Whatever service you decide to offer in your freelance copywriter business, you’re going to need some form of example to show people that you’re actually capable of doing the job.
This is where “pillar content” comes in.
Pillar content is basically one piece of content that is an in-depth explanation or breakdown of something people are actively searching for.
As we're trying to sell a copywriting service here, we’re not going to do this piece of content around something like “What I did with my 3-day weekend in Bruges”. No business owner cares about that.
Yes, you need this piece of content to show potential employers that you’re good at writing (or whatever your copywriting service is), but more than that, it needs to show you know how to solve a problem they face.
In short, this pillar piece of content needs to be…
- Focused on a painful problem your ideal customer or client faces
- Outline a potential solution to that problem
- Be a great example of what you’re capable of
If you can hit those three criteria and you promote your content in the right places, you’re going to find clients who naturally want to hire you.
Which is the key to growing a 6-figure freelance copywriting business.
Here’s the thing though. Finding that sweet spot with your content isn’t easy if you don’t have the right tools.
You could research trending topics and major issues on sites like…
- Facebook Groups
I would encourage you to build habits to check these areas regularly anyway, but it can take a long time to find the common traits between each of these different.
Especially when you’re starting out and unsure what it is you should be looking for.
Here’s what I’d recommend doing instead to quickly find a great content idea that’s going to help you stand out from the growing crowd of work-from-home copywriters.
Step 1 - Identify the market you want to work with and the service you’ll offer
OK, so the first thing you need to do is identify who it is you want to work with.
I see a lot of freelancers get really stuck at this point, which is completely unnecessary.
You see, the copywriting niche you choose to work with today is not necessarily the freelance niche you’re gonna end up retiring from.
In fact, in my decade of freelancing I’ve worked with so many different companies I can’t remember them all. But here’s a list of some of the niches where I’ve been paid for copywriting work...
- Self help
- Software as a service
- Olympic level sports training
- Adult entertainment
And so many more.
You need a freelance writing niche to help give you direction and make it easy to know who to target.
However, things will change over time as your experience grows and your interests develop.
I’m never targeting more than 2-3 different niches at any one time. And, generally speaking, I only really double down on one niche at a time to get quick results.
Also, I generally only ever sell one copywriting service so I can sort out my processes.
If you're trying to write content, write a sales page, and write FB ads all at once, you'll end up doing a poor version of everything.
But if you focus on one, you can quickly build a strong system your clients will love.
So that’s what I recommend you do.
Target one specific copywriting niche right now and offer them a single, specific service.
Get your first few thousand dollars and then make a more informed judgement call whether this is something you want to stick with.
The process to finding that profitable copywriting niche is super simple as well. (here’s a full article on the process I’ve used for years).
All you need to do is find the overlap between 3 distinct areas.
- Are you interested in the topic? Because if you’re not, you’re gonna find it difficult to write about it every day.
- Are you experienced in the topic? Not “world leading authority” experienced, but do you have the minimum equivalent of 2 books or more of knowledge? That can be drawn from hobbies, work history, or anything else.
- Is there a market for it? If people are already getting paid in that market, then there’s a good chance you can be too.
Once again, you’re just looking for a starting direction here. Not the perfect “I’m gonna work in this forever” type niche.
That doesn’t exist.
By choosing something and making a start you’ll learn more in 48 hours than the wannabe who deliberates for weeks and never takes action.
Done is better than perfect.
Once you’ve got a potential writing niche. Choose your copywriting service.
If you’re brand new to writing and you’re not sure what king of deliverable you want to focus on, start immediately with blog writing.
There’s an abundance of work and there’s a low barrier to entry.
You can quickly make your first $1000 as a blog writer, create a process to earn more, then re-evaluate what it is you want to work on when the money’s coming in.
What you want to do is put the niche you’re targeting and the service you offer together to help you stand out.
If you head to LinkedIn and look around at writers you’ll see a lot of people who lust themselves simply as “writers”.
Which ain’t impressing anyone.
There are surprisingly few people who actually take action and refine what it is they offer.
But by knowing the two things above (freelance niche and copywriting service), that’s exactly what you can do.
