As the copywriter is rarely seen by her clients…

…she need not dress respectably, to misquote George Bernard Shaw, on the main reason for adopting writing as a profession.

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Ah, clients. I love my clients. On the end of the phone, by email. The occasional meeting just so I know I still exist…when I do dress fairly respectably.

My clients are THE BEST. That’s to say, I am (almost always) appreciated for my work,  I get paid – yaaay – and I very often garner repeat business. I’ve been working with some of my clients for years. And I do say ‘working with’ not ‘working for’ because that’s how I see it – as a partnership.

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Client : A person who pays a professional person or organisation for services’, says Merriam-Webster (except they used a z in organisation, so, true to my British heritage as a copywriter, I corrected it). The definition of client does not, anywhere that I can see, include expecting far too much, far too quickly,  for far too little recompense, with not even an acknowledgement that the work has been received, let alone the courtesy of a thank you. Just sayin’…

So here are some examples of client demands imposed on copywriters and web designers, some of whom are known to me, others came from that excellent website, Clients From Hell.

As a freelancer, especially at the beginning, it’s extremely hard to turn clients down but…

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Honestly, life’s too short to put up with stuff like this:

If you’re going to charge me 40$ an hour to make my website I would like to install a camera in your office so I’m 100% sure you don’t bill me for hours where you’re not working.

I don’t believe you can have taken 6 hours to do this work.  You have single-handedly wiped out all my profits. In future, when you are working for me, you are to text me every hour and tell me what you have achieved in that time,” from a client who asked, at very short notice and out of office hours, for copywriting to be undertaken which involved extensive research, responding to 58 emails, multiple phone calls and a Skype conference, as well as the writing itself.

Why are you so expensive? Don’t you understand that you are discouraging a new company from growing? I have to meet the other partners – we didn’t plan for this huge expense, ” from a client who was invoiced $300 for a logo and 20-page brand manual.

I prefer the copy the length it was before you edited it. I don’t want to cut a single word,” from a client who had written the first draft of copy for a brochure –  long, rambling, repetitive and ungrammatical – and hired a copywriter to edit it, as advised by his graphic designer.  The graphic designer again told the client his copy was too long. “Never mind, we’ll make the font much smaller so it fits into your design.”

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YES – OF COURSE clients can call the shots about how they represent their company, about the approved copy. It’s absolutely their choice, even if it doesn’t read well, look good or do the job for which it was intended. We can only offer advice.

That’s one thing. It’s entirely another thing to be exploited or treated with disrespect by your clients.

Honour yourself, I say. It’s taken me a very long time to get there, to the point where I’m able to say…

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Thank you, my lovely clients, that it’s such a rare occurrence in my working life. You are STARS.

 

 

A good copywriter must be an acrobat

A good copywriter? I suppose copywriters come in many guises. One of these is that they stick to a particular niche in the market and become very knowledgeable about it. Another – and I think this is me – is the copywriter who simply loves words, playing with words and is always curious.

That’s curious like this:

Curious (Pronunciation: /ˈkjʊərɪəs/): Adjective

  1. Eager to know or learn something

Not this:

    2. Strange, unusual

Although probably 2 applies as well  (but that’s no bad thing in my opinion. Who wants ordinary?)

This sort of copywriter is in possession of many minds

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or is at least able to make one mind perform acrobatics, as we don’t necessarily want to enter into the realm of insanity…

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So, here are the acrobatics my mind was performing last week, or those acrobatics relating to my job as a copywriter. (Let’s draw a veil over the Creative and Critical Writing Masters).

  • Researching highly technical data about WiFi solutions, cloud systems, BDR and the like – see, I know that BDR means backup disaster recovery now – and turning it into language that, well, people like me can understand. From nerd to, errm, tech dummy?
  • Revising a website for which the intended audience was high-society, aristocracy, royalty. From Joe Public to Upper-Upper Class
  • Creating a poster for a supermarket on the lower end of the retail spectrum for which the guidelines were, frankly, on the high end of the patronising spectrum. While not actually saying ‘use no long words’ they might as well have… From Joe Public to…some marketing department’s perception of a certain shopping demographic. Duh!

Oscar Wilde made me feel less slimy on the last point.

