“So, how do you know what to write?” What to give to a copywriter to help them get it right, first time
I was at the dentist yesterday when he asked what I did for a living.
“I’m a copywriter,” I said. “I write words for businesses.”
“Which industry?” he asked.
“Any,” I said. “I’ve written for almost all industries.”
“What about dental?”
“Hmm. You got me there,” I said. “I’ve never written copy for a dentist before.”
He seemed perplexed by my occupation for a few seconds, then he finally asked, “So, how do you know what to write for so many different businesses? Do you do a lot of reading?”
It’s a great question. In fact, it’s probably the most frequently asked question I get when I explain to people what I do.
There is a common misconception that copywriters have an encyclopedic knowledge of all subjects known to man, and therefore, can write technically accurate copy with little assistance. Sometimes, as the copywriter on a project, I’m expected to just know what to write.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. While I wish that my general knowledge was above average, and I was as comfortable writing about drone technology as I am penning prose on wastewater management, I absolutely have to do research. Or, at the very least, work closely with the client to understand the key messages and technical points that need to be communicated to meet specific objectives.
The fact is, we simply aren’t subject matter experts for your business or industry. But it’s very likely that you are, or at least there is someone in the business who is. Our job is to take this expertise and repackage it into words that educate, engage, excite or entertain. And do it using bloody good English too.
When a copywriter is engaged by a client to write copy, they generally need a bit of guidance initially until they have built up enough knowledge about your business and your industry that they can become reasonably self-sufficient.
For me, being a fairly casual operator, this could be in the form of a chat over the phone, or an email with relevant links (or both). And the more information you can provide me with, the better the final outcome will be.
Many copywriters have a copywriting brief of some description that they give to the client to fill out. I don’t, and I’m probably in the minority to be honest. The main reason I don’t use a formal briefing form is because I can generally get all the information that I need from speaking with the client and asking them questions over the phone or email. The other reason I don’t use one is that many of my small business clients are unfamiliar with completing briefs, and find them a bit of a hassle. And I like to try and make things as easy as possible for my clients, without compromising the quality of the work that I do.
There are, however, some key ingredients that can be really helpful when engaging a copywriter for the first time. Here’s a quick list:
If you’ve already come up with some rough bullet points, or even some draft copy, that’s ideal. Not only will it ensure we get on the same page quickly, but it will save me time (and you money) by ensuring we hit the mark quickly.
But, if you are struggling to reach the point of knowing what to write, don’t worry. I’ll work with you to tease out the important parts and ask specific questions to get what I need in order to craft a beautiful piece of copy.
Once I’ve done some work for you, and you’re happy with the outcome, I’m confident that I’ll have enough of a grasp on your business, industry and style to work independently if needed. Whether this means that I start suggesting content that I think will be of value, or you continue to provide a specific brief each time, we’ll work out a process that feels right.
If you still have reservations about engaging or briefing a copywriter, I’d be happy to give you some guidance. Just email me here.
I was recently interviewed about work, life and balance by the team behind Balance the Grind. Balance the Grind is a platform for conversations with people from all walks of life about their careers, their daily rituals and how they achieve some semblance of work life balance.
When I was approached to do the interview, I felt a little ‘fraud-y’. After all, I’m new at this too and I certainly don’t have aspirations to be the next Sheryl Sandberg. What could I possibly shed any light on? But then I realised that the sort of stories I really connect to are about ordinary people doing things that feel relevant to my own life and seem vaguely achievable.
So, my interview may not be groundbreaking but it’s honest and will give you a little insight into my work life and daily routine. I hope you enjoy it!
Read the full interview
I’m not a natural goal setter. In fact, I was once asked in a job interview to describe a time I set and achieved a goal. I muddled my way through a very weak answer about a team project I had worked on, then sat in awkward silence knowing that I certainly hadn’t nailed the answer. I didn’t get the job, but a few months later, they offered me a more senior position in the team, with better pay, reinforcing my unscientific belief that we all don’t have to be natural goal setters to succeed.
I’m not sure whether my aversion to goal setting is because I’m worried about committing to something and failing, or due to the fact that I’m simply not someone who plans a lot in advance. When it comes to my freelance copywriting and e-commerce business, I’ve generally been a ‘learn-and-improve-as-you-go’ business owner. I’ve had a general idea of the strengths and weaknesses of each business, and how I want to develop and grow each one. But have I sat down and written out a set of goals that are S(pecific) + M(easurable) + A(ttainable) + R(elevant) + T(imely)? Nope.
