What’s your website’s personality?

Is your website a wallflower, a braggart, a bore, a weirdo or a conversationalist?

Every website has a personality. Whether you realise it or not. And that personality plays a big part in whether your website attracts and engages new customers or whether it turns them off and sends them to your competitors.

Listen to this podcast to find out how to avoid the personality flaws that send people packing, and understand the importance of a web personality that focuses on your customers, speaks their language and keeps their attention.

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Putting words in people’s mouths: a ghostwriter speaks

Ghostly hands on keyboard

A talent for mimicry is a gift to a ghostwriter
[Photo: striatic shared under Creative Commons]

I’m a natural mimic. Always have been.

At least since the age of 7. Can’t help myself.

Thankfully, I’ve learned how to use this gift responsibly. As a ghostwriter and tone of voice expert.

In fact, I’ve been putting words in people’s mouths since 1975.

To find out more, read my guest article for the Verbal Identity blog.

If you’d like me to use my ghostwriting talent on your behalf, please get in touch!

Either email me – garethcook@justtherightwords.co.uk or call me on 07972 018366.

An inspirational headline

A grey squirrel

More dangerous than he looks ….

This morning a headline caught my eye on The Guardian website:

“Scunthorpe manager Alan Knill ‘could have been killed’ by squirrel”

You have to admit, those words do tend to grab your attention. It conjures up a pretty surreal image.

Obviously, I read the story, and as a keen cyclist and someone who’s fairly knowledgeable about football I could empathise with his predicament.

Cycling blissfully along, he collides with a squirrel that gets caught in his wheel, and he catapults over the handlebars and lands on his head, shoulders and neck. Thankfully Knill survived the fall with just a few bruises and a philosophical view of the incident:

“For a minute, I thought I might have been in trouble because I landed on my head. Then, all of a sudden, I thought: ‘I’m not, I’m alive! I could be dead and it’s so stupid. I’m not and you have to put things into perspective.”

He was lucky. It could have been fatal. And what a way to go, felled by a small furry rodent.

But this near-miss has certainly helped him to look at his professional problems in a different way. His Scunthorpe team have made a terrible start to the season, and are currently bottom of League One having lost all their first six league games, and their cup game on Tuesday night. He’s under a lot of pressure, but his personal dice with death  has made him appreciate what is really important:

“The situation we’re in at the moment, I don’t cherish, but there are worse situations.”

Bill Shankly may once have famously suggested that: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” But then, he’d never almost been killed by a squirrel.

Anyway, the headline, and Alan’s response to the incident, and his determination to ‘always look on the bright side of life’  inspired me, and I wrote this little poem in response.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Poor Alan Knill, rides his bike down a hill,

to escape from The Iron fans’ invective.

Gets a squirrel in his spokes,

but survives, and then jokes:

“Well, it puts our bad form in perspective!”

All the best Alan, and I wish you and Scunthorpe United a full and speedy recovery.

Five things I’ve learned in my first freelance year

Just the right words was one year old yesterday. It’s probably appropriate to mark this milestone with a bit of reflection. So, here are five things off the top of my head that I’ve learned in my first year as a freelance writer.

Balloons

1 – Freelance is fun

The past year has flown by and been one of the most enjoyable of my life. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been hard work. But it’s also been tons of fun. I am loving the variety that comes from working for a number of clients on a wide range of different projects. No two days are the same.  The range of writing tasks and audiences I’m communicating with means that I never get bored.

After ten years working as writer for a not-for-profit organisation I was desperate for a change, eager for a new challenge. Starting my own business was not even in the back of my mind. However, it turns out that being freelance suits me down to the ground. It can feel precarious at times, but it’s still fun. There’s something tremendously liberating about being my own boss and not being frustrated or distracted by office politics. The buck stops with me, and I’m happy with that.

Liquid

2 – Freelance is fluid

It didn’t take me long to discover that being a freelance writer almost guarantees you won’t have a regular workload. It’s more of a workflow, or work-ebb-and-flow, to be precise. Although I’d secured a couple of regular clients before taking the freelance plunge, after working on a few initial projects I’d accumulated, there was a distinct tumble-weed period. Inevitably the panic began to set in at that point, but after speaking with a few of my peers I began to realise that this fluidity of work is completely normal. Once I accepted that I felt a lot calmer, and sure enough, within a week or so things suddenly started picking up and I had plenty to be getting on with again.

