Why should we write?

Because writing can give us answers to our problems.

Sometimes we find clarity. Sometimes we find relief. Sometimes we hit publish and make a connection with somebody whose brain fog matches ours, and it makes us feel less alone.

Sometimes it’s just good to get The Stuff out so it’s not whirling relentlessly around our heads anymore.

We’re in the middle of the weirdest year of our lives so far. That means we’re all having to do so much more mental processing. Working through it all with words can help. A pressure release valve for the mind.

But when the pressure is on it’s so much easier to get jammed. Overloaded. How can we write when there’s no time, no energy, no headspace? So we allow ourselves to rust.

This is my clarion call to you.

Write today. Write to get lost in your ideas. Write to play (when else do we really get to play for ourselves?). Write to unearth answers to your deepest questions. Write so that someone else might read it and feel less alone.

Write for long enough, often enough, and you’ll get better.

Keep writing, keep refining, and you’ll strengthen your writing voice.

You’ll turn up your volume. You’ll find your power. You might even set yourself free.

The question is not “why should we write?”

The question is, can we afford not to?

Why side hustles are more than just extra cash

It’s 18 months since I started my freelance journey, but I’ve actually been running my business for two years this month. That’s because I started taking client work on the side when I was in-house.

Deciding when to make the jump into freelancing is such a personal thing. Some people graft for years to build up a solid business before they feel ready to leave an in-house role.

And that might have been me if I hadn’t been working in a toxic culture that, by the end, I would have jumped out of a window to escape. It lit a fire under me. I took on extra work, copywriting and teaching screenwriting on the side. I saved up a buffer, promising myself it wouldn’t be long.

I had no idea if I could manage on my own. I had run my own business before, and it had been burnout city. I worked all hours and barely made a living. I wasn’t sure if I was cut out for self-employment, in all honesty.

If I hadn’t felt like I had absolutely no choice, I might have trundled along with the side-gigs for years. I might never have jumped back into full time freelancing at all.

But the situation escalated. It was time for the big girl pants. I handed my notice in. Then – classic – I lost my main freelance copywriting gig weeks before I was due to leave my in-house job.

I took Christmas off and came back to sit at my brand new desk in my freshly painted office with precisely zero work.

Not what I’d planned.

But I can honestly say I didn’t feel worried at all.

I was elated. I was FREE AT LAST.

I got out there, the work came, and within three months I was earning more than I had been in-house.

So, yes, save money (as much as you can), and get that work on the side. Maybe those side gigs will be the clients you go on to work with, who form the basis of your whole business.

But I think, for a lot of us, the side hustle is more about proving to ourselves that we can. That we are capable, resilient beings who can go out and make new connections, find work, make money, over and over.

Taking action allows us to start believing in ourselves again.

You’re not rubbish at writing, it’s just hard work sometimes.

My paternal grandmother (a diminutive woman with a terrifyingly large presence and a beehive hairdo that increased her height by at least eight inches) was a stickler for doing a job thoroughly. Roughly once a year, she would announce that it was time to polish all the brass ornaments in the house, of which there seemed to be hundreds, and that I had to help.⁣

I would sit around the kitchen table surrounded by odd little vases and paperweights all smeared with Brasso, my cloth in hand, arm aching as we buffed everything to perfection. I remember thinking “this is work”. You don’t hate it. You don’t love it. You just keep going until it’s done.⁣

Once in a while I’ll get a piece of writing like that. A great big chunk of chewy meat that I work and work and work but, somehow, it never seems to get any smaller.⁣

At a certain point in the process, I’ll have a crisis of confidence (“this simply CANNOT be done! It will always be terrible!”), but somehow, just when you think all is lost, the grit and the muscle endures. You polish, you polish again, finally the stubborn smears start to buff out. At last, it starts to shine.⁣

Once upon a time I thought if you were a good enough writer, this would stop happening to you. That you would just sail through everything effortlessly.⁣

Now I realise the only benefit experience gives you is knowing and trusting that you’ll come out of the other side. That it will be done. That at some point you will be surrounded by beautiful gleaming brass ornaments thinking “wait – hey – I did this!” and also “holy shit my arm knacks.”⁣

Keep going.⁣

Your messaging doesn’t have to be all me-me-me.

