Rose Crompton is an Austrailia-based journalist turned copywriter and content marketer who runs a freelance content agency that helps businesses produce things like:
- SEO-driven blog content
- SEO-focused website content
- Automated emails
- Product copy
- Proofreading and editing
In university, she studied writing for media and upon graduating began working on-staff for a national women’s magazine in London.
Since then, she’s worked in freelance journalism as well as an in-house copywriter and content marketer.
In this interview, we’ll cover the difference between freelance writing and in-house writing, as well as time management for writers, Rose’s background in journalism, and much more.
Why do you work in content marketing & copywriting? How did you get into it?
A few weeks ago, the head-honcho of a copywriter group I’m part of asked, “Why do you love being a copywriter?” For me, there are four reasons:
- The people I get to work with and speak to.
- The challenge of the job. I embrace deadlines, stress and being kept on my toes.
- The variety – at the moment I don’t niche, so I get to research and write in different formats for companies in different industries. That’s fun!
- The thrill of seeing my work go live.
So that’s my ‘why’. The ‘how’ I became a copywriter story is pretty straight forward, although not entirely happy.
When I got out of university I landed my dream job working on-staff for a national women’s magazine in London. The people I worked with were cool. The message and mission of the publication was cool. But sadly, the magazine became a recession victim and closed in 2010. I was gutted. This was my first job in the industry I wanted to have a career in and I adored the magazine.
After it closed I set-up as a freelance journalist and during quieter months I supplemented my income by writing for online businesses. Most companies wanted their website copy, blogs, email and social media content taken care of.
After doing a few blog article and email projects, I decided I enjoyed this work more than pitching and writing for magazines. I think it comes back to my four reasons. Putting together content feels like you’re having a conversation with your audience. And I just wasn’t getting that with feature journalism pieces.
In 2012 I shifted to full time copywriting. I did a copywriting diploma, read lots to improve my skills and then off I went. In the end an erotic trade ecommerce business snapped me up for full time work, which was a fun two years.
Are there any aspects of your background, skill set, or personality that you believe contribute to your success as a content marketer or freelancer?
Getting a degree in writing for media and working as a journalist taught me some important skills so I can do my job as a content marketer. Those experiences highlighted the importance of research and accuracy. I learnt how to listen to people and interview techniques to get key information for writing the copy.
One of the best pieces of advice a lecturer ever gave was, “Never be afraid to feel stupid.”
Overcoming this fear is important. When you start a project or speak to a client for the first time, you’ll know a bit about them — stuff you can dig up online — but you won’t know everything. You won’t know all the behind closed-door stuff about their business or customer service.
As a copywriter it’s your job to find this out. So never be afraid to ask the stupid questions. You have to start somewhere, then build on it.
Beyond that, a combination of life experiences, determination, cockiness, patience and confidence has got me to this point.
Looking back at my career so far, I’ve been thrown into some pretty deep ends. Magazine closure, threats of redundancy, running a digital magazine with zero budget, freelancing in London with a tiny portfolio, setting up a digital marketing strategy for a brand with big ambitions, emigrating to Australia and starting my new business…
This isn’t a “woe is me” moment. But these are the work challenges that have developed some key skills. They forced me to learn fast, be flexible and get out of my comfort zone.
There’s much to be said for taking yourself out of your immediate comfort zone. Hate it all you want at the time you’re doing it. Get frustrated. But in terms of building up your resilience as a writer and a freelancer, it helps.
From your experience, how is freelancing different to working for a company? And is there any advice you’d give someone looking to make the jump? (Particularly in digital/content marketing.)
Responsibility and where it lies is the biggest difference. When you’re working in a company you share the responsibility and tasks get done. It’s a team effort. A collaboration.
As a freelancer, all of the responsibility lies with you.
If you don’t get that marketing ad done for your own business, it won’t go out.
If you don’t reach out to that prospective client and sell your skills, you won’t get the gig and make money.
If you don’t produce the best possible work for that client, you don’t get the piece for your portfolio.
You have to be willing to bear all of that responsibility within your business.
What’s the single most difficult thing about being a freelancer that those who don’t freelance wouldn’t expect?
Probably skill flexibility, which leads on from your last question.
In a company, people have a set job. They’re head of branding, a designer, a developer, a coder, a copywriter, a social media manager, an SEO strategist. There might be some crossover, but it’s rare that one person will do another person’s job.
As a freelance digital content marketer you have to be willing to learn enough about all of those things. Clients will ask you about them. In some cases, they’ll want you to do those bits of work for them or find someone who can help.
Even if you’re not covering these topics for clients, you need to have an awareness of them for your own business. Understanding enough about those skills and how they fit with your own is your responsibility.
If you’re looking to make the jump into freelance content marketing my advice would be scheduling in time to learn about digital marketing as a whole.
What do you enjoy most about freelancing? I.e. what keeps you from returning to an office job?
At the moment it’s learning the business side of things. I really like that I’ve got the opportunity to learn how to run my business and make it my own. That’s not something I’d do if I worked in an office.
A close second is my freelancing colleagues. I love that I’ve got a core group of fellow freelancers I work with, but that I’m always given opportunities to meet new freelancers.
Everyone lives their freelance life their own way, so I really enjoy how much more space there is to learn from each other.
