Freelance Creatives; spare a thought for your clients – Jonathan Wilcock

Freelance creatives; spare a thought for your clients

Once upon a quite a while ago, I ran a market stall with the Missus, selling pottery.

I’d been made redundant from my cosy Soho advertising job and I’d had enough.

The romantic idea of buying and selling actual stuff you can touch was massively appealing.

Early mornings joggling for the best pitch; punter banter; cash-in-hand, real world haggling with real people handing over real grubby fivers. It felt earthy and back to basics, new and exciting.

Hard work for soft hands

It was also hard work and not quite as romantic as I’d imagined.

The early mornings soon lost there lustre and the banter with punters, who weren’t reaching into their pockets, wore thin very quickly.

By week eight, if you ignored the lack of salary, we’d just about broken even. Then the storm of ’92 came along and kicked us in the danglys – don’t look it up, this was our own personal storm, it probably didn’t make the headlines.

We’d sold nothing all day, which was bad enough, but the wind was picking up, and coping with a trestle table of delicate pottery was becoming a bit of a challenge.

A gust hit the stall and seven pots crashed to the floor. I looked down and wanted to cry. Why hadn’t I invested in something a bit more resilient than biscuit ware? Maybe vulcanised rubber vases or something.

Breaking even was disappointing. Breaking pots and making an actual loss was a message.

Lesson learned, now back to the creative department

So, back to copywriting I headed and a good few happy years zipped by full-timing and freelancing. Foreign shoots, plenty of nice briefs and enough money to keep the family in bread and cheese shut me up for a while.

Then along came another redundancy and the bright idea of running a creative agency.

The agency lasted a bit longer than the 8-week market stall fiasco, but it was equally hard, if not harder.

This time, we (my business partner and I) had office overheads and employee salaries to fret about. Real, grown-up stuff that all of our clients have to deal with every day.

Both the market stall and the agency were huge learning opportunities. I found out about selling at the sharp end (it hurts), stock control (it sucks), HR (stands for Horrific Reality) and investing large sums of money with absolutely no guarantee of any return (it’s scary).

Spare a thought for your client

As I’ve said elsewhere, for freelance creatives, empathy is our best friend. Having an insight into a target audience’s lives and attitudes is gold dust, but understanding the problems and obstacles our clients have to face is priceless.

Our clients have bigger headaches than we do, so we need to do all we can to make their jobs easier and their businesses work better.

Buying in creative work isn’t straightforward. When your head’s filled with the other pressures of running a business or a marketing department, it can be tricky to spot a good idea or decide which creative option works best.

It’s our job as Copywriters, Art Directors and Graphic Designers to not only solve problems, but also to remove barriers so that our clients are confident they’re buying the work they need.

Even when working remotely (some of my clients have never met me), this is a partnership. It may be a cliché, but the best freelance creatives don’t work for their clients, they work with them.

Even when a client says, “I trust you, just do what you think works best”, it’s up to us to make sure they understand why we’re making recommendations.

Now, this may fly in the face of other advice you’ll read about client/creative relationships, but until I find something that works better, here are:

Three golden rules for freelance creatives

– Put yourself in your client’s shoes
– Give them creative choice (but help them to decide which choice is right for them)
– If the respect isn’t a two-way thing, it’s time to say goodbye.

And three golden rules for clients

– You may be commissioning the work, but invariably you aren’t the target audience
– Freelance creatives are experts, but without the right information, they know nothing
– If the respect isn’t a two-way thing, it’s time to say goodbye.

Working in the creative industries is a privilege.

Freelance creatives dip in and out of other worlds, solve problems, play with words and images and earn a decent living without having to wear pinstripes. We don’t have to worry about the stresses of running a business with all its overheads, risks and responsibilities.

Saying that, it’s not all roses and everybody needs a change of view now and again.

So if your job is losing its appeal, my suggestion would be to abscond for a while and find out how the other half lives.

Stack shelves, dig ditches, sell fruit and veg, become a Sorcerer’s Apprentice… my guess is, once the novelty’s worn off, you’ll soon be diving for creative cover again.

