The secret to getting clients to pay on time (and what to do if they don’t)

It’s the first of the month and you’re probably checking your bank account to see which clients have settled your invoices and which haven’t. Frustrating, isn’t it?

Over the years as a freelance copywriter, I’ve had to take several clients to the small claims court at Money Claim Online. I even ended up taking one client, whose name sounds like Slimey so let’s call him that, to court itself. I guess I was a bit naïve in those earlier freelance copywriting years, but it’s certainly been a great learning curve and there are mistakes I won’t make again.

Taking legal action against clients who don’t pay your invoices on time can be really time-consuming and really frustrating, so you need to carefully consider if it’s worth doing. If it’s a case of a few hundred quid, then maybe hassle, hassle and hassle. However, taking legal action yourself online can be far cheaper than using a lawyer or debt collecting agency – plus you get back any of the costs incurred in doing so.

Avoid late payments

How drastic do you want to be?!

Years ago, I was at an agency that owed a photographer a large sum. He sent his assistant over to sit in reception with a big hammer until he got paid. If you don’t fancy this approach, here are some tips to avoid being faced with non-payment – and help you extract rightfully owed £££.

1. Let the client know you mean business

Let the client know that you’re not lost in a happy fluffy creative cloud but that you mean to do business properly. Tell them how much you’re charging, how much of a deposit you require and when your invoice needs to be paid by.

I usually ask for a downpayment to be made immediately, with another chunk at an agreed point (usually after first draft is submitted) and the rest payable on sign off. I also request payments under £500 to be made within 7 days and over £1,000 to be made within 30 days. The Federation of Small Businesses recommends 30 days as good practice. Of course, the exact figures are up to you. But I find this structure keeps my cash flow flowing smoothly. As a freelance copywriter, you often find projects can just drag and drag for months. You stick your invoice in at the end and then have to wait another month to get paid. Yawn.

The other advantage is that this gives you wiggle room in negotiations. If a client’s budget is tight and they ask you to lower the cost, then counter attack with a suggestion of speedier payment.

MarketInvoice, an invoicing platform, says that over 60% of small companies get paid late. Luckily for us freelancers, Vince Cable is pushing through the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill so that larger firms have to publish info on their payment practices. If they don’t pay up, they’ll be reprimanded.

2. Get your Ts and Cs signed

Freelance copywriter Ts and Cs

Don’t let freelance invoices pile up

I draw up terms and conditions for clients to sign, showing they agree to my payment terms. Full Ts and Cs are also on my website here. They also need to provide their address – don’t underestimate this as a vital piece of information. When I first took Mr Slimey to the small claims court, I thought he was a registered limited company. He wasn’t. He was self-employed as a sole trader and I should have given his name followed by the ‘company’ details. So, Mr Slimey, 123 The Avenue, Nowhere Important T/A Slimey Marketing. (T/A stands for ‘trading as’).

I successfully had my claim upheld. I decided to take out a charging order (a claim for payment from proceeds of his house should he ever sell it). Guess what: he did sell but I had to resubmit all the paperwork because I’d cited the wrong address. So, I lost out.

If the client gives the address as a limited company, check that it’s correct as it may just be a postal address or a facade. What you really need to put on your invoice is the address the company is registered at. You can check this detail online for free at Companies House.

3. Request a purchase order number

Sometimes easier said than done, and it only tends to happen with agencies or large clients.

4. Submit your invoice as soon as work is completed

Some freelancers I know send out an invoice as soon as they’ve done the work; others prefer to wait politely in case of feedback. I usually wait a few days then email to say I’m invoicing. If in doubt, bill it out.

Make a note in the diary so you can check when each client should pay on time.

5. The payment date has passed. What now?

It depends on how well you know the client and your relationship with them. However, let’s go back to Mr Slimey. I’d worked with him several times while he was MD at a design agency. He left and ‘set up his own company’. As I’d discovered later, he was just a freelancer like me. I worked on several projects, sent in about seven invoices. And trusted him when he kept promising to pay but was waiting on other clients to pay him first. (Why wouldn’t I trust him after all, as I knew him well? Hmmmm.)

Send a follow up email after a week has passed. And then another. Ring the person in accounts too. But never let more than a month go by. The reason is that if the client’s in difficulties and goes into liquidation, you lose out on any right to get all or part of your invoice paid. On the other hand, if your invoice is already in the system, you may be bottom of a long line of people owed – but at least you’re in the system.

The court likes to see that you have given the debtor every possible opportunity to repay. For example, you’ve sent them emails as reminders. So it’s sensible to keep these as a record and send follow up letters by recorded delivery (keep proof of postage).

6. Tell the client they owe you even more

Thanks to the Late Payments Act, did you know you’re entitled to claim late payment interest, even if your invoice doesn’t state it? Pay On Time is a brilliant website to help you calculate late payment interest and get letter templates. You can also contact them for advice.