The remainder of the year followed a similar pattern, with droughts giving way to periods when I’ve felt myself drowning and struggling to keep my head above water. The trick is to keep doing what you’re doing, and take the long-term view. Once you’ve accepted the cyclical pattern of work, and recognised that a dry stretch is only going to be temporary, you can stop worrying and actually use those quiet periods constructively. Do some marketing. Update your website. Or even give yourself a few days off. It’s hard to give yourself permission to take a break, but during a busy period that simply isn’t an option. If you see a lull, treat yourself to a little holiday. Whenever I’ve done that I have returned full of energy and enthusiasm, and usually to a full inbox and a plethora of new projects!

Pile of work

3 – Freelance is frantic

When it’s busy, it’s very busy. I think I’d learned within a month that as a freelance writer you end up doing the jobs that nobody else wants to do. Or the jobs that nobody else had time to do. As a result, clients tend to turn to you for help when they are perilously close to a deadline.

Several times in this past year I’ve received a brief for a job that needs turning around the same day, or within 24 hours. On those occasions, instead of muttering in my head about the lack of planning that has led to such an ‘unfair’ deadline, I’ve gladly accepted the challenge and relished the opportunity to turn things around quickly and ‘save the day’ in the process. Such tasks may involve an impromptu display of juggling other projects, priorities and clients but the adrenaline rush, job satisfaction and appreciation when you’ve come to the rescue usually compensate for this.

Fakir balancing on pole

4 – Freelance is flexible

What a shocker! I know it’s a given, and one of the main reasons for going down this route in the first place, but until you experience it for yourself, it’s hard to appreciate just how freeing it is to work in a flexible fashion. I’m not just talking about working hours, though it is great to be able to start later in the morning and work on into the evening if you want to, and I’ve personally loved being able to break up my working day with regular exercise at lunchtime.

I’ve also been impressed by how easy it is to work exactly wherever and however I want to suit my needs and preferences. Working in a quiet environment, or one where I control what noises I listen to has made me much more productive than I was battling to concentrate in a busy open plan office. I started off working from home and then after a couple of months had the opportunity to work from a friend’s house with a bigger office and found that suited me even better and helped me to keep more regular business hours.

But perhaps the best flexible factor of all has been the sheer variety of projects I’ve worked on. As a creative type I get bored easily, and ten years of writing within the same industry had drained me considerably. In the past year I have worked for eight different clients, within six different industry sectors in three different countries. I’ve worked on a huge number of projects, ranging from video scripts about pensions to websites for small businesses in Oxfordshire to employee benefits handbooks for blue chip corporations to advertising copy for a social media start-up in the United States.

Flexibility keeps me fresh and means I haven’t even considered returning to a 9 to 5 salaried post for a single minute in the last year. Not even once.

Yellow smiley faces

5 – Freelance is fulfilling

The nay-sayers, doom merchants and scaremongers would all have you believe that becoming a freelance writer is “a big risk”, that “you’re on a hiding to nothing”, and that if you’re self-employed “there’s no safety net” and “it’s all down to you.”

I say, ignore these pessimistic spoilsports and concentrate on the flip-side. Focus on the positives of freelance. If you’re a success, it’s all down to you. When you get a new client, when you complete a project and know you’ve done a great job, when you get client feedback that confirms you have – you get all the credit. Living off your wits sharpens your skills, focuses your efforts and gives you a sense of achievement and job satisfaction that is second-to-none.

Of course, not all clients may appreciate your efforts. They may frustrate you beyond belief with their ‘constructive’ criticism and ‘helpful’ edits. They might not even say anything, and just send you the next assignment without any feedback.

But when you get those appreciative emails or grateful telephone calls from delighted customers, there’s nothing like it. You know that your expertise, skills and sheer hard work have made a difference. And it feels great.

Finally…

These are just five things I’ve learned in my first year as a freelancer, that all just happened to begin with ‘F’.

I’ll be sharing a few more things, more briefly, in due course.

If you’ve learned similar or different freelance lessons, please feel free to share!

It started with a tweet …

Errol Brown, singer with Hot Chocolate

"It started with a tweet ... who'd have thought it would end so sweet?"

