How to tell a copywriter you’re not quite happy yet.

I posted a comment on an anguished post in a copywriting group a few weeks ago. 

The OP seemed frustrated and confused over how to respond to a client who had complained that she “didn’t like” the copy she’d received.

It turned out that a lot of other copywriters found this familiar and had found it equally difficult to respond to.

Now the basic requirement for any piece of copy is that it should be capable of doing the job set out in a brief provided by a client.

That brief should define, as a bare minimum:

  • the message that needs to be delivered;
  • the audience it needs to be delivered to;
  • the channel or medium through which it should be delivered.

The writer’s job is to decide how best to do this… and then do it. (From time to time, a brief may leave the channel or medium open, to be proposed as part of the creative solution, but one way or another this still has to be defined before the execution can begin, so let’s not worry about that possibility for now.)

Providing the brief sets out those three basics, the writer’s job is simply to deliver that message to that audience via that medium in a way that is appropriate to the situation or purpose. 

So how should a client assess copy? 

The professional way to judge copy on receipt of the draft is to do so against the criteria in the brief. If the copy were published via the specified medium to the intended audience, how effectively would deliver the required message?

Ideally, this is judged in two parts: firstly, by the client setting aside their own likes and dislikes and assessing, to the best of their ability, how well they feel the copy does the job. Then secondly by subjecting it to some kind of testing against a representative sample of the actual audience.

That’s how it should work. But of course not every task for which copy is commissioned commands the time or budget needed for pretesting. In an age in which most copy can be modified easily in response to target response once it’s actually live, the testing stage very often goes by the board, which means that the client simply ‘judges’ it.

But how easy is it for a client to judge copy? 

It can be hard for a client to be dispassionate about copy, especially if the immediate success of their job or their business to some extent hangs on it. Yet this provides all the more reason to focus hard on whether the copy does the job it is required to do. Not “Do I like it?” but “Will it do what I need done?” 

Of course, it’s nice for everyone concerned if a client is not only satisfied that a piece of copy looks as if it will do the job, but also likes it. But what if you’re a client and you don’t like the copy you’re presented with? 

Well, that’s fine, so long as your assessment has been objective, and you’re able to hold up the brief against the work and say, “I’m unhappy with this copy because I believe it fails to deliver against this or that part of the brief.” 

The key word here, however, is ‘because’. If you are able to say why you are not happy, then the copywriter has the opportunity to listen to your point, accept it, debate the point if they disagree, and then agree with you on precisely what will or will not be revised.

So what’s the right way to feedback that you’re dissatisfied with a piece of copy?

The first thing to do is to be certain that there is something specific and communicable that you’re unhappy with. 

“I don’t like it” is not helpful or actionable feedback on its own. If this is the only response you plan to offer, without anything more specific, think hard about whether you really mean, “This is isn’t the way I’d have done it myself/the way my last copywriter would have done it/exactly the way I’d imagined it would turn out.” 

Why should you think hard about this? Because it’s not a copywriter’s job to deliver against any of those objections. It’s their job to deliver copy that answers your brief in the way they, as the professional you have commissioned, believe best.

How to feedback if you know exactly what you’re unhappy about.

If you do indeed know why you’re unhappy with copy, you need only answer one or two simple questions to be able to feedback ‘like a boss’, and make it easy for your copywriter to address your concerns.

1) Is the problem overall, or is it specifics?

OVERALL – Sometimes a concern will apply to an entire piece of writing. In the majority of cases, issues of this kind relate to style: “it’s too jokey”; “it’s too wordy”; “it doesn’t feel serious enough”; “we never capitalise our sector name” etc. 

‘Overall’ points don’t relate to individual words or lines or paragraphs, though it can be useful to illustrate an overall objection with one or two specific quotes from the draft that make it easier for the writer to understand what you’re getting at.

SPECIFICS – These are comments that apply to specific sections of the copy. They may be stylistic (“this part is too formal”, “this bit is not in line with out tone of voice” etc), but they are more likely to relate to content: “This fact is incorrect”, “Can we also mention xyz at this point?” etc

Comprehensive feedback will often include both overall and specific points. If you’re clear in your own head on which you’re making, it’s easy to be clear in communicating this.

2) Is the problem one of style, or one of content?

STYLE – If the thing with which you are unhappy is a matter of style, then be clear on that and separate it from content. It’s fine to say to a writer, “You’ve covered everything we want to say and the copy is well structured. I just feel it’s a bit too wordy/too pompous/too technical etc.” 

Common areas of feedback on style include:

  • the tone of voice doesn’t feel right;
  • the copy doesn’t feel arresting/engaging enough;
  • the copy doesn’t sound suitably professional for our subject matter. 

To revise for style objections, the writer does not generally need to rethink or rebuild the factual basis or organisational structure of the copy. They will simply need to rework the same material in a modified tone of voice.

CONTENT – It’s the other way around with content issues. Again, it’s fine to say to a writer, “The copy sounds great. I like the tone of voice and the way you’ve gone about this, but there are things about what it actually says that I’m not happy with.” 

Common areas of feedback on content include:

  • the copy seems off strategy in some way;
  • the structure doesn’t seem to work as well as it should;
  • the copy doesn’t communicate our story clearly enough;
  • the copy is technically incorrect in some way;
  • the copy is missing some important part of the story.

Some or all.

In well presented feedback, these comments can occur in any combination. You may wish to make:

  • overall comments about style (“I find the whole piece too informal.”)
  • overall comments about content (“It’s short on statistics, quotes and other facts to backup the assertions we make.”)

Equally, you may wish to make: 

  • specifics comments about style; (“This sentence seems to go on too long to be easily understood.”)
  • specifics comments about content. (“The example you’ve used here isn’t the best one we have for this purpose.”)

All or any of these are fine. The only thing that matters is to be clear in communicating what you’re asking for.

Be nice and get the revisions you want.

To you, the copy you are reviewing may seem no different to a day to day document within your business. 

It is fundamentally different, however, as it will be read over and over by an important and possibly very large audience. Also, to your copywriter it’s a piece of creative work into which time and commitment were invested, over carefully considered decisions were taken, and in the creation of which multiple drafts and revisions were made before the version you received was completed.

It’s polite and productive to start a request for revisions with some positives and a bit of encouragement. Mention some things that are good and that you like before launching into your list of things you want revised.

Even if you hate every word of the copy for legitimate reasons, it’s still good to open your feedback with, “I can see that a lot of work has gone into this, but…” or even just “I loved the samples you shared with me of work you’ve done in the past, but on this… “

I’ve had grumpy feedback from clients requesting what was actually minor revision to 1% of a piece of copy, without any mention whatsoever of the other 99% of the work with which they were actually completely happy.

Rewriting sections of the copy yourself.

Sometimes copy needs a technical detail correcting, and that can be done best and quickest by you simply making that change. If that’s the case, go ahead and make it. 

On other occasions, you might spot a typo in the draft. Correct it. It’s not a big deal. It was going to get picked up at some point, and if this is that point then fix it.

If the changes required are anything other than these, however, try to explain to your copywriter what the problem is and then leave them to address it, rather than rewriting yourself. Your job is to say what’s wrong: their’s is to fix it.

If you do choose to rewrite sections yourself, then there’s little point in sending your rewritten draft back to the copywriter to look at what you’ve done. If you’ve already made it say what you want it to say, then it’s very hard for the copywriter to know what further they are meant to do to it (other than possibly double checking your changes for style or good English).

Collaboration gets you the copy you need.

I tell clients that they bring to the table their expertise in their sector and knowledge of their own business, I bring my expertise in planning and writing marketing communications, we put the two together… and Boom! Powerful copy that communicates their message clearly and effectively.

It’s a collaboration… and requesting and completing revisions professionally is a key part of it.

Freelancers. Even taking non-paying clients to Court won’t necessarily get you paid.

I’ve been lucky. In 22 years of running my freelance business, during which time I’ve raised well over 1500 invoices to several hundred clients, I can recall no more than a handful of occasions on which I did not get paid. But last year, I had two. 

Now this could of course be a random clustering of bad luck. But it could also be a bellweather for the economic climate now impacting small businesses. If it is, then it’s likely to get worse in the 12 months ahead. 

That being so, you may find it useful, if you are also a #freelancecopywriter or some other kind of creative #freelance, to look over these two cases, fundamentally different in the reasons for the failure to pay, and to think about similar dangers that may lie in wait for you.

