The Single Most Important Business Lesson I’ve Learnt

Sally Ormond, Briar Copywriting

If I’m honest with you, starting my own business was never my intention.

Seven years ago, after completing my English degree with the Open University, I was on the hunt for a job. Although my boys were still at school, I knew I needed to get back to work, but I still had to be around for them.

Finding something that gave me that flexibility was tough – after a lot of searching it basically came down to finance or admin in a school (there was no way I was cut out to be a teacher). The problem was, deep down, I knew that wasn’t right for me.

So, what to do?

It was my husband who first suggested I start something on my own. My reaction was to laugh.

Me, running my own business? Yeah, right, like that’s ever going to happen.

My girl friends were great and suggested all sorts of bizarre and wonderful job ideas, but then something weird happened.

The final year of my degree was in creative writing. A local friend of mine had been kind enough to proofread my work and, one day, her husband had read it too. He ran several companies and asked if I would help him out with some content he needed for a website he was developing.

Now, I’d always wanted to be a writer (fiction), but commercial writing was something I’d never considered. I gave it a go. It was a great success and the copywriting bug bit me.

One thing led to another and within a month I’d created my first website and set about getting clients. They came, they liked what they saw and they stayed. Then more came along and, 7 years later, I’m still here loving every minute of it.

Always learning

I am not an authority on running a business because I’m constantly learning. There are people out there who have been doing this a lot longer than me, which is why a few years ago I signed up for a course about running a freelance business.

It was great.

I learnt a lot…perhaps a bit too much.

It was the best course I’d ever been on, but it was also responsible for some of my darkest business days.

Why?

A hugely successful guy ran it. He made it sound so easy – how to get clients, price your work etc. I came home buzzing ready to try out my new found confidence.

The problem was, once back in my own office I became Sally again. My usual insecurities came flooding back…I knew I was a great writer, that wasn’t a problem, but I knew I wasn’t a great businesswoman.

I desperately wanted to become the person I thought I should be. I came back believing that if I was to be a success I had to be working with huge clients, earning mega bucks and to be constantly working. If I didn’t I was letting myself down, the course leader down and my family down.

But the problem was I was (and am) a very different person to the guy who ran the course and everyone else who attended it with me. I was trying to force myself into a business model that didn’t fit my lifestyle or personality. As a result I went from loving my work to feeling miserable and, for want of a better word, a failure.

Keeping it real

With my confidence at an all time low, I began to question what I was doing.

Did I really want to be in business?

Wouldn’t it be easier to work for someone else?

On the face of it the answer was ‘yes’; I would no longer feel the pressure of finding clients or marketing myself. But if I worked for someone else I would lose the flexibility I loved and the sense of achievement I’d felt.

I had to stick with it – especially considering, even in a slow year, I was earning more by myself that I ever would working for someone else.

Then something happened. A medical scare at the start of this year made me stop and think. I reassessed my life and what was important to me.

My family would always come first. I was a wife and mother and then a businesswoman.

I loved my work and running my business, but it wasn’t the be all and end all.

Now, I work the hours I want to work. I take on the projects I want to work on and work with the people I want to work with.

No, I don’t have a 6 figure salary, but you know what? I don’t care. I earn more than enough to allow us to do what we want to do as a family and that’ll do for me.

What’s stopping me from becoming one of the UK’s largest copywriting agencies? Me, because I’m doing what I want to do and not what others think I should be doing.

What’s the single most important business lesson I’ve learnt?

The answer to that is to be true to myself and to run my business my way and to make no apologies for that. Today, I have a great work/life balance and that’s the way it’s going to remain.

My message to you is to remember there’s more to life than work. Next time you’re still working away at midnight, stop and think about what you’re doing. Is that really where you want to be?

It takes a lot to create a successful business, but it takes even more to sustain that success and create the lifestyle you want to live.

Do you have a similar story? Have you had doubts whilst running your business? Are you thinking about going it alone, but feel too scared to take the plunge? Whatever your story, leave a comment below and share it with me.

 

Author – Sally Ormond, Briar Copywriting Ltd

7 Reasons Why Your Email Just Got Binned

Rubbish bin

The first rule to remember when indulging in a spot of email marketing is that it’s not as easy as you think.

No really, I’m not just saying that, it really is very tricky.

Just look at your recent results.

They don’t look pretty do they? Your open rate is disappointing and your click throughs virtually non-existent. So what went wrong?

Without seeing what you sent I can’t give you specific reasons, but here are the top 7 reasons why emails fail.

1. Bad first impression

You only get one chance to make a first impress and you just blew it.

Your subject line was pants. You used all capitals, exclamation marks, deceiving messages and prefixed it with the dreaded “FW:”,  “RE:”, or “Warning”.

Be clear and honest in your subject line, don’t try and sell and make sure it reflects what your email is about. To hone your subject line writing skills do some A/B testing on them.

2. Yawn

Emails shouldn’t be long. They should get to the point quickly, perhaps with a touch of humour or personality, and end with a call to action.

That’s it; no extended flowery prose, just straight talking and simple language.

