5 Things I’ve Learned Since Starting to Call Myself a Copywriter

Look, it’s the last Thursday in November in the United States!

Allow me to cram this post into a contrived Thanksgiving framework so it makes sense that I wrote and published it today:

What am I thankful for? The following 5 knowledge bombs, and the knowledge that more knowledge bombs will continue to drop as I turn into an old, wrinkly, cranky version of myself (and eventually go live on a mountaintop where people come to seek my wisdom. And bring me gifts. Preferably gifts made of simple carbohydrates.)

There! Done. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

5 THINGS I'VE LEARNED SINCE I STARTED TO CALL MYSELF A COPYWRITER

5 things I’ve learned since starting to call myself a copywriter

1. Being a good writer does not make you a good businessperson

Here’s the thing about starting a business: the better you are, the more self-conscious you are about bragging on yourself. Can literally anyone hang their shingle and say, “I’m a copywriter”? Yes. Yes they sure can. Self-doubt is the name of the game when you are a baby writer looking for any and all jobs on Elance (and Craigslist–see below).

And oh boy, if you’re ever looking for evidence that running a business is about growth, check out the first few client emails you sent.

Mine were so stiff, and yet somehow defensive at the same time. It was as if I was saying, “I’m important! I’m good at stuff! But also I am scared to death and you better pay me, or else.”

I also used to offer copy editing services on Craigslist. I wish I could say that was a learning experience.

I also used to offer copy editing services on Craigslist. I wish I could say it was a learning experience.2. You can always be a better writer

Dear First Clients and Clients Shortly Thereafter,

Do I think you got a raw deal? No. I was undercharging like crazy and doing free work all the time, and I’m 100% certain that I improved your copy.

Do I think my understanding of copywriting and sales and pretty much everything about me has improved a millionfold since then? Yes. Yes I sure do.

3. Sometimes cutting extra words is not the answer

I offered editing services–both copy editing and more substantial content editing–for a long time. Cutting copy down to its bare necessities has always been one of my strengths. But no best practice is best 100% of the time. [Click to tweet]

Long-form sales pages have been shown time and time again to be effective in many cases. Turns out that when you need to persuade folks to do something, you gotta spend some time and effort. File under #commonsense and also #notaseasyasitsounds.

4. People are irrationally attached to the words they use to describe themselves

Copywriters reading this: Ever have a client who hired you to write something for them, then changed your final draft on their own? Without giving you a chance to explain why you chose the words you did?

Or a client who turned out to be completely intractable when it came to revamping a tagline or elevator pitch, because they’d been using the same one for so long it just felt wrong and weird to mix it up?

People can be stubborn and dumb and scared, so copywriting is sometimes less about the words you use in your work, and more about the words you use to persuade them that 1) this is forward progress and 2) forward progress is good.

5. Saying no is fucking great

Everybody and their mom talks about why it’s important to learn to say no. But this is my blog, so now you have to read what I think about it.

Recently, I’ve been turning down new client inquiries left and right because I am very popular and important, according to my mom.

I’m not turning down requests because I can’t handle the work (we’re all gluttons for punishment, after all)–but because I’ve learned to sniff out a “bad client” from miles away. This is the archetypal Disney villain-cum-bullheaded-moron who simultaneously undervalues you and needs your help all the time; whose invoices are late and whose revisions are premature.

The flip side of this is that when I spy a potential client who seems to really know why they’re looking for a copywriter and the actual dollar value (in ROI) of the services I provide, I will run to that client like Forrest Gump to Jenny.

TL;DR: Today, on Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for growth. And pie.

GET CREATIVES is coming to Propeller on July 13!

Hey, New Orleans business owners, marketers, and entrepreneurs! I’ve been working on this thing with my talented friends Julia Sevin and Frank Aymami, and we want to share it with you.

Get Creatives is a pithy 45-minute presentation that packs in a ton of information you need to know if you’re the one who markets your business. Register now on Eventbrite, or read on for a few more reasons to join us on July 13 at 6pm!

