Kathy Sharpe — Member Spotlight Revisited

Kathy Sharpe

Sharpe Communications (Freelance Education Copywriter in Leeds)

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

My last profile was soon after I went freelance nearly four years ago. I’ve learned stacks about working for myself and running a sole trader business in that time.

Thankfully, I’m in a position where I get repeat custom now and benefit from word-of-mouth referrals. I’m also more focused on the type of work I accept which is mostly public sector and education copywriting.

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

The size and scale of businesses I work with are more diverse now. Alongside smaller independent clients, I also win projects for larger clients and universities. Some work involves PR, and we’ve had great national coverage. A personal highlight was a photo-op with the Dulux dog!

I was also very chuffed when I wrote an award submission that saw LeedsBID win an international placemaking award in Texas, USA.

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

Many of my clients are from the education sector as I’ve mostly worked in public sector communications, so this feels like familiar territory. I’ve seen first-hand the transformative effects of education on students, so it’s easy to write about a subject you completely believe in.

When I first started out as a freelancer, I was wary about specialising. I didn’t know where the work would come from and didn’t want to stifle any income channels.

However, I was given some sound advice early on about the benefits of getting a niche. Becoming the go-to person for a specific subject area actually makes you more memorable. It doesn’t deter enquiries from other sectors.

What are you enjoying most about your industry or niche?

I really enjoy helping clients who make a difference with the work they do. It’s really rewarding to support organisations that work with students from hard-to-reach backgrounds, such as asylum seekers and refugees, or learners with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

What are you working on just now?

This week it’s a Queen’s Anniversary Prize submission for a local college, a Degree Apprenticeship press release, online articles for education support services in Hackney, and property expansion PR for a SEND education institution.

Describe your desk and what’s on it

Coloured pens, Macbook and screen, lots of sticky notes, mug warmer, hand cream and lip balm, lamp, clock, rubber man with a pen sticking in him, and an aqua bead Llama made by my son. As you do.

Tell us about your side projects

I don’t have a whole heap of free time, and a lot of what I do have is taken up with one of my sons’ additional needs and all the admin that goes with that.

As with all copywriters, there’s trying to write THAT book on the side and various kid stories/illustration side projects which have yet to see the light of day!

How has your writing process evolved?

Over my 20+ years in communications, I think I’ve become more analytical in my writing and a little better at planning. The temptation is always to throw yourself into writing as you feel a natural pressure to produce content quickly, especially as a freelancer.

Time is money, and all that. I’ve realised how counter-intuitive it is to write when I’m tired or in the wrong frame of mind. I TRY to listen to my body, take breaks, and come back to a project fresh. That’s the theory, at least.

What do you wish copywriters were more honest about?

Occasionally, I see peers massively overestimating how long a project will take. I don’t know how accidental that always is. However, I’ve seen others really undercharge and not know their worth, so it works both ways, I guess.

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

“Take any work you can get, as you don’t know when you’ll get your next project.” Freelancing tends to be feast or famine. You learn to accept that and need to hold your nerve. Work will come.

My advice would be to try and be selective if you have the luxury to do so, or work towards getting into that position. I’ve taken jobs in the past that I felt uneasy about or even a little out of my depth, and they always take longer and prove most arduous. Play to your strengths, and don’t blag it!

Any lessons you’re still learning?

Spotting time wasters and pinning down a water-tight brief.

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

I do love the challenge of writing awards bids. Getting sent 40 documents to distill down into a 2,000-word submission brings out the geek in me, although it’s probably a lot of other people’s idea of hell.

What do you think?

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