We’re super excited to have added another writer to the team! Anna combines a natural way with words with a highly developed sense of curiosity that led her to study neuroscience at university. When she’s not writing or editing, you’ll find her on the dance floor at one of Bristol many music hot spots.

Where are you from and how did you end up in Bristol?

I was born and raised in Cardiff and hopped across the border aged 18 to study for my undergraduate degree in Neuroscience at the University of Bristol, and never left! Bristol has since become where I call home and I can’t imagine leaving any time soon.

What have you done in your career up until now?

I worked in a Cancer Research charity shop during my uni years, and don’t think I ever went home without buying something for myself! Having first dibs on the stock was such a huge perk of the job. 

 Straight out of uni I got a job as a content and marketing assistant at a travel marketing agency based in Bristol. So if you want to know where’s good to go this summer, I’ve got you covered! It was also this job that really solidified my love for content writing.

What did you dream of being when you were a kid?

A dancer! Music and dance was such a huge part of my upbringing, and I don’t think there was ever a day without mum and dad’s iTunes playlist or impressive CD collection blasting through every room of the house. And of course my sisters and I made up dance routines to every single pop song released in the early noughties!

What’s your proudest achievement?

Finishing my degree, and managing to get a good grade at the end of it. I think I knew from very early on that neuroscience wasn’t my calling and that I wanted to do something creative instead, which made the piling student debt feel all the more daunting. But I still loved the subject and was very proud to have made it to the end.

What are you reading at the moment?

Totally Fine (And Other Lies I’ve Told Myself) by Tiffany Philippou. It’s such a moving and heart-wrenching account of her life following her boyfriend’s death. I think pretty much every page I’ve read so far of my copy is tear-soaked. 

Grief is such a complicated topic and I haven’t managed to wrap my head around it yet after losing my dad late last year. Being able to read other people’s stories is immensely cathartic.

What’s your favourite thing about Bristol?

Definitely the night life. As I mentioned, music has always been such a huge part of my life, and Bristol really has something for everyone, and on every single day of the week. Any excuse to get on the dance floor.

If you could choose a Little Miss character to describe yourself, what would it be and why?

I think Little Miss Curious, because I’ve always loved to learn. Even in childhood I was constantly asking questions – I just wanted to know everything, as annoying as my parents probably found it.

What do people always find surprising about you?

That I’m from Cardiff! I always get a shocked response when I say where I’m from because I don’t even have a hint of a Welsh accent. 

What’s your personal motto for life?

I don’t think I really have one, but I do have the word ‘love’ tattooed on my ribs. Sounds really lame but I think learning to love in all aspects of life is so important.

Isn’t the quality of writing subjective? Why should I care about the personality of my copywriter? Our #EditorInResidence, Sam Whitlock, reflects on what he’s learned from coaching writers this year. 

I used to spend most of my time writing. These days, I spend almost as much time reading the work of others and talking to them about it. 2021 was a year of putting down the pen and learning to coach university students, mentor interns and teach RH&Co’s small team of trusted freelance writers.

 Somehow a lecturer and a friend also duped me into marking a mega drop of university coursework. And sometimes I can still feel the headache. But hey, that’s how I get my kicks – and at least I learned a few things along the way.

1. Writing is a science

When I told people I was handing out marks to student writers, some people asked, “But how do you do that? Writing is so subjective, isn’t it?” 

Well, after placing a grade on 40ish student writer submissions, I passed them over to a second marker. They proceeded to give them the same marks, give or take a point or two. We had our own preferences but the margins weren’t wide at all.

While writing leaves room for subjectivity, it’s not merely a matter of opinion. Disagree? Let me point you to my friend: neuroscience. 

Our brains chemically respond more to some sentences more than others. Is the writing short, clean and clear? Good, you’ll create processing fluency. Does it have a strong rhythm and cadence? You’ll hear it even if you’re not reading it aloud. Does it pick a route using an audience’s existing frames of reference? Your cognitive shortcuts will give the reader less time to get bored and look away. 

One of the most rewarding tricks is surprise. To create it properly you need to subtly subvert a person’s existing frame of reference (sometimes called a schema). Twist too far and you’ll miss the point. Play off the reader’s expectations just right and you’ll release dopamine, shift neocortical patterns and even reinforce long-term memory. 

It’s like magic, except it’s science – and an art. Some of the best copywriters I’ve coached are more instinctive about these things but they’re still able to pull a new animal out of the hat every time. 

