When and how did you become a copywriter? What did you do before?
I started out at the University of Sheffield doing a degree in Journalism and working on the student newspaper. After a string of jobs, including an internship at Yahoo!, I eventually landed a job as a BBC online journalist.
I found that, while I was enjoying it, I wasn’t able to write for different purposes or stretch myself beyond writing as a journalist. I decided to leave around the time when SEO was becoming popular and thought I’d give it a go. I’d say it was probably curiosity that led me down the copywriter’s path rather than the journalist’s. With copywriting you can draw out words to tell the story of a business, without being constrained by news disciplines.
You started your company in 2008 “” what have been the biggest hurdles along the way?
Staying relevant. Your experience needs to grow and change with the company and what’s going on around you, so it was important to recognise when I needed training myself.
Also, confidence. I never thought I’d be running my own company when I was at university, and I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do it straight away. You have to at least act confident at the beginning. Especially when it feels like everyone else is more experienced or they’re marketing themselves better. Also, when times are quiet, you have to be confident that the work will pick up.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love the freedom! No, that’s too clichÃ©d. I like having different projects on the go – one technical, one news, one creative – using different bits of experience for each one. It means I can scratch all those itches by not doing the same thing all the time.
You manage a company, teach, run workshops and training – how do you fit it all in?
I don’t mess around during the day. Working from an office at home means I don’t have any colleagues to take breaks with, so I just power through. If I’ve got loads on I’ll get up an hour earlier or go to bed later. When you’re enjoying your work you don’t notice the time.
If I need a change of scene for a certain project, I’ll go to a cafÃ© with my laptop; although you can’t spend more than two hours stirring one coffee, so its not ideal. It can be tiring fitting so much in, but I don’t mind the long hours as long as I’m enjoying them.
Recommend one book copywriters should read and why.
Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. It’s an old-school book, but the art of persuasion is what a copywriter should aim for.
Also, the Guardian Style book comes in very useful for those fiddly grammar questions you’re just not sure about.
How has copywriting changed since you started?
I’m not sure if I’ve been doing it long enough to say, but in my view copywriting itself hasn’t changed – where the industry comes from has. Most companies now want copywriters who can express themselves across social media, and Twitter does get me lots of work. I think being an online copywriter has become easier.
If you could change one thing about your working life as a copywriter, what would it be?
I’d like to be brought in earlier on website projects. Some people ask for a miracle when they bring you in at the end. A copywriter can help influence the design of a site through information architecture, not only copy – we have a logical way of structuring that can really improve a site.
What can you see yourself doing in five years’ time?
I’d like to have a couple of people working with me on projects so I can take on bigger jobs. Hopefully my joint venture with Sue Keogh, a series of workshops and training we’ve called Sweet Retweets, will take off.
I’ll definitely still be writing copy, and having people working with me will mean I can help them to get where I am now.
What single piece of advice would you give a new copywriter?
Write as much as you can. Have a blog, write some articles – it doesn’t matter if they’re not published because you can publish them yourself by putting them online. Try to network and meet people but don’t advertise yourself too much – see what they need first. Sometimes it’s about persuading people that they need you, and that you can bring them more money.
Be subtle but persistent.