Last weekend, I met up with a writer friend who is thinking about going freelance and she wanted to know my thoughts. My answer to this question is always the same – ‘it depends’. Freelancing is not for everyone and of course it’s a risk going out on your own when you’re used to the security of permanent employment.
Taking the plunge into freelance copywriting
I left my job in the public sector five years ago. It was a big risk and many friends and family members thought I was slightly mad for leaving the security of a well-paid job, with a final-salary pension, to take my chances in the freelance market.
But, for me, it was the best career decision I’ve ever made. I’d often considered freelancing over the years. I’d had some really interesting in-house copywriting and communications roles, but I always knew that I would want to try freelancing at some point. I put off this decision for far too long – worried about how my partner would cope with the mortgage and bills on his own if things didn’t work out.
So, what changed my mind? Well, I went on maternity leave and it was this career break that made the difference. In truth, I had outgrown my job and needed a fresh challenge. It took a life-changing event to change my perspective and enable me to see things differently.
However, I didn’t leave my job because I became a mother. In fact, returning to my old job would have been the easy option. Starting a business certainly isn’t easy. I was juggling my life as a new mum with writing a strategy, setting up a website, putting together a marketing campaign, getting to grips with the financial aspects and building up my client list. I was fortunate to have a supportive husband and family who never doubted my ability to make it work (even if I did at times). I still remember stuffing tins filled with alphabet sweets for my first marketing campaign at 1am one morning. But it paid off as this campaign secured an agency contract for me in the early days.
I was fortunate that several former colleagues and bosses sent work my way in the early days while I was getting established. But I also had to win new business and convince prospective clients to choose me over a well-established competitor or an agency with 15 copywriters available on tap. And this is still a challenge to this day!
Starting out as a freelance copywriter
One of the obvious benefits of being a freelance copywriter is the flexibility. You can choose your hours and the type of work you take on. But there’s the flip side too. There are no colleagues to bounce ideas off or share your frustrations! So, over the past few years, I’ve got to know other copywriters and fellow business owners who provide a great listening ear when I need to sound off.
At the start, I had to get to grips quickly with the more mundane aspects of running a business – such as filling out a tax return. I found the financial aspects a bit soul-destroying if I’m honest. Despite this, I’ve always completed my own tax returns rather than farming them out to an accountant – perhaps it’s the control freak in me. But, actually, I’ve learnt a few life skills in the process of doing this sort of stuff – which has definitely pushed me outside my comfort zone.
Marketing on a small budget
One of the first challenges when I started out was deciding how to market Bright Words on a very limited budget. As the owner of a small business, I didn’t have the luxury of feedback from focus groups or extensive market research. I’ve tried lots of different approaches, including pay-per-click advertising, print marketing, flyers, small-scale sponsorship at a golf event and even BNI networking – which proved to be a very scary experience. Some have certainly worked better than others – more on this in an upcoming blog.
Getting to grips with social media
I started freelancing in the relatively early days of social media, so I had a lot to learn about Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I read up online in the evenings and also attended some courses. There is a lot of hype and mystery around social media. But, it’s relatively easy to master the basics.
Social media can be very time consuming, so I’ve focused my activities on a limited number of channels. Facebook has been useless for me as a freelance copywriter, but I’ve gained several new clients (including one global brand) by linking up on Twitter.
In fact, I’ve learnt that it’s good to be cheeky on social media. I’ve found several prospective clients on LinkedIn and messaged them directly. This ‘forward’ approach does not come naturally to me, but it has paid off in the shape of regular, ongoing work and clients who have stayed with me to this day.
For me, one of the biggest challenges has been the working environment. Previously, I’d worked in an open plan office with around 100 people but nowadays I work from home on my own. For this reason, I make a concerted effort to meet up with fellow freelance copywriters and other business owners during my working week. I need this for my sanity. It’s easy to become isolated when you’re working home alone.
Having said that, I also enjoy the freedom that comes with working on my own and being able to shut the door when I need to write and focus without distraction. These days, I don’t have to put up with ‘Sean’ from Sales having loud discussions over my desk.
Are there any guarantees?
Over the past few years, I’ve steadily grown my client list – this certainly didn’t happen overnight. In the early days, I went through dry spells but, at other times, I was also inundated with work. At times, I even had to turn away some new clients – which wasn’t ideal. So, over time, I’ve built up a network of trusted copywriters who can share the load during particularly busy spells so I don’t have to turn away work. And often, these copywriters will return the favour too.