“The best writers I’ve coached haven’t just been able to write like you. They’re able to draw on their understanding of adjacent industries, ask the right questions and begin to think like you too. ”

2. Not every ghostwriter is invisible

 No matter what brand they’re writing for, every writer I’ve worked with leaves their own fingerprints on the page – but some know how to press more lightly than others.

There are a lot of good writers that have a go-to formula for sentence composition. And they’ll use it every time, regardless of context. You’ll see the same turn of phrase, the same writing rhythm or the same metaphors creep into their work, regardless of whether they’re selling flower arrangements or HR consultancy.

But some writers are natural ghosts. I’ve seen them adapt their voice to sound just like the director general of the National Trust. Or shapeshift into the guise of a certain consultant. Or evoke the distinct personality of a founder. Just as a voice actor can play the role of Mrs Doubtfire, these writers can fade into the background almost anywhere – perhaps advising you on your housework, or maybe on your career in law.

However….

3. Not every copywriter needs to be invisible

Not every brand has a distinct personality yet. A company might be at an early growth stage, or they might just never have locked in their brand tone of voice guidelines. Or they might have adopted a generic businessy voice that doesn’t actually resonate with their target audience. 

It’s here that you want more than an absence of writer fingerprints.

Some of my favourite experiences are when a writer passes me work that snaps me out of my reverie, inspires me or even makes me laugh out loud. And it’s because they’re using what in rhetoric is called using ethos to create a sense of arête – a relatability or likeability.

In other words, they’re using their own voice to turn up the heat on a company’s personality. And they warm me to a brand I felt previously indifferent towards, along with the target audience of the piece. So while not every ghostwriter is invisible, not every copywriter needs to be.

4. Good writing is easy; good thinking is hard 

 Shifting gears, I’ve noticed that sometimes a writer’s best quality isn’t their writing. Good writers can often get away with relying on rhetorical devices, deft turns of phrase and an instinctive grasp of tone of voice. But when you’re dealing with expert-led businesses, that’s often not enough.  

The best writers I’ve coached haven’t just been able to write like you. They’re able to draw on their understanding of adjacent industries, ask the right questions and begin to think like you too. Sure, they might not understand the intricacies of data science until you tell them. But with just enough explanation, they can create new roads between the expertise you have and the issues your audience cares about.

As we’ve written about before, outsourcing your blog to the right people doesn’t just help establish your expertise, it builds it. You’re not just inviting someone to get words down on a page and out into the world. You’re inviting an outside perspective to help you join the dots in new ways – and articulate your expertise in ways that will be convincing, refreshing and even exciting to readers. It’s fair to say that you’re not just buying words.

5. You can teach people how to write 

Honestly, I’m pretty hot on this one. Sure, not everyone who undertakes a writing course is going to turn out the winner of the next Man Booker Prize. But a solid routine of learning, writing, receiving feedback and writing again will elevate anyone’s words to another level. 

One of the best moments I had this year was when a writer, who was always clear and concise, learned how to leave some personality on the page. A second was when a writer abandoned cliche descriptions of an Italian city for their own original ideas. A third was when a writer drew on what they’d learned about UX design and began to invent knockout one-liners about a highly technical product.

You can’t hack expert copywriting. While some people instinctively know their way around a good sentence, it still takes years to learn to make writing (and the thinking behind it) land with audiences every time. 

But it can be taught. I’ve seen it. The best writers aren’t usually born that way, they’re the ones who have learned the most from the editors, clients and readers they work with. Even as an editor, I still have an editor. And I wouldn’t trust my own words if I didn’t.

When we advertised for a new account manager, we didn’t expect that we would find not one but two incredibly talented and experienced women to join the RH&Co. Today, we’re meeting Jane Duffus – a journalist and author with a passion for telling the untold stories of the women who built Bristol.

Where are you from and how did you end up in Bristol?

I’m originally from Somerset so, as a teenager, Bristol was always the nearest big city if we wanted to go and see bands or go shopping. Then, via university in Nottingham and a decade in London, I ended up relocating to Bristol for ‘a quiet life’ (ho ho). I’m not quite sure how well the ‘quiet’ bit of that turned out but it’s definitely a good life here.

What have you done in your career up until now?

The first decade of my career was spent as a freelance journalist and editor on national consumer magazines, usually with a leaning towards celebrities and lifestyle, which was a fun time. 