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a freelance Copywriter, Art Director and Creative Director.
You can drop me line here, or email jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk

Anatomy of some rubbish copywriting – Jonathan Wilcock

Headline unlovingly handcrafted in fluffy gray flannel, with a limp lining of blah blah blah etc.

Autopsy of a rubbish peace of copywriting

Hello there. I am a rubbish piece of copywriting.

First thing of note is my hedline. See how it is overwritten to make it as difficult to read as possibel. You may have also noticed that a American spelling has crept in. Nothing wrong with americans or american English, but the writer is English English, as is the audience what he is amining at. SO theres the first mistake. Naughty.

You may also notice the odd spelling mistake here and there. This is inexxcusibel.

It happens. Copywriters are human, but readers can be unforgiving.

In a recent poll, carried out by So What If Industries (aka me); of 366 respondents, 52% said that long rambling sentences were even more of a turn off than spelling mistakes or poor punctuation, you know the sort of sentences that go on and on and on and on and then go on a bit more.

Rubbish Copywriting Poll Results – Freelance Copywriter Jonathan Wilcock

Many wanted to vote for all three, but that’s not the way these things work is it, so…

Punctuation seemed to be the least of anyone’s concerns. Some thought this was because of the sloppy art of texting. Basically, we know it’s wrong, but we’ve given up the formality of using apostrophes and the like when faffing about with stupid little keys and touch screens. It’s easier to use a cheeky emoji and be done with it all.

Bad spelling got 31% of the vote. And I wud argeu that if you’re trying to convey authority or professionalism, spelling errors are a great way of doing just the opposite. Personally, typos (as spelling errors are often referred to in the trade) are one of my biggest bug bears.

Sew wat can yoo doo? The obvoice thin is too run yore copee thro spell chequer. Spelcheck knose bestest isn’t it? Where cud passibly gone rong. Weel lest find dout shallwe, Wen I put this para graph thro spellcheckers here am th suggest ons:

Sew watt can you doo? The invoice thin is too run yore cope thro spell cheer. Spellcheck knees besets isn’t it? Where cud passably gone rung. Weal lest find doubt shall we, Wen I put this Para graph thro spellcheckers here am the suggest ones:

I have a feeling this hasn’t solved all the errors, so like a good copywriting soldier, let’s run it through a well known online spelling and grammar checking tool instead. I’ll go with the first suggestion it makes for any highlighted words. And the result:

Sew what can you do? The obvious thin is too run yore cope thro spell chequer. Spellcheck know best, isn’t it? Where cud possibly went wrong. Weel lest find doubt shall we When I put this paragraph thro spellcheckers here am the suggest on:

Maybe if we put the spellchecked version through the online tool…

Sew watt can you doo? The invoice thin is too run yore cope thro spell cheer. Spellcheck knees, isn’t it? Where cud passably went rung. Well, lest find doubt, shall we When I put this Paragraph thro spellcheckers here am the suggest ones:

Rubbish Copywriting Final Poll Results – Freelance Copywriter Jonathan Wilcock

So, basic spelling and grammatical errors sorted, let’s move on to other improtant matters.

When doing my survey, some people were kind enough to share other copywriting no nos that get their backs up:

Words in ALL CAPS in headlines, Daily Express style. c/o André Spiteri @Andre_Spiteri

A Perfectly Normal Sentence Using Capitals For Every Single Damn First Letter Of Every Word, YouTube Video Title Style. c/o Nik Jones @HelloNikDesign

Ego-driven jargoneering. c/o Lauren McMenemy @TheContentType

Talking crap that they can’t articulate well, regardless of any of the above. c/o David Gyertson (Digital Director at Zest The Agency)

Then I would add to the list:

– Flowery, multisyllabic words plucked from a thesaurus.
– Too many. Very short sentences. That are placed. Back-to-back.
– Anything that makes the journey arduous, burdensome, laborious, hardwork, tedious, boring, stale, stodgy, uninteresting and repetitive, or tries too hard to make its point.
– Like a goat in a top hat, nothing’s as annoying as a random analogy.

