Edinburgh’s André Spiteri and I are ‘colleagues’ working for a, er, well-known US tech firm. We’ve agreed to disagree on hyphenation. But we can all agree Andre’s a great fintech copywriter.
It was part grass-is-greener syndrome and part existential crisis.
Malta has an area of about 122 square miles. To put that in perspective, London spans 607 square miles — five times bigger.
Living in a place that small gets claustrophobic. You can’t help wondering what it’d be like to live somewhere bigger, where nobody knows you and you can drive for hours without a single trace of civilisation in sight.
So I guess the seed was sown at a very young age that I’d one day like to go live abroad to see what life is like beyond our sheltered, small-island bubble.
On a personal level, I got to a point where I wasn’t happy with the direction my life was going in. I hated my job and couldn’t help wondering if this was it for me or if there was something more satisfying I could do. So I upped sticks in the hope I’d somehow ‘find myself’.
Is English your first language? You seem pretty good with it…
Yes. Malta is bilingual. We have our own language, Maltese. But economies of scale mean the vast majority of school textbooks are in English, so most parents raise their kids as English-speaking to make sure they’ve grasped the language properly by the time they reach school age.
We tend to switch to Maltese for day-to-day conversation when we get older (sadly, this doesn’t happen much anymore — Maltese is a dying language), but English’s dominance carries on into the world of work.
You’d have a meeting or phone conversation in Maltese, but you’d write a report or email or deliver a presentation in English. TV shows and movies aren’t dubbed either. Nor are most books translated, again because of economies of scale.
It’s not financially feasible to translate or dub when the country has 500,000 inhabitants, all of whom can speak English.
What made you choose Edinburgh?
When I first moved to the UK, I lived in London. I enjoyed it, but it’s a tough place and it does grind you down.
Following the Brexit referendum, the atmosphere changed and I didn’t feel comfortable there anymore. I’d been to Edinburgh on holiday a few times and loved it, and the Scottish government was saying all the right things about how EU citizens should be welcomed and valued.
So I decided to move there. It was a great decision. I regularly travel to London for client meetings, but there’s no way I’d move back full-time.
What did you do before copywriting?
I was a lawyer. I headed an insurance company’s legal and compliance department, which wasn’t my bag at all.
Lawyering isn’t all high-powered lunches and courtroom dramatics. Most of the time, you’re holed up in your office trying to interpret dense, boring language and looking for loopholes.
It’s tedious, and if you don’t have the aptitude for it, the inherently adversarial nature of the job gets to you. It didn’t help that I’m not a suit, tie, shave-every-day kind of person.
How did you get into this crazy game?
Completely by accident. I’ve enjoyed writing from a young age, but I never knew copywriting was a career option.
When I decided to move to London, I started looking for jobs and landed a gig writing for a music blog. This led to me getting hired by a music PR company. I loved getting paid to write, so I said to myself, “Wouldn’t it be sweet if I could do this full time?”
That’s when it clicked. I put a basic website and portfolio together, started emailing random companies asking if they needed someone to write for them, and here I am five years later.
You niche in fintech, right? Can you firstly explain what that is?
Fintech is short for financial technology. The term is typically used to refer to companies that use modern tech like smartphones and AI to compete with banks and other traditional financial services companies — think TransferWise, Monzo, Starling Bank, and the like.
But when you think about it, any technology that makes it easier to access and use financial services is fintech. The ATM was the height of innovation at one point!
And secondly, what was behind that decision?
I was a financial lawyer for nine years before starting out as a copywriter, so it made sense. It’s an industry I know well. And while I didn’t enjoy the lawyering, I’m interested in finance and technology and enjoy writing about them.
There’s a lot of debate about niching right now. Do you think it makes sense?
I think niching makes marketing yourself easier, because you can target a very specific audience and become known for doing a certain thing.
I discussed my thoughts on niching in some detail during a ProCopywriters Twitter chat last August. If you’ll allow me a shameless plug, I put together a summary of that chat here.
Do you miss the variety of generalism?
I don’t think niching and variety are mutually exclusive.
If you choose a broad enough niche, you’ll have lots of variety. In fintech, for instance, there’s B2C, B2B, compliance, banking, payments, investing, cryptocurrency… you could legitimately niche down in just one of these areas.
Plus, I don’t specialise in a specific kind of copy. I could be writing a blog post today and a white paper or a landing page or social media copy the next.
More importantly, niching is a tool, not a limitation. Having a niche doesn’t mean you’ll work only in that niche (unless it’s what you want).
In my case, about 75% of my work is fintech. But the other 25% is outside that niche. For example, I write a lot of food and drink copy, even though I market myself as a fintech copywriter. And two years ago I wrote the copy for an erotic advent calendar. That was, er… intense.
What are your favourite copywriting books?
Off the top of my head: Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples, The Choice Factory by Richard Shotton, Copywriting Made Simple by Tom Albrighton, The Art of the Click by Glenn Fisher, Making Websites Work by Gill Andrews.
Any copywriting heroes?
To my mind, every copywriter who gives his all to do good work is a hero. There’s inspiration everywhere. I thought the billboard campaign Innis and Gunn ran in 2018 was brilliant, for instance. It was eye-catching and always made me chuckle. And this by my mate Dave Harland is top notch.
How do you drum up work?
When I was just starting out, I did a lot of cold-emailing. Researching companies, finding who to pitch, and crafting personalised emails was tedious and time-consuming, but effective. It’s how I built my business from scratch.
Nowadays, it’s mainly referrals and leads through my website. Having a niche has helped immensely in terms of making it easier to get found online and win referrals.
What was your finest hour?
Every hour copywriting keeps paying my bills is my finest hour. I worked for nine years in a job I hated, so the pleasure I get from being able to do this for a living on my own terms never gets old.
Any low notes? You’re among friends here.
Whew… you could call me Barry White. But dwelling on low notes isn’t helpful. Every mistake is a learning experience.
What was the last book you read?
The last work-related book I read was Delusions of Brandeur by Ryan Wallman, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I highly recommend you pick up a copy.
For pleasure, I’ve been reading Joe Hill’s Locke and Key graphic novels. I’m not usually a graphic novel kind of guy, but I watched the series on Netflix and thought it was brilliant so I gave them a go and wasn’t disappointed.
What tips would you give a copywriting newbie?
Don’t get hung up on perfection. It sounds clichéd, but perfection is the enemy of progress. No one is a master copywriter right off the bat. It takes years of learning and experimentation. And there’s no better way to learn and improve than getting your hands dirty.
And any tips for clients?
Your business can’t be everything to everyone, so stop trying to make it so. It’s counter-productive. It’s much easier to stand out and attract your ideal clients if you embrace who you are and let your personality shine through.
Some customers might not like it, and you might lose them. But you’ll have a stronger bond with those you do win over, and they’ll probably be a better fit.