Communication design: What it is, and why it matters

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You’ll learn how your investment in communication design (including copywriting, graphic design, and photography) actually increases your profits and positions your brand for bigger and better things.

You’ll get actionable tips on where to find “creatives”; how much to pay them; what to ask for; and what to look out for.

And you’ll learn how to scrimp smartly so you can save your marketing dollars without sacrificing the end quality of your product.

Register ahead of time >>>

Did you know…

  • 55% of your website visitors will spend less than 15 seconds on a given page
  • Your contract with an independent creative should always specify a kill fee
  • You might not own the rights to the photographs you commissioned

There’s a lot more where that came from.

We’re going through the entire process of working with a “creative”–everything from how and where to find quality writers, designers, and photographers, to contracts and taxes, to the best way to send feedback and get the results you want.

Join us July 13 at 6pm at Propeller Incubator to find out more!

The 3 Laws of Copywriting

[Psst–this post is by Terra, the sharp-as-a-tack English Maven intern! Don’t you wish your intern was smart like mine? OK, enough bragging. Read on. — Lianna] 

Fabulous graphic goes here.

When it comes to writing for any genre, there’s a clear list of minimum required skills. You need to know how to read and write, how sentences and paragraphs work, and how to build on them to create meaning. And while anyone can apply that baseline, lowest-common-denominator skillset to just about anything written, not all wordsmiths can write copy.

Let me break that down just in case you, like me, are math-challenged: you need to know how to do much more than write to be a good copywriter. It’s not enough to be able to write a nice metaphor—great copywriters turn phrases that turn into dollars. And you can, too.

In order to harness this power, you must first understand it. The art of copywriting distinctly differs from other forms of writing. Once you learn the rules of copywriting, you can follow them, apply them, customize them, and use them to transform into the copywriter you were meant to be.

Are you ready? Let’s begin.

1. Copy sells something.

Copy is writing that businesses use to advertise a product’s market value. To effectively sell a product, copy must inform, entice, and inspire the audience to become customers. Good copy appeals to its audience, and allows readers to realize the product’s value, connect its benefits to their specific needs, and compel them to buy it by outlining how said product could improve or enhance their lives. If your writing doesn’t sell, the product won’t either. That’s it.

2. Copy targets a specific audience.

Everyone is different, but not that different. Understanding what unifies your target audience is crucial to determining its wants and needs: information you can use to better appeal to them.

Knowing your audience will also shed light on other make-or-break factors, like which publishing platform will drive the most traffic, which advertising channel will return the best results, and which tone and style resonates the most with your audience. Focusing on the customer is a huge part of that equation—by tailoring your copy to a key customer demographic or demand, you can capture their attention more fully and direct business where it matters most.

3. Copy compels its audience to take action.

If your copy doesn’t impact your bottom line, it’s your bottom on the line. Copy’s ultimate goal is to turn readers into customers; if your copy isn’t compelling, the audience won’t respond to it, period. Inciting copy allows readers to visualize the product’s benefits to their lives, which makes becoming a customer more attractive to them.

In order to spur its audience to action, your copy needs to explain why the reader should care, what to do about it, and then exactly how to do that thing. To that end, clients often work with copywriters to determine how the copy should come across to maximize results– inclusive of tone, language style, customer preferences, length, structure, content, and technicalities. Such client specifications are important for producing effective copy, but the process is by no means a one-way street: copywriting is very much a collaborative activity, one in which the customer’s needs and writer’s voice must be heard (and read) to achieve the best possible end result.

There you have it: the three tenets of copywriting that will help you drive profitable business, better communicate with potential customers, and transform your love of language into a tool more powerful than you could ever imagine. By crafting masterful copy, a writer can convey meaning and create opportunity.

But do be wary of your new powers…with great copy comes great response-ability. 

