It’s only when you set up your own business that you realise that most people have no idea what you actually do! At least, that’s my experience.
Somehow, that leap from in-house to freelance unleashes a torrent of confusion.
The conversation’s no longer about the company you work for, where you’re based or what your boss is like.
It’s about the nitty-gritty of what exactly you’re doing when you spend all those hours slaving away on your laptop.
In short, what are people paying you for?
What’s in a name?
When I set up my freelance copywriting business, I gave a lot of thought as to what job title I should give myself.
I settled on ‘PR, Communications and Marketing Consultant’ because, to me, it set out what I do (promote and support business by writing words), and what I don’t do (design graphics, code websites etc.).
It also made sense to former colleagues and others in the industry, and was a lot more illuminating than ‘Director’ or ‘CEO’, even though both of those options would have been perfectly legitimate.
The confusion arose when I started trying to explain my new business to contacts in other professions. When I said I was a copywriter, they thought I was involved with legal trademarks.
When I said I was a writer, they asked me when my novel would be out. And when I said I promote businesses, they thought I’d become a cold-calling saleswoman.
In the end, and out of frustration more than anything, I started telling people that ‘I write words’.
If they were still interested, I tried to explain the importance of putting the right words in front of the right people. Inadequate though it seems, it was at least an introduction into the ‘what’ of my chosen career, if not the ‘why’ or the ‘who for’.
It at least ruled out what I didn’t do, and opened up a means of explaining the dark art of PR, marketing and communications.
The irony is, that there is no dark art – it’s just words. I mean no disrespect to the knowledge and skills of my incredibly talented counterparts in the industry when I say that, but at it’s most basic, it is about words.
Let’s not get things out of context. Telling a copywriter that their work is ‘just words’ is like telling an award-winning photographer that it’s ‘just a photo’, or an internationally renowned artist that it’s ‘just paint’.
Most people can write a sentence, take a photo or do some finger-painting, but would you pay them to create something for you? Or expect it to deliver results?
Let’s take photography as an example. Most of us can take a half-decent, reasonably in-focus photo using the increasingly-intelligent automatic settings on our phones, but does that make us photographers?
You see, a photo is about more than just its subject – one photograph of a sunset could be a perfectly pleasant way of documenting a moment, but another will stop us in our tracks and make us say ‘wow’.
The difference between the 2 will inevitably be the composition (what is framed in and what is framed out), and the tools and techniques used to capture the essence and emotion of the scene. Photography is not just ‘point and shoot’, it is an art form.
It’s the same with words. Two articles could convey exactly the same information, but get a very different response. One might grab our attention, the other lose it. One might inspire and the other infuriate.
A good writer chooses their words carefully, understands what to include and what to leave out, and uses specialist techniques to make sure the words captivate and resonate with their audience, provoking the required emotional response.
These devices are the difference between an effective piece of writing and just words on a page. Copywriting may not be a dark art, but it’s certainly a skill.
So, what is it you do, again?
So, what response do I give now, when people ask me what I do?
If they want the short version, I tell people that I help businesses to communicate.
If they want the long version, I tell people that I put the right words in front of the right people to promote and support businesses.
If they want the ‘War and Peace’ version, I tell people that I help businesses to communicate with their current and future customers, and that I put the right words in front of the right people to help those businesses flourish and grow.
So, you don’t write words?
Yes, I write words, but I do more than that. Hopefully, in time, people will understand.
Over and out for now,
First published on WordPlay Creative.