‘It’s just an edit’

I’ve been playing the copy game for a while now, and those four little words have been bugging me more and more.

When a client gives me writing to edit rather than asking me to create it from scratch, they probably think they’re making my life easier. Sometimes they think it’ll save time. Sometimes they’re so close to the job they just don’t want to let go. I can understand it.

Editing can work really well – perhaps if the text already exists and just needs the tone of voice to be updated, or if the content is very technical, or needs legal approval. In most cases though, I’d argue it’s far better to give your writer the information they need and let them do their expert thing. Here’s why:

 

It will save you time

You really don’t need to worry about writing proper sentences, or the order messages appear in, or, heaven forbid, grammar. I’m here to do all of that. Give me a list of points that need including, and give me some background about your business, your customers and how you want to be perceived (we’ll cover all of that in the brief). And trust me – I’ll make it sound great. 

 

You’ll get a better piece of writing

It’s easy to be distracted when you’re editing. It’s like trying to paint a picture over someone else’s artwork – you’d be far better off with a blank canvas. By letting a professional writer work on the very first draft, you’re giving them more freedom, which often equals better output.

 

Editing can make things harder

You might write a sentence your writer doesn’t understand. If that’s all they have to go on, it’s really hard for them to turn that into something a reader would connect with. A far better approach is to explain everything to them in the first place, in your own words, so that they can draft it in theirs.

 

Writing from scratch won’t necessarily take longer

It may be hard to believe, but there really isn’t that much difference. If I had to choose between a paragraph that needed rewriting, or a list of bullet points to be covered in a paragraph, I’d choose the latter every time.

 

In any other profession, this approach would feel unfeasible. You wouldn’t knock up a chair with a few bits of wood, then take it to a furniture maker and ask them to turn it into a better one. Trust your writer to understand what you want, and you’ll both get a lot more out of it.

One

We did it! Photo by India Hobson

We did it! Photo by India Hobson

 

A year ago today we got dressed up, stood in front of all the people we love and said some words to each other. Magical.

People ask how we feel about married life. Is it different? I think so – in all the good ways. One of the nicest things for me is being able to call Craig my husband. At first the word was said with a giggle, then a disbelieving smile, and now a swell of pride and love. It sounds substantial, dependable.

And it’s a relief to call him that, because no other descriptor has ever felt adequate. ‘Boyfriend’ didn’t cut it. I’ve had other boyfriends and he deserved to be promoted well above that rank. ‘Partner’ sounds impersonal and vague. I enjoyed the giddy novelty of ‘fiancé’, but soon felt like I was showing off. My beloved is from Yorkshire; French flounciness doesn’t suit him.

No, husband is the greatest word. Strong, comforting and suitably grown-up. Two syllables that have changed my life in a subtle but most brilliant way.

Happy anniversary sweetheart.

Tiny (quite long actually) update

I’ve been bad. My site needs updating, I’ve not blogged for ages and – oh, crap – I still haven’t sent last year’s records to my accountant.

Still, I’m refusing to feel guilty about this because I’ve been busy. Working for yourself, one week you’re snowed under and the next you’re wondering how much longer you can afford to live. This continues for about six years. Or that’s how it went for me.

Lately though, I’ve struck a happy medium. Not stupidly busy, not stupidly quiet, just consistently and comfortably occupied. I’m really proud to have got to this stage.

Here’s a few of the things I’ve been working on.

 

Dr Darren McKeown

Dr McKeown is a leading figure in facial aesthetics. In the last year he’s ventured into skincare with his STOP… range, which helps to prevent the first signs of ageing for women in their late twenties and early thirties.

I worked with specialist beauty agency Dew Gibbons on the proposition and pack copy for the range, then adapted the copy for use by its retailer, Space NK. Off the back of this I wrote Dr McKeown’s own website, and more recently have worked on the first product of a new range, to be sold by QVC.

 

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Skeleton

I’ve worked with Skeleton, a video production and marketing company, once before. They liked what I did, so when they needed a safe pair of hands to look after the copywriting for their rebrand and new website, they came to me. And I’m so pleased they did. Together with Emmeline from Co-creation and Ben from Made By Us (see below), plus Oegen, who designed and built the site, I worked bloody hard on this. And I’m really pleased with how it turned out. Take a look…

IMG_2570 skel 1

 

 

 

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Co-creation / Made By Us

Working on your own can be lonely, and it can also be quite restrictive. Two reasons why I’ve loved working with Emmeline of Co-creation and Ben from Made By Us. She’s a marketing expert and he’s a brilliant designer, so together we make quite a team.

We rebranded Skeleton together – I helped define their values, proposition and created the tone of voice and strapline – and we’re currently working on a similar project for Experian. I’m excited that, now, if I come across a project that needs more than just the right words, I don’t have to turn it down. We can tackle it as a collective.