There are no guarantees in freelance copywriting. I still get peaks and troughs in my workload. And, of course, that’s the beauty of it. You never know what will land on your desk next. In the past few weeks, I’ve written for a tea consultant, builder, planning consultancy, engineering company and a healthcare organisation. And I love the diversity of this work.
Clients will also come and go for many reasons beyond your control. When I first started freelancing, a very experienced copywriter told me never to become too reliant on one client and to keep juggling lots of balls in the air. I think that sums up freelance copywriting rather well.
Many people are wondering why on Earth Donald Trump decided to manage his own Twitter account. Whatever your politics, you’ll probably agree that it’s not doing him any favours right now.
Quite apart from the sudden outbursts and poor diplomacy on Twitter (and elsewhere), it’s perfectly obvious that Donald Trump can’t spell either.
A PR disaster
Newspaper journalists have devoted endless column inches to Trump’s spelling attempts. Just last week, The Telegraph reported that he had made three attempts to spell ‘hereby’ correctly – trying both ‘hearby’ and ‘hear by’ before getting it right.
Trump’s poor spelling only served to undermine the message in his tweet. He had been trying to prove that Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic Leader, was lying about a meeting with the Russian ambassador but it was his spelling that attracted more attention.
It’s not the first time that Trump’s spelling has come under fire. Several times over the past six months, journalists have commented on Trump’s inability to spell key words such as ‘unprecedented’ (he spelt it ‘unpresidented’) or ‘honered’ (US spelling: ‘honored’).
The problem here is not Trump’s spelling but his decision not to get it checked. It just looks sloppy. If he can’t spell check his work, can he really be trusted with the nuclear codes?
I’m guessing his advisors are probably too frightened to tell him that he needs a spell checker.
Is spelling your forte?
For many years, I worked in corporate marketing, which often involved dealing with senior board members. One particular CEO was terrible at spelling and there were often typos on her blog. I once mentioned this in passing to her communications manager who told me, “Well, I think the spelling mistakes just show that her creative juices are flowing and add to the authenticity of her writing”. I couldn’t have disagreed more. They just made the CEO look silly, frankly.
Of course, spelling is not everyone’s forte. We all make mistakes at times – even trusty copywriters!
So, it’s worthwhile following a few simple guidelines to minimise any potential typos. These are vital – whether you’re putting together a blog, a letter, a website or any kind of communication.
Top tips for proofreading
- Always proofread your words before hitting ‘publish’. Read your words once for sense and once for spelling and grammar. Read unnaturally slowly – proofreading can’t be done in a hurry.
- Leave time between writing and proofreading if you can. This will enable you to spot errors that may not be obvious initially.
- Find a quiet setting for your proofreading – away from music and chatter. I find it virtually impossible to proofread in an open plan office – there’s too much distraction. If you work in this kind of environment, find a quiet space, such as an empty meeting room, for your proofreading.
- Read the words out loud.
- Check the headings and page numbering separately from the main body of the writing.
- Check proper nouns (e.g. names of companies) and ‘little’ words (e.g. ‘of’, ‘in’ and ‘an’) particularly carefully.
- Proofread on paper rather than reading on screen. You are far more likely to spot errors this way.
- Run your work through a spell checker. This won’t pick up every error but it’s still worthwhile.
- Avoid proofreading if you’re tired or if it’s very late in the working day.
- Get someone else to check your spelling and grammar. Your mind can play tricks when you’re reading back your own words. Get a fresh set of eyes on your writing. This is my number one tip.
- Employ a professional proofreader – this is a very worthwhile investment.
If you follow these top tips, you won’t go far wrong. If you’d like further information about our professional proofreading services, please get in contact with Bright Words.
Look, for example, at the huge interest shown in the display of 888,246 ceramic poppies at the Tower of London, with each one representing a fallen serviceman from the war. It’s estimated that five million people visited this amazing piece of art.
Storytelling at its best
There is also the Sainsbury’s Christmas advert, which depicts the famous meeting between the British and German armies in no man’s land on Christmas Day 1914. In the ad, the soldiers lay down their weapons and one British serviceman gives his German counterpart a bar of chocolate in the spirit of Christmas. The ad had eight million views online in its first week. Sainsbury’s even brought out a commemorative chocolate bar, which has been selling at a rate of 5,000 bars per hour – with some of the proceeds donated to the Royal British Legion.
