Kate Waddon Copywriting

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

Dead flies in shop windows

It’s Hallowe’en, so clearly my thoughts are turning to pleasant things like dead flies. And analogies… We’re all familiar with the old “your website is your shop window” comparison. To extend this a bit, if your website is the shop window, then your blog is the shop display. By changing it regularly with the seasons, you’re showing off new stock, keeping your business relevant – and guarding against dead flies.

I use this analogy a lot – probably over-use it, to be honest –  as it’s a straightforward way of explaining why a website needs to be updated. (I’ve failed to fit search engines into this analogy, but I’ll keep working on it.) To while away the time until it’s trick-or-treating o’clock, here’s a short tale about dead flies.

When I realised I’d finally better leave university, my first proper job was every Eng Lit student’s dream: sales assistant in an antiquarian bookshop. Anyone attempting to enter the shop on application deadline day would have been knocked sideways by the swish of long, cheap velvet skirts, stampeding DMs, and the scent of patchouli. We all wanted the chance to waft around among all the lovely books all day, perusing their erudite contents and lovingly sniffing the leather.

I was the lucky choice, and the myth of the gentle old bookselling job was rapidly debunked. Books are unforgiving creatures to work with. They are heavy and unwieldy, but unlike a similarly bulky item, a brick for example, they don’t come out of it very well when dropped. They require constant checking, dusting, and straightening; and some of them even require feeding (with hide food).  They’re like high-maintenance and capricious pets, and some are alarmingly valuable. I later worked in a large supermarket warehouse, and believe me, that was physically lighter work than hefting tomes up and down five storeys of ancient staircase.

One of the first tasks I was trusted with (oh the joy of being the junior) was to keep the shop window free of dead flies (see, we’re starting to get somewhere now). An awful lot of flies choose to die in bookshop windows, it seems. The shop window was behind the counter and two sets of display shelves on temperamental rollers. Cleaning it involved taking everything out of the window, and trying to squeeze the Henry’s nozzle in between the shelves to vacuum up the dust and dead flies. While serving customers.

The shop manager took me through this in great detail (juniors are expected to listen to a lot of detail). After a couple of weeks of merrily bashing into expensive books with the nozzle, I came up with the Waddon Fly Catching Technique: a fishing rod-like device involving dangling sticky tape from a pencil. The crispy little cadavers would stick to the tape, and with some cunning manoeuvres, I could avoid the tedious task of taking everything out of the window display – the simple ingenuity of the bored junior. How the other English grads must have envied me.

Twenty (no, really???!!!) years later, I am metaphorically clearing windows of flies. Nothing says neglected, slobby, or abandoned like a pile of insect corpses in your window – or, an ignored blog page. Sadly, while dangling tape over my clients’ websites, my own shop window has got a bit shabby. Consider this short blog post my piece of tape.

For metaphorical fly removal, please give me a shout. (For actual dead flies – feel free to use the fruits of my research.)

Smuggling budgies: the OED’s latest update

I’ve been writing pretty serious content-themed blog posts recently; however as the OED has released its latest update, I thought I’d revert to blethering about wordy stuff.

The Oxford English Dictionary is updated four times a year, and we’ve just had the June revision.  This update includes over 1,000 new words and meanings, and a revision of over 2,000 existing entries. For the full list, have a look at the OED’s website. If you’re a bit short of time (more about short reading attention spans later), here are a few of the new entries that caught my eye…




Well, this is a Thing, and now we all know what to call it. CamelCase is a way of writing compound words or phrases so each word begins with a capital, with no spaces or hyphens.

Obvious examples include PowerPoint, LinkedIn, and YouTube. CamelCase makes otherwise indecipherable hashtags easier to read #LikeThisOne, as opposed to #likethisone. Your online usernames is another example of when you may use CamelCase (KateWaddon). If you have a Scottish or Irish Mac or Mc name, you may be using CamelCase all the time.

Why camels? The term was first used – on paper – by computer programmer Newton Love in 1995, because of the “humpiness” of the style. I love that.



I like a listicle, as my two blog readers know. Basically a plumped-up list, it’s a great way of producing an easily-digestible article. The word itself is possibly my least-favourite blended word (it just doesn’t work) and dates from 2007.



Glamping, a portmanteau word made from “glamorous camping”, first appeared around 2005, and is now used regularly to describe a camping holiday where you’re more likely to get a hot tub than a cold shower. I wrote for a glamping website last year, and honestly, most of us have fewer facilities in our homes. The term these days is largely positive – holidays are sold as “glamping experiences”; but it’ll be interesting to see if it becomes used pejoratively as the next holiday fashion takes over.

