Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
I’m a health copywriter, and it was actually the ‘health’ part that came first.
I worked in government for about 10 years, and a big chunk of that time was in public health, working on everything from cancer policy to encouraging the people of Scotland to do more exercise.
A Masters in Health Policy gave me the chance to dig deep into the science of behaviour change and health comms, and planted the seed of an idea that one day I might try my hand at health writing.
As you can probably imagine, there’s a LOT of writing involved in government work (here comes the awkward segue into copywriting…).
Whether it was writing speeches for government ministers, pulling together briefings or coordinating public awareness campaigns, all of it was geared towards persuading different audiences of a particular idea or action.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, I’d been copywriting all along. Alongside this, I’d been on my own health journey, having had cancer in my early twenties (all fine now, thanks).
As I went down the rabbit hole of online health and wellness, I noticed how influencers would do these ‘launches’ every so often. I was fascinated by the tactics of their launches – the email sequences and sales pages – and started to pay more attention to this thing called copywriting.
When I decided to start my own business, the Venn diagram of my interest in health, my experience in the sector, and my love of writing pointed to health copywriting. So here we are!
What work are you most proud of?
Tough one! I don’t know if there’s a specific project I’d single out, but my favourites are always the ones where I’ve helped a business owner figure out their brand messaging and really understand how to talk (or write) about their services in order to attract more of the right kind of clients.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
I love The Economist ads. It’s not a super original answer, but there’s a reason we all keep mentioning them. They know their target audience extremely well, and bringing them in on the joke like that is genius.
In the health world, the one campaign that sticks in my mind is the ‘missing type’ campaign from NHS Blood and Transplant a few years back, which took famous brand logos and removed the letters A, O and B to encourage people to donate blood.
Doubly appealing to me as a writer and health nerd. And donations were bumped up as a result. I’d love to see such a tangible impact on healthcare come about as a result of my work.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
I’m with Seth Godin and Steven Pressfield on this one. Seth says there’s no such thing as ‘writer’s block’. It’s just an excuse we make when we can’t think what to write next.
After all, you don’t hear teachers talking about ‘teacher’s block’, and you’d be none too pleased if your doctor told you to come back later because they had ‘doctor’s block’.
That’s a bit tongue in cheek, of course, because it IS hard to be creative on demand. We’ve all experienced those desperate moments in front of a blank page. If I’m writing for a client, hopefully, I have a brief to work to, so there’s never really a blank page.
I find it helpful to think of it as an ‘energy block’ rather than ‘writer’s block’. It’s usually solved with a walk, a change of scenery, listening to a podcast or just leaving the work to rest overnight and coming back fresh the next day. Or as Steven says, ‘think like a pro’ and just get it done!
What are your favourite and least and favourite writing-related tasks?
I love doing voice of customer research. I can get lost for hours reading through a client’s customer reviews, social media comments and testimonials. You never know what gems you’re going to discover. It writes the copy for you.
I’m not sure there’s anything I particularly dislike about copywriting itself, but there are plenty of admin tasks I fantasise about outsourcing, if I can get myself organised!
Any copywriting pet hates?
It’s always frustrating when the design work comes before the copy, so I have to work to a character count instead of focusing on the most powerful and persuasive message.
In my view, the ideal situation is to work through the messaging together, then write the copy so the designer knows what they have to work with. There’s nothing worse than writing the perfect headline then discovering it’s one character too long.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
If you’re faced with a tough decision, imagine the worst-case scenario and then figure out what you’d do if that actually happened. Usually, it’s not really that bad.
And when you have a plan to respond to a situation in which EVERYTHING goes wrong, you know you can cope with any smaller glitches along the way. I used this strategy when I was deciding whether to leave my previous job and start my copywriting business.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Choose a niche, find a community, and have a growth mindset.
I was fairly new to copywriting, but I had a lot of experience in the health industry, so focusing on health allowed me to pinpoint the clients I could help most and position myself as an expert from the start.
As for the community, I love joining the weekly #ContentClubUK Twitter chat (Tuesdays at 11am!) where content creators and freelancers come together to share their experiences and cheer each other on.
Finding like-minded folk to share the ups and downs with is even more important if you work alone.
And on the final point, always be learning. I’m a bona fide course addict. But it’s important to invest in your ongoing education, whether that’s learning the craft of copywriting or the skills you need to help your business grow.
Make a point of noticing what’s going well and not so well in your business, and learn from that too. There are no mistakes – it’s all data that can help you decide what to do or not do next time.
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
But since I joined, the real advantage has been accessing the expert webinars and resources to help me run my business.