Being a member of the Pro Copywriters Network – an association that represents almost 1,000 pro commercial copywriters across the UK – comes with a lot of benefits. For an annual subscription, it gives me a whole lot of support as well as webinars, workshops, and a whole load of guest blogs with other copywriter’s who have ‘been there, done that’. It’s certainly excellent value for money and a subscription worthy of keeping up. But it also means I can get to shout about my story and how a copywriting life really works.
One of the areas on the PCN site is the Member Spotlight page. Here, pro copywriters get to answer a set of questions that shed some light on how they became a copywriter, their process, and their life as freelance or agency copywriters. Not long after I joined PCN waaaay back in 2015, I was asked to take part, and you can read the answers to that interview here.
Almost four years on from that first spotlight, still back in the mists of time now, the fine folk at Pro Copywriters asked me to do another one, this time under the ‘revisited’ banner. What have I been up to? How has my writing process changed? What lessons am I still learning? The answers to these probing questions were published on the Pro Copywriter’s site in early February 2020.
But, I’ve saved you the trouble of clicking various links and opening yet more browser windows by adding both Q&As in full below. You’re welcome.
Pro Copywriters Member Spotlight – 2015
Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
Practically my whole career has been spent around copy even though I didn’t really know it at the start. I’ve been in print, design and marketing for 20 years now, but I only got into copywriting because I was offered the chance to write the copy for a brochure by my old boss. Turns out he liked it and so did I, so that was my lightbulb moment!
What work are you most proud of?
I’m proud of all my work really, though I look back at some of my early copy and think ‘I wish I could do that again – it would be very different now!’.
I suppose I have a soft spot for a job I did a few months ago for an agency that required four 700-word articles in four days on digital self-service. Doesn’t sound too crazy, but I knew nothing about the topic and was still working full-time at my old job. The agency and the client were very happy and accepted them without changes which was a great confidence boost.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
I’m hungry, so I wish I’d written every good bit of copy I see! I do love the ads for The Economist, and the Swiss Life ads from the Leo Burnett agency are brilliant – so simple, but genius. There was also an advert for National Book Tokens recently which was glorious.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
Sometimes when you’re staring at copy and trying to make something work, the best thing you can do is just forget it.
Close the document down and shift your focus onto something else. Whether that’s updating your admin or checking emails, or something else completely unrelated to copy or work, whatever works for you for any length of time to get your head out of the problem. It can seem counterintuitive at times (especially with a looming deadline), but it works for me.
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
As a freelance copywriter, you’re asked to write about different subjects all the time, so I always look forward to researching any particular topic. But on the other hand, I hate having to do research on subjects I don’t know about or don’t like. It can be time-consuming and sometimes fruitless, but also an amazing journey of discovery. It’s a double-edged sword.
Any copywriting pet hates?
Trying to convince people of the benefits of using a pro copywriter to create their content. So many people see it as an unnecessary expense, especially when they’ve paid big money for a brand new website with all the bells & whistles. You feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall.
I also hate when some web or design agencies claim to be able to write content when they don’t know how to. They charge clients crazy amounts of money per page and end up providing bad quality, repetitive content with loads of typos and bad grammar. I’ve seen it happen.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
Don’t undersell yourself. “You might not have a vast amount of experience (although don’t underplay the experience you do have…) but if you have the skills, you should be fairly paid for them”. Jo Tidball said that to me and she’s right.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Read, write and practice as much as you can. It will take some time to figure out your own style and find your own voice, but just start writing. Reading a wide range of books, magazines and papers is good too, plus there are any amount of good books on copywriting that should be devoured. (2022 update alert: check out my list of the best essential books every freelancer should read or find out how to start your freelancing career with no experience).
What’s your favourite thing about being a pro copywriter?
Being freelance means the pure joy of keeping your own schedule and benefiting from working at home for large chunks of time. Plus, though I hated that commute to and from work, I love driving to networking events and meeting clients.
