Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
In my 20s, I spent a year living and teaching in Barcelona. When I came back to London, I was resolved to find some way I could make a living by writing.
A friend had made a short film and I went to the screening, where I met one of his friends who worked for a digital learning agency. He asked what I did, and I was busy doing myself down, telling him what a patchwork my CV was, when I mentioned in passing that I’d taught English in Spain and was looking for a writing job.
He said that was funny because his agency was building an online platform for kids learning Spanish and they were looking for writers. We swapped emails, and I was persistent about keeping in touch. That became my first content writing contract.
What work are you most proud of?
2 things. I wrote the copy for a series of posters and booklets for the charity Maggie’s that I’m really proud of. Cancer is a difficult subject to write about. I had to tread the line between being honest and straightforward, and kind and sensitive. I feel I did a good job with that.
I was Content Editor at JustGiving for 2 years, before I went freelance. I helped establish the friendly, supportive, consistent tone of voice that became integral to that brand. We had a great team of people there, dedicated to creating a great user experience. Proud of that too.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
‘Snap, crackle and pop’ is pretty good. So is ‘If you like a lot of chocolate on your biscuit, join our club!’ (Shout out to #ContentClubUK – the weekly gathering of content writers and biscuit lovers on Twitter)
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
For me, that’s normally a result of being tired or distracted. I have a couple of alternatives. If I’ve got time, I’ll take a break, and often go out for a walk to shift my perspective.
If I’ve got a tight deadline, I’ll power through by brainstorming lines or ideas on a big piece of paper. Everything is allowed – get them all out, no matter how silly or rubbish. Keep going till I’ve filled the page.
There will always be one or two versions that are better than the others, that I can either use as they are, or take as starting points to build on. That usually gets things flowing.
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
Favourite: coming up with ideas for headlines. Trying to beat my own top scores on CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer is a fun game. The challenge of writing pithy, short copy online.
Least favourite: incorporating clients’ feedback, particularly if I can’t talk it through with them in person. Asking clients to add comments to a Word doc, rather than using track changes, has helped improve feedback and communication in the past. It can help us get to the root of what the client wants, before diving into suggested improvements.
Any copywriting pet hates?
I cannot stand the word ‘impactful’. It has no impact! I understand why people want to use it – they want to describe something that makes an impact. But that word does the exact opposite. Say it aloud. It ends on a swallowed syllable.
Even saying something ‘makes an impact’ is an improvement. It’s the power of verbs and nouns. And something to do with plosives and fricatives. I’d need to do some more research into types of consonant sounds to give a full lesson on it!
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
My dad used to remind me, “life’s a marathon, not a sprint”. My career has definitely been more marathon than sprint. There have been stages to it. Stages where I’d take on almost anything, didn’t charge enough, took on too much work, loved what I was doing, felt super confident, doubted myself, thought about career changes.
I hit a wall with copywriting a few years ago, and took a year out, to focus on writing fiction. Now I’ve got 2 draft novels that I’m editing, and I’ve come back to copywriting refreshed and energised, happy to be doing it again.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Talk to other copywriters, online and in-person too, if possible. It’s been the conversations I’ve had with other copywriters on the phone, on Zoom and in cafes that have been the most helpful and meaningful. But most of those people I first came into contact with on Twitter.
Once you get on friendly terms with a few people, it’s easier to talk about things you’re stuck with or not sure about, and you normally find other people are in the same boat. It can help you feel a whole lot better about work and life to know you’re not alone.
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
First of all, the fact that ProCopywriters exists is great. When I went freelance in 2010, Tom Albrighton was co-founding the ProCopywriters Network, which evolved over the years into the ProCopywriters we know today.
Back in my early freelance days, there wasn’t much sense of a community of freelance copywriters, but there really is now, and ProCopywriters has played an important part in fostering that. It also gathers and publishes the supremely helpful information on rates and pricing that so many of us rely on.
Being able to put the ProCopywriters logo on my website was really helpful. For me, it’s a sign that I’m backed by this professional organisation, and that serves to inspire respect and trust in me as a professional.