Did you know that Liz is our resident linguistics expert? In the new #linguisticsliz series she’ll be demystifying some common grammar and punctuation rules that people (including copywriters!) often get wrong in their marketing copy. Today it’s all about the humble comma.

At my daughter’s assembly recently, the class dressed up as pop stars and sang a song called “AAAWWUBBIS”:

“Two clauses in one sentence yeah

You combine never asking why

A comma here

A comma there

It’s a mess no-one can deny”

Tears rolled down my cheeks at the sheer hilarious genius of it. The song is designed to help them remember when to use a comma in a complex sentence. The parent next to me whispered, “I thought you just chucked a comma in whenever you needed to pause for breath?” “No, no, no, there are RULES”, I replied in despair through my tears.

Get rid of that comma!

I am often called on to proofread copy for a website or blog before it is sent to clients. My mother was a professional proofreader and I have BSc in Language Technology so I feel at home finding typos and grammatical errors. My most frequent complaint to our writers [Rin’s note: Including me!] is the number of erroneous commas that appear before conjunctions which I must unceremoniously delete.

It is a common misconception that a comma can be thrown in whenever the reader might need to breathe. But actually there are specific points in English syntax where they are required and they cannot be thrown in on a whim.

Introducing clauses

Back to “AAAWWUBBIS”… AAAWWUBBIS is an acronym for the most common subordinating conjunctions in the English language…

“Stop, stop! What on earth is a subordinating conjunction and why do I need to know?”

You use them all the time to join up two clauses in a sentence.

“Wait. What? What’s a clause?”

OK, let’s rewind a few pages of the textbook: a clause is a mini sentence containing a verb.

For example:

I have written a blog post.

I will set off to pick my children up from school.

If I want to join these two ideas together and make one of them dependent (or subordinate) to the other I need a subordinating conjunction:

  1. After
  2. Although
  3. As
  4. When
  5. While
  6. Until
  7. Because
  8. Before
  9. If
  10. Since

See what those initials spell?

Complex sentences

Using a subordinating conjunction I can then write a complex sentence containing two clauses instead of one. There are two ways I could do this:

I will set off to pick up my children from school after I have written this blog post.

After I have written this blog post, I will set off to pick my children from school.

If I choose to use a subordinating conjunction at the start of the sentence then I need a comma between the clauses. If I use the subordinating conjunction in the middle of the sentence then I must not use a comma.

That is the rule – nothing to do with breathing or pausing!

P.S. There are lots of other sentence types that require a comma. For example, when using an adverbial phrase. I will save that for next time!

Every business needs written content. Website copy, blog posts, onboarding materials, ebooks, pitch decks – the list goes on. In a startup or micro business, this copy is often written by the founder or another member of the team. But eventually the need for either quality or quantity – or both – means it’s time to hire in a freelance copywriter or copywriting agency.

The question is, which one is right for your business?

In this article, we’re going to look at the advantages and disadvantages of freelance copywriters and copywriting agencies. This won’t help you select an individual writer or agency – you can read more about that in this post on how to hire a copywriter. Instead, we’ll go through some of the factors you should be considering in order to decide what will suit you best.

Why use a freelance copywriter?

A good freelance copywriter is absolute gold. As well as our in-house writers and editors, we have a small but brilliant team of freelancers who are an integral part of the agency.

So we’re not here to suggest that copywriting agencies are in any way better than freelancers. In fact, there are many situations in which we would advise that you go down the freelance route.

Here are some factors that make freelancers appealing.

Cost

In many cases, a freelancer is likely to be less expensive than an agency simply because they don’t have the same overheads. They’re also unlikely to be earning over the VAT threshold, saving you a chunk of money if you yourself aren’t VAT registered.

Freelance rates vary widely depending on experience and even location (London prices tend to be higher than Bristol prices, for example). A junior might start out charging as little as £120 a day, whereas someone more specialist or experienced might charge four or five times that.

There is likely to be some crossover between the highest freelance rates and the rates charged by the smaller agencies though, so don’t be afraid to get a range of quotes. Just make sure you’re comparing like-for-like in terms of what’s being delivered.

