creative titbits and marketing gubbins

How to survive as a freelance copywriter – Jonathan Wilcock

How to survive as a freelance copywriter – lessons learned in 2019.

The world has changed. And I’ve had to change with it. Some of it’s been fun; some of it’s been a right royal pain in the cobnuts.

The freelance badge of shame

I’ve been a freelance copywriter on and off for roughly 15 years. This latest stint (since March 2017) has been the steepest, but most rewarding, learning and unlearning curve.

When I last freelanced in 2002, things were different. There was no Twitter. LinkedIn was still in nappies. Creatives trudged the streets carrying actual three-dimensional portfolios. There were only a handful of freelance creative recruitment specialists. Freelancing was a last resort career option for most, a way of earning a few shekels between real jobs.

Now everyone’s a freelance copywriter, even nextdoor’s cat.

There are hundreds of freelance forums, creative job sites, writers’ collectives, content mills and the like.

Procopywriters, The Dots, Yunojuno… if you’re looking for a freelance copywriter, there are loads of places to find them and squillions of writers of every hue to choose from.

Freelancing has lost its badge of shame.

Clients are going direct to their roster of favourite freelance copywriters. Agencies are shrinking or growing as necessary, with a merry band of freelance talent bolstering their 5-day week creative staffers.

The rules of engagement are different now. I’ve had to master a few new tricks and adopt some novel approaches to the business of freelancing.

If 2017 was spent wobbling around on new legs and 2018 saw me finding my voice; 2019 was all about growth and creating stability.

So here’s what I’ve learned in the last year.

1) Cashflow

You can be as busy as a workaholic beaver with midges in its knickers, but if the cash ain’t flowing, your business ain’t going. I now charge 50% upfront for most projects. It’s made a huge difference to the feast or famine thing.

2) The power of ‘no’

2017 Jonathan said ‘yes’ to anything and everything. Understandable when you’re getting off the blocks, but not so much once you’ve found your stride. There’ve been two notable occasions this past year, where saying ‘no’ has paid off.

The most obvious was when I was asked to take part in a three-way creative scrum. I’d come highly recommended by the clients’ designer, but they wanted sample email templates writing, by me and two other copywriters. I said that I don’t work that way and politely explained why. Within a week, we were working together and there are more projects lined up for 2020.

I also said ‘no’ to a brief that didn’t sit well with my conscience. I’d done a similar project in 2017 purely to pay the bills. Probably a sensible move considering how much paid work was booked in at the time. But I now have an unwritten rule when it comes to writing for anything, shall we say, on the unsavoury side:
If my inner voice is screaming ‘no’, I say ‘no’ – unless my starving family are screaming louder.

How to survive as a freelance copywriter – Jonathan Wilcock Senior Freelance Copywriter

3) The power of ‘yes’

Saying ‘no’ is empowering, but so is saying ‘yes’. It can be tempting to run away from new challenges, but sometimes it pays off to charge headlong into the unknown. In 2019, I dived well out of my depth several times. Along with conquering the fear (of failure/being found out/the unknown), these opportunities have proven to be where I’ve learned the most.

I’ve had to work doubly hard to get my head around new technical challenges. I’ve driven down blind alleys and got lost in bottomless pits of research. But I’ve survived, made new connections and learned a load of new stuff along the way.

4) Allow enough time

Things often take longer than you think they will. Rarely less.

If a client has an unrealistic deadline, tell them. If you’ve agreed one set of amends, allow for two. If they promise draft content by the 3rd of the month, build in time for it arriving on the 5th.

Don’t over-promise or commit to doing something you know you can’t deliver on time (or to a standard that you’re happy with). Allow room for the overnight test; you’re only ever one typo away from making a tit of yourself.

5) Do the maths

I saw a tweet recently: ‘freelance copywriter needed to write three articles at £50 each’.

If the bailiff’s knocking at your door, you might be tempted. I’m not judging, but stop and do the maths. Even if you could churn each article out in half a day, there are two big questions you need to ask yourself:

a) Do I want to spend my days churning or creating?
b) Am I worth more than £100 a day?

Only you can decide.

Of the 365 days available every year, as a freelancer you can realistically expect to be working something like 100 to 200 of them. Much more than that, there’s no time for family, self-promotion or personal hygiene.

If you’re brand new to freelancing, with little in the way of client contacts, you could be looking at yawning gaps between projects. If those cheap-as-chips jobs feel like they’ll lead to something bigger and better, go for it, but beware:

– Clients who pay as little as possible won’t want to pay more next time
– Doing work on the cheap will leave you gurning with resentment
– Self-respect is important; jumping into the content mill could crush it out of you
– Poor pay usually ends up with poor work and you need good work to attract good jobs.

6) Don’t hold your breath

You can spend half your life waiting, hoping and praying for that big contract to come off. You’ve put your proposal in and you’re already working out how to spend the fee. A week goes by; a month; three emails asking if they’ve made a decision go unanswered. Let it go.

It’s a numbers game. Plant lots of seeds and some are bound to sprout. Keep going, keep planting; it’s bound to come good.

