Louise Shanahan – ProCopywriters Member Spotlight Revisited

Louise Shanahan

Health Copywriter | Edinburgh

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

I’ve been leaning into my health copywriting niche even more. I’m going deeper into the world of medical, biotech and life sciences copywriting.

I’ve also trimmed my services to focus on longer-term projects, such as websites and white papers, with a handful of ongoing clients. Working with fewer clients over longer periods has been really rewarding and means we can build a strong relationship.

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

I worked with a business coach during 2021, which was a game-changer. Having someone to talk through plans and ideas with (and those week-to-week niggles) helps you see what you might be missing yourself. It was like business therapy. I highly recommend it.

One particularly useful takeaway was figuring out my business values. I always found this a bit of a fluffy concept that usually ended up getting lost with all the other well-intentioned pdfs in your G-drive. Now, I see these values as essential criteria to guide all my business decisions and help me find clients whose goals align with mine.

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

A famous internet person said something about doing work that straddles your zone of genius and your zone of joy. Narrowing down my services means I get to do more of the work that I enjoy most and do best, and bring together my copywriting experience with my background in policy and research.

It also means there’s a clear process for each kind of project, so there’s no need to start from scratch each time. My hope is that this makes the entire experience feel easy and straightforward for clients too.

What are you enjoying most about your industry or niche?

There’s so much exciting stuff happening in medical and biotech research at the moment. The medical community has been under immense pressure during the pandemic, as we all know, but there have also been some huge breakthroughs. Gene therapies, oncology treatments, robotics and telehealth are just some examples.

One of my regular clients is in the field of metabolomics, which is gaining traction as a way to understand more about human health and eventually offer personalised medical treatments. I love having a front-row seat to new discoveries. I feel very fortunate to see behind the scenes as new technologies move from “lab to launch”.

What are you working on just now?

Today, I’ve been working on a white paper for a medical device company. I’ve also got an episode of the 15 Minute Freelancer podcast to edit, then I’ll probably head to LinkedIn to see what everyone else is up to.

Describe your desk and what’s on it, or the view from your window

It’s a lovely oak-topped desk with hairpin legs, made from an off-cut of kitchen counter. It looks out onto the road, which is currently covered in snow. Behind my laptop, there’s a jumble of coloured pens, issues of Freelancer Magazine and a couple of Being Freelance stickers.

Tell us about your side projects

During a bored moment in lockdown, I decided to start a podcast about freelancing. A year later, it’s still going! 15 Minute Freelancer is a snack-sized guide to being your own boss and building a freelance business that works for you.

Episodes are a mix of behind-the-scenes stories and interviews around specific questions or themes. All listenable during your morning coffee break!

I’ve found it to be a really fun way to connect with other freelancers and discover how they run their businesses, especially while we’ve not been able to meet up in person.

How has your writing process evolved?

I’m not sure it has changed much. I’ve been embracing Anne Lamott’s idea of the ‘shitty first draft’, and focusing on getting the ideas down on paper.

Most of my time is spent on research and outlining, so the writing part is pretty quick. Once I’ve let it ‘rest’ overnight, I’ll come back and edit it to make sure the argument flows nicely from one sentence to the next.

What do you wish copywriters were more honest about?

Tough question! I can’t think of any secrets we’re squirrelling away.

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

“Charge what you’re worth.”

Wait – hear me out! I’m not suggesting that new copywriters shouldn’t be charging a decent rate. You absolutely should get paid for the value you deliver. But this advice is too woolly to be useful. (In fact, I did a whole podcast episode on why I dislike this advice.)

It might help you psych yourself up before a call with a new client, but it doesn’t help you pin down the actual number to put in your proposal. There are different strategies to figure out your pricing, but it does take a bit of trial and error.

A simple way to start is to think about what you need/want to earn each year, then divide that by the number of days you want to work, and use that to figure out a rate for each project. The ProCopywriter’s survey is also a great way to find out what other people are charging.

Any lessons you’re still learning?

Saying yes to something usually means saying no to something else. And vice versa.

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

I love voice of customer research. It’s full of surprises. You might have an idea of what message you want to lead with in a piece of copy, but it’s only when you dig around in customer interviews and feedback that you discover what will really resonate. That feeling of peeling back the layers of what readers are thinking, feeling and hoping for never gets old.

These comments also tell us the exact words and phrases to use to connect with readers. I always say to my clients, “I don’t actually write any copy – your customers will do that for me!”. The secret is knowing what questions to ask and when. And never forgetting to end the interview with “is there anything else you want to add?”

That always leads to the juiciest quote of the whole conversation. Jen Havice’s book, Finding the Right Message, is a brilliant resource for getting started with voice of customer research.

What do you think?

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