WordNerd is 6 Today! Lessons From the Last Year

Crikey Bill. WordNerd is six years old today. How did that happen!?

I called HMRC to say I was becoming self-employed on 2 August 2011 and a HUUUGE amount has happened since then.

copywriter wordnerd uk

Here’s some of what I’ve learnt in the last 12 months:

1. Stick to what you’re good at and be prepared to say ‘no’

Nearly all the work I do is online. I’ve written plenty of things for print over the years too and no one has ever complained about it. That is until recently…

I got a call one day asking if I’d rewrite a brochure for a furniture company. They hadn’t been happy with the previous copywriter’s work and wanted “a more modern voice”. No worries, I thought, that’s my bread and butter. But maybe alarm bells should have been ringing from the start.

I’ve written about saying ‘no’ to clients [It’s Not Me, It’s You! When to Break Up With a Client] so I only have myself to blame – and there were plenty of red flags:

    1. The company wasn’t happy with the previous person’s work (the copywriter’s fault or theirs for not briefing them properly or perhaps not knowing what they want?).
    2. The tone of voice they liked (on their own website) was awful. It was the copywriting equivalent of 1970s interior design. Beige. Brown. Shag pile carpet. Horrible.
    3. They were in a rush. I was about to finish a massive project and the new client wanted me to start working on their brochure straight away. I should have taken a breather.
    4. They had very little money and brought me down on price, which is never a good sign.
    5. The brochure would be reviewed by the chap from the marketing agency who contacted me, then he’d send it to the client and the board would go through it (again, never a good sign). They’d hated the first brochure and were going to be even harder to please this time round, according to the guy I spoke to.

I didn’t let any of that bother me though, I wrote the brochure as agreed and sent it off. My contact and I did a detailed review of it, then we went through it again with one of his colleagues. I made the changes I was asked to. It was signed off. They sent it to the client.

Who pulled it apart.

I’d missed something, the tone wasn’t right, it didn’t focus on X enough… I don’t think they liked anything about it, not even the bits the agency had liked.

Lesson of the story? Don’t work with people who like awful copy. Don’t work with people who don’t have any money. Don’t move from project to project too quickly after pushing yourself really hard for weeks. Encourage clients not to pull your work apart in a committee meeting.

And stick to what you know.

I love writing for the web and I’m good at it so that’s all I’m going to do from now on.

2. LinkedIn is a brilliant way of finding work

I make about £2k/month from LinkedIn. I know that hardly makes me a millionaire but given I only spend a few minutes a day on it, it’s not a bad return on my efforts, and it’s only one source of work.

I get work through LinkedIn in three ways:

    1. Other people searching for a copywriter
      Last year a marketing agency in Nottingham approached me, asked me in for a chat, and that resulted in the biggest project I’ve ever done.
    2. I search for projects
      That’s how I got one of my current clients, a global tech company based in Singapore I’m writing a website and articles for. I’ll explain how I do it below.
    3. Recommendations from other people
      A contact recently recommended me to one of her connections who was looking for a copywriter. They liked my work and I was very pleased when they chose to work with me.

My top tips for using LinkedIn to find work are:

  • Fill in your profile properly and keep it updated
    Get a professional headshot done (no excuses!), include keywords in your job title and blurb, update it regularly, and include your contact details.
  • Search for “freelance copywriter” or “digital copywriter” (or whatever) and restrict your search to ‘Posts’.
    If you’re on the app you can apply more filters, the desktop version is more limited but it still does the job. Then message/connect with the person looking for what you offer.
  • Maintain relationships by going onto LinkedIn regularly, liking other people’s updates, sharing their content, and recommending connections of yours who are suitable for projects or jobs you spot. I don’t do all that to get people to recommend me but I don’t expect people to do things for me if I’m not prepared to help them too.

3. Price copywriting projects according to value

I did some coaching a couple of years ago and I’ve always remembered what a fellow coachee said during a session at one of our Mastermind Retreat days:

“Your business will only grow as much as you do”

I’m slightly paraphrasing as it was a while ago but you get the gist. Your business can only grow if you grow personally.