Another common mistake that may also be hampering your reader’s experience, especially here in the online world, is large chunks of text and a lack of, now what are they called again…

Sub-headings like this one

Aaaand another thing that’s even more mind-boggling than the most mind-boggling thing in the whole wide world (other than ridiculous hyperbole) is the fact that the readability tool I’m using reckons that this blog post’s readability is ‘OK’.

Here are the stats. Apparently stats don’t lie, but let’s just say they may be a little misguided.

• The copy scores 74.4 in the Flesch Reading Ease test, which is considered fairly easy to read.
• None of the paragraphs are too long, which is great.
• 13.7% of the sentences contain more than 20 words, which is less than or equal to the recommended maximum of 25%.
• 36.5% of the sentences contain a transition word or phrase, which is great.

What is also a little concerning, is that when uploading the entire contents of this blog post, the aforementioned online grammar tool tells me that: This text scores better than 55% of all text checked by (brand name removed) where comparable goals were set.

How bad can that other 55% actually be?

Still with me?

If so, thank you for your resilience.

There was once a magic rabbit called Keith who was always getting up to mischief. Back-filling entrance holes to the warren, putting his elbows on the dinner table, getting facial tattoos; the usual teenage rabbit tomfoolery. But the worst thing he ever did was lead the reader down a dark alley that strayed away from the point and didn’t really go anywhere. Oh Keith, what are you like.

Conclusion (for goodness sake, let’s get to the conclusion):

Bad things:
• Ridiculously long sentences
• Spelling mistakes
• Poor punctuation
• Lack of sub-headings
• Relying on algorythms.

Good things:
• Clarity
• Simplicity
• Brevity
• Consistent tone of voice
• All the obvious stuff that most people don’t do.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, you might fancy a wander through these:

The seven deadly skills of a great copywriter
Why you need to leave a g p in your copywriting

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a freelance Copywriter, Art Director and Creative Director.
You can drop me line here, or email jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk

Bratwurst_Lamazing – Jonathan Wilcock Freelance Copywriter

From German sausages to made up words, a Freelance Copywriter never stops learning.

One of the best things about being a Freelance Copywriter is the variety.

New clients and new projects add more juice to the old creative brain sponge.

Not least of all, I’m constantly discovering new words and word combinations.

Here are a few, that before 2018, I’m sure I’d never had the occasion to use in copy, some I hadn’t heard of and one of them I think I may have invented.

KAMALARI
This word came up when working with the international development charity, Nepal Youth Foundation.

‘For generations, the Tharu community of Western Nepal has adopted a practice known as Kamalari, whereby girls as young as six years old are bonded into domestic slavery.’

But it’s not all gloom and doom, because…

KATHAA
‘Kathaa, ‘story’ in Nepalese, is a contemporary, ethical fashion brand owned and operated by NYF in the UK. Everything in the Kathaa range is made by freed Kamalaris and our very first collection is a range of stunning, waterproof down jackets.’

VIVE LA DIFFERENCE
‘Let’s get one thing straight before we go any further. If you’re looking for just another firm of Estate Agents, you’re going to be disappointed.’

I knew my grade ‘D’ in GCSE French would come in handy one day. Never thought it would be for a posh West End estate agent though.

LAMAZING
Anyone who played Christmas copy bingo last year would have got extra points for spotting this in my copywriting for Church Urban Fund:

‘So, please join with thousands of others this Christmas and raise your voices with us to do something fa la la la la la la lamazing.’

If you really want to push the boat out with new words, healthcare copywriting takes some beating:

DYSPHAGIA
‘We all know that water is essential for life, unfortunately, not everyone finds it easy to drink enough. If you have been diagnosed as having dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), you could be at risk of dehydration.’

I got to write ‘dysphagia’ dozens of times – in leaflets, training aids, ads, posters video script… It’s a funny old world being a Freelance Copywriter.

PHILANTHROPIST, TRAILBLAZER, RULE BREAKER, HERO
No, I wasn’t writing about myself, this was part of a 100 years Remembrance Day social media campaign for genealogy website, findmypast.com

BRATWURST
How much German do I know? Not a sausage. That’s why working for the German Tourist Office was such fun. To put it into context:

‘IT’S NOT ALL BEER AND BRATWURST
How about a slice of Flammkuchen, some Königsberger Klopse or a Prinzregententorte? If you think that’s a bit of a mouthful, just wait ‘til you taste them.’

