Confessions

Uninspired or not bothered?

Busy or lazy?

Attention-deficit or not-up-for-it?

Family-first or Netflix thirst?

Risk averse or glut of guts?

discuses
Distractions or excuses?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first post on this blog was on 3rd January 2010, it was called the Accidental Ad-man. In that post – just shy of 10 full years ago, yikes! – I prophesied how this blog could be an accident in the making. That’s just me being the pseudo-pessimistic, ultra-realist person I sometimes am.

Well now, at this very juncture, I feel that that playful premonition has come back to haunt me. I have become a victim of my own self doubt and analysis paralysis, which has resulted in this blog being dormant for the last few years or so.

And honestly, I have ran out of excuses.

There is nothing more I can say here to justify my lack of efforts. 10 freaking years has just dissipated into memories. A decade of the good, bad and ugly; all irrecoverable, un-editable, immutable.

It’s especially painful when I re-read my musings here, seems like I enjoyed the process of writing – just plain writing. Thoughts, ideas, observations and commentary forming out of nothingness, only accompanied by the sound of key strokes.

What a beautiful feeling.

I started this post with a few questions. Yes, they are questions for me by me, and the answers are meant to shed some light why I stopped writing. While I can easily attribute the fact that I started a family as one of the contributing factors, I feel that becomes just another excuse.

In fact, I should have more solid material for my writings with all the insanity of having 2 kids in quick succession. And believe me I do.

So why have I reduced myself to this? Maybe god knows, but I think our friend is equally perplexed. This is solely on me.

And if someone is actually reading this attempt of me trying to make sense of things, then congrats! You now know more about my inner feelings that the average person does.

Last thing, writing this was an absolute pleasure.

 

Life Took Control

Well hey, it’s been a 3-year hiatus since my last post.

I blame myself to be honest, for not keeping this sorry excuse for a copywriting blog up-to-date. You see, I really, really meant to continue writing, but circumstances of my own doing somewhat halted my drive and determination to keep the posts coming. My bad, to say the least.

Yet everything has a reason (or many reasons), and mine are very much to do with family and everything that goes along with it. In addition, I’ve had a full-time J.O.B over the last couple of years or so, which meant penning my thoughts was not high up my priority list. I slacked for a few weeks, which became months and eventually years… so here I am, ashamed of my lack of effort and motivation to, just, write.

SEO Writer
I chill for a few years and this is what happens to copywriting… damn!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But let’s let bygones be bygones shall we?

Essentially, life took control. And now I am in the midst of setting in motion the plans of what I hope will culminate in regular thoughts, insights, observations, advise, and the usual nonsense (or sense) from yours truly.

This is not a false start and I am determined not to falter. But as with all things that is being reconstructed, it may be a while before you hear from me again. It has been a whirlwind past 3 years, and I hope the trend continues in this domain, positively of course.

Before I end, it is only fitting for me to apologise to all those whom have enquired for my services in the past few years and got turned down. I must say I was very busy and would not have done justice to your company, brand or marketing plans had I taken up your project.

Hopefully soon, I will be available again to assist in achieving your marketing aims and aspirations.

Cheers!

 

The Call-ing

I got a call recently confirming a fact I discovered some time ago, something I knew about around the time I set off as a freelance copywriter.

The call I received was from one of the creative talent agencies. Yes, I was being headhunted, even though I have no idea how they have my details in their database.

Anyway, to have a talent agency contact someone who’s not been actively looking for a job for the last 4 years or so means either one of two things:

  1. They have absolutely no idea who they are calling, which from a talent agency specializing in advertising talents is in my book an epic fail
  2. The ad industry is really, really desperate for copywriters and have instructed their recruiters to go all out in search of candidates

To confirm the situation, I prodded the person on the other end of the call. “How’s the market for copywriters these days?” I asked. She replied, and I quote “agencies are looking left, right and centre for copywriters”.

The reply made me feel I had prophetic powers. I knew it, I knew it all along!

Copybox
So many things to write, so little copywriters left…

Yes, the lack of copywriters in Malaysia, especially good ones, has been one of the contributing factors in my relative success a freelancer for the last 3 years or so.

It is a trend that I noticed even when I was employed, gentle winds of change that has now culminated in an imperfect storm.  Imperfect for agencies, perfect for me… I’m actually in demand.

So let’s celebrate, yes? No.

I believe the Malaysian ad industry truly had this situation coming. In fact, a lot of people in the higher-ups knew about the scarcity of good writers, but just didn’t do anything about it.

Here’s some advise ala gratis to all agencies out there. Hey, I’m a 16-year veteran who has written for everything from TVCs to T&Cs, so listen up:

  1. Don’t treat our work as fillers to art. We are not just caption writers spoiling nice images with those ugly words. Yes, nice images attract attention, but solid and sometimes lengthy copy retains interest and helps convert.
  2. We may make it look easy, but it isn’t. While the demands of advertising have evolved, we copywriters still work with the basics; our thoughts and a keyboard. There are no apps, software or tools for us. Give us time, and respect.
  3. Don’t let us fly solo all the time. While there could be an art director and two designers in a team, copywriters are often left to fend for themselves. Dedicate more hands for copy development, two copy heads are better than one… right?

