Thursday, March 13, 2008

Learn All About Copywriting from a Copywriter with 28 Years Experience – Absolutely Free

That’s right. No catch. No enrolment for any course. I am willing to share all that I have learnt over the years with anyone interested.
Let me introduce myself: I am Vaidy, a copywriter based in Chennai, India. I have worked in several Advertising Agencies, occupying positions that demanded increasing responsibility as I went along gathering experience – this was between 1982 and 1994. I then turned a Freelance Creative Consultant and took on retainer arrangements with very small ad agencies and creative shops that could benefit from an association with me. While I wrote copy, I also helped them with getting exposure by making effective presentations focussed on their strengths and formulating strategies to win new business. In recent years, I have handled more of content development for web sites, brochures and other corporate communications as well as script-writing for corporate videos and little of ad-agency kind of work.
While I wait to answer questions from young copywriters aspiring to succeed and make their mark, I shall stress the importance of a few factors as one strives to become better and better as a professional copywriter.
1. Build an Excellent Command of the English language
Flawless knowledge of grammar and a large vocabulary are indispensable weapons in a copywriter’s armoury. The ability to explain correct grammar and to spot erroneous sentences and constructions will greatly add to your presentation skills and also win you the respect of your customers. If you are also insatiably hungry for words, you will enlarge your vocabulary constantly, which is in itself an exhilarating exercise. A word of caution: Use words and expressions judiciously, in accordance with the context and the type of audience. The ultimate goal of communication is to succeed in getting the message across to your audience, interestingly and credibly.
Read as much fiction and non-fiction as you can. But, choose authors who write well. Apart from reading, I also teach English whenever I get the opportunity, which is a wonderful way of becoming better in the language and discovering subtleties and nuances of grammar.
2. Discover the Artist in You
A great copywriter is one who can write well and visualize well. We know that great novelists, apart from writing fine prose, can bring pictures in front of you, even smells and sounds, making your reading experience rich and enjoyable. It is the same with creating a powerful communication.
Watch movies and documentaries with a sharp eye and mind, and not just for entertainment. Study and read about paintings and music and any art form that captivates you. All this learning empowers you to becoming a copywriter who can write with imagination and vigour, and especially helps you develop tight and gripping scripts for videos and multimedia presentations.
I would also strongly recommend, if you can manage it, to spend time with art directors and photographers and learn how they approach themes and translate ideas into unforgettable images. I have had great fun interacting with these professionals while learning a lot that helps me in my writing. Early on in my career, I developed an interest in typography, which continues to be my passion. I remember how excited we felt trying to identify a typeface in a press advertisement, a billboard or a brochure and discovering gorgeous faces such as Bembo, Goudy, Optima, Cheltenham, Bodoni and many more. An acute copywriter’s eye can never miss a slip-up in word-spacing, or a wrong font, and the oft-employed justified alignment of text, which is so inelegant with gaping spaces between words.
3. Develop an Avid Interest in People, Happenings and Things
Well, that includes nearly everything that there is to know. You are in the business of fashioning and crafting a wide variety of communications. You are trying to make people get interested in things and happenings and make a move, which could be an enquiry, an expression of a desire to try something and even the decision to purchase a product or service.
That you are not the outgoing sort can’t be your excuse. You must cultivate the habit of watching and talking to people as they are considering or on the verge of trying a product, to find out the thinking process that leads them to a decision. You could easily do this with your own family, friends and acquaintances in an absolutely informal chat, right? Of course, if you regularly read surveys on consumer behaviour from newspapers, magazines and online sources, you will accumulate a vast store of knowledge that you can profitably use in your presentations and in your actual copywriting assignments.
4. Follow Keenly what Businesses Do and Say
If you are nearly all the time writing for business corporations, which I would imagine is the case, it pays to read about big businesses and find out what they are up to. Visit their web sites. You will learn trends, the way businesses are run and the principles and philosophy they adopt. This knowledge will help you enrich your copy with telling points and insights, making the communication effective and memorable. By going beyond the brief, you will deliver real value addition to your customer, increasing your chances of gaining further business and also enabling you to bill better.
5. Be True to Your word in every respect
‘Honesty is the best policy’ says the proverb. In business, it means a lot.
Insist on a good brief
Listen keenly to what your customer has to say about his product or service
Ask questions and understand the requirements of the job thoroughly
Study all information that you have gathered and do some honest research to know more
Prepare and make a good, honest presentation
Recommend measures boldly and with conviction
Consider suggestions from customer seriously
Quote your fee confidently
Consider accommodating reasonable fee-reductions
Present a clear, realistic work-plan and delivery
Initiate and insist on a clear agreement on delivery and payment terms
Deliver outstanding work on time