Here’s an example. I wrote a couple of guest blog posts for The Logo Creative: Why Designers and Copywriters Should Collaborate More and The Designer’s Guide to Brand Tone of Voice. 18 months later, ping; an email comes in – ‘You’ve been recommended by Andrew at The Logo Creative…’ 18 months, that’s the gestation period of an elephant. Patience makes happy freelancers.

7) Put your back into it

Most creatives are lazy toe rags. Give ’em a sack of dosh, they’ll shove it up their noses, squander it on shiny things or buy a tropical island and spend the next 20 years swinging in a hammock.

So how come some creative freelancers are more successful than others? Talent aside, it’s because they kick themselves up the backside.

Survival in the creative business requires a bit of good old-fashioned work ethic. The competition’s tough, the next generation are nipping at your nethers, the landscape’s constantly shifting, clients move jobs…

Being a freelance copywriter, designer, photographer or whatever, isn’t easy. You are your own bookkeeper, publicist, new biz go-getter, account handler, stylist and workplace therapist. If you aren’t prepared to graft, this could be the wrong career path.

8) Write your own rules

Hopefully bits of this post will spark something positive for you. Chances are, some of it will sound like nonsense or simply won’t apply to your unique situation. No one knows everything about this game and to be honest, we’re all making it up as we go along. So take the nuggets that click with you (from here and wherever), then write your own rules to live, work and play by.

Then please share them, cos we can all learn from each other.

If this has been useful, you might want to dive into What I Learnt in 2017

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter.
You can drop me a line here, or email

How to kill a pig – Jonathan Wilcock Freelance Senior Copywriter

Tales of the Uninvited #1: How to kill a pig

I’m not saying you should be a vegetarian. That’s your choice.

Eat what you want. It’s your body, your taste buds and your conscience.

It’s just that sometimes when there’s a story to tell, you’ve simply got to tell it.

You are what you eat

I’d been an omnivore for 26 years. An omnivore of the most adventurous kind I might add. Water buffalo, iguana, snails, frogs legs, brains, trotters, … If it could walk, fly, swim, slither or break wind I’d eat it.

I was raised on ‘proper’ food like tripe, tongue and chitterlings.

At 18, the hippy bit of me loved the idea of going veggie, but not as much as I loved a bacon buttie.

Then things changed.

Welcome to Jamaica

We got married. In Jamaica. Jamaican style.

My fiancée’s parents had gone back to Kingston after having been in the UK since the ’60’s and it was her first time back in JA since she was 7 years old.

I’d been to the Caribbean on holiday, but this was a whole new level.

Time to crank up the sound system, make some stupidly strong rum punch and invite the neighbourhood.

We were there for a whole crazy month.

Most of the time we ate fresh fruit and veg brought over by cousins from St Anne. Mango, plantain, yam, gungo peas, avocado… we picked guineps, ugly fruit, ackees and mangerines from the back yard. Fish was salted or tinned. The occasional bit of meat came from the supermarket up the road. All was irie in the shadow of Jack’s Hill.

Then one day a goat turned up. It was cute. Pretty little thing.

Little did we know that the proceedings leading up to the big day would involve the mass slaughter of half the island’s livestock including Gary (he looked more like a Malcolm, but Gary stuck).

Thankfully I was saved from watching Gary bite the dust, but I was there for seven chickens and the pig.

How to kill a pig the old fashioned way

First catch your pig.

If a pig doesn’t want to be killed, it’s going to tell you about it. The scream as it ran around in muddy circles was distressing. Like a domestic smoke alarm and nails down a blackboard all at the same time.

Two lads, distant cousins, armed with carving knives, ran around the pen, knee-deep in pig poop while I watched with a mixture of horror and hypnotic fascination.

After ten intense minutes of chasing, the little porker was roughly wrestled to the ground. Legs bound with rope, its throat slit and the knife inserted to pierce the heart.

All this in the 90+ degrees of relentless Jamaican sun.

The next sequence of events felt like I’d just walked into a deleted scene from Apocalypse Now.

A huge oil drum of water was boiled over an open fire, the pig dunked (to soften the hair) and shaved with the same knife that had ended his shorty piggy life.

Then the corpse was hung up – back feet uppermost – from a tree.

Split from neck to gentleman’s department, his steaming guts spilled out onto a bed of banana leaves.

While the country boys set to, severing the head and hacking the torso into bits, my dear old mother-in-law (rest in peace), tucked up her skirt and got in amongst it.

Up to her ankles in guts, she squeezed yesterday’s breakfast out of the poor little things innards and sorted out which bits were for the pot and which were for the dogs.

Quite an education.

I never got round to giving the pig a name, but it only seems proper now to call him Providence. You see, this little piggy didn’t go to market, but he did have a huge influence on the rest of my life from that moment on.

The wedding feast

Macabre mammal massacre aside, we had a wonderful time and a magical wedding day. The sun shone. Both Mums and Dads were there, a few mates from the UK made it and we met a load of the Jamaican posse that my wife hadn’t seen since she was a little girl.

We danced and drank and partied into the night.

The buffet table groaned under the weight of wedding cake, rice and peas, and fried chicken (that I’d plucked with my own fair hands as their bodies twitched and spewed blood from the holes where there heads used to be – but I’m killing the romance of the moment).

There were Providence chops, Providence ribs and bowls of Providence tail stew.

