It’s been over a year since the last time I picked the brains of an established copywriter, so best waste no time getting back to it.
Below is an interview with Sally Ormond. She’s been a copywriter for ten years and has worked hard to make her business fit her life as opposed to the other way around (an admirable attitude).
Below, Sally provides great insights into SEO (her website ranks very highly on Google) and self-evaluation. Enjoy!
MC: What made you want to go out on your own as opposed to working for a company?
SO: My journey into copywriting was more of a stumble than a conscious choice.
Back in 2007, I’d just completed an OU degree, was a mother to two boys of primary school age and desperately wanted to get back to work to regain the sense of self that I’d lost. However, although I wanted to work, I also wanted to be a full-time mum – not an easy thing to achieve. Weeks of scanning the local paper made me realise having it all would be difficult.
My degree was in English language and literature, with the final year being creative writing. A friend of mine knew I could write well and asked me to collaborate with his company on a project for the GSMA mobile congress. I loved it.
Writing for a living had always been a dream of mine, but in a JK Rowling sense rather than as a commercial content writer. Doing it on a freelance basis was perfect; it gave me the freedom to work the hours I wanted so I could also be a full-time mum. I still have to pinch myself sometimes because I can’t believe I have been fortunate enough to grow a business doing what I love while being there for my boys. Plus, I get to work with some amazing clients – and I get to pick and choose the projects I work on, which is cool.
MC: Do you remember one moment when you thought “right I’m a copywriter now”?
SO: I don’t think there’s been a defining moment like that for me.
From the outset, I always felt like a writer. Over the years I have gained experience and learnt a lot about the art of psychology in writing, search engine optimisation and – more importantly – how to explain to my clients why what they are asking for isn’t always right.
That last one was the hardest thing to learn. Confidence in my writing came quite quickly, but having the self-assurance to stand up to clients took longer. Now, if they challenge my initial draft, I respond with polite firmness, telling the client why I chose to write it that way and why the way they suggest is incorrect.
I suppose, now I think about it, finding that self-belief was my “right, I’m a copywriter now” moment.
MC: After launching your site, how long was it before you started getting steady business, or were you already getting steady work before you launched?
SO: I’d only ever done one copywriting job before launching my website. That’s not to say I was a complete newbie because a lot of my earlier working life (in finance and the charity sector) was spent writing content in one form or another.
I built my first website (not sure how as I know nothing about coding) so, needless to say, it was pretty rough around the edges. To my surprise, it ranked fairly well (even without fully understanding internet marketing at that point), and work began to come my way.
As the world’s worst networker, my website was (and still is) my shop window. All my clients (in the early days) came to me that way. Eventually, other local business people met me and dragged me along to face-to-face networking events and my name became more widely known in the local area.
Beginning a business from scratch, without any clients, was a challenge but not one that held me back.
MC: Your site features on the first page of Google. What do you think has been key to this achievement?
SO: Ranking highly has been huge for me.
As I mentioned before, face-to-face networking is not for me, so I had to get to grips with SEO and internet marketing quickly. I have never done AdWords; everything has been organic.
Taking the time to understand SEO, understanding how to write for an audience and search engines and being a prolific blogger have all helped me achieve my rankings. It’s hard work and not something you can ever stop once you’ve started, but I have always believed being in the top rankings is vital to my business’s success.
Personally, I think a copywriter who ranks highly without doing paid ads has to be a priority for clients. After all, the vast majority of content needed by companies is for online visibility, so who better to write it than a copywriter who has obviously got to grips with SEO and what it takes to rank highly?
Other than through recommendation, most of my new clients still find me through Google – after ten years that’s pretty impressive. Maintaining long-term visibility in the search results is tough, but well worth it. There are always new companies springing up that keep me on my toes (not to mention Google algorithm updates), so I can never sit back and relax. But that’s business, right? You can never be complacent because if you do, you’ll come unstuck big time.
MC: Three tips for someone wanting to get into copywriting?
SO: Hmm, three tips for a newbie?
The first would be to grow a very thick skin. Writing is something everyone thinks they can do, but very few can. You’ll create something for a client only for them to pick it to bits just because they think they know better than you. The trick is to learn to be diplomatic but firm to help them see your way is the right way.
The second complements the first; have confidence in your abilities. Know why you write something in the way you do and be able to explain it your client. I know a lot of copywriters who are excellent at what they do but suffer from crippling anxiety when a client slams their work.
Finally, don’t think it’s an easy way to earn a living – it’s not. Competition is hot, especially from outfits that will churn out the copy for peanuts. Your income will go up and down so make sure you can cope with that financially. It will also take a while to get established, so don’t expect a storming first year. It will take time to build a reputation and loyal client base.
MC: Three tips for someone already in copywriting?
SO: If you’re already in copywriting there probably isn’t anything I can say that you don’t already know.
I guess my three tips would be:
- Always get a clear brief and never take anything for granted
- Always get at least 50% of your fee up front
- Never negotiate on price – you know the quality of your work and what it’s worth, don’t cheapen what you do by being knocked down
MC: Promotion wise, what do you think is most effective? Social media? Networking? Producing high quality work consistently?
SO: When it comes to promotion, I believe that you should allow your work to speak for you.
Your portfolio shows potential clients that you have the ability to produce consistently high-quality content. Of course, you do have to point out to prospects that the examples featured were written for specific briefs. This is something I have to tell people over and over – just because there isn’t a carbon copy of what they’re looking for on my website doesn’t mean I can’t produce it.
Social media has its place in your marketing strategy, but I use it more as an amplifier for blogs and articles. Sometimes, I will share projects through it, but on the whole, I don’t find it a great lead generator. Of course, its amplifying effect is vital as part of your SEO strategy.
As for networking – you know what I’m going to say. I have never found it particularly effective, but of course, networking doesn’t just mean going to an organised event. Chatting with people at the school gate, on the side of a rugby pitch, in a lift or on a train can be just as effective. As a freelancer, you never completely switch off from work mode.
MC: Any other helpful comments?
SO: I guess the only other thing I can think of applies to all freelancers.
There’s a lot of information out there from ‘gurus’ who tell you how you should run your business, how much you should be earning, blah, blah, blah.
The most important thing I learnt over the last ten years is by all means listen but pick and choose the advice you take.
No two businesses are the same. No two people are the same. We all have different goals, lifestyles and strengths. Therefore no one should dictate to you how you should work, act or think.
A few years ago I went on a course for freelancers. It was the best course I’d ever been on, but it was also responsible for some of my darkest business days.
A guy who’d been in the industry for many years ran it. He was fantastic, and I came home buzzing ready to try out my newfound confidence. The problem was, once back in my office I became Sally again. My usual insecurities came flooding back. I knew I was a great writer, that wasn’t a problem, but I knew I wasn’t a great businesswoman. He’d made me believe that to be a success I had to be earning mega bucks and never be out of work.
I was and still am a very different person to the guy running the course, and as I tried to force myself into a business model that didn’t fit my lifestyle or personality, I began to feel miserable, a failure.
After talking things through with friends, I realised that I had to be true to myself. I reassessed my life and what was important to me. My family would always come first. I was a wife and mother and then a businesswoman. I loved my work and running my business, but it wasn’t the be all and end all.
That’s when things changed. Now I work the hours I want to work. I take on the projects I want to work on and work with the people I want to work with. As a result, I love my job and earn more than enough to allow my family to enjoy the lifestyle we want (and certainly far more than I could get working for someone else), and that’ll do for me.
Only you know what’s right for you and what drives you to be the best you can be. If you stay true to yourself, you will get the success you deserve and an unbelievable amount of satisfaction.