By simply putting the answers to your niche and deliverable together, you can transform the generic “writer” handle into something someone will actually want.
For example, you might be a…
- Content marketer for SaaS brands
- Case study writer for tech companies
- Facebook ad writer for restaurateurs
One thing you’ll notice is that I didn’t use the term “freelance” in any of the above examples.
Because a lot of people view it as a low value service provider.
A content marketer is seen as more professional, and thus worth more money, than a freelance writer by many.
So make sure your job title is about the service deliverable and the niche. Not that you’re freelance.
If anything, you have to think of yourself as a consultant rather than a freelancer.
Having that level of specificity will not only help you stand out, but will help you with your pitching going forward.
I mean, check out this search below for a Case study writer for SaaS brands.
They’re all writers, and some even mention SaaS. But only one has case study in their title as well.
If I’m searching specifically for a case study writer, she’d be the first person I reach out to.
Cause here’s the truth. No one wants a generalist for their business. Everyone wants the specialist.
Identifying your niche and service is key to being seen as a specialist and charging specialist fees.
Now let’s write something around that topic.
Step 2 - Find the biggest content opportunities within that market with SEMrush’s free trial
Once you know what industry you want to work with and the copywriting service you offer, you need to figure out what to write about.
All we’re trying to do here is create one pillar piece of content.
In time, you’ll build out supporting pieces of content around that pillar to help you rank better.
But today, we’re just gonna get going with a single, high impact topic.
The best way to find out what you should be writing about is with a tool created specifically to find great content ideas. And we’re gonna be using SEMrush.
It’s one of the best tools out there for content marketing because it also allows you to pull in data from paid advertising that’s live on the web, and you can get this done with their free 7 day trial.
Here’s what we’re gonna do.
Finding your first high-impact piece of pillar content
To reiterate what I said before, you don’t want to write something you think is interesting or useful.
I see a lot of freelancers write content like “My writing process” which is great if you’re targeting other writers or you’re a huge name in the industry. But most of us ain’t, and so this isn’t going to appeal to your clients.
Your clients are going to worry about things that impact their bottom line.
All this takes is a slight reframe in many cases.
For example, a generic piece on “My writing process” could be switched to something like…
“The content writing system that’s helped BRAND X double their content output ”.
It’s still, in effect, the same piece. But the angle is slightly different. It’s more focused on the client and the goals they want to increase.
So, we want to find that first piece you’re going to produce.
When you’re following these steps, you want to look for things that…
- Can be tied back to a solid business KPI.
- Are specific to your industry, but generic enough to be felt by the majority of brands in that industry.
- Are on a topic where you can create something actionable.
You’re gonna first want to head to SEMrush and sign up for the free 7-day trial.
Once you’ve signed up[ and logged in, find the “Content Marketing” tab on the left hand side and then the “Topic Research” tab.
That’ll bring up a screen where you can search for particular topics or a particular competitor.
If you have a competitor in mind, someone who is doing the work you’re doing and you KNOW to be generating a lot of traffic, use their site as a starting point.
If you don’t have that, go for the topic.
In this example I’m still running with the concept of a content marketer for SaaS.
So I might search for SaaS content marketing.
Type in your search and hit return.
On the next screen, be sure to hit the below two highlighted options.
- Click the explorer view to get a simple run down of the top content ideas
- Click the “trending topics first” to ensure the best ideas are pushed to the top
What we’re looking for here are topics and ideas that are a combination of 2 or more of the below…
- Out of date (in the above example you can see a topic titled “The state of SaaS marketing 2017”)
- Are tied to a key business metric like revenue, leads, reach, views etc
- Are actionable (you want the reader to go away and be able to action your advice, it helps establish you as an authority service provider rather than a “journalist”)
- Specific - X ways to do Y isn’t compelling enough. Nowhere near as compelling as How X achieved Y through Z
- Simple - or at least you make it appear simple. True mastery is demonstrated in being able to explain a complex idea simply
In the above example a few of the ideas that stick out are…
- How to Market to Customers When The Free Trial is Over
- How to Design a Free Trial Marketing Strategy that Converts
- How to Increase Free Trial Signups: 17 Proven Strategies
Here’s why I picked them.