On paper, SMART goals make sense. By definition, SMART goals clarify your ideas, focus your efforts, use your time and resources productively, and achieve what you want in life. It does sound useful – particularly for new business owners who can sometimes feel they are working a lot but seeing little progress. So, as 2019 hits its final weeks, I thought I would take a deep breath and set some goals for 2020 that are less scary and more SMART. My approach? Keep it simple. Think of some things you want to change about your business, and then identify roughly how to get there. Write it down, tell someone who is at least mildly interested, or commit it to memory. Whatever you decide to do, it doesn’t have to be a scary, formal process complete with a PowerPoint slide and spreadsheet.
To give you some goal-setting inspiration, here are four of my business goals for 2020:
1. Reduce expenses
I know where most of my money is going, and it’s paid advertising for my e-commerce business. Advertising, such as Google or Facebook Ads, is necessary to get customers to your website (the saying ‘If you build it, they will come’ is certainly not true in the online business world), but I need to make sure that the spend is as optimal as possible. This means that there’s very little wastage in terms of costly clicks that don’t turn into a sale, and ad copy and keyword lists are as effective and relevant as possible.
How am I going to achieve this? By setting aside some time to really scrutinise advertising performance over the past 12 months, consider changing how much I’m spending and where I’m spending it, and reviewing and optimising ad copy and keywords. The measure? More sales at a lower Cost Per Acquisition (CPA).
2. Learn something new
Ever since I started in the business world, I’ve been saying to myself, “I need to do a small business course”. It makes sense, right? After all, you don’t get taught how to run a business at school (I wish!). As time has passed, I’ve done a huge amount of learning just by running into issues and working out how to resolve them – whether through online research, listening to business podcasts or speaking to people with far more experience than me.
The motivation to do a general small business course is lessening, but that doesn’t mean I won’t sign up for some training – it just might be more specific to what I’m struggling with now that I’m a few years in. It might also take the format of something that I can complete online in my own time, which is important when you need to be around during the day to keep your business running. I’m not sure which aspect of business I want to learn more about yet – but I’m committed to completing at least one course in 2020.
3. Get on top of numbers
Accounting software, like Xero, makes it really easy to track your income, expenses and profit. But that doesn’t mean that I’m across my numbers, because what these tools don’t take care of is the sinking feeling I get whenever I open a report. There are just some things I don’t want to know about because it’s not going to be pretty. Having said that, I also know that it’s important to stay on top of your numbers so you can spot any problems straight away and make the necessary changes to ensure your business continues to thrive.
My plan for tackling this is to simply look at some basic reporting so I can understand what’s coming in, what’s going out, and the areas I need to review. Hell, I might even book a session in with my accountant. Measuring this is simple. If someone was to ask me about my financials, I’d love to be able to bore them with an accurate and coherent summary.
4. Simplify the business
This one’s a little more ambiguous, but I want to keep my businesses simple so that they are less stressful and taxing on the brain (who needs that?). For example, my e-commerce business has LOTS of different products and suppliers, including products that are selling well, and some that aren’t. I also went a bit overboard in the beginning in regards to packaging design and collateral, so even though lots of options are great, it also overcomplicates the process unnecessarily and adds to the cost.
Over the past year or so, I’ve become clearer on what’s working and what’s not working. So, in 2020, I plan to strip things back a little, and refine my inventory and offering down to the bare essentials. I can’t wait to Marie Kondo my business, and I’m sure I’ll measure the success of this goal by how much lighter I feel and, hopefully, reduced stress levels.
I hope I’ve helped you feel a little less daunted about goal setting. Although I’m not an expert, I don’t think that setting goals has to be a formal, intimidating process. Just keep it simple and we’ll both head into the new year with a little bit of excitement about what’s to come.
When I was editing an e-book for a client recently, I realised that a lot of what I was doing was reformatting the content to improve its readability. The technical information was impressive, but it wasn’t easy to digest. The content was dense, with long sentences that sometimes had to be read a couple of times in order to understand the key message the client was trying to get across.
That’s where a professional copywriter is in their element. Not only can we see what needs to be done to ensure the information is easily understood by the target audience, we’re objective enough to be able to cut out the unnecessary bits that don’t add any value. Yes, it might hurt a little at first (after all, you’re proud of your work as you should be), but in the long run, it’s more important to end up with content that’s a pleasure to read, than something that is long-winded, confusing or boring.