CASE 1 – Mid-sized UK legal sector business, by whom I’d been paid for previous work without any problem.

I’d done some work a year or so previously for a firm of solicitors based in the North of England. The firm itself was owned by a ‘legal claims generation’ business. The ‘solicitor arm’ had paid for their project promptly and without problem.

When the parent company returned in 2021 and asked me to help them frame the presentation of an entirely new venture, I had no qualms. Legal sector. No problems on previous job. Same marketing guy at the client who had run the earlier project. 

At that point, I was still extending 30 days credit to all UK Ltd Company clients.

I did the project, which had a number of tasks to it, and the fee (agreed in writing up front) totalled about £7k.

All parts of the job were completed. The client was happy. In went the invoice.

I never worry if payment doesn’t appear on 30 days. It rarely does. I just send a chasing email and usually payment follows soon after. When you get no reply to the chaser, nor to subsequent chasers, you know something’s wrong.

I chased this one for weeks, until eventually I had no option but to threaten legal action via the Small Claims track. No response. No reply to calls. Nothing. So I filed a claim, which cost a couple of hundred pounds.

When the defendant was served with the Court papers, there was no response. No effort to pay. No notification of intent to defend the case – though this was of no surprise as they’d never expressed any dissatisfaction with the work.

The Court action was swift. As the defendant had not responded, the Judgement was made in my favour without any need for a hearing.

But, of course, this did not get me my money – simply the legal entitlement to the money. 

In an effort to discover what was going on, I eventually managed to get an email response from the marketing guy who had been my client at the company. He had now left them, and was eager to explain that neither he nor anyone else there had ever intended to defraud me or not pay me. 

They were, however, a company whose bread and butter operation required them to have a hefty line of credit. One day, early in 2022, their funder had simply withdrawn. Without their credit, their business was crippled, and initially they had simply tried to shore things up for long enough to find a new funder by slowing all outgoings – including paying suppliers like me.

The situation never got better for them. They are now in liquidation and the CCJ I had recorded against them simply puts me (low down) on their list of creditors. Essentially, it’s a write off for me.

There was no malice and no intent to avoid payment. They were hit out of the blue by the withdrawal of their funding, a situation which in the current climate is likely to occur more frequently, and having extended my standard 30 days credit to them, my invoice just became unfortunate collateral damage in the havoc no doubt caused by their collapse.

CASE 2 – Small, first time client, UK manufacturing company producing a specialist para-medical appliance.

The owner of this company contacted me for the first time late in 2021 and asked me to complete three tasks for him in relation to materials required for an upcoming conference.

He needed the script for an explainer video, a pitch deck for posting to the conference website, and a draft script for his own short presentation to the conference.

I quoted all the tasks and had him sign my online Terms and Conditions document – something I insist on every client doing.

I then completed the tasks, and he signed off each one (in the last case only by implication, but that proved later to be sufficient). I invoiced, waited for my standard 30 day credit term to elapse, and then chased. The guy owed me just over £4k. 

No response. No response to any of the half dozen follow up emails at intervals of 5-7 days. 

Eventually, I threatened and then issued another Small Claim in the County Court. 

This time, there was a response to the Court. He intended to defend the claim, citing as his defence that, after signing off all 3 parts of the project, he had submitted the draft speech script component of the work to the conference organiser, who had taken the extraordinary step of sharing it in advance with other delegates. The other delegates (exclusively medical professionals) had reacted negatively (in my view most likely to finding a product salesman invited to present at their clinical conference), and his invitation had been withdrawn. In his view, this unfortunate eventuality (which was of course the result of events with no bearing on the contract between us), freed him of the need to pay my invoice. The “value of the work was”, he informed the Court in his witness statement, “Nil”.

It took several months before we actually made it into Court, in front of a District Judge.

As you’d expect, the Judge wasn’t interested in any misfortune that had befallen this client after the completion of the contract between he and I. She cited various sections of my Terms and Conditions document, which he had signed, and which thus formed the basis of the contract between us. She also noted that, when asked by me under questioning at the hearing whether he had at any time suggested to me that the task might only be deemed complete once the work had gained approval from a third party with whom I had no contact, he had confirmed that he had not.

County Court Judgement in my favour. Invoiced sum, plus cost of entering the Claim, plus Court Fees, plus interest, plus a nominal Court Attendance fee. It’ll probably take a little further effort, but I’m optimistic that I may actually get paid on this one. If I don’t, then I’ll apply to wind up his business… but that still won’t get me my money. 

In this case, unlike the first one, there was an attempt by a Client to try to offset an arbitrary commercial setback by not paying a supplier for work he’d commissioned. While this could of course have happened at any time at all, I’m inclined to feel that with trading difficulties impacting more and more businesses, this kind of desperation and behaviour may become more widespread.

Things to think about.

  • Interest rates. Energy costs. Post-Brexit/Post Covid cost increases. Post-Brexit/Post Covid reduction in consumer spending/changes in consumer habits. All of these things are putting businesses large and small under huge pressure. Under this pressure, small businesses in particular can become unpredictable in their behaviours and responses.
  • As a freelancer, you probably have less time, and less resource, with which to defend yourself if clients choose to mess you around.
  • It’s important to think about how a payment default would impact you, and how you’d cover the hole in your revenue short term.

A few useful tips.

  • Marketing people who make promises when commissioning you on behalf of their employer may have little or no influence over when their finance department pays you. Correspond directy with the finance department once you’ve invoiced.
  • Having clients sign a detailed Terms and Conditions document is always advisable. That enshrines what you and they are agreeing. In the second case, above, my T&Cs were taken by the Judge to constitute the contract the client had entered into with me.
  • Maintaining a detailed e-correspondence paper trail for every job is important, as is sending your client the emails, as you go along, that confirm every aspect of what’s happening.
  • Clients can descend quite swiftly into financial trouble which may prevent them paying you. Running proper credit checks on new clients (via Experian or similar) is helpful. An Experian subscription is not cheap, however, and may not be appropriate for you. Even if you do have this, it may not protect you that well if you work with smaller clients. 
  • In today’s climate, requiring some or all of your project fee up front should be your norm. I avoided this for years, feeling it made my business seem ‘less professional’, and that bigger clients did not always have the systems in place to agree to this. Since I switched it into my terms last year, no client has batted an eyelid.
  • Late paying is a widespread but lamentable practice. But with cashflow’s getting more strained, it’s again likely to become more and more common. If you’ve not been paid a day or two after the ‘payment due’ date on your invoice, chase with a brief and polite reminder that payment is now due. More often than not, this email alone will get you paid.
  • In 2023, “Our payment run is at the end of the month” is bull**** for any company, no matter what its size. Do not accept this. Push back. 
  • Prolonged radio silence from a client after invoicing should always set alarm bells ringing.
  • Having to fight to get a due payment is a huge distraction from your work. If you’re in an actual disagreement over whether a fee is due, consider negotiating immediate payment of part of the fee as full and final settlement. To my mind, half of a fee being disputed by a difficult client immediately is better than the stress of fighting for all of it for weeks on end. 
  • Issuing a Small Claim in the County Court is time consuming, slow, and incurs costs that you won’t recover if the case goes against you. Even if you win, you may not get your money. Threaten it to try to extract payment, be prepared to action it if you must… but see it as a last resort. 
  • Would I do it again if necessary? Damn right!

Hiring a Copywriter? Here are 13 Ways To Be An Absolute Nightmare.

Over the years, I’ve worked for more than a few fantastic clients.

These people’s professional approach to the work we were doing together was key to helping me deliver powerful and relevant copy to their brief, and complete their job without a hitch.

Don’t want to be that kind of client? No problem! Read up on these 13 terrific techniques used by some of the very worst clients of all time, and you can quickly be ruining your projects and making copywriters’ lives really difficult at the same time.

1) Assume that any freelancer will be desperate to do your job.

You’re handing out patronage, right? So go straight in with, “How much do you charge to…?” After all, it’s a given that any freelancer must want to do your job, so long as you agree their price, isn’t it?

Well… not so much, as it turns out. Freelancers have only so many project hours each month. We like to work on jobs that interest us, for people who seem like they understand that. “Would this project be of interest to you?” is both courteous and a tactical masterstroke. Not your style, though. Just not.

2) Request a quote without being prepared to discuss the job properly.

You want to know what the job will cost. You need to get a figure into your costings as quickly as possible, and you’re dammed if you have the time to explain the job properly to some freelancer, right? 