And pride of place, a massive dish of Gary head soup (with the head still bobbing about in it).

That was my very last meaty meal.

I can’t remember if it tasted better than Tesco-caught. I was too busy asking forgiveness from the Great God, Mighty Quorn.

That was almost thirty years ago.

Bacon sarnies still smell tempting today, but that fateful afternoon in sunny Brownstown, Jamaica, has left its own unique taste in the mouth. Bring on the falafels.

And the moral of the story?

If you want to avoid becoming a vegetarian, don’t give your meat Christian names.

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter.
You can drop me a line here, or email

Life Lessons – Jonathan Wilcock, Senior Freelance Copywriter

Life lessons and copywriting parallels

Thirty something years in this business has taught me a fair bit.

Most of it has little use in the world of grown-ups and much of it is shoved down the back of my mental filing cabinet. But the important bits come to the rescue time and time again.

Here are a few life lesson-y nuggets (and how they relate to copywriting) worth passing on.

1) Know what you’re actually trying to achieve.

In a tricky life situation, stopping to answer this question can save a lot of pain. A squillion times more potent than the classic ‘Stop and count to ten’, this gives you room to pause and analyse your motives. It’s especially useful when anger or self-righteousness threaten to queer the pitch.

When we stop and remember what outcome we are looking for, it helps us to re-calibrate and stop emotions getting in the way of doing the right thing.

In copywriting terms, this is the equivalent of understanding the essence of the brief. What’s the most important thought to leave behind? What do you want your reader to think, feel and do? Until you’ve sussed that out, everything else is just clever word juggling.

2) Don’t add to the stink.

At school, I was taught that ‘nice’ isn’t a good word. They were wrong. Toast and marmalade, the sun on your back… mmm… nice.

There’s enough negativity in the world as it is thank you very much. So just be nice.

Maybe I’m naive, but it seems that the nicer I am to others, the nicer they are to me. Naive or not, being nice makes me feel all warm and gooey inside, so I won’t be stopping any time soon.

When it comes to work, try to treat even the most difficult clients with respect. This doesn’t mean you have to be a human carpet. This doesn’t mean you have to work with people who aren’t a good fit, but even when severing relationships, it does no harm to be polite.

If we can leave a trail of happy people (clients and otherwise) behind us, I reckon we’ll have done a pretty decent job.

3) Make your decision, then let it go.

What’s the point of hanging on to things? The ifs and buts, the should’ves and could’ves serve no purpose whatsoever.

Is your intention good? Have you weighed up the odds? Is your conscience purring contentedly? If so, do it and leave the consequences in the lap of the Gods.

Life, love and career. You’re going to have to make decisions. They won’t all lead to where you thought they would, but that’s kind of exciting.

There’s no point in dwelling on the past. Learn from it and pop back now and again for little reminders, but set your sights on where you are and where you’re going, not where you’ve been.

4) Get organised.

Multi-tasking is great, but sometimes we need to focus on one thing and do it properly. Here’s a fabulous trick learned the hard way. We live in a rambling house, so the amount of time I’ve wasted trying to find things ‘I just put down 2 minutes ago’. Glasses, mobile, pen, screwdriver, didgeridoo… where the hell did I leave it?

If you want to remember where you put something, stare at it with eyes exaggeratedly wide open for 5 seconds. It’ll be imprinted on your memory – it works, try it.

Similarly with your work. If it’s important, ‘imprint’ it in your notebook or on a spreadsheet. As a freelancer particularly, sometimes you’re juggling lots of jobs with more bubbling in the background. It’s easy to let things slip. Keep your to-do list up to date. Put important things in their proper place. Stick documents in their folders. Get your work world and brain in order.

5) Take risks.

Every time you get out of bed you’re taking a risk. Picture the scenario:

Bleary eyed, you trip on the cord of your ill-fitting pyjamas and take a tumble down the stairs, spilling hot coffee on the cat. The cat leaps up onto the hallway shelf sending your prize cactus flying. It lands on your foot. You hop around the house banging into furniture, screaming and swearing. The neighbours hear the noise, call the police and the next thing you know you’re doing community service for disturbing the peace. All because you played it safe. Pyjamas!

The point is, calculated risks are where it’s at. In business and in your everyday life.

I’d go as far as to say that playing it safe is one of the biggest risks you could ever take.

Trudging the same path can work for a while. Using writing formulas, following the rules – but it’ll get you in the end. Mix it up, approach your copy in different ways. Take on projects you have no experience of. What’s the worst that can happen?

6) Karma isn’t just for Buddhists.

I thank the day I realised that everything I get I’ve earned.

No more blaming the weather, the politicians or my gene pool. The seemingly good, bad or middling; it’s nobody else’s fault.

I’m not a Buddhist but the great man sums it up beautifully:

“What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and present thoughts build
our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our own mind.”

If life’s a bit crappy now, it’s because of past mistakes. If you want it to get better, stop moaning and put the work in. This applies equally to your freelancing career and all the other bits that make up your life.

I wrote a guest post loosely based on this subject for – Negativity, creativity and our online, collective Karma

7) Respect your elders.

We’re all following in the footsteps of those who’ve already walked the path. What we’re about to do, chances are they’ve already done it. They have a huge bank of knowledge that’d be crazy not to tap into.

