Kate Waddon Copywriting

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

Everyday things that are surprisingly tricky to write

Maybe this is just me. There are some things that I really, really struggle to write. Simple, everyday, not-even-work stuff can completely throw me, with the added pressure that because I write for a living, anything I write should be good. So, in a faintly cathartic way, here are the things that really make me chew my pen/growl at my keyboard – and perhaps you can reassure me that I’m not alone…

 

Writing email subject lines

Ooh, I can tie myself in knots over this one… You’ve composed the perfect email – but it has more than one subject in it, or it’s very general, or it’s just an introduction… What do you call it? A blank space is never an option.

I’m not talking about marketing emails here (that’s a whole other area), so it’s not so much about making sure the recipient actually opens the email as making sure you come across as professional and intelligent. Even if it’s just emailing a friend, we all like to know what an email is about before we open it. Try to be specific, and mention something that immediately identifies you and your project/request/topic.  Imagine how many emails I have headed “Copywriting”.

This is a great article from Business Insider which I shall be using from now on when I get stuck.

Philosophical point. We didn’t used to write on the envelope what the letter was going to be about; however now we always highlight the content of our message before people read it. That’s quite a shift in communication style.

 

Composing a CV personal statement

I’ve written sales copy for all sorts of things. But selling me? Oh no no no no no – I suddenly become terribly British and go for serious understatement. There’s a huge debate as to whether it should be first or third person. I’d always go for first, otherwise you run the risk of looking like someone else wrote it for you (and frankly, you sound a bit weird). Keep it short, and remember that a CV is about facts and examples.

I refer you to a higher authority – read this from Reed.

Never knowing undersell yourself- but try to avoid sounding like a candidate from The Apprentice. Unless of course, you’re applying for The Apprentice.

 

 Argh – what to write in the work group card???

It’s hardly a major stressor, but I’ve yet to meet a person who doesn’t fret even a tiny bit over the communal work card. I’ve worked for organisations large enough to mean that I don’t even recognise the recipient’s name, but have still had to come up with some sincere expression of my regards for them. You don’t even escape this as a freelancer (primary schools seem to generate a lot of group cards).

Is it easier to be the first person, and set the tone, or to wait til it’s been passed round a few times and copy everyone else? The big question is, how much humour to use? I remember the indrawn breaths at college when my mate Tom wrote “You should have kept yer vest on” to our lecturer who was seriously ill with pleurisy (you have to say it in a thick Leeds accent). She found it funny, and of course it was, compared with all our predictable whispered expressions of concern.

Unless you know them very well (and in that case, don’t be so tight and send your own card) just keep it simple. “Happy birthday.” “Congratulations on your new baby!” “Good luck with your new job!” Don’t overdo the kisses if it’s the CEO.

Don’t gush if you don’t want to – but yes, I’ve written “keep in touch” and not meant it. Go for the passive voice and say “you’ll be missed” if you want to preserve your integrity.  Try not to correct your colleagues’ punctuation.

 

How to complain in writing

This is basically a “Very British Problems” post now… I am awful at composing a good complaint. There is no middle ground. I either send it immediately when I’m still hopping (a short use-by date in my supermarket delivery always gets blown out of proportion in our house), or I end up apologising to them because I can’t really bring myself to complain.  And I always spend far, far too long at this. If time is money, spending half an hour emailing the supermarket about a 60p overripe pepper does not make any sense.

I love CAB – try their thorough guide to complaint letters.

 

Writing cheques

Ho ho ho. It’s an age-old punchline. However, I do struggle with writing cheques (and yes, I know companies that still use them!). This may be because my handwriting has suffered greatly from years of typing; and cheques, greetings cards, and notes for school are the only things I ever write that are read by other people. My handwriting, once copperplate, is now embarrassingly scrawly. Handy in meetings, because no one can read my notes, but awkward if another human has to decipher it.

I give myself the same advice as I give my four-year-old. Write slowly and concentrate.

Advice which pretty much covers all my daily dilemmas.

 

 

How do I get freelance copywriting work?

Leading on from last week’s blog (spot the New Year’s “post weekly” resolution), there’s an area I need to focus on more closely: how do you find freelance writing work? Here’s how I keep the wolf from the door…

 

Networks and contacts

This is a good way to start out. Hopefully you’ve left any job without burning any bridges (well, perhaps some minor singeing…), and people will be pleased to recommend you, or even farm out a project or two to you.

