Charging per word doesn’t add up

October 19, 2021 § 2 Comments

I still have copywriting enquiries asking me how much I charge per word. That’s a bit like asking a builder how much they charge per brick!

The fact is you’re not actually paying for a number of words, you’re paying for a solution. Just like you want your builder to solve a problem, never mind how many bricks it takes.

Wordcount is one element I take into consideration when I quote for a job – but only one. There are many factors a copywriter needs to bear in mind when they price up a job and time is a big one. Many people imagine that proofreading a 1,000-word ebook would be cheaper than proofreading a 10,000-word ebook. But it’s not necessarily the case that the smaller book is going to take less time. I’ve worked on some shockingly-written ebooks which haven’t needed proofreading so much as rewriting. It’s not the number of words from the client that’s the issue but the quality of the client’s writing in that example.

When you hire a copywriter you don’t just want some words written, you want the right words written – words that are going to make an impact with the audience you want to reach. That takes time.

Even while I’m writing this blog, I’m not thinking about writing around 500 words. I’m thinking about how to persuade those that think copywriting is just about the number of words you write that it’s actually much more than that.

Copywriting is also about proofing, checking, rewriting, jiggling text around for the best sentence flow until you, the WRITER, knows that you, the READER, would be persuaded and motivated by the words you’ve written. That’s the content test I use: what difference would the words I’ve just written make to me? And planning that sort of writing takes time.

You wouldn’t dream of contacting a solicitor and suggesting that you don’t want to pay because you’ve only got a quick query. (And if you did you wouldn’t get very far.) But somehow recognising copywriting as a professional service is a step too far for some people.

Getting your message over in nine words and not 90 is a tough discipline. It’s time-consuming.

If you have any doubt about that, try this exercise: Finish the following sentence so you have just nine words in total: “We’re different because…… ”

Let me know in the comment box what you came up with.

You have 8 seconds to catch me!

October 14, 2021 § Leave a comment

Your website copy needs to put up a good fight for my attention.

If your website copy hasn’t got my interest in 8 seconds, I’ll be off. It could be and, is most likely to be, your competitor’s copy I’ll be reading next and if they do a better job, I’ll give them more of my time.

It’s not just me who has the attention span of a flea. Data collected for online reading patterns shows that we’re all the same – your potential customers included.

Diddle around or make your copy a hard read and you lose a reader AND the chance of a sale.

Your website copy needs to:

  1. Get to the point. Visitors haven’t got time to read details like how long your business has been going before they find out what exactly it is you offer.
  2. Explain what you can do for them. Don’t bother to talk about how wonderful you think you are. Of course you think that.
  3. Be chatty, friendly and engage visitors. My blog post Let’s get chatty with the written word explains what you need to know about using the right language. Whatever your product or service is, people will seek out the techy stuff if they need to know it. Most don’t so won’t. They’re looking for a solution and just want to know if you have it.
  4. Be written so that a 12-year-old would be able to understand it. Successful web copy is usually pitched at the reading age of a 12-13-year-old. People haven’t got time to work out precisely what your copy means. You either tell them straight or they move on.
  5. Say it succinctly. Of course when you’ve hooked a reader they’ll want to make sure you know what you’re talking about and will have a look around your website for more information, maybe some customer testimonials and possibly case studies involving past work. So there is a place for lengthy copy but you’ve got to get them interested first. Your home page, the logical order of your site and the clarity of your words need to get their attention straightaway so that you can reel them in.
  6. Get it right. Nothing, nothing. nothing switches off reader interest more quickly than a mistake – in spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence flow. Visitors will be on and off a badly written page before you can say “Whoops!” And there’s no room for excuses like “anyone visiting the site will know what we mean.” Make errors on your website, aka your calling card and you’ll get prospective customers wondering where else you’ll be happy to make mistakes.

Good design has a big part to play in the success of a website and will hopefully attract attention in the first place. But the right words will make sure the content keeps that attention. You only have 8 seconds to persuade a potential customer that your website is the one they’ve been looking for. Choose your words wisely.

To hold or not to hold on?

March 4, 2021 § Leave a comment

We live in times when it’s rare to phone a company and speak to a person – and if you finally get through to someone it’s because you’ve been prepared to hold for ages and ages.

