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Words about words – and how they can help your business
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Copywriting in 10 minutes – the power of words

Filtering the words you use helps you to create clear messages

 

 

It’s amazing what you can achieve in 10 minutes. If Usain Bolt could maintain his world-record 100m speed for 10 minutes, he’d cover 6,230.5 metres – impressive. The NASA Space Shuttle, at an orbit speed of 17,500 mph would travel 2,916 miles in the same time. I stayed put, feet firmly planted on the ground and talked to a group of business people about copywriting.

When I talk about copywriting, I talk about the power of words. I talk about connecting businesses with their customers by using the right words in the right way. So it seemed only fair to do away with props, on-screen presentations and banners and get straight down to the talking. For anyone who’s interested in words, or for anyone who missed my presentation yesterday, here’s what I covered:

What type of business are you?

I wanted to see how the people around the room categorised their business, so I asked for a show of hands for Business-to-Business, Business-to-Consumer and Charity-to-Client. Everyone in the room put themselves into one of those categories.

That’s great, because everyone knows the general form of business they belong to. But actually, my work is about seeing those businesses not as B2B, B2C or Charity organisations, but as P2P – People-to-People.

Just making that distinction removes a lot of barriers in the way you communicate with your customers. I am a person. I could also be an audience member of the Guildford Shakespeare Company, a client of England Palmer Solicitors, a customer at Azzinga. For all three of those transactions, I’d be looking for different things, but I’m still just a person looking for a product or service.

Copywriting that knocks down barriers

Nearly everyone I’ve met on the networking circuit is great at talking about their business. They are the experts; they know what they’re doing and because it’s usually their own business, there’s a lot of passion and focus in the way they speak.

Ask the same people to write things down, though, and everything changes. People feel that they should use jargon, corporate speak, long words, complex sentences. This not only means that the words people read about you sound nothing like you do in person, it also means you’ve built a wall that hides the connection you make with a face-to-face conversation. The more waffle you use, the less interested your customer becomes and if you build the wall high enough, your customer will get up and leave, and you won’t even notice.

Copywriting Snap

I got my audience to play a little game. I put some cards on the table in front of them. Three cards had long sentences, long words and little focus. Three had short, snappy messages. I asked them to match the short message to the long one. It’s an easy task, but it really puts the power of good copywriting into perspective. Which business would you buy from? The one that puts things clearly and simply.

Do powerful words make money?

Yes. I gave four examples of clients that have seen real results from my work. Their success stems from different types of writing – clear website content; web content that’s optimised to achieve a certain aim; email marketing that encourages readers to open and take action, and hard copy marketing letters that spark interest. And thanks to the excellent Mike Brown from Crystal Clear Financial Services who said that the follow-up email I’d written for him to send out after an exhibition made a real difference in converting show interest into meetings and new business.

So, why is copywriting a skill?

It’s perfectly true that anyone can write. Most people can write pretty well. Some people don’t need any help at all. But copywriting isn’t just about bunging some words on a page. It’s about understanding you, your business, your aims and your customers. It’s about writing in a way that sounds like you, so there’s an instant connection that makes readers feel good and want to learn more.

It’s about filtering out all the crap, so that you’re left with messages that work.

Clear messages, well delivered, bring success.

If you were at this presentation and you enjoyed it, please say so here! If not, and you’d like me to tell your group about the power of words, get in touch using the email link at the top of this web page.

 

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My name is Gill, and I’m an exhibitionist

A great-looking stand for Creative Copywriting and Boo Design!

Phew. It’s a relief to get that out into the open. After a great day at the Guildford Means Business exhibition in the very swanky G Live building in central Guildford, I can now count myself as a fully-fledged exhibitionist.

Of course, the right word for what I did yesterday was “exhibitor”, but actually, you have to tap into your exhibitionist tendencies to sign up for something like this and then to make it successful.

I’ve been an exhibitionist many times before – but always on behalf of another company, never as myself. So there’s a certain amount of apprehension that comes along with deciding to spend seven hours on your feet engaging strangers and building new relationships. However, as the lovely and motivational Ben Kench said in the free seminar that the Best of Guildford set up for us last month, it’s all about energy and asking the right question. Starting a conversation with someone, listening to them talk about their business and their plans is a great way to meet more people, raise your profile and add value to your business.

Production line: sweets at the ready for Creative Copywriting and Boo Design’s fortune sweetie giveaway.

So that’s what I did. Sharing a stand with the talented Jack Newman from Boo Design, we handed out bags of sweets which also contained a fortune cookie card. This was a great reason for people to stop and have a chat, creating a great buzz around our stand and giving visitors and other exhibitors the chance to find out more about what we do – individually and together.

Do you know, that seven hours went past pretty quickly. There were lots of people we didn’t see and lots of lovely new people we did. I don’t mind at all stepping out in front of people, offering them a freebie and having a great chat about their business and its challenges – that’s a great day’s work!