Since moving to Bristol, my writing has developed into books and I’m currently halfway through writing my sixth non-fiction book. I tend to write about forgotten areas of history and have written several books about hundreds of women who have been unfairly left out of previous tellings of Bristol’s past. Although currently I’m researching the history of a particular record label. I also give lots of talks about my various research projects. 

Oh, and for six years I ran an all-female comedy club. It was meant to be a one-off, point-proving exercise (proving that, despite what I was told, there were plenty of funny women out there and that people would want to come to see them). It ended up spreading to almost 70 events in seven UK cities, brought around 150 brilliant women to the stage, generated national mainstream media coverage – and a book, of course!

What’s your proudest achievement?

To date, I’ve run 21 marathons and ultramarathons. As someone who used to hide in the school toilets with a book to avoid PE lessons, it’s been a massive confidence boost to run longer and longer distances. Completing my first ultra, which was a lap of the island of Guernsey in 2017, is definitely one of the things of which I am most proud.

What did you dream of being when you were a kid?

A witch. The sort who has a pointy black hat and a broomstick. I loved stories like ’The Worst Witch’ and ‘Gobbolino The Witch’s Cat’ when I was little and always dreamt of casting spells and flying about on a stick. It still sounds pretty appealing.

What are you reading at the moment?

Novels by mid-war women writers float my book. I’m a big fan of the specialist women’s publisher Persephone so, in that vein, I’m currently working my way through the back catalogue of Barbara Pym’s novels, which are an absolute delight. They’re real hot water bottle books but they definitely also have bite. By the by, Barbara lived and worked in Bristol during the war and she’s in one of my own books.

What’s your favourite thing about Bristol?

The Northern Slopes in Bedminster. Hardly anyone knows they’re there, which is extraordinary. They are three large patches of mostly wild land in the middle of the Knowle West estate and you can spend hours exploring them and often see hardly anyone else. There are woodlands, streams, lots of wildlife and, when you climb to the top, astounding views all the way across to the Suspension Bridge and beyond. They’re definitely Bristol’s best kept secret. You can easily walk past the entrance and not notice them if you don’t know they’re there.

If you could choose a Little Miss character to describe yourself, what would it be and why?

Probably Little Miss Whoops because I am accident prone and clumsy. If there are stairs to be fallen down – or up – I will do so. If there is a doorway to walk through, I will more than likely bump into the frame. And never ask me to hold a tray because I will drop it.

What do people always find surprising about you?

During lockdown, I got addicted to a computer game called ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’, having not played any video game since I was at university. I sank more than 1,000 hours into that game and, to be honest, they were brilliant hours. 

Some people seem surprised that as a 40-something woman I got so hooked on a video game about anthropomorphic animals. But those people would be wise to remember that it is also a game set on a paradise island that you design however you like, you are in sole control of, and which you are the absolute boss of. Nothing happens without my say so. Which is brilliant.

What’s your personal motto for life?

‘Votes for Women’. Some people try to cleverly tell me that women now have the vote in the UK so I can stand down. But they are rather missing the point that ‘Votes for Women’ as a motto encompasses the whole women’s struggle for full emancipation – whether that’s for equal pay, equal employment, equal political representation or much more. There’s still a long way to go. Oh, and I have a rather splendid ‘Votes for Women’ necklace which is a good conversation starter.

Around 60% of businesses never make it to their fifth birthday. As we reach this important milestone, Rin looks back on some of the important factors she believes have helped us to beat the odds.

This month RH&Co turns five. I say this month because I can’t remember the exact day. I can’t remember an awful lot from that period in my life, to be honest. I was single-parenting 9-month-old twins at the time, so I spent most days in a fog of feeding and changing and bashing out the odd email or blog post in between.

If you’d have walked down my street around then, you may well have seen me in the front passenger seat of my car, tapping away at my laptop while the babies slept in the back. Or I might have been asleep too, my head lolling against the window. Goodness knows what my neighbours must have thought.

Things have come a long way since then. We’re now a team of six with two more starting in September and job ads out for two more. We have clients around the world, we’ve won awards, attended events at Number 10 Downing Street and the House of Lords…

If you’d predicted any of those things when we got started, I would have laughed in your face. I know you’re supposed to start a business with a strategy and a vision and a plan of some sort, but honestly I started mine with little more than bullheaded determination to make it work.

