WriteClub London is at the Barbican in August!

If you write stuff, and live in London, I recommend you pop along to WriteClub London casual chats with other writery-types, because in August they’re meeting at the Barbican, as part of the Hack the Barbican event.

Here’s the blurb from Al Robertson, the magnificent host of WriteClub London:

Exciting news! We’ve got a rather wonderful new venue for August’s meetup – we’re going to be hitting the Barbican, as part of August’s Hack the Barbican month. Here’s the blurb about it:

For four weeks between 5-31 August 2013 the cavernous foyer areas of The Barbican will be taken over by London’s biggest ever experiment in cross-disciplinary collaboration. Bringing together artists, technologists and entrepreneurs, Hack The Barbican sets out to explore new boundaries and reinterpret one of the world’s great cultural centres. Nothing is off limits. Everything is open to question.

And here’s the HtB website: http://hackthebarbican.org

In practice, what it means is that we get to talk writing and enjoy a drink or two in the splendid Brutalist vision of tomorrow that is the Barbican foyer. We’re in Alcove 1 of the Mezzanine – I’ll ping through an exact description of where that is once I’ve walked the ground myself. And being part of HtB should bring us some fascinating new tech, media and arts people to talk writing with , too!

More details to follow – in the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing you there on the 15th, as ever from 7pm until late. And of course, we’ll be back in our usual venue at the Yorkshire Grey in September.

Visit the WriteClub London meetup page for full details.

And if you’re in Brighton, don’t forget that there is a thriving WriteClub group for you too!



Dorset Digital networking event this Wednesday in Bournemouth

Dorset Digital is a community of web and software professionals. They meet once a month in Bournemouth, Poole, Wareham and Dorchester, and they are meeting this Wednesday in Bournemouth, at the Goat and Tricycle pub.

So if you do anything digital – do pop along!

The meet-up starts at 20:00.

You might be a copywriter, or a designer or a programmer – but everyone is welcome. The group is usually fairly small and very friendly. Some regulars are freelance / self-employed while others have regular jobs.

The meet-ups are very informal and are a great excuse to meet other locals, talk shop and drink beer.


Will I see you there?

Be your own copywriter – Part 1


You might not need a copywriter. You may prefer to take control of your own content and spruce up your words. And why the hell not?

If you’re interested in improving your own copy, then I hope you will find the following tips useful.

I’m going to elaborate on the following points in the coming weeks, and when I’m done I’ll bundle them all together into a Word document so you can take it away.

You can make your copy better (I’ll explain what ‘better’ means later…) by

  • Fixing mistakes.
  • Using keywords.
  • Making sure that the copy answers customer questions.
  • Making sure that the copy supports your own goals.
  • Highlighting benefits.
  • Bringing everything up-to-date.
  • Using calls-to-action.
  • Cross-linking your content.
  • Thinking about your customers.
  • Telling people what to expect.
  • Revealing yourself.
  • Making contact details and addresses easy to find.
  • Using active sentences rather than passive.
  • Being bold and clear, rather than trying to hide behind jargon.
  • Focusing on the positive rather than the negative.


These are some of the things you can do to fix up your own copy. There’s no magic involved in copywriting – it’s just a case of following the rules. Actually, that’s not entirely right. Following the rules will help you produce effective copy, but your words may not be inspired – or captivating. To create brilliant, engaging copy you need tap in to your creative side. We’ll talk about that in future posts.

So – back to the rules…

I recommend that you review your own copy, taking the time to consider each point, page by page. Does every sentence on every page fulfil these requirements?

Check back next week for part 2, in which I will elaborate on the first point.

Brilliant Freelancer hits 20 reviews on Amazon!

Brilliant Freelancer book cover

It’s been a couple of years since my first book, Brilliant Freelancer, was published. And in that time I’ve largely forgotten all about it and got on with being a freelance copywriter.

In spite of my neglect, Brilliant Freelancer has continued to be bought and enjoyed by new readers. And over time the reviews have built up, so now I’ve got 20 glowing reviews!