Being a Freelance Copywriter isn’t always about using obscure words, but with so many available, it’d be a shame not to squeeze the odd ‘Bratwurst’ in now and again.

Goodness knows what 2019 will have in store; I’ve already managed ‘Kippers and custard’ for a VW script.

For more wordy fun and frolics, have a dip here:

How to tell a copywriter their work sucks
The Seven Deadly Skills of Copywriting
Copywriting for the worst client in the world

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a freelance Copywriter, Art Director and Creative Director.
You can drop me line here, or email jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk

Jonathan Wilcock Freelance Copywriter – Thick Skin, Self-belief

A copywriter needs thick skin and self-belief

Are you setting sail as a Copywriter / Graphic Designer / Art Director / Illustrator?

Or do you already have years under your belt, furrows on your forehead and awards on the shelf?

Whatever your creative bent and whatever stage you’re at in your career:

First rule: get your head down and work hard.
Second Rule: keep your head down and work harder.
Third rule: get tooled up.

Besides developing your craft, there are two weapons you’ll need, and without them you probably won’t survive life on the creative hard shoulder, never mind the fast lane.

You’re gonna need a thick skin
People are going to slag your work off.

There’s a battalion of grammar bullies out there looking for the one typo in the middle of your 1,500-word blog post. There are a million creative wannabes who only get out of bed to stick your lovingly crafted bits and bobs through the Twitter mill, telling the world they could have done better.

Being in a creative industry leaves you vulnerable to the lazily tossed rotten cabbages of armchair critics. But that’s a good thing. It toughens you up.

It’s never too early to take a beating
Turn the clocks back 30 something years to my first year of college, studying Graphic Design. This was a period of huge change for me. The year before, I’d been a schoolboy flailing around trying to pass GCSEs. Now I was expected to set my own timetables, make choices and work things out for myself.

This was a fab course with great lecturers and a fun bunch of misfit classmates. We threw paint around, watched movies and learned about colour theory, typography and art. But besides all the arty-farty-designery good times, there were two particular not-so-pleasant incidents that stick in my mind.

The mermaid with 10 tits
We’d been set a project to do a self-portrait as we saw ourselves.

I was a long-haired hippy. Kaftans, flares, afghan waistcoats… the whole unwashed freaky kit and caboodle. So I drew myself as a flower. Yes, you read correctly, a flower. My head was the stigma, my body the stem and petals grew out from where my neck joined my shoulders. I thought it was cool.

We stuck our drawings up for the group crit and when it came to mine, the tutor vomited out the immortal words:

“It looks like a mermaid with 10 tits”.

Everyone laughed while I died a little inside. This hippy was going to have to grow something else other than tits.

The second episode, another group crit, was following a life drawing session.

We stuck our work all over the walls. Rolling hills of flesh in charcoal, pastels and paint. The lecturer slowly worked her way around the collected masterpieces pulling out all the positives. “Love the use of light and shade”, “Great composition”, “The head is out of proportion, but it just works”…

We were all bathing in the glory of our collective genius; then she ripped into us.

“Look at you all nodding your ****ing heads like ****ing nodding dogs. It’s all a load of ***t. Don’t just agree with everything I say like a bunch of brainless ****ers. Now take this ***p off my walls and ***k off home”.

That told us, but most importantly it got our attention. And all these years later I realise what a huge favour her beasting had done us. It didn’t really matter how good or bad the work was, what mattered was that we learned how to take negative feedback and developed our own opinions.

Jonathan Wilcock Freelance Copywriter – Thick Skin, Self-belief Rocky-Ripped

Once you’re Rocky-ripped, all you need is self-belief
From personal experience, I’ve found that self-belief is a very fragile thing. Unlike a thick skin, which once developed is yours for life; self-belief can do a runner as soon as you turn your back on it.

While the negative opinions of others can hurt, there’s nothing more debilitating than you telling yourself how rubbish you are.

Having been a Copywriter since the mid ’80s, you’d think that self-belief would be a given by now.

