Note: This blog post was originally an answer to a question on Quora
Books have been written on the process of landing your first copywriting clients, so my answer is going to be concise and will skip many of the finer details and pageantry you will find in more formally published content
If you want to dig deeper into this issue beyond my answer and the others from my peers here at Quora, I do recommend you read books by the great copywriters like the late David Ogilvy (Ogilvy on Advertising) who taught about copywriting AND how to build an agency that attracts world class clients.
To properly answer this, let me explain
- How I “bucket” potential clients
- Which bucket I recommend new copywriters target (this reply is written assuming it is being read by newer copywriters).
- How to target these ideal clients
There are two main groups.
- Clients who know they need a copywriter and are actively looking to hire help. These clients come to you.
- Clients who maybe don’t know they need a copywriter but could benefit tremendously from hiring help. You go to these clients.
Many copywriters adopt a more passive approach and target the first group (people who are shopping for a copywriter). These sorts of agencies land these clients through,
- Social media ads
- Content Marketing (Robbie Richards executes this amazingly on his blog )
This method works for many agencies, but it is not the approach I would recommend for a new copywriter to adopt.
Important Concept: Copywriting successfully doesn’t need to be a volume game. Instead, focus on landing the best contracts possible with clients who you can help the most.
Just one quality client can easily earn you more in the long run than dozens of cheap clients.
The Problem with Targeting Clients who Are “Shopping Around”
New copywriters will have difficulty competing against agencies and individuals with established backgrounds and references.
References (referrals) are key to gaining clients who are actively shopping.
74% of consumers identify word-of-mouth as a key influencer in their purchasing decision. 
Note: Studies show that word of mouth doesn’t need to come from a personal friend or colleague to be impactful. Collecting a positive referral from a client in California and adding it (with her permission) can help you land a client in Ohio who reads it. They don’t need to be best friends for there to be a positive influence on them to buy.
For better or for worse, human beings will follow people they trust. Once you have built credibility for yourself and can back it up with testimonials, you will have clients signing you checks without asking you to promise them the moon with your results.
^^This is a little dark ^^ 🙂
I don’t want you to trick clients into doing business with you, but understand how much power there is in building a positive reputation and having referrals and testimonials to support your skills.
Here is a great article in Forbes on
Thanks to social media and the ever-increasing speed of information, you can gain positive word of mouth much more quickly than copywriters of the past BUT you still have to earn it. Most copywriters lack this referral firepower.
You do have to start somewhere, so why not start off with a bang? I’ll show you how in a minute…
Just remember, there are millions of possible clients and only a few of them are actively looking! I will show you the ACTIVE approach you can take to get them on board as paying clients (and clients that you actually will love to work with).
You can easily beat out large agencies by ACTIVELY finding your ideal client (who isn’t falling into their passive sales funnel because they don’t know they need your help!)
We will even the odds by putting you in front of clients that these larger agencies don’t even know about.
Before we go too much further, I want to touch on a couple of key principles that will make sure you approach growing your copywriting agency (or solo practice) the right way, out of the gate.
Principle #1 Work for FREE before you work for “cheap.”
If you find a client who hires a cheap copywriter, they aren’t a good long-term client. They won’t appreciate your work like someone who knows paying more will lend better results.
One of my earliest clients allowed me to build a sales funnel for him for free. I say “allowed” because he and I both knew that if I was successful, I’d earn waaaaayyyyy more money through the referrals I’d get.
He was a big fish.
The funnel has done hundreds of thousands in sales.
By doing work for “FREE” you are…
- Improving your skills
- Building referrals
Note: You can do work for non-profits as well for free when you are getting your feet wet. This will allow you to give back and still gain the benefits mentioned above. I don’t want you to do charity for the sole purpose of growing your business, but this is an easier approach to swallow for most (working for free for a large company who is making big money off you can be tough).
By doing work for “CHEAP” you are…
- Appearing desperate and harming your brand image
- Acquiring the wrong clients
Don’t be cheap. Be free sparingly and ONLY when the value of the referral outweighs the value of your time and labor OR if it is for a non-profit.
Principle #2 Take the guess work out of the sale and QUANTIFY what you will do for your client.
- How much more traffic will they see?
- How much of an increase in conversions?
- Etc (anything quantifiable, simple and in line with their goals)
If you are ballsy enough to do so, you can work on a commission basis. This may help you land “bigger fish” who aren’t willing to hand an inexperienced copywriter a big check.
A good copywriter will salivate at the opportunity to work on a commission basis if they are good at what they do.
Principle #3 Collect Testimonials and References Like Your Life Depends on It
Remember principle #1? Well, this is part of why working for free may be one of your best decisions! You will be able to drive results for more serious customers and will be more likely to get a good review if you were working “pro bono.”
How to Land Your Ideal Client: An Active Approach
The term “hustling” gets thrown around a lot, but this is most definitely a hustle.
Remember, this is how we approach clients who may not be shopping for copywriting help just yet.
Step #1 Find Businesses That You Can (ACTUALLY) Help (and Can Prove It)!
This requires that you know what a poorly marketed business looks like. If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t be charging for professional copywriting services yet.
Here is a general copywriting checklist →(if you need a starting point).
The ideal business will be one that has any of the following:
- Weak calls to action
- No upsell or downsell present
- No testimonials on sales page
- Copy is too long or short
- Design is off putting
There are hundreds of other aspects you can/could consider, but we want to focus on the most impactful aspects first.
TIP: Niche down. If you find companies in the health and fitness arena, it will be easier for you to sell clients in the future on your services if they are in that niche as well. They will see that you understand their audience. You will also get better results in your actual copy by focusing your efforts over time.
Step #2 Prepare a Report of What You Can Do for the Client
You can use a template for identifying the issues (your success rate is going to be very low at first, so you will do this with multiple websites).
You may be wondering, “What should I charge?!?!” Here are, but, pricing should always be based on the results you can drive for your clients.
If you can generate a client an extra $1,000,000 in sales, have some respect for yourself and don’t charge $600!
I don’t want to deviate too far from the original question of how to land copywriting clients, but be sure to price correctly. Landing crappy clients with bad contracts is not what I want for you!
Step #3 Contact the Company and Explain What You Can Do for Them (WITHOUT the Jargon)!
An entire book can (and is) written on how to persuade clients to take you up on your services, but for now, keep it simple. You will need to learn from your own experiences here as you go.
Your first contact should come via email and you should encourage the prospective client to schedule a call or Skype session with you.
Yes, if you want to be in the copywriting arena getting on the phone is important!
Step #4 Close the Deal and Do AMAZING work!
Unfortunately, many copywriters do a better job of selling themselves than they do their clients’ products!
Once you have landed a deal keep your eye on the prize and remember that you MUST deliver high-quality work and drive results.
This will lead to:
- Repeat work from the client you’re working with.
- Referral work from them!
Great copywriters turn away work every day. If you find the right clients and deliver world-class work for them each time you are hired, you will be in this position too.
I will leave you with a quote that will ensure that you always have a stream of clients knocking on your door to do business with you.
“You can have everything you want in life if you will help enough people get what they want.” – Zig Ziglar