I feel copywriting has always been second fiddle to art direction, at least in the Malaysian context. Much emphasis is given to art; with art directors and designers enjoying better career prospects compared to copywriters.

Then there’s no wonder why the influx of copywriters have stagnated over recent years. Not many people can handle the merciless, under-appreciated and often underpaid nature of the profession.

But no disrespect to the art-based players in the industry. I’ve worked with many exceptional ones and truly believe they are creative wizards given the constraints, deadlines and demands of a fast-evolving ad scene.

I just wish – now that the year is drawing to a close – the decisions makers pay more attention to the development of great copywriting talents.

A rather cerebral New Year wish, but for the good of the game, I hope it becomes a reality.

Cheers to all the copywriters out there – employed or otherwise – you do it because it is your calling.

Happy New Year!

2012, Check!

Luckily the world didn’t come to an end. For me, that would have been a shame.

Simply because 2012 was my first full year as a self-employed freelance copywriter. So it would have been a real arse-luck going out so soon after tasting sweet liberation.

I started the year full of uncertainties; work was far and few in between and I still hadn’t got used to the absence of a monthly paycheck. But I guess perseverance and patience have their rewards.

Cheers to 2013
Here's to an awesome 2013... cheers!

I quickly found myself making new alliances and managed to fill up my otherwise mundane schedule. My freelancing gig also took me to South Korea for a month, as part of the Malaysian team for the World Expo 2012.

And the year is ending rather nicely, with enough work to take me over to the New Year. So was it a good year? Absolutely. Am I hoping for a better upcoming year? Most definitely!

Before I start sounding like I’m making an awards acceptance speech. Allow me to turn your attention to the real reason for this post.

We all need that little spark, that little moment of inspiration before we decide to take on a new venture. My bits of spark came from two videos that I watched online in 2011, and I would like to share them with you.

The first is from possibly the most celebrated tech genius of our generation, the late Steve Jobs. If you are thinking of doing something you never thought you’d ever do, this vid is for you:

The next video from Daniel Pink is a must watch, especially if you are in a creative industry and constantly have the  feeling of not wanting to wake up in the morning and get to work:

I felt the urge to share these videos because I believe you – or anyone for that matter – can break free from the norm. You just need to believe in one thing; yourself.

Have a great new year guys… all the best!

What Do I Do

This month marks my 14th year as a copywriter. And I still get asked this question – “what do you actually do?”.

My answer usually goes something like this:

“Well I write stuff, marketing stuff. Like print ads, websites, brochures, proposals, scripts and so on”.

There's more to copywriting, in case you're wondering...
There's more to copywriting, in case you're wondering...

Yes, that is what I do, well, almost. Over the last few years, I’ve realised something. The stuff I write is only the end result of a process that is intricate and complicated.

The act of writing is only a means to an end. The written word is my deliverable, yet the insights, analysis, research, ideas, concepts, creative inputs and opinions are my products.

To put it simply; a lot have to go on – in my head and in my actions – before I write the first line of copy. My job cannot be quantified by time, or even by how much I write. There are many combinations of variables that influence that final piece of copy I deliver.

For the most part, the pre-copy-work comes naturally to me. Due to the fact that I’ve been doing this for yonks, and because I have a good understanding of copywriting fundamentals.

But to a client, all of the above are irrelevant, as long as I help them. Help them do what, you ask?

That would be to compel action, generate leads and ultimately help them make more money.

And that, is exactly what I do.

One Year On

I never wanted to believe the little creatures that would keep whispering in my ears. “Go easy on your meds!”  I’d say.

This week marks my full year of being self-employed. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but holy crap how time flies!

MyCreatures
My fugly little inner voices, don't be fooled by their charm...

The little creatures are of course not real, they are more like my inner voices. Yes, I said voices, with an ‘S’. Seriously, the kind of baloney that goes on in my head will leave you gasping for air.

Anyway, these creatures have been insisting that I quit the rat race and plunge into the dog-eat-dog world of self-employment. I finally relented around 12 months ago, after years of annoying pressure. Damn you creatures!

Even when I did give in to the inner pressure, I gave myself 6 months. I figured I’d be scurrying back to the sanity of a fulltime copywriting  job in no time. Just like how a rat would sprint toward his hole in the wall at the first sign of trouble.

But it didn’t happen; though I’ve contemplated it during numerous lean periods over the past year.

This is no declaration of victory though. I am still only giving myself another 6 months. Thinking too far ahead only makes a person overconfident I’ve learned.

To my fugly little creatures, I’m sorry for not believing in you guys. And please, forget the meds and let’s bring out the bubbly.

