Side Hustle Stories: A freelance email marketer shares how he built his portfolio

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Mikey Rox

Mikey freelances in email marketing.

This article is part of the Side Hustle Stories.

The odds are pretty high that you have checked your email inbox today.

And you’re not the only one.

In fact, so much communication takes place via email that you’ll find a lot of companies looking for help with their email campaigns.

If you can help them interact with their email lists in a more profitable fashion, then you’re a valueable catch. And that’s exactly what Mikey Rox does.

I’ll let Mikey tell you about his freelancing efforts in his own words.

What he does

I have two main jobs, essentially.

I’m hired for my copy skills to write daring, hip copy for clients, which helps further establish their brand and keeps the reader interested. The other part of my job is as a creative consultant.

Based on the metrics from the client’s email campaigns, I suggest ways the messages can be improved by comparing and testing subject lines, artwork, the types of deals they’re offering, integration of social media, and PR. I’m also a big stickler for consistency.

So many business owners overlook the identity part of a brand. I work with them to make sure imagery and copy is consistent across their multiple platforms.

What he gets paid

It really depends.

For one of my major fashion clients, my fee is much higher than it is for a one or two person organization. One reason is that this particular client requires more copy more frequently than a client who is sending an e-mail once or twice a month. The retainer on that account is $1,500 a month.

But I’ll also work with a client to fit into their budget, especially if it’s a start-up.

I know what it’s like to start a business with no money, so if a prospective client wants to hire me but can’t afford my usual rate – which varies depending on the scope of work – we can often work out a deal with which we’re both satisfied.

For instance, I recently took on a client who could only pay $25 per e-mail for which he wanted me to write copy. I agreed, with the caveat that if my copy increased his open rate after five email broadcasts then the fee would increase to $50 per e-mail.

The hardest part of the job

For me, the hardest part is getting clients to let go of their old ways and try new tactics.

Every client has hired me because of my willingness to rock the boat, but often when it comes time to shake things up they get scared. I totally understand that this is their business, but I have to convince them that it’s my business now, too.

While I have daring ideas, I’m not out to destroy someone’s livelihood and wash my hands of the situation. A win for the client is a win for me.

That said, every campaign isn’t always a win. That’s why we keep testing and implementing new ideas. We run with what works, we abandon what doesn’t.

But no matter the outcome, I’ll be there every step of the way.

How you can start being an email marketer

There are three things, in my opinion, that you need to have if you want to start selling your email marketing skills.

  1. A portfolio of past projects so the client can get a good idea of your style and creativity.
  2. A client list that helps establish your credibility as a great copywriter.
  3. Results from the campaigns that you’ve written so prospective clients can see how you’ve helped other clients increase open rates, click-throughs, forwards, and so on.

It’s sort of a Catch-22 in that if you don’t have past experience in this field, few people will hire you.

Of course, there’s always someone willing to give a new freelancer a chance — especially if the client can’t afford a more established copywriter.

How to build your portfolio

If you’re starting from scratch, then offering free services is sometimes necessary. In fact, I would suggest doing a few campaigns without charging a fee. It helps build relationships and your portfolio, which will help you sell your services down the line. Another place that freelance creatives can build a portfolio is by working at an agency or with projects they did during school.

I’ve kept every project, and I would show whatever I had at the time to prospective clients. As my projects increased along with the quality of the work, I started to show the newer pieces instead of the older ones. Anybody with common sense knows which projects are better than others, whether it’s based on the design, the level of copywriting, or the results.

You’ll get feedback from clients, too. I’ve had plenty of folks give their opinion on what pieces I should add or remove from my portfolio. That definitely helps, but I also use my own judgment. Everybody can’t be right all the time.

A lot of people jump on that, especially if they have a small budget or their results are already poor. And it’s even better if they are poor because then you can create case studies that show how your work improved the results of a particular campaign.

Ready to learn more?

Thanks for the advice, Mikey!

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3 Responses to Side Hustle Stories: A freelance email marketer shares how he built his portfolio

  1. Impressive!

    I particularly like his approach to payment. It’s about meaningful results, after all, and if a client can’t afford to pay the usual rate it’s because they don’t yet understand the results that he can generate. The model he describes is spot-on in addressing this challenge.

    Keep up the good work!

    • James Clear says:

      I agree, Robby. Pricing and payment can be a sticky subject, but it’s important not to get anxious or desperate. Having the courage to stick to your guns and charge what you’re worth — or devising a system that allows you to get what you’re worth — is an important quality for a freelancer.

      • Agreed – it’s nice to see a system that takes these challenges into consideration.

        So many people say, “Charge what you’re worth,” but don’t admit how difficult that can be if you’re just getting started. It’s nice to see a model that combines getting paid a decent rate after you’ve proven to a client that you’re worth it.

        Great stuff!

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