Well.. turns out it’s not reasonable to expect to be given a price unless you are ready and able to discuss the job so a freelancer can understand properly what work it will involve. Who knew? Now you could get around this by having taken the time to write out what you need done, and to answer some questions on top so the freelancer can be sure they’re giving you a price you can both rely on. 

But that’s work, isn’t it. Don’t go there!

3) When giving feedback, start by listing anything you’re unhappy about, without mentioning everything that’s really rather good.

You’re paying! You know what you don’t like, right? And you don’t have time to beat around the bush.

But… when a freelancer submits work to you, they put themself on the line. They are proud of their work. They want you to like it. And most freelancers have a need for the reassurance that you do like it or, at least, like it with a few provisos. You could begin with, “In the main, I’m really happy with this.” Or at least with, “I can see you’ve worked hard on this, so thank you.” You’d probably gain rapid agreement on whatever you want to be revised being revised.

But your way is good! You take work the freelancer has spent days or weeks on, and respond with nothing other than a curt list of things you don’t like. And well done, you.

4) Creep the project scope.

When you request a Quote for a project, why not try to add in a few additional tasks as ‘free extras’ just before you confirm the job, using the possibility of not confirming as leverage? 

It’s a winner! Better still, how about trying to piggyback extra work once the job’s underway on the basis of “I’m already spending all this money with you. Can’t you do this for us as part of the deal?”

Of course, you know that freelancers usually analyse the work required to do a job and offer the best possible price,  for that work specifically, as keenly as they are able. And you know you could get in touch, explain the extra requirement, and ask the freelancer to revise the Quote by adding this into the project.

Not your style, though, right? You’re one tough dealin’ cookie.

5) Dangle “We’ll have lots more work for you in the future” to try to get a super-low quote for your one-off job.

How about trying this old favourite? When contacting a freelancer for the first time, attempt to lever them into a bargain basement Quote by adding “We’ll have lots more work for you regularly if we can get a good price on this”?

What you’re actually saying is, “If you cut your margin on this, we’ll give you loads more opportunities to work for us at a loss in the future, as well.” You kind of understand that only an idiot would go for this.

But that’s not going to stop you!

6) Say you’d do the job yourself if you only had the time.

Fabulous idea! Completely devalue what the freelancer does by telling them you’d actually do this task yourself… if only you weren’t so busy

It’s the exact equivalent of saying, “What you do can be done by anyone at all, without any kind of training or practise. Now… would you like to do this job for me because I’m really very important and too busy to do something so menial?”

It’s a great approach. Trash the freelancer’s expertise, experience and skills as a way to get them to help you! Who’s going to refuse that?

7) Make clear you have no real interest in the task and just need to get it off your desk.

You contact a freelancer about a project that, frankly, you don’t give a **** about. Either you consider the task beneath you, or you are so busy on other things that you have decided to just get it off your desk with minimum involvement. 

The freelancer has questions? You don’t have time to answer! They want to talk over how they could best do the job for you? You’re just running into a meeting!

Of course, if you don’t care about the job, it’s very hard indeed for the freelancer to care about it either and it’s almost certainly doomed to be a disaster.

But on the upside, you’ll get away with doing next to nothing. So that’s good!

8) Waste several Freelancers’ time getting a quote for a hopeless project.

You have some kind of personal agenda in your company and are hopelessly trying to drive it without taking an early sounding from your managers or directors on whether there’s any appetite for it. 

So why not get the whole thing quoted out, in detail, by several freelancers so you can show how thorough you’ve been! Three or four professionals can each spend a chunk of their valuable time analysing a requirement, calculating costs and writing up a response, and it won’t have cost you anything at all when the entire thing is met with “Why are you doing this?” by a grown up with actual authority.

Way to go.

9) When trying to negotiate a price, boast that you have other quotes that are much cheaper.

This is excellent. Review a quote you’ve been sent by a freelancer, decide you’d quite like the person to do the work, but cunningly write back revealing triumphantly that you are in possession of several competitor quotes that are lower. 

Now of course there will always be someone willing to do any job with less care, skill and expertise, at a lower price, so this proves nothing.

But you’re not above demonstrating your absolute lack of any concern for, or understanding of, the quality of the work you are commissioning, are you!

10) Contact freelancers already knowing you will mess then around on payment.

Anyone who works freelance has two demanding jobs to do: their work; and the admin of running their business.

Not your problem, right? You know, even while first getting in touch to discuss your project, that when it comes to paying for your work you will mess around whomever you hire. You will ignore the payment terms you agree, fail to respond to emails and eventually, in some cases, need to be served with legal proceedings before you pay.

You go for it! Everyone loves working for people like you.

11) Let your freelancer do most of the job before supplying key information.

You are about to ask someone outside of your organisation to work on a project about which they can know nothing other than whatever you share with them. So you should probably take the time to collate all the relevant source information, wrap that up in a document that puts everything into context, and send that across, right?

Are you kidding? That sounds like it requires a ton of work. So how about you let the project get well underway, and only then ‘helpfully add in’ further resources or information that materially affect the project?

Now, you know that if this causes any kind of windback to an earlier point in the workflow in order to accommodate the new information, it will be a redefinition of the project scope, and the freelancer will almost certainly want to bill you for the time wasted.

But, the great thing about you is you’re always up for confrontation!

12) Ship over bad news or unreasonable requests at 5.55pm on a Friday and turn off your phone.

This one’s an absolute killer! You know that what you have to ask or tell the freelancer will not go down well, but you don’t have the courage or perhaps the prepared line of thinking with which to call or email them to discuss it and reach a resolution.

Easy! Ping them an angry/frustrating/concerning email while leaving them no way of reaching you to discuss or resolve the issue for two and a half days!

13) Send a skip full of unfiltered references and resources and expect the freelancer to try to work out which parts matter.

This is always good. Rather than invest the time to review your resources, extract or build an index to items that are relevant, and compile these into a helpful reference that the freelancer can work from to complete the project, just send every document or asset file you have in your possession which could have any bearing!

The freelancer won’t mind spending the time required to wade through hundreds of pages of peripheral nonsense looking for relevant items. And the freelancer (who is entirely new to your business situation and agenda) will of course definitelybe able to identify those items which are relevant, no matter where they are buried in this mire of information.

There you are. Easy. Don’t feel you need to adopt all 13 of these ill-judged and destructive angles. Even one or two should put you well on the road to a poor working relationship and some very disappointing work. If you can get up to even half of these, however, you’ll have proved yourself a true nightmare, your freelance will be miserable and the work you get back will probably be awful.

Now wouldn’t that be something?

What Web Developers do (and don’t do). 12 tips from a Copywriter on things not to expect.

There’s a gap. A yawning one.

It’s right in the space between the understanding that most people have of what planning and building a website actually involves, and the realistic skillset of most web developers.

Not appreciating which skills web developers are likely to have (and therefore which they are unlikely to have), means that business owners very often end up leaving a whole lot of important decisions to people who aren’t qualified to take them and, generally, don’t want to be asked to take them or even think about them.

Later on, when the consequences of this become apparent, tidying up the mess can be both costly and time consuming.

What you get if you take your job to a ‘large’ web development firm.

If you are in a position to take your web development project to a ‘larger’ web development company, they will usually cover almost all of the tasks that you need completed, using the collective skills of their team.

This is because that team will include project managers; information architects; graphic designers; front end and back end developers; copywriters, photographers and film makers (their own or freelance); and all the tech expertise to sort out any issues related to management of your hosting.

What you get when you take your job to a ‘small’ web developer.

It’s virtually impossible for a solo developer, or even a small team, to be skilled in every area of bringing a site from ‘zero’ to ‘live’, let alone in addressing business-related questions that may need resolving.

So… you should reasonably be able to expect that a web developer will know their way around the functionalisation and formatting coding required to build a website.

Other than that, however, what your developer will or won’t be able to do, and what you should even think of asking him or her to do, is fairly random.

12 skills you’d be smart not to assume your web developer just happens to have.

1. The commercial aptitude of a Management Consultant.

Web developers are not management consultants.

If you have issues about the underlying business processes connected to your website, it’s plain foolish to invite a developer to advise on these as though he or she had consulting expertise.

Explore and resolve the issues before you go anywhere near a developer, so that you can brief the developer to build a site, the specification for which has been written in full light of those issues and your planned resolution of them.