Thanks to everyone who has read Brilliant Freelancer, and a big thank-you to everyone who took the time to leave a review – they really help to encourage other people to give it a try. Thanks also to everyone who was involved in the researching and writing of the book.

Brilliant Freelancer on Amazon

And here’s a little video I made about How to deal with clients who want discounts:

Getting to know the digital community in Dorset

I’ve been in Poole for about four months now, and in that time I’ve mainly been insanely busy writing copy for a number of public sector clients, some tech startups, a global car brand and a couple of charities. So I haven’t had much time to get out and meet people. But I did make a little time to attend two events: Dorset Digital and MeetDraw.

Dorset Digital is a bit like the Farm back in Brighton. They’re a bunch of people who meet once a month in pubs around Dorset. Their blurb is:

“We’re an informal community of web and software professionals.
We meet once a month for a chat at a local pub, close to a train line in Dorset.”

I’ve made it to two of their meet-ups and have enjoyed chatting to other digital types. The Poole events seem to be quite small in terms of turnout, but as a freelancer who currently works from home it’s great to get out and chat to people who are working in similar ways.

MeetDraw was a much livelier affair. The event took over a bar on the end of Bournemouth pier and was packed with all kinds of digital makers. It’s always a little daunting to stroll into a room full of people that you don’t know – but everyone was very friendly and welcoming, so I soon felt at home.

I’m looking forward to more excuses to drink during the week meet local people.

I also learnt about the imminent launch of an open device lab – quite likely a boon to anyone making mobile apps or websites.


Dorset Digital

Bournemouth Open Device Lab



You don’t need a copywriter…

Human Writes Performance Installation at UN Geneva

You might think that, as a freelance copywriter, I must spend some of my time convincing people to hire me. But I don’t. I’ll happily tell people about my experiences as a copywriter and the clients I’ve written for. I’ll even talk about my education and previous career. But I will not attempt to ‘sell’ myself to a potential client. And that’s purely because if you don’t think you need a copywriter – if you don’t think a copywriter offers real benefits – then you should not hire one.

Writing copy is a tough service to sell, partly because most humans can write. So paying someone else to write for you can feel unnatural – like asking someone to do your blinking.

If you don’t think you need a copywriter, don’t hire one. If you understand marketing, and how the web works, and how to write persuasively in a way that will bring people to your website and encourage them to sign up and buy, then you should definitely write your own copy.

If you want to know how a copywriter might help you, then maybe read:

The 5 benefits of using a copywriter

The skills you need to be a freelance copywriter

or download one of my PDF guides and write your own copy:

How to write for the web (PDF)

Essential SEO: How to build links


More music to write copy to – a Spotify playlist

Some time ago I shared my Spotify playlist of tracks I listen to when I’m writing copy. That playlist got played to death, so I’ve been working on a new one.

Few of these songs have vocals, and the ones that do are either muted or in a foreign language, so they don’t distract me. The tracks are fairly diverse. One minute you’re listening to modern classical, then you dive into bossa nova before a detour through hip hop and electronica.

The best thing to do with this playlist is to subscribe, then make a fresh copy so you can add and remove stuff willy-nilly.


The original playlist: Music to write copy to


What I learned about copywriting in 2012



While writing 100,000 words of copy* last year, and working on web content projects large and small, I learned a few things. Here’s a short summary:

– Preparation is key.

– Structure is vital.

– Creativity must not be left behind.


Preparation is key

On most projects, I decide how they begin. And while my clients often want to see copy immediately, I enforce a process so that we don’t waste time writing copy that’s wrong.

Before writing a single word I insist on defining a brief. This sounds obvious but many clients don’t supply a brief, and I typically meet clients in person to establish their requirements. You can easily have a pseudo-brief that exists in a scattering of emails, a blur of conversations and a voicemail addendum. It takes a little time to consolidate all these notes and details into a single brief, but once it’s complete you can be certain that everyone is expecting the same results from the project.

Once the brief is established I like to conduct research. This could be as quick as me noodling about on the Internet, or as comprehensive as a series of stakeholder interviews, as I did in December for the Kier Group. However involved the research, it’s important to do the necessary groundwork.