A treasure trove of memories
I’ve always been fascinated by WW1 – partly due to my grandfather’s involvement as a fighter pilot. He died when I was young but left us a treasure trove of mementoes with war diaries, written almost daily from 1914 to 1918, alongside family letters and photographs.
My grandfather’s diaries, in particular, provide a personal and historical narrative of the time. He recounts enlisting, his fears about being sent abroad, his military training, his relief when the armistice was announced and even his great sadness at the death of his mother during the 1918 flu epidemic. I recognise that I am very lucky to have such personal histories and, through these stories, I feel a very personal connection to the time.
Connecting with your audience
On a professional note, I am a great believer in using storytelling to connect with an audience. That’s why I encourage clients to tell their own personal stories – say, about the launch of their company or their personal success, to help connect with their audience.
I found a great example of storytelling when I visited Stourhead, a local National Trust site, recently. The estate was opened up to wounded soldiers who were recuperating during WW1 and the then owner’s son was also killed in the conflict in 1917. Personal recollections and diary entries from the time are used to guide younger visitors around the site, helping to educate them about the Great War in a dynamic and lively manner.
It’s a great way to bring the past to life – and keep the memories alive of people who gave and risked their lives for us all.
As a copywriter and marketer, I keep a close eye on the success of new companies in my home city of Salisbury. I was therefore delighted to read that the My Trusty® body butter had scooped silver for ‘Best New Body Care Product’ in the national Pure Beauty Awards last month, beating off competition from Molton Brown, Yardley and Mio.
My Trusty is part of the innovative skincare range developed by my local hospital – the Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust. The range was first launched in 2013 with My Trusty’s Little Sunflower Cream. The cream was developed at the hospital more than 20 years ago for patients recovering from burns and plastic surgery. It has proved hugely popular over the years, with many patients using the cream long after their discharge.
An innovative venture
Such was the demand that the hospital decided to embark on an innovative venture to launch the cream on the beauty markets – with all the profits ploughed back into patient care.
The success of the cream has led to two further products – the body butter and a new face and body oil. In my humble opinion, the body butter is one of the best on the market. It’s silky smooth with a wonderful aroma of neroli, bergamot and orange.
The My Trusty skincare products are specially formulated for use on dry and sensitive skin. All products are free from colours, parabens and lanolin and they are not tested on animals.
National marketing success
The My Trusty story has attracted interest in the national media – with The Daily Mail and The One Show both featuring items on the My Trusty range.
What makes the recent award win all the more remarkable is that My Trusty was competing against the giants of the beauty sector and well-established brands such as Molton Brown and Yardley.
These are companies that spend millions on their marketing each year. Now, I don’t work for My Trusty and I’m not getting paid to endorse their products but I suspect that their marketing budget is just a little smaller – making this achievement all the more incredible.
Even more importantly, it’s wonderful to see that our local hospital, and patients, are benefitting from this local success story.
For further information on the My Trusty skincare range, go to: http://mytrusty.co.uk/
If you’ve watched any TV recently, you may have caught the new M&S food adverts. They’re the ones with the spinning eggs, the exploding berries and the irresistibly catchy tune.
The 60-second ads show a series of quick-fire, close-up shots of M&S food to the soundtrack of one of the most popular songs of 2014, ‘Rather Be’ by Clean Bandit.
Within a day of the M&S campaign going live online, the ads had already notched up more than one million views on YouTube. M&S even had to double production of its delectable Jaffa orange bombe, one of the stars of the ads, to keep up with the resultant surge in demand.
Marketing at its best
So, what makes these adverts so popular? You won’t see any dancing girls, celebrity endorsements or hard sell in this campaign. Instead, you simply see delicious prawns sizzling on a barbeque, cheese melting over a chargrilled burger, mouth-watering profiteroles covered in chocolate sauce and a whole host of other edible delights.
The ads were put together by a small team of five in a small room in Paris, working with just a table covered in a black cloth and lots of M&S food. There are no expensive special effects, computer animations or voice-overs. The only trickery is some very clever use of time-lapse photography and a straw (to blow the little green pea across the screen at the end of the ads). Take a look here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZ4pctQMdg4
What’s crucial is that the ads focus on what’s important to M&S customers, namely the food, rather than any expensive gimmicks or sales strategies. In short, it’s the simplicity of the adverts that makes them so entrancing.