There’s always been a camping hierarchy. When I was a kid, my best friend’s dad called our campervan holidays “Wendy camping”. He did the proper stuff, in a small tent, in fields. Shame that phrase hasn’t made it: I enjoyed being a Wendy Camper.



One of the reasons that I love the OED’s updates is that I learn stuff. I thought this new addition was simply the make of my kids’ school ukuleles. It’s not – it’s a rather lovely Hawaiian word for “thanks”. Not, as I suspected “strange sound made by children”. Not one I’ve come across in daily conversation, as you can tell; but then, I’m not a chilled-out, surfy, hanging-out young thing. Sadly.


Budgie smugglers

The OED always has to release one term that gets us all sniggering, and Australian “budgie smugglers” is the one this time round. Picture tight-fitting trunks and the expression, er, falls into place. I’ve refrained from inserting a stock image – the Daily Mail Online was less restrained…

I have a fondness for this term, as I first learned it back in 2005 (although it dates from the mid 1990s), working at the seaside. Much budgie smuggling going on in West Cornwall’s beaches during August.




Ouch. As a writer, I wince at the mention of this one (although I love the semi-colon for nerdy reasons). Tl;dr is shorthand for “Too long; didn’t read” , a crushing editorial comment that dates back to 2002.  It can also mean “too long; don’t read”.  Its new dictionary entry reads: “…a dismissive response to an account, narrative etc considered excessively or unnecessarily long.”

And on that note…


If you want to talk words – or preferably, write some together – please contact me. TTYL. GTG*



*Talk to you later, got to go. Both new entries.

Also, for a discussion of the latest updates from the OED’s Jonathan Dent,read this excellent article.

Argh – how long should a blog post be?

I get asked this question a lot, so I thought I should address it properly. The featured image probably gives away my personal thoughts; however I’d like to give a better answer than that, so I’ve done  a bit of research. Here is my post about length and why it matters. (Don’t snigger. We’re all grown-ups here.)

There are several views about optimum blog length. Naturally, they are contradictory. Here are the ones that keep cropping up.


The 7 minute blog post rule

The ideal blog post length, according to Buffer, takes 7 minutes to read, which is roughly 1,700 words. This is based on research by Medium, who plotted length against time among their blog readers. They comment that “It’s noteworthy that at the beginning of the trend, the longer posts tend to see more visitors. This suggests a possible correlation between length and quality—that, on average, the longer posts are higher quality, resulting in more sharing and, consequently, more traffic.”  What’s worth noting here is that we all assume that readers have short attention spans – not necessarily the case.

Buffer’s summary is a great article, which covers the length of all sorts of online wordy stuff, from the perfect LinkedIn headline to the length of a Facebook post (post referendum Facebook commentators – please note it’s just 40 characters).


The 500 word minimum post

This stat has been floating around for years – but 500 words seems to be considered pretty short these days. In Joe Bunting’s piece on blog length, he writes that this word-count is good for social shares and comments, but not that helpful for “search engine love”.

Personally, 500 words is the minimum length I ever write for clients. My “entry level” blog post often ends up at 750ish, a pretty standard journalistic length.

It’s also worth remembering that if you’re going for epic-length posts, it will cost you more either in your time or your outsourcing budget. Be realistic about your blogging capabilities.


What happens if you dip under 300 words for a blog post?

Well, according to a plug-in a few of my clients use, dipping below 300 words is absolutely cataclysmic. Seas will boil. The sky will rain ash. There will be plagues of frogs. Or in real life, the search engines will be unimpressed, and it won’t help you with your rankings. Read this article from Yoast about the 300 word rule.

As a writer who loves the sound of her own typing, I’d struggle to keep a blog post under 300 words to be honest. 300 words really isn’t very many at all, and most people can easily meet this target without even trying. If you’re struggling to hit 300 words, think again about the subject – can you broaden it a bit? Fewer than 200 words, and your post becomes “thin content”. Again, raining reptiles etc.

However this is always the point where people start citing Seth Godin


Blog posts must be very, very long for SEO purposes

You can see the sense in this – the more content, the more relevant words the search engines will find.

But what about the human readers? There’s also that perception of quality that Medium discussed. As The Sales Lion commented in a blog post,  “I’m going to ask you a question, and you’ve got to be honest: Have you ever looked at a really long piece of content, skimmed it because you simply didn’t have 10 minutes to read it, but still shared it because you “felt” like there was a lot of value there?” A long blog post is the broadsheet – we all feel a bit more erudite when we go for The Long Read.