Your Pre-Event Social Media Checklist

Y’all, New Orleans Entrepreneur Week kicked off this weekend, and in between preparing for our presentation and building a new website to go along with it (yes, that’s right, I took that on for some reason), I’ve been thinking about writing this post.

There are lots of “social media checklists” out there–and some of them are super helpful. But there wasn’t one that focused specifically on what to take care of before you attend a conference, talk, or party. Until now.

May I present to you: 5 social media tasks to handle before you step inside the doors of your next event.

1. Update your headshot.

If the last time you got your professional photo taken was more than 5 years ago; or if you’ve changed your look significantly; or if you had a luscious head of hair back then, and now, schoolchildren regularly rub your chrome dome for good luck–it’s time for a new headshot.

Once you’ve got a new headshot, standardize it across your professional profile. You want to avoid having your LinkedIn photo, which says, “Yes, I am a consummate professional!” undercut by your Twitter photo, which says, “Yes, I sure do love to stuff my face with crawfish, yes I do.”

2. Make sure your last tweet showcases your business.

If you’re a prolific tweeter, this won’t be a problem for you. Chances are, you’re tweeting interesting industry tidbits at least a small percentage of the time. But if you only created a Twitter account last year because you read in Forbes that it’s important, and your last tweet dates from the Super Bowl and reads, “lol wats up with those sharks next to katy perry??? #confused”…just post another, more flattering tweet.

Or better yet, more than one.

Push that Katy Perry tweet as far down as you can, friend.

3. Check your privacy settings.

Don’t want 400 creepy friend requests from strangers or deposed Nigerian princes? Would prefer your intimate Disqus comments stay, well, intimate? Better tweak those privacy settings before you give out a million business cards.

4. Create a boosted post.

Targeted correctly, a boosted Facebook post can reach the people you’ll be meeting at your fancy upcoming event. That way, when you reach for their hand and introduce yourself, they might just be familiar with your brand already–and as we all know, familiarity breeds contempt loyalty.

5. Write a new blog.

You like how I’m taking care of item #5 with this very post? It’s so meta, either you or I will probably explode at the end of this sentence.

But seriously, update your blog if you have one. This item is especially important for those in a content field (which, ahem, is all of you. Even if you don’t think so). A new blog says, “I’m active and invested in my business!” An old blog is almost as bad as a Katy Perry shark tweet. These pop culture references will self-destruct in three…two…one…

 

One last thing: If you are not the schmooziest schmoozer in the book, a slug of bourbon and a big friendly smile never hurt anyone.

 

Sharpen Your Focus: 5 Ways to Kickstart Your Freelance Life

Remember this post? It was all about ways to treat yourself for less than $10 on Valentine’s Day, with or without a valentine.

10 Ways to Treat Yourself (For Less Than $10)

It’s not Valentine’s Day today, but I’m always looking for small (read: free) ways to appreciate what I have, and improve my quality of life. Aren’t you?

Today is Friday, though, so I’m thinking it’s an extra-appropriate time to go into the weekend mindfully and kindly–considering how you can get the most from your your body, your home, and your freelance life.

(Spoiler: You can be kind to yourself every day. But somehow, kindness doesn’t seem as accessible on a Monday morning.)

Give these ideas a try this weekend, and let me know how it goes. And don’t forget that sometimes, taking five deep breaths is the best gift you can give yourself.

1. Lay out your clothes every night

Let me tell you how often I don’t do this. But when I do, my day starts much more quickly and smoothly.

Especially when you work from home, it can be easy to sit down in your pajamas with a cup of coffee (or wine, depending on the time of day/level of alcoholism to which you adhere). Before you know it, it’s 11AM, and you feel, well, kind of gross.

Beat that feeling to the punch, and stop stumbling around in the morning, trying to find clean pants through all that crusty eye makeup.

PRICE: Free.

2. Walk around the block every morning

This is the natural next step after getting dressed in your laid-out clothes every morning. I read somewhere that somebody famous did it. You want to be famous, don’t you?

PRICE: Free.