This has worked for me and, in the long run, don’t we all want good and honest customers who treat us well and pay us well and on time, too?
Well, that would do for a start. Shoot your questions on any aspect relevant to being and succeeding as a copywriter.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Can a Freelance Copywriter make a lot of money?

The answer is: YES.
But then, a few things need to be qualified. ‘A lot’ can mean different things to different people. It would be reasonable to define ‘a lot’ as ‘more than is necessary to make both ends meet’. Again, ‘more’ and ‘necessary’ are subjective terms, and we can leave them for individual interpretations, as we should.
The other important thing to qualify is the style of working that you as a freelance fancy.
A: Do you prefer to work in the comfort of your home?
B: Are you OK with meeting your clients at least once in a while?
C: Are you game for meeting clients anytime?
From my experience, I can tell you with confidence that A, though the coziest, is the least sensible thing to do. Business will be unpredictable, cash flow erratic, and life on the whole uncertain and tense. Here, I am assuming that a freelancer you tend to get more business from local businesses and clients than from elsewhere. This has been true in my 13 years of freelancing. Operating locally has its advantages: Familiarity and trust through face-to-face, negotiations on advance payments and delivery schedules, and the good possibility of developing long-term relationships. That brings us to B: certainly a better option than A. By extension, C is even better.
Let me explain why B and C are better than A. Again, the scene is local. Generally, clients are happy when you meet them. Some of them look forward to meeting the ‘creative guy’ and also consider it useful to deliver the brief directly and get the benefit of an immediate interaction. They feel respected and pleased, and the honest ones feel that they are already getting their money’s worth. Remember, apart from getting enquiries through references, you can also get a lot of steady business from small creative outfits and agencies that don’t and can’t employ copywriters on a full-time basis, but instead would love to have in readiness a good copywriter who is willing to come along for client briefings and presentations. When you are a good and sweet ‘creative guy’, both clients and the creative outfits tend to hire you for most of their requirements. By cooperating with both parties, you can increase your business volume and bill better, for you bear greater responsibility and give additional service gladly and the chances are they will pay you that extra money ungrudgingly.
The most important consideration is the quantum of money you make, at the end of the day or the month. The various options here are:
1. Pick up any copywriting assignment, whatever be the remuneration.
2. Pick up any good copywriting assignment, but on your rates.
3. Be choosy and dictate your terms.

Option 1 might fetch you volumes and make up for low rates, but if word gets around you will not be able to build the kind of reputation that you have always wanted. Your price is a crucial aspect of your overall personality, and it has to keep going upwards, perhaps gradually, but you can’t afford to have it stagnate for months and years and certainly not go south at all. For a rookie freelancer, it may be an OK option, only for a while though. But then, why would a rookie copywriter risk freelancing?
Option 2 is doubtless interesting and even challenging for one with great talent. The approach can pay dividends, if one can bring into play wide business knowledge, market understanding, strategic thinking, and great presentation and selling skills.
Option 3 is quite risky. I would not recommend it unless one has a huge store of references and high optimism for conversions.
I have stuck to Option 2 right from Day 1.
A Few Things a Freelance Copywriter Should Do
Have a neat, well-written web site for yourself
b) Print neat business cards that spell out what you do (mine says Corporate Communication – Strategy and Creative) and keep them handy
c) Keep in touch with those who have given you business, now and then