If you struggle with keeping things concise and well-structured, here are some quick tips to take your content from rambling to readable:
1. Skip the buzzwords
Yes, you want to convey your expertise on a topic, but your content shouldn’t read like a university thesis. Why not? Well, to start with, unless your target readers are university professors, they’re probably not there to spend hours immersed in the detail. They want the right information delivered in the right way: short snackable sentences, a friendly tone, and language and examples they can relate to and understand.
Always consider your audience first and foremost when you’re writing content, and look after them. Take them by the hand and guide them through the information without giving in to the urge to dazzle them with your technical know-how and industry buzzwords. Keep sentences on the shorter side and avoid using words with too many syllables – there’s always a simpler way of saying something.
2. Engage with clever sub-headings
Content that’s easy to read, whether it’s on a website, in a blog article or a sales letter you received in the mail, is generally broken down into bite-sized chunks. That’s because time-poor readers often just want to scan the page to absorb the important bits. They want to get to the information they’re interested in without having to run the whole marathon.
How do you help them do this? With engaging sub-headings that capture what the paragraph is about and encourage your audience to read on. By taking a solid page of information and breaking it down into distinct paragraphs, each with their own stylish little hat on, you’re not only making your content easier to scan and absorb, you’re also enticing the reader to keep going by essentially adding a mini advertisement for what they’re about to read.
3. Light the way with signposts
Signposts are words you use to help readers navigate your content. They help connect thoughts, remind readers of what they’ve just read, and tell them where they’re going next. For example, words such as ‘In addition’, ‘As a result’ and ‘In summary’, or even a question you pose, can connect sentences so that information is easier to understand.
Signposts are important in making your content more readable because sometimes attention spans are short and distractions happen. Your readers’ attention might be starting to fade, so a good signpost at the right time will quickly bring them back to the point you’re making. Think about adding a question at the start of a paragraph such as ‘How does this benefit you?’ That’s enough to quickly grab someone’s attention and help them navigate a complex topic with you.
4. Break it up with call out boxes
A visually attractive way of breaking up content and making it more readable is with call out boxes containing quotes from your content (pull quotes), or additional information such as tips or fun facts. By sprinkling them throughout your content, not only do they effectively break up slabs of words, they also highlight the important information that you really want the readers to take away.
Choose interesting quotes that will entice readers to keep going, and stick to one thought per quote. It’s also best to have a little distance between the quote you choose and where it appears in the actual text, so it doesn’t feel repetitive to read. And, finally, don’t overdo it. You want your call-out boxes to be a welcome feature, not an over-used distraction.
5. Get your (bullet) point across
As a copywriter who creates a lot of online content, I love bullet points. They break down information into short snippets, they’re easy for readers to scan (super important for website and email copy) and they’re a great way to highlight key information. Use bullet points when you want to convey complex information quickly or reinforce key messages in a way that’s easy for the audience to follow and remember.
On the flip side, bullet points are a bit of a pain in the arse to edit because everyone seems to have their own rules when it comes to bullet point formatting. Do you start each bullet point with an upper- or lower-case letter? Do you end it with a full stop, comma or semi-colon? How far in does your indent go? How many levels are acceptable? Yes, bullet points can be a minefield, so it might be helpful to have a think about your preferred bullet point formatting before you start using them so you can be as consistent throughout your content as possible. Or, you can just hire a copywriter to sort it out for you.
Do you have any other tips for improving readability? Let me know in the comments below.
If you’re running a business that uses Instagram as a marketing platform, I bet that it’s something you have a love / hate relationship with it. I know that for my own product business, I struggle to come up with good content on a consistent basis. From curating photos that complement your brand, to thinking of perfectly clever captions, to harnessing all the right hashtags, it can be a huge investment of time for many business owners.
When I mention Instagram to my fellow entrepreneurial friends, I’m always met with a collective sigh and eye roll as they describe the burden of maintaining Instagram followers for what sometimes seems like little return.
To make matters worse, a recent algorithm change to Instagram means that it’s harder than ever to see good organic engagement with your posts, with many businesses noticing a significant drop in post interactions this year. In fact, it’s widely quoted that only 10% of your followers are able to see your posts, as Instagram attempts to only serve content that it thinks you care about.