Specialism

There are many types of copywriting – advertising, content, website copy, SEO, conversion. Each requires a slightly different skillset. While most copywriters will be able to turn their hand to more than one, many will eventually specialise and become experts in one or other.

Or they’ll dedicate themselves to a particular subject, industry or organisational type – tech or FMCG, SaaS or fashion, startup or nonprofit. By doing this, they’ll develop a base of information that means they’ll find it easy to get up to speed when it comes to understanding your business.

Flexibility

Where agencies will have their processes in place, a freelancer may well have more flexibility. For example, they might be happy to come and work in-house at your offices for a period of time. They are also unlikely to have minimum fee or retainer terms.

Retainer relationships make sense on a number of levels. First, there is a degree of work to be done upfront in getting to know the client and understanding their industry, establishing tone of voice, messaging and more. Also, in the case of content marketing, it takes time to see results.

But you might not want a long-term relationship. Perhaps you only need someone to do a small, one-off piece of work, or perhaps your budget is too uncertain to commit to a monthly outgoing. Or you might just be testing the water. In which case, a freelancer is a good bet.

Dedication

We’re not saying that agencies aren’t passionate about doing a good job – we certainly are! But when you’re self-employed, you need a degree of extra dedication that will help you stand out from the crowd and ensure you can invoice enough to survive at the end of the month.

If a freelancer doesn’t do a good job, there’s nowhere to hide. So they’re going to go that extra mile to ensure that they keep their clients happy. The good news is that if they don’t, it’s not that difficult to move on to the next one.

Just remember not to take advantage of that dedication. As easy as it is to ditch a freelancer, it’s equally easy for them to ditch you – unless you’ve put contracts in place as you would in an agency relationship.

If your business is growing and your copy requirements are likely to grow with it, then you need to be sure that your provision will be able to expand to meet that.

Why use a copywriting agency?

This is not where we do a big old sales pitch. As we’ve demonstrated above, there are many reasons why you might need a freelance copywriter. And if you find a good one, hold onto them!

But there will be times when getting an agency on board is going to suit your needs better.

Capacity

One key issue is capacity. An agency will not only have internal resources but access to a pool of tried and tested freelancers, plus processes in place for managing availability. As a result, you shouldn’t have to wait weeks before they can fit you in and you’ll never have to worry about what happens if your writer gets sick or wants to take a holiday.

Likewise, if your business is growing and your copy requirements are likely to grow with it, then you need to be sure that your provision will be able to expand to meet that. One person can only do so much work, whereas a team has infinite capacity.

Scope

Earlier in this article we mentioned the benefit of using a specialist freelance copywriter who has developed a niche of some sort. On the flipside, you might have a range of different needs that can’t necessarily be met by one person.

With an agency, you’re effectively getting access to a range of specialists without the hassle of project managing numerous freelancers’ schedules and workloads. Instead, that job falls to your account manager.

Team

Speaking of which, that’s another reason to use a copywriting agency – the team you’ll be bringing in. Each member of the team will have expertise in handling different aspects of more complex or longer term copywriting projects.

An agency will provide a fully managed service, handling everything from brief creation through copy drafting, editing and proofing, as well as managing the writers and even liaising with other professionals like designers or developers. That’s a lot less for you to sort out at your end.

Quality

We’re not suggesting that agencies produce better work than freelancers. But the reality is that there are plenty of bad copywriters out there. Choosing an agency should give you at least a minimum standard of quality.

A not-so-great freelancer might be able to get by on good luck, but a substandard copywriting agency won’t last long. It’s just too competitive out there and running a business – with employees to pay, office space to rent, insurance, accountancy fees and a million other expenses besides – means there’s no room for slackers.

Is RH&Co right for your business?

Everything we’ve written so far has been designed to give you a broad brush and unbiased view of the copywriting market. Of course, not every freelance copywriter or copywriting agency is the same. So what about us?

Cost

We don’t work on a day rate, instead quoting on a project basis that takes into account such things as the scope of the project, the complexity of the subject matter and so on. As an indication, most of our website clients spend between £1,500+VAT and £4,500+VAT with us, while blogging clients usually pay from £750+VAT per month.

Specialism

Our specialism as an agency is in working with expert-led businesses to help them clarify and communicate their message and establish their expertise through content.