But, if you decide to go for killer 2,000+ blog posts, remember this idea of quality, and please be wary of filler. It’s so obvious when something has been stretched to breaking point.

If you’d like to write some massive posts, the best way of doing this is to break it into smaller sections. Again, this is where the listicle blog post rules. Ten sections of 200 words each, with an intro and conclusion, seems a lot less daunting than writing a big chunk of essay. It also makes it a better read for your audience.


Simply, what does your blog need to say?

In the end, what’s right for you? Don’t waffle your way up to 1,000 words if you get your point across well in 500. Don’t over-edit a thorough piece because it may go up to 8 minutes.

Of course, I’m happy to be short and punchy, or long and contemplative. Please get in touch, and we’ll work out the perfect blog post length – for you.

There. 750+ words reached. I’ll retire happy.


7 reasons to write a listicle blog post

I blogged about listicles, ooh, aaaages ago (well, 18 months ago), and the listicle is still going strong as a popular blogging method. Here’s why I like the listicle.


1          A listicle is an easy format to write

If you’re feeling a bit constipated words-wise, it’s usually possible to come up with a few points you can talk about, and write up in list form.

For example, if you sell potatoes (and yes, this is a made up example), 5 Favourite Potato Recipes is an obvious blog post. 7 Surprising Facts About Potatoes. The 8 Best Chip Shops in Britain… You get the idea. Think of an angle first (everybody loves potatoes), then jot down a few bullet points as to why you think your statement is correct (there are lots of ways to cook them; they come in many varieties; they turn into chips).


2          It’s more engaging than a simply sales-focussed article

It can get quite tedious and predictable reading about the services a company offers. After all, the website should be making this clear in the first place. Opening up the subject is more engaging for readers, as well as increasing your authority.

If you’re writing for your hotel in Devon, a simple post could be “10 great family events in Devon this summer”. It’s not time-consuming or tricky to come up with ten events, write a few words on each plus provide a link, then neatly segue into how handy your hotel is for all these, contact us etc etc etc.


3          Brainstorming a listicle leads to great ideas

I often come up with stupidly long lists, and then prune them. Sometimes silly ideas turn out to be pure genius, and give your article a unique slant. It doesn’t matter how long the list ends up, as long as the points you choose are genuinely interesting or helpful, and not just filler.


4          They reduce headline headaches

Writing a clever headline is not easy. Writing “31 Ways to Cook Potatoes” is easy. Plus, apparently we all respond to headlines that are a mixture of letters and numerals, so we’re drawn to this sort of header. A more random-sounding number can attract attention.


5          But, you get to write lots of sub headers…

In addition, the listicle structure naturally leads to several sub headers, which are appreciated by both readers and search engines. Have a look at this post by Yoast to find out more about this.


6          Busy people like to read short snippets

Settling down for the Long Read can feel a bit of a commitment. A listicle article is the snack of the blog world – quick, digestible, fun. The crisp, rather than the Dauphinoise. The obvious listicle structure highlighted by the headline lets the reader know what to expect.


7          You can adapt the amount of listicle points to suit the subject

Stop when you’re ready. Like this. Don’t carry on for the sake of it.

(Oh no, but it’s 7. A lot of people don’t like 7… Don’t overthink this one.)


If you’d like to write some lovely lists together, please get in touch.

Is the ellipsis the new exclamation mark? Read on…!


I love an ellipsis. Those three little dots can say so much by saying absolutely nothing (and yes, it should be three, unless you’re writing in a Chinese language and in that case it’s six). It’s mysterious, suggestive, and comes from the Ancient Greek élleipsis (ἔλλειψις) meaning “omission”.  It’s a piece of punctuation that everyone seems to be embracing on social media. But, like the exclamation mark, is it losing its impact by being overused?

We all know to avoid excessive use of exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like “laughing at your own joke”, according to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Yes, they have their place (“How wonderful” without an exclamation mark is just sarcastic), but scattering them everywhere suggests a lack of confidence in your own tone.  It can be handy to show someone that you’re not being serious; however if you look at Facebook or Twitter, or read back through your emails, the use of an exclamation mark to show that you’re joking has been largely replaced by that winking little emoji. So, we’re cutting down on the exclamation marks –and I for one have certainly found some new punctuation to replace it…

See, I just can’t help it. I automatically stick in an ellipsis to try and create some suspense in a sentence that frankly is not suspenseful. I’m quite restrained with their use in my professional writing, but I trawled through my personal Facebook posts, and my page is so littered with little dots that it looks like it has measles. I need to rein them in.