We need to let go of this idea that telling the world about our work is all about US.⁣

Our why. What we say, what we do, the actions that we take.⁣

This hyper-masculine idea that we must always be thrusting forwards with our message is starting to feel really dated. Because we know by now that being visible online is not a high-pressure, one-off, adrenaline-pumped performance. It is a conversation that grows over time.⁣

And, like a conversation, it is not one way. There is a balance.⁣

So take the pressure off. Take the performance out of it. The more you can relax into being yourself and letting your values shine out, the more you’ll keep showing up. And the more you keep showing up, the more likely it is that your right people will find you.⁣

Not the hangers-on. Not the follow-unfollowers. Not the wandered-in-here-by-mistakes.⁣

Your people. Your front row. The ride-or-dies. The people who get it.⁣

And speaking as ourselves is only half the story. We also need to allow space in what we’re saying for people to connect.

We need to find the place where what we love lines up with what’s in the hearts of the people we want to reach.⁣

Understand us. Understand them. Throw in some words, and watch the conversation begin.⁣

Why being visible online feels hard in a pandemic. And what we can do about it.

Writing stuff online is a funny old thing at the best of times. Who will read it? What will they think? Should we go personal and risk oversharing, or go sharp and professional and risk seeming cold?

At the moment, writing content to stay professionally visible feels more difficult and more significant than ever. Personally, after a few weeks of blind panic, I realised I needed to reach out and connect with other people even more (I’m just checking you’re all still there!) but I’m painfully aware that everyone is in constantly shifting seasons, changing minute to minute. There is that trepidation of not wanting to say the wrong thing.

And we can tie ourselves in empathetic knots thinking about all the people who are struggling or being brave on our behalf. Our work may start to feel small and insignificant in comparison. We might start to question why we’re doing it at all.

Sometimes it’s easier for us to say nothing. Or to say something safe and bland that we don’t honestly, truly feel in our bones. ⁣⁣

I don’t have the answer to it, and anybody who says they do is fibbing, frankly. There’s no right or wrong here. ⁣⁣

I tell you what I do know. Take the pressure off. Nobody needs any more worry right now. ⁣⁣

If you still want to reach out but you can’t find the words, there is plenty you can do to avoid drifting into total digital hermitage:

🔸Comment on a post

🔸Like someone’s work

🔸Support a cause someone in your network is championing

🔸Send a direct message to check in and say hi

🔸Take part in a Twitter chat or Instagram hashtag challenge

🔸Share someone’s good work or a piece that resonates for you ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣

We can sit next to each other in our online communities and be with each other without needing to say profound, transformational things.

We can be kind to ourselves and each other.

And we can just be. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣

Maybe your niche isn’t what you do. Maybe it’s who you choose to do it with.

I’ve spent the last year wondering what my niche is, if I should have one, what it might be. ⁣⁣⁣
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As I’ve watched my business evolve, I’ve noticed the pattern isn’t in the sectors I’m working in. It’s in the people. ⁣⁣⁣
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The folk who want to work with me are Big Ideas people. They want to inspire their audience, open their minds, challenge their assumptions and make them think a little differently. ⁣⁣⁣
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I love that these are my crew. The ones who are passionate about what they do to the point of obsession. They have a tendency to get wrapped up in the detail and find it hard to visualise how they can get their – often complex – ideas out into the world in a smart way. ⁣⁣⁣
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And that’s what I do for them. I take their brilliance and package it up for the outside world using engaging words, thoughtfully placed. ⁣⁣⁣
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Yes, I am a marketing copywriter and strategist, but I’m not here for the hard sell. My writing is unequivocally honest and heart-on-sleeve. It aims to express the truth in an irresistible way. ⁣⁣⁣
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Soulful marketing goes like this: ⁣⁣⁣
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⚡Talk passionately about the work you love doing (no bullshit) ⁣⁣⁣
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⚡Provide evidence of your work in practice – process and results ⁣⁣⁣
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⚡Create engaging, helpful content that will delight your dream customers ⁣⁣⁣
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⚡Never ever try to be all things to all people ⁣⁣⁣
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⚡Let your values shine out in everything you do ⁣⁣⁣
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It’s that simple, and that complex, all at once. ⁣⁣⁣
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When you’re doing work that matters, to you and to those you seek to engage, this stuff isn’t just fluff. ⁣It’s powerful and essential. ⁣⁣
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⁣⁣Here’s to niching down on your values. The joy is in the soul connections.

My best biz books of 2019

 

They didn’t all come out in 2019, but 2019 was the year I read ‘em. A round-up of my favourite reads for business, writing, creativity and all that good stuff. 

 

A Company of One – Paul Jarvis 

For: Small business owners .