How important do you believe specialization to be in content marketing? How narrowly vs broadly should you define your expertise and position yourself to win and serve clients?
There are definitely benefits to niching down and specializing, for both you and your clients.
For you it lets you really focus your skills and knowledge in a particular industry. As a result, clients from your niche have fewer doubts that you’re the right content marketer for them.
This is something I’m still wrestling with in my own business. Being just two years in, I’m not 100% sold on industries I want to niche for. Right now, I’m a generalist.
However, I’ve reined in the number of writing services I offer. In my first year of business I offered everything from websites to press releases, direct mail to blog articles. I’ve dialled it back hugely and now only niche in website content, blog articles and automated emails.
I think for new freelance content marketers finding their feet, picking horizontal niches — so types of content marketing writing you’re good at and enjoy — is a good place to start.
Lots of content marketers and copywriters only take niching this far. They choose not to drill down into industries.
But the benefit of at least niching your services makes it so much easier to identify jobs that are going to be right up your street and saying “no” to projects and clients you know you’re not a good fit for.
What do you think most freelancers do incorrectly when trying to grow and manage the business-side of things? So apart from any actual writing/copy mistakes, what are the business mistakes you see being made?
Pricing. Knowing how to price your services and being confident at sticking a price on a particular project.
This is the business topic that’s talked about the most in all of the copywriting and content marketing groups I’m part of. And it’s hard for a few reasons:
1. There’s a fear when it comes to talking about money
We’re creatives, not business folks so we shy away from the money conversation. As a result many of us get flustered and undercharge or do work for free.
2. We don’t understand our own value
There’s no easy way to find an average industry earning for freelance writers. People charge wildly different prices depending on where they live, their experience and the type of writing they offer. This makes it hard to price projects up, although ProCopywriters, Kate Toon’s Clever Copywriting School and Copy Hackers run (almost) yearly surveys to try and address this issue.
3. Clients don’t understand our value
“It’s just words.”
“Anyone can write.”
These are beliefs many clients (sadly) still hold onto. Personally, if a prospective client says these things to me, it’s a red flag. They don’t understand what I do and the value I bring. But the bigger problem is clients who hold these beliefs are often the reason copywriters drive their prices down. Educating clients so they understand what we do and the skills we bring to the party is really important.
What’s your biggest pet peeve currently in the content marketing or copywriting space? What trends would you like to see die down?
My biggest pet peeve is content that’s churned out for the sake of it. Articles or social posts that have no clear direction, no purpose and doesn’t offer the audience any value. It’s such a waste of everyone’s time.
Also, “impactful.” I hate that arrangement of letters. Can’t even bring myself to call it a word. The sooner that’s obliterated from all forms of content and the English language, the better.
What skill do you believe to be underrated for great content marketers? What should content marketers spend more of their time learning and getting better at?
Inquisitiveness and the ability to listen.
Whether you niche or not, always search out the best sources, interviews and original research for the content you’re producing.
Always be curious.
Ask lots of questions.
Be prepared to put in the research time.
If you find research boring, then content marketing isn’t for you. Your content should be engaging and accurate and the only way you’ll achieve those two things is by thoroughly researching your audience and subject.
Get into the habit of recording interviews. Especially if you’re creating website copy. Listening back to how your client speaks and talks about their business gives you the chance to pick up on unique key phrases and words. Weave these into their copy and you’ll do a better job of capturing their personality.
If you didn’t work in digital marketing, what would you be doing? Why?
Running my own pub and afternoon tea room. Beer, cake and chatting to people are three of my favourite things, so I’d run a business that lets me combine all of those.
How do you efficiently manage your time as a freelancer? Any interesting tips. tricks, tools, or tactics for getting more done in less time?
Beating procrastination and managing time effectively is a hard skill to learn as a freelancer. But I am getting better at it. The way I manage it is really boring. But if your interested here’s my method:
- Refer to my Trello board to see what projects are in the pipeline.
- Write a list on a scrap paper with the project tasks I need to tackle that day.
- Add any essential admin tasks that need doing.
- Use the Pomodoro technique to work in sprints (usually 20, 30 or 60 minutes at a time) and get it all done.
It’s pretty dull and straight forward. But there’s rarely a day I don’t get everything ticked off that I want to. Having something I can physically cross off on a list keeps me motivated. And the timer makes sure I remember to get up from my desk.
From my experience too much sitting time results in procrastination. Give your body and brain the break it needs so it’s easier to refocus.
Gimme three tips to improve my writing (or more generally, for anyone to improve their writing)?
1. Start any piece of writing by defining your goals.
Ask: what does this piece of content need to achieve and why am I writing it? Having this clear in your mind makes structuring your writing so much easier (and that’s often the hardest part).
2. Always use personal pronouns.
Especially if it’s sales copy. Using “you” and “your” will always resonate better than talking about “we”, “our” and “us”. This is a really simple, but effective technique that can have a huge impact.
3. Run your copy through the barstool test.
This was originally devised by Paul Hollingshead from the American Writers & Arts Inc. Use this editing technique to work out whether your copy is clear, easy to understand and conversational. Great copy should sound like your talking to a friend in a bar about your ideas, rather than lecturing them.