10 useful lessons for freelancers…

Gosh, well… what a year! If you don’t know me, then you won’t know that this year I turned 30, quit my day job and had a baby. It’s been an amazing, exciting year (and it’s not even finished yet!).

And here I’d like to review the freelance copywriting aspect of that. Partly to share some ideas with you, and partly to record my own thoughts.

So starting on Monday I’m going to be posting a series of ten lessons that I’ve learnt during my time freelancing. These will be super-short micro-posts.

Feel free to share your comments from Monday!

Web marketing services – fresh thinking & effective strategies

Web copy to web marketing

I write a lot of copy for websites. After writing web copy, the natural progression is to ask: what next? And:

  • How will people find this website?
  • How will the right people know about this website?
  • How will this website develop a life of its own?
  • How can we make this website sell?

In short, writing copy for websites leads to thoughts of web marketing. And quite naturally my work has slipped from pure copywriting into Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and web marketing. I recently added additional pages to explain these services – read about my approach to web marketing.

Web design from a web marketing point of view

Being a marketing kind of person, I view things from the point of view of the customer. I put myself in the shoes of my clients’ customers. As with all marketing, it never hurts to consider the marketing of a thing when you’re deciding the fundamentals. So don’t be afraid to ask a copywriter for their thoughts on your project.

Dropbox – snazzy online storage

I was lucky enough to get an early invite to Dropbox, a new online storage application (thanks BNMers!).

Now, I’ll be honest: I didn’t know what Dropbox was, or why people were excitedly swapping invites. But, succumbing to a bandwagon mentality, and ever keen to explore everything new on the web, I signed up, downloaded the application, then wondered what the hell it was.

It seems that the Dropbox website copy has improved recently, but when I registered it wasn’t too easy to tell what I was registering for. I knew it was storage, but questions remained:

  • What did it cost?
  • How much space could I use?
  • Why was everyone so excited about it?

But by using Dropbox, I quickly found the answers to my questions. Dropbox gives you a special folder that you can drag and drop files into. These are cleverly whisked away and stored remotely.

Share large files with ease

That’s nice and easy, but the thing I really like is the Public folder – which allows you to produce a URL for any file you drop here. I’ve been working on a massive document recently, and this feature has made it very easy for me to update my client with the latest version. I just drop the file into the Public folder, then email client the URL.

Another cool thing about Dropbox is that you can access your folder from the web, so you can retrieve anything you put there from any computer.

Dropbox is available for free with a 1GB storage limit. If you want more space you have to pay – but I think it’s money well spent if that’s what you need.

I’ve probably not done Dropbox justice – but it’s very good, so check it out: Dropbox.

A few thoughts on head – the web conference

Yesterday I went to the Brighton hub of <head> – the global web conference that is largely being carried out online, reducing the need for travel. It was especially easy for me to get to the Brighton hub because it was at The Werks, where I happened to be yesterday.

I saw three talks which were all interesting and relevant to a web copywriter, but Andy Budd’s was particularly interesting.

Architecture and the web

Andy drew parallels between the architecture of buildings and the design of websites. Andy suggested that by understanding the way architects plan structures, and the spaces within those structures, we could all build better websites.

If web developers put the same kind of thought into designing digital spaces as their physical-world counterparts, every website would be useful, pleasurable and effective. Web developers would research, plan and test their websites. The purpose of each website would be quantified, pursued and achieved.

The ideal world meets the real world

In many cases, little thought goes into a website. Clients want a website, and developers provide them. Colours, fonts, graphics and copy may all be judged and evaluated, but mostly in the sense of ‘oh that looks nice’.

Are clients naturally thinking:

‘how will this feel for my visitors?’

‘what are my visitors coming here for?’

‘how will the right people find me?’

Web developers often struggle to appease their non-geek, non-expert clients, for whom a website is something like a business card, a letterhead or a sign on the door; it’s one of those things that a business has to have.


I love Andy’s thinking, and similarly believe that people should put more thought into their websites – asking themselves what people will actually want to use them for – but I can’t help wondering how this kind of deep-thinking fits with small-budget projects, and the small businesses that need small, cheap websites.

Of course, cheap doesn’t have to mean stupid. And I suppose a great deal of the thought, research and planning needed for a beautifully-designed website can be expedited by an astute web developer, but still, I wonder if there are systems or tricks for making the potentially slow and expensive process of researching, planning and testing quicker, and more affordable. How can you provide time-consuming services to someone who cannot afford the time?

Do you have to be loaded to have a great website? Or can you work around a limited budget and still create an online experience that users will love – and benefit  – from?


One way for small business owners to get more from their websites is by them getting personally involved. Perhaps that’s the key. If you want an amazing website but haven’t the budget to pay for one, you’re going to have to get involved.

If businesses want to improve their websites, they may have to become web-masters of their own domain.


I suppose the biggest cause of websites that suck is owners who don’t understand the web. Many people don’t appreciate the complexities of the medium, don’t respect the culture that they operate in, and don’t get the very nature of the web.