“How to market to customers when the free trial is over”
“How to design a free trial marketing strategy that converts”
These are directly tied to a SaaS company’s needs of increasing free trial to paid user conversions.
If you can figure out a way to help more brands retain more of the free trial users and get them on a paid plan, you’ll get a lot of interested SaaS owners.
How could it be improved?
To improve this, I’d make it simpler and more specific.
Step-by-step guides are great for this because you’re basically saying “I know how to do this so well that I can teach you in a blog post”.
So something like - “The 3 step content strategy that helps SaaS brands convert more free trial users”.
It’s on the same topic, but it feels more specific and simple and is a great demonstration of expertise.
“How to increase free trial signups: 17 proven strategies”
This is the kind of content I hate. It’s super high level and will be written by someone who is literally pulling 17 ideas together into a list.
The information in it will be too high-level to be actionable and won’t identify the writer as a grade-A service provider.
The good news for us is, it’s easy to beat.
How could it be improved?
I would jump into this article and look at the 17 strategies. I would then find one I thought I could do well and figure out a detailed process of actioning it.
Then I would document that process and write something like…
“The 5-step content promotion approach that lifts free trial conversion by up to 42%”
You obviously need a real statistic to make the claim, but you get the idea.
We’re not trying to produce generic content any old freelancer who’s writing for $5 could.
We’re trying to show we know our stuff and can provide real results.
I would recommend spending a good deal of time, a few hours at least, trawling the results to find a handful of recurring ideas that you could write something specific, detailed, and actionable on.
If you’re struggling to come up with ideas, then do this. Scroll back to the top of the page and click on the “Cards” option to see a page like the below - also make sure to keep trending subtopics highlighted.
This will break down the results by the subtopic.
If there’s a particular subtopic you’d prefer to focus on, you can do it on that.
For example, if you really want to help people improve their free trial conversion rate, you can click on that card.
If you want to help people improve their SaaS landing pages, then click on that card.
Let’s take free trials as an example again. If you click on the card you’ll see a detailed read out where you’ll find 4 pieces of information.
- An overview of the overall monthly volume of searches, the difficulty, and efficiency (the perfect ideas have high traffic and low difficulty - the efficiency score gives you an indicator of whether it’ll do well for you on those metrics)
- The top headlines for that topic
- The most popular questions around the topic (which you can filter by how, what, why etc.
- Related searches if you want to get more specific
If you’re struggling to find a good topic idea from the overall searches, I recommend using the cards to focus on a specific issue.
Use the questions to figure out what people are asking, and then the headlines to see what kind of content people are producing.,
Find a question that’s popular but hasn’t had a proper, actionable response written about it and run with it.
Spend an hour or two finding something that has potential.
Don’t overthink this.
Again, done is better than perfect.
All you’re really looking to find is a question your audience is asking that you can answer with a specific, actionable piece.
And that you can help them improve through your copywriting skills.
Once you have something you think could work, move on to the next step and start writing.
Step 3 - Write your piece of content
Now you know what to write about to attract the attention of your ideal clients. The next step is simply to write it.
Here’s two points for writing this content. Points I’ve picked up over ~10 years and hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of words both written and edited.
- Done is better than perfect. On a site you own you can always go back and improve, amend, and edit any piece of content. Hitting publish is more important than it being perfect.
- You won’t be happy with it. I’ve never published a piece I was 100% happy with. There’s always something to improve.
In addition to these there are a few things you’ll want to follow when actually writing.
Use a tried-and-tested copywriting template
If you take the time to look through all of the top blog articles across the web you’ll notice that a good 90% of them all fit into one of a handful of different formats.
It’s the same for any kind of content or copy that’s being written.
There is - always - an underlying structure to the copy.
Could be someone adapting AIDA for the medium, perhaps PAS, or maybe something more detailed.
The reason people use structures like this is, quite simply, because they work.
So make sure your writing fits into one of the tried and tested formulas for effective online content.
A lot of very good copywriters have spent years devising these high-performing templates. You’d be a fool to ignore their advice and expertise.
And if you want a little help with that, download our pack of blog content templates. These are the templates I used to scale my agency to 5-figure months and I’ve used with clients to create articles that rank #1 on Google.
