Haris Halkic: Hi John, 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.
John Espirian: I started out as a software and hardware tester at a UK internet service provider. As well as doing a lot of ‘smash this and see what happens’, I had to explain how products, services and processes worked to colleagues. I also had to review and simplify stacks of dry, boring technical documentation.
Eventually, I became known inhouse as the ‘how does this thing work?’ guy. When I was ready to leave, I knew that I needed to work in a field where I could combine my nerdy enjoyment of techie things with a chance to explain how stuff works. And that’s what led me to become a technical writer.
Haris Halkic: How did you transition to freelance copywriting from your previous job? What’s your best piece of advice for someone who is employed and wants to become a freelance copywriter?
John Espirian: As above. I didn’t want to become a teacher but as I thought I had good communication skills (I know everyone says that!), a career in writing felt good.
Start building a meaningful network of relevant contacts and find the right platform for consistently demonstrating your value to them.
Haris Halkic: Getting clients is one of the greatest challenges for freelance copywriters. What ways do you use to get clients?
John Espirian: My big two sources of new clients are my website and LinkedIn. Two-thirds of my web traffic comes from organic Google search, and that’s the result of spending a lot of time creating content that answers potential customers’ questions.
I’ve also put in a lot of effort to build my LinkedIn presence since the start of 2017, and I’m now regularly approached there by new clients.
A strong profile and relevant, helpful content have helped me get ahead. This approach takes a while to work but it also means I don’t need to spend anything on advertising.
Haris Halkic: How did you learn to write copy? Are there teachers, books or resources you can recommend?
John Espirian: I’ve published more than a hundred blog posts on my site, and the evidence is there to show that I’m a much better writer now than I was a few years ago. The more you write, the better you’ll be at it.
I have had some formal copywriting training with Wordtree, who were great.
Haris Halkic: How do you prepare for a writing session?
John Espirian: For client work, it always starts with asking customers to complete a briefing document. My goal is to get to the root of what they’re trying to achieve. This involves asking about where the copy will appear, who the ideal reader is, who the competition is and lots more.
All of this is part of the research stage, which usually takes a lot longer than the actual writing.
Haris Halkic: Who’s your favorite copywriter or piece of copywriting?
John Espirian: I regularly remind myself of this by Ann Handley in her excellent book, Everybody Writes: ‘No one will ever complain that you’ve made things too simple to understand.’
Making text easy to understand is the essence of what a technical copywriter does, so this quote means a lot to me.
Haris Halkic: In your opinion, what are the greatest advantages of being a freelance copywriter? What makes this lifestyle so special?
John Espirian: Let’s scoot over ‘working from home’, which must be the most obvious answer.
Being a pen for hire means you get to learn all sorts of interesting things.
There’s an art to the clear expression of a concept. There are opportunities for creativity lurking in every writing project. If you can turn what would have been an unreadable doorstop-worthy block of text into something that conjures an ‘aha!’ moment, that’s a great feeling.
I suppose that’s my purpose: to help people understand – and freelance copywriting is a good way to fulfill that purpose.
Haris Halkic: What one daily habit has contributed to your success more than any other?
John Espirian: I think of content ideas and then produce material that helps others.
Think about how you can help before you think about how you can sell.
What are people’s real questions? Answer them better than anyone else – that’s the path to standing out.
Haris Halkic: Are there areas you specialize on as a copywriter and if someone wants to hire you, what is the best way to get in touch?
John Espirian: I have more than a decade of experience in telecommunications, so it would be that if anything. But demand from clients has meant I’ve worked on remote controls, e-learning platforms, digital payment systems and plenty of other topics. So, I’m an ashamed generalist but a half-decent one.
I always think that a good brief is the key to a good result – so if you tell me what you want then I’ll be able to deliver it.