To a toddler, a teenager is old. To a teenager, everyone over 25 is past it. We all think we know better, but without experience, we probably don’t. So whatever your walk of life, you should respect those who already have the T. Shirt.

If you’re a copywriter, you need to tip your hat to the likes of David Abbott, Rosie Arnold, Tony Brignull, Malcolm Duffy, Mike Everett, Richard Foster, Adrian Holmes, Barbara Nokes, Dave Trott, Chris Wilkins… If you haven’t already, check them out. They have oodles to teach us (apologies to all the great copywriters I’ve missed out).

8) Time is a great healer.

Everything that’s rotten in your life will change, go away or eventually become irrelevant. Pain, fear, anger… it all subsides over time.

Blank page syndrome is every copywriter’s nightmare. Next time you come up to a brick wall with your writing, walk away and think about something else. Even half an hour can make all the difference. Pain, fear, anger… it all subsides over time.

9) Believing you can do something is one step closer to doing it.

Little children don’t give up trying to walk, swim or ride a bike because they can’t. They keep going because they believe they can, or at least, that one day they will.

Self-belief is your best friend. Not cockiness (that’s the enemy), but a gentle self-belief and determination to overcome obstacles.

How many times have you had to tackle a creative brief outside your comfort zone? How many times have you written something in a product category you previously knew nothing about? Remember that next time the spectre of self-doubt comes rattling your windows.

10) Ultimately, the only person you need to make happy is yourself.

It’s tempting to try to please everyone, which on one level is a good thing. Other people have feelings too (see No. 2), but self-satisfaction helps you sleep at night.

It doesn’t matter how many awards you win, how many pay rises you get, how many people pat you on the back and tell you you’re great. If you’re not happy, it’s all a waste of energy.

It’s the same with your copywriting. Keep going until you’re satisfied. Deadlines permitting, it’s worth giving it one more read through. We all know there’s no such thing as perfection, but if you have the time and you know it could be better, why wouldn’t you.

Every dodgy bit of copy is another nail in the misery coffin. Compromise, yes (it’s part of life), but there’s little worse than knowing you could have done better.

Here endeth the lesson. x

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter.
You can drop me a line here, or email

Virtchew Kale Jonathan Wilcock Freelance Copywriter

Nescience Foods launches ‘Virtchew’ Freeganitarian snack range

100% Freeganitarian (Free-range-organic-vegetarian) wholefood snack range, VIRTCHEW, is set to take the virtuous foods market by storm.

The new range of sweet and savoury snacks promises a zero carbon footprint, healthier alternative to ‘virtchewally’ everything else on the supermarket shelves.

Nescience Foods’ CMO, Johann Kaltcowic said, “The enormous growth in planet-conscious eating over the last decade has caught much of the food industry napping. Consumers refuse to put just anything inside themselves anymore. Virtchew is the first totally Freeganitarian range in the UK. No additives, no GM, not one single ingredient that causes harm to the consumer or the planet.”

Since 2013, there has been a 14000% increase in vegetarianism in the UK, with an estimated 18.5m people now classing themselves as vegetarian and a further 4.7m choosing a ‘flexitarian’ diet.

Virtchew is set to launch in all the major supermarket chains later this year and has already been valued at £15m. Its first clear-conscience products will be savoury protein power bars in three innovative flavours – KillahKale, RadikalRadish and ChillaxChilli.

Virtchew Chilli Jonathan Wilcock Freelance Copywriter

Commenting on Virtchew’s Freeganitarian credentials, Kaltcowic said, “We toyed with making the range vegan, but focus-grouping revealed that our consumers are much more likely to accept Freeganitarianism as a lifestyle choice compared to Vegorganism. It also sounds nicer.”

For further information ahead of launch, please contact Product Imagineer, Nichola Jacknowt on 07703 563241.

Ends –

Note to journalists – there is no such thing as Freeganitarian, Nescience Foods or the Virtchew range.
Note to copywriters – always double-check your research sources.

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter. You can drop me line here, or email

Dot & Squiggle cartoon by Jonathan Wilcock

Dot & Squiggle – life in the advertising agency

My background is in advertising.

I’ve been an Art Director, Creative Director – mostly a Copywriter. I’m also a frustrated illustrator, novelist, soothsayer and cartoonist.

Dot & Squiggle gave me a chance to stretch most of those muscles, frustrated or otherwise. I threw this series of cartoons out onto social media. It got likes and comments.

Best of all, it gave me a completely different creative outlet to the usual copywriting that I do.

Dot & Squiggle – by Jonathan Wilcock

After a year or so, Squiggle (the creative one) inevitably got fed up and went off to do something else. Bloody creatives!

I imagine Dot rose to board level at some massive, faceless global agency network and retired to Monaco.

Dot & Squiggle – by Jonathan Wilcock, Freelance Copywriter

RIP Dot & Squiggle.

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter. You can drop me line here, or email

Storytelling and copywriting – Jonathan Wilcock

Storytelling and copywriting – sorry, you’ve got it all wrong

Saw this on Twitter recently:

‘Would someone please help me understand “storytelling”? Isn’t it just what most of us copywriters have been doing forever?’

Short answer. No!

What? Have I gone mad? What about the thousands of blog posts on storytelling and copywriting?