However, if you want to indicate an unfinished thought, trail off into silence, or leave the reader to form their own conclusion, there is nothing better. It can also be naughtily suggestive. Anyone else remembering the scene in Mama Mia where the girls read Meryl Streep’s old diary and giggle at the “dot dot dots”? (If that’s too shallow, think of Mr Fitzgerald again, and his use of ellipses in The Great Gatsby.)

So when should we use them? To convey a tailed-off thought or add suspense, as already mentioned. They are used in dialogue (see James Joyce), and to condense quotations (I use them when editing client testimonials). In social media, they can be the written equivalent of a raised eyebrow, and we see them used to punctuate an enigmatic post (“Some people are just so rude…”). They can be great for comic effect, and for a pithy “you can guess the rest of the story” caption for a photo. And of course, there’s always that like flurry of excitement when you see those three little dots wiggling, and you know that someone is about to reply to your message… The ellipsis has become a part of modern social communication.

Before writing this, I spent a bit of time on Facebook and Twitter looking out for those little dots, reading posts from people I don’t know as well as my contacts – and people are using them lots. They are embracing them in funny, cheeky and clever ways that definitely add something to what they’re saying. So, the ellipsis is definitely being used – but not, I feel overused.

Next time – the semi-colon, and does it do anything apart from wink…?

What to tell your freelance copywriter

baby-74163_1920You need some writing doing, and you’ve engaged a freelance copywriter. Splendid stuff. It’s all going to be fab and you’ll get the content or whatever it is that you need.

Then the phone goes, and it’s your new writing buddy. You were busy working on something, now this stranger has called and he or she is asking you random questions about what voices you like. It’s all a bit bunny-in-the-headlights.

I try to email new clients first, and arrange a time to speak, and also indicate in the email what we’ll need to talk about. However to give you some advance warning, here’s the information that your writer will need to know to hit the ground running.


What do you want writing?

So far so obvious. But, this is the starting point of any conversation. Website, blog, brochure, cereal packet, a combination…

What is the topic? Now, a good writer should be able to write about anything, with a steer from you and the right information. However, if  the writer has a background or experience in your subject, it’s good to discuss this early on, and can get your relationship off to a great start.

Roughly how much writing is needed? This will help establish timescale and cost.


Where will the information come from?

If you have a website, is it factually accurate? This is especially worth asking if you’re having a new one written. Are there other websites that give the technical information (such as manufacturers’ sites)? Any internal documents that would help, or publications such as brochures and flyers? Post things over if necessary. Do you have expert colleagues that the writer should talk to?

I often remind clients that as I charge by the hour for most projects, the more info they give me at the start, the cheaper it will be for them.

And yes, we all use Google. Sometimes I even use books…


Who is your audience?

The copywriter may ask you if it’s B2B or B2C. Tell them off for using jargon (unless you speak it fluently yourself). Is the writing for experts, professionals, or “The Trade” (I love that expression)? If so, the writer needs to know this, to adjust the “jargon level” and avoid being patronising. Is the writing for customers? If so, what sort of customers do you want to attract? Are you trying to sell to them, give them information, or both?


What tone of voice do you want to use?

If your organisation has a defined brand, this will be clear to both parties. Indeed, you might have a handy Style Guideline document to refer to or send the copywriter.

Even if you don’t work for a massive multinational with brand documents to draw on, the chances are that you really understand your audience and know how best to speak with them. But how do you communicate this with a writer?

A good way to establish this is to think about other bits of writing that you like. If you can give the copywriter examples of websites whose tone you like, that’s always helpful. Sometimes, I’m given samples of websites that people really hate – not such a positive way of thinking about things, but at least I know what not to do…

It can help to think of simple adjectives to describe the tone of voice. Words clients often say to me are “friendly”, “professional”, “approachable”, “formal”, “light-hearted”, and my favourite, “the cheeky chappie next door”… Sometimes clients mention publications – “the audience is a bit Telegraphy”, “like Esquire”, and again, that’s helpful.

If you’re struggling with this, just say. A few hours spent working on a tone of voice exercise can really help.

If you’re a freelancer or sole trader yourself – i.e. you are your business, a good writer should be picking up tone of voice tips just from listening to you. So talk. Talk lots, please.


