What is Freelance Copywriting?
Freelance copywriting is the writing of text for a client in any form. It could be blog or social media posts, product or service descriptions, marketing text or anything else. As with 24-hour news, lots of people are wondering how to fill the space they have for content, how to 'feed the monster'. As with 24-hour news, this has led to a lot of cheap, low-quality content. However, some people are looking for something different.
Clover is an Australian FinTech, based in Melbourne working on the automation of investments. They stated in an advert that they were looking for a blogger to write data-rich, high-quality, unique content. How do you do this, though? How do you do write for a client on the other side of the world?
I'd enjoyed writing content in the past, but it had been with a 'content farm.' When you're writing that kind of content, there's never enough time to do a good job. The deadlines are always tight and the low pay means that it's in your best interest to hammer out the words. Having studied creative writing and copy-editing, I always wanted to write to a higher standard and in more detail. The 'content farm' days provided me with solid experience, though. This helped me approach Clover with some confidence.
Clover's ad was clear about what they wanted, so I took care to respond to it in a detailed way. This might sound obvious, but it's easy to lose sight of and talk about what you want to talk about. By giving some detail, I also showed that I was willing to engage with the type of content they wanted and that I had ideas. The example of my work that I linked them to wasn't anything I'd written in the content farm period, but one of my blog posts here.
Anthony Ryan at Clover responded and we discussed options for what I could write by email, then by Skype. The option that we agreed to go with was how Aussie Rules players need to take a long-term view of their finances. This resonated with me because I'd watched the AFL a lot in the past. A few years earlier, I'd seen a documentary on the seriousness of concussions in the NFL. We arranged a Skype call which lasted about 12 minutes. The fact that we were on opposite sides of the planet wasn't a problem for either of us (yet). I enjoyed the no-nonsense approach of that call and Anthony gave me the go-ahead at the end.
Taking a Thrashing
After getting the job I felt on top of the world. Two days later my schedule was clear and I could begin. However, that morning I woke up with the flu. The last thing I felt like doing was getting deep into researching and understanding data. There was nothing to be done, though, I needed to get stuck in.
I realised straight away how much leeway Anthony had given me with my 1,000 words. I began with research, building up dozens of links on player salaries, taxation, superannuation, graduate salaries, the housing market, financial and social trends, and concussions. I was keen to get as much information as I could so that I felt on top of the topic. After a while, I felt able to start sifting through it to draw out what could be really used. So although we had a topic, it was the data that drove the content. As soon as I learned how little AFL rookies are guaranteed, it made sense to compare that with what BA graduates in Australia received. This was a comparison that was just begging to be made. When people see average salaries for AFL players of over A$300,000, do they consider that rookies are guaranteed less than A$60,000? What really stood out in the bar chart I created though was the gap between what AFL an NFL (American Football) rookies are guaranteed.
The second block was dedicated to a similar comparison with people earning an average salary. The third block comparing the potential superannuation (pension) of a theoretical player and non-player was bread and butter work. It was lots of feeding numbers into calculators, but the result was worth it. The outcome was surprising, to say the least. The short playing careers of AFL players makes for much smaller superannuation pots than you might think, much less than that of a non-playing professional whose long, injury free career pays off. Players do have a new advantage in the form of the AFL Players' Association (AFLPA) investment fund, but the range of fund options available to players made it impossible to include this.
The biggest example of being data-driven though was the subject of concussions. I'd expected this to be a small, finishing element. Instead, the research I found drove it forward to become a new fourth block to the post. Learning that concussion can cause lifelong problems such as difficulty putting a key into a lock was chilling. The discovery that concussions are commonplace made it important to me to balance this against what they're paid and their capability to make good decisions after retirement.
I'm here with Brent Reilly
Just one thing was missing from the story: the hero. Anthony wanted a fresh interview rather than recycle something in the public domain. This was the most intimidating issue for me. I had no experience in securing interviews and had no idea where to start. This is one of the most common traits of freelancers - committing to doing something and then figuring out how to do it!
I reached out to AFLPA for additional data and for help in reaching a couple of retired players. It was at this point that the eleven hour time difference between London and Melbourne began to tell. Making phone calls at 11pm to the other side of the world when recovering from the flu isn't something I'd recommend, but there was no other way. I was originally directed to the wrong person at AFLPA (sorry Warwick) but Jenna Handreck was able to step in and secure the data. I also needed an interview with a retired player, someone who'd experienced concussion and had to make financial or career decisions in the aftermath. Unfortunately, she wasn't able to facilitate contact with retired players as AFLPA works with current players only. I hadn't wanted to be pushy by approaching retired players myself, appreciating that they had new lives now. Now I had no choice but to be pushy. I'm not sure that I expected anyone to respond, so Brent Reilly's clear and positive response was a ray of daylight.
Brent's atypically long career had been brought to a sudden end by a freak training injury in February 2015. Now working on Project Discovery at the South Australia Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) he was happy to answer some questions, with SAHMRI's Bridgette Whittle facilitating contact. The addition of Brent's answers provided just what Clover and I had wanted all along: a human touch. Without it, the content could have been interesting but dry. Brent's answers took the edge off the data and illustrated the importance of a human element, a hero. Brent had been faced with fewer problems than I'd expected because he'd been well supported and taken a prudent view of his future. This 'getting ahead of the game' approach was in-chime with Clover.
Integrating Brent's answers came with their own challenge - my mother died an hour after they arrived. Thankfully Anthony was patient, appreciating that my head wouldn't be in the game. I was able to get to get back to work about a week later. After a couple of edits, I sent the post to Anthony. I'd been expecting to receive a list of edits back, but he decided to do the edits himself, appreciating that I might not be 100%. With that, my job was done. Clover would be taking care of the content marketing, though I did pass on to Anthony a list of who needed to be informed, along with some suggestions.
Working on this was a great experience. I learned a lot about what I was capable of, pushing myself through illness and loss to complete my work. The way in which the information I found directed what I wrote was perhaps the most exciting thing of all. I've emerged with a deeper understanding of my own capabilities, how to navigate hurdles along the way and a boost to my confidence.
There's just one downside...the post hasn't seen the light of day and never will. Anthony began the process of leaving Clover at some point after I submitted my work and it appears he was too busy tying up his responsibilities there to do the edits. Yes, this is frustrating, but it's all part of the freelancer's life. Securing work is difficult at the front-end and the client doesn't have to use it at the back-end. Anthony was diligent and ensured that I was paid somewhere in between at least. I'd still have loved to see the hard yards I put in during a difficult period materialise into something tangible, though. Most of all I'm sorry for Brent Reilly who took time out of his work schedule on something more important to answer questions. He did so in exchange for a platform to talk about his work, only for that platform to never emerge. Thankfully I'm going to be able to correct that. I reached out to Clover and Elise Aplin has said they're happy for me to publish both the interview with Brent along with extracts of the blog post. Brent, Project Discovery and SAHMRI may not receive the platform that they deserve, but I'll provide the best I can. I'll take care of that in my next post here.
I hope this post has given you a deeper understanding of freelance copywriting. The freedom is great, but securing work can make for an anxious existence. Are you a copywriter? What was the first job that challenged you? Please tell me all about it in the comments.