I barely have time for breakfast while running my freelance business. But Poole copywriter Leif Kendall makes time to run the Professional Copywriters’ Network. Let’s find out the extent of his insanity.
I fell into it – like most people. I was working for a toy company in their logistics team. One day, I offered to proofread some packaging copy. That snowballed into me being their de-facto copyeditor. Eventually, my work was split between logistics and writing for the product development team.
I hated the logistics part of my role, so I was soon looking for an exit.
What did you do before?
All sorts of weird jobs. For a while I was training to become an accountant, but when we had to learn all the tax rules, I felt my soul leaving my body and had to quit. I then did various organising and administrative jobs for a while before finding copywriting.
Did it help?
Probably. I like to think that no learning is wasted. I’ve worked in lots of small companies, so I’ve seen how they work.
Is it just you or is there a team of copywriters?
Just me. I’ve worked with other writers on a few projects, but 99% of the time I’m 100% solo.
There’s quite a creative scene in Brighton. Does that help?
It helped when I started, definitely. Although it’s partly the creativity of the place, and partly the concentration of digital agencies and start-ups. So possibly more about the tech than the arts – although you could argue that most technology requires creativity.
I moved from Brighton to Poole…
Whoops, my geographical mistake…
…and I love the space and the beaches. But it doesn’t have the same kind of concentration of energy and enterprise that Brighton has.
You’re director of ProCopywriters. What made you take that on?
This might sound kind of lame, but I really believe that copywriters need more things like ProCopywriters. When I started freelancing in 2008, I couldn’t find many sources of support or information. The only resources I could find were either related to advertising or were American sites advocating writing these nutty sales letters to sell scams.
There was very little related to the kind of work I was doing, which involved writing websites, brochures, emails and copy for apps and events.
Tom Albrighton was planning to close ProCopywriters just as I was getting more involved. I had been suggesting to Tom that we start a podcast or something like that. But Tom wanted to focus on other things. So I offered to take over.
How much work is involved?
Tonnes. Far too much, really. We’re lucky to have the support of a few freelancers who help edit the blog, run our events, manage our social media, deal with member queries and manage all the technology behind the scenes.
But even with all that support, there is a lot of work involved in writing emails, managing the conference, running webinars and producing our annual survey.
You’ve had some big-name clients. How do you drum up work?
I think all of the recognisable clients I’ve worked with are the result of people finding my website. It’s my favourite form of marketing because you know that the people contacting you are genuinely interested in you, and they’re usually ready to start.
I wrote the copy for the Wagamama website a few years ago, and that was thanks to a guy I worked alongside at a coworking space in Hove (The Werks). But most of my best work is the result of people finding my website.
What’s your favourite type of copy?
Web copy is probably my favourite format. I love the passive nature of it. It’s like a virtual billboard that is seen only by people who go looking for it. Instead of shoving your messages into the faces of people who don’t care, you just put up this digital pamphlet and wait for the right people to search for you.
And although I don’t love receiving marketing emails, they are undeniably effective at driving sales and signups. So I enjoy writing them and building email campaigns.
Your finest hour?
Maybe it’s taking over ProCopywriters. Tom Albrighton and Ben Locker started something great, and developed the organisation and the conference for many years. But I’m happy with how we’ve managed to evolve in the few years since I took over.
There’s a bit of a debate at the moment about niching. What’s your take on that?
Niche if you want. It works well for some people. But generalists are good at cross-fertilisation of ideas. If you get stuck in a niche, is there a danger that your ideas stagnate?
I would also warn copywriters to always check that they’re not painting themselves into a corner – or leaping into a niche that pays badly or has no respect for their work.
Any advice for newbies?
Look to your peers but don’t listen to everything they say. Many copywriters will proclaim certain supposed inalienable truths that are total bullshit. So listen, but feel free to ignore.
And although the world is facing a global pandemic and economic meltdown, that doesn’t mean you can’t survive as a copywriter. It won’t be easy, and opportunities may be fewer than usual, but the world always needs people who can communicate.
And for clients?
Unless you want to blend into the background, do not copy your competitors. Too few companies actively try to stand out. Too much marketing becomes a sort of play acting, with everyone pretending to be just like everyone else.
This lookalike approach to advertising and marketing makes it impossible for customers to choose. Stop fitting in and start standing out.