You can pick up the pack and associated video trainings on a pay-what-you-want basis, with a minimum payment of $10.
Create multiple headlines
And again, use tried and tested headline formulas.
I’ve seen the best results and growing in my freelance copywriting businesses when I use templates I know work.
There are tonnes of headline formula you could use. However, below are 3 of the most effective when it comes to blog content.
How to [ACHIEVE GOAL] by [DOING UNUSUAL THING] without [PAIN/TROUBLE]
E.g. How I generated $100,000 with a single blog post and ZERO promotion
The best [THING] to do X for Y
E.g. The best emails to get copywriting clients for new freelancers
The fastest way to do X… [UNUSUAL THING / QUALIFIER]
E.g. The fastest way to get freelance clients… it’s email!
Short sentences, short paragraphs
When writing for online mediums, you have to keep the sentences and paragraphs short. No one wants to read a wall of text.
It’s off putting and difficult to scan - which is how most people read online.
Use sub-heads to organise content
Sub heads not only help you manage the flow of your content, they also help with that scanning I mentioned above.
Well optimised sub heads can make or break a long form piece of content.
Write without thinking
Your first draft is supposed to be shitty.
It’s just the way it is.
So don’t try and go back after each sentence and edit it to perfection.
Instead, sit down and start writing. Let all of your thoughts and opinions flow through the outline you’ve started with.
That means ignoring typos, ignoring issues in the flow, and overlooking poor word choice.
Step 1 to writing well is writing poorly.
Just get what you want to say on the page.
Then, walk away for 24 hours or overnight.
Use Google Docs for drafts and editing
I’ve yet to find a better program for writing and collaboration.
The editing features for a team on Google Docs are the best around. It’s a completely free tool. And it integrates with a tool we’ll be using for help with editing.
The article you’re reading now was written in Google Docs, as were all of my sales letters, blog posts, planning and more.
It is, without doubt, the best tool. And the price point of $0 is agreeable for all.
Step 4 - Edit your piece of content
After you’ve given your eyes a break, it’s time to edit.
You see, good copywriting isn’t really written. It’s assembled, and then the real value is unearthed in the editing stage.
Editing is just as - if not more - important as writing.
Know that editing is not a case of running through your content 1 time and amending the odd typo. Not if you want it to be good that is.
The best copy editors take multiple runs at their copy.
Here’s how I recommend you do things.
Run through #1 is to check for flow and consistency issues.
You’re looking to see if the argument and opinion you make actually makes sense. If there are any segues that are weak or you need to clarify how you jump from point A to B.
Run through #2 is your spelling and grammar run through.
This is the one I struggle with most as I have chunky fingers and I write quickly. So my writing is full of typos.
Whilst I’m a pretty good proofreader after having worked as Head of Content and Chief Copywriter for several brands - there’s always something that slips through the cracks.
To help me minimise basic mistakes that could otherwise jeopardise how my readers view me, I use Grammarly (and I’d recommend you do too).
It. Is. Awesome.
I have it running as a Chrome extension all the time. And as I do most of my writing in Google Docs, it can check my writing as I’m writing it.
Even on the free account Grammarly will pick up things like basic spelling errors and typos.
However, if you’re a serious writer, you’ll wanna consider the paid version of Grammarly as it covers so much more. Grammarly Premium also helps you with...
- Clarity-focused sentence rewrites
- Tone adjustments
- Plagiarism detection
- Word choice
- Formality level
- Additional advanced suggestions
If you’re writing anything for your website - which you will be - you should definitely consider Grammarly. It is a life saver.
Plus, you get some cool readouts every month on how productive and accurate your writing is.
Give Grammarly a try now and see how much it’ll improve your writing.
Run through #3 is fact checking.
Any stats you’ve included, studies you’ve cited, or claims you’ve made need to be backed up and guaranteed as correct.
Your final run through should be making sure that everything that needs to be backed up with studies has the relevant link attached. And that the studies you use are still correct and accurate.
Also, you’re gonna want to make sure that the links to those studies are working.
Once you’ve done that, you’ve got everything you need in terms of the copy.
