For content creators and copywriters, it can often be a challenge to come up with creative ideas when dealing with subjects that are complicated or a little less ‘exciting’ - yet still absolutely necessary.
That’s why we were thrilled to chat with our very own freelance copywriting legend, Andy Baker.
Andy writes content for a range of industries, including agencies, digital wellbeing, tech, sustainability, music, product design, and fashion. He's a creative wordsmith behind many of our blog posts and always has a quirky idea up his sleeve to help us reach our target audience.
Read on to discover how Andy generates such engaging copy. We’ll find out what tech brands can be doing with their content and what you should consider when bringing a freelance copywriter into your strategy.
Andy, how did you end up becoming a content writer?
I started working at a tech company many moons again in 2010. I did webcasting and AV which, by their own admission, is probably not the most exciting topic to try and build a content strategy around. Next, I fell into bid writing and tender writing. That's where I started cutting my teeth and trying to work with product teams and UX designers. My job was to get all the complex stuff out of their heads and make it easy to digest.
The company I worked for didn't have a major marketing department, but they had great domain authority so decided to do more SEO work. So from there, I started looking after their editorial and writing their blog posts and again, trying to take these really complex topics and giving them an interesting and quirky spin. We got pushed up the Google rankings and it was all going really well. That’s when I really got a taste for it
While I was working there, I went and did a part-time journalism diploma. I did a fast track for six months which got some amazing opportunities. I was already doing some music journalism for the Brighton source, but it landed me a few gigs at the NME.
How did that come about then?
I did work experience at the NME while I was working and doing the course which was incredible. It was an absolute dream come true. I was transcribing interviews with Brandon Flowers from The Killers and writing single reviews and news pieces. I was also doing stuff with Brighton SOURCE where I got the opportunity to interview Albert Hammond, Jr. from The Strokes, Stuart from Mogwai and lots of amazing festivals and gig reviews. Good times.
How did you switch to freelancing?
Since then, I’ve spent a few years working at different creative agencies. When we went into lockdown, I, like many others, was given a lot of perspective. Freelancing is something that I've always thought about doing but I'm terrible at maths. So the idea of doing my taxes and potentially not getting work was terrifying! Eventually, I just took the plunge.
From your perspective, how has the lockdown affected the way that you now collaborate with other creatives?
It's definitely made an impact but I’ve found some great tools for virtual collaboration including:
- Signal - a tool that allows you to leave voice notes with colleagues or other freelancers.
- Miro - a virtual whiteboard that can be used for brainstorming and tone of voice sessions.
Whilst none of these are major substitutes for working together in real life, I’ve found that the collaborative spirit’s still there which is nice.
This brings me on to the future of collaboration. Do you have any predictions about what that it might look like?
Since I moved into freelancing I feel like I’m in a bit of a halfway house. I remember being in the agency and no matter what colour you paint the walls, in my opinion, if you're staring at the same wall all week, it can become a bit stagnant. That’s why balance is crucial.
Where would you say that you get most of your inspiration at the moment?
That’s one thing that has been affected by the situation we've been in. When you're stuck in your flat and you're not having so many real-life conversations with people, you don’t get that fresh hot take on something that might spark inspiration. So, I end up buying a load of books, which I might not read from cover to cover, but I'll just try and find sources of inspiration.
When I wrote the article Stanley, Spielberg and Skynet – when machine learning went to the movies, I had an initial idea but I decided to just buy some books which I could use as reference points.
I think it’s important to break the general news cycle sites that you might visit. Instead, try and read up about different things. For example, try and stay abreast of tech news and what's coming up in marketing if that’s your subject area. Also, be conscious not to follow the trends. It is a fine balance, but try to bring an unexpected approach to an idea. If you've got an idea, just try and attack it from a different angle. You're always going to end up with something maybe slightly interesting. For example, when writing about AI, I tried to link it to the fact that it was the anniversary of A.I. Artificial intelligence and Terminator 2 - sometimes, things just hit at the right time.
What topics genuinely excite you?
I do love getting some sort of pop culture reference, but linking it to something more serious. We don’t just have a corporate responsibility, but personal responsibility too, and if we've got the platform to write responsible content, we should. There's so much misinformation now that I don't blame any individual for getting it wrong. I think, if you get aggregated content on social media and sent down a certain path, how could you think any different than what you're reading? So, I think there's an opportunity for people to use their platform to say something of value and inform people. For example, I quite like combating the greenwashing problem with some content that adds value.
So similarly, are there any subjects that you would never write about or that you hate?
When GDPR was a thing, I was writing a lot of data compliance content. To talk about this topic and add an interesting spin was probably the biggest challenge I’ve had. Now, I'm more interested in working with clients that are at least kind and have a good heart. We all consume, we all need to create products and make money but I'm conscious of the processes so I try to work with companies that are trying to add a little good to the world.
What do you think the key focus for brands should be when they're creating content, especially if the topic’s a little complex or not as exciting?
Never create content for the sake of it. I think you should always be thinking about what you can do to create something that's got value. It's a hard task thinking about what you can create that hasn't been said before. If you write something that's middle or low down the funnel, it's hard because there is a lot of content out there that's similar. So that's when you have to think, right, how can I attack it? How can I take a different approach? How can I come at it from a different angle? I think the stuff that's so important for brands is having that tone of voice locked down. Don't just take a colloquial, cheeky tone of voice because that's the hot thing to do. Your communications need to be consistent.