Chance of a random web developer being able to help in this area – 0/10
Likelihood that the web developer is expecting to do this – 0/10

2. The insight of a Business Analyst.

Web developers are not business analysts.

If you find one who possesses true business insight and understanding, you are fortunate. But it’s not a skill they should be expected to have, and it’s certainly not one you would be wise to count on the quality of, should they claim to have it.

You should not begin building a site without being clear about what jobs it needs to do. It’s only by knowing this that you can work out what you actually need to build.

Deducing this is a business function, generally best carried out by a business or marketing analyst who can look at your goals, marketing plan and operational requirements, and define the site’s objectives in terms of its role within the business.

Chance of a random web developer being able to help in this area – 0/10
Likelihood that the web developer is expecting to do this – 0/10

3. The planning skills of an information architect.

Web developers are not information architects.

Though, again, you may find a developer who has some reasonable skill in this area, it would be a mistake to expect it.

In planning a site, it’s necessary to break down the information that needs to be included, and decide on navigation groupings, sets of pages within navigation groupings, and the deployment of individual items of information helpfully and sensibly within those pages.

To do this an information architect needs a very reasonable understanding of the business, as well as of its potential site users and their needs.

Chance of a random web developer being able to do this – 5/10
Likelihood of web developer expecting to do this – 7/10

4. The commercial or design understanding of a Branding Consultant.

Web developers are not branding consultants.

There are branding firms that build websites, but they do it by employing brand strategists, branding designers and a variety of web development skills.

Your web developer will not be a brand consultant. Even if he or she happens to have the graphic skills to design a logo, that does not mean they have the experience or insight to look at your brand, or to create a new brand, taking into account your sector, markets, competition and perhaps existing brand portfolio.

Chance of a random web developer being able to do this – 0/10
Likelihood of web developer expecting to do this – 2/10

5. The visual judgement of a Graphic Designer.

Web developers are not graphic designers.

Think of it like houses. Architects design them. Builders build them. Painters and decorators add the finishing touches.

It’s far from impossible to find a web developer (especially what’s known as a front-end developer) with graphic design skills. But it’s far from a given, and the technical skillsets required to build a site are a world away from the aesthetic sensibilities required to decide on the fine points of its look and feel.

Some outstanding developers do not have the faintest idea about graphic design. So it’s best not to ask them to style the site, design a logo, create graphics or any of the other tasks that rightly belong to a trained designer.

Chance of a random web developer being able to do this – 3/10
Likelihood of web developer expecting to do this – 3/10

6. The visual narrative or technical skills of a Photographer/Illustrator/Film Director/Picture Researcher.

Web developers are neither photographers nor picture researchers.

A great deal of the impact and feel of a website comes from the way it looks, and photography or illustration very often play a big part in this.

If your site is an e-commerce site, or a property site, for example, then you will need to provide your catalogue/inventory images to the developer as a library or possibly feed from your management software.

But if you’re not an e-commerce site, or even if you are, your site look and feel may well require photographic or illustrated images to set its visual character.

These have to be taken, or drawn or, possibly, sourced from an image library.

In any case, it’s the job of a photographer, illustrator, picture researcher or possibly a designer, and while any individual web developer may have some skill in these areas, there’s no reason at all why they should have.

What’s more, it’s very unlikely that they will be expecting to spend time on this as a part of the fee they have agreed with you for development.

By the same rule, developers are not video directors. Owning a camera and editing software does not impart the skills to design a film that will tell a story clearly, succinctly and effectively.

Chance of a random web developer being able to do this – 2/10
Likelihood of web developer expecting to do this – 1/10

7. The psychological understanding of an Interface Designer.

Web developers are not interface designers. (Or at least, they’re not guaranteed to be.)

Designing a user interface is a particular skill that falls within the domain of web development. This is not principally aesthetic design. This is the design of your site’s usability: arranging and coding the elements of the site in such a way as to ensure a navigable and engaging experience for users.

Now some web developers are strong on this, either through formal training or, more often than not, through experience.

But do not take it for granted, especially if working with a solo developer, that he or she can do this.

Ask to see and play around with some of their previously completed sites if you’re in doubt.

Chance of a random web developer being able to do this – 6/10
Likelihood of web developer expecting to do this – 7/10

8. The server admin understanding of a Server Administrator.

Web developers are not server administrators.

A critical part of developing and optimising web sites is being able to configure and make adjustments to the web server hosting the site, which may be yours or may be rented in whole or part from a hosting company.

Your web developer may be an absolute whizz at doing anything and everything that could be required on the server.

Or he or she may have no idea at all about this.

Chance of a random web developer being able to do this – 4/10
Likelihood of web developer expecting to do this – 6/10

9. The marketing knowledge or sales skills of a Copywriter.

Web developers are not copywriters.

Working out the content of your website, and writing the copy to present your information in an organised, accessible and engaging way, or in a way that will persuade people to buy, is a complex and skilled job done by a copywriter or, in some cases, the less skilled ‘content writer’.

While many developers can knock in a line or two of copy here or there to help users get around a site, yours will have neither the ability, nor the time, to write your content. (Keep in mind that writing a 20 page site can easily take an experienced copywriter 2 full working weeks.)

One other thing to watch out for.

Be careful of developers offering to “get a copywriter” to write your site for you. It’s unlikely that the individual in question will be an experienced working copywriter. They are very likely to be a friend of the developer who feels they “can write”, and there’s a very high chance that you will be disappointed with the outcome.

Chance of a random web developer being able to do this – 1/10
Likelihood of web developer expecting to do this – 0/10

10. The specific, empiric knowledge of an SEO Specialist.

Web developers are not SEO engineers.

Building a website, and optimising a website to give it its best chance of ranking well in search results are entirely different areas of expertise.

They are certainly not unconnected, but because a developer has the skills required to build a site does not in itself imply that he or she knows the first thing about SEO.

An averagely bright developer should build any site along basic principles conducive to good search performance. But that simply means they give the site the capability of performing well. Making it do so calls for painstaking and ongoing work.

Chance of a random web developer being able to do this – 3/10
Likelihood of web developer expecting to do this – 2/10

11. The ‘different knowledge entirely’ know how of an IT Consultant.

Web developers are not IT consultants.

If there are issues to resolve relating to your web hosting server, some developers will be able and willing to deal with these and others will not.

But it is no way a part of either your developer’s skillset or responsibility to resolve issues relating to your email servers or back office systems, except where he or she has agreed to integrate these to the new site.

Expect grumpiness and short shrift if you try to extend your developer’s task with matters of this kind.

Chance of a random web developer being able to do this – 2/10
Likelihood of web developer expecting to do this – 1/10

12. The coding skills of an expert PHP (or other web functionalisation language) Programmer.

A web developer may have, but will not necessarily have, any actual programming skills.

Designing and building websites, especially in an age of WordPress themes, libraries of customisable site templates and complete sitebuild platforms can actually be done with little or no real programming ability.

It’s a bit like taking three items of food out of the freezer, heating them up and presenting the result as a meal. In many situations the ability to do that will get you through.

But in almost every site (even one being built using one of the approaches I’ve mentioned), there will be bits of customisation here or there that require a little programming. It may not even be very complex programming. But a developer still needs to know how to do it.

The problem is that not all developers do know how to do this. Though very many have at least some programming skills, there is no shortage of people working as solo web developers who have absolutely none.

Chance of a random web developer being able to do this – 7/10
Likelihood of web developer expecting to do this – 8/10

Where does that leave you, then?

Well… just needing to be realistic.

If you have business issues that need resolving, sort them out yourself or get properly qualified help before you start to build your site.

When you’re planning your site structure, by all means consult your developer, but work with him or her to make certain that the shape of the site being planned adds up to you.

If you need branding work done, or need graphics or photography originated, again it’s fine to discuss these with the developer, but be ready to pay for someone else to do that work for you – even if that’s through the developer.

As for everything else (content writing, SEO etc), recognise that these are all additional tasks, requiring the time of individual specialists, and be ready to pay for that.

In the end, if you find there are a large number of skills needed yet you really want a one-stop shop development, then you should probably go and talk to a larger development company. They don’t have to be huge, and they don’t have to cost a fortune.

Even a four-person team is likely to possess, collectively, more of the skills you require than any one person alone.


The 9 Big Stresses of Freelance Life.

We all know and love the benefits of being freelance.

But freelance life has its drawbacks, too, and stress from a range of causes and situations is high on the list.

So here are 9 big stresses of freelance life… along with tips for beating them.