 

XDev Studio

I met Brett Keet of XDev Studio when we were both enrolled on a course for creative businesses. A while later he got in touch to ask me to write copy for Soapbox, an app he’d developed. I jumped at the chance, partly because I’d never written for the app store before, and partly because the concept – a timer that helped you prepare and deliver Pecha Kucha presentations – was so good. A real why-doesn’t-this-exist-already idea.

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Nexus

A nice little site for some lovely people – architects Nexus Design Solutions in Lincoln. Their current copy was too long, too formal and could have been written about anyone. They loved that I managed to capture the essence of what they’re about.

 

What else? There’s been a few months’ work for an agency in house, working on lots of pitches and other exciting projects I can’t really share (clients included Interflora and the National Trust). There have been other little websites, and another rebrand that’s not yet gone live. There’s been pack copy for a new range of body lotions – with Dew Gibbons again – and there have been lots of meetings with new clients. I should probably update my blog more often.

 

When things don’t go to plan

Last week I worked on a project that went horribly wrong. It culminated in the conference call from hell, during which all I wanted to do was cry, apologise for being shit and vow never to inflict my copy on the world again.

I can either continue to feel that my confidence has been knocked (which will result in a continued lack of motivation at work and some ill-advised internet shopping), or coach myself out of all this negative thinking. As my bank balance is looking poor, I opted to try and do the latter.

I decided to think about why the job went disaster-shaped, and what I’d learned from the whole unwelcome experience.

  1. Get a better brief. The warning signs were there. The brief was vague and I wasn’t 100% sure what my clients were expecting to see. I asked questions, but not enough. Hence:
  2. Ask more questions. There comes a point where asking questions makes me feel stupid. I need to ignore this feeling and just ask the bloody questions.
  3. Trust your instincts. I felt the brief didn’t add up. That my clients’ client was doing things the wrong way round, that it wouldn’t work. I explained this; my clients agreed, but asked me to get on with it anyway. Tricky.
  4. Keep checking in. This is the part I feel I got right. Over the two days I was working, I kept on sending stuff over to my clients for feedback. So that if I was getting it wrong, they could point me back in the right direction. They liked my work and, gradually, I came round to thinking it was going to be ok. Right up to the conference call.
  5. Some people are just rude. Whether or not she felt we were wasting her time with our willful misinterpretation of the brief (and that is what she did feel) there was absolutely no excuse for clients’ client cutting me dead and calling me ‘Katie, or whatever your name is’.
  6. You can’t get it right all the time. No one can. Copy and design are subjective, after all. But there were some small victories to be salvaged – my clients (who I’d never worked with before) liked me and apologised profusely for conference call gate. I’m still getting paid. And with the benefit of hindsight, I can’t wait to see what some other poor agency comes up with.

Is it content or is it copy?

Knitted sofa and floor cushions by Etsy seller CowDogDesign. Stuffing included.

 

2014 was the year that content – or the idea of content – went massive. Such was the importance attached to inbound marketing that one agency I spent time working with debated whether they should call the services page on their new website ‘copy’ or ‘content’.

To put things in context, they were a group of experienced ex-journalists, working in a specialist field, and writing with a level of intellect and a command over the English language I will never possess. I spoke fiercely against the use of ‘content’, feeling it to be a flim-flammy buzzword that undermined the genuine skill behind what they produced. To illustrate my point I used an extremely poorly articulated cushion analogy that my colleagues politely chose to ignore.

But I’ve had another think about what’s wrong with the word ‘content’, and the cushion is back. It’s called content because it’s there to fill something. It’s produced for the express purpose of padding something out. Buy a new cushion cover, you need to buy some stuffing.

We’ve been told again and again the importance of producing new content, and getting it out there. So much so that a lot of people out there are writing crap for the sake of it. When I worked as part of a digital marketing team, our SEO agency wrote an article about our industry for us to approve. Not only was it badly written and full of inconsistencies, it also got several important facts wrong. And while I appreciate that whoever wrote it probably had to curl it out in around half an hour, this is not good. For any of us.

A couple of times, I’ve been challenged when I’ve quoted my normal rate for web content. When I write this kind of article I put just as much research, planning and skill into them as I would for any other writing. The finished piece will be engaging, original and created with people in mind, not just Google. So that’s why I won’t ever charge less. I won’t write stuffing.

Still, I’m hopeful this will change. I hope 2015 will be the year people start valuing quality over quantity. I’m very excited to have just begun working with a marketing specialist who’s every bit as obsessed with quality as I am, and we’ve got big plans. Watch this space.