Call me contrary, but every post I’ve read is barking up the wrong tree.

Diving into writing techniques of famous authors is valuable of course, but they’re not storytellers, they’re storywriters.

If you want to know about storytelling and copywriting, let’s set the record straight.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

Have you ever had to read a story to 25 six-year olds?

Sit down with a mob of sticky-fingered sprouts and it’s you versus the awesome power of the PS4 and the mighty Dairylea Dunker.

Get it right and you’re a hero; get it wrong and you’d better brace yourself for a thwack of the public humiliation stick.

Enter the storytelling arena

In 2003 I went through the ‘Education in Human Values’ training programme. Then for several years I volunteered at kids’ summer camps and a primary school in Battersea.

The EHV programme helps draw out good values through games, art, singing, silent sitting and storytelling.

I particularly fancied myself as a bit of a storyteller.

Forget JK Rowling or George Orwell, if there was ever a place to learn the art, this was it.

How difficult can storytelling be?

I’d watched Jackanory. I could read. Surely, that’s all I needed to be a master storyteller.


Having an audience staring at you as you deliver your pitch is terrifying.

If they don’t like it, you get a yawn in your face. Then they tell you how rubbish you are.

A ripple of giggles spreads through the herd, but they’re not laughing with you.

If you’re really bad… put it this way, have you read The Lord of the Flies?

Let the storytelling and copywriting analogies begin

It didn’t occur to me at the time, but the parallels between reading a story to a bunch of sprogs and writing a powerful piece of copy are remarkable.

My first time in the storytelling seat, I struggled to get their attention. I needed something to get them focusing on me. The headline if you will.

Cue monster fingers and scrunched-up face…

“Who wants to hear a story about the world’s biggest, baddest, scariest dinosaur?” Surprise, surprise, everybody does.

Now you’ve got ’em how you gonna keep ’em?

You’ve banged a drum, clapped your hands… whatever it took to get them listening.

Now what?

All stories have a beginning, middle and end. How we move from one to the other is totally up for grabs.

It’s all about creating drama and flow:

– Pitching our voices from a whisper to a roar
– Pregnant pauses, holding the audience in suspense
– Unexpected twists and turns to keep everyone guessing
– Adopting different voices, ticks and traits
– Getting the audience involved by asking questions
– Making it personal, so everyone dives into the world we’re creating.

Even the most basic subject matter can be transformed into a journey of delight by employing these storytelling tricks.

Let’s give it a go

If we were to read ‘A little boy walked along the road to the shops’ aloud to a gaggle of fidgety nippers, how could we spice it up to keep them hanging off every syllable?

Let’s turn on the storytelling magic:

An itty-bitty little boy, teeny tiny… not tiny like a mouse, but tiny like… how tiny might he be? (in a group huddle we settle on ‘as tiny as a squirrel’).

The little boy, who was no bigger than a squirrel, was walking down a (expands arms and raises volume) GREAT BIG SCARY ROAD, WITH GREAT BIG SCARY CARS AND GREAT BIG SCARY LORRIES.

Why do you think he was walking down the road? To buy lots of super, sticky, sickly sweets – so, who likes sweets…?

We’ve used exaggeration, repetition and alliteration, and turned something everyday boring into a story worth listening to.

In our writing, we can replicate all these tricks and more, using capitalisation, short and long sentences, unexpected words and even made up words.

We can jump in and out of different tones of voice. We can ask questions, break up chunks of information with staccato lists…

So, employing some of these storytelling techniques, how could we re-write the same story to hook our reader?

Here goes a f’rinstance:

Remember the first time you were sent to the shops all on your own?

The world was a bigger, scarier place. Bushes were jungles full of tigers, cars were shiny metal monsters and every stranger was a scratchy-fingered child catcher.

Well, this was Sam’s very first trip down the High Street without a grown up.

He had his favourite lucky shoes on and a ten-pound note squeezed tightly in his tiny hand (so no one could steal it).

What was it mum said?

“One white sliced loaf, two pints of skimmed milk and eight rashers of streaky bacon.” This was Sam’s chance to prove how grown up he was, so he kept repeating to himself:

“One, two, eight; loaf, milk, bacon; white, skimmed, streaky…

“One, two, eight; loaf, milk, bacon; white, skimmed, streaky…

“One, two, eight; loaf, milk, bacon; white, skimmed, streaky… ooh, bus, dog, funny man with big nose.”

Sam’s thoughts had a habit of wandering off all on their own.

Now, what was it again? “Streaky bus milk, two white dogs, sliced nose loaf…”

All of a sudden we’re not passive observers, we’re right there with Sam.

If we can do that with our copywriting… just imagine.

And the moral of this particular story?

If you want to be a better writer, pick up a book and learn how to be a storyteller.

Pretend you’re reading your copy to your audience, better still, read it out loud.

You’ll soon weed out the awkward, dreary bits that act as unwanted full stops.

And guess what?

You’ll live happily ever after.

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter. You can drop me line here, or email

Freelancer Doldrums – Jonathan Wilcock, Freelance Copywriter

How I slapped myself out of the freelancer doldrums

As a little kid, I remember seeing a cartoon that left a deep impression on me. A character had been banished to a fantasy land called ‘The Doldrums’ and given the task of digging a tunnel through a mountain – with a pin.