At the time I was grappling with outsourcing work and trying to learn that it was  OK to relinquish some control of my business. More recently this nugget of wisdom has related to my total and absolute block when it came to pricing according to value – it was like someone was telling me to call black white and I couldn’t get my head around it.

That is until I went on Andy Maslen’s ‘The Well-Paid Copywriter” course in London a few weeks ago. I had an epiphany.

Again, these might not be his exact words, but he said something like:

You’re running a business, not working on an hourly rate. There is absolutely no commercial rationale for charging an hourly rate. You’re charging clients for what’s in your head.

Something clicked into place that I’d been struggling with for ages.

I didn’t get back to the office and start charging ridiculous amounts. But when I got two enquiries the next day I sent out sensible quotes based on how I’d help each of them bring in new clients and the value I’d add to their businesses, rather than trying to work out how long the work would take, what my hourly rate should be relative to the market, then bundle it up with a ‘getting started’ amount and presenting it as a ‘per project’ quote…

Instead I quoted prices that, while not enormous, would stop me thinking about time entirely and ‘allow me to do my best work’. Which is what I’m all about and – going full circle – takes me back to the work I did with my coach Kate ages ago: how can I find the clients who enable me to do my best work.

One of the two people who enquired that day has never come back to me. The other is now a client. She didn’t question my prices, she “loved” the first two pieces of work I did for her and has a lot more work she’d like me to do. And I’ll be able to do it all without looking at a clock once, working out my hourly rate, or how long anything takes.

They’ll get the best work I’m capable of and their business will see the benefits.

4. If you don’t ask, you don’t get

Or as a friend once said to me (she’s not quite as gangster as she sounds):

If baby don’t cry, it don’t get fed!

Someone suggested recently that I should approach companies I’d really like to work for and in the past I might have thought I wasn’t good enough. I don’t mean that in a self-deprecating way. Experience makes you better at what you do and some self-awareness isn’t a bad thing. After six years I’ve had enough good feedback to know many people (the furniture company excluded!) like my work.

So I approached one of the companies I’d like LOVE to work for – they’re sort of the holy grail of copywriting clients.

I Googled the name of someone senior who works there then I contacted them on LinkedIn and they gave me the name of the right person to speak to. So I emailed them and they got back to me and asked me to do a test (writing three sample pieces of copy) and send it back to them within a few days. Which I did.

There’s no happy ending… yet. They are still deciding who to work with. If they do want to work with me I’ll be ecstatic but even if they don’t it’s shown me that it’s OK to ask for the things you want and inspired me to approach other clients I may have once thought were out of my league. Another lesson learnt.

How about you? What have been your biggest lessons from the last year?

Lastly can I say THANK YOU for reading my blog and for sticking with me through all the ups and downs of the first exciting 6 years. Here’s to many more!


6 thoughts on “WordNerd is 6 Today! Lessons From the Last Year

  1. Great blog (as usual) Sally. Insightful and humorous as ever and made me reflect on my previous year in work…my greatest lesson so far? Because it’s often lonely in leadership, make meetings fun and people will want to spend time with you. And when people want to spend time with you, better decisions will follow.

    Many happy returns WordNerd!

  2. Hi Sara,
    Thank you! That’s a really interesting insight and it sounds like it has worked for you. I work for myself so I have to turn up to meetings!
    Have another great year and thanks again for your comment (and for reading my blogs).

  3. Well done, Sally! Definitely interesting to read through your lessons learned! Even though I’m in a different sector of this wordsmithing business, there are still many similarities (and I’m always up for learning from what others do!). Pricing is definitely one of the things I grapple with, though I am getting better at it. Here’s to the next six years!

  4. Hi Lindsay,
    Thanks so much for your comment and well wishes! You learn such a lot when you work for yourself don’t you, the learning never stops! I don’t think we’re alone in finding pricing difficult, lots of people find it hard and I guess if we keep learning and getting better at it that’s all we can do.
    Thanks! I can’t even imagine what the next six years will bring but hopefully they’ll be as much fun as the first six.
    I hope things are good with you 🙂

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