So, if you met us yesterday, thanks for stopping by. If you walked past and we were busy, say hello here, and we’ll arrange to have that chat. And if you didn’t see us at all, check out our websites, look us up on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, or post a comment here and we’ll be in touch. We love meeting new people!

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The manky fridge cleanout that focused my mind

For the first time in many months, I had space in the diary last week to catch up on some jobs. So, after some time watching iPlayer, messing around on Facebook and organising a summer holiday, I finally decided it was time to face up to the cleanout of the Mess In My Fridge.

I’m about as far removed from Domestic Goddess as Nigella is from a skinny decaf latte, but even I was starting to worry that I might have let the gloop in the vegetable drawer lurk for too long.

I knew it was going to be nasty in there. It was going to smell. It was going to be slimy. There would be things in there that I wouldn’t recognise. I would feel bad, because food waste is bad enough, but food waste that’s gone toxic is clearly beyond wrong.

But it needed doing for the sake of my sanity, my self-respect and, frankly, the long-term health of my family, who, despite their foibles, I do love and I would miss.

So I braced myself, took a deep breath (and I’m holding that breath whilst I do the job – it’s one of the many great things about being a singer in your spare time) and got on with it.

And guess what? It wasn’t that bad. For less than a minute, I was mildly uncomfortable, but hot soapy water, a clean cloth and a bit of effort meant that everything looked like new in next to no time. The fridge felt good – you can tell by the hummmmm – I felt good, and I crossed an important job off the list.

At this point, I hadn’t done my tax return. I needed to send off a couple of proposals and talk to a couple of people about ideas I’d had for my business but had put to the back of my mind. As I was doing the dirty with the fridge, I realised it was a great metaphor for my business – and yours.

Everyone has something they’re pushing to the bottom of the pile every day. Maybe you don’t know where to start; maybe you need some help; maybe you just need a deadline and someone to call you out on your progress. But, like the fridge gloop from hell, it’s often not as bad as it seems. And once you’ve sorted it, you’ll feel much better.

What’s the fridge gloop in your business?

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My plea to Stop Gove sidelining the arts . . .

Last night, I went to the Christmas concert at my kids’ state high school. I can’t begin to tell you how fabulous they were – from 11-18, and with staff joining students, it was a real celebration of talent and performance.

It inspired me to write this post on my Facebook status, sign the Petition to Save Creativity in Schools, which is part of the consultation on the Ebacc, and send an email to support the inclusion of arts in Michael Gove’s proposed new qualification.

I’m not going to pontificate on here, but just re-post my Facebook status and ask you all to go to the petition site now and add your names – you only have until Monday to do it. And please ask your friends to do the same.

Thanks.

How fantastic to be able to spend three hours last night listening to some incredibly talented kids at school. From a brilliant beat-boxer to an astonishing harpist, the range, standard and confidence of these children was just amazing. Some of them were in the lower school, some getting ready to leave the sixth form, and they were all having an absolute ball.

This is why music, dance and the arts are so important in schools. It’s about support, confidence, teamwork and fun. I was transported to my school and sixth form days when, especially at this time of year, I ran headlong from one event to the other, completely immersed in what I was doing, getting a high that – honestly – drugs can’t give you. I made lifelong friends and laid the foundations of lifelong skills.

Last night’s concert, along with thousands in state and private schools around the country, is only possible because of the dedication, enthusiasm and willpower of music and arts teachers, who give masses of their own time to give children the chance to shine in a safe environment.

These kids, from all backgrounds, are not hanging around street corners, getting into trouble, hassling or scaring people. They are wearing tinsel and santa hats, practising singing like Rhianna, dreaming of playing in Ronnie Scott’s or the Royal Albert Hall, and proving that our future is in safe hands.

I know that this is not the answer to everything; I know that plenty of kids have problems that aren’t being properly addressed. But if you want a bit of optimism before Christmas, get yourself to a school concert. It’ll keep you going through the winter.

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Can I Ask A Stupid Question?

I seem to spend so much time saying this to clients that I was actually beginning to wonder if I am stupid. But in fact, this is one of the most important and valuable things you can say to a client at any stage of a project.

Why? Because it’s the answers to the stupid questions that help you – and your client – to clarify exactly what they are doing and why. From sophisticated technology to cute cup cakes, you need to understand what makes that business tick, and what makes it different from the competition.

It’s the “so what?” of copywriting. Sure, you have a great gizmo. It does great things. It costs exactly the right amount of money. It even looks cool. So what? Why would anyone buy this from you rather than the guy next door?

