Zoe Hughes is a successful freelancer from the UK specialized in SEO copywriting. She’s been freelancing for quite some time and has a great amount of experience in the field.
I invited Zoe for the very first Freelancing Hacks interview. I think you’ll find her story to be quite informative, especially if you’re planning on switching to freelancing or want to learn about how to survive as a freelance copywriter. She was kind enough to offer useful advice for people looking to start out in freelancing. Keep scrolling down to read about what she had to say.
Roshan: First, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where you’re from and what you do?
Zoe: I’m a thirty something introverted actress currently living in Loughborough, but originally from Derby. I enjoy reading, listening to music and going to gigs and festivals. Still doing some acting on the side and generally keeping very busy!
Roshan: So, how long have you been freelancing?
Zoe: I started my first freelancing business in February 2012 so nearly three years! It definitely doesn’t seem quite that long, the time really does fly by.
Roshan: Did you work at a day job before starting freelancing and if so what made you switch careers?
Zoe: My journey into freelancing has been quite a strange and complicated one! After graduating with my acting degree in 2004, I did a few temping jobs but wanted a career so went back to university and trained as a theatre nurse. I specialised in anaesthetics and surgery for orthopaedic theatres in a very busy Derby hospital. Unfortunately, I developed the flu which then turned into an illness called M.E – I felt too exhausted to go back to work as a nurse.
I knew at that point that I wanted to work for myself but I didn’t quite know what, so I joined some bookkeeping classes and a professional qualification. I started my first business as a bookkeeper with Balance Right Books. It was only after networking with other business owners and coming across lots of websites that were poorly written or not getting the intended message across that I realised I could use my writing skills to good use and started Words by Zoe.
Roshan: Was it difficult for you to start freelancing? Did you encounter any problems?
Zoe: It was very difficult for me because I was still quite poorly and didn’t really have a fixed income to survive on. I didn’t have any capital to put into the business so I had to start from scratch – completely! I think my main problems was finding finance/working capital and the support that every new business owner needs. There still isn’t much out there for sole traders which I think is a real shame.
Roshan: Copywriting is one of the most competitive fields in the freelancing market. What kind of things do you do to stand out from the crowd?
Zoe: I specialise in SEO copywriting – so all the writing I do is intended to be seen online. I have a good working knowledge of social media marketing and frequently attend SEO events and meetings to get my knowledge up to date of all the latest changes. I studied psychology when I was at college and that is something that I’m interested in still, but also finding so useful with my work. Did you know that there are different types of web visitors and temperaments when it comes to buying online? I do the hard work by researching these things so my clients don’t have to!
Roshan: I read your blog. Those articles are quite informative to both freelancers and buyers. Does your blog help you get more sales?
Zoe: For me, my blog isn’t so much about getting more sales but establishing my reputation and credibility as a good copywriter. Having a blog that you update on a regular basis really helps your SEO, so it gets your website higher up the search engine rankings. I like to think of my website as a shop window. Mr Google walks past everyday to check how things are and see if there is a new window display. If I don’t keep my website updated with fresh content, he’s not going to bother coming to visit anymore because the window display hasn’t changed. The blog is a part of the display that I add a little more to each week.
Roshan: Which platforms do you use to offer your services?
Zoe: I tend to use Twitter a lot, especially the networking hours. Twitter is a real little business community if you learn to use it properly, and there are some really helpful people out there! I’m also in some networking groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, and I’m a member of the East Midlands Chamber of Commerce too.
Roshan: Not all clients are the same. Some are nice and some are mean. What is the biggest problem that you’ve encountered while working with a client and how did you deal with it?
Zoe: A lot of copywriting clients aren’t actually sure of what they want, or what a copywriter does. So it can be incredibly difficult to meet their needs. I had one client want me to copy edit something he had written. I did this and he returned the draft with ‘please change this paragraph’ – no reasons as to why he didn’t like it or what he wanted instead. Everything was re-drafted and sent off, a thanks was received and so I sent my invoice.
As the weeks turned into months and he didn’t pay, I sent a credit control letter. At this point he decided that the copy wasn’t of a satisfactory standard, he couldn’t use it and he wouldn’t pay. After a few emails back and forth he eventually agreed that the copy was fine and he was just experiencing some cash-flow problems. After agreeing a payment plan he paid the invoice.
Roshan: As a busy freelancer, I’m sure you must be using a handful of tools to make your work easier. Are there any tools or apps that you can’t live without?
Zoe: I use Buffer and Hootsuite to schedule social media posts when I have a new blog or other content to share. Hemingway is a great app for making sure that your copy is easy to read but you have to use it sparingly or your copy can end up sounding quite dull! I also use Todoist which is a productivity app – you can list all the jobs and tasks you need to do it and it reminds you if you’re falling behind with things!
Roshan: If someone’s looking to start out as a freelance copywriter, what advice would you give to them?
Zoe: You’re not going to please everyone – every copywriter has their own personal style and some clients aren’t going to like what you write. Always have terms and conditions in place, and a letter of engagement ensuring that clients have read and agreed to them. That way, if a client decides he doesn’t like something or doesn’t want to pay, you can make sure you get what is owed to you.
Roshan: In conclusion, is there anything else you would like to add?
Zoe: Copywriting isn’t so much about the writing but understanding how to market a business properly and tell the unique story behind it. It can be very hard work and knowing how to research thoroughly is an essential skill but if you can have fun with it, it’s a very rewarding career. My best piece of advice is – don’t undervalue yourself. There are so many cheap freelancing websites that it can be difficult to get market rates for what you do – have faith that you’re good at what you do and stand firm with your prices. The right clients will pay what you’re worth every time.