3. Drink a glass of water before you eat

Are you hungry? Are you sure? How bout you drink some water first?

God, I love food. I try to remember to hydrate before I dig in, though. It’s a great tool to keep from overeating.

PRICE: Free, unless you live in California or sub-Saharan Africa, in which case: Damn, sorry.

4. Change your pillowcases

Studies show you’ll sleep better when the fabric next to your head doesn’t smell like morning breath and face dirt.

Okay, no one’s done a study on that, but you’ll have fewer breakouts if you change your pillowcases at least once a week. Plus, it’s my personal opinion that the smell of laundry detergent helps you fall asleep.

PRICE: Depends on how often you do your laundry. Basically, free.

5. Write down what you’re grateful for

Do this either at night before you go to sleep, or take a few minutes before you start work every day. By noticing the little things, you’ll start to build a naturally grateful outlook–which benefits you, your work, and everyone you know.

PRICE: Priceless.

 

Anything to add? Leave it in the comments!

Hey, Look, It’s a New Site!

www.theenglishmaven.com
OMG, so exciting.

Hello, friends! You might have noticed that TheEnglishMaven.com is looking a little different. Dare I say: a lot different.

That’s because I took matters into my own hands and switched the site to WordPress! Also, I couldn’t resist the allure of this theme’s pop-up pictures.

Take a look–click around–and let me know what you think!

Also, did you know you can sign up for Maven Mail? (Like your period, or a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses, it comes just once a month.)

5 Ways Giving Up Netflix Will Make You a Better Freelancer (and a Better Person)

5 Ways Giving Up NetflixWill Make You a (1)

(Note: You probably won’t understand the introduction to this post if you don’t watch “House“. That’s okay. Just skip to the list for how giving up Netflix made me a better freelancer—at least for a week).

 

It’s 11:29 pm. You’re sitting slackjawed on your couch, watching your third episode of “House” Season 2 because Netflix is on autoplay, and the cat is curled up next to you.

You did not do your laundry. You did not blog. You definitely didn’t do any other work.

You did not cook dinner; instead, you foraged for stray carrots and dipped them into two-week-old hummus while watching House chew out other doctors for thinking it was lupus.

It’s NEVER LUPUS.

 

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I caught myself trapped in the scene above. I was tired, but hadn’t spent my time on anything worthwhile. I was annoyed at myself.

And I had noticed myself opening Netflix by default, almost without thinking. I don’t like being a thoughtless robot.

So I decided to see if I could abstain from watching Netflix—and all other shows and online video diversions—for a week.

Here’s what happened.

5 Ways Giving Up Netflix Will Make You a Better Freelancer (and a Better Person)

  1. I was more creative. I made my own creative escapes instead of diving into “House” reruns.
  2. I was more mindful. I realized how much time I was spending zoning out. Now I can choose when to zone out. Hopefully it won’t be as much.
  3. I read more. Like, a lot more. Like a book a week more. And they were such good books!
  4. I went to bed earlier and slept better. Early to bed, early to rise, and all that crap. Seriously, though. That last 40-minute episode before bed makes a difference in your sleep quality, not just quantity. Though I have f.lux, I suspect watching a screen before bed still fucks with your brain, blue light or not.
  5. I had to be with myself. God, it was uncomfortable. And necessary.

If giving up Netflix for a week seems impossible for you—that means it’s all the more important to do it.

Try it. Let me know what happens. And if it gives you a boost, share this post.

How Copy Editing Makes the World Better

Terror-Eyes
Terror-Eyes seek out and destroys your typos!

Sometimes I feel like Atlas, using both hands to keep the world from getting stupider.

Just kidding, y’all. I have long been a natural copy editor–constantly pointing out typos, missing words, and incorrect punctuation wherever I see it (and I see it everywhere).

To a lot of people, copy editing seems like nitpicking. LET ME TELL YOU WHY IT’S NOT.

Copy editing pays (my) bills.

Aaaand on to the next one.