Despite the effort that it entails, Instagram really is the place to be for many product (and service) businesses, and there are plenty of examples of businesses who have gotten traction solely through this platform. So, if you want to continue to use Instagram to promote your business, but you’re struggling to come up with content, I’m going to share some ideas for ‘types’ of content that differ from the usual product sell.
You can use these ideas to put together a basic content plan which will help you churn out content on a regular basis, and keep it varied and interesting. Having a plan also means you can create your posts ahead of time on days where you are feeling a little more inspired, or at times when your business is quieter, like during school holidays.
Creating a content plan doesn’t need to be a scary thing. It can be as basic as a list of ideas on a Word document, or a simple Excel spreadsheet. All you need to do is list out different types of content down the left side of the page (see below for inspiration), and have dates running across the top (or ‘Week 1’, ‘Week 2’ etc.). Then, in the middle of this table, add in the specific topic ideas under the dates you would like to run them, and beside each relevant content type. Simple, right?
How frequently you post is entirely dependent on you. Most social media marketers would recommend posting as frequently as possible – daily, in fact. But from my perspective, this isn’t practical for many small businesses, and you’ll quickly run out of quality content to post if you commit to doing this right off the bat. So, the answer to the frequency question is ‘Post as often as feasible for your business and lifestyle’.
Here are some ideas for different types of Instagram content that you can adopt for your business today:
So, there you have it. Just a few ideas for Instagram content that’s different to simply uploading photos of your products. If you’ve got other ideas, I would love to hear them! Just add them in the comments below.
Competition. Boy, this is a big one for me at the moment.
As a freelance copywriter, finding ongoing work when there are lots of us out there is a huge challenge. And when it comes to my other business, Gift Boss, competition is also rife.
Unfortunately, the gift industry is one of the most saturated industries there is. And as technology makes it easier for budding entrepreneurs to start a business from home, it sometimes feels like every second person is launching a gift hamper or subscription box business these days.
To make sales, or attract new clients, you need to get found. And the more competition there is, the more likely it is that you’ll get lost in the crowd. Unless you’re on page one or two of Google, or killing it on social media, it can be tricky to get the visibility you need to make a profitable business. Or, if you have an advertising budget, it’s a lot more expensive to get your brand out there when there are similar businesses jostling for space.
People say that there are enough customers out there for everyone, and deep down, I know this to be true. But when things are a little quiet, it can be very easy to fall into a negative mindset about how difficult it is to grow your business in a competitive space.
Social media really exacerbates this problem. When I see beautiful photos of gift hampers on Instagram from my competitors, I feel a little pang of anxiety that maybe I’m not as good as them. After all, I don’t use a professional photographer, so my photos will never look as beautifully styled as theirs.
But this thinking isn’t going to get me anywhere. It’s not constructive to throw our hands up in the air and say “It’s just too hard” (even if we feel like doing that sometimes). So, when you’re next faced with a sense of doom and gloom about your competition, what can you do to help you get into a better head space?
As a starting point, here are the three things that I think about to help me make peace with my competition:
I think that it’s healthy to be mindful of your competition, but you shouldn’t focus obsessively on what others are doing. Run your own race, remember why you started your business in the first place and communicate your difference clearly to your ideal audience. And maybe stay off Instagram.
What do you do to help you make peace with your competition?
Although I only started blogging on this website recently, I’ve been writing blog articles for my copywriting clients for a while now. Along with website content, blog articles are one of the main reasons a professional copywriter like me is hired. If you have a business and you don’t currently maintain a blog on your website, there are so many juicy reasons for having one. Or, you might already have one but are feeling a little tired of the blogging game, and need some motivation to keep going. Either way, here are five compelling reasons to get that blog cranking:
Improve your search rankings
Publishing regular fresh content on relevant topics is the best thing you can do for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), so that your organic search rankings improve. Google loves content, particularly in-depth content about topics that are relevant to what people are searching for. Your blog articles can also appear in search results, providing more opportunities for people to find you, increasing your website traffic in the process. And by updating your blog every so often, Google knows that your website is being kept up-to-date and will be more likely to send people your way.
