Haris Halkic: Hi Ben, thanks a lot for agreeing to share your best tips on copywriting and your background. Let’s start with how you got started in copywriting. Please, tell us more about your story.
Ben Masters: In a former life, I was an English teacher.
After 20 years I was beginning to get a little jaded, and I decided to take time off for good behavior. It meant that I could recharge the batteries, and catch up on my reading.
I soon got a little twitchy, and found myself helping friends with editing and writing for their companies.
Copywriting was something I had thought about, and they encouraged me to go for it.
Haris Halkic: Was it an easy transition to freelance copywriting then?
Ben Masters: After 4 months of R & R it was.
I suppose I had a lot of transferrable skills. And teaching requires stamina and patience. You can take that anywhere.
Copywriting also serves my interest in poetry and psychology, and how language engages and persuades.
Haris Halkic: What’s your best advice to someone who is employed and wants to become a freelance copywriter?
Ben Masters: Don’t do as I did: I started out with no knowledge of or contacts in the industry, or relatively little.
I have no regrets, but if I’d been in my 20s, and not had a family to feed, I would have applied for a copywriting position in an agency that had the time and inclination to nurture new blood. I wouldn’t have been interested in salary or status, but willing mentors.
Haris Halkic: Getting clients is one of the greatest challenges for freelance copywriters. Could you tell us more about how you get clients?
Ben Masters: Yes, it is the number one challenge and consideration, especially in the early months.
In terms of numbers, I’d say, 70% of clients find me through LinkedIn, with the remaining 30 coming from my website.
The essential and obvious thing is to showcase your writing on these platforms. LinkedIn is a great place to keep up to date and take part in current conversations.
Haris Halkic: I’ve noticed that you have a lot of recommendations on your LinkedIn profile. Do you use a special strategy to get great recommendations from past clients?
Ben Masters: You have to do a great job, I suppose. I also decided early on to avoid projects or clients that didn’t seem a good fit.
I have also worked hard to fit around my clients and build a collaborative relationship where we are all helping each other.
People have been really generous, I must say; though occasionally, you have to send a polite reminder. People are busy and don’t mind prompting.
Haris Halkic: How do you prepare for a writing session?
Complete immersion is key. Turn off all devices and distractions. Set the timer – and only come up for air when it goes off.
I love the Hemingway line: ‘All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.’
Haris Halkic: How did you learn to write copy?
Ben Masters: On the job, to be honest. And making the most of mentor figures around me.
Also, I’m a voracious reader and I’ve been thinking about how words work all my life. Hope that doesn’t sound too worthy!
Haris Halkic: Are there teachers, books or resources you can recommend?
Ben Masters: Where to start! I am a great believer that your writing is a distillation of what you read. So, read the great copy and content writers.
Some fairly recent publications would include:
Brilliant Copywriting – Roger Horberry
Everybody Writes – Ann Handley
Write to Sell – Andy Maslen
I’d also recommend reading anyone who is interested in language.
Anything by David Crystal, for example. Perhaps start with The Gift of the Gab, which could be read alongside Mark Forsyth’s The Elements of Eloquence. They provide a crash course on using language to persuade.
Develop the habit of dipping into these books throughout your working day.
Haris Halkic: Who’s your favorite copywriter or piece of copywriting?
Ben Masters: Reading Andy Maslen has given me a good grounding in the essentials.
Best bit of copy ever?
My favorite line of copy? Again … where to start?
The best line to my mind has to be Nike’s ‘Just do it’ – everyone knows this line. I hear it every time I hesitate before a long run. Three short simple words that tap into the subconscious and linger.
Interestingly, the sentiment has nothing to do with the product or its USP.
It just gets under your skin.
Haris Halkic: In your opinion, what are the greatest advantages of being a freelance copywriter? What makes this lifestyle so special?
Ben Masters: I suppose the obvious: a relative degree of freedom, flexible working hours, working from home.
I also love its very unpredictability: you never know what projects are around the corner. You have to put the hours in, though, and the danger is that you become your own worse boss.
Haris Halkic: Is there a daily habit that has contributed to your success more than any other?
Ben Masters: I mentioned using a timer. This is, for me, the very best way to work because you don’t get distracted by anything. Without a timer, you clock-watch, which is a distraction in itself.
Oh, and I’d also add, you have to know when to push on with a piece of writing and when to leave it for another day. You only learn this with experience.
Haris Halkic: If someone wants to hire you, what is the best way to get in touch?