Caroline Gibson - late payments disclaimer

Caroline Gibson – late payments disclaimer

7. Quote some Latin

I was once given a great tip by a lawyer friend. In your emails or letters, state work was done ‘quantum meruit’. A client may query your invoice, claiming the work was never used. This isn’t the point. Unlike magazine writers who are paid per word, freelance copywriters are paid for the time spent. This means you’re entitled to be paid for what you believe to be the reasonable value of your services.

8. The payment date passed a month ago. Heeeeelp?

If you feel you’re being fobbed off and too much time has passed, whirr into action. (Don’t accept someone being away on holiday as an excuse – the company has a duty to make sure suppliers get paid.)

Chasing invoices

Don’t be afraid to chase up

Write a letter stating that, if the client doesn’t pay within x days (don’t give them too long – five days is fine after all this time!), you’ll charge them late payment interest. Also state that this interest continues to accrue until the whole debt is repaid. And say you’ll also start court proceedings which may result in a CCJ (County Court Judgement) against them. This point should definitely jolt them into action. Having a CCJ is like a great big indelible black mark on someone’s credit rating for six years. You can then also see any other CCJs they may have.

9. You’ve issued several late payment warnings but they’re still ignored

You could send in the heavies, but they simply make threats and there’s still no guarantee that money will be forthcoming. No, stay squeaky clean and file your claim at Money Claim Online. It takes a while to fill out the small claims court form, so have all the info ready to hand. You have to state why money is owed within a certain word count so prepare this in advance. Keep to the facts on Money Claim Online and don’t rant or vent your spleen.

What to do when clients won’t pay

Time for the heavies?

The client will then receive a court letter, which hopefully should send them into enough of a tizz to make them pay. If they don’t, after a period of time stated by the small claims court who then awards in your favour, you’re entitled to take all sorts of enforcement action such as sending in the bailiffs. However, baliffs can’t force entry. If they are granted access, they’ll simply take items to sell on (computers, for instance) and you’ll get any proceeds. Personally, I’ve never considered it worth doing.

10. The court awards in your favour. Time to celebrate? Hmm, not necessarily

Just because the small claims court acknowledges Mr Slimey is a naughty boy and should pay you and awards a CCJ against him, it doesn’t mean you’ll get paid. Mr Slimey promised to settle but didn’t.

In the end, I took out an order to obtain information. This required Mr Slimey to do a ton of paperwork showing his financial situation and present it under oath in court before a judge to work out and agree payment stages. If you’re a no-show, you can end up in prison.

I duly did this, went to Brentford County Court on the scheduled date. Mr Slimey didn’t show. I filed again, went to Brentford County Court a month later. He didn’t show. I filed again, went to Brentford County Court a month later. He did show but claimed to have left his laptop on the train. The clerk sent us away. I filed again, went to Brentford County Court a month later. He showed and we went before a fierce looking judge who told him to pay or go to jail.

And guess what, after two frustrating years (but with a growing chunk of late payment interest), I GOT PAID.

Going through the small claims court

Start small claims court procedures

Don’t get into a late payments situation in the first place

  • Be upfront – get that PO number and those terms signed in blood right away
  • Be firm – don’t be afraid to chase up your invoice. There’s often a good reason for the delay, such as an account manager forgetting to pass it on to accounts, but don’t be fobbed off.
  • Be strict about being paid by bank transfer – Mr Slimey sent me a few cheques. They bounced.
  • Be confident – the small claims court form at Money Claim Online may look daunting, but it’s fine. You can call for help about filling it in but not advice on making a late payment claim.
  • Be choosy – I’m always wary of people who contact me without a proper business email or who call at 7pm asking for a price straight off.
  • Be on good terms with the people in accounts.

Good luck!

Written by Caroline Gibson, freelance copywriter and rottweiler when it comes to chasing ££

Freelancers: how to choose SEO keywords without head scratching or swear words

Some SEO keyword tips to make your freelance life headache-free

You know that feeling of trying to untangle a kite string or old necklace? It looks pretty straightforward at first, but the more you attack it, the knottier the problem gets? Well, doing SEO keyword research to boost your site on Google can be a bit like that. The more you look into it, the harder and more head-scratchy it can seem. Aaaargh.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re already an SEO pro and glued to your Google Analytics or Google Keyword Planner account, this blog may not be for you. But if you’re after some handy SEO tips and even some SEO keywords tools so that more people can find you, read on……

How do people search online for you?

Searching for a freelance copywriterDid you know that 50% of shoppers use a search engine to help them decide about a product – and it’s incredibly rare for them to just settle on the first site they choose. And 31% read online reviews?

So you need to know which keywords to use in your titles, headings and content so that people can find you head and shoulders above anyone else. Google starts by looking for relevance. So, if you’re a freelance copywriter, rather than have a page titled ‘copywriter’ you need ‘freelance copywriter’ or ‘freelance copywriting services’.