Engage people with your brand
I’ve learnt so much about businesses by reading their blogs – what they stand for, what they’re passionate about, and how their business can help me. A blog is an opportunity for a brand to show their personality and provide engaging content that adds value to the reader. You might be an interior designer who wants to showcase examples of your work, or a personal trainer with lots of client success stories to inspire others. Perhaps you have helpful tips on how to use your products effectively, an ethical or environmental stance you want to highlight, or you want to share stories behind some of your customers or suppliers. Useful, inspiring, interesting or just plain amusing, your blog is the place where you can attract, engage, and hopefully, convert.
Demonstrate your expertise
If you have plenty of great articles on your website, you’re not only keeping visitors there longer but you’re also demonstrating your expertise and authority. Maybe you’re a financial adviser, and you want to show your clients how much you’re across what’s happening in the industry and how it could impact them, for example, new government legislation. I know that I’m more likely to be drawn to a website with high quality, useful, up-to-date content, than something that hasn’t been touched since 2010. And if I think you’ve got more authority on a topic that’s important to me, I’m more likely to engage your services.
Answer customer queries
Although some businesses might like their customers contacting them with questions, answering common queries through website content is a massive time-saver. This is usually done through an FAQ page; however, your blog is a chance to go a little more in-depth and provide useful information about your business, service or products. You could even embed a video into a blog article that visually demonstrates how something is made or used. If you’re a service provider, such as a freelancer or consultant, you can explain how your process works in a friendly and engaging way. If you’ve got a bit more detail to include than what can typically fit into an FAQ, blog it!
Generate content for social and email
Your blog acts as a central repository of content which you can then use on your social media channels and in your customer emails or newsletter. If you’ve got a new article popping up on your blog every now and then, you’ve always got something to share with people. Plus, by amplifying your blog articles through social media and email, you’re drawing people back to your website to continue reading, which can only be a good thing. And if you’ve managed to build an audience with your blog posts, then when it’s time to announce a new product line, special offer or event, you’ve already got the attention of people who are familiar with your content and brand.
So if you’re um-ing and ah-ing about starting a blog, I’ve given you a few good reasons to go out and do it. And if you need some help coming up with ideas and writing great content, just drop me an email.
2018 was an eventful year for me, both personally and professionally. As I write this post, our internet is down due to last night’s storm, providing a welcome distraction-free moment to think about my goals for 2019, and how the year we’ve just farewelled has shaped them. Here they are:
Goal 1: Prioritise health and happiness
From a health perspective, my husband and I have had a rough year. In August, I ended up in a pretty serious emergency situation which has had major physical and emotional consequences. My husband also dealt with some major health issues of his own, necessitating extended time off work. The hurdles that life threw at us in 2018 were certainly a pain in the arse, but the rallying of family and friends and resulting personal growth have been two comforting rays of light to have come out of the grey. I’m now clearer than ever on what’s important to me, and I reckon I’m more resilient than ever before.
So how does this impact my goals for 2019? I’m fully prioritising health and happiness above all else. I’m determined to become a better wife, daughter, sister and friend. I’m seeking help to let go of any bitterness or helplessness that I feel. And I’m going to stop trying to fix things for others, and let them come to their own solutions in their own time. And as difficult as this may be, I’m going to TRY to stop bombarding my husband with my kooky, half-baked business ideas, because sometimes my wide-eyed enthusiasm and excited chatter about product ideas at 11pm is just a bit too much for some people.
Goal 2: Grow my online gift business
If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know I started an online gift business while I was still working in a 9-5 corporate job. Gift Boss has been going for a few months now, and I must admit, I’m mighty pleased with how it’s progressed in such a short amount of time. Although I gave up a good salary and financial benefits to earn absolutely nothing while I get the business up and running, I feel it was worth it. Every time I sit down to work on the business, I enjoy it so much that it doesn’t feel like work, and the positive customer feedback I’ve been receiving motivates me to keep improving and growing.
Sure, there are challenges in running a business in the hugely competitive gift hamper industry (the cost of Google ads alone is mind blowing and I’m really not as on top of the numbers and bookkeeping as I should be because I am not a numbers person and never will be), but I learn something new every day. And being able to use the skills I’ve developed in the 20 years I’ve been working for others, but in my own business, is enormously rewarding.
So, this year, I aim to complete a small business course to get on top of the nitty gritty of running a business, up my marketing and photography game, and consider fresh avenues for Gift Boss, such as pushing more into the corporate gift space, and manufacturing products as a side venture.
