Neil Barraclough — ProCopywriters Member Spotlight Revisited

Neil Barraclough

Nota Bene Copywriting Ltd | Corporate, Conversion and Creative Copy

How has your business changed since your first Member Spotlight interview?

One of the biggest things has been setting up my limited company, Nota Bene Copywriting. On a day-to-day basis, it didn’t change much. The clients still need finding, the briefs need interrogating and the work needs to get done.

But having the company has really affected my mindset. It’s given me a detachment and confidence that’s resulted in landing larger clients much more regularly.

It’s also changed my marketing. When I first set up as a sole trader, I fell into the trap of just looking for work near where I live. But as good as Manchester is, there’s only so much work going around.

With the limited company, it feels like there’s an extra layer of credibility and I’m now working with companies all over the world. In the last two months alone, I’ve picked up new clients in America, Switzerland and Russia, and I’ve never felt more confident about the future (he says, frantically touching every piece of wood in sight).

What’s been your biggest success since your first Member Spotlight interview?

Going up quite a few tiers in terms of the size of client I now work with. Bigger isn’t necessarily better, of course, and the inevitable hassle that comes with more people judging and signing off any work is a valid reason to steer clear. But I’ll happily take it in exchange for the reliability and flow of work that comes with larger companies.

What are you enjoying most about your industry or niche?

The light and shade. One day I can be doing something for a tech firm, where the research is dry, detailed and full of jargon. The next it can be a sports client, where emotion is everything.

What are you working on just now?

A series of product brochures and web pages for a tech firm. Several case studies for a marketing company. The next issue of a bi-monthly retail magazine. And an email sequence for a client I can’t talk about. Trello is my saviour.

Describe your desk and what’s on it

At the moment, it’s a mess. Thankfully, I’m having my office redecorated in the next couple of months. It should force an enormous clear out.

As for the desk… I think it’s from Ikea about 10 years ago. There are two shelves on each side under the desk, a drawer to my right, and a pull-out section for the keyboard.

On the wall behind the desk is a print of Picasso’s Mediterranean Landscape. The colour brightens up the room and it’s a reminder of why I’m doing the work: somewhere like that will be home, one day.

Unfortunately, the desk surface is where it all goes wrong. (It’s not a pretty sight.) From where I’m sitting, I can see:

  • a knackered mouse that needs throwing away
  • batteries for a camera
  • assorted pens and scrap paper with notes scribbled all over them
  • an empty red stapler
  • an old monitor pushed to one side after a recent upgrade to an iMac
  • the iMac itself
  • some drugs I bought in Spain to treat a nasty bout of sinusitis
  • a half-empty cup of tea
  • an almost-empty bottle of Pledge

Tell us about your side projects

Does raising a two-year-old girl count? Because that’s what seems to be 95% of my life right now.

I’ve got a few ideas pinging around, though. I’d love to start a podcast and have a couple of potential thoughts there.

From my pre-parent days, I’ve also got the first four chapters of an airport thriller gathering dust on my hard drive. (A copywriter with an abandoned novel – who would have guessed?)

And at some point in the next couple of months, I’ve got that desk to sort out.

How has your writing process evolved?

As a former journalist, the pressure of deadlines meant I spent more than 10 years sending copy often just minutes (sometimes even seconds) after it was finished. Now, whenever possible I leave 24 hours between finishing the first draft and coming back to give it a final polish before it goes to the client. It’s amazing what fresh eyes pick up.

What do you wish copywriters were more honest about?

Fees. I suspect too many copywriters get far less than they’re capable of, or worth, because they don’t know what others are getting for similar work.

Any lessons you’re still learning?

How to tactfully and very respectfully tell a client their brief is, well, crap. And how surprisingly grateful most of them are when you do challenge a brief, because it shows you’ve spent time thinking about what they’re trying to achieve and reinforces to them why they need your help.

But that’s just one very specific example. Copywriting is a profession all about learning. If you stop, you’re probably in trouble.

What’s something about your work that makes your inner copywriting nerd happy, but you’re not able to chat about enough?

Copy that sings. From a financial point of view, it’s all about getting your draft approved and producing the results your client wants.

But those lines with rhythm and style, the ones you’ve crafted and can read without missing a beat… if they’re still there in the published version… oh my.


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