Essential reading for any ‘solopreneurs’ or small biz owners who prefer to focus on excellent service rather than endlessly upsizingThis book was a satisfying read with lots of case studies and plenty of clearly articulated common sense. It’s helped me reframe the size of my business (just me!) as a point of strength. No wonder it’s been the book on every freelancer’s desk this year.  

Takeaways: Bigger doesn’t always mean better

Find A Company of One here

 

Playing Big – Tara Mohr 

For: Women who want to up their career game.

Bought for me by the lovely Laura of Strike the Match, this is a book for women with big ideas who are looking to step things up a gear in their work lives. There are exercises to work through which you can take or leave – I quite enjoyed them but that’s no surprise for a recovering #girlyswot. Helped blast through some psychological walls that I didn’t even know were there. Highly recommended. 

Takeaways: Wanting to be seen as a ‘good girl’ keeps you small, perfectionism stops you getting things done, little steps can lead to big changes.

Find Playing Big here

 

Copywriting Made Simple – Tom Albrighton 

For: Copywriters, wannabe copywriters, anyone who writes for work.

A fantastic book for new starters and a great brush-up for those of us with a few more years under our belts. It’s clearly written and helpful without ever losing conversational warmth. I found it very easy to flip through and find answers to questions, like having a helpful, experienced colleague in your pocket. 

Takeaways: Too many to list.

Find Copywriting Made Simple here

 

The Art of the Click – Glenn Fisher 

For: Copywriters looking to make their words even more tempting.

Glenn’s writing is so easy to read, I always feel like he’s sat next to me talking in my ear. In a nice and non-creepy way. And isn’t that what most of us aim for as writers? This book is a brilliant breakdown of how to persuade people to buy things with words, delivered in an irresistibly entertaining way.  

Takeaways: Don’t waffle. And lots more, but I’m trying not to waffle.

Find The Art of the Click here

 

How to Style Your Brand – Fiona Humberstone 

For: Freelancers or small businesses looking to create a visual brand.

As somebody who has worked in marketing departments for the best part of a decade, I naively thought I understood the basics of visual branding. What I hadn’t considered was how well you need to know your business before you take that leap.  

This book is a brilliant guide for anybody who wants to create their own visual identity or who is looking to brief a designer. I went through the exercises in the book at the start of the year and realised I just wasn’t ready – I would have wasted my money. A year later? I’ve finally taken the plunge and invested in branding with a designer whose work I love and I’m completely giddy about it. It’s coming soon… 

Takeaways: For god’s sake, don’t just ask for a logo!

Find How To Style Your Brand here

 

Work Like A Woman – Mary Portas 

For: Everyone.

I’m a bit late to the party on this book, so I already knew it was going to be a good read. Portas tells the story of her beginnings in a tough business environment, grafting on until she realised enough was enough. She decided to create a business that reflected her own values: collaboration, trust, empathy and instinct. Really inspiring and very honest. Will make you think long and hard about what true leadership looks like. 

Takeaway: Change only happens when we work together.

Find Work Like A Woman here

 

Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert 

For: Anyone who wants to create for themselves.

Not a business book per se, but pretty much essential reading for creatives. As is Gilbert’s style (she’s the author of Eat Pray Love, among other books) a little tolerance for “woo” is required. But don’t let that put you off, beneath the hocus pocus there’s some cold, hard common sense. If you’re looking to put more of your creative work out into the world, this could be transformational. 

Takeaway: Don’t get too attached to your creative work, don’t take rejection personally, don’t suffer for your art, just keep going. It’s all about the journey.

Find Big Magic here

Discovered any favourites not on my list? Let me know what I should be reading in 2020!

PS No affiliate links here, just links to booksellers that aren’t A*****n. Trying not to point any more any money in the direction of Jeff Bezos this year…

Are marketing explainer articles over yet?

A vague number of years ago, maybe ten, somebody realised that instead of yelling at people to buy stuff online it would be much more pleasant to create helpful content.  So began the era of the explainer article. 

Broadly speaking, explainers are a helpful method of navigating through a sea of stuff. Complex political situation? Here’s a simple overview. Not sure what type of dog to get? Here’s some information to help you figure that out. Explainers swallow up all that internet fluff and barf it back up in a neat little pellet. 

Delightful. 

However. 

In the world of marketing and digital content, explainers are now everywhere. And – wow – are they relentlessly helpful. 5 ways to beat the algorithm! 5 tips to make your copy sparkle! 5 ways to grab your audience by the shoulders and shake them hard until they cry and buy ten thousand of whatever it is you’re selling!  

