Kate Waddon Copywriting

We all need words. Let me help you find the right ones.

Short and sweet – writing catalogue copy

I love writing catalogue copy, the challenge of telling stories with so few words. There’s a feeling of becoming a ten-second expert before moving on to the next product. The work is fast and fun; and a new catalogue job always results in excited squeaks and an instant flurry of typing.

My first catalogue copy job was about plush snakes, aimed at the zoo and museum gift shop market (“cuddly-with-a-difference”).  Writing catalogue text is a great exercise in the diverse and esoteric. I’ve recently written a bit of copy for an online shapewear supplier. There’s lots of jolliness to be had in the world of Spanx (copy-wise); and the big-sisterly tone is a total joy to write in. Earlier this year, I wrote and copy-edited for a coffee supplier’s online shop: as a confirmed caffeine addict, you have no idea how wired I was by the time I’d worked on this for a few days. I could almost smell the beans as I was writing; absolutely lush. Food and drink catalogue text has its own wonderful vocabulary – and I’ll leave it at that, as this sounds like the basis for a later blog…

Over the last couple of years, I’ve had the pleasure of working for Winchester Cathedral’s online shop. Writing for Winchester sometimes feels like window-shopping rather than work; I’m mentally putting together my Christmas lists as I compose the copy. The cathedral shop sells the kind of stock you would expect a cathedral shop to sell – various editions of the Bible, souvenir mugs and so on – however, they have all sorts of other gorgeous products, from Lladro figures for the serious collector through to wooden Noah’s Ark toys, and some fantastic stuff inspired by the cathedral’s architecture, history and characters. They keep the stock fresh by adding to it and changing it throughout the year (luckily for me), which is a huge advantage online catalogues have over paper ones.

One of the many reasons I enjoy writing catalogue copy for Winchester’s online shop is that aside from the physical description, we have the space for a sentence of two about the background of the product. For example, if we’re telling the customers about a new Green Man garden wall plaque, we can explain briefly how the Green Man is a motif found all over Northern Europe, curiously pagan for something that appears in cathedrals, and is believed to represent fertility. That’s a bit more engaging than “Stone-effect weather-proof garden ornament”  – and that’s why businesses use copywriters to create their catalogue copy.

Yes, the factual stuff needs to be in place, but the space the web guys allow for “Product Description” is also there for your sales pitch. A terse product name alongside its price and dimensions is not going to capture the wavering purchaser. An awareness of SEO (search engine optimisation) in the product copy is also going to help you win customers.

Crafting little histories for products is an art in itself. Have a browse through Winchester Cathedral’s online shop to see how the client and I worked together to create product descriptions that do more than just describe.

(Oh, and if the editors of the catalogues that fall out of the Radio Times are reading this, I’d love that gig. Now that would be an exercise in diversity…)

If you read just one (other) blog this week…

Follow Steph Jeavons on her journey as she and her bike Rhonda the Honda circumnavigate the globe.

I had the pleasure of working with (and having the odd beer with) the marvellous Steph a few years ago. As you’d expect from her blog, she is warm, funny and fantastically bold. But I’m not highlighting her blog just because I know her, or even because of her incredible adventure.  It’s because her writing is wonderful; and I love the way that this medium builds audiences for talented bloggers who do not consciously style themselves “Writers” (with a big W). For immersive, descriptive blogging, this is fabulous stuff. And she’s writing in a tent – huge respect.

http://www.stephmoto-adventurebikeblog.com/

 

 

The Scribe’s Tale

Another FAQ I get is “How did you get into copywriting?” We copywriters come from a variety of backgrounds; in my case, heritage and tourism. This probably explains why my original influence is an unexpected one – a little-known figure from the Middle Ages.

The itinerant scribe. These chaps (I’ve never heard of a female one) set up their little stalls at markets and Ye Olde Fayres, and offered their scribing services. They’d write anything (I’m resisting the urge to add “dot.com” to that). Legal documents, formal letters, I like to think informal letters too, notes for loved ones… I could do that! I thought. But I could do it, like, in these days! Not in a market! Indoors! With a laptop!

When I was deciding what career route to take, freelance writing seemed the obvious choice. I’ve always written. Whatever role I was in, I always got the writing gigs. From writing other people’s essays at school in exchange for contraband (don’t judge me) to the riveting “Checkout Evening Close-Down Procedure Manual” at A Big Supermarket, I always seemed to attract the wordy jobs. And then, during my Heritage Years, I was actually let loose on interpretation panels for visitors – and I loved it. So, with thousands of words behind me and the image of the little medieval scribbler in my mind, off I went.

Several years later, I still love it. I wonder if my medieval predecessor enjoyed the variety of his work. Like him, the contemporary copywriter will compose whatever the clients require – unlike him, we have discerning, educated clients who can actually read what we’ve written. I know that copywriting is not really a direct descendant of medieval scribing – but there is something rather wonderful to think of professional jobbing writers across the ages, metaphorically setting out our stalls and writing whatever you need.

Everything is written by somebody

“Just think about it”, said a fellow freelance copywriter when I was an innocent young newbie. “Everything you read – instructions, the back of the wine bottle, the car manual – was written by somebody. Usually people like us, just sitting in their houses being normal and drinking coffee.”

We were working on my first package copywriting job. This was a professional Damascene moment: the world was full of gaps that needed to be filled with informative text, and I was one of the people that could do that! All that potential…

These days, I never switch off. I proofread menus. I go to a gallery and don’t even notice the paintings because I’m entranced by the language on the label. I will get halfway down a set of assembly instructions then get completely distracted by the text. Writing is everywhere, and all of it was written by somebody.