So when we make a call and it seems hopeful that if we hold on we might, eventually, speak to a human we’re then faced with the dilemma: are there enough hours in our life to do that?

I called my bank yesterday about a new debit card they’d sent out. Got through straight away – to a message which told me that their teams were very busy helping customers with the most urgent queries or in ‘vulnerable situations’ and telling me I should only continue to hold if my query was urgent. I thought it was urgent but I wasn’t in a vulnerable situation so went for the option of leaving my number so they could call me back. To be fair, they did and within an hour at that so, all in all, not a bad experience.

A bit later I had to call my doctor’s surgery whose operators were also very busy. The answer message told me, over and over (in the most boring of voices), that the surgery was operating a full triage service and it might be quicker for me if I completed an online form. I didn’t want to see a doctor, didn’t need their triage service, so had to hang on until a ratty receptionist answered and gave me a minute of her precious time. Ok, they may have to put up with timewasters but I don’t think I was one of them.

Thames Water was also busy this morning (busier than normal, according to the message) and I had to press button one, then button two, then button one again, with a message all the while telling me that I would probably find the answer to my query on their website (which I had visited before having to call because I couldn’t find the answer.) Finally I was put on hold to actually speak to someone but soon hung up because the wait was being made worse by devil hold music!

In the past when people have moaned to me about their telephone experiences, one of the top criticisms has been the message which tells you where you are in the queue. I don’t mind that because I enjoy the progress of moving from number 10 to number eight and so on. (Agreed, getting from number two to number one always seems to be the longest wait.)

I’m very definite on where I am in the hold music debate: I can’t stand it and appreciate the holding systems which allow you to choose whether you want the music or not: silence for me every time.

Then, of course, there are companies which outsource their call centres to other countries. I don’t like this calling experience even though it means I’m speaking to a real person. I know this is a huge generalisation but often either I don’t understand all that they’re saying or they don’t understand exactly what I’m saying. It takes the shine off the ‘personal touch’ experience.

Is it that companies don’t value the telephone call anymore so they feel they can cut costs, slash their call handling team and continually direct customers and potential customers to their website.

It’s come to something when even cold calls take the form of automated messages – I get quite a few of those.

The decline and fall of common phrases

February 13, 2020 § Leave a comment

A woman slammed the phone down on my friend yesterday – or did she. They were talking – on mobile phones – she got angry and she abruptly and angrily ended the call. But did she actually, literally, physically, slam down the phone on him? Probably not – unless she was also intent on wrecking her mobile.

So that’s one phrase in the English language whose days are numbered. There are others:

  1. Carbon copy. When I was a young journalist using a manual typewriter I used carbon paper to make a copy of the story I was writing. Carbon paper isn’t necessary now that we all use computers. However…we’re using ‘carbon copy’ often without knowing it. When we cc somebody on an email, we all know that we’re copying them in. We don’t all know (I didn’t) that cc stands for carbon copy.
  2. Winding down the window (of a car). We don’t do that anymore. In place of the winder-type apparatus that was fitted in old cars, we use a button and the window shoots down.
  3. Kodak moment. In the days of camera film, we were careful about capturing the moment we wanted to cherish on film – frankly because we had to pay for it to be developed and, in the first place, make the effort to go to the developer. So a Kodak moment, named after popular photographic film, was a special picture moment. These days billions of pictures are taken every minute on Smart Phones, special or not. We just snap away.
  4. Nothing to write home about – meaning it’s not big news. Back in the day, before mobile phones, people actually wrote letters to family when they had news – even sent postcards when they were on holiday! But if they didn’t have news or weren’t on holiday they had ‘nothing to write home about’.
  5. Put somebody through the wringer – to give them a hard time. Several generations back wringers were used to squeeze every last drop of water from just-washed clothes. Now machines do the hard work but we’ve carried on using the expression to suggest someone’s been drained of everything they’ve got! eg. the lawyer really put him through the wringer.
  6. Snapping a photograph. I just used the ‘snap a picture’ expression in Point 3 – where did we get that from? Simple – old cameras used to make a snapping sound when they took the shot.
  7. And, is a newspaper still a newspaper when it’s published online – no paper involved!