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And so did this…

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THAT’S what good copywriters do. Make things easy to understand, entertaining to read, compelling – using the vocabulary, tone and layout which will most appeal to whoever it is they’ve been asked to address.

I find it FUN copywriting though sometimes challenging. I love my job. All those acrobatics keep me mind agile.

Next week?

Keyboard skills for guinea pigs.

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NOOOOO problem for a polymath copywriter…

 

Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the Internet.

I beg your pardon? Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the internet?

Somebody said that. Nobody wanted to own up, though. And I would disagree – not that I’m not distracted by the internet, (excuse the double negative) by the way. Oh, hang on a sec…

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I AM sometimes distracted by the internet when I’m working but, here and now, I’m going to justify my position in a way that only an aficionado can. An aficionado who is also very skilled at finding euphemisms for uncomfortable words like addict and fanatic.

First – distracted or not, I don’t miss deadlines. EVER.

Second – writing is a solitary pursuit (I work on my own at home) and it takes up much less (work) time to have a quick interaction with someone on Facebook/by email/FaceTime/WhatsApp/SMS, or whatever your weapon of choice, than it does to meet up face-to-face.  Virtual chats are sometimes necessary when I’m up to my eyes in copywriting, just to remind me that there are people out there in the Big Bad World beyond the four walls of my study.

Third – when I’ve been writing for a long stretch on some mind-bogglingly dull or complex subject (yes, those do exist) I feel as though my head might explode. Very often, I’ll go out into the garden for a breath of fresh air, or make myself a cup of tea, or do some housework – all to give my brain a break. But SOMETIMES, it’s just as relaxing to surf the net for a while, watching silly YouTube videos about kittens startled by cucumbers. We all need a break occasionally, purrrrlease.

Fourth – I USE the internet quite extensively in my work – for research purposes. (My husband laughs hollowly when I tell him this – but I DO).

SO, the internet may have its pitfalls…

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BUT, it also has its uses for me, a writer.

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I’m now trying to assess whether writing this blog = being distracted by the internet. Don’t think so.

However, maybe you reading it is…

 

Writers fish for the right words

“…like fishermen fish for, um, whatever those aquatic creatures with fins and gills are called.”

Those words are from my favourite Jarod Kintz. (Well, he’s the only one I know…)

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Surely better to use familiar and simple words correctly rather than misuse other more complex words? (There’s an irony for you – misusing words when you’re anxious to appear to be clever. How to make yourself look like a numpty).

I love the way Howard Mittelmark offers a practical solution for us, in How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them–A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide.

“A Test: Do I Know This Word?

Ask yourself: ‘Do I know this word?’
If the answer is no, then you do not know it.”

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You could always be creative. Jarod Kintz again:

“Who needs a large vocabulary when you can just make up any word at any time? It makes life a whole lot more emeaglibop.”

I can honestly say that my life is particularly emeaglibop at the moment, in no small measure due to hearing some words on the radio, made up to fill gaps in the English dictionary – words created for occasions where no words exist.

For that moment when you’re waiting at the airport baggage reclaim and everybody’s suitcases have appeared except for yours:

BAGONIZING!

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To describe how you feel on those occasions when you’re with your friends and they’re constantly looking down at their mobiles:

PHONELY!

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And finally – you’re driving along the motorway and a huge truck pulls out in front of you and takes about half an hour to get past the truck in the next lane:

SLOVERTAKING

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As a copywriter, I find the right words for my clients’ websites and marketing material.

That’s all.

 

“When you undervalue what you do…”

“…the world will undervalue who you are,”says Oprah of the Winfrey.

Indeed, she is so very right, as always, I suspect. Sickening, really, people who are always right. It brings out the child in me.

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For my internal (now external) debate on whether or not I undervalue myself, blame Seth Godin, who kindly emails me every day with his thoughts, even when I don’t want to read them. This was from yesterday.

“Double and half (freelancer math)”      N.B. I think Seth means MATHS!

“Successful freelancers need to charge at least double the hourly rate that they’d be happy earning doing full time work. (In many fields, it’s more like 4 or 5x).

And they need to spend at least half their time getting better at their craft (and helping the market understand and appreciate what they do).