The Copywriter You Want is Perhaps Just 5 Steps Away

This could be your first time looking for a freelance copywriter; or you may have been burnt before by hiring a copywriter not-so-suited to your needs.

Either way, I want to help – or at least try to help.

ColourPencila
We copywriters are a varied, colourful bunch. So who to choose?

In this often insane, not-a-moment-to-waste business world; getting things done swiftly and accurately right from the get-go is crucial. The same is true, even when it comes to copywriting.

There are many types of freelance copywriters out there – often with differing specializations – whom are available for hire. But you’ll never know if the copywriter you just hired will hit the ground running or crash and burn at the next lamppost.

But there are steps you can take to filter out ‘the unsuitables’ and help improve your chances of landing a freelance copywriter who will be in-sync with your business aims and aspirations.

And most importantly get the job done.

Let’s not waste another moment then – here are 5 steps you can take to help ensure you hire the right freelance copywriter.

Life of a Fulltime Freelancer

A lot of people ask me about how my liberation from employment has been. I always brush them off with a vague “ok laaa” or “surviving” or more recently, “it’s not bad, I’ve made new imaginary friends”.

Yes, as a fulltime freelance copywriter, I do tend to spend the majority of my working hours on my own at home. And as a writer, that’s a good thing, except when my upstairs neighbor decides to rearrange their furniture all of the sudden… damn you!

FreelancerSwin
Row, row, row your boat... until you become a robot... all together now!

Solitude let’s me tap into whatever is left in the inner reaches of my mind, where incidentally my imaginary buddies lurk.

Okay enough about my imaginary friends; they are apparently blog-shy.

So as a fulltime freelancer, things are quite different these days. While my work still revolves around clients and deadlines, there is always this sense of uncertainty that lurks over my head.

But to be honest, it is the same feeling of uncertainty I felt when I was employed. But now, I am in control – everything is entirely up to me – which is a feeling like no other. It is a feeling of exhilaration and pride one moment, then anxiety and insecurity the next. Not for the faint of heart for sure.

Ahhh yes, I’ve also become quite adept at ‘freelancer speak’, which are things freelancers say to make things look better than they actually are or just to be nice, for example:

When I Say  > I Actually Mean

I am in between projects > I got nothing to do
I just came from another meeting > I had better things to do
Sorry I didn’t answer, I was in a meeting > Sorry, I just woke up
This weekend? Oh… I’m out of town > You crazy arr?!
Let me know what you think >  Don’t think so much

Errr… you guys know this post is just for laughs right?

Why I Turn Down Jobs

Most freelancers will shudder at this thought, especially newly-minted freelance copywriters like myself. But it is a necessary evil for the greater good.

But let me make this clear – I don’t like turning down jobs.

Tick tock clock
If I spend all the time writing; who's gonna do the thinking?

Not just because of the lost income, but I also feel rather guilty. Opportunities don’t come easy these days because honestly, times aren’t great.  I often feel like I have let myself down. Maybe I should work doubly hard and cram every job I can get into my schedule.

Yes, in the Malaysia Boleh spirit, maybe I should do just that.

But then again, there is only so much I can do before the quality of my work starts to suffer. While pitching for new business and engaging new opportunities are critical for survival; I do not want to let down my existing clients either.

I have written something call the ‘Mamak Stall Syndrome’ a while back. It was about how local food stall operators often forget about you as soon as you take a seat, because they’re busy pulling in more customers.

The thing is I already have a few good clients sitting in my shop. And for me, keeping them happy is as equally important as finding new clients.

How Much?

It’s a dilemma every freelancer faces; how much to charge?

Too high and you might not get the job. Too low and you’re spoiling the market. Somewhere in between and you’re competing with every other freelancer out there.

Money Sign
Will work for dough, not the bread kind ok?

As for myself, the way people perceive me is slight problem.  Since I write as a pastime and dish out free advertising and marketing advise in the process; people expect me to charge next to nothing – sometimes none at all!

There is a difference between just ‘writing’ and ‘knowing what to write’. After 13 years of being a copywriter – now almost 14 years – it’s safe to say that I have a pretty good idea about consumer motivations, how to compel action/purchase and essentially get the message across.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still learning and there are way better copywriters out there than myself. But I do have my strong points, so I think a little recognition is in order.

Here’s an excerpt from a classic marketing book Selling the Invincible by Harry Beckwith that makes my point so damn eloquently:

A man was suffering a persistent problem with his house. The floor squeaked. No matter what he tried, nothing worked.

Finally, he called a carpenter who friends said was a true craftsman.

The craftsman walked into the room and heard the squeak. He sat down with his toolbox, pulled out a hammer and nail, and pounded the nail into the floor with three blows.

The squeak was gone forever.

The carpenter pulled out an invoice slip, on which he wrote the total for $45. Above the total were two line items:

  • Hammering, $2
  • Knowing where to hammer, $43

So, you know… as I said… the thing is. Ahhh never mind… I rest my case.