Which SEO keywords should you use?

It all starts with a bit of common sense. You need to understand what customers want to buy and when, as well as what they want. For me, a prospective client might start with a broad search such as ‘copywriter’. They may then refine this to ‘freelance copywriter’, then ‘London freelance copywriter’ and even ‘award-winning London freelance copywriter’.

The more generic the term you use, the broader the search and the greater the volume. But – and it’s a big but – the conversion rate (which is how likely someone will click on to your site) is far less likely. So the more specific the search, the more likely they’ll land on your site.

How do you know you’ve picked the right keywords, then? Start by pulling together a list based on your existing content. One thing to bear in mind is that you may not describe your product or service on the same way that your competitors do. For example, some of my clients may come to me because they need a new strapline, but they call it a slogan or tagline.Which SEO keywords to use?

Look at Google Analytics and see the words you rank for, then try to rank better for them. There’s no point starting from scratch: if you have a hunch about what works then try and improve on it. Oh, and have another sneaky peak at what your competitors are doing and reverse-engineer their web strategy – more on this below!

Using long tailed keyword phrases

These are phrases using at least three words. Long tail takes us back to the point about understanding what a customer/client might use in their search box. If I use ‘Freelance copywriter’, then I’m up against a lot of competition, and those two generic words don’t really do justice to what my website is about. But if I use ‘Award-winning freelance copywriter in London’, it sums me up to a T and up I pop at the very top so am more likely to be found by clients looking for award-winning copywriting services in the London area.

Award winning freelance copywriter in London

Chris Andersen has a great book on this: The Long Tail. He suggests that having such a vast choice for people is changing everything, and that the Internet creates more opportunities for niche markets. In other words, you shouldn’t necessarily focus on using the most popular words but on phrases that really capture what you’re about and your point of difference.

6 keyword research tools anyone can use

Make your content shine by using a keyword research tool or an SEO keywords generator. Here are some of my favourites:

1. Google’s Keyword Planner is a free keyword tool and you simply need a Google AdWords account to get it. It can generate ideas as a broad match and also forecast an exact match. The best keyword tool is your head so edit ruthlessly. For instance, are people searching for ‘freelance copywriter’ or ‘copywriting services’?

2. Google Trends shows you the keyword volume over time stretching way back to 2004, but can also show future forecasts of volume, and by regions and languages. As you can see for the search I put in for ‘freelance copywriter’, 2004 was a vintage year!

Freelance copywriter on Google Trends

3. Screaming Frog is a Java programme you download onto your PC or Mac to crawl and analyse websites from an SEO perspective. It looks at things like H1 and H2 headers, inlnks and outlinks, meta desciptions and loads more.

4. Übersuggest is a free tool that enables you to put in the start of a word or phrase then gives you suggestions as to what regular web searches might be. You can then add a letter and get stacks more ideas. Here’s what I got as a starting point for ‘freelance copywriter’. (Why and how ‘freelance copywriter mike’ is here is a question I can’t answer.)

Freelance copywriter on ubersuggest

5. Answer The Public is a similar tool but gives you ideas for phrases as questions or with prepositions and creates the results in a spidery visual that reminds me of a chemistry diagram I once did at school.

Answer The Public visualisation

6. Semrush allows you to spy on your competitors in all sorts of interesting ways. A bit like ‘What The Butler Saw’. Just whack in someone else’s url and up pops info on keywords they use, organic v ad traffic generated, keyword comparisons, etc etc.

Content is everything

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Content is what makes you stand up and stand out.

Social media is a two-way conversation, but your website is one-way. So you need to stand out so that people can see your personality and connect and engage with you. (Think of it like this: your website is your hub with your social media as its spokes.)

Videos on YouTube are also great for pushing your content up. Just stick to around one minute.

Google doesn’t rank your website as a whole but as every single page. So of course, you need to run key words through your website. But, you also have to write to be read. Keep your content fresh, keep it interesting and keep it sprinkled with keywords without looking like a shopping list.

SEO tips in a nutshell

  • Understand your customers and how they search.
  • Reflect your customer/client insight in ways that Google can understand.
  • Raise your profile in a way that Google can also understand.
  • Make your content sparkle by being fresh, and keeping it fresh.

fresh 3


Written by Caroline Gibson, freelance copywriter

Women in business: top tips from three successful female entrepreneurs

Three successful women in business reveal their top tips as female entrepreneurs

I’ve often talked about how easy it is to stay glued to your Mac as a freelance copywriter. But having written the website and literature for the second year running for Wandsworth Enterprise Week, I was on a mission to have an office jail-break and actually hear some of the inspiring business talkers I’d written about: Nancy Cruikshank, Susan Hanage and Shaa Osmund, three highly successful entrepreneurs.