Can I ask a really stupid question? Why don’t more people ask the stupid questions? I find that clients are so close to their business, so passionate about what they do, so wrapped up in the detail that they can’t see the big picture. So once things have been explained to me, using all the current jargon, tech-speak, management talk and standard corporate twaddle, I ask the stupid question. And the response I get usually puts everyone on the right path – the path to better communication, clearer copy and improved results.

I spend my time looking at lots of websites, and it’s obvious to me which ones have either been written in-house by someone who hasn’t got the time to take a step back and take an objective view, or by a copywriter or marketer who hasn’t asked the stupid question.

Consequently, those websites are often self-absorbed, lacking in focused, beneficial information and ultimately damaging to the credibility of the business and its ability to beat the competition.

When I was in school, I never wanted to be the kid that put her hand up to ask an obvious question. Who did? As I went through college, university and work, I learned that usually, 90% of people in the room all want to ask the stupid question and are grateful to the one person who’s brave enough to speak out. And that’s what I did.

Now, I revel in asking stupid questions, because stupid questions lead to clever copy. And clever copy works.

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The art of writing fact: learning to write in a different way

Thanks to Charlotte Buchanan for writing this guest post – you can follow her @CharlotteScribe…..

When I was seventeen, I wanted to write a novel and be famous. It didn’t happen, needless to say, and then I grew up a bit and forgot about it. I began writing again three years ago while on my baby break, trying my hand at flash fiction but increasingly being asked for non-fiction: could you write a thousand words about washable nappies? A hundred about a community event? Yes! Rediscovering writing as an adult, I find that writing fact is an art in itself, forcing me to learn a different kind of creativity and proving no less satisfying for it.

For starters, receiving commissions rather than writing what I want draws me out of my usual world, challenging me and taking me to new places. When I choose the topic, I can write what I know, fine – but it’s not very diverse. Writing copy for other people, though, that’s fun!

Accuracy is important, obviously, but how do I decide which accurate facts to include? By putting myself in the mind of the reader, imagining what he wants to get from my article and making sure it’s all there, I have learnt to write useful copy. It’s also important not to bog readers down – there’s no point being helpful and accurate if they have to squelch through less pertinent facts to find the point.

I am having to learn to write fast without writing badly! ¬†Happily, I now find I can look back over three years of articles and see the quality and speed both increasing. The two are beginning to merge: writing quickly gives the piece a freshness that I won’t see in something I laboured over.

Sometimes, I have to write about things I disagree with and I am getting the hang of asking myself if, in this context, my view matters. Often it doesn’t! Then, uploading a piece or sending it off and finding that the client liked it, the audience liked it and that I can still be happy with what I wrote is a very satisfying feeling indeed.

These are some of the things I’ve learnt how to do. There are others I have yet to meet but for now I can look back on the work of the last three years with surprise and satisfaction! I’m learning a lot about writing and a lot about myself – what more could I ask?

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An apology to my blog…

 

Wow. It’s been a long time since I posted here. I’m so sorry, little blog, for neglecting you. Truth is, I’ve had a lot of work to do, which is nice for the bank manager, but time-consuming for me. Then, of course, it’s also been the summer holidays, and whilst they weren’t very summery, they were holidays, so that’s a couple of weeks out. And although I love you, little blog, I refuse to take my laptop with me when I leave home.

And then there’s the whole problem of whether I’ve got anything to say. The world, it seems, is full of excellent copywriters who blog about writing; full of lovely people who write for the love of it, but not for money; full of people who are incredibly interesting and want to share everything with everyone.

And to be honest, that all makes me feel a little fraudulent, a little behind-the-times, a little scared. And so, I’ve put off visiting you, telling myself that I’ll come back “when I have something to say.”

Are you like an old friend, where you don’t talk for years and then when you pick up the phone it’s like you’ve never been apart? Well, when it’s just you, me and the lovely WordPress interface, then yes – it’s just like that.

But for anyone reading, it’s been so long since our last post that I feel I need to re-introduce us – that’s you and me, little blog – to the world. Make a fresh start.

So here it is. I’m sorry I left, sorry I’ve let you flounder, and I promise to be better. Yesterday, I got a lot out of sharing experiences with other businesses, and I remembered that blogging is a great way to share, give back and connect.

And that’s what we’re going to do.

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As subtle as a Brick

One of the curses of modern life is how people like Samantha Brick can not only get published, but be catapulted from rural French obscurity to our front pages, twitter streams and television screens in 24 hours – and then have the nerve to try and do it again.

Her attitude – real or not, and I suspect mostly not – and the way that she’s now defending it in order to make a name and some cash for herself, is the sort of thing that makes me turn all Michael Douglas-esque – you know, from Falling Down, where the thing that makes you snap is so trivial it’s laughable.

So instead of getting mad, I’m getting even, and I’m using the lovely Samantha as a metaphor for everything that goes wrong when you blinker yourself and refuse to see things from someone else’s point of view. It’s a common error that businesses make and, as a copywriter, it’s part of my job to help them open their eyes to the most important thing: what their customers want.