The money issue

I won’t lie. Working for myself has been extra hard this year. Not because of the actual work – I’ve had plenty of it, lots of fabulous new clients and some really exciting projects. It’s not the writing that’s hard. It’s the everything else – the admin, the invoice chasing, the quoting, the charging, the cash flow, the horrible, horrible tax bills. I do not enjoy any of this.

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The first mistake I made was to not put enough money by for tax last year. Still financially hungover from Christmas, and the purchase of our first house (hic) at the end of the year, I was in no fit state to greet the January bill. I’m still paying for my mistake, in every sense. So while I’ve had a year of better earnings, I’ve not seen any of it. I hum HMRC’s hold music in my sleep. My fiance has been paying our new mortgage singlehandedly and my credit card balance has been fatted up like a prize cow.

Another mistake has been not putting my charges up. Like, since 2007. Even though I knew I was undercharging for my level of experience, I was scared of losing work. But I’ve learnt that this is actually a useful filtering system. Good clients appreciate the value of good copy and rarely, if ever, beat me down on price. So, gradually, charges are rising. Because I’m worth it.

This brings me on to another niggle. I’m very envious of freelancers who charge by the project instead of by the hour. I’d love to do it that way, but I find quoting hard enough already. I base quotes on how long I think they should take me, but almost always go over that time in practice. I need to adopt a new system, or be kinder to myself and add in extra time for admin and amends, phone calls and invoicing. Maybe some bonus time for staring out of windows, making cups of tea and playing a round of Doge 2048 while I ponder headlines. Because those things are all part of the process too. The words don’t always flow like water from a tap. I am not a tap.

I like to think that the fact I’m having to cross these hurdles now is a sign that, finally, my business has stepped up a gear. Something needs to give. So you might notice I’m charging a little more now, and these are the reasons why. Stick with me.

What wedding suppliers need to know about their customers

It’s been a crazy year. Along with relaunching my business, and getting more work and new clients than ever before, I’ve also been attempting to plan a wedding.

Organising a wedding and choosing suppliers has been an interesting exercise from a marketing point of view. Yes, I work in marketing, so I get extra snobbish about these things. Beautiful branding impresses me (it’s the first thing that attracted me to our caterers, McArtneys). But what it’s really about is the basic stuff – good communication and customer service. Without exception we have gone with the suppliers who were friendly, enthusiastic about our plans and understood the type of wedding day we wanted.

Just some of the suppliers we have walked away from include:

  • The sniffy jeweller who openly mocked our engagement ring budget
  • The blingy jeweller who couldn’t understand why I didn’t want a bigger diamond
  • The pub manager who calculated the budget as she went along to exactly match our previous venue quote (forgetting that she also charged £2,000 for the use of their rubbish marquee)
  • The incredibly expensive venues with incredibly cheap-looking, naff-sounding brochures, full of the usual wedding clichés, swirly fonts and repeated use of the word ‘special’
  • The package people with their silver, gold and platinum promises, who wanted us and our plans to fit neatly into their boxes
  • The couldn’t-care-less people, who were non-committal, slow at replying to emails and generally didn’t seem that bothered about receiving our custom

Then there are the good ones. Flipping brilliant ones actually. Lovely people we chose because we felt happy and confident about involving them in our wedding. Here’s what made them different:

They were excited about our wedding. They said congratulations – and we never tire of hearing this. If you work in the wedding industry then working with engaged couples becomes the norm. But for the couple, it’s a lovely novelty, so never forget that.

They wanted to know more about us – how we met, what we did for a living, what we wanted our wedding to be like. They were genuinely interested, realising that every couple is different and wants to be treated as such. They were open to new ideas and listened to what we wanted, rather than just talking about themselves.

They were super helpful. One person who stands out is photographer Lucy Stendall – she was booked on the day we wanted, but we exchanged several lovely emails anyway and she recommended other people for me to try. There’s a big lesson here – even if you can’t take on the work yourself, still be nice. People remember these things.

Being a customer myself was a great reminder of what good marketing should do. And in an industry as competitive as weddings, it’s a mistake to be complacent about the communications you send out. Couple invest heavily in wedding suppliers, not just financially, but emotionally. We’re planning the happiest day of our lives, not choosing an energy supplier. We want to feel like you’re swept up in the magic, that you love what you do. That’s why the right communications are so important.

If you’re not getting as many bookings as you should, put yourself in our position and ask how you’d make your decision. And maybe consider getting some expert help with your marketing – as a copywriter, wedding blogger and bride-to-be, I can promise you it’ll pay off.

Weeds and wild flowers

cp3cp2I love cow parsley. Around this time of year the lanes and country roads where I go riding are edged with glorious froths of tiny white flowers. It doesn’t have the nicest scent in the world, but it still evokes happy memories for me in the way only scents can.