According to Start Up Donut, at least 25% of registered self-employed workers in the UK are women with an estimated 300,000 mums running businesses and adding around a pretty £7.4bn to the UK economy every year. Wow.

So, what makes a great business idea? What business lessons had they learnt along the way? What, how, why, where, how much????? Here’s what these three mumpreneurs had to say…..


Nancy Cruikshank – MyShowcase

Nancy Cruikshank

Nancy is a serial entrepreneur, set up Handbag.com and is now founder and CEO of MyShowcase, a brand new concept in beauty retail.

How Nancy started as a business woman

She began her career in 1996 as marketing manager of Vogue at Condé Nast, in the days when you might mention ‘World Wide Web’ and the reply would be, ‘what on earth is that?’ with an email pinging into your inbox once in a blue moon. Managing Director Nicholas Coleridge asked her, when just 25, to set up Condé Nast World Wide Communicator, even though she had no real digital experience. She was also asked to run Sky’s first technology-focused station, even though she had no TV experience.

Nancy launched Handbag.com in 2000, which became the UK’s leading fashion and beauty site with an audience of over 1.3 million women a month. What struck her was just how many women in the site’s discussion area talked about wanting to run their own business yet work flexibly while bringing up a family. When Handbag.com was bought for £22m by the Hearst Corporation, Nancy went on to be CEO and founder of MyShowcase, which sells over 30 different beauty brands through a network of female stylists looking to work when it suits them. No wonder it’s often hailed as ‘Avon meets SpaceNK’.

According to Nancy, ‘Beauty is a gift that keeps on giving.’ It’s also a market worth £17m in the UK alone. She’s just launched an absolutely stunning campaign through BBH.

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 14.05.05

Nancy’s 5 tips for getting a successful business off the ground

  • Being lean and agile is key.
  • Take some risks and don’t be afraid to fall. It’s important to make mistakes.
  • Be relentlessly determined – it’s the differentiating factor between success and failure.
  • Have fun along the way because the journey can be tough.
  • Having connections is all-important because seed investors are more likely to buy into you whereas getting funding from a VC is highly unlikely. (She managed to raise £600k that way in just one week!)


 Shaa Wasmund MBE – Smarta.com

Shaa Wasmund

Shaa’s attitude has always been to just get on with things – even though she didn’t necessarily have a clue about what she was doing! This woman’s career is eyebrow-raisingly impressive.

How Shaa started as a business woman

Shaa grew up in a council flat. Her mother told her to never be afraid of taking risks and pursuing dreams. And to not live her life by other people’s limitations because ‘your life is you’. She maintains her strong mother’s words have been her absolute inspiration.

And so Shaa started out with all the confidence of youth (where does it go to?). While on an internship at Cosmopolitan magazine, she took some headed paper and wrote a rather cheeky letter to Chris Eubank asking for an interview. Cosmo’s editor, Marcelle d’Argy Smith, sold the article for her to the News of The World for a whopping £20k (I’m obviously in the wrong job) and Shaa paid off her student loan in one strike.

Chris Eubank then offered her job, telling her to turn up at Gatwick airport with ‘enough stuff for 24 hours’. He tasked her with putting on the UK’s biggest fight to date in Manchester, with 18 million people watching on TV. Despite thinking ‘What am I supposed to do?’, Shaa got on with it. After five years working with Sir James Dyson, and then Sir Bob Geldof – building up travel website Deckchair.com and selling it in 12 months – she set up MyKindaPlace.com and then Smarta.com: the website that connects entrepreneurs with one other and provides access to the tip top business advice.

Shaa’s ‘superpower’, as she describes it, is taking action. Her book Stop Talking, Start Doing was the number one best selling business book in the UK for 14 months in a row, and she’s already signed a deal with Penguin for her next two books.

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 14.07.08

Shaa’s pearls of business wisdom

‘If you have a dream to pursue, it doesn’t matter where you’ve come from but where you’re going.’

‘There will be moments that aren’t going 100% the way you want. External confidence can be taken away at any time, so you need inner confidence to know you’re good enough. Perfection doesn’t exist – just your version of it.’

‘If you know your ‘why’, you’ll find your ‘how’. Knowing how to do something may seem the easiest part, but it’s actually the hardest. What’s hard is working out the why.’

Shaa’s recipe for business success

  1. Ask for help if there’s something you want to do.
  2. You have the power within you to make your business a success.
  3. Your most valuable asset is your support network.
  4. Perfection doesn’t exist – what exits is our version of it.
  5. We envy others’ success yet it’s often a façade.

Susan Hanage – NappyValleyNet

Susan Hanage

Susan is founder of NappyValleyNet, which now receives visits from over 50,000 info-hungry mums each month in the Wandsworth, Balham, Clapham, Teddington and Richmond areas.