If you’re a freelancer, you probably know what this feels like.

The phone hasn’t rung for days, the only emails you get are spam-flavoured and it seems like the world’s forgotten you.

Was that my last brief ever?

Will my next job be directing old ladies to aisle 23?

Well, this happened to me a couple of months ago.

After several juicy projects, the well dried up.

Any earmarked briefs had gone AWOL. Half promises were broken, clients went on holiday, Brexit had hit.

That was it, the end of a lovely career as a freelancer.

Or it could have been.

Luckily I had two secret weapons – Everything and Nothing.

I employed the two with equal gusto.


– Wrote three blog posts and pushed them out into the big wide world.

– Hit LinkedIn mercilessly like Tyson Fury v A Ripe Strawberry.

– Twittered so much it put the dawn chorus to shame.

– Gave myself ear burn chatting to old compadres on the mobile.

– Answered a stupid amount of freelancer job ads and posts.

– Met Art Directors and designers I’d been meaning to catch up with for ages.

– Set myself an imaginary brief.

– Did my year’s accounts.

– Went admin crazy – clean desktop, a squillion old emails deleted, files all ship-shaped…


– Went for long walks by the sea.

– Had breakfast out and coffee with the missus.

– Read a couple of cracking books.

– Went to the flicks.

– Lay on the beach daydreaming.

– Raided charity shops and had an 80s/90s DVD blowout.

– Spent time with friends…

Not sure I was conscious of it at the time, but with hindsight I can see how this approach worked for me.

I banged on a load of doors – it’s a numbers game, so theoretically, the more doors, the more chances of someone being in. At the same time, I didn’t let it get me down. I trusted that something would eventually click and gave myself the space to actually enjoy the process.

And the result?

Of course there are no guarantees, but some of those doors opened.

I picked up four new clients, turned project work into a retainer and best of all, those doors have led to other doors seemingly opening themselves. I’ve had two projects come via recommendations from people I’ve never met, never mind worked with.

As Coleman Cox said, “I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have.”

So, if you’re struggling to find freelance work, treat yourself to a healthy dollop of Everything and Nothing.

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter. You can drop me line here, or email

Jonathan Wilcock is making it up as he goes along

I’m making it all up as I go along

A few years ago I was asked to help develop brand language for a charity. I didn’t have a clue. I’d never done ‘brand language’ before, so I thought it best to have a chat with someone I knew who’d done lots.

When I asked him what his formula was for approaching a brand language project, he admitted that he made it up as he went along.

No formula, he just applied a combination of accumulated experience in all sorts of copywriting with a bit of common sense and whatever felt right for the particular project.

He was a blagger. A bloody good one, producing great work, but a blagger all the same.

Trust me I’m a… what was it you wanted again?

You can’t believe how reassuring that was for me. It sounded just like the way I’d fumbled through life – sort of making it up as I went along.

And the more people I spoke to about this, I realised we’re all at it; making it look like we know exactly what we’re doing. Just like life in general, there’s always the first time. Then when we’ve done it a couple of times or more, we believe in ourselves – you should taste my veggie Bolognese sauce, it’ll blow your mind.

Then along comes another challenge that shoves us right back into the discomfort zone. We can either embrace it and do whatever’s necessary to swim, or we can flail around in a panic and sink.

Or to milk the analogy a bit more, we can get out of the pool and watch from the spectator’s area.

Go with the fear

Throughout our lives we come up against tasks where we have no specific prior experience to lean on. On the one hand, it’s incredibly scary, on the other, it’s totally liberating.

If we just keep moving forwards, admitting to ourselves we’re making up our own rules and working out our own answers, anything’s possible.

As copywriters (or anyone in the creative industries for that matter), we have a chance to keep ‘making it up’, to keep re-inventing and stretching ourselves.

For me, that’s a huge part of the attraction. Doing the exact same thing over and over for 40 or 50 years may work for some people, but I don’t think it would for me.

Over the years I’ve written:

– Radio commercials for ferries
– Brand guidelines for haulage
– Press ads for watches
– Annual reports for a housing association
– Facebook ads for online family trees
– An e-book for dentists
– SMS messages for property maintenance
– TV commercials for a telephone directory
– Branding workshops for accountants
– Emails for a tourist office
– Press releases for ad agencies
– Sales videos for car brands
– Brand language for estate agents
– Brochures for a building contractor
– On-pack copy for vodka
– Websites for corporate training

I’ve Art Directed TV commercials in Mauritius, illustrated posters for a Kids TV channel, been a guest speaker at a fundraising conference, lectured to University students and sat for days with a photographer in the Brecon Beacons waiting for the perfect storm.

We are a sum of all the parts

For all of this, at least the first time round, I was a novice. Then again, not a complete novice. You see, even though I’ve never written a recipe book for kittens, I have a ton of experience in my personal data bank that means, given half a chance, I definitely could.

And it’s the same for all of us. We build up a base of core skills and confidence that we can draw on, to keep doing the next new thing.

So next time a client asks “have you ever…” don’t panic, just think to yourself, “no, not yet”. Then get them to have a look at this post on why they don’t need a specialist copywriter.


