Helen Johns — ProCopywriters Member Spotlight

Helen Johns

Results Department

Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?

I wrote pieces for the student newspaper while at the University of Kent and thought about going into journalism. But my first job was as a copy editor at Penguin Books.

This provided fantastic training, which has stood me in good stead ever since. Although much of my subsequent career was in book publishing, it took me in another direction – sales, marketing and business development. This still involved writing promotional copy of one kind or another.

After working for several bosses in corporate environments, I decided to get back to basics and start my own business as a copywriter, editor and proofreader. I’ve been doing this happily for nearly ten years now.

What work are you most proud of?

I’ve done quite a lot of work with the legal profession. I’m proudest of the campaign work I did with Regulatory Legal Solicitors (now FS Legal) over several years, drafting communications seeking restitution for private investors in failed funds, such as Arch cru, Harlequin Property Group and others.

Campaigning letters were sent to financial regulators and MPs, as well as investors. I was proud to play a part in this work, which successfully returned millions to individual investors.

What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?

Good journalism, especially pieces written by Telegraph columnists, such as Allister Heath, Daniel Hannan, and Allison Pearson. I love their use of language. Allison writes brilliantly, never beats about the bush, and makes me laugh nearly every time.

What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?

Do something else. Go for a walk with the dog, read the paper, do a bit of gardening – anything that takes your mind to a different place. Mostly it works!

What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?

The best moment is when you read the piece through and know you’ve got the subject covered. Then it’s time for fine-tuning, editing, and finishing touches. That’s always rewarding, and very satisfying. Getting complimentary feedback isn’t bad either!

Least favourite has to be facing that blank sheet of paper and trying to make sense of the brief you’ve been given (sometimes raising more questions than it answers).

Any copywriting pet hates?

Ignoring punctuation! Textspeak seems to have entered the mainstream lately, which leaves the reader trying to work out where sentences end and where to pause and take breath. I think punctuation plays a really important role in breaking up text.

Use of the apostrophe ‘s’ where it’s not appropriate (as in ‘back in the 70’s’ or  ‘Get your tomato’s here’)! Surely one of the commonest errors, and one of the most irritating too!

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?

‘Don’t discount yourself and your accomplishments’, and ‘Charge what you are worth’. I attended a great coaching workshop last year with Alison Haill of Oxford Professional Consulting which emphasized both these points.

Another good piece of advice is not to spread yourself too thinly; there’s a phrase ‘rich in a nich’ (sounds better with an American accent!) which I believe may have originated with Napoleon Hill. Anyway, it makes sense and helps me focus.

What advice would you give people starting out on a copywriting career?

It’s important to keep reading all the time across all sorts of platforms, from printed books and magazines to social media and blogs. Also keep writing. If an idea pops into your head, write it down – you can expand on it later.

Be prepared to send work without expecting payment, at least initially. And don’t give up the day job to fulfil your copywriting dream! Maybe do a job that involves a lot of writing and see where it takes you.

What’s your favourite thing about being a copywriter?

You can do it anywhere and anytime. Writing in the English language is a privilege – it has to be the richest and most expressive language on the planet. I’m still learning new words all the time, and love finding ‘the right word’.

Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?

As a form of professional accreditation, it’s very helpful. As a community, it’s great to feel you are amongst fellow professional wordsmiths. I’ve had one or two useful introductions as a result of ProCopywriters membership.

Where can people find out more about you?

My website (always needing to be updated!) or on LinkedIn.

What do you think?

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