1. “Where will my next job come from?” freelance stress.

Worrying about how you’ll get your next project can be stressful, however long you’ve been a freelancer. Illogical as it is, the feeling that, if things go quiet for a few days, you will never work again, is extremely common.

The answer is to develop and manage a proper, organised, multi-channel marketing strategy so that you know, even if it goes a bit quiet, that your marketing engine is working away in the background. With this in place, you can remind yourself, even if your phone is not ringing, that the prospecting method that has always brought you work previously is hard at it and will, soon, bring you your next assignment. Remind yourself to take a long view. We all get quieter periods and busier periods. Take a view over the last year, rather than the last month, and see how close you are to your target number of days worked.

2. “Can I turn this into a staff job?” freelance stress.

For most freelancers, freelance is a way of life and we absolutely don’t want, and wouldn’t take, a staff position again. But for some it’s an interim way to pay the bills until a new employed role comes along. If that’s the case for you, then worrying about how likely your freelance booking is to lead to a permanent job offer can be stressful.

The best way to beat this is to be absolutely clear in your own head what you are and why you’re there, so far as the employer is concerned. Don’t go in expecting your freelance position to turn into a staff job. Keep in touch with your network, and keep your marketing active all the time you’re there. That way, when you’re booking ends you’ll have somewhere else to move on to. At some point, somewhere you go freelance may indeed offer you a staff role, and if you want it you’ll be able to accept it. But if you don’t start off with that possibility in your mind, you won’t stress about trying to make it happen.

3. “Do they like me here?” freelance stress.

If you’re working in house, either at an agency or an end client, worrying about whether you’re being accepted by the staff team can be stressful.

‘Acceptance’ stress is a self-esteem thing. Worrying that the in-house team don’t like you, might resent you, or might think you’re no good, are all normal. But they need dealing with. Remind yourself of the in-house jobs you’ve completed in the past. Recall successes, compliments and feedback you’ve received. Remind yourself of tangible evidence (awards, testimonials etc) of your professional competence. And remind yourself of your successful personal relationships in past staff or freelance roles. If you’ve got along well with colleagues in all prior jobs, there’s no reason why this one should prove different.

4. “How will I live without these guys?” freelance stress.

If you’re working in house for any length of time, you’ll form relationships. These can be extremely stressful to let go of once your booking ends. It’s not that you can’t carry on seeing these people socially. But the feeling that you’ve been robbed of people you were enjoying sharing your day with can be hard to manage.

The way to beat this is to protect yourself emotionally from the moment you arrive. Make friends. But remember that you will leave and they will stay. Be professional, likeable and helpful, but look forward to moving on. Enjoy that you don’t have to worry long term about their office politics.  It’s part of the pleasure of freelance life.

5. “I’m worried about money” freelance stress.

We all want enough money to pay our rent or mortgage, feed and clothe ourselves, pay the bills, have fun, take vacations and, ideally, manage to save a little. Worrying about whether you have enough, or will have enough next week, is stressful.

The best way to destress over money is to build up a healthy reserve. That way, if your income slows at a certain point, you’re not worrying about being able to pay your bills. 

Almost as valuable in avoiding worrying, however, is to know you have a clear and up to date picture of your finances at all times. If you know exactly how much you have, how your bank account looks, what money is owed to you and when it should come in (or can be chased), you’ll feel in control and less inclined to panic.

If you use a cloud based book keeping platform that integrates live with your bank account (like QuickBooks, XERO – which I use, Freeagent or Freshbooks) you get the peace of mind of being able to see and manage your invoices, quotes, receipts and purchases in real time with 100% certainty. It’s very reassuring as well as incredibly empowering. More information. Less stress.

6. “People owe me money” freelance stress.

People pay late. Or don’t pay at all until you hound them. Chasing up payment is time consuming. As a freelance, you could probably do with having the cash in sooner rather than later. And you could almost certainly do without the hassle of chasing up late payers.  It all adds up to a big stress.

Being methodical and keeping calm are the best ways to take the stress out of this. You will get paid. It’s not personal, and it’s not a slight. It’s simply that some companies pay late and others don’t pay until you become so much of a nuisance that it’s easier to pay you than deal with you. Don’t get angry. Don’t threaten things you can’t afford to implement. You’re in the right when chasing up an invoice that’s overdue, so be calm, confident and polite. And ruthlessly persistent.

7. “I haven’t got enough time to do everything” freelance stress.

When you are freelance, you have two jobs: running your business and doing the work. Running your business itself entails lots of different things, from looking after your accounts to writing your blog and doing your marketing. Feeling like you have more to do than you can possibly complete on time is hugely stressful.

Planning, as in so many things, is the key to destressing this. The first instinct when you have a thousand things to do is to try to do all of them at once, or a bit of lots of them all on the same day. Don’t. List the tasks under sensible headings. Highlight those that really do require immediate attention. Split the remainder into  ‘Needs doing very soon’ and ‘Can actually wait a bit.’ If it’s obvious you’re going to let someone down, call or email and negotiate a time extension. Then start to clear your ‘immediate’ tasks by working through them  one after the other. If they’re short, do rotating blocks of a few hours on each task at a time, so you move several jobs forward in a day, rather than just one.

8. “I’m on holiday…and I shouldn’t be” freelance stress.

Being freelance is demanding and tiring. So when you get to take a holiday, you need to be able to enjoy it. But it’s really common to stress that you shouldn’t have taken a break at all.

Stand back. Working is an element of your life, not its sole point. If you’d like to avoid stressing over this  make sure, before you take your holiday, that you’ve finished everything you’d promised to complete. Check that your finances are in reasonable shape to cover not earning during the holiday and, ideally, get a task lined up for when you return. And don’t spend your holiday reading email. I restrict myself to a run through my inbox before breakfast, and another before dinner. And I reply only to emails that specifically and urgently need a response.

9. “I’m ‘always on'” freelance stress.

One huge stress, and possibly the most dangerous of all. If you work freelance, it’s easy to drift into an ‘always on’ mentality. You are working, or thinking about work or about organising your business, 24 hours a day.

Define your working day, and know when it’s over. Same with your working week. Evenings and weekends have a purpose, and if you allow your freelance work, business admin and worrying to eradicate them you have no opportunity to clear your head, chill out or regain perspective. We all sometimes work late. We all sometimes book a job across a weekend because that’s when our client needs the work done. But it’s when the background rhythm of your work life is running 24/7/365 that the stress is a danger.

Remember, one of the huge advantages of being freelance is that we are free of the stresses associated with employment.

Whatever you do, avoid replacing one set of pressures with another set of your own making!

What’s a Junior Copywriter?

You’ve seen an ad for a Junior Copywriter. And you’re wondering what, exactly, that is.

So let’s shine some light on it for you by looking at it in two halves: ‘Junior’ and ‘Copywriter’.

I’m going to do ‘Copywriter’ first. If you’re not exactly sure what a ‘Junior Copywriter’ is, it’s perfectly possible that you’re not too sure what a Copywriter is at all.

So what’s a Copywriter?

A Copywriter is a person who writes ‘copy’. ‘Copy’ is the word that’s been used for decades to describe the written part of advertising and marketing material. The headlines and text of magazine and newspaper ads. The slogans on billboards. The scripts of TV and radio commercials.

More recently, it’s extended to include the digital media writing we call ‘content’: the written parts of websites, social media posts, email marketing and so on.

The easiest way to explain what a Copywriter does is to say only that they write on behalf of a business or organisation, and that the job of what they write is almost always to help the business or organisation sell its products or services, or convince people of the value of whatever it does.

Copywriters are used by clients because of their ability to convince people, by using words, to do things. And we do that in return for payment.

Like a lawyer, a copywriter doesn’t need to like or believe in her client. Her job is simply to tell her client’s story for them in as clear and/or persuasive a way as possible.

Copywriters and ideas.

If you’ve ever seen the TV show Mad Men, you’ll have seen what it was like to be a Copywriter working in advertising in the United States in the Golden Age of copywriting.

But the kind of copywriting in that show, where the Copywriters dreamed up clever marketing campaigns for big corporations, is just one particular kind of copywriting.

It’s called ‘conceptual’ or ‘creative’ copywriting. Thinking up a powerful, relevant idea, rather than writing a lot of words, is the most important part of that kind of copywriting.

There are still Copywriters who do that today, mainly in advertising agencies.

But there are many Copywriters who are less ‘creative’. They do work that is less about coming up with ‘a big idea’, and more about providing information, presenting a case or setting out an argument.