Following this, it’s time to work on structure.


Structure is vital

Writing web copy is a creative process, but it’s one that benefits from having a structure. And by structure I mean the shape of the content as well as the organisation of the project.

Careful and thoughtful planning are essential on larger web content projects. It’s easy to dive in and start writing anything that needs words, but jumping in without establishing a structure can lead to problems later on.

Before writing anything I work with the client to establish:

1.Content priorities and roadblocks. What content should we work on first? What content must wait?

2. Content sources. Where is information coming from? What information will be challenging to find?

3. Content flow. How will we deliver completed copy? And how will copy be sent back for revisions?

4. Content shape. What should the pages look like? Where will the copy sit, and what lies alongside it?

5. Content objectives. What should the copy achieve?


Creativity must live!

All this planning and preparing can kill the spontaneity and energy that usually invigorates the creative process. By preparing the crap out of your project, you can end up feeling as though everything is decided, as though the words have been written, you just haven’t typed them out yet.

To retain life and energy in copy I like to take breaks from staring at a monitor and do something else for a while. It seems as though a change of stimulus can be enough to reactivate those creative brain cells. That, or BOOZE.

 *number may or may not be accurate.

How to give your copywriter feedback

You want great results from your copywriter, right? Of course you do. So you need to get involved. It’s highly unlikely that your copywriter will get everything right without a little help from you, the client.

Your copywriter has to get lots of things right. They have to:

  • Adopt a tone and style suitable for your brand
  • Appeal to your audiences
  • Use language and jargon appropriate for your industry/profession
  • Include all the key facts and important details
  • Highlight your key messages
  • Lead readers on a journey and encourage them to take action
  • Write copy that you will like too

Give better feedback, get better copy

If you can give your copywriter clear feedback, they will be able to respond to your suggestions and improve your copy.

So how can you give good feedback?

1: Be specific

Tell your copywriter precisely what you do like, and what you don’t like.

Instead of saying, “the copy just isn’t on brand”,

say: “the word ‘guff’ isn’t appropriate for our brand'”.

If you give your copywriter feedback verbally, they may not understand precisely which bits of the copy need to be changed. You can easily waste your time by getting your copywriter to change bits of the copy that you like, while they ignore the bits you don’t like. So be specific.

Try highlighting sentences or phrases in the document, and giving an explanation of why those elements need more work.


2: Offer suggestions

If you have a very specific idea of what you want, why not try writing it down? You might struggle to write the copy you’re imagining, but your attempt will probably show the way for your copywriter.

Or if you’ve seen copy that you like (perhaps on a competitor’s site), why not provide that as an example? Even better, highlight words and phrases in the competitor’s copy, and explain why you like them.


3: Consolidate your feedback

Give your copywriter one batch of feedback. You might have multiple stakeholders with differing views on the copy, but, of course, you don’t want to give your copywriter multiple, conflicting views. Settle any disagreements you have in your organisation before responding to your copywriter.


4: Edit, comment and Track Changes

Your copywriter is a writer, just like you. Sure, they spend more time writing than you do, but you still have the tools to edit and comment on the document your copywriter has provided.

Turn on Track Changes and start changing the words you don’t like, and adding anything that you feel is missing. Use the commenting feature to add questions or to discuss anything you’re not sure about. Treat the copywriting process as collaborative, because you know your business. We just know how to write.


5: Keep an open mind

Choose a copywriter who you can trust. Pick someone whose work you admire. And then be prepared to consider their recommendations. Question anything that you’re not sure about, and challenge everything you don’t like or agree with, but do consider (with an open mind) your copywriter’s recommendations.



A change of scene

Lulworth Cove

From 25 February 2013 I’ll be freelancing from Dorset! More specifically, I am moving to Poole, though I’ll be very near Bournemouth too.

Why the move?

Well, change is good! After living in or near Brighton & Hove for the past 20 years, the prospect of new vistas, new people and new opportunities is thrilling. And while I will miss Brighton, I’m excited about all the new things we can do and see in Dorset.

