#CopyCon2020—Top tips for being a successful copywriter; Death to perfectionism; Blogging for business; UX jobs—design systems are the new frontier.
“8 hours of copywriting gold” – 10 speakers, 8 training days, satellite sessions, poetry, illustration, networking, cats…🐱 ProCopywriters’ 7th annual conference and 100% online for the first time.
It’s my first one, so I had nothing to compare it to, but it was a fantastic event—inspiring talks (9 female speakers) and seamless tech. I’m still using the app (Attendify) to replay videos and download docs. If there’s one good thing to come out of all this madness, it’s being able to do global conferences that I wouldn’t have been able to afford. No travel costs and you can listen in while you work or on the go. I can’t sit at a desk all day, so I did a walking Zoom to break it up. See more.
Did you go out yesterday? Super Saturday. It was raining here, so I didn’t bother. Not in the mood for shopping or being in a crowded pub, so I stayed home and made some calls. It’s been a busy week, and I had to take my daughter to Heathrow on Tuesday. She’s spending the rest of the summer in Sardinia with her dad, so I’m getting used to being on my own again.
A friend made a comment the other day about being an unpaid skivvy and how she’s glad to get back to work (she runs a vegan café and has been doing takeaways). I know how she feels. I’ve enjoyed spending more time with my daughter and having a co-working buddy, but it’s been hard work. Lots of shopping, cooking and cleaning on top of my paid work, which women tend to do more of.
I need a break.
A friend said her neighbours are having an existential crisis about having jobs with no meaning. The pandemic has polarised jobs into two camps: essential and nonessential. We’re celebrating key workers—teachers, doctors, nurses, supermarket staff and delivery drivers because they’re out there doing important (and visible) jobs. It’s easy to feel demoralised and fed up if you’ve been furloughed, worrying about redundancy, or doing less visible work like IT, marketing and social media.
Pandemic check – updating my website SEO, links, blog, checking tone of voice etc
It’s a diverse range of content and comms across very different industries.
I use a variety of platforms – MailChimp, WordPress, Hootsuite, Microsoft Outlook, LinkedIn, Twitter, G-Suite, Substack, Zoom, SurveyMonkey, Disciple app.
It’s all about communication right now. Getting the right tone and shifting things online – meetings, webinars, podcasts, apps. Finding ways to keep people connected while they’re working from home and having systems and processes in place to manage remote teams.
Being direct is essential – so have one message or call to action per email, use bullets, and keep it short. No one wants long emails with too much information. There’s no point planning too far ahead either as we don’t know what’s coming and things are changing so fast. Focus on the next couple of months.
Now isn’t the time for a hard sell but don’t disappear on your customers either – keep in touch, a weekly email is fine. People will appreciate you being there and doing stuff. It’s an opportunity to show people how you’ve responded to the crisis, your values and teamwork. Once this is over, we’ll remember the brands that took action and helped others, and we’ll be loyal to them.
Add a personal touch – a sign off from the CEO in an e-shot, or call your clients to see if you can help. Offer to keep in touch via their personal email if they’ve been furloughed. Ditch the Survey Monkey and ask for a quick email update instead. Make it easy for people to keep in touch with you.
Use Zoom for online meetings as people are familiar with it and using it personally. Don’t share a meeting link on social media and set a password to join. Make it fun – jokes, canned laughter, music, drinks. Don’t aim for perfection; keep it real. We’re all in this together.
I was inspired to see how the Jigsaw team have been using Zoom – they are a social bunch! Check out their blog post here.
Over the last 20 years, I’ve worked across many industries, and it’s been interesting to see how clients are adapting to the new normal. It’s great to share ideas and see how trends in one industry may help another. It’s one of the joys of being freelance – you see things from a different perspective and bring fresh ideas.
If you need help with your copy and content, feel free to get in touch. I’m here to help. email@example.com.
Sign up for my weekly newsletter, The Shift – exploring new ways of living and working.
PS. If you’re struggling to concentrate, try the Pomodoro Technique, a time management tool. Set your 25-minute timer and work on one task at a time with no interruptions. Short break. Rinse and repeat. I also use Do Not Disturb when I need to concentrate – all calls and notifications off for a calmer working day.
I don’t want to go back to normal, do you?
See this as an opportunity. It’s a good time to think about how you live and work and make some changes.
