And So It Begins…

2020 has been pretty rough for most, if not all of us.

This is the year that started bright and full of optimism. And before we could seriously hit the gym – in an attempt to absolve past new year resolution failures – the shit hit the fan so hard that we are still gasping for air. Yes, literally gasping for air from under our 3-ply, suspect-quality masks.

We’ve gone from ‘What happened to Wawasan 2020?’ to ‘Why am I washing my hands every 20 minutes?’. Not to mention our political drama that on its own would have taken the cake on being a disappointing year. And then to cap it all off, a certain Merseyside club won the English league.  What’s next, Kaijus lurking beneath the seabeds to unleash destruction on humanity? It’s only August so let’s see what else goes loco. Surprise me!

Bring It On

And you know what the funny thing is? This is the year that I had planned to finally re-commit myself as a full time freelance copywriter and marketing consultant. Meaning opting out of an almost full time gig that left virtually no room for me to take on any other client. It was a good, stable, well-paying gig but of late just became too one dimensional and mundane. It’s also part of the reason why this blog has been dormant for quite a few years now. And for someone who is a copywriter by profession, it’s seriously counter-productive and soul-killing when I’m not writing.

Okay, rant over.

So here I am at the dawn of a new beginning in a year that never really got started. Yes, I did let go of that gig… a necessary step for the greater good of my mental health. Despite my sensible self constantly reminding me not to rock the boat this year, I figured let’s get a guitar on board and rock it harder.

It feels like I am back at square one, just like when I quit my last ‘job’ 9 years ago to attempt my first foray into freelancing. Not the best of times to do this. But is there ever a good time to put yourself in a uncomfortable, uncertain position? Didn’t think so.

Let the chips fall wherever they may.

So yes, I am back and ready for all marketing-related enquiries – unless the Kaijus get to me first.

Different

I’m one of those weird kind of copywriters. I don’t really read.

Well I do read a bit of non-fiction; but nothing specific, just what I happen to fancy when I’m in a bookstore or while browsing Amazon. When it comes to fiction though, I’m hopeless. The last novel I finished was probably a John Grisham in my teens.

… and sometimes I read what I say and don’t like what I’m thinking…

Even watching my sister go through almost a dozen books a month when growing up didn’t rub-off on me. I’d rather sit on the rooftop of the house I grew up in listening to Tupac’s Me Against the World while admiring the surrounding greenery.

Ahhh… the simpler times.

Despite my lack of reading, I ended up in the writing business. Most copywriters are or ought to be avid readers, and I’m pretty sure it helps them to become better wordsmiths. But me, I’m different, I tend to read the world that’s in front of me as opposed to blocking my view with a book.

There are beautiful stories playing out right in front of our eyes, no matter how inconspicuous.

I constantly take in the sights, sounds, atmosphere, ambiance and nuances of my surroundings, which in its own way has helped me become a better copywriter over the years.

How you ask? Some examples, if you will:

People watching > Analyzing consumer behavior
Watching TV > Errr… competitive analysis of other ads, provided I’ve not recorded the show
Noticing a gecko on the ceiling > Aspire to greater heights / there’s always (gecko) shit to clean up
Watching the sun go down > Holy crap, there’s a deadline tomorrow!
Hearing birds chirping > Holy crap, the deadline is today!

Well, I’m just… different.

So long, 2013…

Yes, I admit it. Since the time I started this copywriting blog in 2010, I’ve never been as laid-back as this year. My posts have been too few and far in between, and I feel like a disgrace to bloggers everywhere.

But as with all things, every downside has a reason.

You see, the momentum I built in my first full year as a freelance copywriter in 2012 spilled over rather kindly to 2013. That meant more time working on projects rather than soliciting for work.

So let’s just say I took the foot off the blogging accelerator just a tiny bit and now the New Year is staring cynically at my face.

2014
It's the 14th year of the new millennium... phew!

Ah yes… another reason for my lack of posts is also because I was busy preparing for my matrimonial plunge for the most part of the year. But this is hardly the space to talk about it, so I shall leave it at that.

