Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
You’ll probably laugh. Before this, I’d spent 19 years as a music business agent, even though it wasn’t really my natural calling. Go figure. I knew I wanted to write for a living, took a remote learning course on copywriting, got very positive feedback (although I suspect they say that to all the boys), so I jumped ship and changed my life.
I used money I’d put aside to fund myself while I got up to speed, investing in more learning and getting started with odd jobs on Upwork. Then I began emailing agencies, and gradually it grew.
Looking back, I could say I’d been selling bands and DJs for years, as well as learning about being accountable, organised and persistent – all of which were invaluable skills when I set up my own business.
What work are you most proud of?
There is one particular landing/sales page with supporting About page project I did that just hit all the right notes, but I’m under an NDA, so can’t talk about it!
So it’ll have to be when the integrated marketing agency I’d worked with on a few websites also asked me to write their own website copy. That was a proud moment. I put everything I could into making it as effective as possible. Looking back now though, I know there was still room for improvement! Cringe. Always learning.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
The piece of copy that has most affected me recently was a flyer for Age Concern (I think!). It was A5, with one side simply a gloomy photo of an elderly man sadly looking out of a window, with the headline: “Arthur hasn’t spoken to anyone in two weeks.” Reading that was like getting a stake through the heart. I wish I’d come up with that. I keep bearing it in mind with any new projects.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
Go back to basics. Everything we write should be inspired by the people we, or our clients, want to serve. If I’m stuck, it means I haven’t paid enough attention to the target audience’s story, problems, pain points, immediate priorities and ideal objectives. I probably also need to revisit a list of quotes taken from customer reviews relevant to the various stages of their journey.
A while ago, one superstar copywriter posted about a grid they use to document customer language around their initial status, needs, reservations, experience and status after. I started to use that a lot, and it’s been invaluable in the past to kick-start ideas for copy. Coupled with a solid structure for what you need to write, this should dispel writer’s block (most of the time)!
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
Favourite has to be going through the discovery process with a client. I’ve done what I call ‘A4 Sessions’ (because we end up with endless sheets of A4 paper covered in notes) where I’ve asked questions to really get to the bottom of what they really do, who their ideal client is, what’s going on in their head, their USP, etc.
By the end, we’ve got what we need to write their homepage and start a few others. Seeing the light bulbs come on about their business in their heads is immensely satisfying.
I also love working out the structure for a piece of copy – the order of what should happen where – after we’ve established what information the piece needs to convey and all the facts, stats, etc. Imagining the reader’s journey through the copy, down the page, or whatever, and considering how you can influence their thoughts, feels really powerful.
Least favourite has to be blog posts in general. I hate writing blog posts with venom. Yes, I know they serve a purpose, can draw people to a website and can play on fears, suspicions, issues and dreams, but I just don’t enjoy them. Never really been much of an article writer.
Any copywriting pet hates?
Only a couple 🙂
• Anyone who obsesses about the Oxford comma. Grow up. It isn’t needed most of the time. Only for clarity.
• Whatever you’ve written, no matter how well thought out or perfect you think it is, someone else will want to change it.
But sometimes you’ve got to pick your fights – push back once, and if they won’t take your advice then step back and let it run.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
This is weird, but I don’t think I’ve had any career advice! Themes sometimes crop up, mainly: Relationships Are Everything.
Keep talking to people, be they existing clients, prospects, or people you’ve just met at an event. The more people know you, and you know their activities, the more they’ll think of you when they need your skills.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Have belief in where you’re going with your life, picture your end goal, have faith in yourself and be persistent. Persistence usually wins out.
Identify who you want to serve, or work with (or work for!) and don’t be afraid to reach out, make connections and make things happen. Master the art of cold email backed up with social media comments.
Oh – keep learning. If you spot a marketer on LinkedIn or Facebook or wherever who is giving out wisdom, sign up for their mailing list. Not only will you absorb information about great emails and sequences, you’ll keep getting those insights. And you’ll start to get the mindset.
I’ve learned a lot from simply following what people like:
- Joel Klettke
- Michal Eisikowitz
- Joanne Weibe
- Andre Chaperon
- Drayton Bird
- Margo Aaron
- Hilary Weiss
- Talia Wolf
- Tarzan Kay
- Gill Andrews
- Orbit Media
And lately, Katelyn Bourgoin (and more!) have to say.
Also, when pitching for a project, start their job right in front of their eyes. They’ll feel invested in what you’re doing, and it starts to win over their minds.
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
It’s great to feel a connection to the wider world of writers and the industry. To know that a lot of experiences are shared and to learn from what other people have to say.
Other people have trod this path, made mistakes, gained victories and coped with the full range of issues and joys along the way. When you’re working by yourself, seeing this is invaluable.
Where can people find out more about you?
I’m easy to track down on LinkedIn: uk.linkedin.com/in/doug-smith-copywriter
A year ago, I was honoured to be offered a position at dynamic, Suffolk-based integrated agency StrategiQ, and I’m there now 4 days a week: strategiq.co/team/doug/
This means my own website is now woefully out of date, but I’ll still stand by it 🙂 lookherewriting.com