3. What do you look like?

The only way you’re going to know what your email will look like when it lands in your customers’ inbox is by testing it.

Make sure it renders properly across all mail clients, including mobile, to make sure it looks good everywhere.

4. Personal

If you have your customers’ first names, use them. Receiving a personalised email is far more preferable to one that says “Dear Customer”.

5. Buy now

Contrary to popular belief, an email is not the place to ask for a sale.

Your email is there to build a relationship, or to educate them. Do not ask them to open their wallets. If you’re offering a free trial or something along those lines that’s fine, but never ever mention price.

6.  Don’t try and get one over on your competitors

Trying to sell your products by pointing out how bad or expensive your competitors are is bad form. It shows a lack of imagination on your part and, possibly, a lack of confidence in your own products and services.

Why?

Well it doesn’t say much for what you do if the only way you can think of selling it is by slagging off the competition.

Concentrate on selling the benefits of what you offer and your customers will make up their own minds that yours is better than anything else out there. You can read more of my thoughts on this particular issue here.

7. Relevant

Being relevant is essential. If you send email after email on subjects that your audience isn’t interested in they’ll leave in their droves.

Plus, don’t just reiterate information that’s already on your website because they’ve probably already seen it.

Come up with fresh information that’s going to be relevant to them.

There you go. How many of these 7 are you guilty of?

If you’re still not sure where you’re going wrong, feel free to drop me a line.

 

Author – Sally Ormond, Briar Copywriting Ltd

 

 

Copywriting the Kirstie Allsopp Way

Copywriting and Kirstie Allsop

If you’re looking for a new home, there’s no one better than Kirstie Allsopp to help you find it.

As a fan of Location, Location, Location I enjoy tuning in to watch Kirstie and Phil Spencer attempt to find the perfect homes for two couples.

The word ‘attempt’ is used because, week after week, the couples they help sorely tempt their patience.

Just in case you haven’t seen the programme (why on earth not?), Phil and Kirstie are each allocated a couple that, for various reasons, have been unsuccessful in their hunt for a new home.

At the outset each presenter is faced with the couple’s “wish list” – i.e. ideal location, size and type of property etc. Pretty much every week they run into the same issue – their budget is incompatible with what they’re looking for. But, undeterred, the couples are determined to get everything on their list.

Every now and then they’ll get people they just can’t help because they’re not prepared to look beyond their self-imposed blinkers, but those that are prepared to compromise usually come up trumps.

What does all of this have to do with copywriting?

Well, it’s a lot like the early stages of web copy (in fact all types of marketing content, but web copy is the biggest culprit).

Web copy beyond the blinkers

More often than not, when working with clients, they have a fairly set view on how they want their web copy.

It must be:

  • Professional
  • Written to make them sound impressive
  • Centred on the business

Nothing wrong with that?

Hmm, there’s plenty wrong with it.

This is where my inner Kirstie comes out.

When faced with a wish list like that one, it’s my job to explain how web copy should really work.

It should always be written for the person who’s going to read it – that means your customers.

Because it should be written for your customers, it must be relevant to them, outlining how your product or service is going to benefit them.

To do that it must be written in plain, simple language. It doesn’t matter if your target audience have doctorates or GCSEs, the language must be straightforward and instantly accessible. No big words, no complex sentences and no jargon.

The most important thing is that your website does what it’s supposed to do – drawn in visitors and convert them into customers.

If a client is willing to look beyond their preconceptions (which I would hope they would be willing to do otherwise what was the point in hiring a professional writer?) the results is a website that works like a dream.

If they adamant that, despite all the years’ experience I have, they are right and I am wrong, I simply can’t help them because it would be very unprofessional to write what they want knowing it won’t work.

Kirstie and Phil are property experts who understand their market and what it takes to find the ‘as near as humanly possible’ ideal home.

A copywriter understands marketing and, although not an expert in your business, knows how to write to draw people in and persuade them that yours is the company they should be dealing with.

So next time you engage a writer for a project, listen to what they have to say and try not to impose any of your preconceived ideas on them. By all means talk thinks through and say what you’re looking for and then trust in their judgement about what will work.

 

Author – Sally Ormond, Briar Copywriting Ltd

Re-branding – how not to alienate your customers

Branding your business is tricky. You have to make sure it comes across as appealing, a ‘must have’ brand that’s not too pretentious.

Over time, your company will change leading to a need to refine your brand image, but even the smallest of changes can affect your target market and their perception of your brand.

Clive Rohald has written an interesting article in The Drum about how to give your brand identity a makeover without alienating your customers. Here are some of his thoughts.

Every company, at one time or another, will feel the need for a brand refresh. The question is, how can that be achieved without it turning into a disaster.

1. Why is there a need for change?

Clive’s first point is to identify why there is a need for change.

What is it that needs updating? Where is your current brand failing? How can your brand better service its employees and customers? Do you need to define a new brand or is evolving your existing one enough?

Its imperative you make the difference between  your brand and operational issues. Clive uses the case of Malaysia Airlines as an example. In this case it’s issues were down to poor communication and its inability to act transparently, which are operational issues and can’t be solved by rebranding.