As your portfolio builds, you’ll start to develop a reputation, and a new business network will grow. However, hopefully you’ll keep your original networks as well, and I still get work from former colleagues, friends and friends-of-friends. I was very lucky – I had a reasonably high-profile tourism job (high-profile isn’t hard to achieve in West Cornwall), and knew a lot of people, including designers.

 

Design agencies and web designers

Many smaller agencies don’t employ their own copywriters. It’s often easier and more cost-effective for them to have a pool of freelance writers to hand should they be needed. On the whole, agencies and designers like having a professional writer on board, as they know they’ll get quality copy, on time. (Waiting for the client to deliver the copy often stalls a project.)

I work with a few agencies, and a couple of freelance designers, and this is always thoroughly enjoyable work. It’s great when the words, images and design come together, and working with designers is can be a great way learning more about your new trade. Definitely worth a speculative enquiry.

I would add that occasionally you keep a client once the job has finished. For example, the website has gone live, however the customer may want blog posts or newsletters writing in the future. Great stuff. Just tell the original design agency out of courtesy, as they are the ones that initially got you the gig. Always make sure you’re not treading on any toes/breaking any contracts by working for the client solo.

 

Writing and content agencies

This is another good avenue. On a more practical level, you don’t have to trawl for work, you get paid regularly, and as writers, the people you’re working for actually get what you’re about. The best writing briefs I get are from a content expert, who knows exactly what info I need.

For larger agencies, you often have to complete some form of writing “test” as well as providing your CV and samples of work. The test can be a helpful way in if you’re just starting out and don’t have a massive portfolio to draw on.

Occasionally, some agencies like you to look like you work for them, so be prepared for multiple email addresses. You also may need to sign a contract. Some agencies pay better than others – again, be aware, and a little light Googling is advisable.

 

Website and blog

Your website is your shop window, and a great chance to showcase your own writing.  Have a look at other writers’ websites and see which approaches you like. Make sure you’re aware of the things you’ll be telling your clients that they need: calls to action, organic SEO, headings, perfect proofreading etc etc. Keep your testimonials and portfolio pages up to date (check with clients first).

Your own blog is absolutely key here. As well as providing essential content, it’s a great chance to flex your typing fingers and show off that writing. It lets potential clients know that you’re a good blog writer who understands the importance of keeping your website fresh and up to date. How do clients find you? Think about potential search terms as you’re writing, and I’ve recently been flirting a little with AdWords.

And please, when it comes to your own website, watch your own ego. No one wants to hire Byron to write their flyers.

 

Social media

Has to be done. Even if you’re mostly retweeting at the start, at least you’re Out There. Potential clients are likely to check that you are at least slightly social media savvy. Facebook and Twitter are the minimum.

If you haven’t looked at LinkedIn since you graduated, now’s the time to log back in. Reconnect with people who you think could help you, and keep your profile up to date.

 

Hopefully there are a few starting points here. All pretty obvious, none too tricky, and nothing anyone can’t try. Keep plenty of irons in the fire, and always look out for new sources of work. I haven’t checked out any of the “find a freelancer” websites yet, although I have friends in similar roles that have. It’s on my To Do list (honest). I’ll feed back.

Writing this today with Six Music on in the background, as ever, and feeling that I should actually be blogging about the beauty of music lyrics. RIP David Bowie, incredible wordsmith.

 

How do I become a freelance copywriter?

No fewer three people have asked me this week what it’s like to be a freelance copywriter. Assuming this is a New Year potential-change-of-career-and-direction thing, here’s the answer I should have given. (In real life, I was awfully waffly. Apologies.)

Here are a few things to mull over if you’re considering freelance writing.

 

Think about the money

It’s likely that you’re used to a regular income. Can you make the leap from monthly pay cheques to an as-and-when income? Are you prepared to live off savings/partner/family initially?

You can help make the transition by having some contacts and potential clients set up already. Have a website ready to go. Build a network. Gather together a portfolio of relevant work . Think about social media. My early work was through agencies – see what’s out there. In short, as they taught me in the Brownies, Be Prepared, and hopefully the gap between salary and freelance income won’t be a massive, scary void.

In these days of pushing web content, there is definitely work out there…

 

Managing the money

 Then of course, you have to manage your income, ongoing. No company accountant here. Keep a clear spreadsheet of what you’re earning and of every stage of invoicing.