I had a bit of a wobble before publishing this post. Did it make me sound like a chancer? Did I come across as a have-a-go-hero rather than a professional freelance copywriter? Would it scare potential clients off?

So, I asked a fellow copywriter, the very lovely Alice Hollis, for her opinion and she settled my jitters better than a bottle of Dr. Scrottinger’s Herbal Nerve Tonic. Thanks Alice.

Hope you like it too.

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter. You can drop me line here, or email

The Anagram Murders (a short story…)

Last month I wrote a short story called Job Satisfaction using words suggested by some of my Twitter chums. It was a fascinating creative exercise, unlike anything I’d done in ages.

People liked it, so I thought about doing another.

Then I stopped thinking and started doing. Here’s what happened:

The Anagram Murders

A pair of bright red, 12″ stilettoes punctured the earlobes. A day-glow ostrich feather boa was tied in a complex series of sailor’s knots around the pharynx.

DS Mike McLoud had seen some weird things during his 40 years in the Met. But none quite as twisted as this, the latest in a bizarre series of killings the papers were calling ‘The Anagram Murders’.

In an act of obfuscation, the bodies had been moved from the scenes of all seven murders to different high-class commercial premises and entertainment spots around the capital. A cwtch in the back room of a posh Fulham haberdashery, a nail bar ‘to the stars’ in Notting Hill, underneath the carousel at Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland… now this one, a newsagents in Soho.

Like the other locations, this was best of breed; probably the newsagentiest newsagent you’d find anywhere in London. They sold everything from ‘Pettigrew’s Monthly Compendium of Oddities’ to ‘What Somersault’ – the magazine for international gymnasts.

The murder weapons had all been equally curious. A milliner’s hat block, spiralizer, cello spike, spatula, Philippe Starck lemon squeezer… whoever was responsible, they certainly enjoyed a bit of theatre.

There was nothing frenzied or scrappy about the murders. In fact, each body had been carefully primped and preened. If it wasn’t so grizzly, you might say they were surreally beautiful, as if the killer was finding unalloyed pleasure in creating a series of morbid masterpieces.

And like the fridge magnet murders of ’73, he’d left a calling card. Sellotaped to the victims’ bodies were cutout type characters; deeply embossed in gold outline with a magenta in-fill, in what, McLoud had learned, was Cooper Black font.

In alphabetical order:

A B B C D D E I L M O O S T U .

The A adorned the abdomen, B1 and B2 the buttocks and so on, each letter representing an anatomical initial, like some kind of sick ‘My First ABC’ book.

But what did the letters mean?

Back at the station, McLoud opened the case file and leafed through the sheets of anagrams he’d been sweating over, to see if he’d missed anything.

Was it a reference to animal fetishism?

Something to do with vampires and Harry Potter?

The smell of the bodies (some had lain undiscovered for days)?

Or just a sick way of mocking whoever found them?

He’d been on the case for 18 months and worked through every letter combination he could think of. Then it hit him like a Phil Mitchell head-butt.


Six syllables that perfectly summed up the state he’d been in ever since the first murder.

“Is that it, you stupid f…” McLoud wasn’t amused.

“Wassat chief?” DC Collier slid across the investigation room, cigarette in one hand, chai latte in the other.

“Codswallop! He’s taking the piss out of us.” McLoud threw a pile of angrily scribbled letters across his desk, “DISCOMBOBULATED! I’ve been playing the Countdown conundrum round for 18 bleedin’ months and this is the only real clue we’ve got.”

DC Collier drained his coffee and took a long draw on his Sobranie Black Russian, right down to the filter. He dropped the butt into the bottom of the paper cup and swilled it around to hear the satisfying ‘SSSSFFFT’ as the coffee dregs extinguished the last glow of his cigarette.

“S’whata we do now chief?”

McLoud straightened the collar of his filthy windcheater and pulled himself up to his full, plump 5 foot 9 inches.

“We’re gonna pootle ’round town and work out where ‘e done ’em.”

McLoud had made an impression since his first day in the force. He was an unsophisticated East Ender, prone to conniption fits and extreme violence. On occasions he’d been referred to as “a right obstreperous git”, “a rambunctious toe rag” and “a dog with a bone”.

But now he was old and tired. He’d been exposed to a cornucopia of nastiness. The contamination of 4o years’ worth of doom, gloom, blood and guts would knock the stuffing out of anyone. Even a hard nut like McCloud.

This was his last case and he only had 14 hours and 33 minutes until retirement. He was going to solve it, take the gold clock and the slap on the back, and spend his last days drinking home brew with his Jack Russell, Snippet, on Canvey Island.

But right now he had a fiduciary obligation to the good citizens of London town to catch a killer. “Collier, get your arse in gear.”

The two officers spent the next 12 hours rushing around the capital revisiting every scene where the bodies had been discovered.

Still, nothing really added up.

The clock was ticking, now McLoud had just a couple of hours until his leaving do. Like a conflagration ripping through a tinder-dry forest, panic fizzed through his nervous system.

Collier was his usual ice-cool self. “Calm down chief, you’ll burst a blood vessel. What was that word again?”

“DISCOMBOBULATED.” His boss spat the word across the inside of the windscreen.