How Susan started as a business woman

Susan launched NappyValleyNet in 2009 because of a frustrating lack of information, having spent an agonising five hours trying to find the number of a scout hut for a child’s 7th party. That was her light bulb moment. Although two websites for mums existed, there wasn’t a local mums’ forum, like a neighbour, nest friend and all-knowing school mum wrapped up in a website.

She therefore decided to set up an online community for mothers in South West London to give and receive advice on anything from great local schools to the funniest party entertainers to the dodgiest builders.

Susan remarks, ‘I love every day of NappyValleyNet but it’s not a job, it’s a huge commitment.’

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 14.09.55

Her 10 tips for starting a successful business

  1. It’s hard work, especially with a young family. What do you want to be: a mum setting up a business? Or a business run by a woman who happens to be a mum?
  2. Set ground rules.
  3. Inflate costs. Deflate revenues. New business eats up all your cash.
  4. Work with amazing people and get rid of rubbish people and rubbish suppliers. (I sense your head nodding vehemently.)
  5. Banks aren’t your friend. Try crowd funding instead and ask family and friends who know you and care about you.
  6. Hustle and be paranoid: find that street fighter within you.
  7. Listen to your customers. (Susan recommended The Mom Test as a great read about how to talk to customers and see if your business really is a good idea when everyone may be lying to you.)
  8. Networking is important, so make time for other people.
  9. Recognise what you can’t do. A bookkeeper could transform your life – and make invoicing the last thing you have to worry about rather than the first. As for legal costs, skimping is a no-no.
  10. Have a plan and financial forecast. What do you want to do? Expand worldwide? Make a profit? No one cares about cash flow as much as you do.

Whether you’ve got a great business idea that you’re burning to launch, or looking to get your business flowing and growing, it seems you just need to take a deep breath….and get on and do it. (And if you need a name for your lovely new idea or a punchy website to lure those customers like moths to a flame, why not get in touch?)

Written by Caroline Gibson, freelance copywriter

How to freelance as a copywriter

Ten things to get your head around if you really, really, really want to be a freelance copywriter

Mention the word ‘freelance’ and people assume a life in which you take the whole of August off, spend your days in pyjamas and resort to daytime TV.

If only….

I’m not sure if anyone chooses to become a ‘permanent’ freelance copywriter. I’d been made redundant four times and had a toddler the last time I was ‘let go’, fifteen years ago. But I’ve never looked back since and could not imagine returning to the ‘dark side’, ensconced behind a desk or snatching a seat daily on the District Line.

If you’re thinking about becoming a freelance copywriter, these tips based on all my years of freelance copywriting experience may help.

Ten key things to consider when freelancing as a copywriter

1. You need a good accountant

Set up a separate bank account and get yourself a good accountant – and keep every single receipt, bank statement etc etc for six years. You’ll need to decide whether to trade as self-employed, register as a company or register for VAT.

2. You have to pay tax

Never ever think in terms of a monthly salary. Sometimes, you may be able to shop at Waitrose. Other times, you need to say hello again to LIDL. Either way, always keep money aside for when the tax man cometh i.e. just as you’re about to go on your summer holiday (July 31) or just when you’re recovering from Christmas debt (January 31). As soon as I get paid by a client, I transfer about 60% of the money into another account which is my little pot of gold for the tax man and quitter times. Oh, and don’t send a cheque to the Inland Revenue: mine was intercepted last year. Naughty Post Office people. Always pay your tax online via the HMRC website.

3. How much should you charge for freelance copywriting services?

That depends on your experience. There are now a number of sites where you can bid for work such as Elance and Freelancer – for peanuts. Please, please don’t. It lowers rates and quality for everyone. (Which is why I haven’t even added links to these sites; they’re a disgrace.)

4. How should you charge out your copywriting services?

By the hour, day or project? What about allowing for revisions? Don’t forget to allow time over the phone and on emails with your client – you’ll be amazed how much this can eat into your day. No wonder lawyers charge for every single second spent on a client.

5. What kind of payment terms should you agree with clients?

Some clients assume freelance creatives lack any business acumen. Chasing up invoices can be tricky and time consuming, but it’s important to be like a rottweiler. If a client looks as if they may not pay, then tell them (email and recorded delivery letter) you’re entitled to charge interest and failure to pay will result on a small court claim.

I add this to the end of invoices: Please pay this invoice within xx days. After this, interest and debt recovery costs are chargeable in accordance with The Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998 as amended and supplemented by Late Payment of Commercial Debts Regulations 2002. Pay On Time is packed with invaluable payment advice for freelance copywriters.

6. Draw up terms and conditions 

Ask a lawyer to help you sort out terms and conditions for clients to sign. However, as a much cheaper option, there are some great templates online such as at Simplydoc.

