When and how did you become a copywriter? What did you do before?
I read English and Music at Bangor University, and then spent half a dozen years teaching in secondary schools. I always wanted to work for myself, though, and started up in 2005. In the first year I got a lot of work from freelance websites like Elance and Guru.com – I certainly wouldn’t use them today, but they offered a great route into the industry and helped me build a portfolio that was essential for winning bigger clients.
What made you want to be a copywriter?
I wanted to work for myself, and I thought copywriting would be easy. Turns out it isn’t…
What types of copywriting do you do, and for what clients?
Mostly tone of voice work on below-the-line materials – customer letters, B2B websites and brochures, internal comms, handbooks, training materials and so on.
A couple of years ago I was mainly working for small businesses, but recently I’ve been doing a lot more corporate work. Brands I’ve worked for include Barclays, E.ON, NFU Mutual, NS&I, Prudential, Aviva and Samsung. I don’t win these clients myself, but get most of them through two agencies: Afia and The Art of Explaining.
What do you enjoy most?
Training! I’ve trained in-house writers at several big brands and lots of smaller businesses.
How do you work?
I used to be a completely independent freelance, but as I’ve become more experienced and better known I find I’m in demand from agencies. This suits me, because I can focus on the work while somebody else worries about things like billing and client management.
What sort of working setup do you have?
Like many people in this business, a small desk with a big iMac in a spare bedroom.
Recommend one book that copywriters should read.
George Orwell’s Essays (ISBN 0141183063). Orwell would go bananas if he knew I was using him an exemplar for copywriters, but as a model of clarity he really is unsurpassed. His most important (and useful) essay is ‘Politics and the English Language’.
(I won’t mention Shakespeare, Milton, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Kipling’s poems and short stories and the Authorised Version of the Bible, because you’ve probably already read them. If you haven’t, why are you reading this? Stop at once and don’t read or write another word until you have.)
How have things changed in the time you’ve been a copywriter? What’s better, and what’s worse?
SEO copywriting is finally declining in importance (a good thing) and using copywriters as trainers to develop in-house staff is on the up. The whole training thing is becoming more necessary because of the rise of social media: brands often need to write material, in-house, in minutes.
If you could change one thing about your working life as a copywriter, what would it be?
Nothing, really – I rather like it.
What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened in your copywriting career?
I once ghostwrote a book on ferret keeping.
What single piece of advice would you give other copywriters?
The ability to string a sentence together is not a copywriter’s most important skill. The number one thing is understanding your audience and seeing things from their point of view.