I’m often editing copy that businesses have written themselves. In many ways, this is a great way to work, because who knows the business better than the people who work in it every day? As far as technical details, market information and competitor insights are concerned, it saves time if the client writes the copy, but in terms of targeted marketing, clear messaging and results, it can be a disaster.

Why? Because businesses tend to see things from an internal point of view, so they say what they want to say, rather than what the customer wants to hear. But customers want to buy from businesses who are saying what customers want to hear. So a continued failure to see things from your client’s point of view will make you less appealing and less likely to win business. It’s a simple rule and it applies to pretty much any business of any size in any sector.

Here’s an idea – talk to your customers! Find out why they chose to work with you and why they’re sticking it out. They’ll tell you what your plus points are, and they might even tell you what to work on to make things better. Then, the next time you write something, you’ll be able to show potential customers what the real benefits are of working with you, quote some great testimonials from people who already are working with you and bring in some brand new business.

There’s no shame in switching your point of view. In fact, it could be the most positive thing you do.

Has your business gained from changing focus from the business to the customer? Tell us about it in the comments box below.

 

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Taking Time to Think – the 3 Ts of Copywriting

I had a discussion with my Mum recently about my work. I had a great project coming in and because she was visiting, she didn’t want to distract me from writing. Which is great, because she’s the sort of Mum who will happily wade through an ironing pile that would fill a large crater on the moon whilst I get some typing done. And she did.

But actually, a lot of my time is spent thinking. The writing is fairly quick, and I don’t know if that’s just me, or if a lot of copywriters work the same way (please do tell me in the comments box below). I can listen to the client, ask pertinent questions, read a brief, do some research, but actually, Taking the Time to Think is a huge part of my daily life.

Recently, I had some marketing emails to write for The Recycling Company – if you haven’t checked out their cool website, do it now. The key for this sort of email is the subject heading, because you have to persuade people to open the email in the first place so that they can take advantage of the great offer inside. As any copywriter knows, the headline is the hardest part, and I needed to give some serious time to getting it right.

I drafted the body of the email and then took myself off on a walk around the block. Indulgent, maybe, and much easier to do if you work from home like me than if you work in an office, but the perfect way to disconnect from the desk and the keyboard and to turn some ideas over in my head. Halfway round, the perfect headline popped into my head. I typed it into my phone – I’m good at thinking but unreliable at remembering – and wandered back to finish the job.

It doesn’t matter if you write for a living, or just because there’s no-one else in your business who is writing for you; Taking the Time to Think can make all the difference to the effectiveness of your copy, the relevance of your message and the results you get.

What do you do? Share your thinking, writing or creating tips below :)

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The Tightrope-walking Copywriter

 

Copywriters are a strange breed, I’ve decided. Don’t get me wrong; we’re lovely and sociable and creative and collaborative – mostly – but we also tread a fine line between conformity and rebelliousness.

I’ve been spending a lunch hour each week catching up with the BBC series Prisoners’ Wives. Whatever the merit of the drama, it’s that old apostrophe thing that’s annoyed me. On the BBC website, the apostrophe is there. But – and here’s the thing – when the starting credits roll and the programme name is revealed, the apostrophe has fled. Not there. Legged it.

Now, maybe there’s some allegorical meaning to the missing apostrophe, but as there’s no graphic showing it being hauled off between two burly policemen and dumped in the slammer, I can only assume it’s been missed off accidentally or deliberately – and I’m not sure which of those two options is the worst.

What’s more, if you Google “prisoners wives” (no apostrophe), you find that the BBC Shop’s own website covers itself for searchers who know it should have an apostrophe, but aren’t sure where it goes – just check the top tap when you follow the link.

And here, we come to the tightrope-walking nature of the copywriter. This apostrophe thing bothers me a lot. Whatever Stephen Fry might have to say about letting these errors go, they DO bother me. It’s simply incorrect, and people pay me to be correct – to make sure their words follow the right rules so that they don’t look like idiots.

On the other hand, people also pay me to break the rules. They pay me to write differently to the competition; they pay me to use new ways to get the message across, not to stick to traditional, conformist styles and idioms. They pay me to set a new path, not follow the crowd. And sometimes, they actually pay me.

So we’re a bit like tightrope walkers with that long bendy pole they use. Piled on one end are all the technical things we have to get right – because clients won’t like it if we get them wrong, and their customers won’t buy from them if their words are rubbish. On the other end is a stack of requests and ideals – write without using cliche, business-speak, formal language; write about passion without using the word “passion”; fit it all into the tiny space we’ve got left after the designer’s been let loose.

So well done to every copywriter who makes it from the briefing building to the delivery site, complete with balanced pole and without breaking a sweat. Yeah, right. How do you do it?

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