Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
Like many things in my life, copywriting wasn’t a conscious decision. It was more like I fell into it and everything fell into place.
I officially became a freelance copywriter in 2011. Before this, I worked for a number of different organisations (both businesses and charities.) In each one, so many words were needed every day.
But not one of these organisations had hired an in-house or freelance writer with the training, experience or talent needed to give these words the attention they deserved.
I found this, quite frankly, more than a bit nuts. When used well, words turn readers into customers or donors. Words inspire people to promote your brand for free. Words drive traffic to your website. Words grab attention and command action.
But when you don’t pay enough attention to words they can misbehave — badmouthing your business and letting you down when they should be bigging you up. Slippery little suckers, those words.
I believe wholeheartedly in the life-changing power of words, so I made it my business to write the best quality copy I could for the companies I worked for. In every job, I quickly became the ‘go to’ person for copywriting, which felt pretty good (though it wasn’t really what I was being paid for, which is pretty bad).
Then one day, somebody made a chance remark, “You know, If you went freelance, you could write copy all day for loads of really interesting clients and get paid more than you do now.”
So here we are.
What work are you most proud of?
There isn’t one piece of writing that I’m most proud of (though the features I’ve written for The Guardian Newspaper were some of my best work and allowed me to find a voice I didn’t know I had).
I’m really most pleased with handing over any piece of copy that make the client exclaim:
‘But that’s exactly what I wanted to say!’
It happens most often with the About Me page of a website. People are so close to their work that they find it impossible to write about it (I struggled with writing for my own website for this exact reason.)
I make it my business to get inside someone’s head and untangle the jumbled thoughts that are stuck in there. Copy that customers can relate to needs to capture the essence of the person who drives the brand – why did they start this business? Where’s the passion and drive coming from? What’s their story?
Sometimes clients are a bit annoyed – because they’ve paid me for something they had in their head’s all along. But for me, it’s a job well done when I’ve created copy that says precisely what the client wanted to say but couldn’t get down on paper.
That’s truly understanding the brief – which is a commitment and a decision, not an accident. And the fact that they can’t do it themselves means there’s a real need for people like me. I’m doing something not everybody can do, providing a service that there’s a real need for – and I like that, it keeps me going.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
I struggle to know how much of my own personality to inject into my writing. I often read other copywriter’s websites and get a touch of the green-eyed monster when they’ve managed to sell their services through truly being themselves – that takes guts and confidence.
I’ve kept my website copy pretty professional – it’s one of my rules to never sacrifice clarity for cleverness, and I think it’s a good one. But I often worry that my soul has departed and I’m not giving clients a true impression of who I am.
So I wish I’d written any other writer’s web copy that truly captures them in all their kooky, quirky, crazy glory. I’m not there yet, confidence-wise, but it will come in time.
Writing is so much about patience and believing in yourself. I think you have to walk before you can run… so for now, my copy isn’t massively risk-taking.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writers’ block?
Probably very poor advice, but I just write through it. If you write something, you have something to edit. If you get enough words out, you’ll find a hook, something to draw out an idea and run with it.
I also remember the Ernest Hemingway quote;
“The first draft of anything is shit.”
That helps me to forget about quality so much as just writing the damn thing. Then I go back and hone it, again and again, until it starts to take shape.
Writers’ block, for me, happens most when I’m trying to get it right first time – and that’s impossible. It’s never going to be perfect when it’s done, let alone in the first draft! Just write it.
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
I absolutely hate anything to do with SEO. I will do it, I can do it, I get it – but it doesn’t feel like it should be part of writing.
I love getting feedback on a first draft. I love and hate it, I guess. It’s an exciting time, hoping you’ve grasped the brief and delivered what the client was really looking for. Often, you have to dig really deep to get the true reason for the copy or its true purpose.
Clients don’t always know how to brief you, or wasn’t able to give you the full story. If you’ve managed to tease it out of them, feedback from the first draft should be positive. If someone come back with ‘I love it….’ then the job is far from over, but you know it’s going to end well.
Of course, you do get it wrong and the feedback from a first draft can be poor. That’s part of the job too and is often a vital piece of the puzzle. A bad first draft doesn’t mean the copy will ultimately be rubbish.
Any copywriting pet hates?
Looking back at a sentence I’ve written, that I thought I really loved, and thinking ‘what the hell was that about?’ It’s usually when I’ve tried to be clever instead of clear.
I hate gobbledygook – using impressive language and complicated structure and terminology – but I fall victim to it myself, more often than I’d like. If I can’t understand something, with my job, what would someone with a low reading age or who had English as a second language make of it? Clarity. Always. Clarity over cleverness.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
Keep course correcting. Sometimes you look up and you’ve drifted over to one side. You think ‘how did I get here, I’m way off course.’ That’s when you need to refocus, look back at the point you were trying to get to and plot a new course.
I get distracted ALL THE TIME – faffing with SEO, my website, reading articles on where to put CTA’s in my writing… it’s all helping to make me a more rounded copywriter. But I sometimes need to get back to basics, leave all that stuff alone and just practice my writing skills.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
I want to say don’t work for content mills. But sometimes they’re a necessary evil. We have to pay the bills – so taking low paid work might be part of the job for a while.
When I started to get more regular work I realised I’d pretty much been giving away my skills in the early days – but I had to develop my portfolio and gain confidence working with a range of clients, so I did what I needed to do.
Maybe better advice would be not to undersell yourself. Set your prices in line with industry standards. Believe in your abilities. And put your prices on your website – it attracts the right clients, those who understand the value you’re bringing to their business and that it’s not easy doing what we do.
What’s your favourite thing about being a copywriter?
Working for different clients makes life more interesting – though I also like it when someone appreciates my work and uses me more than once, that’s a vote of confidence.
I just like working with words. I always have.
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
It’s good to belong to things when you’re freelance. It can be a lonely place. So being part of a group feels good. And to get my mug around the place… you know…
Where can people find out more about you?
I hang around on twitter retweeting useful copywriting stuff and sticking my oar in where it’s not wanted @rmcopywriting.
Or you can check out my website, which is constantly evolving – www.rowanmartincopywriting.com.
Come say hi on LinkedIn too https://www.linkedin.com/in/rowanmartincopywriting/
I don’t bother much with Facebook though. It’s soooooo 2014.