Both kinds of work are copywriting, and a good Copywriter is able to do both. But many brilliant ‘creative’ Copywriters are not great at dealing with complicated arguments and writing long pieces of text (‘long copy’, as it’s called). Equally, lots of excellent and in-demand Copywriters who can deal with complicated long copy are not very good at coming up with ideas!

If you’re thinking of applying for a ‘Junior Copywriter’ position, it’s very likely that the job will not be for a person to concentrate on coming up with ideas. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a good job, and it could open the door for you to move on later to a more creative position.

Where do Copywriters work?

In principle, a job for a Junior Copywriter could exist anywhere that they use Copywriters.

Such employers divide loosely into two camps. Some Copywriters work ‘in house’ or ‘client side’. This means they are employed by a company that is in some kind of business, to work on helping that company create its marketing.

So an in-house Copywriter might work for a bank or insurance company, or a real estate or construction firm. Or they might work for a pharmaceutical or healthcare firm, an engineering or software business, or a leisure or travel business. Or they might work in a public sector organisation, like a University or Local Government department.

Copywriters who do not work ‘in house’ work ‘agency side’.

This means you work in some kind of marketing company. This could be an advertising agency, digital marketing agency, web development company, social media company etc. The agency will have a set of client companies who are like the companies listed in the previous paragraph. The agency will look after some or all of the marketing for each of its clients.

So in a client company that employs Copywriters in-house, only a few people’s jobs will be to work on marketing. (Everyone else who works there will be employed to do whatever that company does for its customers.)

But in an agency, almost everyone will be a marketing person of one kind or another, working to help the agency’s clients.

How being a Junior Copywriter is different in an agency to client side.

For a Junior Copywriter, the opportunities in these two kind of companies will be quite different.

If you take an in-house role as a Junior Copywriter, you’ll gain experience solely of the business of the company you work for. And there may not be anyone in the company with real expertise as a Copywriter to help you develop.

If you take a job as a Junior Copywriter in an agency, in contrast, you’ll get to work on lots of different clients, in different business areas. There will also be some more experienced copywriters, and a Creative Director, able to help you learn how to do the job properly.

What qualifications do you need to be a Junior Copywriter?

Well this is the good part. You don’t really need any. It’s absolutely possible to leave school at the lowest age permitted wherever you live, and to get yourself a job as a Junior Copywriter.

You don’t have to have a degree from university, or passes in particular subjects in high school.

Having said that, education is a good thing, and most employers like to take on smart, enthusiastic people who seem keen to learn.

So, while there are no hard or fast requirements, I’d say that to get hired as a Junior Copywriter you’re going to need to show that you can write clearly and confidently in good English.

You will also need to be able to show that you have good, all round intelligence; an interest in the world and in business, and an awareness of what’s going on.

If you’ve been to college or university, and so have an undergraduate degree or equivalent, then there’s no particular subject that you need to have studied.

But clearly you will be expected, given your age and education level, to be able to write well and organise your thinking. You’ll need to be able to show some practical evidence of your interest in writing. A blog. Some magazine articles. A few vlog or short video pieces. To have nothing you’ve written at all to show is likely to go down badly.

Apart from that, anything you know, or can find out, about business and marketing will help you show why you’re a good choice.

What will you be doing if you get hired?

So if you land a job as a Junior Copywriter, what can you expect to be doing?

If you join either an agency or a client side employer as a Junior Copywriter you should expect, at the beginning, that you’ll be doing:

  • simple copywriting tasks
  • copywriting tasks no-one else wants or has time to do,
  • a fair amount of other tasks that don’t seem to be related to copywriting at all.

You’ll probably do a lot of social media posting. There’s nothing wrong with this. Use it as an opportunity to develop your marketing understanding, as well as your writing skills, and to show your boss that you’re capable and keen.

The important thing to realise is that being a Junior Copywriter is a stepping stone to becoming a Copywriter. That’s an interesting and well paid career that you’ll be able to work at for years to come. So be patient, get a smile on your face and say “Yes” to whatever you are asked to do.

Try to get experience on as many different kinds of work as you can.

And, if you are not the only Copywriter in the company, ask whether a more experienced Copywriter can be your mentor. If you have such a Copywriter to review your work and explain what’s good and what’s bad, you’ll progress much faster.

Avoid ‘Junior Copywriter & Something Else’ jobs.

Try to avoid applying for roles that appear to be looking for a combined ‘Receptionist and Junior Copywriter’, or ‘Data Entry Clerk and Junior Copywriter’.

The attempt to combine a ‘Copywriter’ role with positions like this tells you that the company does not really understand what a Copywriter is. It also suggests they won’t be placing a great deal of value on the role once you’re in.

They actually need a receptionist and think it may be possible to get someone to blog as well.

There’s nothing wrong with this if you like the sound of that balance. But if you’re considering a Junior Copywriter role to get you started on the road to being a Copywriter, it may be a dead end.

What can you expect to learn?

In even just a few months as a Junior Copywriter, you should be able to learn a basic grounding in marketing. Ask questions and people will be happy to tell you things.

You should also expect to learn about the business or businesses for which you write. (If you’re working in an agency that will be a few businesses, while if you’re client side it will usually just be the business of the one company you work for.

You should also begin to learn about the various media and platforms for which you’re writing copy. Make sure you get the opportunity to try writing blog posts as well as social media, say, or a brochure as well as newsletters.

All of these items have different roles and relationships with their readers. The more of them you get to try your hand at, the more you’ll learn.

What can you expect to earn as a Junior Copywriter?

How much you get paid as a Junior Copywriter will vary depending on a number of  factors including:

  • where you live,
  • whether you go to work in an agency or client side,
  • what your age and educational background are like when you get hired.

Being a Copywriter is a professional role, however, within marketing.

So you should normally expect to be paid better than somebody joining in a general or admin role, say, and perhaps the same as a Junior Sales Exec or Account Manager.

Take a look on recruitment site Glassdoor to get an idea about salaries.

The important thing to keep in mind is that Copywriting is relatively well rewarded as a career. Should you build a strong reputation or go into a particularly lucrative area such as advertising, you’ll earn a very good income once you graduate from Junior Copywriter to Copywriter.

How long will you be a ‘Junior’ for?

It’s impossible to say exactly how long you. This will depend on whether you joined the company with some prior copywriting experience, or as an absolute beginner.

Unlike some careers, copywriting has no professional examinations to take after which you automatically lose your Junior role title. So it usually comes down to how quickly you learn, become genuinely useful and require less watching over.

It may also come down to how willing your employer is to promote you, which will usually involve paying you more.

If you started as a Junior Copywriter with no previous experience, worked hard and progressed well, after two years you could probably apply for a job somewhere else as a Copywriter, rather than as a Junior.

If they were looking for someone with lots of experience you may not yet qualify. But by that time you should be able to work as a less experienced, but fully functioning, member of their team.

What should you ask if you go for a Junior Copywriter interview?

If you get as far as being offered an interview for a Junior Copywriter role, get along and talk about yourself in a confident and friendly way. Just avoid suggesting that you know all about being a Copywriter.

If you’re going into anything in a junior position, it’s best to recognise that your knowledge is limited.

Being keen to learn and pleasant to have around will be enough to get you hired.

When the interviewer asks if you have any questions, however, here are some things to ask:

• Will there be someone to mentor me and actually take the time to critique my work?

• Apart from mucking in as anyone would from time to time, will I be expected to do anything other than copywriting as part of my normal day to day job?

• Will there be the opportunity for me to progress from Junior Copywriter to Copywriter? If so, how long can I expect it to take before that happens if I’m doing well?

• Will I get a chance to try working in different situations and on different kinds of copywriting task, or will I be doing the same thing for as long as I’m here? (Remember, you learn far less doing the same thing every day than trying your hand at different things.)

Junior Copywriter? Get that job and start off on the road to being a Copywriter.

That’s just about all you need to know.

A Junior Copywriter is just a Copywriter in the making.

Give it your best effort. Read up about marketing and business in general.

And understand that it’s a business skill that uses some creativity.

It is absolutely not a creative free-for-all like writing novels, movie scripts or poetry.

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Yeah. You can quote me.

“So… how much does copywriting cost?”

Well… I quote a lot of jobs. Maybe three of four a day. And I’ve been quoting three or four jobs a day for years. So I’m fairly good at it.