Goal 3: Get clear and intentional with my freelance work
Make it clear has been chugging along nicely for 12 months. Interestingly, it has grown organically through referrals, rather than Google, which makes me wonder about my online presence and whether it’s up to scratch. Is my website the best representation of me? Is it getting found easily by my ideal clients? Who even are my ideal clients? These are the questions that I ask MY copywriting clients when I’m getting to know them and their business. It’s time I ask them of myself.
Therefore, in 2019, I want to get clear on what sort of copywriter I want to be, and where I want to take my business. I also started blogging on my website recently, and it’s been challenging to decide what I should write about. How personal do I get? What do people want to read about? Does the world need more copywriting and marketing tips? Is anyone reading my posts, and if not, what’s the point of writing them? Excuse me while I have a minor existential crisis!
Goal 4: Meet more kindred spirits
While I was in a bit of a funk last year, I sought out others who were experiencing similar struggles in an effort to feel a little less alone. The Meetup app was an absolute godsend. I joined a couple of groups which resonated with me, and have been to several face-to-face meetups. The understanding, support and encouragement that have come out of them has been incredible. I’ve since continued friendships outside of the organised meetups and I want to make the effort to nurture these connections more.
I’ve also met some incredible female entrepreneurs through Gift Boss, and through business-oriented Facebook groups. I’ve connected with some in person (yes, IRL!) to share the good, the bad and the ugly of starting a business. It’s been both reassuring and inspiring to talk with others on a similar path – turns out we all have the same insecurities and face the same challenges, but we all agree the rewards are worth it. Connecting with like-minded, inspiring entrepreneurial women has been good for my soul and that’s why it’s on the cards for 2019.
Goal 5: Continue to take risks
It really sucks having a husband who works in risk and compliance sometimes. Because every time I say “I’ve got a good idea”, it’s met with about five reasons why it’s not a good idea. Despite this, I know deep down that taking risks professionally is the right thing to do. For me, it was a risk to resign from my job while we have a mortgage. It was a risk to start a business with no experience. But I’m awfully glad I took those risks.
Because what I learnt from 2018 is that if you feel like you’re on a hamster wheel, showing up each day but not really being present, then it’s time to jump off. And if you end up doing something that makes you excited to get out of bed each day, then the risk was worth it in the end, wasn’t it?
There you have it. Five chunky, but completely achievable, goals for 2019. I’d love to hear what yours are too, so please share them in the comments or drop me an email.
While I had a full-time job, I started two businesses: This one (Make it clear) and my online gift business Gift Boss.
Two years ago, I had no intention of running my own business, let alone businesses. So I thought it would be worthwhile going back in time and writing down how it all happened. It’s quite a detailed account, so I’ve broken it up into several parts. If you’re still with me, great. Let’s get started!
Part 4: The orders, they came a knockin’
Well, I got some orders! Even though I had spent the past few months setting up a business to sell things, I was still shocked when I actually sold things. Sure, the launch post meant there was momentum in the air and some of the orders *may* have been from friends and family, but still I got real orders that I needed to pack, address and ship. It was a huge boost to my confidence and meant I was maybe on the right track with this whole business thing. But knowing that I can’t rely on friends and family to keep the business afloat, I knew I needed to get out there and play with the big kids. Enter Google.
Google you ugly beast
This is how I feel about Google. It’s the mean kid you need to be friends with in order to survive the school playground each day. It takes your lunch money but throws you a chip or two occasionally. It sometimes completely ignores you but also can be your best friend if you do what it wants you to do.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) (coming up organically in Google search results) is a long and difficult path, but with massive rewards if you get it right. Your website needs to be optimised from an on-page and off-page perspective, and you need plenty of fresh, engaging content to attract and retain visitors. Essentially, you need to make sure your website is the answer to your visitors’ queries or problems. It’s a long-term game that doesn’t happen overnight and you need a bit of knowledge to get it right.
So to attract your visitors to your website quickly, you need to focus on Search Engine Marketing (SEM), or pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. These are the search results that come up with the word ‘Ad’ or ‘Sponsored’ when you search for something in Google. Anyone can set up PPC ads – you just need a website and some dosh. The cost of this is dependent on how many clicks you get on your ads, and how competitive your market is (and your quality score, but let’s keep it simple for now). You need to have a fair idea of the keywords you want to ‘bid’ on (e.g. for me ‘gift hampers’ is an obvious one) and set a realistic daily budget.