What about work?

My freelance copywriting work is coming with me. Most of my work is carried out remotely (usually from the Werks in Hove) so moving to Dorset shouldn’t change anything. I’ll still visit clients and friends in Brighton, and there’s a train station just round the corner from the new house – so I can be in London within 2 hours.


I’m incredibly lucky to have started freelancing in Brighton, because there are hundreds of friendly people who have made the experience enjoyable, exciting and profitable.

Thanks to: Premasagar Rose, Michael Bailey, Ellen de Vries, Rosie Sherry, James McCarthy, Jonathan Markwell, Paul Silver, Darren Fell, Nick Carter and all of the other freelancers, programmers and writers who have helped me get started – and carry on!


WriteClub is thriving thanks to the endeavours of Alice Reeves, Helen Keevy and Rob Shepherd in Brighton, and the almighty Al Robertson in London.




BookMachine + WriteClub event

You are invited to a very special WriteClub event: BookMachine Brighton.

Join us on Thursday 7 February at 7:00 PM for an evening of networking with writers, designers, publishers, marketers, app developers and students.

BookMachine is a group for people in the publishing industry and anyone who loves books. They run events in Edinburgh, London, New York, Oxford and now Brighton!

Sign up (for free) to attend BookMachine Brighton

Venue: The North Laine (pub), 27 Gloucester Place, Brighton

Thanks to Alice Reeves and the good people at BookMachine for organising this event.


On WriteClub: the ongoing group for writers

Write Club London

For the past three years, writers in Brighton and London have met to chat about writing, reading, freelancing and everything else. WriteClub is a low-key, totally open and deeply informal gathering that happens twice a month.

If you write stuff, want to write stuff or want to talk about words, creating stories or even making a living as a writer, come along! You can share ideas and discuss methods with other writery-types.


Morning: Meets once a month at Small Batch Coffee, Jubilee Street, Brighton. Meetings are on the second Thursday of the month 9:00 – 10:00(ish).

Evening: Once a month, this lovely bunch of people assemble at the Earth & Stars pub. Alice Reeves recently joined Helen Keevy and Rob Shepherd as an evening host.

– there’s not much difference between the two meetings, but the morning ones tend to be quieter (i.e. fewer people) and the evening ones have the added benefit of booze (though Small Batch coffee is a delicious and energising substitute).



WriteClub London is hosted by copywriter and ‘weird fiction’ writer Al Robertson. You can find out all about the London group by visiting the WriteClub Meetup page.





The 5 benefits of using a copywriter

2012-04-12 16.55.18

This is the blog post where I try to persuade you to hire me.

Well, it might seem like that. But really I just want to discuss the benefits that copywriters offer. And remember: if you don’t believe you need a copywriter’s help, don’t – under any circumstances – hire one.

Copywriters are costly. So what do you get for your money?

1: A sense of perspective

From inside a business, it can be difficult to retain a sense of perspective. You can get caught up in the internal politics that weave through your working day, or you can get muddled by the previous incarnations of your business – or your fantastic ideas for your future. With all these ideas circulating, it can be very hard (or impossible) to succinctly state the features you offer or the benefits you bring.

My clients regularly say, “I don’t know how you’ll make any sense of all this…” before they tell me about their business. I usually say “it will be easy” before listening very carefully.

It’s easy for me to make sense of your business because I’m on the outside looking in. I won’t let you cloud my understanding with irrelevant information, and I won’t consider what your business used to be, or what it might become. I will only consider what your business is today, and who your customers are. I extract the relevant information and distil it into something useful. This is easy to do because I follow a process and I have the benefit of perspective.

No matter how hard you try, you will find it difficult to achieve the same perspective that I am afforded, purely because I have distance, and you don’t.

2: Clear, professional-grade communication

All I do is write for businesses and charities. From tiny startups to global mega-brands, I’ve put words in their mouths. I know how to communicate a message clearly, and I know how to adopt a brand’s voice – or define one. For five years I’ve done nothing but write for other people.

