On 6 April 2021, I celebrate 20 years as a freelance copywriter.
I can’t quite believe it.
That’s 240 months. 1,043 weeks. 7,300 days. And an awful lot of words.
In this article, you can indulge yourself in reminiscing and understand some recent changes.
When I launched the business, I traded as Comms Plus (it’s still my legal and accounting entity) and had 1,000 sheets of A4 letterheads printed. Since then, most communication has moved online, so I now only use the stationery to make notes and check my VAT number. I’m down to the last six pages, which is making me feel quite nostalgic.
I also had matching compliment slips printed, a plus-shaped fold-out leaflet and blue ‘thank you’ cards. Those ran out years ago, but I’ve just ordered some new orange ‘thank you’ cards to replace them (see image).
I soon realised that people book me because I’m me, so I now market my services under my own name. For continuity, the smily face remains from my original Comms Plus logo that was designed by Steve Grew, a colleague from Freemans (which is where I started my copywriting career in 1983).
My ‘Writing Without Waffle’ slogan evolved from a testimonial that Kat Trimble wrote me on LinkedIn. She said: “Jackie Barrie can write without waffle. That’s so rare,” and kindly granted me permission to quote her. Those three little words have opened many doors for me in the past two decades, even though I now do a lot more than just writing.
I also train people how to write better, and I’ve become renowned for using audience participation activities in my talks and training sessions. These days, I have three websites – WritingWithoutWaffle.com for copywriting by me and my team, JackieBarrie.com for speaking and training, and ExperientialSpeaking.co.uk for icebreakers and energisers.
Until a year ago, I was travelling up and down the UK and Ireland almost every week to run courses – mostly, to train recruiters how to write better job ads and journalists how to add copywriting as a skillset. All that has switched to Zoom. It’s more frequent (because there’s still plenty of demand and people can attend from anywhere since they don’t need to travel). But it’s less well paid.
I was also booked to speak around the world about things like making your website work. That income channel has come to a complete stop, and I had to cancel business trips to Australia, Bali, Singapore, Holland and Spain. I still get asked to do occasional presentations online. A few are paid. Many are unpaid showcases.
Aspiring copywriters want me to mentor them. Speakers and trainers want me to share my ideas about online engagement. So I’ve replaced the speaking element of my business with books, pre-recorded e-courses and mentoring programmes. Some of these generate passive income, which is great as it doesn’t depend on me selling my time. So, whenever client deadlines permit, I’m busy creating my own products.
Happily, all my regular copywriting clients have stayed with me for years, even if a few took a break last spring/summer. Word-of-mouth enquiries still come in, but not quite as often. I suspect many businesses are holding back their marketing budgets until the situation plays out. New enquiries from SEO took a dip, and are still not back to previous levels. Admittedly, that might be because I split my copywriting website off from my speaking/training website, so I’m not comparing like with like. It also means I have more capacity than I used to. And I now have a team of 10 journalist-turned-copywriters to support me.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve diversified to shape what some would call a portfolio career. 2020/21 turnover has dropped by 40%, but, with reduced expenses down, my profit is only down by 10%. And I’ve had plenty of interesting and involving and inspiring work to do while I’ve been stuck at home.
If you’d asked me a year ago what I wanted to do, I would have said “more travel!” Now, looking at old footage of rush-hour commuters and airport queues, I’m no longer sure I want to go back to how it was. Obviously, I do miss having holidays and a social life, but I’ve decided I quite like working like this.
We’re now a year into the pandemic, vaccines are rolling out, different countries all have different plans for lifting lockdown, the weather is getting better and the nights are getting shorter. So the next year – and the next 20 years – are looking promising.
I think I’ll carry on copywriting for while yet, and thank you once again for your support.
On the day I launched my business, the No 1 single in the UK was Mr Writer by the Stereophonics. It includes the lyrics:
“Mr Writer, why don’t you tell it like it is? Why don’t you tell it like it really is?”
That’s exactly what good copywriters do. We write fact-filled, waffle-free copy, with no fluff.
(Don’t watch if you’re afraid of clowns. Or balloons. Or fake snow.)