7. Get your client to provide details and agreement in writing

It’s essential to get agreement on what you’re proposing to do and how much for, before you start. You also need to get the right contact and address details. This isn’t just for invoicing purposes: if  you ever need to take someone to the Small Claims Court, it’s vital to have the right information.  Make sure you know if your client is a registered company or a sole trader. If a registered company, check their trading address at Companies House.

8. Ask for a deposit upfront

Don’t forget to agree milestones in terms of timings and payments. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told a copywriting project is needed urgently, yet six weeks later I’m still awaiting feedback. If your client has payment terms of 30 days, that’s a long wait for your money – especially if the project is small. Don’t be afraid to ask for a deposit upfront, I normally request 25 – 50%, depending on the project size. I usually suggest a further x% after I’ve submitted the concept or the first draft, with a further payment at a mutually agreed stage.

9. Plan your time wisely and well

One huge advantage of being a freelance copywriter is that you can be flexible. One huge disadvantage of being a freelance copywriter is that you have to be flexible.

Clients may tell you their deadline is ‘tomorrow’ but, trust me, days and days can pass before you get a) go-ahead or b) feedback.

I always aim to deal with a project as soon as it hits my desk, as I never know what lies in store the following week. Yes, working can eat into my evening or weekend (which is when I’m writing this) but, on the other hand, I’m freed up to go to my daughter’s netball match. So, for me, it works both ways.

10. Get agreement on your client brief

As with Ts & Cs, get as much confirmed in writing as possible. Whether you’re writing a leaflet, brochure, press ad or website, pull together all the info you need about USPs, competitor info, target market etc etc, and ask your client to check and sign off. You know the score: after all, you’re creative director, account director and planner rolled into one. If you need a creative brief template, take a look at mine.

Good luck! And if you have any questions about becoming a freelance copywriter, feel free to drop me a line.

Written by Caroline Gibson, freelance copywriter

Working from home 9 – 5. Or not, maybe?

Does working from home ever mean nine to five?

The big plus to being freelance (mainly as a freelance copywriter) is that you can work just about anywhere and any time. But the big (and I mean BIG) downside is letting clients know when ‘any time’ starts and stops. Hang on, let me rephrase that to ‘letting potential clients know’.

My day working from home never ever starts at 9 and stops at 5. Sometimes, the best ideas come when I’m away from my desk, especially if sitting on the tube. It’s probably because I can’t be interrupted by phone or emails.

Should you answer out of hours enquiries?

I do sometimes receive emails and even calls in the evening or at weekends from prospective clients making an enquiry. I’m sorry, but I won’t answer these.  As a freelance copywriter, you have to maintain professional integrity and keep to professional hours. Even if I’m beavering away on a project at 8.30pm, that’s my choice but to the rest of the world I’m what Skype terms ‘offline’.

Similarly, I wouldn’t dream of contacting a client between 1 and 2pm or after 6pm – unless asked to or if a deadline is looming.

‘Are there exceptions?’ you’re wondering

Of course, there have to be exceptions. Right now, I have a client in Oman (i.e. three hours ahead) and a client in New York (i.e five hours behind). The working week for my Omani client runs Sunday to Thursday. If either needs to get hold of me, of course they can – we’ve discussed and agreed this beforehand.

How late is late?

So, how late is late? After 6pm in my books if you’re not an existing client. But look at it this way: I won’t be ignoring you – I’ll just be giving you 15 hours extra thought until I get in touch at 9am the next day.

What’s the best way to spend your working day working?

Imagine a sunny day and no deadlines to meet. It’s all too easy to put off what can be done today until tomorrow.

If you’re the type who likes to spend all day in your jim-jams or whiling away the hours on eBay, then a freelancing life is definitely not for you.

Yes, of course it can be distracting sitting at a desk by yourself all day. There’s always washing to do, holidays to book and parcels to take to the post office. Yet, working from home can definitely be productive. Best of all, you’re a happier person because you don’t have to face a dull, dreary, sweaty commute.

A different way of working requires a different way of thinking. So, how can you make the most out of your 9 til 5 working day?

1. Learn to prioritise. Send out your invoices first thing and as soon as your copywriting project is signed off – you have to keep your cash flow turning over. Reply to client emails as soon as they come in – even if it’s to acknowledge them by saying “Let me read through your comments and get back to you later today.”

2. Make a list of what you need to achieve each day, especially deadlines. Tick them off as you get through them. So what if you haven’t managed to do them all – at least you’ve achieved some and, hey, tomorrow’s another day.

3. If you have a freelance project you really need to concentrate on, switch off your phone and quit your emails for a few hours.


4. Try not to sit at your desk for more than 60 minutes. Get some fresh air, do some exercise. Having short breaks can help your concentration.

5. Avoid feeling isolated. Go to networking events or courses to improve your skills. Suggest to clients that you’ll come in for regular meetings – it’s also a great way to net more work and get introduced to their colleagues in other departments who may need your skills.