Good copy can impress your customers and help you make the sale. Bad copy can turn people away and detract from your carefully manicured brand. If you invest in a well-designed website and value the look and feel of your brand, who will you trust to write the words that do the talking?

I’ve seen many beautiful websites (which likely cost thousands of pounds) undone by copy evidently written by an intern. Professional, effective design is a great way to build trust and boost your reputation. Unprofessional, inarticulate copy is a great way to destroy trust and undermine your reputation.

3: Content delivered on time

Copywriters are so much more than a hired pen. But they’re also great for just getting stuff done. Many corporate projects stall and dither because someone can’t find the inspiration or the time to write something.

If your lovely new website is being delayed because your teams don’t have the spare capacity to assemble pages of content – outsource! If your grand marketing plan falls at the copy hurdle – outsource! If your white papers, blogs and reports remain in the blue sky with all the other thinking – outsource!

By handing these tasks to a professional whose one and only job is to write stuff, they will get done.

4: An advocate for quality (who can battle internal factions)

Many businesses struggle to produce web content because everyone has different ideas of what is ‘right’ and what is ‘good’. Hiring a copywriter or employing a content agency instantly eliminates inter-departmental arguments. The external agent can proclaim what is right, and what is good. Everyone can agree a template, a style and a tone for content, and all content can be produced according to the agreed guidelines.

Because these directives and initiatives come from outside the company, and are produced in partnership with multiple stakeholders, the various factions can do nothing but contribute and cooperate. Opinions are gathered, voices are heard, and fighting factions drop their guns.

Your copywriter wants to achieve the best result. They don’t want to score points with the boss, or belittle Frank in finance. They just want to help your company communicate in the best possible way. If there’s an argument to be had, it will only be to defend quality, and fight for right.

5: Your time back

Writing great content is time-consuming. And unless it’s your job, you’ve probably got lots of other things you need to be doing. Hire a copywriter so you can get back to work.


What do you think of my list? What would you add or remove?


Finding work as a freelance copywriter

Guillotine Operator!?


Are you just getting started as a freelance copywriter? Or are you a freelance copywriter looking for more work?

This post explores a few options for finding freelance copywriting jobs, and might give you a few ideas that you haven’t considered. This blog post is partly in response to the regular emails I get from people looking for work. I can’t always respond to emails I receive (sorry!) but this is what I might have written…

Finding freelance copywriting jobs

For a freelance copywriter, there are two main types of client:

Businesses (and organisations) that hire you directly. This could be as small as Fran’s Fridges from Framfield High Street or as massive as Mazda. There are lots of businesses that might need a freelance copywriter (for everything from web copy to job ads, catalogue descriptions, proposals, employee communications and statements from the CEO), but of course you won’t know which of the millions of businesses need a copywriter right now. It’s fairly futile to go searching for this type of client; you have to let them come to you.

Agencies that hire you on behalf of their clients. There are web agencies, digital agencies, marketing agencies, content agencies, ad agencies, mobile agencies and design agencies. They are often expert at hiring freelancers (they do it all the time) and you can assume that they are likely to need your services (at some point). They may already have a roster of freelance copywriters, but some of those might be expensive, tired or lazy, and the agency might be curious to try fresh meat.

Copywriting for businesses

Businesses of all sizes can make great clients. You can have direct contact with business owners and learn a lot about their companies.

To get direct work writing for businesses, you need to make yourself visible and findable. You need to become known, so that when a need arises your name is likely to get mentioned. You need to be findable, so that when a business goes looking, it’s you they be finding.

You can become known by expanding your social circle. You can go to networking events and meetups (including WriteClub, WiredSussex meetups, The Farm and content strategy groups) to meet other freelancers, related professionals and business owners. You can use LinkedIn and Twitter to make acquaintances, build on budding friendships and share your wisdom. You can write blog posts that demonstrate your knowledge, while giving people a chance to learn what makes you tick (or tock).

You can create a website (we’ll come back to this subject later on) and make sure your website uses the words your clients will use when they search for you (i.e. freelance copywriter), has links to other websites and is updated regularly.