Once I started playing around with a few ads, of course Google noticed and thoughtfully assigned an Account Manager to me, who called me from the Philippines and sweet talked me into upping my daily budget to get more clicks and hopefully more sales. The thing is, while you do have ultimate control over how much you spend on SEM, you do need to spend a fair bit of budget in this area in order to show up on the first few pages of the search results (depending on how many players there are competing in the same space of course). And Google Analytics shows that the vast majority of website traffic for Gift Boss comes from PPC advertising. So until I get the SEO cranking for Gift Boss, I’m a slave to the fairly expensive Google machine. What a brilliant business model.
Three months on
I’m now three months into the business, and with Christmas around the corner, I was ecstatic to receive a handful of corporate gift hamper orders, along with a consistent number of sales each week. So I have to admit that I’m pretty proud of what I’ve achieved virtually on my own (with a little help from the husband and some paid professionals).
I have also now left my corporate job, so I can focus on Gift Boss and Make it clear full-time. I was toying with the idea for a while, but I needed to launch both businesses and see some level of success before I was confident enough to say goodbye to my safety net and hand in my resignation. This would definitely be my piece of advice to anyone thinking about starting a business – do as much as you can while you’re employed so you continue to have regular income while you’re still setting things up.
I’ve got lots of things I’d like to achieve over the next few months. I’d like to up my product styling and photography game (images are everything in this biz!), learn more about running a small business (finances make my eyes glaze over but I’ve been told they’re important), get a better handle on inventory management, produce some great content for the website, start a regular customer email and create plenty more stylish, unique gift hampers for different occasions.
Hopefully my story shows that you too can set up a business without any prior experience – armed only with a desire to create something cool that resonates with people.
If you have any questions or thoughts, or have a similar story you’d like to share, please comment below.
Thanks for reading!
While I had a full-time job, I started two businesses: This one (Make it clear) and my online gift business Gift Boss.
Two years ago, I had no intention of running my own business, let alone businesses. So I thought it would be worthwhile going back in time and writing down how it all happened. It’s quite a detailed account, so I’ve broken it up into several parts. If you’re still with me, great. Let’s get started!
Part 3: Just gonna start another business OK?
Building a business off a service or skill you can provide is immensely rewarding but can also bring uncertainty when it comes to workflow and income. As a freelance copywriter, if you’re not writing, you’re not earning money. And if you think you can quickly grow your client base enough so that you’re earning money every day, well, good luck to you and please email me your secrets.
Even though I was still working full-time and doing some freelance copywriting on the side, I still had the desire to look into adding another income stream. Just a small e-commerce business that I could run from home. Friends and family thought I was taking on too much and was at risk of adding too much unnecessary stress to my life. But, truth be told, my day job wasn’t particularly challenging, and I was so motivated to make a big life change that I easily found the time to develop my new business idea on the train, on weekends, in the evenings, and yep, sometimes even at 3am when I was lying in bed trying to sleep.
And with my background in digital, marketing and copywriting, I believed I had the right skill set to nail some of the most important elements of a business such as creating a brand, building a website, developing engaging content and promoting products. Plus, Instagram and Facebook had made it so easy to get your products and brand in front of potential customers in a very targeted and fairly cost-effective way. Nothing was holding me back! The only question that remained was, what would I sell?
Give the people what the people want
Without an easy answer to that pretty chunky question, I turned to someone I know extremely well: me. What do I buy online? What’s something that I feel is missing? What do I think I could do better? I know! Gift hampers. I often bought gifts and gift hampers online, and while there was a lot of choice and a lot of gift hamper providers out there (I mean, a lot) most gift hampers on the market were a bit daggy, mass produced, and not very unique. Sure, you could get a nice-looking gift hamper delivered the next day from a well-established company, and most people would be delighted to receive a basket with wine, chocolates and shortbread, but wouldn’t it be awesome if you could buy ones that were a bit cooler and more stylish, a bit more fun, and maybe a bit cheeky as well?
I checked in with a few of my friends about this nugget of an idea that was starting to take hold. What do you look for in a gift hamper? What frustrates you about the experience? What price points do you want? Most of the feedback reinforced my own thinking – that gift hampers didn’t seem like great value for money (three items for $150?), they were often a bit daggy (what do you do with the basket afterwards?), and you see the same old products in them (do people under 40 even like shortbread?).
Ideas, ideas, ideas!