Day 1 of my ‘Artist in Residency’ – a nicer way of looking at it. Thanks to Sky Dylan-Robbins, Executive Director, Video Consortium, who said, “Despite the anxiety that today’s torrents of bad news may induce, there’s something to be said for taking a moment to breathe, reassess, and do something we haven’t had time to pursue.” Yes! Like announcing on Twitter that I’m going to be learning Italian over the next three months to show solidarity.
27 million people in the UK watched Boris’ historic speech last night enforcing a lockdown and telling us we must stay at home. Sound speech, clear messaging and tagline – “Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.” Note the wartime language: “In this fight, each and every one of us is directly enlisted. On the frontline. Beat the virus. An army of volunteers.” A bit belated, he’s clearly in anguish at having to take these measures, but they are necessary given that the UK saw its highest number of coronavirus deaths in one day, with 87 dying in 24 hours. I’m glad we’re finally joining the rest of Europe.
Woke up at 6.30 am with the sun streaming through the window, dogs barking and birds singing. It’s not great timing, is it? We’ve been stuck indoors for months due to crap weather, and now, just as everything’s coming back to life, it looks like we’re going to be inside for another three months. Still, I’m not running a marathon on my balcony like that fabulous Frenchman – our restrictions aren’t that draconian.
1.18 pm: text from GOV.UK: “CORONAVIRUS ALERT. New rules in force now: you must stay at home. More info & exemptions at gov.uk/coronavirus. Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.”
Slight confusion about messaging. The fam all had the same text advising them to stay at home. ‘You may get additional advice on your health condition shortly’. My mum thought this was irresponsible “cos people will be led to believe they are on the 1.5 million list of at-risk people when the text appears to be a confirmation of government policy to the population as a whole. Loads of folk will be panicking for nowt!”
Friend texted in despair after spending 2.5 hours on hold trying to get through to the Universal Credit helpline for some advice. “There’s no other way to continue a claim than to call them. The system is going to stop loads from getting any help at all.”
Working from home: everyone seems to be using Zoom for online meetings – positive feedback, it’s easy to use. £11.99 for small sessions of up to 100. There’s also a free option, which apparently ends calls after 40 minutes (sounds like an excellent productivity tool!). One of my clients (retail trade body) is digitising its platform for members so we’re exploring webinars, online conferencing, and a portal/forum as all physical events are on hold. Great to see lots of positive news/PR stories coming out about retail and how ‘self-isolation is changing our gifting style’, i.e. we’re buying more gift cards to help loved ones feel better. I’ve already bought three this month for birthdays and Mother’s Day.
So, I’ll be working on a ‘sunny news blog’ for the retail/gifting world with positive stories. There’s also a free school meals initiative for coronavirus which involves gift cards, so lots of scope for retailers.
Funny how having a tight brief for a client or a ‘lockdown’ in this case helps with creativity – we have to work with what we have so there’s less room for procrastination. As Douglas R Hofstadter said, “I suspect that the welcoming of constraints is, at bottom, the deepest secret of creativity.”
Update on self-employment:
Proposed amendment to the Coronavirus Bill: “Statutory Self-employment Pay”. If it’s accepted, it compels the government to introduce Regulations for freelancers: 80% of their monthly net earnings, averaged over the last three years OR £2,197 per month, whichever is lower. Write to your MP to support this: ow.ly/53iz50yUow7 – more news on self-employment tomorrow.
5 pm: Had a jog to Bexhill. Seafront was full of joggers, dog walkers, and bikes… cycling is going to be huge this year. Older people are great at social distancing, but millennials don’t seem to have the hang of it yet and carry on walking straight towards you, so I had to do a bit of dodging. It’s nothing personal, but I don’t want to catch this, thanks. Popped into the Co-op on the way home for loo roll and eggs (max 15 people at a time, self-employed bouncer on the door). Empty shelves, which is no surprise, but now the wine shelf and fridges have been stripped bare too. It’s official: the UK’s holing up for three weeks.
Why aren’t retail staff wearing masks? I’ve been in all the supermarkets, and none of the checkout staff or security are wearing them. The chaps in the corner shops are. This is madness given the number of people they are coming into contact with and the delivery drivers bringing in new stock. We should be looking after these people as well as our NHS staff: they’re on the ‘retail frontline’ after all, and they have to put up with the public all day long…
8 pm: Channel 4 News. The teen on group chat with her mates all night, trying to host a Netflix party. Few tech glitches so it didn’t work, but we’ll try again tonight. Great idea, Netflix!