There must be many more phrases that don’t really make sense any more. Any thoughts? Answers on a postcard please – well, not literally. We don’t need to send postcards when we can whizz over a suggestion via the comments box.

Don’t let your mate proofread for you!

July 9, 2019 § Leave a comment

This is the true story of a guy who thought he could save a bit of money having his friend proofread a marketing newsletter for him – and is now counting the cost.

The guy’s an accountant who works on his own and wanted someone other than himself to look at the copy before he sent it out. (I agree it’s always a good idea to have a fresh pair of eyes look at your copy because the author tends to read what they think they’ve written and not what’s actually there.)

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One of his mates (who really liked English at school….) offered to do a thorough job for him and the problems started as soon as the accountant shared the copy. The duo had ‘creative differences’ – also known as an argument  – about the way the copy should be written.

The end of the story is that I did the job – proofreading only -because Rob was adamant that his words (unless they were a complete pile of nonsense) stayed the same.

He explained the friend story to illustrate how important it was to him to have the spelling/typos/grammar checked but not to receive chunks of rewritten text because he was confident about that side of the newsletter.

He also hinted – and I have no problem with it – that because he was paying me for the service he expected the work delivered to his deadline and redone if he wasn’t happy with it. If your mate’s helping you out, how good to you feel taking him to task if he takes a week when he promised to take a day?

So by commissioning a professional proofreader he didn’t damage a friendship. He’s still wrestling with an explanation for not accepting the many changes to the copy that his friend suggested. He feels he’s nearly out of a pickle – but not quite.

 

 

The secret language of the written word

April 29, 2019 § Leave a comment

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When you speak to someone they know what you’re saying because they can hear the words and, importantly, how you’re saying them.

When you text someone they can’t always be sure of what you’re saying – or, at least, exactly what you mean – because they can see the words but can’t hear the tone of voice behind them. So your innocent reply can be misread.

The same goes for content on a website. It’s a real craft to write content that’s friendly, appealing and easy-to-understand-in-one-reading.

Going back to text messages, I received one the other day from a friend who was replying to a ‘Happy Birthday’ text I’d sent her. It said: “Many thanks” which I thought was a stilted and corporate reply between two good friends. To be honest, I worried about it over a cup of tea and wondered what could be wrong – I’d got the right date, sent her a card as well (and in time) and my text to her was just the cherry on top.

It turned out, I discovered some days later, that she’d been at the hospital accompanying her mum to an appointment and had just been called in when my message pinged through. Rather than not answer it she dashed a reply to acknowledge it – a message that led me to worry for days because it didn’t sound rushed, just formal.

In the scheme of life, a slightly misunderstood text message is not so damaging because you can put it right quickly. Reality is that if you’re texting, you’ll also have the recipient’s number so that you can call to check out the meaning of something you’ve received, if it doesn’t sound quite right.

Not so simple is the website example. Many, many people will visit your site and it’ll be a long time – if ever- that you find out they’re not responding to it because they don’t understand what you’re saying. You won’t have the telephone number of everybody who visits because you don’t know who they are.

The fact here is that website content is best written by someone who initially doesn’t know your business, has to ask loads and loads of questions to understand it and then can craft good written copy to make it sound friendly, appealing and entirely understandable – without the visitor even having to try to work out what it means. I can help you with that – 07946 450708 or send an email to julie@bowlerhatmedia.co.uk.

7 essentials for successful copy

January 10, 2019 § Leave a comment

31959494_1540564399386190_3620031116922060800_nWhen you write copy to advertise your business people will judge you on the quality of your writing. That includes your posts on social media.

You might not think that’s fair because whereas you’re top of your trade – as a tourist bureau, for example – you’ve never got to grips with spelling, grammar and proofreading. Writing isn’t even part of your job – so why would potential customers care about typos? Actually you know the answer – because you do it yourself. If you read company literature that’s sloppy, you’ve immediately got a picture of said company as ‘cheap’ and a business that doesn’t pay attention to detail. If they’ve got their own communication wrong, what else are they going to get wrong? Sometimes the company becomes a laughing stock (see picture above).

Here are 7 steps that cover the basics:

  1. Read what you’ve written – not what you THINK you’ve written. A fresh pair of eyes on the job is ideal. If you’re working alone, go make a cup of coffee and come back to the copy later after a little break. You’re much more likely to spot errors then as opposed to a long hard stare at the same words in one sitting.
  2. Illustrate it – which I agree isn’t copy, as such, but is an essential ingredient for making your post/poster/blog look enticing. Uninterrupted blocks of text are off-putting. If you don’t have a photo to accompany the text,  companies such a Pixabay almost certainly do. Pixabay has a library of free images.
  3. Your headline is critical. Would it attract your attention? Perhaps you’re too close to the copy to know. Again, fresh eyes and an honest second opinion are useful. As a rule of thumb, don’t use your company name in the headline – it classifies the writing as definite advertising and reduces interest.
  4. Don’t talk posh. If you wouldn’t say it like that, don’t write it like that. Conversational rather than ‘stiff’ copy makes it easy on the reader, giving the copy a better chance of being read. I don’t mean slang!
  5. Don’t overlook numbers and little words like ‘to’ or ‘it’ . A department store local to me produced a promotional leaflet and got its telephone number wrong. It corrected its mistake by gluing white paper with the correct number over the error, thereby devaluing all the work it had put into the leaflet. I’ve also seen company literature where complicated words have been spelt beautifully but tiddly words have been allowed to morph into mistakes. Madly, headlines are often overlooked too.
  6. When it comes to blogs, make sure you categorise and tag accurately. Categories outline the subject you are writing about. Tags are more specific and pinpoint the topics within the subject. I like this explanation: a recipe for brownies on a food blog might have the categories ‘dessert’ and ‘baking’ and the tags would be something like ‘chocolate’ ‘brownies’ and ‘walnuts’. Every second around 17 posts are published on WordPress sites globally and you have to give yourself the best chance of being found.
  7. Lists are a great format to attract readers to a blog, either bulleted – or numbered like this one.

 

 

 

My Top Ten writing howlers

November 20, 2018 § Leave a comment

I was trained by a fierce, scary editor and now I’m a fierce, scary editor. These are my Top Ten writing howlers and when I see them in print, I want to scream.

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  1. You’re and your. This easily makes the number one slot because the words are not interchangeable and the mistake is made so many times by so many people. ‘You’re’ is the shortened version of ‘you are’ and ‘your’ means belonging to you. Most people know that but many still get it wrong when they write it.
  2. Apostrophes. An apostrophe is used to indicate either possession (e.g. Harry‘s book; boys’ coats) or the omission of letters (e.g. cant; he’s). An apostrophe is never, ever, ever used to suggest a plural (e.g. 1960’s; BBQ’s). Let those words be and write them like this: 1960s and BBQs. I’m not the only one to get heated about the misuse of apostrophes, the Apostrophe Protection Society  was formed ‘with the specific aim of preserving the correct use of this currently much abused punctuation mark.’
  3. So. There are times that ‘so’ is a useful word and times that it serves no purpose whatsoever. This seems to be a modern invention, as in: ‘So I went down the road.’ Read that sentence without the word ‘so’ and it makes perfect sense.
  4. Capital letters.  We all learned the rule for capital letters in school: proper nouns and the beginning of sentences. And then we grew up and many of us threw it away. For example, you may have only one mother but there are many mothers so mother does not take a capital letter. It is not a proper noun. Your mother’s name, however, does.
  5. Thing. I put this down to my fierce and scary training. I was told that there’s always a better word than ‘thing’ and using it is lazy.
  6. Hey. This is American. We’re British, writing for a British audience.
  7. Who’s and whose. This is like you’re and your. Think of who’s as ‘who is’ and you’ve got it.
  8. Could of and could have.  This can also be ‘would have’, ‘must have’ ‘should have’ and becomes a mistake because people write it as they say it. Drives me crazy.
  9. Commas. ‘I like cooking dogs and kids.’ Don’t be a psycho – use commas!
  10. Bingo. B4 and U2, for example – write English not bingo.

New data act didn’t do much, did it!

November 15, 2018 § Leave a comment

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There was a lot of fuss about GDPR (the new data act) and it was brought into being for all the right reasons. Data about you and me was too easily found and shared, partly because our details are available on the internet and partly because companies ‘assumed’ the right to share information. The latter resulted in the suicide of the 92-year-old poppy seller who received 3,000 requests in a year for donations from charities to the point where she felt too overwhelmed and distressed.

The new data act – the biggest change to the control of information for 25 years – is governed by rules to ensure individuals aren’t swamped by calls they haven’t asked for or agreed to.

What’s happened since GDPR was introduced? 

The very important thing that hasn’t happened is that our lives haven’t suddenly been relieved of those faceless, nameless, numberless calls from companies talking to us about the car accident that we haven’t been involved in!

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I was in an antique shop the other day when a dealer was asking another if he was still getting those calls because she’d just had one. I jumped into the conversation to tell her that I still get them.

I got an email yesterday from ‘Retired Millionaire’ who’s ‘super excited’ to introduce me to a crazy cash-making scheme.

Today somebody emailed me to say I’ve been ‘chosen’ to receive £1,500 – but I need to give them a bank of information before I get it, of course…

And this blog post/rant was provoked because I just received a call from someone telling me that they’ve received reports showing that my computer has been giving off dodgy readings – but they can fix it for me thankfully….

So GDPR hasn’t got the chancers

I’m amazed that contact like those I’ve described still goes on (or even did in the first place) but I suppose they’ll eventually hit upon someone who has been in a car accident and will take part in the conversation. Or they’ll phone someone who’ll believe that their computer efficiency can be improved by the person who has phoned them out of the blue. That must be the case otherwise these calls wouldn’t exist.

But sadly, while GDPR has been no deterrent to the chancers, it’s scared some charities silly and one I work with refuses to contact members who haven’t completed a ‘Yes, contact me’ form properly. Charities face fines of up to 4 per cent of their turnover or €20m (£18m), whichever is larger.

What’s it done for me?

I’m annoyed beyond reason when I get a chancer on the other end of the phone and I still get them – so I believe the GDPR hasn’t done much for me at all.

I’m sure GDPR has made legitimate companies more careful in their communication but it’s ‘other’ companies that are the bugbears of most people’s lives and it’s the ‘other’ companies that simply don’t care.

Storytelling sells the message

January 31, 2018 § Leave a comment

 

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Queen Victoria and her beloved servant, Abdul Karim

History was my least favourite subject at school. It meant nothing to me – just a list of dates that seemed to have no relevance to my life. I was more a ‘books’ type of pupil where I could delve into a good story or use my imagination and make one up. So English – language and literature –  always appealed.

Only the other week I realised it didn’t have to have been like that. I discovered how I’d missed out on Britain’s richly fascinating history. Shortly after watching an intriguing programme about Queen Elizabeth 1 and Mary Queen of Scots, I was captivated by a programme on Queen Victoria and her faithful, beloved Indian servant, Abdul Karim, who became known as the Munshi. It talked about how he’d taught her Urdu and the Queen had ignored all protests from her court objecting to her blatant fondness for the domestic help (foreign, at that!)

That tells you quite a lot about how we learn – how we’ve always learnt. Give us a list of facts and figures and many of us will find them easily forgettable.

Slot those facts and figures into a story and suddenly you’ve given them a life. Most of us will now remember.

Think about it like this: we tell each other stories, we pass on stories, we get excited about stories, we analyse stories, we SELL each other stories. We don’t do any of that about a column of facts.

And that’s exactly how good marketing works: what’s your company story? What’s the story behind that marketing campaign? Tell the story and your customers will learn about you and talk about you. Bark your specifications and they’ll quickly forget you.

Just getting something FREE, for example, is going to stick with them for a couple of blinks. They’re not actually going to learn anything about you – as decent as it is of you to offer the free offer – and frankly, they won’t remember your name tomorrow.

You’d almost certainly be better off selling your story to your customers and potential customers (for free).

Do you know your story? You’re living your story every day so it may be difficult for you to be objective and see it, to be fair. You probably need a Bowler Hat person to talk to you about why you are, what you are and when it all began and how?

It costs nothing to call to see if we can get to the bottom of who you are and why you should be writing about yourself! 01753 831604 is the landline and 07946 450708, the mobile – let’s have a chat.

 

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