This includes:

We haven’t developed one particular industry niche. Our writing team pulls together experience across a wide range of both B2B and B2C industries, from sports to SaaS, fashion to finance. We are particularly experienced in working with complex subject matter to draw out the elements that readers will find engaging.

Flexibility

As a relatively small copywriting agency, we like to think of ourselves as being pretty agile in the way we work with our clients. However we aren’t able to provide writers to work in-house on your premises.

We do work on both a project and a retainer basis, with retainer SLAs being set for a minimum of six months to ensure that we can provide the most value. In reality, most of our clients stay with us for much longer!

Team & Capacity

With both in-house copywriting resources and a team of handpicked freelancers on our books, we always have capacity to work with new clients. We also have processes in place to cover sickness and holiday absence.

We can usually book in an onboarding or briefing session within a week of you making the decision to work with us. First draft blog copy is usually delivered within 7-10 working days from briefing and website copy within 3 weeks.

Every project, whether one-off or ongoing, has – at the very least – a dedicated project manager, a writer and a separate editor to ensure that the quality of the copy we produce meets RH&Co standards. You can find out more about the in-house team on our About page here.

Conclusion

Hopefully by now you’re feeling a lot more confident about whether or not you should be aiming to work with a freelance copywriter or a copywriting agency – and whether we might be a good fit. Let’s sum up the main points.

You should choose a copywriting agency if:

Whether or not you should work with us is something you won’t fully be able to decide until you’ve had a chat with us. After all you want to know that whoever you choose, you’re actually going to get on with them, right?

If you want to get to know us a bit better, drop us a line to arrange a call. In the meantime, feel free to have a look around the site, and why not connect with us on LinkedIn?

Long form vs short form website content – which one is right for you?

In these days of snappy status updates, GIFs, infographics and the like, it’s easy to believe that short form content is the only way to get your business message across. Our attention spans have all but disappeared, right? There’s no way we’d bother reading a blog over 500 words!

Or would we? Actually, when you look at the data, that’s not quite true. Long form content – usually defined as being above 2,000 words and often many more – is making something of a comeback.

The benefits of long form content

There are three key reasons why more businesses are starting to invest in bloggers who write long form content.

1) Improved search rankings

Long form website content tends to rank more highly on search engines, especially Google, making it great for driving organic traffic. According to a study by serpIQ, if you look at the top 10 highest ranking pages, the average word count is over 2,000.

Part of the reason for this is that the longer people stay on a page, the more valuable Google believes the content to be and the higher it will therefore be ranked. When Wordstream started experimenting with long form content, the average time people spent on their site tripled.

In particular, longer articles help you rank for long tail keywords – in other words, the three or four word phrases that really help people who are looking specifically for your kind of business to find you. Which means you won’t just get more people visiting your site, but more of the right people.

2) More social shares

According to a study by BuzzSumo and Moz, the longer a published article, the more shares it will get. This works right up to the most extreme lengths, with the highest number of shares relating to posts of 3,000 to 10,000 words.

3) Better conversion rates

Long form content is also good at converting. When CrazyEgg did an experiment with long form content, they found that their conversion rates went up by 30%. While not everyone will read until the end of your 3,000 word article, those who do are much more likely to drop you a line than those who have skimmed through 600 words.

When to use long form content

To say that long form content is important is not to dismiss short form altogether, or suggest that you abandon anything other than articles of 2,000 words or more. But you do at the very least need to consider whether long form content could benefit your business.

As we’ve already discussed, long form content can help you:

However, it is likely to be most effective if you:

You’ll also need to be willing and able to invest the time and effort (or budget) in researching and writing genuinely excellent long form content. This is where a copywriting agency can make things much easier for you.

When to use short form content

The problem with long form content is that it takes a fair bit of effort. You need to be a good writer to keep someone’s attention for that long, and you’ll have to take time to research your topic well so that you add maximum value.

And it isn’t a blanket answer for all businesses in all sectors. If you’re selling burgers to teenagers, you probably don’t need to write a thesis extolling the virtues of the quarter pounder or setting out the fascinating foodie history of the sesame bun over 3,000 words.

Short form content is perfect for your business if you:

(*Although you could, of course, get a blogger to write them for you!)