The key is to focus on ‘why’, not ‘how’ your brand needs to change and what the brand promises your customers.

2. Are you still relevant?

If your brand is to survive after rebranding you must ensure it remains relevant to your target market.

Research is everything; it helps you understand your brand perception, value and familiarity. If your research delivers strong results without an obvious threat to your brand, you may not need to review it.

3. 360 degree thinking

Your brand is more than just your logo, colours and stationery. It is also your tone of voice, customer service, stores and digital communications.

Trust comes from continuity; every time a customer comes into contact with your company the experience should be familiar, whatever form it takes. Your new visual identity should be a true representation of the new brand strategy.

4. Respect your heritage

Although your heritage shouldn’t hold you back, it should remain central to your brand. It is what makes you unique, offering customers a safe pair of hands. By introducing subtle updates your brand will move forward without losing the values it was built on and that attracted your customers in the first place.

5. Cultural perception and differences

Your rebrand must encompass and be accompanied by strong, relevant marketing messages that transcend cultural and language barriers. If you are a global player you must make sure your messaging and image translate into all markets. Clive cites KFC as an example when it launched a new campaign in China. It came unstuck when it discovered that its famous tagline “finger-lickin’ good” was understood locally as “eat your fingers off”. Ooops.

6. Acknowledge change

Even the best thought out plans can go wrong. When you roll out your rebrand – whether globally or locally – be sensitive to any issues it throws up and be prepared to be flexible in your response to any adverse publicity.

3 Things I’ve Learnt as a Freelance Copywriter

Sally Ormond, Briar Copywriting

I’ve been in the freelance copywriting business for 7 years.

I could tell you that after launching Briar Copywriting back in 2007 I have gone from strength to strength, never put a foot wrong and generally been totes-amaze-balls.

I could, but I won’t.

Anyone who tries to convince you they’ve built a business from local to global proportions without any hiccups is lying.

Business is ruthless and, when you’re not looking, will kick you in the balls every now and then just to make sure you remain grounded.

In the grand scheme of things I have been lucky; only suffered a handful of bad debts (very small fry), been lucky enough to have wonderful clients (in the main, with the odd exception) and seen my business grow into an internationally renowned copywriting company. But that’s not to say things have always gone my way.

I’ve made mistakes because I’m human. I’ve done stupid things. But I have learned from them and grown as a person.

The title of this blog says I’ve learned 3 things from my time as a freelance copywriter. In reality, it’s way more than that, but these 3 stick out because they affect everyone in business.

You can’t please everyone

Ain’t that the truth?

There are some people in the world who are just born miserable. It doesn’t matter how much you bend over backwards to help them, they’re never going to be happy.

Every time you ask them a question it’s like you’ve asked them to sever a limb.

You can take a detailed brief from them, especially in relation to the tone of voice they want, and it will be wrong every time.

Do you give up?

No. Not unless there is really no way of working with the client.

It doesn’t happen very often, but ‘sacking’ a client can often be the best solution to a bad situation – for both parties.

Most clients don’t know what they want

In a way, this one is related to the first one and comes in 2 varieties.

Variety 1: During your initial meeting with the client, they seem to know exactly what they want. They give you a detailed brief and even can show you examples of the tone and content they’re looking for. You leave the room smiling because finally, you have a client that knows exactly what they’re looking for. Full of confidence you present the first draft only to be shot down in flames because they’ve changed their minds and seen something else they really like.

Variety 2: During your initial meeting it comes abundantly clear your client has no idea whatsoever about what they want. Your heart sinks further when they utter those immortal worlds “I’ll know it when I see it”. You try your best to prise as much information from them as possible regarding tone, content etc. By the end of the very long meeting you have an idea of what they’re looking for. The initial draft is met with a lukewarm reception – it’s almost there, but not quite. It’s going to be a long night.

Clients that know exactly what they want

In light of the above, you would think these clients are just what you need. Up to a point I’d agree with you, but they do have the potential of turning into nightmare clients too.

These are the ones that give you all the information you need only to completely re-write your initial draft because they think they know best. They ignore all your carefully crafted messaging and turn the document into a ‘we are the best in the world’ ego-fest that won’t sell a bean.

When you try to explain why you wrote what you wrote, they toss your explanations aside because it’s their business and they know it better than you (even though you’re the professional writer and you know marketing better than them). In this situation you’re left with 3 choices:

  • Walk away
  • Do as they as to keep the peace knowing full well it won’t work
  • Stick to your guns and risk being sacked

Trust your instincts

It took me a while, but now I listen very carefully to the little voice in my head when I get a new enquiry.

Over the years I have developed an internal dodgy client detector that’s rarely wrong.

When you speak to someone, if something doesn’t seem quite right, or you don’t gel with them, the chances are it will turn into the project from hell.

My advice is listen to your little voice and learn from past mistakes. Over time you’ll get to sift out the good clients, although that doesn’t necessarily mean business will be plain sailing – that would just be boring.

Author – Sally Ormond, Briar Copywriting Ltd

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