Anyway, around this time last year I ended with a post that recapped my toils for 2012, along with a couple of videos that inspired me to do the unthinkable. But this time around, I’m looking forward by outlining a few things that I’d like to see happen among clients in 2014:

  1. A change in outlook to be more concerned about communicating effectively rather than calculating cost.
  2. Less emphasis on being catchy (whatever that means), and more effort in being able to identify a unique, compelling proposition.
  3. Realise that personal preference should just complement and not influence any piece of communication.
  4. Understand that copywriting is a craft that isn’t entirely based on preset formulas or guidelines; great work comes with time.
  5. Endeavour to keep things simple, concise and clear. The attention that consumers bestow is a luxury that should not be screwed with.

Amateurs get angry with clients, professionals educate them. I’ve done my bit of educating for the year; just don’t hold it against me yeah?

Here’s to a smashing New Year… cheers!

Feels Two Good

Two years ago, with no serious planning whatsoever, I decided to become a full-time freelance copywriter.

24 months, that’s a pretty long time to go without a pay cheque. And the fact that I’m still standing is a miracle of sorts… almost too good to be true.

VictorySign
Two good years, but nothing peaceful about them either...

But it was not like I didn’t have to work my butt off to get to this stage. Obviously finding clients was among my major headaches when I started. Eventually, this blog (yes, this very sorry excuse for a blog) became my number one lead generator, and still is.

Now, all my clients I work with and the projects I handle are the direct result from the enquiries I get from this website. Of course, I still had to convince these leads to become clients, which wasn’t easy nor was it always successful.

Sometimes, I get a barrage of enquiries within a space of a week, which is great. The downside to this is that I can’t work on turning all these leads into clients, without creating a backlog. And recently, I had to let go many opportunities that came my way.

This is something I hate to do. It feels like I’ve let myself down.

Being a self-employed copywriter, I tend to wear multiple hats. Often the writing itself is only a small portion of my daily routine because there are meetings to attend, clients to lunch with, brainstorming sessions to go to, materials to pick up and quotes/invoices to send.

There is only so much I can handle without compromising my quality of my copy, which is often how I’m judged on.

It’s a case of keeping existing clients happy vs. bringing in new business. I suppose I’m a loyalist rather than a capitalist.

Anyway, I would like to thank all my clients and readers for making the past year a great one. I’ve learned so much over the year that no book, classroom or even job can ever teach.

Finally, for those of you who enquired about my services, and in turn received a very polite message saying that I was very busy, please accept my sincere apologies. I truly hope our paths will cross again.

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!

Copywriter Abroad

As someone who’s been a freelance copywriter for the past year; this last 2 weeks or so has been absolute chaos.

I had to go from what-to-do-now? to what-the-freak? in a matter of days. But my time in Yeosu, Korea, for the World Expo 2012 so far has been eye-opening.

Malaysia Pavilion
An-nyeong-ha-se-yo... welcome to the Malaysia Pavilion

There are representatives from 110 countries at the Expo site promoting their nations. Each country has its own hall – also known as a Pavilion – for visitors to explore.

The crowds are massive. Some days, up to 100,000 people visit the expo. The Malaysia Pavilion alone has received up to 40,000 visitors in a day, from 9am to 9pm. It’s a sea of people everywhere you look; with performances, showcases and parades happening around every corner.

The Malaysia Pavilion – where I’m tasked with Publicity & Promotions – is actually one of the best pavilions around. Yes, I actually mean it. This is not a publicity post, it’s just the honest truth.

Dome
180-degree undersea dome projection in the Malaysia Pavilion... it rocks!

As Malaysians, we are often very quick to dismiss anything Malaysian. We tend to disregard our own capabilities and rave about what the Mat Sallehs are doing. But truth be told, we Malaysians are quite good at what we do; I suppose it’s just a matter of commitment.

Hmmm… I’m feeling patriotic all of the sudden, maybe because it is the month of Merdeka or maybe I just miss home.

But either way, I’m proud to represent Malaysia here. 2 more weeks to go… and more pictures to follow soon, when I find the time.

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.