Saturday, 22 September 2018

How to prune your copy


"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." 

~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery


We prune our trees to keep them healthy.

Cutting off the dead and overgrown branches makes the rest of the tree stronger.

This is a good analogy for editing your copy, because removing dead words and sentences does the same for your copy, making it more powerful and effective.


Three Good reasons to prune your copy.

  1. It shortens your copy and makes it more readable
  2. It makes your message clearer and more compelling
  3. It keeps your readers engaged and interested

Here are five things you should cut from your copy to make it stronger.


1. Cut extraneous details.

We are all guilty of adding details to our copy that later seem irrelevant. The trick is to find and remove them when you edit your piece.

Cutting them out will streamline your copy and strengthen your message.

Remove anything that doesn't:

  • Add value
  • Make a valid point
  • Stick to the topic
  • Support your message
  • Strengthen your case

2. Cut waffle.

You don't get extra credit for using more words than you need to, so keep it concise and don't use several words where one or two would suffice.

For example:

  • In order to — just use 'to'
  • This is a subject which — just use 'this subject'
  • Due to the fact that — just use 'because'
  • With regard to — just use 'regarding'
  • In the event that — just use 'if'


3. Cut long sentences into shorter ones.

Long sentences can be convoluted and difficult to read, so split them up with full stops and add punctuation.


To identify them it can be helpful to read your copy aloud. 

4. Cut non-specific words.

Indefinite words make your writing sound woolly and vague. 

Examples include:
  • A bit
  • Kind of
  • Like
  • Rather
  • Really
  • Reasonably
  • Somehow
  • Somewhat
  • Very

5. Cut crutch words.

You should find you can just remove words like these:
  • Actually
  • Basically
  • Essentially
  • Generally
  • Just
  • Literally
  • That
  • Totally
Basically, words like these don't actually add anything and essentially you will find your sentence reads just the same without them.


6. Cut unnecessary punctuation.

Punctuation fulfils an important role in writing, but make sure you only use it where it is needed. Overuse can be distracting and interrupt your flow.



Do you need help with writing or editing your words?

I am a professional copywriter and copy editor with more than 18 years' experience of helping businesses communicate more effectively.

If you would like to find out more about me and how I could help you, please visit my website.

    Friday, 14 September 2018

    My 20 Top Tips for new and aspiring freelance copywriters



    Since I started my freelance business, I have been approached for advice by a number of new copywriters and people wanting to get into copywriting.

    The truth is, there is no set path into copywriting and mine is just one of many different stories. I have written a separate post on how I became a copywriter.

    In this article I wanted to share some things I have learned and that have helped me. I hope you find it helpful.  


    Skills and experience

    1. Brush up on your written English.

    Being able to write well is the most basic skill you need as a copywriter. The following tips can help to build your confidence, improve your writing skills and widen your vocabulary:

    • Read widely — non-fiction books; quality newspapers and magazines; websites and blogs; examples of successful sales letters, press ads and campaigns 
    • Analyse the formats, layouts and sentence structures of existing copy
    • Write daily, or as often as you can


    2. Develop some complementary skills.

    It's always good to add some more strings to your bow — even if it's only improving your understanding of a different discipline.

    The following skills, which I developed in previous employment, have been invaluable to me as a copywriter:

    • Marketing
    • Public relations (PR)
    • Journalism/reporting
    • Research
    • Client liaison
    • Understanding of design and layout — in print and online
    • Web development


    3. Learn some copywriting best practice.

    There are plenty of copywriting courses out there, along with books, ebooks, blogs, articles and exercises. 

    How you choose to learn is entirely up to you, but look for recommendations or ask other copywriters about the resources they have found most helpful.

    I took a course from the Institute of Copywriting back in 2006/7. By then I was already proficient in some aspects of copywriting, but wanted a more rounded introduction to the area. The course provided this, along with mentoring from a professional copywriter.

    Personally, I found the course valuable — even though the diploma isn't a recognised qualification. It gave me insight into the business of copywriting, taught me new skills and helped to build on my copywriting portfolio. 


    4. Learn how to write Search-engine-optimised (SEO) copy.

    SEO copy is written specifically for websites and blogs. It helps the search engines to index and categorise websites so people can find them online.

    Websites and blogs are always in demand and have made up a substantial portion of my freelance work over the years. If you want to write for them, SEO skills are a must.

    As a bare minimum, you should know how to research key words and phrases and where to place them for the best results. You should also understand the best format for web copy that helps people to read it easily.

    The following skills and knowledge will give you a more competitive edge:

    • Keyword and key-phrase research — the best tools and techniques to use
    • Long-tail SEO — how to research and make use of longer phrases
    • Competitor research — to differentiate a website from its competition
    • Web development — an understanding of how websites are designed and built
    • Landing pages — how to write landing pages that convert
    • User behaviour — how website visitors find, use, read and navigate websites
    • Calls to action — what they are and how to use them
    • Google Analytics — how to interpret and use the data


    5. Check out free courses in your area.

    When I started freelancing full time a client told me about the Leicester Business Festival: a two-week event hosting free workshops and seminars for local businesses.

    I subscribed and booked myself onto a number of free events, including a personal mentoring session from a person in my field. 

    In addition to valuable learning opportunities, local courses provide a chance to network and meet other business people.

    Following the business festival I joined my local Chamber of Commerce and enrolled on their Digital Growth Programme. The programme has offered an excellent selection of business workshops and seminars — all fully funded and free for eligible businesses to attend.



    6. Build a copywriting portfolio.

    Many new copywriters struggle to create a portfolio, but it actually isn't that difficult.

    Here are some of the things you can include:
    • Written work you produced in your previous employment — get approval from your previous employer first to make sure the work is okay to be used
    • Coursework from your copywriting course, if you have taken one
    • Relevant examples from other studies or courses
    • Articles or blog articles you have written

    If you don't have examples, you can create some by:
    • Doing free copywriting work for charities
    • Writing something for a friend or family member's business
    • Finding sample copywriting briefs online and showing how you would respond to them
    • Contributing articles for a local paper or magazine
    • Starting a blog about something that interests you or, if appropriate, something relevant to the field you want to work in

    Equipment and resources

    7. Invest in a dedicated laptop, if you can.


    I have a laptop I use just for my business. Keeping it separate from my personal computer means it doesn't get clogged up with photos, movies and other things that need a lot of disk space.

    The other main benefit is its portability. I can take it anywhere, which is great if I'm going to a meeting or fancy a change of scenery.


    8. Get the right software.

    • Word processor — for writing, obviously!
    • Spreadsheet — useful for creating timed scripts for media including radio, video, animations and presentations (also for simple accounting)
    • Photo editor — for working with images
    • Calendar — for scheduling meetings, projects, reminders and deadlines
    • Accounting software — for running a freelance business

    If you're on a tight budget, you can download and use open-source software for free.
    Apache Open Office creates Microsoft-compatible text documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings and databases.

    Google Docs allows you to create and share documents online for free. This is particularly useful for copy editing projects as it has a separate edit mode.



    9. Bookmark a suite of useful online resources.

    Dictionaries and word finders

    Free images for blogs and other projects

    Website data collection and testing tools
    • Google Analytics — if a client has Google Analytics on their existing site, you can use the data to determine what is working and what isn't
    • Google Search Console — provides additional in-depth data
    • Page Speed Insights — Checks the website page load speed and advises on how to fix any problems

    SEO keyword research tools
    Every copywriter has their go-to keyword research tool. Here are three of the most recommended ones:

    Content creation tools


    Promoting yourself

    10. Decide on a company name.

    You can choose a business name or use your own name if you prefer.

    If you're planning to have a website at some point, you should check the domain name is available. You can search for your domain at 123-Reg.com.

    If the domain name is available, it's a good idea to secure it with a payment to make sure no one else does.



    11. Get some business cards printed and keep some in your wallet or purse.

    You never know when a networking opportunity might present itself, so make sure you're always prepared.



    12. Try networking.

    There are business networking groups all over the country. Some meet weekly and some monthly. Some are free to join, but most require a joining fee and regular payments.

    It's important to find a group where you feel comfortable and where you feel you can make the necessary contributions — in money, time, introductions and referrals. 

    Most groups offer free guest introductions, so take these up and try out the different groups before you decide which one to stick with.

    Remember, there are also networking opportunities at the free business events and on the free courses I talked about above.



    13. Start a blog.

    Blogging is great for marketing your services and for positioning yourself as an expert in your field. Plus, as you're a copywriter, the writing part should be easy.

    Blog about things you think your potential clients will be interested in and be sure to share your posts on social media and, if necessary, include your contact details at the end of each article.

    There are a number of blogging platforms you can use but the main ones are: 



    14. Get a website.

    Most start-ups have a website. It's not essential that you do, but it does give you another platform to promote yourself, a place for your online portfolio and somewhere to refer potential clients.

    You can go to a web designer or build your own website using one of these online platforms:
    New websites are currently taking around 6—12 months to get picked up by the search engines, so you shouldn't rely on your website bringing in business straight away.


    15. Get free business listings.


    Listings in cheap and inferior directories could harm your website ranking, so these are best avoided.

    But links from the larger and more high profile directories, like Yell.com, can be helpful.

    One of the best ones to have, especially if you are planning to source your work locally, is a Google My Business listing.


    Social media

    16. Promote yourself for free on social media.


    Social media is a great free resource. If you use it properly, you can build an engaged following and even find clients.

    Research the best ways to use each platform and follow some of the major influencers to see what kinds of things they post. Use your findings to create suitable content.

    You can save yourself some time by scheduling your content in advance using tools like Buffer, Hootsuite or Tweetdeck



    17. Limit the number of platforms you use.

    When I first started copywriting and I was trying to get my name out there, I had a profile on all the popular platforms. This was a mistake.

    To be successful, you need to create content that is tailored for each platform. This takes time — especially if you are active on multiple platforms.

    It's much better to choose a couple of platforms, on which to engage well and often.

    For me, the best platforms have been:
    • LinkedIn — connect with and promote your services to other businesses in your area or niche
    • Twitter — I post content on my own profile and follow other copywriters, companies and industry leaders. You can find other copywriters by searching the #copywritersunite hashtag
    • Facebook — I have a business page I post content to and I also connect with other copywriters (see tip #18 to find out how)
       
    If you want to improve your effectiveness on LinkedIn, I recommend taking Eleanor Goold's Utterly Compelling LinkedIn Content Creator course

    The course taught me how to create content specifically for LinkedIn. Since applying Eleanor's advice my reach and engagement have skyrocketed. This, in turn, has helped me find new clients and copywriting work. 


    18. Join copywriter and freelancing groups on Facebook.


    Copywriters are a sociable bunch and there are a number of groups for copywriters on Facebook. The groups are great for connecting, sharing ideas and asking for advice.

    The groups I'm currently a member of are:

    • The Copywriter Club
    • The Cult of Copy
    • The Cult of Copy Colosseum — for getting professional critiques of your work
    • Freelance Copywriter Collective
    • Online Copywriters
    • Freelance Heroes — for connecting with other freelancers


    Freelancing

    19. Manage your money wisely.


    Freelancing is a great way to work, but it doesn't guarantee you a regular income, especially when you're first starting out. There will be times when the work comes flooding in and times when it dries up completely. We call this 'Feast and Famine'.

    You need to save money during the Feasts to get you through the Famines.

    Here are my tips for saving money and staying afloat:
    • If you can, start your freelance business while you still have a full time job
    • Save as much money as you can before you start freelancing full time
    • Save a proportion from each freelance payment you receive towards your yearly tax bill — the amount will depend on the current tax rate
    • Find out what expenses you are entitled to when you complete your tax return (e.g. for mileage and equipment)
    • Don't spend money unless you have to — take advantage of everything you can get for free — many free resources are listed in this article


    20. Get a contract that covers you properly.



    Your contract should cover things like:
    • Exact deliverables — this helps to prevent scope creep
    • What is included in the price and what will be charged as extras (for example, consider meetings, phone calls, advice, rewrites)
    • Timescales and deadlines
    • Payment terms, deposits, rush fees, late fees etc
    • Number of rounds of revisions permitted and what counts as a revision
    • What will happen if the client wishes to change the brief or cancel the project completely
    • What will happen if the client stops responding to communications
    • When copyright of materials transfers to the client — usually after payment has been made in full
    • Reserving the right to use the written work in your copywriting portfolio — unless you have signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) or your client has expressly prohibited you from doing so.
    This is just a guide. If you are unsure of how to put a contract together you should always seek professional legal assistance.


    Any questions?

    Add them in the comments and I will do my best to answer them.


    About the author.

    Jenny Lucas is a freelance copywriter, content writer and copy editor based in Leicestershire, UK.

    To find out more about Jenny, her work and the services she offers, visit her website

    Tuesday, 11 September 2018

    How I Became a Copywriter — Part 3: Setting up my freelance business



    This is the third installment of a three-part article on how I became a copywriter. Here are the links to part one and part two.

    After I finished my copywriting course and learned how to write SEO copy, I wanted to continue building my skills and experience.

    My SEO copywriting opportunity.

    In 2010, my graphic designer colleague took voluntary redundancy from the poster company to start his own web design business. He asked me if I would like to write SEO copy for his clients.


    As I had to register as self-employed, I thought I might as well set up a business of my own and take on a few projects alongside my regular job.

    I started Jenny Lucas Copywriting in June 2011.

    If you want to write SEO copy, partnering with a web designer is a great way to get new clients. The web designer also adds value to their service by recommending yours.



    Starting a business on a budget.

    I took the decision that I wouldn't pay for anything I didn't have to and I would do everything I could myself.
    • I took my existing laptop and reformatted it just for my business
    • I bought some reasonably priced web design software and taught myself to use it
    • I designed my own website, logo, quotation forms and invoices
    • I created my own accounts system for keeping track of my invoices, expenses and payments
    • I set up a blog and social media accounts for my business and posted links I thought would be of interest to my market to build up a following
    • I learned to complete my own tax return online.
    The only things I paid for were my web design software, domain name and web hosting.



    I developed my portfolio.

    I was fortunate enough to know a few people with their own small businesses. The first few paid projects I worked on were for them and their clients.

    I added these projects to my website portfolio.



    The jobs started coming in.

    When the website and social media accounts started to generate some business, I took on as many projects as I could handle.

    Some weeks were quiet, others I was working every evening and weekend. 

    I have never paid for advertising. Every job I have ever had has come from my website or social media pages.




    My full-time job ended and a new one began.

    In 2017, the poster company folded and I found myself out of a job.

    I decided that, instead of looking for another job, I would take my freelancing enterprise to the next level and invest myself in it full time.

    I have now been freelancing for just over a year and, I have to say, I love it.

    It's daunting to know that everything depends solely on you, but the freedom and sense of accomplishment you get from being your own boss is incomparable to anything I have ever experienced before.


    Next week I will reveal my 20 Top Tips for new and aspiring freelance copywriters.




    About the author.

    Jenny Lucas is a freelance copywriter, content writer and copy editor based in Leicestershire, UK.


    To find out more about Jenny, her work and the services she offers, visit her website