Today is Valentine’s Day. For me, it’s been a very good one already. It started with a nice surprise: a lovely card and some delicious Hotel Chocolat treats from the missus that I found hidden in my T shirts drawer.

Then, part-way through the morning came another surprise. An email from a young Swedish woman that confirmed the start of our new relationship. A working relationship, I hasten to add. I’m emphatically a one woman man and always will be.

This email is the culmination of a journey that started with a tweet less than two weeks ago. I’d just started to follow a few new people on Twitter as part of my attempts to expand my client base. One of these people mentioned that she was looking to hire copywriters. It was late on Friday afternoon, and I was initially hesistant, but I decided to reply to the tweet to express my interest.

When I checked my email later that evening, I had a reply from her with more information. It sounded like a really interesting opportunity, and I responded to her request to send examples of my work, and a quotation for the kind of jobs they wanted me to take on. All of this happened on the Sunday, and then by the following Tuesday I’d had an email to suggest the company would be interested in working with me in the future. That was followed by LinkedIn connection requests from my initial contact and her CEO. I was impressed by the way they’d used social media to assess my credentials and get in touch.

Today’s email confirmed they’d love to work with me and laid out more formally the types of jobs they’d like me to do, and the terms etc. I’m delighted, because they seem like an exciting company to work with, and the way they want me to work will fit in perfectly around what I’m doing for other clients. Throughout the process my contact with them has been very warm and friendly as well as thoroughly professional.

So I have now expanded my client base into Europe for the first time, and I’m excited about the prospects ahead. It just shows how more proactive use of social media can yield results, for recruiters and freelancers alike.

I’m very grateful to Twitter for enabling me to make this contact and begin this new relationship. I’m hoping that, to adapt the Hot Chocolate song that inspired my headline:

“It started with a tweet …. who’d have thought it would end so sweet?”

Have any other freelancers and copywriters out there had any similar experiences of social media providing them with new client opportunities?

The waiting game

Freelance is great … apart from the wait

WAIT sign

What are you waiting for?

I’ve been a freelance business writer now for just over 8 months. It’s almost certainly been the best thing I’ve done in my career.

I love it.

I love:

  • the chance to work on a wide variety of projects
  • the flexibility of the working hours
  • working with clients in a number of different industries
  • getting great feedback from satisfied customers
  • being my own boss

But there are some things I’m still getting used to. In particular, the ebb and flow of the workload. And the unpredictability. Even with three regular clients, some weeks it’s hectic, and other weeks it’s eerily silent.

So, what do you do when the work doesn’t come in?

That is rarely, if ever, an issue when you’re an employee. Up until last May I worked for ten years as a writer for a technology company and never had a single day when I wasn’t busy. At least a bit busy. And when things were slack, there were always lots of colleagues you could talk to.

But the nature of freelance means that there are peaks and troughs. Days when no-one needs you.

How do you handle that?

What do you do while you’re waiting?

I’d be interested to hear from more seasoned freelancers about what they do in such situations. As a newcomer, I’ve found this quite a challenge. Yes, I can hear all of you who aren’t self-employed grumbling “nice problem to have”, “wish I could have a day off” etc.

But the point is, you don’t get a day off. You just don’t get paid.

I follow a lot of copywriters on Twitter: many of them are freelance, and some of them talk about staying in bed, going to the pub or just having fun on days when they’re not busy. They may be joking. But if not, I envy them.

I still have that ’employee’ work ethic that doesn’t let me relax and take the day off when I don’t actually have any work to do. That’s not a humble brag: it’s actually a right royal pain in the arse. I’d rather just turn around and say: “Right, I’m having fun today. I’ll take my phone in case anyone calls or emails, but I’m taking the day off.” But I don’t. I try to. But then I start to feel guilty. Naughty, even.

So, what do I do? I sit at my desk and wait. While I’m waiting:

  • I tweak my website
  • I write the occasional blog post
  • I check my email and phone
  • I research potential new business opportunities
  • I read a book in between checking my email and phone
  • I go to the gym at lunchtime
  • I do my accounts and admin tasks
  • I get lost in Twitter
  • I turn Twitter off because all the other writers seem to be super-busy and still have time to write kick-ass blog posts
  • I check my email and phone again

And that’s OK. Because it’s usually the odd day here and there, and then all of a sudden things are busy again.