Collier hit the breaks, casually took hold of McLoud’s jowls, swivelled his head 90 degrees to the right and pointed across the inky black side street.

“There you go chief, I reckon that’s what you’ve been looking for.”

Collier let go of McLoud’s jaw, which immediately dropped as he took in the neon sign over the nightclub door.


This could be it, the missing link in the chain; the spot where all the murders had happened.

18 months of agony instantly disappeared. It was like someone had switched on the Regent Street Christmas lights in his head and poured warm custard in his pants at the same time.

McLoud could taste victory – stronger than a Fisherman’s Friend wrapped in anchovies.

But they had to get in without drawing attention to themselves. After all, the killer could well be in the nightclub right this second.

McCloud knew that anyone with an ounce of intelligence would spot his copper credentials a mile off, but Collier could blend in no problem. If anyone could inveigle their way in to London’s slinkiest nightspot without setting off alarm bells, it was Collier.

This was it, the culmination of 18 long months of detective work. McLoud’s fecund imagination was already painting a picture of retired bliss. Snuggled up on a La-Z-Boy, pint in hand, gold clock on the mantelpiece. The sun sinking majestically behind Morrisons, as it glinted off the Queen’s Police Medal pinned to his dressing gown lapel.

“Collier, you’re a genius, I could kiss y…”

A searing pain hit McLoud in the gut. He looked down to see a Montblanc special edition, white gold fountain pen protruding from his greasy mac.

He grabbed at it and blood spilled through his fingers. He looked up at Collier, who was taking an antique ink blotter from the inside pocket of his Burberry trench coat.

Their eyes met. Mcloud’s baggy and confused under a furrowed brow; Collier’s twinkling with mischief.

Collier dramatically flicked his fringe back as if he were a ’50s Hollywood starlet and purred like a cat that’d wandered into a creamery.

O… I STABBED MCLOUD. Sorry chief.”

The ink blotter slammed into McLoud’s head and he dropped to the pavement.  The old detective tried to raise his head up from the gutter. The world went dark as he slurred his last words, “Where’d the dot, dot, dot come from?”

Collier wiped the pen with a Liberty handkerchief. “It’s called an ellipsis you ignoramus.”

The end

A massive thanks to:
Dee @topcontentUK, Rowan @rmcopywriting, Elaine @Creative_Girly, Hollie @HollieWriter, Brett @iambrettcullen, Kev @reallyquitesome, Annie @Annie_Writes_, Ben @benjrmckinney, Somedisco @somedisco, No.16 PR @No16_PR, Gemma @gemmyred, Andrew @AGMonro, Gareth, @thatcontentshed, Mary @Word_Service, Kirsten @kirstofcomms, Craig @straygoat, Jake @Jakebrap, Underpin Marketing @WeAreUnderpin, Jason @huntaround, Lindsey @lindseyruss1, Jamaal @JamaalGriffith, Jo @jolilford, Emma @EJCownley, Leigh @words_person and Michelle @PRisUs

Without your words, this story would have never happened.

The words:
Discombobulated, Frenzied, Somersault, Codswallop, Newsagent, Newsagentiest, Plump, Spatula, Unalloyed, Haberdashery, Pootle, Obstreperous, Rambunctious, Obfuscation, Conniption, Contamination, Cornucopia, Fiduciary, Ellipsis, Inveigle, Conflagration, Fecund, Carousel, Cwtch and Snippet.

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter.
You can drop me line here, or email

Jonathan Wilcock – Senior Freelance Copywriter

Recent guest blog posts (to April 2019)

There are blogs out there run by people who are brave/crazy enough to trust me to write a post or two for them. Apologies if I’ve brought those websites crashing to their knees.

If, dear reader, you are curious, here are a few links:

Why Designers and Copywriters Should Collaborate More
“I can’t believe it. They’ve asked me to come up with brand names again.”
You could have planted potatoes in the Graphic Designer’s forehead furrows…

Negativity, creativity and our online, collective Karma
The Internet is amazing. It’s also a bitter and twisted place.
Supposedly educated, creative people use the Internet (particularly social media) to spread great big, stinky bucket-loads of tittle-tattle and twit-twattery…

Who put the free in freelance?
Free is good. There’s ‘free as a bird’, ‘free to do what you wanna’ and ‘I’m free next Thursday’.
Then there’s the other kinds of free. ‘Can you just bang out a sample paragraph or two’, ‘we’ve asked two other writers to pitch their ideas too’ and the classic, ‘if you rewrote the home page, that would give us a better idea if you’re right for the job’…

The designer’s guide to Brand Tone of Voice
This post is for anyone who needs to work with words, but isn’t a fully paid-up member of the Royal Guild of Copywriters. It’s a practical guide that should not only convince you of the power of defining a brand’s ToV, but will help you to bring words into play when tackling your next branding brief…

How to write better headlines
I can’t emphasise too much just how important headlines are. If you were in catering, they’d be your TripAdvisor review, menu and Fred the Maître d’ – all in one.
Like the smell of fresh baking bread, a good headline draws people in. If it’s really, really good they don’t have to read anything else – they’ll just live off the aroma…

If you’re a site owner and would like to add a dash of my take on copywriting, creativity or anything else within reason, get in touch.

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter.
You can drop me line here, or email