Architectural farming

I’ve blogged before that having a website is like running a farm, because websites need regular care and attention. But if we take Andy’s ideas about architecture, and try to think about websites as being similar to buildings, we could start to think of websites as actually something like a farm that’s open to the public.

Perhaps the questions that should start the relationship between client and web developer should be:

  • What is this website for?
  • Who is going to use this website?
  • What do you want to achieve with this website?

Freelancing through the economic maelstrom…

I’ve contributed a couple of posts to Freelance Advisor, and just wanted to let you know. They are:

Five Tips for Surviving as a Freelancer During a Recession


Three Reasons Why Freelancers May be More Secure During a Recession

Although the tips are aimed at freelancers, I think they apply equally to most businesses. Please add your own tips in the comments section of Freelance Advisor

The evils of marketing-led enterprise…

In a follow-up to yesterday’s post about getting a marketing mind involved in business decisions, I’d like to


expand on the views I expressed.

How marketing could make you bland

If every business only made products that were easy to sell, we wouldn’t have Stinking Bishop cheese, or Robin Reliants, or Michael Buble. The influence of marketing also has a terrible effect on Hollywood – stripping the art out of film and replacing it with dull, beige blockbusters in which everyone survives.

If my previous employer had allowed the sales team to dominate product development, every product would have been shamelessly populist, hell bent on crowd-pleasing, never daring to step in new directions.

Be a maverick, and to hell with marketing

Don’t run your business via the marketing department. What the hell do they know, anyway? Let ideas run sideways through the corporate field. Innovate like crazy. Business is about more than money.

Mixed messages

If you’re starting to feel confused, let me clarify: it’s a great idea to ask someone of a marketing bent to review your plans. It’s a terrible idea to let said marketing person run the show. Having a say is one thing, taking control is something else.

(Picture courtesy of Alaskan Dude)

Why you should involve marketing in all your business decisions

I often get drafted in to write copy for projects that are nearing completion. Copy (supposedly) is the icing on many a corporate cake. I waltz in with a pen, release my prodigious vocabulary, then naff off. And often, that approach is just fine. But, to paraphrase NatWest adverts, there is a better way…

Everything in business should be run past a copywriter

I once worked for a company that designed and produced a large number of original products. The product development team was highly creative and highly effective, but on occasions the sales team would despair because unsellable products were produced.

The sales team knew, from their close relationships to their buyers, what would sell and what would not.

Eventually, the sales team were brought in to development meetings. From then on, product development was focused on products that would have a future.

It’s always a good idea to think about the details of selling a product before you make it. If a copywriter can write about your product, it has a better chance of success. Planning the marketing of a product or service will often suggest variations or alternatives to the original product.

SEO and product development

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) also plays an interesting role in modern product development. Performing a thorough keyword analysis often suggests under-exploited niches, which in turn may affect the products and services a company offers.

So if you know a friendly copywriter, give them a call now. (My number is 07790 748 243.) A copywriter or marketing professional may provide insights that open up profitable new markets.

Shame about the name

Product naming is another area that copywriters can help with. Copywriters will be thinking about products on shelves, words on websites, and what those things will mean to the public. Don’t name a product without carefully considering the details of selling it. Even better, ask someone from outside your company for a second opinion.

Marketing and packaging: anger in the aisles

originalsourceshowergelBecause my work is all about marketing, I tend to view all corporate acts through the lens of marketing.

Because I consider marketing to encompass every activity in the process of selling, it seems quite right to view corporate activity in this way.

Having made my excuses, I would now like to discuss packaging.

Waste not?

I was recently pleased to see the above packaging in supermarkets. The product doesn’t really matter for now; the important thing is that the packaging (allegedly) uses 75% less plastic than it used to. By swapping their hard plastic bottles for a thinner plastic bag, this company have instantly reduced their material use by 75%.

What I can’t fathom is why everyone isn’t doing this.

In a world where companies invest fortunes in carbon credits, or rescuing koalas from extinction, or internal recycling schemes, or glossy PR campaigns – why don’t they just do real things like being less wasteful?

Does quality waste, destroy and fritter?

Now, I understand the importance of brand, and the perception of quality. But I think modern times call for a redefinition of quality.

Quality is not wasting the last few drips of oil on pretty packaging. That is idiocy.

Quality is responsibility, and understanding the impact of your actions. Quality equates with intelligence, with doing the right thing, with social responsibility.

From a marketing point of view, it’s easy to promote and sell something that has clearly been made by intelligent, thoughtful human beings and is conscious of environmental issues. I do not envy the marketer who has to stack their bottles of shower gel next to the one above. They may as well slap a label on it that says “Needlessly wasting 75% more plastic than we need to. But ain’t we pretty?”

Of course, many people recycle, so some may argue that marketers should be allowed to waste whatever materials they choose. But of course, not everyone recycles. Also, the process of recycling uses additional resources, so it’s much better to reduce consumption of materials in the first place.

Big slow corporations – when will they catch up?

