Clare Lynch is managing director, trainer and writer at Doris & Bertie, a communications agency that offers business writing courses, copywriting services, and helpful freelance writing tips on their blog, Good Copy, Bad Copy. Before joining Doris & Bertie, Clare worked as a writer, editor, and journalist for a wide range of organizations, including UBS Investment Bank, the Law Society, and the Financial Times.
Below, Clare shares what she sees as the foundation of a good copywriter, thoughts on client requests and industry trends, advice on presenting rates, and insights on working with clients through an agency rather than a one-man business.
What "tells" do you look for when determining whether a colleague is a skilled or poor copywriter?
For me, a great copywriter is like a court jester: they challenge corporate orthodoxy and tell their clients harsh truths, but in a way that doesn’t offend (I’m planning to blog about this idea).
So I look for someone who’s not afraid to call clients on their meaningless corporate jargon. Who will strive for clarity above all. Who will do all they can to avoid using awful corp speak like “driving”, “delivering”, “leveraging” and “solutions”.
What I’m less bothered about is the stuff that can be easily fixed, like typos and misplaced apostrophes.
What are some common things clients ask of copywriters that are not actually in their companies' best interests?
Two things. First, clients will argue that if we write something in clear English, we’re dumbing down.
Then there are the clients who tell you how different they are from their competitors. You produce something based on that brief and they tell you they want to talk about themselves in the same old clichéd language every other business out there uses.
Again, I’m planning to share on my blog some of my rejoinders to these arguments.
What growing realms within the copywriting world are presently sparking your interest?
I’m increasingly interested in the process of writing, particularly in an organisational context. In other words, how a great first draft gets ruined by round after round of changes from non-writers. (There’s an old saying that a camel is a horse designed by committee. Write by committee and you get ugly copy with lumps and bumps.)
It’s something I know a lot of my clients in large organisations struggle with. These days, I’m as interested in helping them negotiate that process as I am in providing them with the right words.
What do you to do keep your skills sharp?
I teach – corporate training is a big part of my business. And I talk to clients.
Some of my best thinking about writing has been sparked by something a client or someone I’m training has said. I then use my blog to distill and articulate the idea into a different way of looking at how we can become better writers.
What methods do you use to determine how much to charge for your work?
The one thing I’ve learned is to quote an estimate for the job, not a day rate. I have one client who went with another writer because his day rate was lower than mine. I later commissioned him myself at that same day rate and he took twice as long to write the piece as I would have done.
My business partner says that when I write, I get into “the zone”. It means I can cram a lot more into a day than most.
Another thing I’ve learned is to ask how many people will be reviewing the copy before you quote. The more people involved, the longer and more stressful it’s going to be to actually get the piece out of the door (see my comment about changes made by committee!).
What sets communications agencies like Doris & Bertie apart from independent freelance copywriters?
Well, I have the support of other writers who can help me turn around a big job more quickly than I’d be able to on my own.
But perhaps more interestingly, having a team behind you gives you the space to take on meatier, more challenging projects. The ones where you can step back and look at a client’s problems as a consultant rather than just a jobbing wordsmith.
Under what circumstances would you recommend that an independent freelance writer create an agency of his or her own?
Not everyone wants to take that leap, so don’t feel you have to if you’re happy as you are.
But if you do want to expand, you may find your biggest challenge is to get clients to see you as a team and not as “the only writer in the world who can help us”. I’m still working on that one!