Balanced business writing

It’s worth remembering that the debate about long form vs short form isn’t purely about numbers. Because length for the sake of length is pointless – as we always say, you don’t need many words, just the right ones. In the end, it’s about how much value you can add to your audience.

Ultimately, what will drive the success of your content is and always will be quality and value. Only by delivering this will you please both people and search engines, attracting the right readers, keeping them engaged, generating shares and, with luck, making sales.

Are you thinking of creating a new website or giving your current content a refresh? It can be tempting to rush headlong into the project, but there are a few things that are definitely worth thinking about before you get started.

We’ve seen far too many website projects end in disaster – or hit some serious bumps along the way – because the client just didn’t know what they needed to plan for. Did they need a website designer, superior SEO strategy, or a copywriting agency? That’s why we’ve put together this guide, to help you think through some of the key issues and make sure your website project goes smoothly, first time.

1) What’s your budget?

Website projects can spiral out of control far too easily if they’re not carefully managed. Knowing how much money you have to start with will help you make the most of that budget as you go along. It will also help you make decisions about things like whether you choose a templated site or a bespoke one, for example, or whether you use stock images or have personalised ones done.

2) Do you have any special requirements?

Most website content will follow a few standard protocols, but there are some things that can make them a little more complex. For example, if you have a shop element or want to offer online courses, you may need extra functionality. This could impact everything from which platform you choose to how much the project will cost and who is experienced to help you achieve your goals.

3) Who’s going to create the website content?

A website includes various different elements: the design, the copy (ie words), the images and the build itself (which may be done using a template as a base or by coding a bespoke site). And then there are extras such as videos or animations. Some companies will be able to provide the whole package, others will only do one or two. So for example, don’t assume that because you’ve engaged someone to “make you a website” they’ll automatically be an effective copywriter.

4) What does your sitemap need to look like?

Simply put, the sitemap is the structure of pages you’ll be including on your site and how they fit together. This can include several levels or layers. A simple website might only have one level including a homepage, about page, services page and contact page. But you might want to divide your services into subpages, for example, or you might have a press subpage in your contact or about section, which further divides into subpages for press releases, media coverage, press contact details etc.

5) What keywords do you want to be optimised for?

SEO is a vital part of any website’s success. Whether or not you use an SEO specialist (another profession to add to the list) or simply want to brief your copywriter to include certain key phrases, you need to do your research. The first step is to establish a list of key words associated with the services and products you offer. This includes problems you can solve for your clients and the types of questions you imagine they might ask a search engine. Then use a tool such as Google Keyword Planner to get more data on whether people are searching for these terms, how often and how much competition there is.

By putting in the time now, you’ll save yourself all sorts of headaches later on. If you’d like to talk through the copy element of your site, do contact us – we’d be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Have you ever had a project that involved some sort of writing, but had to ask yourself, “What kind of writer do I need?” Or have you thought you were asking the right person, only to find that’s not actually what they do?

Every now and then, someone will ask me if I can write them a press release or whether I’d be able to write the content for their social media feed. While technically the answer is yes, in reality I’m generally not the person they’re looking for. Key differences separate a copywriter from other types of writers.

If you have a writing project and you’re not sure who it is you need to hire in to do it, this guide will give you a nudge in the right direction.

I need someone to write a press release

A press release is literally that: information released to the press i.e. the media. It might be an announcement about a new product launch or an award nomination or a merger or an exciting new hire. Whatever the case, the idea is to get coverage in whatever media outlet you’re targeting. While a copywriter should be perfectly capable of writing a decent press release – especially if they have a journalistic background – the writing of the press release itself is only a small part of the PR process. Good PR professionals not only understand how the media works (and it’s a funny old world, very different from most business), they are also super star networkers and have the kind of industry connections that can get your story seen by the right people.

You need: a PR professional

I need someone to write posts for social media

Like in the PR example above, writing posts for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and so on is just a small part of effectively using social media for your business. After all, it shouldn’t be about just pushing out content – much more important is engagement. That means it’s not simply a case of crafting a few snappy one liners and leaving it at that. A good social media manager will know not just what to write but how and when and to whom, and they’ll combine great copy with images, video and other media.

