Small, square, orange and uncomfortable, my throne awaited in front of 30 snotty-faced classmates. It was reading time at the zoo and I had been chosen, again, to read to the class.
Pushing my curly blond fringe out of my eyes, I declared: “I’m not going to start until you’re all quiet!”
I think girls like me were called precocious back then. We’re probably still called bossy today. Strong minded works for me.
My teachers told my parents, ‘Helen can teach’. And so it was, of course, the last thing I wanted to do when I left school.
But here’s something not many people know. I have a BTEC in Education and Training. I got it in 2015 to help me deliver workshops. I loved it.
Helen can teach. Go figure.
When it comes to teaching copywriting though, I struggle. For me, writing is a puzzle of pieces you pull about until they’re right. And my ‘right’ might not be your ‘right’. My process is creative and intuitive and, honestly, a bit of a mess! I make and break rules on a whim. Can I definitively teach people how to do that?
So far, I’ve chosen not to. I teach the business of copywriting and the odd bit of writing psychology. But, when I consider it, there are one or two things that have taken me from being a mediocre writer to a much better one.
At a time when talent is tight and you’re more likely to be leading a junior team than surrounded by experienced writers, here are five things that might help them improve.
Work with an editor
A couple of years ago, a client began working with Gartner who reviewed our content as part of their engagement. Ebooks and articles, mostly. Just a few. But my word, what we learned from that editor! We thought we were good. But the way this editor thought about structure and meaning showed us a whole new level.
Edit someone else’s work
I was a decent writer in 2015. But when, in 2016, I started building the Incredibble team, I found potential I didn’t know I had by editing other people’s work. It forces you to understand why something isn’t right and how it could be better. And helps hone your ability to give honest, constructive feedback - a skill that can’t be appreciated enough in copywriting. Editing made me a better writer and a more strategic thinker.
Yeah, that old chestnut. But what you read has a huge bearing on how you write. Read books about copywriting (most of them are about sales copywriting but they all apply). Read books in the voice of your customer. And read books that have nothing to do with work at all. The words and styles will sink in and translate onto the page. Promise.
Learn and play
One of the hardest things about working with a junior team is contextual awareness. Or commercial awareness, perhaps. Understanding the bigger picture has a subtle but crucial impact on how and what you write.
Exposure to different scenarios helps with this. And so too does learning from alternative pools. As a team, encourage each other to read, watch and discuss. It’s the application of the understanding that makes the difference.
Take the courses
Courses abound on copywriting - particularly conversion copywriting. (It’s ever-so sexy and they’re very good at convincing you to buy it.) Take those courses. They’ll teach you wonderful things about writing that can be applied no matter what genre you fall into.