6. If you really need to do some personal online tasks, avoid cutting into your precious 9 – 5 working day and leave them until the evening. Resist the urge to turn on the TV or go shopping.

7. Keep up with paperwork. If the thought of filling in those book-keeping columns is dull (personally, I’m a woman of words and hate anything to do with figures which is why I took the laughingly student-named ‘Maths for Morons’ subsidiary course during my degree at Keele University), then find a good accountant and never let them go.

8. Switch off and recharge your batteries. I’m a great advocate of a power nap and used to have a 10 minute lie down under my desk when working permanently in ad agencies as a copywriter.

9. Dress as if you’re going to the office. I recently arranged a Skype call the other morning, without even thinking my client would want a video call. All I can say is thank goodness I wasn’t still in my dressing gown. Being dressed as if you’re off to work (which you’re doing anyway) somehow makes you feel more professional and ready to deal with any client challenges.

10. Keep motivated. If you’re freelance or running your own business, it’s vital to remember the reasons why you started in the first place and use those to see you through any tough times.

11. Book lunch. Meet friends. Meet clients. It’s a lovely treat that beats the daily cheese on toast.

Written by Caroline Gibson, freelance copywriter

Marketing communication channels – where is as important as how

Where is as important as how when considering marketing communication channels

As a freelance copywriter, clients sometimes ask me how to make their advertising work hard for them – not just in terms of words but also £££. Here are two key areas to consider when choosing your communication channel.

1. Where, what, how?

Where should your advertising communication run?

Selecting ‘where’ you communicate is as important as ‘what’ you communicate. For a piece of communication to be effective you need to plan the media, balancing several factors against the overall objective of the campaign.

What do you know about your target audience?

What media do they consume? How can you get your message across in the right channel, at the right time? All media planning derives from understanding the audience and the more you know about them, the more insightful you will be with your plan.

How large and how widespread is your audience? Can you reach your target market through print ads, or are would it be more efficient to target them through email?

Which marketing communication channels should you use?

What combination of media works most efficiently? What do you want the campaign to achieve overall – what do you want your audience to actually do? Are you better raising awareness with certain media and then provoking action with different media? Do you even need a response? Do you want to capture information about your audience?

Individual media are more effective for certain tasks. For instance, how much information can you include in a poster, compared to a piece of direct mail?

What does your chosen medium say about you? A paid-for advertising campaign might say you’re ‘big’ and ‘established’; a well targeted digital campaign might say you’re ‘modern’ and ‘switched on’; a blog might suggest you have ‘personality’ with an individual ‘tone of voice’.

What’s your marketing communication budget?

How much money do you have to spend and how will you get the best value from your budget? Think of the whole budget involved, which might include the cost of paid-for media, but also might include production money, or the cost of someone’s time – for instance the cost for a freelance copywriter to create a regular blog, or manage a Facebook site, or write Twitter feeds, has to be taken into account.

2. Offline v online marketing communication

 Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.

Traditional offline media

Press ads

Pros: Can reach a broad audience easily. Allows in depth explanation. Variety of sizes. Cons: Can be expensive. Clutter. Readers rarely look at all sections.


Pros: Broad reach. Can target specific locations. 24/7 exposure. Creative venue possibilities e.g. escalators, train stations.

Cons: Limited message capability. Short exposure time. Prime outdoor locations are expensive and go quickly. Unable to change message quickly.

Direct mail

Pros: Target by location/demographics. Easy to track response. Low cost per thousand.

Cons: Low response rate (a successful direct mail response rate is 2%-3%). Could be thrown away. Only as good as your mailing list.


Pros: Cost effective. Can target different audiences at different times. Local radio station can write and produce the ads. Can measure response by asking people to contact specific web link/phone number.

Cons: Audience may not be listening. Audience is not actively engaged.

Online media

Digital media often allows for high levels of targeting, tracking and measurability which makes it easy to measure the success of your communication and refine and improve it for the future.


Pros: Ease – a template for a newsletter is created, for client to supply copy and images to be placed. Can direct audience to websites for more info and get feedback. Inexpensive and timely. Builds loyalty.

Cons: Can end up in spam box. May be ignored. Needs to be sent out regularly.


Pros: Cost effective. Can promote a service or build a community of supporters.

Cons: Takes time to set up, maintain and update. Not SEO friendly.


Pros: A short editorial piece that is newsworthy/provides an opinion and maintains regular contact with your audience. Boosts your SEO online. Timely. Free. Can create a viral effect through social sharing and bookmarking.

Cons: Needs to be done regularly, so consider hiring a good freelance copywriter. May run out of things to blog about. Social media takes continual time and effort to create a positive, relevant presence.


Pros: Good for starting a conversation around a certain topic. Generates a wide and engaged audience base virally. Instant. Free.

Cons: Takes time and effort to create a positive, relevant presence. Anyone can have a voice can offer opinions, with or without your consent. Large follower drop off rate. 140 character count.