Halfway through my career I spent a couple of years as a Creative Director in someone else’s agency, then several running my own (concentrating on everything other than being a Copywriter 75% of the time). But surely, going fulltime again as a freelance copywriter would be like stepping back into a familiar and comforting warm pool of rose-scented water.

Not one bit. I felt exposed, underqualified and smeared in rancid self-doubt jam from the sticky fingers of the imposter syndrome mind monster.

A couple of years freelancing later, dozens of very happy clients and a raft of new work, I’m well and truly back in the saddle of the self-belief pony.

Now that I’m out of the quagmire of non-worthiness, it’s weird to think that I was ever less than head-swellingly sure of myself. But when you’re up to your chinny-chin-chin in the muck of self-doubt you feel like everyone else is brilliantly creative and you’re a big fat dud.

It happens to the best of us
Yesterday I had a chat with an old friend of mine, a Graphic Designer (turned Creative Director, turned Managing Director, turned out-on-his-ear redundancy casualty).

This guy is very talented. Not only is he a very decent designer, he has the gift of the gab. He can hold the attention of a room. People like him; they hang on his every word, they believe in him; he has gravitas. Besides that, he’s just a bloody nice geezer. In short, anyone who snaps him up now would be getting a real gem on their team.

So with all this going for him, I was gobsmacked to hear him say that he reckoned he couldn’t cut it as a Creative Director anymore. To put this into perspective, he’s been CD at two agencies for a combined twenty odd years. Since hanging up his CD hat, he’s been MD of a high profile design agency for a mere six years, yet now he’s convinced he wouldn’t cut the mustard in his old Creative Director role.

Nonsense. The only thing stopping him is self-belief and I told him as much.

Knowing him, I’m sure the next time we meet up, he’ll be telling me the same thing as he breaks-in his £500 brogues, pacing the reclaimed oak floorboards of his Shoreditch Creative Director’s office. But that’s him, not everyone will find it so easy to find their lost confidence.

If your self-belief has taken a kicking, now what?
Let’s assume you already have skin that makes a rhino’s look like wet rice paper. If self-doubt has come knocking, what can you do to get on top again?

1) Work your socks off
You’ve seen your portfolio so much, even if it’s full of D&AD winners, it probably feels as stale as a budget airline donut. Do some new stuff to get excited about, even if it means making up your own creative briefs.

2) Collaborate
Without the wind of fresh input, self-doubt grows like mould . Get yourself out there and work with people you know and respect. If they’re not up for it, get in touch with new creative buddies via LinkedIn or platforms like singlecreatives.com The Dots or Freelance Heroes. Headhunters can also be a great source of potential creative partners to buddy up with.

3) Expose yourself
Old Creative Directors, creative colleagues from previous agencies, college mates… get in touch with anyone who knows your business. Get them to look at your portfolio, especially new stuff that you’re not sure about. They’ll sort the wheat from the chaff more easily than you can. However, ultimately, you have to be comfortable with your own work; you’ll be the one defending it when the time comes.

4) Start a blog
Get all your self-doubting stupid ideas down. Write about what you know and what you’re learning as you make up new stuff. Publish it and get feedback. If it’s rubbish you can always unpublish it, but it’s good to get whatever self-doubts are holding you back, out of your head. Committing them to the public domain tends to pull your thinking into focus.

5) Do something new
Only using one muscle makes you lopsided. If you’re a Digital Illustrator, do a series of large-scale abstract pieces with real paint and canvas. If you’re a Graphic Designer, sign up for a life drawing class. If you’re a Copywriter, write a short story or two.

6) Spend time with the masters
Who inspired you in the first place? Get your old Graphis Annuals, Creative Reviews and Lürzer’s Archives out. Surround yourself with work that gets you excited.

7) Spread the love
Once you’ve found the old you, do your little bit to help others on their way. Take the time to give honest, constructive criticism to newbies and oldies alike. Just one word of encouragement can make all the difference.

Thick-skinned and pumped up; now my friend, it’s time to don your creative cape and fly. Have fun.

If you’re a freelance copywriter (thick-skinned or otherwise), you’ll also find these 40 survival tips handy.

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a freelance Copywriter, Art Director and Creative Director.
You can drop me line here, or email jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk