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.

Let’s get chatty with the written word

October 11, 2021 § Leave a comment

The best way of getting copy read is to make it an easy read – and to make it FRIENDLY.

If you and I had a conversation about your product or service, we’d chat about it. You wouldn’t talk like a text book because you know I’d switch off pretty quickly. You’d concentrate on trying to ENGAGE me and interest me and get on with me.

However…put the same conversation into the written word and something strange tends to happen.

Instead of trying to be the reader’s friend – as you absolutely would if you were standing face-to-face with them – the written copy suddenly starts trying to impress them. We’re still talking about the same product/service but instead of chatting away, the written copy uses big words and formal language.

I’m not absolutely sure why this happens and I know I’m not alone at favouring the chatty/friendly approach because many successful companies have tone-of-voice style guides which insist that all copy should follow conversational lines.

For those companies who use posh language, perhaps it’s because they feel that conversational-type writing dumbs down their offering. Written language is a permanent record and possibly companies feel they can’t afford to make their offer seem light-hearted. In my opinion, they can’t afford for the copy NOT to seem relaxed and the company, approachable.

There’s no way you’d be able to get round to have a chat with all your prospective customers. You can get the written word to many of them. Be chatty, be friendly, put yourself in a position to make more sales.

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.

Write it like you say it so everyone gets it

January 11, 2018 § Leave a comment

It amazes me how companies use a completely different language when it comes to their written marketing stuff which should be directly connecting with customers. They don’t write the way they talk and people have to work too hard to understand what the company’s offering.

If you see anything on my site that falls foul of what I’m about to say – please pull me up on it. I mean it. I don’t want to write anything I wouldn’t say.

A good example of the ‘different written language’ I’m talking about was nearly used the other day when a friend of mine wanted to complain about the shoddy service she was receiving from a company who was supposed to be supplying some wedding invitations for her. She started writing a flowery email to them and asked my advice, basically about the ‘big’ words she was using. There was nothing wrong with the email but I asked her what she’d say if she was talking to them about the problem. Let’s just say, we got to the point quicker by writing with words of one syllable and her message was all the more powerful for it.

There is a place for formal language – I suppose solicitors still have to use it but not many solicitors read my blog and they’ll ignore what I’m saying anyway. I’m talking to and about the people who are trying to get attention via their marketing and will struggle if they use fancy language.

I know when we’re writing we can be more thoughtful. I know when we’re talking we can often think afterwards ‘I wish I’d said that’. But if we use a mixture of those two elements in down-to-earth language we can get a good formula.

Crafting a direct message that gets to the point and dumps unnecessary frills that the customer doesn’t have time or energy – or will, frankly – to read is a skill. I think it should be a law of marketing.

I suppose a good test is to ask yourself: would ‘I’ read it?

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How do you sign off your emails?

February 22, 2017 § 1 Comment

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I’ve said it before but I’m saying it again because I still don’t know the answer: Do you have a standard sign-off for emails or do you vary it for each recipient?

I would guess that most of us throw out the rules if we’re emailing friends or clients we know well but what’s a good standard sign-off for anybody who falls into a more formal group. I don’t really have a ‘standard sign-off’ and am always finding reason to tailor it.

What I mean by that is that I’ll write the email in a way that Many thanks makes sense as a finishing phrase or Speak soon because both of those seem friendlier than many of the alternatives. I’ll take you through them as I see them:

Very best wishes – It sounds a bit over-sincere, I’ve decided;

Best wishes – alright but a bit stiff;

Best – manly (I can’t really explain why I’m giving it a gender but I said this was how I saw it);

All the best – old-fashioned and somehow too ‘old’ to be coming from someone of my age;

Kind regards – I’m not sure it’s ‘me’;

Warm regards – twee;

Regards – to the point. I feel fine when I receive a ‘Regards’  but signing off with one doesn’t come naturally;

Sincerely – not right for an email, not right for anything anymore – too formal;

Yours – same problem as ‘Sincerely’;

Sincerely yours  twice the problem of ‘Sincerely’ and ‘Yours’;

Take care – I like this, both for friends and for clients I know well. It’s not too personal but it’s friendly;

Love – I write that on birthday cards (because I love the person I’m sending them to. The same can’t be said for all email recipients so it’s not right.)

Name only – sometimes I sign off with just my name, particularly if we’re having an ’email conversation’ when wishes of any kind start to make the messages look clumsy. Otherwise it looks lazy unless you know the recipient well;

Initial only – rude;

Cheers – we’re doing business not buying a round;

Smiley – no;

See you soon – you probably won’t so as a generic sign-off it’s inappropriate;

Thanks for getting in touch – I like that;

Thanks so much for getting in touch – too needy;

Many thanks – a favourite but you’ve got to have something to thank the recipient for otherwise it doesn’t make sense. That’s why this blog started out with me saying I rewrite emails in order to be able to use this sign-off;

Speak soon – I also like this. If you’re emailing a client you know well you probably will speak soon. If you don’t know the client well yet, the sign-off reinforces the fact that you’re opening channels of communication.

So having run through many of the usual suspects I still haven’t found a generic sign-off I feel comfortable with. Something you might say at the end of a meeting goes towards deciding your ideal sign-off but it’s not a standalone decider because often you haven’t met the person at the receiving end of the email so the relationship is different.

Which means that even after giving the issue much thought I haven’t got anywhere with it. There will be some who will say I’m over-thinking the issue. I don’t agree. Every piece of communication goes towards your professional reputation and the way you close an email could be seen as smooth or awkward and that matters very much indeed.

Any thoughts??