You need to be able to quote, negotiate, and re-quote. I’ll be honest – it’s a real finger-in-the-air job sometimes to come up with a realistic price for a job. That’s why I prefer to charge an hourly rate and give a rougher estimate at the start – fairer for both parties.

Chasing clients for late payments is one of the least pleasant aspects of the job. It’s unlikely they are deliberately not paying you, so it’s important not to sound defensive or accusatory. I used to be terribly British about this: “I’m so sorry, I haven’t been paid. Please if you have a spare minute could you check to see if everything’s OK, and I am sooooo sorry to trouble you.” These days I’m more direct. “Please can you check the progress of my invoice dated x? I attach a copy FYI. Thanks.” Still polite, but putting the ball firmly in their court.

And you too will spend early January putting off your tax return.

 

Beware of distractions

Today, I cleaned the hallway because I didn’t want to do my tax return. This wasn’t ideal: tomorrow I now have a deadline plus the tax return, and a cobweb-free hallway will be small consolation.

Self-discipline is really important. It’s very easy to get distracted, especially if you’re working in your own home. If you think this really will be a problem for you, consider renting a desk in one of those fabulous rent-a-workspace places (with the added benefit of networking).

A spot of pottering in the garden or making some lunch can really help if you’re stuck on something, but on the whole you have to be as focussed as you would be if you had the boss breathing down your neck.  If you don’t work, you don’t earn – that’s a powerful motivator for the self-employed.

At least you won’t have the massive distraction that is Other People.

 

Freelancers work alone

A mixed blessing. There are worse things than being alone, as anyone who’s ever worked in an open-plan office will tell you. However, if you’re the type that thrives on workplace politics, gossip, or informal culture, maybe think twice.

In reality, you’re rarely completely alone, even if you’re sitting by yourself. Aside from the clients, I work with other writers, content experts, designers, programmers… Sometimes, I even meet them. This is good. As well as being a really productive way to move a project along, it reminds me of the need to brush my hair occasionally.

Networks of other freelancers can be helpful. Where I live in West Cornwall many people are self-employed, so I get the benefit of several informal networks (that sounds better than “I meet friends in Costa”). I also have a self-employed husband across the room. We don’t chat much during the day, but we do make each other coffee.

Social media can be a dangerous time sink if you’re feeling a bit short on company. Pop there for the odd watercooler moment, then shut it down.

 

You won’t have a boss

No, you’ll have several. And as a good freelancer, you treat each client as if they’re your number one priority.

I actually love this variation, and having a good mix of clients is part of the joy of the job. Cliché alert – no two clients are the same. Some like you to just get on with the work, while other projects have more drafts than an old castle. If you are writing a regular blog with a client, you usually develop a great working relationship with them.

To be a freelance copywriter, first put away your ego. Sometimes people won’t like your work. Sometimes they go against all your wise advice and do some really quite awful things to your beloved copy (and you’ll really sympathise with Sarah Beeney here). Sometimes they send drafts back with Track Changes scribbled all over it. Don’t take it personally. Just crack on with the next iteration, and deliver what the client has asked for. Of course, in your role as expert, you’re there to advise and guide them; but ultimately, it’s their decision.

Clients return to freelancers who are good to work with. Deliver your work on time and on budget, or give plenty of advance notice if this isn’t possible. Respond promptly. Be helpful. Be nice. Sorry if this sounds like egg-sucking training (but you’d be surprised by how unprofessional some freelancers can be).

 

Freelancing is wonderfully flexible

This is the great bit. If you know you can meet your deadlines, freelancing can really suit your lifestyle.

I have two small kids. I am always at the school gates for them. That’s a real privilege. Washing machine repairs, deliveries, dentist appointments, poorly children, poorly pets – all these little, everyday logistics are far easier without a workplace involved.

If you are good at managing your time, you can also fit in nice things – swim, gym, cafe, solo shopping… This is the reward for the tougher times when either you’re batting away at deadlines like a plague of mozzies, or when you’ve been hitting send and receive for hours and nothing comes in.

You also get to have full control of your timescales and prioritising. It’s like being a proper grown-up. (Even if you are working in your pjs and eating Kit Kats for breakfast, because you can.)

 

You’ll be writing for a living

 And this is the even better bit.  Doing what you love for a living, (mostly) on your own terms. And in the end, that’s what tipped the balance for me, seven years ago.

If you want to chat through any of this, please get in touch. (And no, it’s not because I’m desperate for human contact…)