Clear and simple copywriting
You can, of course, apply the same philosophy to almost any kind of marketing. As a copywriter, I’m sometimes brought in by prospective customers to review their existing marketing strategies and offer feedback. Often, it’s the complex nature of a customer’s existing website or overall marketing that is letting them down.
So, my first job is generally to take a step back and look at how to strengthen – and simplify – their messaging to target their marketing more effectively. Research shows that the average web user has an attention span lasting just eight seconds. So, you have very limited time to ‘sell’ your products or services to prospective customers.
That’s why it’s vital to convey your message in a clear, direct and simple manner – just like the M&S ads. It’s not rocket science but it could make all the difference between whether or not you clinch a deal.
If you’d like to find out more about our clear and simple approach to marketing and copywriting, contact Karen Bright at Bright Words on 07767 252464.
Recently, I was talking with a local business owner about his plans for a new website. We were discussing the ‘about us’ page on his site, to which he replied, “I don’t want my name mentioned on my new website. I want to remain anonymous.”
This struck me as a really strange response as his business success was due, in large part, to his personal knowledge and experience in the retail sector.
For me, the ‘about us’ page is one of the most important parts of any business website. In fact, my own ‘about us’ page is the single most visited area of my website (with the exception of the home page).
So, why is it such a popular landing point for visitors?
Getting to know the real you
If you run a business, most customers will want to know a little about you before they invest their hard-earned money – particularly if you run a service-led company, such as a photographer or a builder. They want to know what sort of person they’re dealing with, what kind of experience you can offer and whether they can work with you.
For this reason, it’s absolutely essential that you create a positive impression of you as a person on your website.
Top tips for your website
Here are a few top tips to consider:
- Sell yourself. You need to explain how you’re equipped to deliver the services or products that you’re selling. So, if you’re a photographer and you’ve won lots of awards and worked in the industry for 20 years, say so. This isn’t a time for false modesty – be direct.
- Keep it concise. This isn’t the right time to re-live your life story or regurgitate your CV. Just give some salient points that help to draw in customers and get them interested.
- Keep focused on what you’re offering customers. Ensure that all the information you provide on your website is linked backed to what you can offer to your customers.
- Show your personality. Tell people a little about your interests and what gets you out of bed in the morning, give them an insight into your personality and what makes you tick.
- Avoid clichéd photos of your family and/or pets. Some would disagree with me here but giving the impression that you have lots of outside commitments may make prospective customers think that your focus isn’t really on the business. And that’s a risky strategy.
- Always include a professional photograph of you. Don’t just upload a shot taken on your recent trip to the Italian lakes or a selfie from your phone. Blurred or poorly lit shots taken from dodgy angles will give a poor impression of you and your business. Professional photos don’t have to cost a fortune (mine cost £75) and they’re well worth the investment.
Following these top tips will help you to create an ‘About us’ page that really sells both you and your business to customers.
This weekend, I was interested to read that Next clothing sales have overtaken those of ailing retailer M&S for the first time ever. Business analysts are putting this success down to better design, the success of the company’s online business but also, intriguingly, to its printed catalogue (the Next Directory). In fact, directory sales between November and December 2013 were a staggering 21% higher than the same period for 2012 and 12% higher for the year as a whole.
Who would have thought that, in this age of online shopping, a trusty old catalogue would play such a critical role in the success of a high-street chain?
The resurgence of print marketing
Like many women (and men), I’ve been a Next customer for years. I like their clothes and most of them are fairly reasonably priced. I also really like their catalogue. Buying groceries online may be ok but, when it comes to clothes, I enjoy browsing through a proper catalogue. Call me old fashioned but, judging by its recent success, this is a view shared by many other customers.
Anyone who has ever ordered a Next catalogue will know that it’s a weighty tome – this year’s summer catalogue is 750 pages long. Sending out a brochure of this size may not be particularly environmentally friendly. However, there really is no replacement for thumbing the pages of a well-designed, professional and attractive brochure.
Meeting the customer demand
This got me thinking about my own business and the needs of my customers. Unsurprisingly, the focus of my work has been online copywriting rather than print marketing in recent years. This isn’t a decision I’ve taken: it reflects the changing needs of my customers.
