Ettie Holland — Member Spotlight Revisited

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

A lot. I used to be a ‘freelance writer’; now I run a copywriting agency for HR and recruitment tech. It’s still mostly just me but I’m embedding the processes and systems to scale.

The business is much more organised now, that’s for sure.

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

God, that’s hard to choose. I’m excited every time I win a new project or client. They all feel like big successes, even when they’re comparatively small.

Almost daily – definitely weekly – I catch myself feeling incredulous and grateful that I’ve built a successful business doing what I love. Maybe that sounds corny.

A recent brand voice workshop felt like an especially big success, though. It was for a super cool rec-tech company in Sheffield (using Mr. Nick Parker’s fabulous VOICEBOX, which I endlessly recommend) and it went even better than I could’ve hoped. I spent a week on cloud nine afterwards. Buzzing.

Why did you decide to focus on the kind of work you’re doing now?

Before I was a copywriter I was a recruiter, so I naturally fell into writing about recruitment. I had a natural affinity for B2B tech – I loathe fluffy – so HR and recruitment tech was an obvious choice.

It happened pretty organically though. I had a few clients in this space, then others started finding me. And the rest is history, as they say.

What are you enjoying most about your industry or niche?

Super cool clients.

HR tech is a high-growth sector and there’s heaps of funding floating about. That means you get fab companies with a start-up vibe, vibrant voices (I hate writing corporate), and (almost) no bureaucracy – but with financial clout.

It means most people I work with are happy to invest and excited to experiment.

What are you working on just now?

I’ve just finished the second draft of sales enablement deck for a people analytics biz, to help ‘champion prospects’ get internal stakeholders onside. They wanted design notes as well as the main pain/gain story, so the deck’s packed with scribbled sketches too.

I’m also just starting an eBook for a business planning software company, which should be cool. It’s a new client so I’m excited to get stuck in.

Describe your desk and what’s on it, or the view from your window

I’ve just moved so right now, boxes.

Once I get my office properly set-up, screens and tea. I thought I’d hate working from two screens but now I can’t live without them – and tea needs no explanation.

Harvey the Hare too, my bronze paperweight.

Tell us about your side projects

I dabble in spoken word poetry (here). I also ride – until recently I had a horse, and I’m looking for another. I also play competitive netball every Tuesday and Saturday.

Are those projects? They feel like projects. I treat most things as projects.

How has your writing process evolved?

It hasn’t changed much. I’ve got faster but I build-in more thinking/faffing/percolating time. I deliver my best work when ideas have time to brew.

What do you wish copywriters were more honest about?

It’s never struck me that we aren’t. There’s a strong copywriting community, and I think we’re mostly a self-evaluating, honest bunch.

What advice do you often hear given to newbies, but you don’t agree with? Why?

‘Copy sales letters by hand’ is always floating about. Someone was having a laugh when they came up with that, I’m sure. And now it gets perpetuated like it’s some Holy Grail Hack for new writers.

Sure, read great copywriting. Read and interrogate everything, from old-school classics to today’s bus stop advertising. But don’t waste time copying them by hand, for fuck’s sake.

Newbies don’t need to overlearn their craft before they start crafting. Learn enough to get by, then start learning with and for clients. You learn more from one real-life project than by copying a thousand sales letters by hand.

Then rinse and repeat, throughout your career. And charge accordingly, as you can deliver more value.

Any lessons you’re still learning?

Thousands. Then thousands more I don’t know I’ve got to learn yet.

What makes a great copywriter isn’t natural talent – it’s hard work. It’s about committing to always learn more, faster than your clients can.

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

Picking holes in shit copy. Maybe that says something horrible about my personality…! I enjoy seeing great copy too of course, but the crap stuff can be hilarious. Especially B2B.

I chat about it a lot though. If my Twitter bubble’s anything to go by, most copywriters do. It’s a natural by-product of being interrogative, which every good writer should be.

My partner even gets involved now. He’ll send me stuff, like ‘Ettie, check this out, I reckon they need to fire their copywriters…!’ He’s usually right.

What do you think?

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