How do you respond when your patience is tested?

But just recently the trough has lasted a little longer. I’ve just finished two big projects for regular clients, and there’s nothing else coming through for a couple of days. I am also waiting to see if my quote for a significant project for a potential new client has landed me the job. It was nice to be asked to quote for it, but in doing so, I’ve had to curtail my usual chase for new business to ensure I have time to do the job if I get it. Nothing unusual there, that happens when you’re freelance. But when there’s a work lull at the same time, the waiting game takes on more significance, gets more frustrating, and tests your patience just that little bit more.

Except this time, I’ve changed tactics. I’ve had an epiphany. Instead of waiting, I’m going to get on with some writing. Just for me. Just because. The path that has led to me going freelance started when I took a three-month sabbatical in May 2010 to start writing a novel. I’d never done it before, but loved it. I worked really hard every day and even at weekends. For no money.

I got a third of the way through it, including some ruthless redrafting and then I had to go back to work. The draft has stayed on the shelf and in the Dropbox ever since.

You’d think it was a no-brainer to go back to the novel whenever the work dried up a little, but it wasn’t. I’d think about it, then the cycle of feeling guilty and naughty would start again. So I went back to pingling and waiting again. Until yesterday.

Give yourself permission to get creative

Yesterday I resolved to give myself permission to start writing my novel again. I’d got stuck at a certain point, and after allowing myself to go back and investigate things yesterday afternoon, I realised what I need to do to get unstuck. I need to rip up a chapter and a half and start them over again. By the evening I was getting excited by the prospect, and started having new ideas for the first time in ages.

And today I’m getting stuck into writing my novel again. As soon as I’ve blogged this. Until the work starts trickling, or flooding back in again.

Wish me luck!

Are you waiting patiently?

How do you handle the waiting game?

Is it time you gave yourself permission to do something you’re really passionate about while you’re waiting?

Thierry Henry – a poetic tribute

Thierry Henry gesture to crowd

"Hey, Gobby: What's French for va-va-voom?"

He’s back. And this time he’s bearded.

Seeing as Monsieur Henry is back at the Arsenal and back in the headlines, I thought it was about time I brought my poem about the legendary Renault-Flogger-and-Handball-Cheat out of mothballs, for the attention of a wider audience.

It was written in 2004 (hence the title) when he was arguably at his zenith: in terms of popularity and celebrity anyway.

Nice to see him back, but I still don’t like him.

Enjoy. Or otherwise….

Thierry Henry: Bore of 2004

I won’t be applauding Thierry Henry
On his PFA Player of the Year victory.

He’s an elegant graceful goal-scoring machine,
He’s quicker and better than ever he’s been.
Each goal is a masterpiece, never a tap in:
Instinctively spotting the tiniest gap in
The other team’s back line
He strides through majestic
And perfectly balanced he pulls off balletic
Defence-throwing shimmies and finds the top corner:
Turns every opposing fan into a mourner.

But the bloke’s just too good, and what’s more he is French:
He even looks stylish just sat on the bench
And wearing a tracksuit. It just isn’t fair,
Thierry just oozes more than his fair share
Of talent, athleticism, sex appeal:
Let’s face it, he even looks cool at the wheel
Of a Renault. With va va blinkin’ voom
When the advert comes on any girl in the room
Is soon drooling.  And that’s just the last straw
Adding insult to all of the injuries before.

He can’t stop scoring goals, and I’m glad that’s the case,
But I’m sick of that grin on his good-looking face
Every time one goes in.  He began as a winger!
Redressing the balance he should be a minger
Like Merson or Beardsley, Chadwick or Keown:
A player who celebrates goals on his own,
And never gets kisses or even a hug
On account of his ‘only a mum could love’ mug.

But instead he’s Adonis.  He’s hip and he’s cool,
He’s probably even a champion at Boules.
So I can’t help resenting him, feeling so green
As he struts in slow-motion, all moody and mean.
I’m hoping at Euro 2004, the headlines are full of his failure to score
Against England, Croatia or even at all:
This high-flying Frog’s overdue for a fall.
It isn’t sour grapes, I’m not that kind of man:
I just can’t stand Henry, and ‘je ne regrette rien’!