Sarah Turner is the irreverent, Arsenal-supporting London copywriter behind Turner Ink. She runs to hip-hop, writes to classical music and claims to be the oldest ‘Directioner’ in town.
Sort of by accident. I left my marketing job way back in 2005 and some ex-colleagues asked me to do some copywriting for their new website and brochure.
I’d obviously written copy in my various marketing jobs but this was the first time I’d had – you know – clients. So, having managed to secure some paid work, I thought I’d better create a business.
There was no business plan. Or any kind of plan, come to think of it. I just worked as hard as I could and as much as I could. Sometimes, the best way to learn is to just get on and do it.
How do you typically work? All alone or in like-minded creative collectives?
Kinda both. Turner Ink is just me. But (as you know) I’m in a collective called the Copywriters A Team, where we share work amongst ourselves. I also have a team of bloggers working with me who do all the blogging stuff for my clients.
What’s your favourite type of client?
I love creative, boundary-pushing clients. The ones willing to do something beyond the norm. I also like those clients who let me get on with it and trust me to do the job. Ones who pay on time are high on the list, too.
The clients I avoid? The ones who need the copy signed off by every member of the marketing department and the chairman’s next-door neighbour’s wife who has a degree in English. Also clients who say: ‘Can you start a sentence with And?’ (Yes, you can. And you should.)
What are your tips for newbie freelancers?
1 Immerse yourself in the industry. Connect to other copywriters on Twitter and LinkedIn. And go to copywriting gatherings like #copywritersunite or the ProCopywriters Conference.
2 Be available. That means working regular 9-5 Monday to Friday hours. Unless you can’t, in which case let people know in advance. For instance, I’m not in the office on Fridays because that’s my screenwriting day. So it’s the first thing I tell a new client. But they know they can get hold of me 8.15am-5.30pm the rest of the week.
3 Answer your emails within a reasonable timeframe. Even if you say, ‘Thanks for your email. I’ll send you an estimate tomorrow’. That’s fine. But at least acknowledge the email. Don’t leave people hanging for days.
4 And talk to people on the phone. Yes, actually talk to people! I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve won because I actually bothered to answer the phone and speak to them. I know some copywriters who don’t list their phone number as they don’t want to be disturbed. Seriously? You’re a copywriter. You run a business. You’re not James Joyce struggling to complete Ulysses.
5 Don’t fear the blank page. Just sit at your desk and start writing something. Anything. Type words. Scribble words. Doodle words. Whatever. Eventually something will appear that won’t be totally shit.
If you’re still struggling, read something that’s brilliantly written. Or browse some old Ogilvy ad campaigns for inspiration. That usually does the trick.
6 Create a library of useful copywriting books. You can buy many of them second-hand on Amazon. A good start is anything by Andy Maslen (his copywriting books not his thrillers). Words that Sell and More Words that Sell are also handy. And Stephen King’s On Writing is worth a read, too.
In fact, reading is as much a part of writing as writing is. Read loads. Even poorly written trash like the Daily Mail. It will help you spot typos, poor grammar and homophones, and improve your proofreading skills no end.
I was running a workshop once and someone asked if there were any apps I could recommend that would improve their writing. I said, ‘Yes, there are two. Your left eye and your right eye. Use them to read’. I think she wanted to kill me.
You share a studio space. Would you recommend it?
Absolutely. It more than pays for itself in the extra work I get done. When I first went freelance I worked from home. Which is what I’d recommend to anyone starting out as it keeps costs down. But after two years I was going up the wall.
I need to be around people and I need a bit of noise. So, over the years, I’ve desk-shared in a couple of creative agencies, which I’d definitely recommend.
At the moment, I share a studio space with a few other creative freelancers, including a graphic designer, a photographer and an interior designer. Yesterday, we had amazing tile samples all over the place.
If you’re someone who can work off their laptop, then those workspaces where you just go in, grab a desk, plug in and crack on are perfect.
Personally, I like my own big workstation as I like to leave all my stuff out. So a shared space with my own desk is ideal for me.
Check out Gumtree for local desk-shares. I often see designers or architects who have a spare desk going in their office for a few hundred pounds a month. And don’t forget – it’s a cost you can claim back on your tax return. Win!
What’s the best thing about freelancing?
Being my own boss. And picking and choosing the clients I work with. If the subject doesn’t interest me or the potential client sounds like an arse, I don’t do it.
What’s your biggest bugbear?
Late-paying clients. It’s just so rude. And it’s often the biggest companies that are absolute slackers when it comes to coughing up the dosh. A letter from a solicitor usually does the trick. (I can recommend Thomas Higgins.)
Will you ever retire?
What is this strange thing you speak of? I won’t be retiring any time soon, that’s for damn sure. I honestly think I’ll be writing every day for the rest of my life. If it’s not copy, it will be something.
Finally, what’s this nonsense about One Direction?
Yes, it’s true. I run to hip hop. I write to classical music. But on all other occasions, One Direction is where I’m at. I’m ten years a fan this year and officially the oldest Directioner in the UK. And by official, I mean self-appointed. Fight me.