I thought I’d start my #BlogLife with a classic: Frequently Asked Questions. Mainly because it’s easy, but also because having an actual FAQ section on my website seems far too self-important.
So here we go.
Why did you leave BBDO?
I enjoyed my time there so much and grew so much. I was given amazing opportunities from my first week, got to travel to places like Moscow and Milan to film commercials, and work with some truly amazing people like Josy Paul and David Guerrero. (Who are not only true heroes of mine but truly nice people).
You look out at the open office of an ad agency and you see a lot of young faces. There's a reason for that. You reach a certain point in your life where you see the future set out before you. There are those who decided to stick it out, the guys in management, and it's about taking a look at their lives and deciding whether that life is for you. You have to really want it because it means a lot of sacrifice. I wanted it, but not enough.
It was still a very difficult decision. I left behind a team I loved. My Mattel clients who were incredible. But I needed more time for my family, for me and the other things I wanted to pursue.
I got some great advice once: "Pursue the kind of success that you would enjoy living." And here I am.
Why did you quit being a chef?
You know what I loved about being a chef? The people. The guys in the kitchen are a mix of crazy pirates, reprobates and geniuses. They’re in the crazy heat with sharp tools messing around all day, trying to make each other laugh, despite the circumstances.
You don’t need to don a suit and be ‘professional’, you can just be yourself. Maybe even the ‘worst’ version of yourself.
Another thing I loved - every day, when you finished work, it was over. You wouldn’t think about it until you got through the kitchen door the next day. Every morning was a clean slate. There were no long-term projects playing on your mind. It was just beautiful, hands dirty, clean work.
Sure, you’re on at weekends and nights and holidays for meagre pay. But I didn’t mind so much, I loved it. What really made me quit was, I just wasn’t as good as I needed to be.
If I decide to do something with my life, I need to know there’s a chance I can be really, really good at it. And as a chef I found myself being bettered by people who sometimes really didn’t care about the food. They were just more organized people, and that’s what counts in a kitchen.
I had a decent palette, and I cared. So head chefs always seemed to value me. But I knew I wasn't going to be amazing.
So I left and pursued my better talent, writing.
How much do you charge for copywriting?
I remember being a Marketing Manager on a tight deadline. I was looking for a freelance copywriter. I needed to know their prices so I could report to the owner on feasibility and costs, fast. I looked on their websites and I was frustrated when I saw that none of them posted their rates. I had to e-mail them, and I didn’t have time.
Now I get it. Because every job is project specific and there are way too many variables to be able to give a rate card. It’s just not fair to you, or to me.
My pricing is competitive. I don’t have overheads and that’s reflected in my rates.
I can tell you that I don’t charge by the hour, work is itemized and fixed price.
The best thing to do is send me a quick email with some basic info about the project, and I’ll get back to you really fast with a price range before we discuss details. If it fits your budget, we can continue. If not, I can always help you find someone else.
Yes, but really, I need to know your hourly rate?
Look, I don’t charge by the hour for good reason.
Through years of work and extra study, I’ve become very efficient, and charging by the hour would punish me for being good at my job.
What’s important is that I write copy that offers tremendous value for you. How long it takes me to write it is not relevant.
While I’m still an affordable copywriter, I’m not a copywriter you hire for budget work, you hire me for quality and results. My fees are based on that proposition. Hours don't come into it.
I have a piece of writing that’s very rough and I just need your copy editing services, can you help?
Sure. I enjoy editing. I’ll just need to quickly review the copy before I can give you a quotation.
What are your terms & conditions?
First time clients will need to pay the full amount upfront. Then, for further projects, 50% upfront and the other 50% on project completion.
I can only begin work when I receive payment, so if this is delayed, the project may be delayed.
Sometimes during work, the scope can change. This happens naturally during the course of a project. But if the amount of work changes, the price will too, that’s only fair.
How long have you been in Hong Kong? Where are you from Originally?
Woah. Slow down. One question at a time.
I’ve been here more than six years. Heading towards permanent residence, baby! I love it here and I owe this city a lot.
Seriously, I owe the government about $3,000,000.
(Another joke, sorry.)
I’m originally from South London, England. I grew up around the Greenwich area. Went to the University of Sussex down in Brighton. I miss England in some ways, but not so much in others.
What’s the best way of working with you?
First, let me know the basics and I’ll ask a few questions. I’ll then give you a rough idea of the budget required. If that's okay, we move on to a more detailed brief.
After that, I’ll send a quotation, you pay the full amount (or 50% if you’re not a new client) and work begins.
I’ll send you the first draft to discuss and make any tweaks, then send back to you. When you're happy, we're done.
Do you know about the X, Y, or Z industry?
I have written and worked across practically every industry there is, on just about every channel there is. Those are the benefits of cutting your teeth in both BTL and ATL agencies, as well as running your own marketing department show.
Tell me what you’re after. Even if I can’t help, perhaps I can point you in the right direction.
Do you DO X, Y, or Z COPYWRITING?
I don’t really do social media posts or blogging unless it’s a special project. These channels rarely seem to have the budget or the opportunity to do something great.
How can I become a freelance copywriter?
This is a common question, both in e-mails and in person. Some people are genuinely interested in writing for a living and others are seduced by the idea of copywriting from home.
First of all, there are two major areas for copywriters.
Advertising Copywriter Job Description
The advertising agency world is split into two. Some do mainly ATL (above-the-line), meaning TV Commercials, digital videos, integrated campaigns and generally things you would see out and about on billboards.
Others do BTL (below-the-line), which is more direct and sales-driven, (think brochures, banner ads, email direct marketing, etc.) Both can be fun, but ATL is really where it’s at.
Be aware, a junior copywriter salary in Hong Kong is not high. It’s often said in advertising circles, “You’ll be underpaid for the first half of your career and overpaid for the last half.”
