How has your business changed since your first Member Spotlight interview?
Oh, you know. It’s ticking over. Barely changed. Except for two absolutely massive things.
The first was collaborating with Martin J Williams (UK Copywriting) and Ben Hampson (BJ Hampson Copywriting) to form our very own copywriting agency. Hampson Nattan Williams.
That was a huge change. We’ve been able to handle much larger projects for much larger clients and, finally, make some headway with replacing design-led marketing with message-led marketing.
And then while we were collaborating, we decided to put on a little event in Manchester. Creative North. Seven amazing speakers including great copywriters like Peter Stephen and Nick Parker.
I think we’ve got a few tickets left down the back of the couch, if anyone’s feeling that FOMO kicking in.
What’s been your biggest success since your first Member Spotlight interview?
Hopefully, in a few weeks, I’ll be able to say Creative North!
Today though, that biggest success just has to be bringing HNW into being. As copywriters, we always like to help each other out, passing work, giving advice. But finding two other incredibly talented people to work with in a more formal way is far more challenging than you’d think.
Just taking that step to trusting someone who until very recently was a big competitor is huge for any freelancer, so getting over that is something the three of us can be proud of.
Why did you decide to focus on the kind of work you’re doing now?
As Hampson Nattan Williams, we’re niching into the tech industry. Manchester’s a real hub of innovation, and there are great young tech companies with some amazing ideas.
Where we come in is helping them solidify those ideas into a real message. It’s really rewarding to work with enthusiastic people who see all these opportunities in front of them, and helping them plot a course towards seizing those opportunities with a solid brand and message.
What are you enjoying most about your industry or niche?
Oddly, the brand building side of things when we work with startups. As a junior back in the mists of time, I got an almighty bollocking for not taking a branding seminar seriously.
Nowadays, I spend more time on things like value propositions, verbal identity and tone of voice than I do on writing. I honestly never thought I’d enjoy it as much as I do.
What are you working on just now?
Final touches for Creative North. I wrote about the initial planning and booking stage on LinkedIn back in March, because I wanted to draw a line under all the hard work that went into bringing a conference to life.
As Leif can tell you in the run-up to the Copywriting Conference, all the stuff you need to deal with in the home straight is just as challenging.
For example, I have to balance Martin’s insistence that we don’t get absolutely trashed at the pre-event #CopywritersUnite with an offer I made to Peter Stephen to take him to meet my friend the beer-maker for a literal piss-up in a brewery…
Describe your desk and what’s on it
Oh, it’s a standard copywriter’s desk.
Pile of books I’ve never got round to reading, small model of a robot from Star Wars, nine issues of a Leeds United fanzine, a pair of pliers, what looks to be half of a sock, and some monitors, a mouse and keyboard.
Tell us about your side projects
I wish I had time for a side project! Between running (a ramped down) 603 Copywriting, Hampson Nattan Williams, and that conference I might have mentioned earlier, I’ve barely got time to sleep.
I do have the first chapter of a novel I started writing in 2009 squirrelled away somewhere. I stopped writing it when I realised it was basically a worse version of Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently books. Only with Ritchie Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers as a background character.
You know what? I should delete that draft.
How has your writing process evolved
Three words. Triple. Strength. Copywriting.
Everything I write now goes through this Hampson Nattan Williams process, where one of us writes, one of us re-writes, and one of us edits.
For example, Ben and I will split a project down the middle. I’ll write half, he’ll write half, then we swap over to make sure everything’s coherent, consistent, and meets the brief. Then Martin will swoop in for some final changes that make the draft sing.
We’ll mix up who’s writing and who’s editing, but as a process, it works really well.
What do you wish copywriters were more honest about?
Prices. Without throwing people under the bus, we’ve had a LOT of pricing feedback over Creative North. We anchored the prices around the Copywriting Survey average day rate, and had people complaining because they’d never seen the survey, thought we’d made a figure up, and were charging £200 more than their day rate.
If we were honest with each other about what we charge, all these copywriters with ten years’ experience working for £150 per day would realise they can afford to put their prices up.
What advice do you often hear given to newbies, but you don’t agree with? Why?
“Write for free as practice.”
If someone wants you to do something, they see value in it. If there’s value, there’s a fee.
I especially don’t like it when people tell newbies that they should spend their time doing free creative for competitions – especially when you can be sure that the people running those competitions will be getting paid for providing a company with reams and reams of free conceptual work.
Any lessons you’re still learning?
I don’t have to do it alone.
As great as it is working with Ben and Martin, there’s still that little sole trader voice at the back of my mind telling me that “if you don’t do it, it won’t get done!”
I think I drove Ben mad with the Creative North outreach work. He’d tell me that he’d write an email in a day or two to be sent the following week, and he’d wake up to a Skype message from muggins explaining I’d been up since 5am working on a draft.
Seems like a simple lesson, but it’s harder than it seems.
What’s something about your work that makes your inner copywriting nerd happy, but you’re not able to chat about enough?
That’s the benefit of collaborating. You can have long, rambling arguments with other copywriters about arcane parts of the craft. If anything I now have too many opportunities to chat about the nerdy parts of copywriting.
But if Hampson tells me that “whilst” is a perfectly usable word one more time, I’m going for him. Maybe we’ll do it on stage at Creative North? Mano y mano. That’s got to be worth the £295 ticket fee alone, right?