Your mileage may vary, but one sure route to becoming an unhappy freelancer is charging just enough and hoping that the low price will keep you busy all the time.”

See?

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I’m getting better at this but when I’m asked to quote for a job, everything inside screams, ‘Don’t charge too much! They’ll find someone cheaper. You won’t get the job.’ – so it’s a battle for me to come up with a realistic charge for my services and, yes, generally I DO undervalue myself and that means I don’t get paid as much as I might. Not that I’m an unhappy freelancer, you understand. My glass is always half full, or even overflowing, simply because I love my job.

But here are the recommended rates for freelance copywriters in the UK, as suggested by:

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Hourly: £30-£100 depending on experience.

Daily: £250-£800 depending on experience.

I AM very experienced. My clients come back to me again and again, because they know I produce top quality work on schedule or sooner and that I work weekends and through the night, if necessary, to get a job done on time.

I have never dared to charge more than £30 per hour.

There is this little niggling doubt in my head that I should rephrase that sentence starting,’My clients come back to me again and again, because…’ to incorporate the sentence, ‘I have never dared to charge more than £30 per hour.’

There I go. Undervaluing myself again.

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I’m not alone, which is something of a relief.

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I’m not sure about the second half of that statement.

I rest my case.

With writing – variety is life, uniformity is death.

This variety quote sounds so much better in French, (Doesn’t everything?), as said originally by that famous chappie, Benjamin Constant –  “La variété, c’est la vie, l’uniformité, c’est la mort.” Even if he wasn’t talking about writing.

(Benjamin Constant? Can’t resist finding out who he is  – a Swiss-French political activist and writer on politics and religion.  And how ironic that somebody espousing the value of variety has the name Constant…)

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Uniformity? Well, it looks pretty deathly to me.

This is why I consider myself to be so lucky. The luckiest writer in…my study, if not the universe.

There is variety in my writing life, in abundance.

In the past few weeks, I have been commissioned to write (or edit) pieces about:

  • Gluten-free pasta
  • A new apartment block in Watford
  • Advanced foam technology
  • Holidays in Zanzibar and Kenya
  • Residential building surveys
  • A local volunteer centre
  • Human rights in Pakistan
  • A health food shop for animals
  • Pre-paid cash cards for holiday travel
  • Direct mailing campaigns

I could go on…

Did I know anything about these subjects before I started?

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Nothing,  or not very much. Therein lies the joy for me. I love, simply LOVE, finding out about things. A whole variety of things. Things that seem pretty dull until I’ve started researching into them. Things that ARE inherently dull so it’s a challenge to make them seem interesting, or interesting enough to ensure that other people will be delighted to read about them.

“Variety may be the spice of life, but consistency pays the bills,” said Doug Cooper. Yes, THAT Doug Cooper. The one I haven’t heard of.

Doug Cooper is:

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Except that consistency DOES pay my bills, in the sense of producing consistently good, sparkly copy for my clients, no matter what the subject.

But without the variety…

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The worries of a copywriter

Worries? Of a copywriter?

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You bet. Though shamefacedly first world problems. There – now I have to add to my worries: Appearing too shallow when there’s so much strife in the world.

Here’s an account of my worries. Consecutive days last week.

Day One

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No work is coming in. Some pending, waiting for full brief. Nothing much else on the horizon. What am I going to do? Try as I might to catch up on other things – like shampooing the front lawn, my own writing, teaching the chickens table manners, promoting Of Night and Light, making jams and chutneys like a Real Housewife and similar – my mind is full of worries about my career, the bank balance, the future, so I can’t concentrate…

And as John Ortberg Jnr. once said, believe me, “Worrisome thoughts reproduce faster than rabbits…”

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Don’t they just?

Day Two

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Oh my goodness! A sudden influx of work. Mostly urgent. Some quite challenging, much needing a lot of research and definitely requiring me to wear my sensible head. What am I going to do? There simply aren’t enough hours in the day. My head is already spinning and I’ve only had three cups of coffee. How am I going to find time to do all the other important things in my life?  – like shampooing the front lawn, my own writing, teaching the chickens table manners…and similar. My mind is full of worries, so I can’t concentrate…

And as Justin Halpern’s dad once said, believe me, “You worry too much. Eat some bacon…what? No, I got no idea if it’ll make you feel better, I just made too much bacon.” 