Back in 9 to 5 land, I was working in a team that looked after brand, advertising, social media and content, so I had access to some pretty creative minds that skew towards the millennial demographic. So I told them about my business idea and together we brainstormed some gift hampers. We thought about gift hampers for new parents, hens, break ups, pet lovers and even a coming out one. Other friends chimed in with their thoughts too. It got wild and wacky. Musical instruments. Make up for kids. The Karma Sutra. I was not about to put a lid on people’s ideation processes, so I let it all unfold before I put my business hat on and reigned it in a bit.
In a stroke of good timing, I saw an ad for the annual Reed Gift Fair, a buyers’ event in the gift and homewares industry, and registered. Walking around the suppliers’ exhibits really got the ball rolling on the business. I made contacts, obtained wholesale price lists, sampled products, and got the motivation I needed to start Gift Boss. I also spent a fair bit of time sourcing the right packaging (I chose rigid kraft boxes), as it’s so important to have something that looks good but also survives delivery, ensuring the gift hamper looks amazing and just as it should when it’s opened – even if it’s just travelled from Sydney to Perth.
Today, Gift Boss still features products from some of the suppliers I met at this Fair. However, I’ve since supplemented them with a number of other suppliers that I found just by doing a Google or Instagram search, or reaching out to members of Facebook groups such as Like Minded Bitches Drinking Wine.
I was keen to use suppliers of stylish, modern, beautifully packaged and functional gift items, many of which are Australian made and sustainably sourced. Some of our gift items such as our tea towels and chocolate, have funny and cheeky messages on them. Some products, such as the rose quartz crystal soaps and soy candles are just beautiful to look at and smell. And some are unique to Gift Boss, such as the earrings and custom-printed baby onesies. All the products I stock I absolutely love and would proudly give to my loved ones any day of the week.
Making it pretty
To bring the smattering of ideas and bursts of inspiration together, I worked closely with a very talented designer friend of mine, Stephanie Lee from Make and Tell, who produced the fresh, modern and colourful designs that you see on the Gift Boss packaging and website. Getting the branding right was so important. If I couldn’t convey the personality of Gift Boss adequately, I don’t think the business would do very well at standing out from the competition. The gift hamper industry is hugely competitive (just Google gift hampers and see how many businesses pop up!) so I went pretty bold with the branding and design elements, and believe that this is a crucial part of the business.
Onto the website! Although I’ve published content on websites for almost all of my previous jobs, building a website from scratch is a totally different ball game. Thankfully there are thousands of WordPress templates, plug-ins, YouTube videos and online forums out there to make building a website fairly straightforward these days (although if you are someone like me who gets paralysed by too much choice then this process will not be easy). There’s also plenty of website designers and developers who can come to the rescue when things get a bit too complex. This is what happened in our situation. I got the website 90% there, then engaged the skills of En Pointe Consulting to help us fix a few things, add some extra features and be an all-round Mr Fix it when I broke something. Thank you Paul!
Lunch time! I mean Launch time!
So this is where things got a bit uncomfortable. And awkward. I don’t like to put myself out there at the best of times. I hate being the centre of attention (unless I am singing karaoke then I would like your full attention and back-up vocals please) and I think that me making any sort of a noise on social media creates an inconvenience for the people who feel obliged to like and comment because they know me and want to be nice and supportive. Oh lordy, did I have to get over that. Marketing in this day and age is a heady and competitive world of posts, likes, shares, hashtags, and follow-unfollows. But despite my reservations, it was clear that I needed to get onto the socials quick smart.
After a celebratory “look guys, we made a business” Facebook post to our network, I had to get the social media marketing cranking so we might be seen by the rest of the world. So I posted. And followed. And liked. And photographed. And shared. And slowly, but surely, we grew from one Instagram follower to 500 in less than three months without any assistance from follower bots (do people really use them?). I like to think it was all because my content was so engaging, but I have a feeling some people were following me so that I would follow back…still, I won’t turn my nose up at some reciprocal Instagram back scratching…
So… was it all worth it? Did anyone (besides mum) buy anything?
Well, you’ll have to wait for the next post.
This is the section where I tell you a little bit more about me. Not just as a freelance copywriter, but who I am as a person. The things that I like, the things that challenge me, my small business journey, freelance life, my copywriting and marketing tips, personal stuff and more. Because if you have a clear picture of who I am, then I feel you're in a better position to decide if I’m the freelance copywriter for you. Let’s go!