promote your services?
Matt: I have my own website displaying examples of my work and a LinkedIn page, which I keep up to date. Especially for any advertising agency work, it is really important to present a portfolio of current work. Having a website with examples of your work also helps show the breadth of my writing skills. It is worthwhile, although it takes a bit of time to keep things fresh.
6. What do you consider when agreeing on new projects or contracting roles?
Matt: The hardest thing for me is sometimes managing my time. I like to help everyone so it’s hard to say no and it's easy to take on too much in one go. Sometimes you just have to accept that you can't do some projects because the timing isn't right. As for contracting, you've just got to ask yourself, "Do I want to commit to this one client for this amount of time?" If you've chosen to be a freelancer because you like the variety, what looks like an incredible job could soon feel just like a permanent role. It is a balancing act, and it boils down to personal choice.
7. How do you set your price and estimate the time needed for each project?
Matt: I have a standard daily rate, however I am prepared to negotiate. A lot depends on how much I want the job in particular, how much other work I have at the time, and if it is likely to be more interesting or enjoyable than usual. From a practical point of view, I also consider the length of the project, the type and complexity of writing and how many editing rounds I am likely to end up doing. I tend to charge a minimum daily rate, but sometimes I also agree on a project fee based on assumed hours. Another factor that impacts on the price or project fee is the extent of background research I might need to do on the topic. II need to travel to interview someone, for example, that could add a whole day to a project before I’ve written a word.
"YOU NEED SOME SORT OF SYSTEM THAT MEANS YOU CAN EASILY EXPLAIN AND PROVE EVERY ITEM ON YOUR BANK STATEMENT AND LINK IT TO EVERY INVOICE YOU'VE SENT."
8. How do you manage your "business", any tips or advice?
Matt: Get a good accountant. It's worth paying for someone who will handle all your interactions with HMRC, because they don't always make it easy for people who are not familiar with business accounting techniques or the UK tax system. Also record everything you do - every hour on every project. You never know when someone will question a figure in an invoice for some work you did months ago. And make sure to keep track of all your expenses, too. Basically, you need some sort of system that means you can easily explain and prove every item on your bank statement and link it to every invoice you’ve sent. For most people in creative employment, this kind of thing doesn’t come naturally, so I’d recommend going for whatever system seems easiest to understand.
9. What would you advise to those considering starting a freelance career in writing?
Matt: Make sure you either have a good network of contacts who would work you again, or a really strong portfolio website, so that people who don't know you can see the quality of your work. Be prepared to work long hours at first - evenings and weekends as well as office hours – because that way, you can take more work and build up a cushion of cash that may come in handy later, for example, if you are ill for a few weeks or hit a dry spell. Once you’ve established yourself and you’ve got a steady stream of work coming in, you can be more confident about taking holidays. It’s important to rest now and again or you’ll burn yourself out. That inevitably means that sometimes, you’ve got to say ‘no’.
If you would like to learn more about Matt’s work, go to copywritermattprice.carbonmade.com