Some positive news:
After tweeting Dr Mark Ali (Private Harley Street Clinic) to suggest he should offer free COVID-19 testing for frontline workers, I see there’s been a massive backlash about him profiteering from a national crisis. He’s now lost his contract with the supplier so no private testing on his website. Still, he’s made a packet in a few weeks – perhaps he could donate some to the NHS.
Coronavirus: Can Couples Meet up? Couples should test their strength of feeling over whether to isolate together is the official advice from England’s deputy chief medical officer. “Couples need to make a choice and stick with it.”
NUJ training with Eugene Costello and Nick Saalfeld
Copywriting and branded content creation pay two or three times more than conventional journalism and there is near-insatiable demand for skilled practitioners. Join Eugene Costello and Nick Saalfeld to learn how to delight clients and what it takes to command truly stellar day rates.
So, I went along to find out more… a really enjoyable course, funny, entertaining and inspiring with lots of anecdotes, jokes and useful tips. Eugene focuses on B2C work and Nick, B2B and thought leadership so good insight into the pros and cons of both and different rates of pay.
Key takeaways: Do corporate work. There’s lots of it out there and it pays well. Know your worth and charge a decent day rate. Don’t do piecemeal or project work – sites like People Per Hour and Upwork are saturated. Look for niche areas like tech/blockchain, where there isn’t as much competition. Focus on building a relationship with a client. I also love the idea of having a ‘capability statement’ instead of a CV.
Types of copywriting:
· Business writing
· Blogging for clients
· In-house journalism
On finding work:
· Contact small businesses and individuals with high net worth and ask if they need help
· Have your own website with slides/logos on it featuring your best clients and an online portfolio. Blog about the companies you’re working with or want to be. Eugene got an in-house journalism gig with Octopus Energy by writing a blog post about their excellent customer service… which caught the eye of the CEO when he shared it on Twitter… a charity donation and eventually, some work!
· Serendipity – be out there talking to people, go to meetups – Nick runs one for Pharma professionals in London, carry business cards
· Find your niche – for Nick, it’s thought leadership. Think about where your work fits into the company – do your research and then produce 10 pieces. Move from piecemeal to transactional work to relationship building and make yourself valuable. He jumps at the chance to go in-house, meet people and work out how he can contribute. “Get out of the transactional crap into long-term value work.”
· Create a ‘capability statement’ instead of a CV, a two-page document showing clients, sectors, logos, agencies worked for, reference examples, 6 referees, commercial boilerplate. Nick has one and updates it every three months. “It knocks the socks off a CV!”
· Nick also hires writers and looks for: critical thinking, logic and structure in complexity, curiosity, conscientiousness, business sense, horizon scanning, adaptability, flexibility, creativity, emotional intelligence, self-motivation, prioritisation and time management, embracing and celebrating change
· Learn about new areas where there’s less competition – e.g. cryptocurrency, tech, blockchain
· You get what you expect – rates can vary between £150-500 a day
· On knowing your worth – Eugene asked for £500 per day at Octopus Energy and thought he’d fluffed it as things went quiet… but he held out rather than going back with a lower offer and they offered him £400 per day to be their in-house journalist
· If there’s something they like about your work don’t be afraid to ask for more. It’s a good thing to try and hold your rate
· Avoid project rates or piecemeal work – develop a sense of your own value
· Forget the tone of voice corporate bullshit. Speak to people as humans. Be warm, personal, concise, & write as you speak. Innocent Drinks had a revolutionary way of communicating with consumers
On freelance journalism:
· “Writers are going down the rabbit hole of chasing ever-diminishing work.”
· “Print journalism has trodden journalists down until they have no respect left for themselves.”
· “It’s a nice life. I can cherry-pick between commercial work, which is well paid and other work – features, press trips.”
· “Anyone can write and get Grammarly. Clients are paying you for your intelligence, ideas, and perspective – not to write!” They pay you to turn up on time, get on with the team, make coffee etc. Consider how you make people feel and know that ALL your interactions matter
· Ethics – only work with clients you feel comfortable with.
Also, at £15, this course was a steal and far cheaper than equivalent commercial courses I’ve seen advertised. One of the many perks of being an NUJ member!