Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
I’m very curious about things and love to put myself in people’s shoes. So copywriting is the perfect career for me.
Lots of copywriters start out as journalists. My route was more techy.
I’ve always loved words and writing. After studying English at Cambridge University, I worked as a CD-ROM Editorial Assistant at an educational publishers. I switched to their fledgling website editorial team as they looked like they were having more fun. I was right!
After a few years I became the only e-commerce Editor for First Choice Holidays in Gatwick for 4 intense years.
Firsts seem to be a theme, as I then spent a decade as the first Web Editor for a National Park, working in the beautiful, if wet, Lake District. I also stepped up to run their accounts for some new social media platforms called Twitter and Facebook.
I went freelance in 2014 and finally fulfilled a life-long dream to live and work in the historic city of York.
What work are you most proud of?
Probably “moving the beehive” of Durham Cathedral’s 150+ web pages onto their new web platform, pruning, refreshing and tidying as I went. I also managed to untangle some of the navigation and weed out duplicate pages.
Durham Cathedral is such an iconic building with a lovely bunch of volunteers and staff. Years ago I’d volunteered to do some restoration work there as part of my Duke of Edinburgh Award, so it felt like a ‘full circle’ moment.
I also get a real buzz when I’m training someone in SEO, or writing for the web or social media, and they say “Oh, now I get it!” My father and grandfather were both teachers, so it’s probably in the genes.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
Whoever came up with the “This isn’t just any chocolate. This is M&S chocolate” line is a genius. It’s astonishing how quickly it’s filtered into everyday language.
Salman Rushdie’s “Naughty but nice” is a perennial favourite and Marie Kondo’s “spark joy” is such a clever way to pack so much meaning into just two words.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
My friend and artist Michelle Hughes of Design York has this pinned up in her studio, which really helps remind me that every project has its highs and lows:
The Creative Process
- This is awesome
- This is tricky
- This is pants
- This might be OK
- This is awesome
I’ll go for a walk round the block, make a cup of tea, switch to another task or watch a YouTube video on interior design. I also find I can ‘reset’ by logging into my social media accounts before going back to writing.
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
I don’t send clients huge questionnaires to fill in but prefer to have a kick-off chat instead. This is such an inspirational part of the copywriting process. It helps me get a feel for their style, goals and unique selling points.
Often my questions prompt them to think about things in a different way. One client compared it to “therapy – but in a good way!” I also love a good rummage around the SEO undergrowth to work out the best keyphrases for the project.
My least favourite?
Filling out the endless forms for local authority or government tenders or pitches. Often they’re written more like a job application. Recently I had to dig out my GCSE grades – surely portfolio examples would be more relevant?
Any copywriting pet hates?
So many people try to sound impressive by using jargon or complicated words. But in the business world you don’t get extra marks for this.
In fact, Google will mark you down for convoluted words and long sentences. Plus people simply don’t buy from people who make them feel stupid.
Another peeve is ‘click here’ on websites. The Lake District National Park was a local authority, so our websites had to be as accessible as possible to comply with the Disability Discrimination Acts.
Read-out-loud software for those with visual impairments often lists links separately. It’s far better to hear “Links: gallery, online tickets, contact us” then “Links: click here, click here, click here…”
Good accessibility also means you’ll achieve higher rankings in Google, so it makes sense to build it into every website.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
The talented homeware designer Julie Dodsworth once gave a talk at York Business Week. She shared her mantra of: “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.” It’s a good reminder to be brave and pitch for that project or ask for that introduction.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
To befriend any fellow copywriters. I started York Copywriters’ Coffee meet-ups to offer a place to share ideas and issues. You soon realise that every copywriter is different, with preferred niches and specialisms.
If a project comes in for brochure and leaflets, I’ll recommend a fellow copywriter. They return the favour by recommending me for projects involving websites, social media or SEO.
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
I’ve always been a member but went Pro in 2021. Your newsletter is a brilliant source of potential projects.
I also wanted to support you and your excellent annual UK rates survey. It’s so easy for a new copywriter to be taken advantage of when it comes to day rates. I’m forever sending newbies the link to your survey results.
Where can people find out more about you?
You can check out my website, social media and training services at: www.inkgardener.co.uk