Copy editing improves reading comprehension.

People understanding what they read is pretty much super-pivotal. How many times have you tried to read the impossible “English” on product packaging and been completely enraged by its obscurity?

Or have you ordered breakfast from a badly written menu, and received something other than what you were expecting?

Oxford orange
Haaaaaaa, get it?

Copy editing makes text as perfect as it can be.

For anyone who appreciates the sheer beauty of words, this is a crucial consideration. There’s nothing like getting into the flow of a piece of writing, and having a typo or missing word straight-up donkey-kick you out of your Reading Rainbow reverie.

Beauty is important. Copy editing, in its small way, helps preserve beauty. [Click to tweet]Tweet: Beauty is important. Copy editing, in its small way, helps preserve beauty. - @theenglishmaven http://ctt.ec/M47X7+

Copy editing preserves the English language.

Ding ding ding! Ladies and gentlemen, in all of its truthiness, here is the crux of the issue. English is a living language, yes. But like all living things, it can only take so many unceremonious gut-punches before it shudders and dies.

Please stop misspelling “night” as “nite”. Please stop thinking “you’re” and “your” are synonymous. Please stop eliminating commas, one by one, from every sentence (though if it’s a stylistic choice, I’m down for that. But you have to be doing it on purpose; most people are not).

And please understand that these things matter, for the reasons listed above.

I’m not casting myself as the last, valiant defender of a dying art–but I am saying that if you speak to me in “abbrevs” one more time, I will break your laptop.

The “shameless plug” section

Did I mention I’m a copy editor, and that I offer Editor On Retainer packages so you never have to worry about provoking the anal-retentive rage of people like me? Get at me here.

The 5 Easiest Tools for Keeping an “Idea File”

5 Easiest Tools for Keeping an Idea File

Y’all, we’re all geniuses. We have a lot of great ideas, and if we lose them, THE WORLD LOSES THEM. So we write them down and save them for later–but where do we write them?

In an Idea File, of course. Check out the simplest 5 tools for keeping track of your brainwaves–from smartphone solutions to good ol’ pen and paper.

Just remember: However you choose to catalogue your creative impulses, don’t editorialize, judge, or dismiss them. Just write them down, and look at them later to find the ones that shine.

Gmail task list

This is where I, trained as a ninja in the art of digital task management, excel. Like many of you, I use my main To-Do list to check off items when I complete them (and give myself a boost of glorious can-do motivation).

But I also keep a separate list, creatively titled “Ideas”. It’s a good dumping ground for the times when I’m stuck in my email and don’t want to open anything else. And when I use an idea from the list, I can check it off and get that same boost.

Also, if you’re not using Gmail, what are you even doing with your life?

Evernote

I’ll admit: I was slow to come to Evernote. But now that I use it to keep track of my workouts (hello, Stone Age), I’ve come to appreciate its magical capacity to sync across platforms.

Also, I lost my phone during Mardi Gras, and it took losing all of the ideas in the phone’s Notes app to get me to use Evernote. The world will never know about circle bacon.

Fishbowl with scraps of paper

Sorry, no link. This is the most old-school method ever, and I hear it works really well–from the four people who still use it.

Just kidding. If you’re ever hard-up for inspiration, fishing a scrap of paper out of a bowl (or jar) can be the touch of whimsy you need to see an old idea in a new light.

Index card organizer

I like to think of this method as the more tangible, less fire-and-hurricane-safe version of Evernote. You can organize your ideas by alphabetical order, type, or degree of separation from Kevin Bacon. Then, you can use your cards to create an outline for your sixth-grade history paper!

Pinterest, Polyvore and other virtual bulletin boards

Artists, stylists, and other people who think and work more visually should give Pinterest and Polyvore a try. Though Pinterest does have a lot of crap (you only need so many recipes for “green juice,” after all), it’s easy to make private, curated boards that convey a mood or theme without words.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I’d love to hear what other people do. How do you keep track of your ideas?