How to Manage Your Time as a Freelance Copywriter

By: Laurence James

One of the great misconceptions about freelance copywriting is that you can write when you want to. ‘What a great job you've got', people say, ‘you can work when and where you like and choose your own hours'. This sounds fine in principle, if it weren't for that dreaded word that rules the lives of all freelance copywriters – ‘deadlines'. I haven't missed a deadline in ten years of commercial writing, but you need to stay on top of things to do this.

As a first rule of thumb, if you can't organise yourself to meet your client's deadline, then you will struggle to make a name for yourself as a copywriter. As with other service-based careers, you're only as good as your last piece of work – and busy, stressed out clients won't wait around for you to get a handle on how to manage your time. With that in mind, here are five tips to help you better organise yourself.

1. Write a weekly timetable

Every Friday afternoon, it's a good idea to draw up a timetable of quotes to send, briefs to take and projects to write for the next week. These will be based on deadlines and arrangements you've agreed with clients, and should include an extra day of ‘cushion time' before the deadline date in case you encounter any problems.

Number each job by priority and have an equivalently numbered job bag for each set of notes and materials – so you can find everything you need and crack straight on when the time comes. You can create and print out pro-forma timetables in Word. Finally, stick it up on the wall where you can see it.

2. Write a monthly jobs board

Buy a budget dry wipe board from any office supplies retailer, and make columns for: current clients, jobs and deadlines, quotes sent to clients, invoices outstanding, and invoices to send.

You can use your numbering system to identify each job bag again, and this will help you manage client projects that go beyond your weekly timetable. It also helps to put this on the wall to quantify at a glance, the amount of work you have to do. (A year planner with daily dates is another good pin up).

3. Manage client expectations

A very experienced graphic designer once gave me a very good piece of advice. He said, ‘No client will ever mind if you're too busy to do their job, they will always come back to you because the amount of work you're getting suggests you know what you're doing. However, if you agree a deadline that is too tight – just to appease the client – you will not do a good job and they will never come back to you".

This is a great piece of advice. If you honestly say to the client, ‘I've got several other projects on at the moment and will need at least three weeks to do your project justice' – they will usually agree to this, because they want you to do a great job. Always manage their expectations of what you can deliver when, and don't compromise quality in order to rush a job.

4. Set aside a fixed time every week for administrative tasks

I do all my invoicing, phone calls, quotes and admin stuff at certain fixed times of the day. I never mix these tasks with copywriting time, as this leads to bad copy and confused administration. Separate different tasks, put everything in its place and keep it there – then you will work more efficiently.

5. Communicate with your clients

Don't agree a deadline two weeks in advance and then disappear off the client's radar. It's good to keep them updated with your progress to make them feel confident you're doing a good job.

It takes five minutes to send a ‘catch up' email saying ‘I'm making great progress with your project and am on target for delivery at the agreed time'. Your clients will appreciate this and it will inspire confidence in your standards of service. It also buys you time with nervous clients, as they aren't compelled to constantly contact you for progress reports.

As a freelance copywriter, it's essential to manage your time properly – for both your clients' and your own sake. If you make a bad job of your organisation, you'll probably make a bad job of your copy too.

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