We all tell stories on our travel blogs. But it’s a very different experience to tell stories for someone else.
The copywriter’s job is to take themselves out of the topic and write in the voice of a brand that is not their own.
Sofie Couwenbergh enjoys this challenge. Alongside the work she does on her own site, Wonderful Wanderings, Sofie does copywriting for brands in the travel industry.
For this edition of Jobs for Travel Bloggers, Sofie is sharing how she got started in copywriting, where she finds writing opportunities and advice for anyone looking to get started in this field.
What was your first writing assignment outside of your blog?
To be honest, I don’t remember what my first freelance writing gig was, but I did have a job in writing even before I started the blog.
After I graduated, I started working at the Belgian press agency where I researched and summarized information on important historical events. This was a contract position, and so after a bit more than a year, when my contract had ended, I moved on into a copywriting and coordinating position at an international publishing house.
It was while I was still working there that I started the blog.
How did blogging pave the way for your career in travel copywriting?
When I started the blog, I did so in part because I wanted it to serve as some kind of writing portfolio. While I’d been writing professionally for two years at that point, I didn’t have clips from freelance writing gigs, and so I figured the easiest way to get samples, was to create them myself.
While I don’t remember what my first freelance writing job was, I do remember that I got it because people started contacting me. These were brands that had found the blog, and that wanted to know if I’d be willing to write content for them too. It was only after a few months of building up the blog that I actively started pitching paid writing assignments.
Up until today, the copywriting jobs I do are still a mix of things I’ve pitched myself and jobs I was contacted for by people in my network or brands who found the blog through Google or one of my social media channels.
Do you do copywriting in niches outside of travel? What are they?
I write interview-based advertorials for Discover Benelux magazine on a fairly regular basis. These can sometimes be about travel-related businesses such as hotels and restaurants, but I’ve also written about new technology in the fishing industry, packaging, and marketing agencies.
I love it because it puts me in touch with lots of different niches and allows me to learn about things I otherwise might never read or hear about.
Aside from that, I’ve done ghostwriting projects for clients under a non-disclosure agreement in different niches. These projects entail blog posts, but also e-books, and website copy.
The bulk of my freelance writing work is related to travel, though. I think it makes sense as most of the companies that contact me directly, find me through my travel blog.
How do most of your copywriting assignments come about? Can you recommend any job boards or resources for finding copywriting assignments?
I’m subscribed to Brian Scott’s freelance writing jobs newsletter, as well as to the Morning Coffee Newsletter from Freelance Writing.
I also check ProBlogger’s Job Board.
Mediabistro frequently publishes new writing jobs as well, but I find their job board a bit overwhelming and honestly only check it out when I’m procrastinating doing something else.
For travel writing, Caroline in the City does a great monthly round-up of websites and other publications accepting pitches both for paid and unpaid work.
Then I also keep an excel sheet with publications and brands I stumble upon while doing other things online and that I might be interested in pitching at some point.
However, most of my copywriting assignments have come through my own personal network, through the blog and some also via Facebook groups. I’m a member of some private groups for freelance copywriters in which members share leads and companies come to look for writers.
I have to admit that while I love copywriting, I don’t pitch myself heavily as a copywriter. Instead, I let people know this is something I do whenever I can, and I keep my eyes open for opportunities that seem interesting. I really recommend anyone starting out to work on building a personal network as the best gigs I’ve gotten have always been through networking and word-of-mouth.
Now, if you want copywriting to bring in the largest part of your income, it might take more than that, but as I’m not totally dependent on it thanks to the income I earn through my blog, this works for me.
Oh, you also might have noticed that I didn’t mention a site like Upwork. I’ve actually hired people through Upwork several times, but I’ve only been hired through Upwork twice, and in both cases, I applied for the job outside of Upwork, and my clients simply used Upwork as their hiring platform.
I know there are writers who can make Upwork work for them and do make decent money on it, but I haven’t put in the time yet to build a portfolio on there because I haven’t needed it.
Can you give us some examples of the brands you write for and how those opportunities came about?
