Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
I’m sure most copywriters would say this, but I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write for enjoyment.
From childish attempts at stories to angst-ridden teenage poetry, I was always convinced I would be a bestselling author by the time I was 30. The book deal may be yet to materialise (never say never!) but my career has always involved some element of writing.
My earliest copywriting experience was working in the administrative side of recruitment. Most of the work was pretty mundane, so I loved the opportunity to get creative with the job adverts. There were strict guidelines for the advert copy, so it was a good learning curve too.
Over time I gradually moved into marketing, specialising in digital with a focus on a strong content strategy. I have always gravitated towards the content side of marketing and always made time to write copy myself wherever possible.
For the last 7 years, I worked at management level, which meant I often had to delegate copywriting tasks to my team and I really missed this part of the role.
During this time, I did keep my hand in with copywriting in my own time by contributing to blogs and online publications on a regular basis.
Since going freelance as a marketing consultant and copywriter, I have really enjoyed writing copy again myself rather than just editing my team’s work. I have found that this experience has made me a much better editor of my own work.
What work are you most proud of?
I worked in marketing for 10 years before going freelance. For a few years, I managed a teacher recruitment website that was run as part of the local council.
With zero budget for paid advertising, I knew social media and a clear content strategy was going to be the best way to drive traffic and engagement. This was at a time when using social media for business was only just taking off.
In fact, I was categorically told we were not to use social media. I’m pleased to say I went with my instincts and set up social media pages and blog. It took a bit of time to build up a following initially but then began to snowball.
The team still use a very similar strategy, as by using great copy and relevant content we were able to minimise their paid advertising spend.
The time I spent there working on the content for the blog and social media also gave me the opportunity to try different things, see what worked and what didn’t.
I would carefully analyse the data we had and adapt future copy around this. This method still shapes the way I approach copywriting today.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
This might not strictly be classed as “copy”, but I would love to have written The Gruffalo. My children and I are big fans of Julia Donaldson’s books and The Gruffalo is a firm favourite of ours.
I think young children’s literature can be overlooked sometimes (and I’ll admit there is some real shockers out there) but this is just such a beautifully written piece of writing. I can almost recite it by heart and it will be a sad day for me when the boys have outgrown it.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
For mild writer’s block, I normally abandon the screen and put actual pen to paper.
For some reason, I find it much easy for ideas to start flowing this way. If it’s really bad, then I abandon it altogether and go and do something mundane for a while.
Getting some of those little tasks ticked off my list can help me run things through in my mind and refocus once I am back at my desk.
I find spending time with my two young boys really helps me think more creatively. Their imaginations are without restriction and go off on the craziest of journeys. I’m sure they deserve a credit for the more creative writing I do.
What are your favourite and least and favourite writing-related tasks?
I actually really enjoy tackling a brief that is a bit out of my comfort zone. Doing the extra research and taking the time to digest this and translate it into effective copy is really satisfying.
Like a lot of people, I find conversations about money really uncomfortable. Since going freelance, it’s been a bit of a learning curve to get over this and just get on with it.
Any copywriting pet hates?
I hate reading copy that feels disingenuous. Either because you know the words do not match the ethos of the organisation or they are trying to emulate a style that just doesn’t fit their brand. I think people see through this so easily now.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
Find your people. When I decided to go freelance recently, one of my biggest concerns was how competitive it might be. I’m really not a competitive person by nature.
By chance, I connected with Katie Thompson of Katie Lingo on LinkedIn. We got chatting and she reassured me that the community of copywriters was much more about collaboration than competition.
It was Katie who introduced me to ProCopywriters and added me to other Copywriting groups on social media. I can’t thank her enough.
There is not much I miss from my previous office-based career, but I do miss my colleagues, so it has been amazing connecting with this community.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Reach out to other people, don’t try and do it all by yourself. Speak to other Copywriters, speak to potential clients, speak to your friends. Get as much advice as you can, as often as you can. You don’t have to follow it all, but at the very least it will give you something not to do!
Also, don’t beat yourself up over mistakes. We all make them, and we can learn more from them than our successes sometimes. Although I’m not going to pretend that I am any good at following that piece of advice myself.
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
I have only recently signed up to ProCopywriters, but it has been great finding a community I can reach out to and learn from as I start out as a freelancer.
Where can people find out more about you?
You can find out more about me professionally on my website www.redbootsmarketing.co.uk or LinkedIn Profile (https://www.linkedin.com/in/samantha-vandersteen-70119a21/).
Twitter is where my professional and personal life collide (https://twitter.com/Samantha_Van84), so feel free to follow me on there too if tweeting’s your thing.