You need: a social media manager

I need someone to check my writing

If you’ve written a piece of content yourself – perhaps a white paper or an e-book – it’s a good idea to have a second pair of eyes glance over your work. And though it might be tempting to run it past a colleague, it’s definitely better if those eyes belong to a professional. But you don’t necessarily need a writer for this job. While a writer or even an editor could be useful you want help shaping and developing that piece of work, if what you’re actually looking for is someone to check spelling and grammar, key facts and overall sense and flow, then a proofreader is the best person for you.

You need: a proofreader

I need someone to write my marketing plan

Writing a marketing plan is less about great writing and much more about strategy. It’s an internal document, after all. Because your marketing plan should contain everything from your client personas to your pricing strategy, it’s not something someone can really do for you. However, if you don’t have a marketing manager or team you can work with internally, then a marketing strategist will be able to help you clarify the key points – after which they can certainly write up the marketing plan document itself if you wish.

You need: a marketing strategist

I need someone to write my newsletter

This could be something a copywriter would handle for you. It’s not all that different to website content. Certainly if all you’re looking for is the written text for your newsletter, then that’s fine – and we do look after newsletters for a few clients. But if you want the whole thing designed up too, it may be beyond the scope of a writer, depending on their skill set. And if you’re getting into full service email marketing – including strategy, delivery and analytics – then a specialist email marketing agency is almost certainly your best bet.

You need: an email marketing specialist

For most other things that you might need written for your business, you’ll find a copywriter should be able to help. Our core service offering covers website copy, blogging and video / animation scripts. But we also help our clients with everything from leaflets and brochures to email templates to LinkedIn profiles.

If you still aren’t sure who you need to help you with your project, let us know. If we can’t do it ourselves, we’ll almost certainly be able to refer you on to someone who can.

If you’ve been around enough marketers, you’ll have heard the phrase ‘brand tone of voice’ at least once. But do you really know what it means? And more importantly, why it matters?

We were very excited to launch the #VFactorComp last week in collaboration with Visuable and Kimba Digital. Together we’re offering one lucky business the chance to win a £7,000 rebrand, which will cover brand visuals, brand voice and brand visibility.

All three are vital to ensure your brand gets noticed. And today we’re looking at the power of having a distinctive brand tone of voice.

What is brand tone of voice?

In simple terms, brand tone of voice is the way your brand sounds.

Imagine meeting a person for the first time. Your impression will initially be based on how they look, how they’re dressed and presented, whether they’re smiling etc. This is the equivalent of brand visuals.

Once they start talking to you, you’ll have much more to go on – not just what they say but how they say it. With face to face communication, you’ll take into account things like accent, pitch and how fast someone talks. You might conclude that they’re friendly, well educated, bossy, young, posh.

While business writing can’t rely on those audible elements, it still needs to convey the same amount of personality. This can be done through things like choice of vocabulary, length of sentence, word order, pace and so on.

Brand tone of voice in practice

To give you an idea of how this might actually look, have a read of these three sentences:

Can you picture the kind of brand you might associate each one with?

Why create a distinctive tone of voice?

So having worked out what it is and how it looks in practice, the question remains: why does brand tone of voice matter?

Simply put, it will help you communicate who and what you are as a brand and also appeal directly to your target audience.

The more distinctive your voice is, the more memorable you will be. You’ll be able to set yourself apart from your competitors and it will be much easier to win brand recognition and reach. By staying consistent across all of your marketing channels, you’ll earn people’s trust too, which will in turn boost sales and build customer loyalty.

And if you articulate your brand tone of voice in a formal brand tone of voice guideline document, you’ll also find that it’s much easier to create engaging content because you’ve got a blueprint to follow. This is especially useful if you have a number of different people producing your content, either internally or externally.

If you think you could benefit from professional help to establish your brand tone of voice, you should definitely enter the VFactorComp when it opens. Register your details on the #VFactorComp website to stay up to date and we’ll let you know as soon as it opens for entries!

Content marketing is one of those things that has a way of eating up way more time than you expect it to. Possibly because there’s so much you could be doing – writing blog posts, creating social media content, filming vlogs. It all takes time.