I also really like the word ‘weed’, not because of the way it sounds but because its definition is so wonderfully vague. A weed is any plant growing somewhere it’s not wanted. If it is wanted, it’s a wild flower.

I picked this particular bunch on wild flowers on my way home from the stables this morning. It’s not the most artful of arrangements, and please excuse the not-great photos (I still have an iPhone 3). But to me, it’s beautiful.

Happy May.

Tiny update

Kula Tsurdiu

New client alert: Kula Tsurdiu’s beautiful shop in the Lace Market, Nottingham

 

Where is the year going? It’s speeding away with me so quickly I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on what 2014 has brought me so far, and share what I’ve been getting up to.

I launched my website in February, and I’ve been trying really hard to market myself a bit better. It’s been paying off with lots of lovely new clients. And a different breed of clients, too – lately I’ve been doing lots more work with smaller businesses, and talking to the owners, founders and crafters. People who are passionate about what they do, and eager to share that with me. It’s been really rewarding, and the feedback I’ve been getting is some of the best ever.

This is exactly how I set out to position myself with Tiny – I wanted to be able to focus on details, and getting copy spot on, for people who cared about it as much as I did. Happy clients, happy me.

 

Josh Wood for Marks & Spencer

I worked on this range last year for my client Dew Gibbons. The collection launched this spring and it was great to see it get the press attention it deserved – hello Vogue. The Blending Wands, which blend away grey roots in between salon visits, are particularly fabulous.

 

EV Charging Solutions

This Nottingham-based company install charging systems for electric vehicles all over the UK. It’s a high-growth area and owner Chris Everitt needed help taking his marketing up a notch. I’ve just finished their new website and it should be launched soon at www.evchargingsolutions.co.uk. It’s a really nice brand to write for and, as I’ve previously done a lot of work for EvoEnergy, another green tech organisation, it felt like familiar territory. Chris had never heard of copywriting before he was steered in my direction and thinks it’s pretty much the best invention ever. After electric cars, obviously.

 

Pitches

I’ve stepped in to help a few studios with big pitches lately – must be something in the air. All the designs looked amazing, and hopefully having professional, on-brand copy can give agencies the edge. Fingers crossed…

 

Expert skincare launch

Another beauty range I’ve worked on, again with Dew Gibbons, is due for launch in Space NK later this year. It’s a brilliant, innovative range that I’ll definitely be snapping up when it hits the shelves. A lovely project to work on too – everyone involved, including the famous name behind the range, really valued my opinion. Getting there took time but we’re all super happy with the results.

 

Kula Tsurdiu

It’s no secret that I’m crazy in love with my brown-haired boy, who I’m getting married to in October. I’m also in love with Kula Tsurdiu, the designer behind the stunning wedding dresses in the Lace Market Bridal Boutique, Nottingham. I’ve ordered my dress from Kula, and it seems she’s pretty impressed with my work too – she’s asked me update the copy on her website. We had a lovely meeting (only getting distracted by talk of my wedding a couple of times) and she adored the sample copy I put together. I can’t wait to get on to the rest of the site. 

What a dad called Sam Farmer can teach us about marketing to teenagers

Wash-Bag

Marketing to young people is tricky. Or is it? I got excited this week when I came across this article on the Guardian site about Sam Farmer toiletries – a new unisex brand that makes the whole conundrum look beautifully simple.

As the father of two teenage children, Sam was so appalled by the choice of deodorants aimed at them (pink, glittery and lasciviously named, or steel grey and reeking of turbo-charged manliness) that he decided to create his own range.

The result isn’t just a victory against gender stereotyping, it’s a big win for marketing in general. As Sali Hughes says, ‘Sam Farmer products make no elaborate, unsubstantiated claims and don’t attempt to be down with the kids’. He gave the brand his own name because he was ‘fed up with not knowing who is responsible for a product’. And it works.

The simplicity of this approach is nothing short of a revelation. For anyone who’s ever read a copy brief with a growing sense of dread before trying, and failing, to  ‘get into the teenage mindset’ (cringe), this is brilliant news. You don’t have to talk to teenagers like teenagers. You just have to be yourself, and talk to them like people. Who knew?

Looking back, it seems obvious. I didn’t feel like a typical teenager and I didn’t feel like those products were marketed at me. I wasn’t ready to be sexy. For me, it was Sure deodorant, innocently scented with something like ‘fresh cotton’. Later on I graduated, as we all did, to The Body Shop’s white musk.

Thinking this through further, does anyone feel like a typical teenager? I suspect the answer is no. Just as I don’t feel like a typical thirty-something now. Just as my good friend Liz, 73, would strongly and swearingly object to being thought of as a typical grandma.

So maybe we can ditch stereotypes altogether and just do what we do best – write with clarity and honesty. And stop making assumptions about our customers.