How Writing SOPs Helped Me Improve as a Freelance Copywriter

Birds fly. Fish swim. Copywriters write copy…

That’s what I was thinking, repeatedly, after I was asked to write a few SOPs for one of my retainer clients during a rare period of downtime.

(I just wasn’t too happy about it…)

So, in case you didn’t know, what are SOPs?

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are written instructions to achieve a consistent performance of a specific function.

Need to outsource an Adwords campaign or some blog posts? Write some SOPs detailing each step to ensure they are executed as smoothly as possible.

A few months later, and I’m glad I was asked to write some SOPs as they’ve helped me sharpen up a few areas as a freelancer.

Why I’m glad I was asked to write some SOPs…

Writing SOPs gave me new ideas

Most of my time as a copywriter is spent ‘outside the box’ (for lack of a better cliché). I’m playing with ideas, reshaping the structure as I try and bring it all together. Writing a SOP is the exact opposite.

But, while writing them, I kept coming up with ideas: blog post ideas, lead magnet ideas, email ideas, template ideas; they kept coming.

There’s some good that comes from working on a mundane task: whenever you shut down your creative side, after an hour or so your ideas bubble up and start screaming to come out.

I took a deeper look at my own processes

How many times has a colleague pointed out a flaw in your process? This is what you do to yourself when you write a SOP. And it got me thinking about my own processes as a freelance copywriter.

A few improvements I’ve made since writing SOPs

1. I share my process with new clients via Skype’s screen share

Some of my clients have had a bad experience with previous freelancers. The most common complaint: they seemed to lack any kind of process — leaving clients hanging on a string, chasing each day with emails until they receive the work.

Sharing my process on-screen via Skype has worked beautifully! It clears up most of the client’s questions that they’re waiting to ask. The last time I did this, the client hired me without even asking to see my portfolio.

Before, I’d just talk through my process and answer any questions — but having it written down, ready to share, gives clients instant assurance as they know what to expect when working with me.

Certainty — people love certainty — give as much of it as you can.

2. One ‘Copy Companion’ Google Doc for everything

It’s a flow killer needing to keep switching between tabs while you’re writing. Even the simplest of projects requires having lots of tabs open (buyer persona, client’s website, and a tonne of files submitted by the client etc.).

I made my own ‘Copy Companion’ template to keep all of the notes I need in one Google Doc. (Yes… I stole the name from my newsletter.) It takes a few minutes to set up but it saves a bunch of time over the course of a project.

3. I joined a coworking space

While I was assessing how I worked from top to bottom, I felt there were too many distractions at home: answering the door to take the neighbours’ Amazon parcels, noisy seagulls interrupting Skype calls, and knowing I have an espresso pot in the kitchen…

Working from home was fine when I started freelancing, but I got really bored of it and I didn’t want my work to suffer. Joining a coworking space has been a great move for me. I get SO much more done each day. And if it ever feels a little too routine-like, I’ll spend a day hopping between different coffee shops to mix it up.

SOPs instilled continuous improvement principles in everything I do

An SOP is never finished — if you think of a better way of doing a task, update the SOP.

I feel freelancers could benefit from taking a deeper look at their processes from time to time: writing copy or building a website, whatever — when I hear complaints about other freelancers it’s usually down to them being unorganised, not the quality of their work.

You automatically become your own project manager, accountant and many other things when you become your own boss. It’s understandable to see why some areas may be lacking process.

When someone’s looking to hire you, they’re looking at you as a complete package. Of course, they ultimately want a great end product, but they don’t want to be worried and frustrated while they wait for it.

Let’s pretend someone wants to buy you out… they want your one-man/woman company and you’ve accepted their offer. If you were to explain all of your processes to them, step-by-step — would they be impressed?

I ask myself that question a lot.

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