And I don’t know about you, but time is one thing I – and most of the business owners and marketing managers I know – don’t have a lot of. This is why we’ve put together a list of ideas that will help you save time with your content marketing.

Timesaving tip #01: Do less

This might sound like a flippant answer, but it really isn’t. There are so many ways to engage people through content marketing, the reality is that unless you have a huge marketing department at your disposal, you won’t be able to do all of them. At least not well.

Take some time to work out what your capacity is in-house – how often you can realistically expect to get a blog post out, for example, or how many social media channels you can successful keep up with? Then focus on doing that consistently and to a high standard.

Timesaving tip #02: Outsource what you struggle with

Another option is to outsource certain activities such as social media or blogging to specialists. Not only will doing so give you more time, there’s a good chance that a marketing agency or copywriter will actually do a better job. And you’ll reduce your stress levels too!

Timesaving tip #03: Set brand guidelines

This is one of those jobs that can be shoved down the to do list because it takes a little time initially. But do it now and you will reap the benefits forever. Good brand guidelines, covering both visuals and tone of voice, will be invaluable to anyone contributing content to your business. Whether it’s being done in-house or externally, by giving your creative team detailed guidelines, they’re much more likely to submit work you’re happy with first time round.

Timesaving tip #04: Create an editorial calendar

Again, this is something that represents an initial investment of time that will really pay off. By taking time to think about your content goals, your target audience and your overall strategy, you’ll be fired up to brainstorm content ideas for the next quarter, half year or even longer. Organise these ideas into your editorial calendar, cross referencing between things like your blog, vlog and social media streams, and you’ll drastically reduce your day to day workload for the future.

Timesaving tip #05: Batch task

One of the useful things that an editorial calendar allows you to do is batch task, something that is proven to increase efficiency and reduce the time spent on individual jobs. As an example, rather than scrabbling about for a suitable #mondaymotivation quote for your Twitter feed every week, spend an hour getting a couple of dozen organised and you’ll be sorted for weeks. the same goes for writing blog posts, filming vlogs and so on.

Timesaving tip #06: Using scheduling tools

If you get into the habit of writing a few blog posts or planning a fortnight’s worth of social media content at a time, you might as well get it all uploaded and ready to go. Your web platform should give you the option to schedule blog posts, and there are lots of options available for social media such as Hootsuite, Buffer and Sprout Social. Email marketing platforms like Mailchimp do this too, so you can get a head start on the bits of your newsletter that aren’t so time sensitive.

Timesaving tip #07: Repurpose content

Having created all this great content, make sure you don’t just use it once and then let it become redundant. By repurposing content and squeezing as much value as you can from it, you will save yourself an awful lot of time. Use quotes from blog posts as quotable pictures on Instagram, take key stats from your latest white paper and create an infographic, share individual slides from an online presentation as images on LinkedIn. And don’t forget simply re-sharing evergreen content from months or even years ago, if it’s relevant. The #throwbackthursday hashtag makes this especially easy to do.

Content marketing takes time to do well, but by following these simple steps you should find you can claw back at least some of it. And if there’s anything we can do to help, just shout!

If you’ve ever been to a formal networking event, you’ll have had to do a 60 second pitch about your business. I’ve delivered hundreds of these so-called elevator pitches, usually off the cuff and often, if I’m honest, a little garbled. It’s not easy summarising who you are, what you do, who you work with and what you’re looking for in a mere minute.

That’s why at Entrepreneurial Spark they’re so insistent about practising your pitch over and over and over and over again. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person to feel like it was a bit much, having to start every meeting and mentoring session with a pitching session. But as I mentioned in my recent blog post about what I learned during my time on the programme, it turned out to be one of the most important things I did there.

So how exactly do you go about writing the pitch? Here’s how I constructed mine, following Entrepreneurial Spark’s format of Hook – Problem – Solution – Traction – Ask.

Pitch step 01: HOOK

“Just do it. Every little helps. Finger lickin’ good. When it comes to creating powerful marketing copy for your business, you don’t need many words, just the right ones.”

How you choose to open your pitch will determine if people keep listening or switch off. A clever question, interesting fact or statistic, or something else a little quirky that will make people take notice is what’s required here. Remember always to think about your target audience and what will resonate with them.