However, in the past year, I’ve received an increasing number of requests for printed leaflets, brochures and other documents from some of my larger customers. This includes FTSE companies and large public sector bodies. Could it be that we are seeing renewed interest in print marketing?
There is little doubt that online marketing is one of the fundamental drivers in business success in the 21st century. You only have to look at a company like Morrisons to see what happens when you ignore online marketing. This supermarket chain has struggled to keep up with the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury’s in recent years and this is partly due to its lack of a website (until 2013).
I firmly believe that there is still a place for printed marketing in our online world. In my view, most businesses need to find the right mix of old-fashioned online and print marketing to help drive business success.
I’ve recently been following a social media campaign from a major pharmaceutical company. In 2012, the company discontinued a range of over-the-counter medical products that my father uses. So, I offered to find out why they had been suspended and whether they would be available again.
My first port of call was the company’s Facebook page. Many customers had already complained and this is where their marketing started to fall apart. The company tried to reassure customers that the products had been temporarily suspended pending regulatory reviews. Each and every month, they assured customers that the products would be returning to shops ‘shortly’ but the timescales just kept changing.
By the summer, customers were beginning to get a little frustrated – but the company then insisted that their products would return in the autumn. By Christmas, many customers were angry, accusing the company of ‘lies’, ‘deceit’ and trying to fob them off. Some even came up with conspiracy theories – believing that these products had been discontinued to make way for cheaper and less effective alternatives. One customer even started an online e-petition and a Facebook campaign.
A PR disaster
As an independent bystander, it looked to me like a spectacular PR disaster for the company. For me, the issue wasn’t the delay in returning the products to the shelves but the lack of reliable, accurate information. In the face of constant criticism, the PR team would only confirm that the products would return ‘shortly’ – but this got a little tired after a while.
Just to add further insult, the company regularly posted trivial facts and figures on their Facebook page, including top tips to help customers manage their health with stress-relieving exercises. This approach served only to alienate their customers further. The products still aren’t back on the shelves and many customers are claiming they would never buy from this supplier again.
Be honest, upfront and realistic
The lesson in all this is that you can’t pull the wool over your customers’ eyes. Always be honest, upfront and realistic and never patronise your target audience.
Most importantly, keep communicating with your customers and, in an age of social media, don’t underestimate their power and influence.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about the importance of having a compelling business website. It’s a small but vitally important investment that will pay dividends in the long term. This has been brought home to me over the past few weeks.
A while ago, I needed the services of a builder. I don’t know a lot about builders and a friend kindly passed on five recommendations. Four of the five had websites and the last contact only gave a mobile number. So, what did I do? I wrote off the last one without even contacting them.
Giving your business ‘authenticity’
From the customer perspective, a professional website gives a company ‘authenticity’ and you have to ask yourself what kind of business doesn’t have a website these days? Potential customers don’t always want to phone suppliers direct. Sometimes, they prefer to have a look round your website and see examples of your work or products – so they can get an idea about you and your business before making contact.
Having a website can prove even more essential for mobile businesses. Last month, I visited a business fair and I came across a stall selling traditional toys for children. It’s just the kind of local, independent business that I like to support. I got into conversation with the business owner and I discovered that she doesn’t have a shop. So, I made the obvious assumption that much of her trade must come through online sales. Wrong! She doesn’t have a website. The owner generates her trade solely through fairs. In my view, this is cutting off a large potential revenue stream. As I’ve mentioned before in my blog, setting up a website doesn’t need to incur massive costs. It’s relatively inexpensive to get a website up and running – and I can recommend some great website designers who charge affordable prices.
Giving the best customer service
However, having a website is not enough on its own – you also need to make sure that your website is fully operational. It may seem obvious but I’m constantly surprised by the number of technical issues on business websites. Last weekend, I was visiting Southampton and I chanced upon a small independent furniture shop in a well-known shopping mall. Having found an item I wanted to buy, I took the website details so that I could do some measuring up at home. However, when I tried to access the site, I received the dreaded ‘404 file error’ instead. After a couple of further attempts, I gave up in frustration. This just goes to prove the negative effect that a poor online experience can have on customer sales. The problem actually made me question the quality of the company’s customer service and, indeed, their products more generally. The business must have spent a fortune on hiring premises in the shopping mall but it was throwing away valuable business with a poorly functioning website.
In short, don’t underestimate the importance of a professional, well-run website to your marketing activities. It could make the difference between losing or gaining a customer.