SO…

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OR, alternatively…think about this…

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Yeah, no worries…

A humblebrag from Caroline Coxon?

Humblebrag? This morning was the very first time I’d heard that word, yet it is being added to OxfordDictionaries.com (Not, apparently,  the ACTUAL Oxford English dictionary. Note to self: Does it still exist?)

Mind you, I hadn’t heard of YOLO or side-boob either – mainly, I expect because I’m not sufficiently down wiv da kidz, or whatever it is you have to be. I had to RESEARCH. In the case of side-boob, it wasn’t a particularly uplifting (see what I did there?) experience, but then I’m a girl.

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Lovely lady, but I’m just not in any hurry to try that look, thank you very much.

YOLO is okay.

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You Only Live Once – implying – go for it, carpe diem.

On the other hand, it could get a bit annoying.

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Now, humblebrag. I suppose its meaning is obvious. It’s a new portmanteau word, innit?

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A portmanteau word is a combination of two (or more) words or parts of words and their definitions, into one new word.

To humblebrag: To show off about something while simultaneously couching it in terms of self-deprecation; false modesty.

Example:”How is it possible that a dimbo like me graduated from Cambridge with a double first?” or “Honestly, I’m such a ditz. Fancy tripping up in my Jimmy Choo’s on the red-carpet at the Oscars…”

(Yes, I made those up).

Now I’m going to try for my own humblebrag.

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Nope, can’t do it.

Nobody likes a show-off. People like EVEN LESS a person who’s a show off but pretending not to be.

It’s a tough one though, because, as you probably know, I’ve written a book.

Marketing…self-promoting…publicising?

It’s a fine line. Could be so very far from being adorbs.

(Do your OWN research!)

Copywriters do have a life

Do copywriters have a life? Some of us do. Honestly.

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I have a home, a family, horses, dogs, chickens.

I have interests – creative writing, walking in the countryside, reading, listening to crime drama on the radio…

I am not a machine.

NO!

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I have a life!

It may surprise you to know, sometimes I need to sleep, to relax, to have a break from copy-writing.

I LOVE MY CLIENTS.

They think I’m immortal.

On Saturday morning (SATURDAY! LIKE…THE WEEKEND!) I had an email from a dear client with an urgent job. (Urgent for whom?)

He added, ” Feel free to call me any time, including this weekend, to discuss. Need to have it ASAP.”

FEEL FREE TO CALL HIM?

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Yesterday, another lovely client asked what my availability was over the next six weeks because there was a new and exciting project involving copy-writing.

I replied – “I am about mostly EXCEPT from July 11th-19th when I am in Canada for my little grand-girlie’s first birthday.”

His reply? – “They have the internet over there don’t they ;-)? ”

I THINK he was joking. But not entirely.

I sent him this image to represent my work ethic.

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I have a life, I have a life…

If I say it often enough, I might even believe it myself.

 

 

Copywriting – the approval of others

“A truly strong person does not need the approval of others any more than a lion needs the approval of sheep.” 
― Vernon Howard

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A copywriter, on the other hand, DOES need the approval of others – namely, the client, or clients.

This is fine and wonderful. It’s the client who commissions the work. It’s the client’s product or services that we’re promoting. It’s the client who pays the bills.

Yes, fine and wonderful…

EXCEPT, from the point of view of the copywriter, if the approval of others is approval by committee. And not a committee who sit together at one time and come to a consensus, but a SERIAL committee whose members look at the work one after another, with a time lapse, and everybody is compelled to put in their two pennies worth.

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(Oh very well – two cents worth, if you insist).

And they don’t agree. And what they say contradicts the original brief, which I’ve stuck to. Because I’m a professional.

You know what they say about a camel? Well, HE said – Sir Alec Issigonis.

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That’s a bit how I feel about a particular piece of work just now. I’m really not that precious but to have the sense and the tone and the continuity eroded, drip by painful drip, over several weeks…just a little demotivating, to be sure.

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Yay for approval of others! It makes the world go round (more slowly).

P.S. I still love my job!