I take time and care to analyse each project requirement, quantifying the time I’ll need to do every aspect of the job, start to finish, including supporting all revisions through to sign off.

And I have a formula that I then apply to take account of what kind of work the task involves, how rare the skills it requires are, who the client is and what use the work is going to be put to in their business.

I then set out all of this information clearly, showing how I’ve used the set of variables to calculate the amount per day at which I’m offering to rate the time I’ve assessed.

And I send that to the prospective client.

How much does copywriting cost?

Now many times, the quote will work absolutely fine for the client. Maybe 75% of the time.

And sometimes it will not quite work, but they’ll be professional enough to mail or call and negotiate me down a little. I have no problem with that. So long as they have a sensible budget, I’m happy to try to meet them on this.

There are occasions, too, on which my quote will just be too high, and the client will tell me so, and I won’t get the project.

All of the above are fine. Everyone endures all of the above as a normal part of quoting.

But there’s another kind of response, too.

Sometimes I’ll quote, pitching a fair price for doing a good job.

Then I’ll get a sort of triumphal reply that says, “I’ve had several quotes that are all much lower than yours, and won’t be taking this any further.”

Presumably, this is meant to stun me. To make me regret my dreadful greed, which has justly cost me the opportunity to work on the project in question.

To advise me that others are offering to do what I have proposed a professional consulting level fee for, for far less, and that I should thus be aware that I have been rumbled.

The only thing is, this kind of email doesn’t make me think any of these things.

Finding a lower quote isn’t hard. And usually isn’t smart.

What it actually makes me think is:

“It’s a shame that you are someone who is about to entrust the marketing of your business to a person who does not understand the work that is actually entailed in your task.”

Or, “Oh. What a pity that it hasn’t occurred to you that the reason the person to whom you are about to entrust your marketing works so cheaply is because they don’t have the skills to be able to charge a proper rate for their work.”

Or, “It’s so regrettable that you are going to entrust your marketing to someone who charges at a rate indicative of their inexperience, which will mean lack of business knowledge, lack of commercial understanding and the need for you to waste your time on teaching them the basics of your business and, quite possibly, business in general.”

Sometimes it makes me think, “It’s just unfortunate that you have no clue what you’re doing, and no experience in buying what you’re buying, and so just when you’d benefit from professionalism and experience you’re inclining towards false-economy and risk.”

On occasion, it even makes me think, “Oh, no! You are someone who can’t work out that the person who has quoted you three days of fee for a task that involves writing, say, fifty pages of a website, cannot conceivably be a person who knows how to do that job properly, or who is planning to do it with care and craft.”

Copywriting isn’t a commodity. Not all writers have equal value.

You see where I’m coming from?

The person who tries to tell me they won’t be requiring my help and wants me to see how much better they’ve done for themself by finding a quote much lower than mine, actually demonstrates nothing of the kind.

Instead, they tell me only that investing less, rather than making more, was as far as their vision would allow them to see.

And they send me away genuinely saddened by their lack of foresight; and by the commercial opportunities they will miss.

Write your own web content. My Dozen ‘Do’s.

The core of your user experience. Way ahead of look and feel. Making sure you have well written web content is the single most important element in making your site perform for you.

Your written web content drives your SEO.

It has to hold people on your site when they first arrive, preventing them ‘bouncing’.

It has to engage them, reassure them, inform them, befriend them, persuade them and, ultimately close them.

So here are my Dozen ‘Do’s to help you. Whatever kind of site you’re writing, these should help.

But before you get into these, let’s take a minute and look at 3 big web copywriting mistakes to avoid.

3 big web content writing mistakes to avoid.

For me (and I write web content for 100 or so sites every year) the three big mistake to avoid are:

  • Cramming too much copy into your pages. Don’t. Search engines like 300 plus. But a page should be as long as it needs to be, Sometimes it really is all over after two sentences. As a rule of thumb, though, I think of a short page as being around 80 words, an average one as being 300, and a long one as 700 or so.
  • Not thinking properly about the elements that make up the page, and what the individual roles of these are and how the copy for each should work.
  • Getting the tone of voice wrong – too stuffy, too corporate, too formal, too informal, too pompous, too vague, not professional enough.

Keep clear of these, and your web copy will be off to a great start.

My 12 tips for writing good web content.

So here are my Dozen ‘Do’s.

  1. Be clear about what each page is about. At the planning stage, for every page in the site, pre-compile a carefully thought through list of bullet points that detail what that page’s main copy section will cover.
  2. Think about how the page templates work. A page isn’t just the main copy block. It has other elements that will help you get across everything you want to say, and take people to where you want them to go. They may or may not be unique to the page you’re writing, but you need to think about all of them carefully.
  3. Be clear on page purpose. Some pages are there to inform. Some to build trust. Some to sell. Some to entertain. Decide what the job of the copy is and then write for that purpose.
  4. Underestimate your reader. People aren’t usually upset to have what they already know confirmed. But they get lost when a subject is written about in a way that they can’t understand. It’s better to underestimate how much your reader might know about the particular subject.
  5. Don’t compromise your expertise. The greatest expert on a subject can and will explain it in simple terms, and that’s good. But simple doesn’t mean inaccurate. If you are writing B2B, or for expert consumers, make sure you use the language and glossary used by the profession, or by people with that interest. Otherwise your copy will make those readers feel the site lacks expertise and so credibility.
  6. Break the copy into short, interesting chunks. Break the subject into a few chunks with a separate heading – and perhaps graphic treatment – for each. A page of 500 words of copy, even with subheads, can look quite offputting. Four chunks of 100-150 words each is far more inviting.
  7. Write simply. It’s not only readers that read your content. It’s search engines, too. Both like short sentences, built using simple words in everyday use. Avoid complex subclauses. Things aren’t more valuable, of higher value or more ‘professional’ because you use unnecessarily complex language to describe them.
  8. Keep your writing natural and informal. If you have brand guidelines, read them once then forget them. Take a common sense approach to the brand, but mainly just write in written English that echoes spoken English. And in short, single sentence paragraphs.
  9. Don’t obsess on outmoded SEO ideas. Don’t try to write guessed keyterms into the copy. Write about the subject of the page naturally and informatively. Where you can include likely – or, even better, properly researched – search terms naturally only, do so.
  10. Have headlines, not just page titles. A site isn’t a card index. Write bold, confident and helpful headlines for each page, rather than just the two word title of the subject that was used on the sitemap. The headline is a piece of communication between the site and the reader. The page ‘Title’ (e.g. About Us or Our Services) is a piece of navigation info to help people (and search robots) find their way around.
  11. Remember the calls to action. Don’t be embarrassed to urge people to ‘Call now’ or ‘Get in touch’. It’s not pushy and it’s not ‘desperate’. But also write calls to action into the copy where they seem relevant, so they are a natural part of the content.
  12. Read and edit once it’s live. Copy feels totally different in a live site to how it feels on a copy draft. Make sure you have access via a CMS (or through developers so you can go back and edit once your copy is in the site.

So. Get to it and good luck.

And remember that the copy is never final! Go back and look at it whenever you have an opportunity and edit, update, improve. It’s the way.

How to leave your job and become a freelance copywriter.

For everyone who is a freelance copywriter, there are days when the security of employment looks incomparably attractive.

But if you’re employed, the idea of quitting your job and working for yourself as a freelance copywriter can look even more appealing.

If you’ve always been an employee, the desire to leave behind bosses, office politics and fixed hours for ever can be particularly strong.

But for lots of people in this position, the most frightening and challenging part of pulling this off isn’t really to do with writing, or with what they know about marketing, or even with how to go about finding work.

It’s to do with how you’ll be able to  organise your life to cope with the transition from the security of a regular salary to the insecurity of freelance project fees.

Like most challenges though, it looks less intimidating when you break it into chunks.

Step 1. Understand your situation

The first thing to do is take a cool, clear look at your situation, and in particular at your fixed costs, and see what you can reduce and what you’re stuck with.

Everyone needs a certain amount of money each month, and you need a clear idea of how much that amount is  for you before you walk away from the security out of your current job.

(Don’t be too sentimental about that security though. If you think about it, lots of employment for copywriters is actually fairly interim, anyway, meaning lots of writers have to go find a new role every year or two as it is.  So it’s really not that different to being a freelance copywriter to begin with.)

Whatever your monthly outgoing, there’s still no real reason to turn away from the idea of a freelance life.