Luckily, I’ve learned a lot along the way….

Surround yourself with people who understand

About a month or two before I launched RH&Co, I was invited to a networking group called Freelance Mum where you could (and still can) bring your kids along. Bored of baby groups full of mums on mat leave talking about the benefits of baby led weaning and whether or not to try sleep training, I gave it a go.

Being surrounded by other mums juggling kids and running a business was both encouraging and inspiring. These women got it! They loved their children but they had other passions to follow too. They made me feel normal and they became my cheerleaders as well. I’m still friends with them today.

My business has changed since then though. So now I have a monthly Zoom catch up with a small group of female founders who all have teams of between 5 and 15 people and who are dealing with many of the same issues as I am. Again, our meetings inspire and encourage me, helping me to see that it’s not just me.

Running a business can be so lonely at times. It really does pay to have people around who understand.

Actively pursue knowledge

One of the best things that happened to me as a new business owner was hearing about what was then called Entrepreneurial Spark and is now the Natwest Accelerator. I started on the programme when the agency was just six months old and was thrown headfirst into one of the steepest learning curves of my life.

I learned from my mentor (thank you, Andy!). I learned from other business owners on the programme. I learned from the many experts they brought in to talk us through the first steps (and next steps) in everything from recruitment and finance to growth mindset and resilience.

I’ve continued to learn since, devouring books, podcasts and webinars, attending conferences and simply talking to other people. I genuinely believe that everyone has something to teach me – even if it’s what not to do.

I think a lot of founders feel a pressure to know everything, but to me there’s nothing as important as being teachable and prioritising your own development. 

“Don’t try to be all things to all people. Understand what you do best and keep getting better at it. ”

Understand what your zone of genius is 

This is something that works at both an individual and a business level. Just as we need to remember that we don’t always know everything, it’s also important to admit where your weaknesses lie. 

I am not an especially organised person. I’m more about creative ideas and enthusiasm than Gantt charts and forecasts. While we should always be developing ourselves, there are times when we need to stay within our ‘zone of genius’ and let others operate in theirs. 

Learning to delegate has been one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in business and I’m so pleased to have incredibly talented people in my team who are far better at their role than I would be.

The business equivalent of this philosophy of staying in your zone of genius is strong positioning – check out the amazing work of David C Baker for everything you need to know on that subject. 

As a copywriting agency, we could write anything for anyone. But we don’t. We don’t write advertising copy or press releases or leaflets or tenders. Instead, we help expert-led businesses to clarify and communicate their message and establish their expertise through content.

Don’t try to be all things to all people. Understand what you do best and keep getting better at it. 

Trust the marketing process

There is so much content out there promising a quick fix for generating leads. But the truth is that there is no rushing business development.

We ramped up our content marketing efforts around the middle of 2019, increasing our blog frequency (from fortnightly to weekly), social media presence (from posting ad hoc to three times a week) and newsletter output (from monthly to fortnightly). 

For six months, although engagement was good, we didn’t see much in the way of that translating into leads.

As 2020 started, however, things began to shift. And with the exception of the first couple of months of lockdown, our revenue has increased steadily month on month ever since. In the last financial year turnover was up 55% on the year before, and we’re on track to significantly better that this year.

Overnight successes are rare. Create a solid marketing strategy and then give it time to work. Tweak your tactics, by all means, but don’t chuck the baby out with the bathwater just because you don’t see overnight results.

Don’t be afraid to fire a client

When we were first starting out, I was so grateful to anyone who wanted to use our services that I didn’t stop to think too hard about whether I enjoyed working with them. As a result, I was involved with a fair few projects that caused way more stress than they were worth.

In a creative services business like ours, bad clients usually fall into one of three categories. 

There are those who simply don’t value you and who expect you to jump when they say so. There are those who say all the right things but then disregard your advice and insist on doing things their own way. 

And then there are the really sweet and lovely clients who are nevertheless so needy that they end up taking far more time than you’d budgeted for – something the authors of Content Fortress refer to as the ‘damsel in distress’ client.

While we’re making an effort to not include any of these in our client base, it is the first group that is an absolute no-no for me. If a client treats anyone in my team with anything other than the respect they deserve, I won’t hesitate to walk away, no matter how much they contribute to my bottom line.

Running a business is hard. Surely one upside should be getting to choose who you work with?