Don’t let the little ones get away

February 7, 2017 § Leave a comment

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Watch out for the tiddlers

We  make the biggest effort to check complicated words that are tricky to spell but so often overlook the little ones that have drifted from, say, ‘or’ to ‘of’. We’ll have been concentrating our proofreading efforts on more challenging words – take something like ‘accommodate’. We’ll make sure we’ve got two ‘ccs’ and two ‘mms’ because we know that’s an easy one to get wrong.

Or if we mention McDonalds, we’ll double-check that spelling, knowing you can buy a Big Mac from the place although there’s never been an ‘a’ in the company’s name. It’s a helpful hint for getting the spelling spot-on.

But…and take it from someone who proofreads every day, the mistake we make time and time again is to forget to check the easy-peasy tiny words we can spell in our sleep/with our eyes shut/without even thinking about them.

And we’re so focused on making sure the body copy reads perfectly the howlers sometimes appear in the headline of the piece. It’s a fact of writing life: people tend to overlook headlines, subheads and captions when they proofread.

Much as I’d like a proofreader to be hired for any job that involves words I can see it isn’t happening. That being the case it’s wise to write your content, save it as a draft, walk away, have a cup of tea and read it again 30 minutes later. You’ll be surprised what you discover and your copy will be all the better for it.

Always – but always – be wide-eyed and alert when you see words like:

  • is
  • it
  • if
  • in
  • up
  • us
  • of
  • off
  • on
  • to
  • too
  • he
  • her
  • here
  • you
  • your
  • for
  • four

To name a very few…

I lost faith in the offer because the copy was spelt so badly

October 10, 2016 § Leave a comment

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I want to do yoga – frankly I need to do yoga – so when a Winter sun/yoga offer plopped into my inbox it looked just ‘the thing’. I was nearly on my way to find my leggings and book my place. And then I read the copy.

Seriously?

They wanted me to believe that there were professionals at the end of this venture into yoga which, they explained, means union of “body, mint and spirit.” (Please note: this is the sort of mistake your spellcheck can never pick up because although the word’s completely wrong, the spelling’s entirely right so there’s no reason for the spellcheck to question it.)

‘Whether’ was spelt ‘Wether’, sentences were constructed inside-out and back-to-front and the punctuation thrown randomly at the copy like confetti.

This was a three-paragraph email. It’s not hard to get that right – language/writing clearly wasn’t their strength, and they should have given the job to someone who could have polished it up properly. Then more people would have actually followed through, found their leggings and booked a slot.

When I see a company can’t be bothered to spell properly, I wonder what other corners they’re cutting.

Mind your language – would-be customers will doubt your professionalism if you don’t – and you’ll do nothing for your reputation.

I can’t buy from you if you can’t spell!

November 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

That may sound a bit (outrageously even) harsh but I’ve just had an email that’s prompted this outpouring. I haven’t even checked the supplier’s work – it may be fabulous and well-priced. But since they couldn’t manage to spell their introductory email to me properly, I’m not going to be able to find respect for them.

‘Words’ is an area I understand so I can spot their mistakes but they’re offering a data provision service that is much more difficult to check and I would only buy from a supplier who had earned my respect. They managed to trash that in their first sentence.

I know people think I bang on about stuff that isn’t critical in the ‘real world’ of commerce (where do they think I live, by the way…) but how you say what you say speaks volumes about you.

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I don’t confine my rants to grammar – but that message is spot-on

So let’s clear up some myths:

  • If you’re in sales/ recruitment/ finance/data provision…should you also be expected to produce word-perfect marketing copy or client communication?
  • Answer: Absolutely yes, if you want to be seen as a professional and top of your game. Children can be forgiven spelling mistakes, you can’t.
  • What if the error has no direct bearing on your offer? Say, the price and other info are essentially right but spelt wrong.
  • Answer: Would you visit a client if you were looking scruffy? Obviously not so don’t send them sloppy communication that suggests you overlook detail.

And the persistent offenders:

  • There (place); they’re (they are); their (belonging to them);
  • It’s (it is); its (belonging to it);
  • You’re (you are); your (belonging to you);

Apostrophes have nothing to do with plurals, for example:

  • More than one RT are RTs (not RT’s)
  • If there are four Emmas in a class, that’s how you write it;
  • The 20s, 30s, 40s etc. simply take an ‘s’ and don’t also need an apostrophe;

The tone of your communication is also really important because if people find it easy to read they are much more likely to do so. If it’s full of jargon and goes over their heads they’re unlikely to invest much time trying to work out what you’re saying. Often you’re too ‘close’ to your company to read what you write objectively and you need feedback from people outside of the business before you sign off any written word about it.

And – probably this sounds politically incorrect but it’s worth saying – if you outsource any part of your work to overseas companies or any of your staff have English as a second language, make sure you have a good look at the language they’re using when they’re writing to your customers. Non-native speakers have turns of phrases that don’t really work. As customers, we worry that you’re looking after the detail.

To some extent, corporate literature and websites can be the easier pieces of communication to get right because you’ll invest time and, almost certainly, money in getting them together. Watch out for the emails that are fired out from your company or the text messages that staff are sending to customers.

Next time I receive a ‘Hope your ok’ message I’m going to name and shame!

Money for old rope – literally

February 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

The phrase ‘money for old rope’ stems from the days of public hangings, according to a game I was playing at the weekend. Actually I know that story’s up for debate but I like it so I’m going to believe it.

Legend goes that ghoulish spectators wanted to buy pieces of the rope used for the hanging as a sort of souvenir and it was regarded as a perk of the job for the hangman to sell it.

Another explanation has it that workers in the workhouse were given used and damaged rope to pick apart to salvage the good stuff to be spun into new rope. Possible but not nearly as interesting a story so I’m afraid I’m going to dismiss it in favour of the ‘hanging’ version. Any thoughts?

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