Pitch step 02: PROBLEM

“There are over 200,000 words in the English language and the average native speaker has an active vocabulary of around 20,000. So how do you find the right words to describe what your business offers and make your brand stand out from the crowd?”

Here again it’s important to put yourself in the shoes of your ideal client or customer and understand what the problem is from their point of view. I might be able to see that someone’s website content has syntax issues or lacks clear calls to action, but for them the problem is more likely to be, “How do I make people notice my business?” So that’s the problem I need to be talking about in my pitch.

Pitch step 03: SOLUTION

“I’m Rin Hamburgh and I love words. I’ve been a professional writer for 14 years and set up Rin Hamburgh & Co last year when I saw the need for reliable, top quality yet cost effective copywriting services. By bringing in my team of freelance writers on a project by project basis, I can keep costs reasonable while also meeting the tightest of deadlines.”

This is where you get to talk about your business and how what you do can genuinely add value for your target audience. My solution starts off by explaining who I am and what I do, and then goes on to give a bit of detail about how I do it. This kind of insight is really valuable when it comes to differentiating your business from your competitors.

Pitch step 04: TRACTION

“We work with anyone who can’t write, doesn’t enjoy writing or simply doesn’t have the time, and since our launch in August last year we’ve helped over 80 clients ranging from small businesses to household name brands improve their marketing copy.”

The next step is traction. This is a particularly important step for a start up – especially if you’re looking for funding – and is your chance to show that you’re already up and running and having some success. But it’s also a valuable section for more established businesses. Telling people that you’ve been going for 20 years or have worked with a number of well known brands gives you credibility and helps build trust.

Pitch step 05: ASK

“Now we’re ready to increase our capacity, so I’m looking for introductions to keen junior copywriters who can join our growing team. And of course, if you know anyone who is struggling to find the right words to make their brand stand out from the crowd, we’re always here to help.”

Finally, it’s really important that your pitch has a clear ask, especially in a formal networking situation. My pitch was aimed at fellow ESpark entrepreneurs, so it was less about sales and more about support – hence the request for leads for new copywriters. But you might be looking for an introduction into a particular business, referrals from within a certain industry or people to sign up to your newsletter or join a focus group to help you test a new product. The more specific you can be, the easier people will find it to help you.

Once you’ve written your pitch, go through it and try to cut out any unnecessary words or even whole sentences. You’ll need the overall word count to be less than 180 words, which is roughly how many you can fit into a minute without rushing.

Then all that’s left is to practice and practice and practice some more, until the words roll off your tongue and you feel comfortable delivering your pitch in any situation, even at short notice – like if you should happen to get stuck in a lift with your ideal client.

Did you know that there are over 200,000 words in the English language? Or that the average native speaker has around 20,000 words in their active vocabulary? That’s an awful lots of words, even for a copywriter! So how do you choose the exact right ones to describe what you do and help your brand stand out from the crowd?

One of the things I love most about the English language is the fact that you’re never limited to just one way of saying things. A meal can be tasty or it can be delicious, it can be succulent, scrumptious, finger-licking good, or even just plain yummy. They all mean pretty much the same thing, but the one you choose can substantially alter the essence of what you’re saying.

This ability of words to change the way a sentence feels makes them powerful tools when it comes to marketing, helping stir emotion and drive action in our target audience.

So the question is, faced with so many options, how do you know which words to choose?

Step 01: Know your audience

Words have the power to connect with people, but if you don’t know who you’re trying to connect with then you’re at a disadvantage. A 50-year-old is probably looking for a flattering dress, for example, where a 19-year-old is looking for the hottest one out there. Clients based in Bristol won’t blink if they hear the word ‘lush’, whereas a Londoner might be bemused. A business client will appreciate the importance of a target or a goal, while a life coaching client will probably be more comfortable with a dream or a vision. Really understanding who you’re speaking to is vital before you start writing.

Action point: Develop detailed client personas to ensure you really understand exactly which words will resonate with each one.