As a reader it’s hard to know which end is up. So many instructions – but which to follow? 

As a content creator I’m guilty as anyone else of pushing out the “value”. Problem is when it’s the same value everybody else is giving out. Does anyone really have anything new to add? How do we, as content creators, offer something different to the bland mass of general advice to a general audience? 

And how do readers stop themselves being blindsided by an internet of marketing “top tips” that threatens to become just as discombobulating as the topics it tries to explain? 

The simple answer? One size will never fit all.  Do your thing, your way. 

Writers – stop trying to appeal to everyone. It’s boring. 

Readers – the answers are in you, not in someone else’s step by step. Nobody ever got anywhere exciting by following somebody else’s plan (look what happened to Chester Copperpot). 

And if you think I just wrote an explainer article explaining why explainers are rubbish, you would be exactly right.  

Now excuse me, I’m off to write “5 ways to grab your audience by the shoulders and shake them hard until they cry and buy ten thousand of whatever it is you’re selling” because, now I’ve made up the title, that shit needs writing. 

 

I’m Penny, a copywriter and content strategist. I help businesses write words that make customers fall in love with their brand.

Want to read more? I am regularly introspective about freelancing on Instagram. Or follow me on Twitter for inane stuff like what my favourite pen is.

Picture credit Matthew Waring.

Can you take a compliment?

Last night a good friend, whose opinion I value greatly, paid me a big compliment on my work. ⁣⁣
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It’s not the first time she’s done it. She’s been doing it for a while. But although my ears hear it and my mouth says thank you every time, does it ever really go in? Does it permeate? Do I allow it to seep into me? ⁣⁣
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There is a wall there. ⁣⁣
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There is a “thank you very much for your gift, I’ll put that into a box and look at it again later”. ⁣⁣
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But I don’t. Not really. It never gets fully unpacked. ⁣⁣
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Today I thought for the first time about why that is. ⁣⁣
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Sometimes I do accept compliments – they’re usually from people I don’t know very well or people who don’t fully understand what I’m trying to do. ⁣⁣
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But when it comes from a place of real authenticity and feeling, from somebody who I know and whose own work I respect, it starts to get difficult. You can’t just fob it off with “ah they’re only saying that because they don’t get it”. Because they do get it. And that then becomes very real and very scary. ⁣⁣
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What kind of emotions would it have unleashed, if I had really sat in that compliment and thought about it properly? ⁣⁣
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I honestly don’t know. I might have cried. Big ugly snotty tears. ⁣⁣
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So sometimes it’s just easier not to. Sometimes accepting nice things makes you feel vulnerable in unexpected ways.⁣

It’s something I am resolving to get better at.⁣

How lovely it is to have the chance to receive these things. How good it would be to be able to own them completely.⁣
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Using the right words makes people take action.

I’m not about to go all political (well, not really), but there are some fundamental truths about communications in the digital age that have shown up in the recent European elections.

First truth – be concise.

Clarity is critical for engagement.

I read somewhere last week (brilliantly) that the modern audience consumes messaging like they constantly need to take a piss. This is spot on. If you can’t get your point across clearly in the first few seconds, you’ve lost your customer. They will scroll on.

As somebody who lives with small children and an easily distracted husband, I relate to this on a very real level. There is no time to dance around a subject if you want your audience to take action urgently, in a time of – well – crisis. If the oven is hot, the message is ‘stand back’.

Second truth – speak directly to your ideal customer.

If you don’t, you risk losing them completely.

In my early days of writing, this was a trap I fell into all the time. Trying to please everyone by speaking to everyone. It just doesn’t work. And as the world gets more overloaded with conflicting messaging, it will work less and less. You are not addressing the nation. You are one person speaking to another. Hone in on the people who share your values, speak directly to them, whisper into their ear, and you will engage them, powerfully.

The SNP weren’t afraid of alienating their leave voters with their ‘Scotland for Europe’ campaign. It was a masterclass in clear messaging. Here are our values, here are yours. It won them a 38% majority and annihilated the Tory and Labour vote.

Elsewhere, the Brexit party was a lesson in clear labeling for the disaffected. Even a four-month-old party with a morally dubious leader can mop up if the positioning is right.

These days we expect options tailored to our preferences. Fence-sitting just won’t cut it, we need to feel that our politicians share our values, that they will stand by us and fight for us (whether they will or not is another matter).

Don’t make those mistakes in your own marketing. Speak powerfully and authentically. Reach out and engage.