I’m a card-carrying introvert and once practised eye contact on the fridge. So I’m delighted that Tom Albrighton, aka ABC Copywriting, is championing the socially reluctant with a brand new book, The Freelance Introvert.
I didn’t get into it so much as fall into it. I was an in-house writer and editor and I got made redundant, so I tried freelancing.
After a while, I realised that I needed to call myself a copywriter, purely because that was the label clients used. Fifteen years on, I’m still churning out the words.
What did you do before? Did it help?
I worked in publishing houses and design studios. I learned some word skills, but I still had plenty to learn about commercial copywriting.
Actually, my stint as a helpline operator for the council probably helped just as much. I learned that customers want what they want, and it’s your job to work around it – and speak to them in their own language, too.
What does your client profile look like these days?
A real mixed bag. Some UK brands, some agencies, a couple of multinationals and lots of academics, who I do editing for. I’ve never consciously specialised, although I respect those who do.
What’s your dream assignment?
Just any fun B2C brand, really. Having worked in non-fiction trade publishing, I’ve naturally gravitated towards long-form B2B stuff. I’m grateful for the work, of course, but sometimes I’d love to work on a toy brand, or a fizzy drink.
You’ve had a few diversions along the way. What inspired you to set up the Professional Copywriters’ Network with Ben (Locker)?
We first got talking when content mills came on the scene, and they were tapping us all up to join them. We were affronted by the idea of buying copy by the yard at rock-bottom prices.
As well as being exploitative, it seemed to undermine everything that great copywriting should be about – questioning the brief, exploring options, doing the unexpected, taking time to really hone the text. So, as the name suggests, PCN was our way of making copywriting more respected as a profession.
We also felt that designers and art directors were pretty well served with associations, publications and events, while copywriters got the short straw. So we thought we’d try and redress the balance.
I assume it took up an hour or two?
It certainly did. Most days, I wouldn’t get round to my client work before lunchtime, and in the run-up to the conference, it was even worse. Running an event is a real eye-opener in terms of what it’s like to serve hundreds of customers, rather than just a handful of clients.
You’ve handed it over to Leif (Kendall) now. Was that a tough decision?
Not really, because after Ben stepped down for personal reasons, I soon realised I couldn’t really handle it alone – and I didn’t want to. So I was delighted when Leif offered to take the reins, instead of me just winding it up.
It’s been great to see ProCopywriters (as it now is) live on and thrive under new leadership. Leif’s put together a team instead of doing it all himself, which was definitely a right move.
Before we move onto your new book, let’s consider your first one, Copywriting Made Simple. Why do you think it was so successful?
I worked hard to cover every side of copywriting: ads and content, long copy and short, traditional and digital.
Apart from that, I treated the writing like a copywriting project, in terms of the time I spent editing and polishing. So I hope that makes it a clear and easy read.
And now you’ve gone and done it again with The Freelance Introvert. As an INFJ, I approve. This is obviously a cause close to your heart?
Thank you! Yes, I think freelancing can be really good for introverts, but at the same time there are aspects of it that can be challenging. I wanted to share what I’ve learned over 15 years’ freelancing – practical ideas, but softer psychological angles too.
Do you think the issue of introversion in business is pretty much unaddressed?
Well, it’s increasingly addressed by introverts themselves, in books, blogs and podcasts – but the question is whether extroverts in positions of authority are actually listening and taking action.
To pick just one example, team working can be rough on introverts, for reasons I discuss in the book. It’s also massively popular in the workplace right now, to the point where it’s almost an article of faith among managers that ‘teams are better’.
However, I don’t think managers appreciate how little value they will get from an introvert if they just throw them into a team setting and let them sink or swim. Apart from being unkind to the introvert themselves, it’s bad for business if a member of your team isn’t bringing their talent to the table.
What do you aim to achieve with the book?
Above all, I’d like to reassure other freelance introverts that they’re not alone. I’ve been down the same road, and I understand.
I’m not a counsellor or a psychologist, but at least I can make them feel seen and acknowledge their experience. And if my practical tips are useful too, that’s a bonus.
Did you have to put the day job on hold to get it done?
Not really, because my work shrivelled to practically zero during the crisis (as I actually mention in the book). It’s now slowly picking up again, thank heavens.
Any more books planned?
Yes! I’ll soon be launching another book purely devoted to making more money from freelancing…
Damn! You’re going to beat me to it…
While working on The Freelance Introvert, I realised there was far more to say about the business side, but it didn’t sit so well with the nurturing tone of that book. So I thought I’d write something on that topic alone.
In my experience, some freelancers – especially creative ones – are uncomfortable talking about money, because they associate it with corporate suits, bean-counters or political values that they don’t share. But I argue that you don’t need to change your character, or sacrifice your values – you just need a ‘money mind’ to complement your work mind.