When I think about an idea, I first ask myself: ‘Would I want to read this?’. Of course, you need to consider your target persona, but that should give you an inkling as to whether your idea is interesting. Also, don't be afraid to take on something that's challenging to you. I remember writing about NFTs and Bitcoin, which I know absolutely nothing about, but I know there are loads of people in the same boat as me. They don't know whether it's something they should be investing in so I felt it was something we should probably talk about.
I knew it was going to be a challenge, but it meant I put everything into it. It means you’re going to be more aware of showing yourself up so you do the work. Hopefully, from there, you get good content.
I was massively grateful for that piece of content. I think it was so timely and worked amazingly with our PR agency when they reached out for content around the subject. We'd already started having conversations about NFTs, so it was such a great position to be in.
Yeah exactly, I think it's a case of doing the desktop research and trying to immerse yourself in what's going on. I often look at the news, check out what big events or anniversaries are coming up and then dig a little deeper. I often get inspiration when I’m relaxed. Whether I’m at the pub chatting with my friends or I’m out for a run, the point is that I’m easing the pressure off. That’s when the ideas come free-flowing, so my advice would be to give yourself time to get there.
So what about writer’s block? Is it the same sort of process?
Yeah, I think the “block” kind of goes beyond writers. I think it's not just a creative thing but a human thing - we just put so much pressure on ourselves to be ‘on’ all the time. It’s okay to have ‘off’ days. That’s the godsend about going freelance, I can just stop at any point and do something else if it’s not there.
I might go for a run, give myself a push on LinkedIn or do some basic admin tasks. If you just step away, I guarantee when you come back to it, even if it’s the next day, you’re going to have a much better day.
So how do you deal with that if you’ve got deadlines and a client is expecting work from you?
I always keep myself ahead of the game anyway, so when that does happen, I know I’m not going to be falling behind on deadlines. I use Google Calendar but I also write myself a timetable for the month and I plot in the days. I usually give myself more time than I need for every task. I might pull out free days to write a long-form article and factor research into it as well.
I imagine feedback is going to be quite a huge part of that as well. So have you got any advice that you would give for people that are giving feedback? How can they deliver it so they get the best out of a content writer to make it a successful relationship and positive relationship?
I think when you're a copywriter, a designer or anybody creating something, it can be a terrifying experience. It doesn't matter how long you've been doing the job, you're always going to have that imposter syndrome.
I never deliver anything unless I think it's ready and I've done a good job. I might sit on it for a couple of days and go back to it but it doesn't take away the fact that you're putting yourself out there and it's quite a scary thing. When I've given people feedback, I've been conscious that someone's put themselves out there. I think this is when having a really good detailed brief or strategy is paramount so that before you start a project, everyone's clued up on it. The work is only as good as the brief and the strategy that's underpinning everything.
My advice is to be constructive and realise that you're all on the same team and no one's trying to catch anybody out. Everybody just wants to create great work and have a successful business. When I talk with designers and brand strategists, I'll happily take feedback from a designer because they’re bringing a fresh perspective.
Sometimes you can be in situations where you get feedback from people and you don't agree with the feedback. Maybe you think that the suggestions they're making are potentially damaging for the concept you've created. How do you think you would handle that situation?
You should be able to feel confident enough to stand by your work and stand by your guns, as long as you've got the rationale to back it up. For example: perhaps you don't think it's going to work for a target audience or the tone of voice doesn't match your brand. I suppose it's like any good marketing. It should be backed up by evidence. Ideally, you want to cross the streams, but you don't want everybody chipping in with feedback, because that's going to make things inconsistent. So I'd suggest assigning one person who's got that diplomatic approach, but also knows their stuff.
Yeah, I think it's a really good tip. It can be easy to invite too many people to the party, and the party just becomes horrendous. Designating one person to be the voice of feedback is vital. That way, you can enable the creative to make the changes they need to make and be as best informed as they possibly can.
So if anyone is out there that’s looking to maybe partner up with a freelance content creator, have you got any tips for a successful relationship?
- Get someone on board that you have a good rapport with and that feels like an extension of your team
- Understand boundaries - the freelancer won’t be getting the same benefits as a full-time member of staff so you’ve got to respect that and understand that they are trying to run a business too
- Manage your expectations and understand the freelancers capacity
- Create a good brief - this is really important and probably the best way to set someone up for success.
- Be realistic about your expectations. So think about your capacity, what your expectations are, and try and map those out at the beginning and see if they match well with the person that you're going to be working with.
- Give the freelancer a trial run. Try working on one piece of content together and see how you get on. Although, I would say, for the trial run make sure you do your research first. Don’t just throw a topic at the freelancer and expect them to create something out of the blue. Do your keyword research (if necessary) and give them something to start with.
Where should people look if they are searching for a new freelancer?
Medium and LinkedIn are great places to start. Most freelancers will have their online portfolios and you’ll get to see their work firsthand. You could also find people on social media.
What would be your dream role or industry to work in?
If I wasn't going to have a vegan taco truck in Brighton, then I'm pretty happy with what I'm doing. I'm currently working with an old colleague of mine to help businesses with their sustainability targets. We are trying to go for the sleeping giants that know they've got the capacity to make a difference but don't know where to start. We're working with them on their advertising and their copy and taking a bit of a hit on the bottom line ourselves and asking them to do the same. The money that we make will go towards a project of their choosing. So it could be tree planting, or it could be getting running water in a village. We are trying to change the landscape of the advertising industry a little bit. Sometimes it's got a bit of a bad name and we want to be part of the solution instead of the problem.
If you’d like to check out some of Andy’s work or get in touch, you can find him on Medium or Linkedin.
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