Any other services?

Dog walking? Coffee making? Well, maybe not, but image researching and blog uploading could be needed. There are also other things like proofreading and copy-editing that may need doing aside from the actual writing.

It’s also a good time to ask for other bits of advice. Can the writer recommend a photographer/SEO expert/printer? We usually can.


SEO terms?

Are there any key phrases or headers you want to use? These can be obvious, even if you’re no expert yourself. You may have a list – send it over.


The nitty gritty

Namely – deadline and budget. Have both of these in mind, and agree them from the start. Even if you just agree to be flexible, at least it’s an agreement. And don’t worry – if you forget these points, your new freelancer certainly won’t…

Also establish a way of working. Do you want the writer to show you a sample page before writing all twenty? Is it going to be an iterative process with lots of drafts and input from you, or do you want to just hand the whole thing over, get it off your desk, and wait for the full first draft? What are your communication preferences – email, mobile, carrier pigeon?

Ask for the copywriter to sum up your chat in an email. Hopefully they’ve been capturing the conversation, and the action points for both parties.


These are the main things that it’s good to sort out from the start, which will hopefully help establish a productive relationship. So hopefully when you have that first chat, you’ll know what information to have prepped and ready to go. Failing that – ansaphone…


Words and pictures – why does a blog post need images?


To a copywriter, the phrase “a picture paints a thousand words” is rather annoying – after all, I could have been paid for those thousand words. But, it’s right – and a good image can really add spark to a blog post.

I am increasingly being asked if I source images for blogs as well as providing the words. The answer: I do now. For a modest extra fee, I’ll find relevant images for the post I’ve written. I’ve simply started doing this as finding images seems to be one of those jobs people put off, so that in turn is putting them off posting blogs.

But why does a blog post need an image?

Because it is more eye-catching, is the simple answer to that. Printed material has understood that for decades, and now armed with our smart phones, we’re all documenting our lives through images.

We’d rather Instagram our lunch than eat it – that’s the culture we’re working with these days. Each Facebook update seems to make uploading our photos easier. We’re visual creatures. Even click-bait needs a good picture before we’ll go near it.

With a picture, your blog post is more inviting, more interesting, and looks far better on your website, Twitter feed, or Facebook page. Most subjects – food, fabrics, holidays, cars, kitchens, pets – are crying out for an accompanying shot or two.

So, how do we find images for our blog posts?

There are lots of ways to illustrate a blog post. These are my recommendations, based on ease, cost, and little chance of being sued.

We can take our own pictures. If you work in say, interior design, it’s vital you have decent pics of your work for your portfolio, and you can use this for your blog. It’s always worth keeping a collection of good quality photos handy.

Smart phones have made photographers of us all – but please, only use decent pictures. Don’t spoil a professional website with amateurish images. However, it’s tempting to use our own, as we know that we own them, and can use them as we wish. Back in the day when I had a normal job, I hired a fab professional photographer for the day, so we’d have a suite of photos we could use for any purpose. Sadly, I don’t play with that sort of budget any more, and neither I suspect do any of my five readers.

So, that leads us to the world of stock images, and this is why I think that many people are wary of sourcing their own images. There are three main concerns: ownership, cost, and the fear of ending up with clichéd stock images which are today’s version of Clip Art.

Let’s address these three concerns one at a time. The license you need to find is called “Creative Commons Zero” (CC0), which means you can use the image for commercial purposes without paying for it, or even giving an attribution (although some photographers do appreciate it if you do). But – always check before you use any photo, just in case. Also be aware that if your chosen photo has a logo clearly in shot, you’ll need to add a bit of text to cover that.

I tend to stick to several websites that use the CC0 license – and here’s the second concern dealt with – and provide me with some ace free images. My favourites are Pixabay, Unsplash, and for office shots that are funkier than most, Startup Stock Photos. Of course, if you’re willing to pay, the whole massive world of Shutterstock et al opens up before you…

The third concern – how to avoid cliché. This can be tricky – there are a lot of pics of people looking terribly motivated in front of flip charts, or staring out at the horizon. What are other bloggers in your field using? The search function is your friend here. Type “meeting” into Pixabay’s search box, and yes, there’ll be those engaged business types, but there’ll also be some more fun images. Play with words. Or be like me right now, and just pick a pic you like…


I shall now be introducing more images to my own blog, starting with this totally unrelated but faintly amusing picture of a cat. Expect more pointless cats, and a few gratuitous owls.

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…)