B2B Copywriter Job Description
This is the kind of freelancing you often see people promoting their online courses and coaching for. B2B means ‘Business to Business’, so the work consists of writing sales letters, white papers, brochures and so on. There is a big market for this, and it often means you do copywrite from home.
You’re going to be primarily working for people in sales who need professional copywriting services for their marketing collaterals. There can be good money in this, but slowly the market is becoming saturated with low-quality and low-charging writers, and that can make finding clients a challenge.
How to Get a Job as an Advertising Copywriter
The best way is to go to ad school. If you can’t (I didn’t), read the rest.
When I was hiring junior writers at BBDO, it was extremely rare that I would meet someone who already had a passion for advertising. If you can demonstrate to the hiring person that you’re an enthusiastic advertising person, you are going to go a long way in an interview. Agency people love advertising. They do not like people who want to work in advertising, yet know little about it.
These books will not only give you a wonderful overview of what we do, but they’ll give you a number of campaigns you can talk about in your interview.
Then, go to the Cannes Lions website, and look at the recent winners. All of them. Find your favourites from recent years. Think about why you like them, why were they good for the brand?
It also helps if you have a ‘book’ to show (a portfolio of some ideas), and if you want to take that route, you can find some practice briefs by googling ‘creative brief examples’. Take your pick.
Finally, start e-mailing, LinkedIn messaging and knocking on doors. Be relentless.
How to Get a Job as a B2B Copywriter.
I’m no expert at getting started in the B2B world from nothing. Personally, I’d recommend a few years in an agency as a great start for anyone. But for more specialized advice, one guy who really knows his stuff is Ed Gandia, who has a great podcast, informative website and also offers coaching services.
Why do I need a copywriter?
There are a lot more freelance designers than copywriters. Why is that? Well, one reason is that learning to use design software is a pain in the ass. It takes years, and most business owners and marketing people aren’t going to do that. But most people can write decent English, so why use a professional copywriter when you can do it yourself and save money?
Here’s why: have you ever watched a movie, and quite early on you realise it’s not the real deal? You can’t quite put your finger on it – but you know and instantly you’re turned off.
The reason we have this innate compass of good vs bad is that we’re programmed by years of storytelling to know the beats that should be hit. We know the obligatory scenes in certain genres, without even really knowing. We know how characters should be developed and the rules of cinema. And so on. Only the most well-crafted screenwriters and directors know how to replicate those beats.
It’s the same with copywriting. This is a craft. There are beats to hit. There are notes to score. There are techniques that bring sales, there is laddering up to a higher brand message, there are rules that take years to learn and hone. Without these, readers are going to feel something’s off. They’re going to know this isn’t a world class brand or company they’re listening to. When that happens, everything suffers – your sales, your brand, and you.
In a world where getting peoples' attention has never been more competitive, not investing in quality content is a recipe for disaster.
Do you do creative strategy?
For some projects, I insist on doing creative strategy, and I won’t take the project without doing it first.
It’s exceptionally difficult if not impossible to write good copy if there’s not a creative strategy in place. This provides immense value because it gives you a direction to send to everyone you work with internally and externally.
It says, this is what we’re doing, what we’re going to do, and why. Think of it as a call-to-arms, a manifesto, a precise direction to drive towards.
When everyone’s singing from the same hymn sheet, only then can marketing be powerful.
Why hire a freelance copywriter and not go to a digital marketing or advertising agency?
I love marketing and advertising agencies. I made my career at them, and still work with them today.
Agencies have a lot to pay for: management salaries, executive creative directors, CEO bonuses, rent, accountancy, tax, MPFs, company entertainment… The list goes on. This means their charges have to be inflated to cover costs and make a profit.
Meanwhile, I have practically no overheads. That means you get an agency-level copywriter (or above, actually – I was an Associate Creative Director), at a freelance price. What a deal.
(Pssst. Plus, a little secret, it may be me writing your agency copy anyway.)
Do you offer retainer services and how does that work?
For retainer services, I offer my availability Mon-Fri, 9 am – 5:30 pm. That means you can contact me during this time and I’ll write whatever copy you need. This is done at a set monthly price and for 9-12 months contract with a 3-month probation period so we can both see how it works out.
This is a great model for certain clients who have a lot of sporadic copy, from small bits to larger copywriting projects, and offers terrific value.
It also saves the most important thing of all – time. Clients don't have to barter over fees, or look around for another writer because their normal one is busy, or re-brief on the brand, or process individual quotations and invoices through their annoying finance department.
It’s a very efficient model that works well for everyone. But there is limited availability.
I need someone who can write Chinese and English, can you?
That means you're going to have non-native English. If you need English copywriting in Hong Kong, I’ll assume you’re hoping to reach the western market. And I have to brutally honest, any time a western person reads non-native English coming out of any company, it tells them a few things:
This company cuts corners.
This company does not care about quality.
This company is not what it pretends to be.
Non-native English copywriting is frequently handed around by people to laugh at. It's BAD.
You will save some dollars hiring someone who can write Chinese and English, but you are going to cost your brand and your company so much more in lost sales and brand damage.
Meanwhile, I can write world-class copy and work with a number of 4A’s Chinese copywriters for translation and transcreation.
Do you work with people outside Hong Kong?
Absolutely. I love working with overseas markets. With the blessing of technology, having a meeting or a call online means it’s just like working in the same city, anyway.
If I take on your copywriting services can you also provide graphic design, web design, etc.?
I’ve been lucky enough to work with some world class talent in my career. And I frequently refer my clients to those people when they need artwork.
As a former Associate Creative Director, I’m also happy to brief those artists and manage the artwork process for you, taking the stress out of it and ensuring smooth delivery.