Never stop dreaming

When I started this business, I didn’t have a vision or a mission. Five years later, I have finally articulated both.

VISION To help individuals and organisations achieve their dreams using the power of words.

MISSION To build a market-leading agency that demonstrates the highest business practices, delivers tangible results for our clients, and is a great place to work.

It’s not all that complicated when you look at it like that. But one thing the last five years have taught me is that just because something isn’t complicated, doesn’t make it easy to achieve. These are big dreams.

Luckily, I still have that same bullheaded determination to make it work. And I think maybe that’s another thing to add to the list of things you need in order to succeed in business. A belief in yourself that you can do it.

And you know what? I think you can.

Our newest team member, project administrator Kassi Marshall, opens up about a host of important topics, from mental health to the LGBTQ+ community and the positive power of pink hair!

Where are you from and how did you end up in Bristol?

I was born and grew up in Bath and went to school there. I think we moved to Bristol when I was 11. I’ve lived in Bristol longer than in Bath now so I would consider myself Bristolian. 

I think my favorite thing about the city is the variety of people and places. My boyfriend and I just moved into a new flat and when we walk around it’s so quiet, you can hear the birds singing, you wouldn’t think you’re in Bristol at all. But then 10 minute walk the other way and you’re in the city centre.

What did you dream of being when you were a kid?

When I was younger I did gymnastics and ballet and really wanted to be a ballerina. In my teens, I was rebellious – well, I thought I was rebellious – and wanted to be in a rock band. I had singing lessons and took up guitar but I didn’t get very far! And then when I was leaving school I thought about teaching, but then went and studied drama. I was very indecisive.

I actually fell into admin through temping and realised I’m not only good at it but I really enjoy it. Which is weird, because in my personal life I’m completely disorganised. And I don’t exactly look like an administrator. My last job was as a legal support assistant at a law firm.

Your hair is definitely one of your stand out features – is it always pink?

I’ve had my hair lots of different colours. I’ve always been the weird one and I embrace that wholeheartedly. My friends and I never really fitted in at school and I was bullied terribly. For a while I tried to fit in but slowly I came to accept the fact that I was different. 

The moment I left school I put blue streaks through my hair and got my first tattoo as soon as I was old enough. I just feel better with bright hair and tattoos, more me.

What are your go-to hobbies when you’re not at work?

I’m really into craft, especially cross stitch. I also like working with epoxy resin, making jewellery and trinket trays and things like that. Both started as hobbies and grew from there, so I now have a small Etsy shop where I sell my work. 

I do a bit of knitting and crochet too, although I’m terrible at it! But I do love to sew and do quilting. A friend of mine has a degree in costume design and makes a lot of outfits for drag queens, and I had a 1-to-1 session with her to make a gorgeous skirt.

Other than that I play video games, watch Netflix and enjoy spending as much time as I can with family. My mum, my sister and I are all very close and message every day.

You’ve used your craft shop to raise money for Pride – why is the community so important to you?

I’m always very open about being part of the LGBTQ+ community and I’m passionate about representation. It’s important to me to be a voice. I never used to be, I used to get imposter syndrome – I’m in a straight presenting relationship, and I present as a female. But I think it’s important to be able to talk about being gender fluid and all that entails.

In my last job, which was at a law firm, I wrote an article for the company intranet about why Pride is important to me. I was worried about what people might say but everyone was really respectful and asked really relevant questions. It helped me realise I do have a voice.

What other subjects are you passionate about?

I’ve struggled with my mental health, so that’s another thing I’m quite open about. I have anxiety and depression, and am going through the process of diagnosis for Borderline Personality Disorder. 

People often confuse BPD with multiple personality disorder, which is not what it is at all. I’m no expert, but to me BPD impacts the way I think about myself, the way I feel, and my relationships with others. For me, it explains why I always used to say, “I’m over emotional, I overthink things, I’m over reacting.”

I think there’s a taboo around talking about how you feel but as soon as you open up, people can start to understand more about how you experience the world. Learning to communicate effectively about how I feel has significantly helped.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

“Do good recklessly” – I have it tattooed on my right arm. I heard it on a podcast I enjoy called The Adventure Zone, which I’ve listened to about three times through now. The quote is something I like to live by. It’s not about being reckless, it’s about not holding back on doing good. Do good whenever you can, at every opportunity. I like that.

Read more blogs from BEHIND THE SCENES…