At the moment, two of my biggest clients are Discover Benelux Magazine, for which I write the advertorials I mentioned before and Expedia. I started writing for Discover Benelux Magazine after a friend had forwarded their ad saying they were looking for a writer to me. It was a perfect fit, but I would have never found out about that job if that friend didn’t know I did copywriting work.
Expedia Netherlands has a Dutch Inspiration blog that I regularly write travel articles for and that gig I got because the girl who is in charge of the contributing writers is a friend of mine who knows I write in Dutch as well. As my travel blog is both in Dutch and in English, she had plenty of examples of my writing in Dutch and could hire me without having me do a test first.
I’m afraid most of the other work I’ve done was under a non-disclosure agreement, but I can say that most assignments came about either through my personal network (being recommended by someone or being contacted by someone who knew I did the kind of writing they needed), through brands finding my blog and asking me if I could write for them or through making connections with entrepreneurs on Facebook who were rocking their business, but needed someone to do the writing.
How does the writing process for other brands differ from the writing you do for your blog?
It really depends on the assignment. For ghostwriting an e-book, for example, I spend more time researching and categorizing data than I do writing, while for the advertorials I do most of my material comes from the interviews I do with the companies I’ll write about.
In general, I’d say the main difference is that the writing I do for my blog is practically always experience-based and thus it requires a lot less research and a lot more “other things,” like doing keyword research, than when I’m writing for clients when I can focus purely on the text.
How would you recommend someone find their first copywriting opportunities if their experience thus far lies solely in blogging?
First of all, add to your Work With Me page that copywriting services are something you offer.
Secondly, I’d start pitching “close to home.” That means that if you’re a travel blogger, you pitch travel publications and brands. That way, you can use your blog as your portfolio and expand from there.
There’s a lot of different things you can do with travel writing. You could start with writing blog articles for a brand’s website and transition into writing travel gear reviews, hotel descriptions, and website copy. Once you’ve got that range of different text styles, you can go outside your niche and use your travel work as samples for work in other niches in the same style.
Of course, if you know you only want to write website copy – for example – then you should focus on that. But I think that when you’re getting started, it’s not bad to try different things and see what you like best, and what you’re best at (which isn’t necessarily the same).
Has your work in copywriting helped you become a better blogger? How so?
Good question. Maybe we should ask my readers 🙂
One thing I’ve noticed is that I love doing commercial copywriting for brands but find it much more difficult to sell to my audience. Weirdly enough, it’s easier for me to “just do my thing” when I’m writing for someone else than when I’m writing for myself, so I probably should switch to my copywriting mindset a bit more often when I’m writing for the blog.
What do you find most challenging about writing for other brands?
Not the writing itself, but getting all the information you need and dealing with clients who keep changing their minds about what they want can sometimes be frustrating.
What do you most enjoy about copywriting?
Getting down to the essence and being able to put into words what someone else wants to say.
If a blogger is interested in breaking into a career in copywriting, can you offer any advice on how to land their first assignment?
Go for a gig that’s related to something you already have experience with and showcase that experience. Includes samples, tell them why you’re right for the job, but keep it brief and to the point. Your pitch is just as much a sample of your skills as your actual samples are.
Other than writing, what skills are important to focus on if you want to make money with copywriting?
Patience and being able to creatively deal with deadlines. Once you write for someone else, you’re dependent on them. For some assignments, this is more so than for others, but you’ll almost always need input, instructions and sometimes material from someone else to be able to do your job.
They might not be as responsive as you’d like and they might not care about your deadline as much as you do – even when they’re the ones who gave you the deadline.
Politeness and zero-fuss. Everything will go so much easier when people like working with you.
What are your goals for copywriting in 2017?
I want to be a bit more pro-active in pitching so that I can get my foot in the door in a few new niches. I set myself the goal of pitching 20 brands I never had contact with before this year. You can ask me next year how it went!
Are you a travel blogger who’s looking for different types of jobs? Check out our other posts in this series. So far we’ve covered “Local Tour Guide” and “Communications Consultant.”
Also, be sure to sign up for the TBS newsletter so you don’t miss our next post on jobs for travel bloggers!