What I get the most pleasure from is actually helping people get the most out of their website or brochure. They’ve recognised they need good content and they’re happy with what I produce for them. Getting a genuine testimonial really gives me pleasure.
Where can people find out more about you?
Pro Copywriters Member Spotlight REVISITED- 2019
Since your first Pro Copywriters Member Spotlight interview, how has your business changed?
I don’t think anything has fundamentally changed since the first interview. But that was a little over 3 years ago, so now I’m clear on the type of client I want to work with. And I’ve refined my offering, certain practices, and my pricing. Those are organic changes that come with time and experience, but at the heart of it all, there’s still the desire to help clients with their copy.
What’s been your biggest success since your first Pro Copywriters Member Spotlight interview?
Probably the fact that I’m still here and doing it at all. It sounds a bit extreme, but when you’re a freelancer, everything is down to you – finding clients, getting work, getting paid, so perseverance and tenacity are key.
Why did you decide to focus on the kind of work you’re doing now?
My copy staples are blogs, case studies, and web pages. Those are my main focus and interest, and my main source of income. It comes down to not enjoying the process as much for writing emails or social media, so I decided not to promote those services anymore. I’ll still do them for clients if they ask though.
What are you enjoying most about your industry or niche?
I don’t have a niche. I’m a generalist and that’s what I enjoy most. Part of my decision to leave my old job was because I was writing about the same thing day in, day out. Having a variety of different businesses and different sectors to work with, all with different needs, is what fuels me.
What are you working on just now?
I’ve just come out of a crazy busy December and January – which included working with a new client on their customer messaging for their app, text, and email comms – so I’m just catching my breath right now. But I’ve got two web projects (both in their early stages), plus regular blogs and a couple of case studies scheduled so far for February.
Describe your desk and what’s on it
A lovely, big IKEA Bekant desk. I’ve always been a stickler for keeping a tidy desk, so as I write this I see my phone, a calculator, pens, A4 notepad, oh – and the iMac. I try and keep it fairly clear most of the time.
Tell us about your side projects
No side projects on the go. They’re not something I’ve ever had the desire to do. Unless you count getting case studies and blogs written and posted on my own website? That’s an ongoing side project.
How has your writing process evolved?
By working, almost incessantly, over the last 4 years, I’ve become more assured in my writing style while honing the ability to get the clients tone and personality into my work too. Through practice and experience, my confidence has grown too. Combined, they’ve helped the process overall, but as writers, we’re all constantly evolving our styles and processes.
What do you wish pro copywriters were more honest about?
I rarely think ‘I wish people would be more honest’ when it comes to copywriters. I feel like we’re a pretty honest bunch really. There are plenty of posts on LinkedIn or Twitter from pro copywriters who are displaying their honesty – from how much work they have/haven’t got, to their pricing or how to find clients. I don’t think there’s much we keep to ourselves or try and be evasive about.
What advice do you often hear given to newbies, but you don’t agree with? Why?
Not much at all. If there is something I don’t agree with, I check myself. That nugget of advice doesn’t/didn’t/wouldn’t work for me, but it might for someone else. As long as they persevere, read lots, and write daily – and remember their tax POA – then they’ll be fine.
Any lessons you’re still learning?
Plenty. How to juggle a bulging workload and how to cope with lean periods. Every day’s a school day. But I’ve learnt to be more relaxed about stuff and the writing process in general. I no longer feel I need to go at 100 miles an hour to get stuff done when I know many deadlines are largely arbitrary.
What’s something about your work that makes your inner copywriting nerd happy, but you’re not able to chat about enough?
I never feel like I can’t talk about anything like that. Twitter or the Freelance Group Slack channel is a great place to share those things because other pro copywriters will get it. But even at home, I’ll happily talk to my wife in an unrestrained, excited manner about any copy, good or bad, that catches my eye. She’s mildly interested, but on the whole, she humours me.
Want to find out more? You’ll find a couple of extra nuggets on my About page, but to kickstart your copywriting project, contact me today and we can see how I can help you and your business with your web and print copywriting.