Step 02: Define your brand tone of voice

Your target audience needs to get a sense of who and what your brand is through every element of your marketing, and that includes the words you use. We recently worked with a highly trained and experienced nutritionist to help her launch a new online programme. One of the goals was to communicate the scientific basis of her skill to help her stand out in a relatively unregulated industry and build trust with her audience. So we talked about nutritional medicine instead of just nutrition, and used words like consultation, clinic, and diagnostic tools. We even talked about how she had ‘distilled’ years of experience to create her new online course, where we could have said ‘brought together’ or ‘perfected’, neither of which would have subtly conjured up images of a lab as ‘distilled’ does.

Action point: Spend time working through your brand values, offering and personality to create easy to follow brand tone of voice guidelines.

Step 03: Decide what emotion you want your audience to feel

We’ve already talked about how words can stir emotion, so the question is, what do you want your audience to feel? At a copywriters’ conference I attend recently, we heard from Kerry Thorpe, Communications Lead at Ben & Jerry’s Europe. She talked about how they describe their Cookie Dough ice cream as having ‘gobs’ of cookie dough in it – not chunks, or nuggets, or portions. Gobs is far more emotive, you can almost feel it in your mouth and it makes you smile, just like a spoonful of Ben & Jerry’s does. It’s just one word, but it makes a huge difference to that product description and the way their audience feels about it.

Action point: Look at the website content of some of your competitors and think about which words make you feel something.

Step 04: Work out what you’re really trying to say

The quickest way to kill your marketing copy is to stuff it full of buzzwords. These are words that are used so frequently – and often with no real basis – that we’ve become immune to them. Things like innovative, unique, solution, exclusive… in the majority of cases, they’re lazy choices. Likewise heavy jargon is a real turn off, and meaningless cliches. Always ask yourself, “What am I really trying to say?” That way you’ll avoid waffling about your new app’s “pared back user interface” and instead simply tell people that they’ll find it really easy to use.

Action point: In language a six-year-old would understand, write down three things you want people to know after having visited your website.

If you’re still struggling to find the right words to communicate with your target audience, it could be time to call in a copywriting agency.

Last month, we welcomed our new team member Liz to the Rin Hamburgh & Co family. One of the reasons I was so keen to bring Liz on board is that she’s really different from me. Where I’m all about ideas and the big picture, she excels at the detail. Systems, processes, spreadsheet – that’s her happy place, and it’s such a relief to know she’s able to balance out my skills with her own.

But what about when it comes to creating website content for the business? Or what happens when she takes to social media or drafts an email to our clients? Will people be confused by a dramatically different tone of voice, inconsistent with the Rin Hamburgh & Co brand?

This is a potential issue for any business as it expands. The more people who are contributing to the content you produce, the more it risks being watered down. Consistency in branding is crucial for building the kind of trust that in turn generates sales and loyalty. So how do you ensure that you maintain your brand tone of voice?

What makes a brand tone of voice?

First of all, you’ll need to think about what your brand tone of voice is. This is something many business owners just don’t consider, especially when they’re starting out, simply going with their own natural style. Unfortunately this doesn’t take into account the way your audience needs to be communicated with.

Think about the way you talk to your boss, your colleagues, your other half, your kids. While you remain the same person, the way you communicate will change based on the person you’re communicating with and your relationship with them.

Brand tone of voice needs to combine the personality and values of the brand with consideration of the brand’s relationship with the client. So if you’ve not got your client personas sorted, that’s the place to start. Once you’re clear on who you are and who you’re talking to, you can start to figure out what that language should look like.

Creating a brand tone of voice document

But going back to the issue of a growing team and consistency in your content, it’s not enough to have simply thought about your brand tone of voice. You need to document it so that other people can use the guidelines to help them shape copy that truly reflects your brand.

A brand tone of voice guideline doesn’t have to be a complicated document, but it should detail such things as:

It should then go on to include a mini style guide, with directions on any specific vocabulary to use or avoid, levels of formality, and decisions like whether you prefer to use while or whilst, or whether you tend to avoid contractions (ie always write out I will or do not rather than using I’ll and don’t).

Thanks to our brand tone of voice guidelines, I am confident that Liz – and anyone else who communicates on behalf of the company now and in the future – will be able to do so in the right tone of voice.

Do you need help creating brand tone of voice guidelines for your team? Drop us a line and ask about our brand tone of voice consultancy services.