Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
I didn’t expect copywriting to be something I would do for long. I had a 5-month old baby when I started out and I was just producing occasional blog posts for a friend who had a new product they wanted to raise awareness of, before returning to ‘proper’ work. I enjoyed writing but I didn’t really think I’d be able to turn it into a tangible career.
Eventually, I started a full-time office job and found childcare for my daughter. I somehow ended up in an accounts department despite being an English graduate and paid-up member of the I-don’t-like-numbers club. Needless to say the job didn’t last and I made the decision to see what I could make from my writing experience. I began putting the feelers out for more copywriting work.
Thankfully, this developed quite quickly. The more people I began to write the occasional blog post and article for, the more experience I gained and the more I read around the subject and thought I’d make a proper go of it. We’re nearly five years down the line now and I think I’m doing OK.
What work are you most proud of?
I recently worked with a large well-known homeware company on the branding for a new line of products. They’re not out yet but when they are it’ll be my copy that is on their packaging and this is something I haven’t experienced before. I’ll be covertly photographing boxes in Argos and John Lewis in a couple of months!
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
I’m a massive reader and so any company who tells a fantastic story with their copy has me hooked. Starbucks do it well with the story behind the Siren (http://www.starbucks.com/blog/so-who-is-the-siren) and recognisable names like Heinz and Kellogg’s always do it fantastically. I’d like to be behind a story that is remembered.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
I don’t think I suffer from writer’s block very often when it comes to work as I’m quite systematic in ensuring there is something down on paper and usually once I start, I can keep going.
I do suffer from the dreaded blank page syndrome so can’t let a page stay empty for too long.
This often means you’ll find me surrounded by scribbles and Word documents with nothing but single paragraphs which aren’t a beginning or conclusion but fit somewhere into the middle of what I’m working on.
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
Me and my own website are not friends. I know many copywriters agree that it is much easier to write for others than for yourself and content that goes up on my site has usually gone through 10+ revisions. It’s time consuming and obviously it doesn’t come with the same instant gratification as copy you’re writing for someone else and can bill for.
My favourite writing-related task is researching new topics, or even learning new things about topics I thought I knew quite well. I love the period before writing a piece where all the research comes together and it’s possible to almost structure the piece in my head.
Any copywriting pet hates?
SEO keyword stuffing and the fact that people still expect writers to do it and not raise an objection. I’m also not keen on people being snobbish about missing commas and apostrophes on social media. For most people social media is simply a way of communicating and how they choose to communicate is entirely up to them, commas or no commas. I don’t think there’s any need to judge.
Of course if there’s a huge typo in a big ad campaign that’s different…
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
Write for humans.
When I started copywriting there was a lot of work about where the name of the game seemed to be to get the exact keyword percentage the client wanted. Every client email mentioned Google at least once!
More often than not this resulted in awful copy which was both boring and unintelligible. Writing for bots and spiders doesn’t work and it doesn’t matter how visible a website or webpage is, if people can’t actually read it and act on it, it’s completely useless. I was only a couple of months in when I was complaining to a friend and they said ‘Why don’t you just write for humans?’ So I did and I do and it works.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Please don’t work for free. It is unlikely to lead to great things and you’re telling people your work has no monetary value. If you want to make a living it’s not a great place to start.
There’s a real temptation to do anything to build a diverse and interesting portfolio but offering out your valuable work for free won’t achieve this.
What’s your favourite thing about being a copywriter?
Seeing my work in its final form. I work on a lot of websites and often I have only a basic idea of what the design will be like and how it will match the copy. I love the moment it goes live and all comes together.