But if you really wanna make things pop, you’ll need some design help.
Making your writing pop with professional level design
Part of making money online is focusing on the things you’re best at and minimising time spent on the actions and efforts that don’t lead to a positive financial result.
As a copywriter, that means writing copy.
I’m not a designer. And despite my attempts at learning basic tricks in programs including Photoshop, it’s just not a smart use of my time.
Which is a shame because the right image can take good copy and make it absolutely incredible.
Look at any of the copywriters out there who are running 6-figure+ businesses and you’ll see they all have great design.
For a good deal of my career I had to resort to either hiring a good designer for my images or trying my best and wasting tonnes of time.
Thankfully, that’s no longer an issue because of Canva.
Canva is another freemium tool that allows you to easily create high quality designs by simply dragging and dropping great stock assets.
You can use the free account and get good designs. However, you’ll often be charged a single dollar for individual assets that fall under the “pro account” classification.
If you’re designing more than a handful of images every month, I recommend shelling out the $10 / month fee. You’ll save money in the long term and your designs will look 100X better.
Every image in this piece that’s not a screen shot was created in Canva.
What kind of images should you be creating?
Here’s a quick rundown of what it is you should be looking for (all of these were created in Canva).
Image type #1 - Your featured/cover image
This is a big one. You’ll need an image that reinforces the claim in your headline.
Try not to say exactly what’s in your headline, but put a supporting statement on the image.
This is the image that, when you share your article on social and in other areas, will automatically be pulled. So make sure it grabs attention.
Image type #2 - Simplification images
If there’s a key point in your article that might be difficult for readers to understand, ask yourself if creating a simple image around it would help people understand.
For example, telling people how to space their content is difficult to communicate properly.
But the right image - like the one below - can make that concept super easy to understand.
Image type #3 - Shareable quotes
You want people to share your content when they read it. One of the easiest ways to boost shares is to pull shareable quotes or thoughts from your content and put them into a simple image.
This just makes it easy for people to share things. And making actions easy to take, increases the chance they’re taken.
The number of images depends on the length of your content.
However, you want to use them to help break up the text and remove the chance of the dreaded wall of text.
When you scroll through your article, the places an image is needed will become apparent.
And creating awesome images to help your copy pop is incredibly easy in Canva.
Publishing your newly finished blog piece
Once everything is completed and you’re happy with your article, you’re gonna want to publish it through WordPress.
Here’s how to do that.
The first thing you’ll want to do is install the Yoast SEO plugin.
This will just help you optimise some basic SEO items like the Meta tags.
Log in to Wordpress and look for “Plugins” in the left hand nav bar. Hover over it then click on “Add New”.
This will open up the in-built plugin page.
Use the search bar in the top right and type in Yoast SEO.
Hit return to perform the search and you’ll see the below.
The first result should be the plugin you need.
Click the install now button and, once it’s installed, hit it again to “activate”.
Now, when you go to the blog post page you’ll have more options there.
Next up, we want to upload our article.
Head to “Posts > Add new” in the left and nav bar.
That will open up the new post page.
Add the headline you’ve settled on at the top.
Then, copy and paste the rest of your article from Google Docs to the body copy section. That should also bring over all images as well.
On the right hand side you’ll see two top level options of “Block” and “Document”.
Choose Document, and scroll down until you see “Permalink”. For the permalink, choose a short, 2-3 word summary of what you’re writing about.
For example, this article is all about setting up a freelance copywriting business, right?
That’s too long of a thought.
So I might go with “start-copywriting-business”. That would mean the domain for the article would be https://have-a-word.com/start-copywriting-business.
Keeping it short and very closely related to the topic will help it rank better.
Under that you’ll see the “featured image” box. Click “select image” and upload the image you created in Canva.
Then scroll down to the bottom to the Yoast SEO box.
The two things you want to worry about are the focus keyphrase and the meta description.
The focus keyphrase is what Yoast will use to understand whether this piece of content might rank for that keyword.
You want to pop your top level keyword in there.
So for this article, that might be “start freelance business”.
It’s just an indicator though and not 100% accurate. However, I recommend following the advice it gives on how to get your article to rank better.