You just need to be aware of what you’re putting at risk, so you can think about how you’ll cover yourself if things take longer to get going than you hope.

Step 2. Be realistic about what you need.

If you’re in your first job, maybe in your early to mid twenties, your costs each month are probably quite manageable.

You’ll maybe have rent and bills to pay, plus the cost of your food, clothes and entertainment. Even though that still mounts up to a decent amount for most people, it’s about as good a position as you’ll ever find yourself in.

What you’re being paid in your job probably isn’t all that much either.

So the amount you’ll need to make from copywriting to cover your costs and match your salary won’t actually be that high.

If you’re fifteen years into your career, on the other hand, you’ll have more of a challenge.

The commitments that most of us wrack up during a decade or more of comfortable employment mean that you may have a mortgage, loan repayments or even some dependents to think about. And that’s before you get anywhere near having any fun!

So if you’re going to turn your back on your salary, you’ll need to be able to hunt down and complete quite a lot of well paying copywriting to carry on hitting your target.

Step 3 – Write some copy for free

I usually figure that new plans need a year to get going.

It can be less, and sometimes it’s more, but a year is a fair crack at making something as big as a career transition happen.

So think about this. Let’s say you have a £24k salary.

And, to keep it simple, let’s also say you have a £24k overhead, but you would like to walk out the door and start a new career as a copywriter.

You need to ‘phase’ the transition.

Right now, the job is paying you £2k a month, and you have no income from copywriting.

But let’s say that next month you spend a bit of time trying to turn up some small copywriting work from family and friends? “Can I rewrite your website for free?” “Would you like me to write you a little brochure?”

That kind of thing.

If you hate the idea of doing anything for free, then you could try your hand on People Per Hour or Elance or a similar site, but without any track record at all, you may struggle even there to land anything.

And the point of this is not to earn. It’s to get together some samples of actual work you’ve done for live clients.

By the time the month ends, you’ll have made no money from copywriting, but you’ll still have your £2k from salary. And, just to be conservative, let’s say exactly the same happens the next moth as well.

Step 3 – Write some copy. Make a little money.

So, we’re now into the third month.

This time, you’d try to get one small assignment that you could do out of office hours, and maybe make £200 from.

So you’ll make £200 from copywriting and so need only £1800 of your salary to make up your £2k. (You’ll still be getting your full pay packet of course, so this month you’ll have £200 extra. Result!)

Step 4 – Getting to 50/50.

After that, you just keep going the same way.

You have to try to get yourself to the point, after six months or so, where you’re fairly consistently earning   £1000 a month from copywriting.

If you can, then you’ll be making half of your monthly need from copywriting.

It’s better not to overstretch though. You’ve got to be able to drum up the work consistently. If that seems to you like something you’ll have trouble doing (and it’s harder than the writing itself), then it’d be rash to walk out of your job.

If you do feel you’d struggle to hit your work target consistently, then you’ve uncovered the fundamental truth of all freelancing.

Actually doing the work is easy and enjoyable. That’s the part you love, and want to do. But getting the work in to begin with, week after week, is hard. It takes lots of time, can be a bit lonely and it calls for skills that have nothing to do with writing.

(However, if you’ve got a background in Sales, or in CRM, for example, you may find this less of a challenge.)

Step 5 – Quit your job. You’re a Freelance Copywriter.

One day, you’ll get to the point where you’re happy that you’re pulling in a fairly consistent amount of work each month, and your evenings and weekends are getting eaten up by it.

At this point, the only thing that’s really stopping you from making your full £2k target each month from copywriting is your job!

For as long as you’re doing it, there just won’t be enough hours for you to chase new work, bring it in and actually do it.

And this is when you have to be brave, tell your boss you’ve decided to try working for yourself, and hand in your notice.

There’s no getting away from it: it’ll be scary.

But you’ll have done everything you possibly can to pave the way out of employment and into freelance life.

Oh. One more idea.

During your transition year, it’s only sensible to try to save the money you earned from copywriting (while you were still getting a salary), along with anything else you can stow away.

That way you’ll have some money in reserve once you start your freelance life, should you find you hit a slow patch.

And that’s about it.

There are other ways you can make the move, and everyone’s circumstances are different. (You may be reading this thinking, “If only I only needed to make £24k!”)

But the point is that you’re really not trapped in employment.

Plan. And jump!

Copywriting Tips. 11 Great Things To Learn.

Convinced that being a copywriter is your true calling, but finding there’s a little more to it than you’d imagined? Don’t get disheartened. Here are 11 copywriting tips (and in particular for tips for aspiring copywriters): 11 Great Things To Learn that will stand you in good stead for ever.

1. Learn about marketing.

Copywriting is a commercially purposed business function. In the vast majority of cases the reason someone’s happy to pay you to do it is because what you do will help them, in some way, to sell their products or services. You really can’t be a good copywriter unless you learn as much as you possibly can about what marketing is and how it works. You’re not going to learn everything there is to know in a hurry. But you need to know enough to be able to contribute to your clients’ marketing efforts when you advise them, and when you’re actually writing for them.

2. Learn to write with the rhythms of natural speech.

Forget about writing within the conventions of whatever you think ‘good writing’ should be. Learn to write the way people speak. Business today – even in sectors like law and financial services – is far less formal than it used to be. People who read what you write have short attention spans and just don’t want to read stiff, formal text any more. Write well, but teach yourself to hear a voice speaking your copy as you write it. It may be a more or less formal, sophisticated or cultured voice, but the natural rhythms of speech will give you copy that’s easy to read and communicates clearly.

3. Learn to listen to a briefing.

The briefing you get from a client, whatever form you accept it in, gives you a lot of pointers as to how to go about doing the job. You need to learn to really listen to it, and to spot the subtext in what’s being said as well as the text itself. Clients often let slip little concerns or secondary objectives when they’re briefing you. Spotting them and knowing how to deal with them, or include them in the copy you write, will get you satisfied clients.

4. Learn to spot the things that are missing.

Many of the clients you’ll work with won’t be professional marketing people. They’ll be business owners. So writing a brief for a copywriter won’t be something they have experience of. Learn to go through what your client does tell you, and spot the things they’ve not told you but which could make a big difference to the copy you write. If it seems to you that they’ve not told you about some aspect of the business, or the context, and you want to know, then ask them. It may get you the piece of information that makes your copy properly convincing, or compelling or plausible.

5. Learn to focus on the story you’re trying to tell.

Every business has a pile of stories, and most businesses aren’t very good at separating them out. Learn to focus in on the specific story that needs telling. And learn to clear all the other bits of storyline out of the way. If the story you ought to be telling actually has multiple  components, that’s fine, but keep your eyes on the overall take out. When someone’s read your copy, they should be able to go off thinking… “This company could do this for me”, or “If I buy that it’ll take care of such and such“.

6. Learn to read what you write through someone else’s eyes.

What you know or think about something can be a positive danger when you’re writing copy. It’s vital that you learn not to assume that your level of knowledge or understanding about something is the same as your reader’s will be. It won’t be. They may be an expert, or they may know nothing about whatever you’re writing about. But your job is to see the subject through their eyes, not through your client’s , and certainly not through your own.

7. Learn to edit.

Editing is everything. No-one writes perfect copy, once through, straight off. Maybe the most valuable thing you can learn to do is edit your draft for cleaner, tighter copy with clearer communication in fewer words.

8. Learn to get an outcome.

Lots of copywriters write copy that rambles. Don’t do it. Learn to construct an argument, get in, deliver it and get out with the result that your client needs.

9. Learn to quote.

Quoting work isn’t about pulling a number out of the air, and it isn’t about trying to work out the highest fee you can possibly ask for and still get the job. It’s about working out how much you’d be happy to do the work for, though of course that can include thinking about what the work might be worth to that particular client. Learn to work out quotes consistently and accurately, so that you factor it every facet of the work you’ll have to do. Think about the time required to do the research, write and edit a draft and support the revisions. Think about any meetings you have to go to and the phone calls you’ll do. And think about the value of any intellectual property involved. Find a way to factor all these things in so that you can price up any job and, at the end of the month, find that you’ve earned however much you set out to earn.

10. Learn to understand.

Learn to make certain you really understand the subject you’re writing about, and the market surrounding it, and where your client fits into that, and where the reader fits into it.  You can’t get the copy right if you don’t really understand the ecosystem.

11. Learn to learn.

Learn to treat every project you do as a learning exercise. Every task, however brief or apparently dull, has a lesson to teach you.