Member Spotlight Revisited

Jackie Barrie

Jackie Barrie T/A Comms Plus

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

Wow, my first member spotlight was 2012! Here’s the link:

Since then, I’ve added speaking, training and mentoring to my list of services, and published three more books, most recently, Copywriting Q&A: 101 freelance copywriting questions answered. I also handpicked a team of journalist-turned-copywriters to join my ‘inner circle’, and I outsource work to them.

I have been freelancing since 2001 so I’ve had plenty of time to build my contacts, profile and reputation. It means I don’t have to do much outbound marketing anymore, as over 95% of my enquiries are inbound, from repeat business, recommendations and referrals. It’s a good position to be in.

Oh, and I’ve had my teeth fixed, replaced contact lenses with glasses, let my silver hair grow out and had it cut shorter. I still have those silver earrings though. And that necklace.

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

Hard to pick just one. How about this?

Being invited to speak/train for ProCopywriters, in a breakout room at a London conference, and online during lockdown and a series of lunch-and-learn sessions*.

[*Ed: these sessions are available to ProCopywriters members. Sign in and head to your dashboard. Or visit the Events page to see upcoming workshops]

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

I always wanted to be a writer. School careers advice back then was rubbish: “You don’t want to be a writer,” they said. “Writers starve in a garret. You want to be a teacher.”

“No, I really want to be a writer,” I insisted.

Hoorah – I’ve made a living as a writer since 1983. The irony being that I now spend 50% of my time training and mentoring people how to write better or how to start and grow their copywriting business, so I’ve become a teacher after all.

What are you enjoying most about your industry or niche?

Working online in my slippers instead of travelling up and down the country and around the world to speak and train.

What are you working on just now?

I specialise in writing for professional services, including solicitors, finance people, coaches and consultants. I have 8-10 regulars so don’t need much new business. One extra piece of work per month is enough. I outsource any other enquiries that come in.

I also train recruiters how to write better job ads, journalists how to add copywriting as an income stream, and in-house marcomms teams how to write proper copy.

Describe the view from your window

My home office overlooks a school playground. The children are aged about four to seven. Luckily, they’re not the shouty, sweary, fighty kind. They do squeal a lot during playtime though.

It’s fascinating to watch them when it rains. The little girls scream and run inside. The little boys stand with their arms in the air getting soaked.

Tell us about your side projects

Improvised comedy. I’ve been learning it for almost a decade. Every month, I attend a workshop, go to a show, or read a book.

It’s a hobby packed with joyful wordplay and belly laughs. It’s also leaked into daily life and made me a more relaxed, fun and spontaneous person.

How has your writing process evolved?

When I started my career, we’d handwrite copy for the typing pool to type and send out to typesetters who’d return galley proofs printed on A3. We copywriters would make our proofreading marks in blue (I still feel weird if I use a pen that’s not blue), graphic designers in green and buyers in red.

Then I got a typewriter (there’s a story about that in my previous spotlight). Eventually, the team shared an Amstrad (oh, that tiny green-on-black screen!) then an Apple Mac, until we each got our own machine.

It seems almost magical to have an iMac, MacBook Air, iPad and two iPhones, all for me.

As for my process, when a client asks me for web copy, I usually upsell them to include case study interviews beforehand (so I can identify their core selling message and language their customers use), with blog posts and newsletters afterwards, followed by a social media review and perhaps content.

The website is just a step in their whole digital marketing process.

For my clients, it’s like going to McDonald’s when they ask: “Do you want fries with that? Do you want to go large?”

What do you wish copywriters were more honest about?

I wish freelancers would have the confidence to charge more. When I’m mentoring, I often ‘throw’ confidence down the lens, and spend more time saying “increase your fees” than anything else.

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

“You must have a niche to get started.”

No, you don’t need a niche. I’ve been a successful generalist since 2001 – or you could say I have about ten niches. The variety fascinates me.

That said, there are things I’ll say no to. These include: Writing a leaflet to promote a lap dancing club (I passed it on to someone who’d enjoy that more than me), writing that would be printed on the handle of a gun (I didn’t want anyone holding my words while they shot something or someone), and writing for a competitor to one of my regular clients.

If you have a niche, you’ll know it. Don’t wait to find one. Just get started. After a few months, your niche (if you have one) will become apparent.

Any lessons you’re still learning?

I’m a lifelong learner.

I’ve recently updated my psychology degree with a BPS-recognised qualification in neuroscience. I’m also getting deeper into exploring the Three Principles Understanding about the nature of human experience.

For example, it’s taught me how to disconnect myself from the label ‘Copywriter’ so client feedback doesn’t hurt like it used to. I recognise that I’m just a human being, doing my best moment-by-moment – and so are they.

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

I’m totally nerdy about the psychology of copywriting. How the brain processes words and symbols on paper and on screen, and how to use language to influence behaviour.

Jackie Barrie

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