Blog writers – do as I say, not as I do.

The confession of a blog writer.

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Got it?

Anyone who’s had the (dubious?) pleasure of working with me will remember very clearly what I always say about blogs. I say, with such authority, ‘If you’re going to have a blog on your website, you MUST provide new blogs on a regular basis. Nothing looks worse, when you open up someone’s website, than to see a blog which is months or even years old.’

Or centuries.

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SO – here we have my website. The date is April 5th, 2017. The two latest blogs are dated February 7th, 2017 (JUST about acceptable) and November 22nd, 2016.

aaaaaaaargh

 

How very embarrassing!

I could spend hours justifying this lapse in my own professional standards, in a ‘the dog ate my homework’ sort of way, but I won’t waste your time or mine. It’s rather the same as doctors not looking after their own health or builders being the last people on earth to finish those DIY projects at home.

In honesty, my blogs are for entertainment and to add fresh copy to my website, with the idea that I get plenty of Google brownie points and am bumped up the rankings. Is this last point true or is it one of those urban myths put about by…whoever? I suppose blog writers like me who want more business! It’s really a hiding to nothing to update simply for the sake of updating. The aim should be to update in a timely manner in a way which gives benefit to your users – more traffic, increased engagement and fresh links…

 

Here are the conclusions to some research I’ve done in relation to blog writing:

  • Initially, a web page can be given a “freshness” score based on its inception date, which decays over time.
  • The amount of change on your web page plays a role – the more you change content, the more likely Google is to notice it, especially if it’s in the body text.
  • The more often you change the content, the better.
  • Think about adding completely new pages rather than just refreshing old ones.
  • Go for as many relevant links as possible, especially from sites that are themselves fresh.

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    Blog, blog, blog…

 

 

 

Why do I blog?

Because I enjoy it. Because I like entertaining people. Because it’s a way of practising my writing skills. Because it’s a way people can see what I do and how I do it. I have been given work on the strength of my blogs – their style and tone is not for everyone but it IS for some people. I don’t blog to sell anything – except perhaps myself. (No double entendre intended!)

Why should YOU blog?

Here’s what the experts say:

1) To drive traffic to your website.

2) To convert that traffic into leads.

3) To help establish authority.

4) To drive long-term results.

 

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And if you DON’T like doing it, then you could always ask me.

I LOVE IT!

Yes, do as I say, not as I do…

Tone of voice topicality

“Don’t you speak to me in that tone of voice, young lady!”

Anyone remember that from their childhood? (Well, that’s if you were a young lady ever). Every copywriter has to be pretty damn hot at different tones of voices if they want to be successful, because each job requires something unique.

Tone of voice? But you’re writing, not speaking.  Yes, but writing has just as much in the way of tone of voice as speaking. (Not that I’m talking to myself, you understand. Isn’t that the first sign of madness. Okay, I’m WRITING to myself).

Anyway, there’s what you write (the content) and how you write it (the tone of voice). Tone of voice can kill copy, especially if it’s boring, and kill the message you’re trying to convey and potentially destroy the brand, product or service you’re promoting. No pressure then.

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What tone of voice should you use in your writing? (She’s writing to herself again…)

That’s one of those, ‘How long is a piece of string?’ questions.

The answer? Whichever tone of voice is required. That simple. And that challenging.

This blog is written as me. Yours truly. Caroline Coxon. It’s how my mind works. (Scary, eh?)  It has my personality stamped all over it. Now, what adjectives might you use to describe its tone of voice? Nothing offensive please. Errrm, jokey, random, quirky, flippant, a stream of consciousness (Yes, I know that’s not an adjective) readable, funny, insane…whatever…

That’s fine for me, but would it work for a will-writer, a mortgage adviser, an engineer, a web-designer, someone from a different culture?

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When I say probably not, I mean, there just might be an insane will-writer out there…BUT, most people would say, for their own copy…

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Here, I think this is where my history of writing screenplays, novels and theatre pieces helps me so much. I am completely used to writing – and thinking and speaking – in character. Characters who may be light years away from my own.

I am not a burly 30-something male engineer.

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I’m not a diminutive financial adviser.

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I’m not Scottish.

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But it’s possible for me to write as though I am, using appropriate vocabulary and the right tone of voice. And all those things I have done. And being an Italian wine importer. A high-end caterer. A techie nerd. A business coach. A garage owner. A hairdresser in Newcastle. A ski expert. A global traveller. And a whole lot more.

Me and my multiple personalities, eh?

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But it sure helps with tone of voice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

©2014-2016 sawarahh

©2014-2016 sawarahh

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…

 

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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Distraction-free writing

I’m not sure how long it’s been available (I must have been too distracted to notice!) but WordPress kindly provides me with Distraction-Free Writing mode for this very blog.

See?

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How useful is that? As Henry David Thoreau once said, obviously referring to stuff like Facebook, Twitter and Gmail, “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things.” Indeed.

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So – how useful is the Distraction-Free Writing mode? This started as a rhetorical question, but I shall answer myself anyway.

Not very.

Like Zen Writer, it does wonders for my computer screen, blanking the navigation bars out on both margins, so I’m left with a pleasing Shade of Grey – one of Fifty available?

The trouble is, it doesn’t have any power over my internal state, as described so eloquently by George Eliot last time we met: “Her little butterfly soul fluttered incessantly between memory and dubious expectation.”

Kesin by Zoe McIver-Underwood

Kesin by Zoe McIver-Underwood

Last weekend, I embarked on a 48-hour writing challenge where distraction-free writing was a necessity. Friday midnight EST, I received a genre, setting and object, (Comedy, A Public Library, A Prescription Medication Bottle) and had the next two days to craft a screenplay. Admittedly, only 5 pages (only?) but anyone who’s ever written a short will know that it takes a long time to compress an entire story satisfactorily into a mere five pages – beginning, middle and end, scene setting, character arcs and all.

I noticed how I operated. All day Saturday, a typical Caroline Coxon poor-planning demonstration, I was occupied with other things, – well, my body was and some of my mind. The rest was feverishly planning my screenplay.

Sunday, after the animals were fed and exercised (to be honest, I didn’t exercise the chickens) I sat down to write. I’d do a few lines, then be so wound up trying to find the right word or action for the next bit that I couldn’t even stay seated at the computer and had to rush downstairs and DO SOMETHING, anything – and then, magically, my mind processed the jumble and the right word popped out and I would rush back upstairs and do some more.

Stair carpet. Worn threadbare. Me. Fit.

Hilary Mantel wrote this, 25 February 2010, in The Guardian. It made me feel better.

“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to ­music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”

It worked.

I finished

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Distraction-Free Writing?

No.

Distraction-ASSISTED writing.

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!