So here I sit, quietly blogging away before I continue with today’s project. Next time you read the label on some everyday item or other, there’s a chance that it’s written by a freelance copywriter, possibly in their own kitchen, probably wearing clothes they’d never go to the office in, definitely with a cuppa. I’m the anonymous voice of your biscuit pack – funny old life, really.

 

 

Controlling remote

Like many freelancers, most of my work is carried out remotely. I occasionally have new clients expressing concern that they won’t actually meet me, and I think it’s reasonable to feel apprehensive about this. After all, how can you build rapport with someone you never see?

Based in Cornwall, I rarely get to attend actual meetings. Many of my clients are at least 100 miles away (or “upcountry” as we all call it, with a lovely geographical vagueness). At the tip of the country, West Cornwall has a rich seam of freelance creatives: here, remote working is a cultural norm.

Of course, we have some great technological assistants: Skype and FaceTime are fantastic and accessible to most people, and the good, old-fashioned telephone shouldn’t be forgotten. Sharing photographs and short films helps the writer get the sense of a place without going on site. However, copywriters have an extra advantage – we specialise in communicating with people we never meet.

Copywriters build rapport. Simple – it’s what we do. Most of our working lives are spent speaking to clients’ audiences. Our very job is to communicate remotely. We can adapt this skill to ensure that our client-contractor relationships still develop the empathy that good ongoing working partnerships have. And as many clients also specialise in customer communication in their various businesses, they too have the skills to manage remote relationships.

Of course, remote working has other tangible advantages. It can certainly save the client money – travel expenses, plus the cost of bringing people in for meetings. I will often come off the phone with a client and get straight on with the job, with no time wasted and everything fresh in my mind. It’s an effective way to work. I have regular clients that I’ve never met – although if we ever find ourselves in the same place, I’d love to go for a coffee!

So, don’t worry if you never meet your copywriter face-to-face. We can build an excellent remote working relationship and produce some great work – together.

 

 

Six business benefits of using a freelance copywriter

Here are some of the reasons why I think freelance copywriters are one of life’s little essentials. OK that’s an exaggeration; however from a business perspective, hiring a writer can make a huge difference to your project…

 

Freelance copywriters save a lot of time

Back in the day when I was a manager, I hired a freelance copywriter to produce our web copy. I was sneakily envious but she did a great job; and much as I wanted to do it myself, I genuinely did not have the time.  I often work with clients who find the job of producing the text daunting – not because they can’t write well but simply because of the hours and headspace required for writing. It just keeps dropping to the bottom of the to-do list – a big reason why projects such as new websites don’t run to schedule. Tell your web design team that you’ve outsourced your content to a professional writer and they’ll probably cheer.

 

Freelance copywriters save a lot of money

This always sounds a bit cheeky as you have to pay us, but think about it. We’re efficient writers that can focus on the job (see above) so naturally our speed of writing will be greater than that of a manager or employee; and we all live by that old “time is money” mantra.  We don’t have any impact on the daily running of the business. Plus, we come with no business on-costs (see below). Bargain.

 

You don’t need to look after us

In these tough times, freelancers are a marvellous resource. We appear, we do the job, then we go again. We’re not lurking about during those times when business is slower. We don’t ask for (irony alert) pesky, self-absorbed things like holidays, sick leave or maternity pay. We don’t need space, equipment or regular feeding. We don’t even use your electricity.

 

Freelance copywriters have that essential distance

We’re all close to our own businesses – and a good thing too, as businesses need that bit of heart and soul. The downside of being passionate about your product/services/team is that is makes it hard to write about them objectively. A freelance copywriter can step in, step back and write what your customer needs to read.

 

We write good copy – whatever the subject

It really doesn’t matter what your business is. From Easter eggs to engineering (that was my February), for a professional copywriter, writing is writing. Provided we have the accurate information, good copywriters can add that gloss that makes text readable, whatever the subject. (And we really come into our own if you suspect that your product may be a little, well, dull…)

And what does good copy do? See below…

 

Good copy gets results

Good copywriting will help establish your identity, build rapport with your target audience(s) and support your brand values (there’s no point banging on about professionalism and attention-to-detail if the writing is inaccurate). We all know this; and to be honest, I have lost count of the amount of copywriting blogs with this header: however it’s not a cliché – I prefer to see it as a truism.

All I will add is that you wouldn’t use photos taken on your friend’s phone to advertise your product. The same principle of professionalism should be applied to the written word.

 

This list of benefits, as they say, is not exhaustive – but all good writers should know when to stop.

Ooh look, a blog…

“You’re a writer and you don’t even blog!”

I put down my quill. “I do! Just for other people, that’s all…OK, fine, fine. I’ll do it. OK, right. Next week, coz I’ve got all this catalogue stuff to do this week and…”

“Hum”, said Husband/Small Business Advisor.

When I’d finished some low-level grumping and prepared my parchment, I gave the matter some proper thought. Yes, I’m a freelance writer and I’ve actually provided copywriting for shedloads of websites; but short of faffing about on Facebook, writing as my own fair self has hardly grazed the internet.

It was time to blog.

I began my blogging life in a low-tech way. I bought two books, then sat down with a coffee and a ballpoint.

And several espressos and scribbling on Post-Its later, here we go.

Ta-dah.

I am a blogger.