Copywriting for agencies

Working with agencies can be more straightforward, for several reasons:

1 Agencies may use freelance copywriters all the time. So not only will they be expecting your enquiry, they’ll know how to deal with you.

2 Agencies will expect to pay normal market rates. Agency clients may still haggle, but in my experience it tends to be small business owners who are most likely to balk at my rates (often because I’m the first copywriter they’ve hired).

3 You can leave your details with an agency, so they can contact you when you’re needed.

4 There are a manageable number of agencies out there – so you can feasibly contact most of the reputable agencies that are local and/or relevant to your skills.

Making contact with agencies and businesses

What’s the best way to contact a new business or agency? Well, it depends. It depends on who they are and what they want. If they ask for an email don’t send them a letter. And if they provide a contact form don’t send them an email (not yet, anyway). Adjust your methods to your audience.

Sometimes a phone call is useful, partly because very few freelancers use the phone (it’s too scary) and partly because it can give you a chance to get noticed. Emails are everywhere, so they lose their impact. Phone calls are personal and direct, and you’re more likely to be remembered for a phone call than an email.

Whatever you do, be professional, be polite, be friendly, be accurate and get to the bloody point. It helps to have a point. So choose a goal, and make your way towards it in an orderly fashion.

I still get emails from aspiring copywriters that contain questionable grammar, misspelled words, broken links and other avoidable errors.

Get a website

Websites are so easy to get hold of (via services such as wordpress.com and create.net) that I don’t think there’s a good excuse for not having one. Freelancers without websites are a bit like teachers with criminal records. You just wouldn’t hire one.

Once you’ve created a website, make sure you write about the services you offer to clients. Include the words that clients use when they talk about what you do (AKA ‘keywords’) . Add your website to directories. Write blog posts. Write blog posts for your friends. Tweet about your blog posts. Share your tweets on your website. And so on.


Networking events are as varied as any gathering of people. Some networking groups are full of prehistoric business people, who will ‘work the room’ and force business cards into your palm. Other networking groups are modern, friendly, open and laid-back, where people go to meet others and make friends.

Networking has been immensely useful to me. There is no better way to get to know local businesspeople and find hidden work opportunities. Networking is often cheap, relatively quick and easy to do. Networking has helped me meet clients, partners and nice people.

You might feel apprehensive about networking, but you should push yourself to give it a try. Don’t just try one event, but try a handful of different meetups and networking events. It’s worth the effort.

Training and qualifications

Are you qualified to be a freelance copywriter? Probably, yes. The barriers for entry to copywriting are very low. All you need is ability, experience and a smattering of theory. You can pick up the theory from books on marketing, advertising and books about the web (Content Strategy for the Web, Call to Action and Don’t Make Me Think are all useful). So don’t think a lack of qualifications will hold you back.

If you feel you need a little training to shore-up your experience, look out for workshops and short courses by professional copywriters (such as this one from Relly Annett-Baker).


Do you have questions about working as a freelance copywriter? Just ask, and I’ll try to respond with something useful.

If you hire a copywriter, give them the reins

Reining Horse Sliding Stop

Letting go can be hard. We all like to hang on to certain things. Some people collect crisp packets, for example. Other people like to hang on to their words.

But if you take the time, trouble and expense of hiring a professional copywriter, you will have to let go of your words. Give those words willingly to your copywriter – let them grapple with your words, and make them new, and lovely.

You may have strong views about words, language and the best way to conduct your marketing, but if you aren’t prepared to open up to the views, opinions and advice of your chosen copywriter, don’t hire them. Don’t even bother emailing them.

I should point out that 99% of my clients relinquish control of their words, and put themselves at the mercy of my skills. That’s not to say my clients don’t care. Of course they do – and they question my style, doubt my tactics and clarify my spellings – but they do so with an open mind, a mind willing to genuinely consider and appreciate my views. The copy we produce together is the result of their knowledge and my expertise – and all the better for it.

The other 1%… well, let’s not talk about THOSE PEOPLE.

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