I’m continually suprised by the lack of ingenuity and innovation displayed by major corporations. Why are they so reluctant to reduce, reuse and recycle? Has a focus group declared that they prefer wasteful packaging?

Incidentally, the company behind the intelligent, high-quality, environmentally-friendly packaging is Original Source.

Economic downturn: time to make your website do something

Judging by the websites I encounter during my work, many are under-optimised. Which means there is extensive scope for improvement, which means they could do more for the businesses that own them.

Many websites appear to have been created some time ago, by an outside agency, plonked down on the web and left to fester. Such websites can be spotted by their misjudged positioning, missing SEO elements, ancient blog posts or ‘news’, references to summer when it’s autumn, misspelled or grammatically incorrect copy, low or non-existent Page Rank and minimal links pointing to it.

These websites are sad creatures, attracting few visitors, making no sales, converting nothing and generating no leads. The money invested in these websites is wasted. The return on investment is £0.

Optimising existing assets

In the current economic climate, it strikes me that many businesses need to evaluate their web presence, and consider how it might do more. Now is the perfect time to tweak existing assets into useful, profitable tools.

The web is an amazing place that offers a wealth of potential. But websites need to work hard to compete among the billions of other websites. Websites that are just dumped on the web will do nothing but take up space, cost money and gather e-dust.

Optimising websites is simple – you just need to know how. Most websites require a few key changes and some work off-site to get the ball rolling.

Managing your website

I believe that any business that wants their website to do more should start by appointing someone to be Web Manager, or Web Lord, or whatever they prefer to be known as. Give your Web Lord some time to regularly think about your website. Take some of their least favourite tasks away from them so they have mental space to think creatively about web marketing.

Web Marketing Reports

If you’re unsure of how to get started, and would like a few pointers, drop me a line. I offer web marketing reports which come packed with effective techniques for making websites work harder.

Business Book: sharing insights, concerns and bright ideas

I’ve blogged before about the importance of allowing ideas to flow freely around your business – because it’s crucial that insights and ideas reach the people who can implement them.

But I recently noticed something that I think many businesses could adopt in order to facilitate this flow of ideas…

In one of Brighton’s fantastic cafés (I can’t remember which) I noticed that the staff made notes in a big book behind the till. They recorded things like:

  • Changed water filter 8:30
  • Asked cleaner to wash floor properly (again!)
  • Drunk guy threw up on the steps (cleaned and disinfected)
  • Don’t forget to light the candles in the window – customers think we’re shut if they’re not lit!!!

So the book was primarily a method for different shifts to communicate, and for observations to be recorded. But it’s a great idea- and one I think many businesses could benefit from. Bright ideas come from all quarters – the secret to success is creating a channel for ideas to flow.

The pitfalls of marketing within the social web


My friend and associate Raj Anand, founder of Kwiqq and an enthusiastic marketer, recently encountered a small controversy.

Inspired web marketing?

In a moment of marketing inspiration, Raj decided to see if he could manipulate the social bookmarking website Digg and send one of his blog posts racing to Digg’s front page. By simply offering a lollipop to everyone who Dugg his post, Raj wanted to see if he could get the substantial number of votes required to make his post number 1 on Digg.

In order to spread the news of his lollipop offer, Raj made use of his social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Raj also posted a message to Brighton’s New Media (BNM) email group. And this is where Raj’s experiment began to derail.

Some members of the BNM group objected vociferously to Raj’s posting. It was rejected as being pointless spam. It must be said that some BNM members defended Raj’s actions, but generally the reaction was that Raj was spamming the list.

Marketing and social media

As I watched the reaction to Raj’s marketing stunt with interest, I began to wonder what lessons on modern marketing could be learnt. The simple lesson is very clear: be careful when using your social networks to market your business. Many people are sensitive to anything they perceive as spam. And as soon as someone feels that something is spam, it becomes, in effect, spam.

International differences

I think that if Raj had attempted his Digg promotion in the US, he might have received a different response. In America, this kind of chutzpah is more likely to be celebrated and embraced. UK audiences are more sensitive to what they perceive to be brazen salesmanship.

The fine line between spam and content

Some people in Raj’s networks saw the novelty in Raj’s Digg promotion – it was a harmless, fun marketing exercise that was attempting to manipulate a popularity contest with a bribe.

Others viewed Raj’s offer as a cynical marketing stunt that abused his social networks with an empty gimmick that was only intended to achieve publicity.

So Raj’s one initiative could be viewed in two disparate ways; there is clearly a fine line between spam and content.

Anyone planning on using social media as a marketing tool must exercise caution – because the risk of  offending and alienating an audience is easy to misjudge. Even those with good intentions (like Raj) can easily cross the line into spam territory.

Judging the market

The simple way to understand the online communities is to use them. If you’re new to social media, go slowly. Start off as a user and watch everyone else. Contribute.  Often the best benefit to be gained from social media is the start of your reputation as an upstanding, helpful and knowledgeable individual.

(Picture courtesy of Anaulin)

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