QR codes

Pros: Ideal if you want to avoid content-heavy print literature but have more information to get across. Quick to generate. Simple way to share digital information to a mobile device. Contains trackable links.

Cons: Many people still have no idea what QR codes are. You need to download an app to scan QR codes from your iPhone/Smartphone

RSS feeds

Pros: RSS (Rich Site Summary) is an efficient tool for retaining updated information from frequently visited websites. RSS feeds are spam-free.

Cons: The identity of the source website is often confusing as RSS feeds don’t display the actual URL. Impossible to determine the number of users subscribed to a feed and frequency of visits.

App development

Pros: Can tie into all of the advanced features of your mobile device, e.g. can provide GPS-based directions. When people make a phone call, they might see your logo. When they get a text message, your brand can be reinforced.

Cons: Can be expensive. Can fragment your online presence and/or marketing strategy, i.e. should you guide people to your website or app or Facebook page?


Whichever medium you choose, one thing is for certain, the tighter the brief, the tighter the creative work and the better the result. Want to know more about choosing the right advertising communication channels to boost your business? Or see an ideal creative briefing template? Then email caroline@carolinegibson.co.uk.

Written by Caroline Gibson, freelance copywriter

Keep customers coming back and loving you

What makes a customer want to come back for more?

It’s a topic that seems to have filled my week for several reasons.

Reason 1: Having attended the recent TFM&A show (boo to bad link building and yessss to high quality content), I felt I should squeeze in some time to pimp up my Google+ account. But I got a bit distracted and was spirited away to Friends+Me which I seem to have signed up to without so much as sneezing.

Within minutes, I received an email saying, “Hey Caroline, I am Alois, Founder of Friends+Me. I wanted to reach out to see if you need any help getting started.”

Surprised, I replied, “Is this an automated email?” to which he answered, “Hi Caroline, yes, it is an automatic email but what’s important is the message, offer of help. Don’t hesitate to contact me in case you need any help. Have a wonderful day!”

What great – and instant – customer service. A thank you email needn’t be fancy; it just needs to be simple, warm and polite – see examples below!

Reason 2: I’ve been working on a school questionnaire to send prospective parents accompanied by a thank you email from the Head.

SurveyMonkey, I love you. You’re easy, you’re flexible and you’re free for the basic questionnaire package. (Upgrades to extra techy wizardry are available.)

The key thing to surveys is getting the right answers to the right questions. Consider using scales in which people are asked to rate something between 1 and 5 or between ‘Unlikely’ to ‘Very likely’ – SurveyMonkey has all sorts of wonderful options for you to choose from. And keep that online questionnaire short: people get bored very easily.

Reason 3: One of my regular clients, Anatomic & Co, asked me to create a series of thank you emails to customers. The best thank you messages from companies are those with a really personal touch – the ones that make you feel one in a million, not just one of a million. Such as these ones here.

Three examples of effective ‘thank you’ customer emails

Yes, appreciative retailers – my debit card will definitely pay you a visit once more.

 How to write a great customer ‘Thank you’ email 

Use a great subject line

Everything hangs on this. Your subject line is the reason why your reader will open your email. With this type of email, you’re not necessarily selling anything: you’re welcoming your customer to your service or showing your appreciation of an order. A simple ‘Thank you’ or ‘Hello from us’ or ‘A big, warm welcome’ works fine. Just be sure to choose the right tone for your brand.

Reinforce great customer service

This is your opportunity to slip in something about fast delivery times, free returns, providing your birthday in exchange for a small gift at the time etc etc. Anything like this helps to reinforce what a great and caring brand you are. 

Throw in a reminder

A ‘Thank you’ email letter is also a great way to clinch another sale. Think about including an offer such as ‘An extra 10% off for a limited period only’. Or, ‘Be first to take a look at our newly added lines’. Or, ‘As a treat for being a first-time customer, use code xxxx next time for a special discount’.

Be personal to your customers

Your customer is a person so always use their name. I have to confess that I sometimes ignore email enquiries from potential clients who just say ‘Hi’ (and sometimes, not even that!). If they haven’t used my name, I know that I’m probably one of quite a few freelance copywriters that they’re contacting. Which makes me feel far from unique.

And do remember to add your name, such as ‘Regards, Jenny’, or personalise any reply contact details such as ‘Jenny@JoeBloggs’ rather than ‘CustomerService@JoeBloggs’.

Don’t be afraid to add a personal touch, just like Alois, Founder of Friends+Me did with me.

Let your customers be personal to you

Click on my email details on my contact page and see what pops up.

I’ve created a bespoke subject line. I also know that my potential customer is emailing me from my contact page. Which probably means they’ve looked at the rest of my site. Which is great news, as far as I’m concerned, as I know they’re keen to talk to me.

End on a clear call to action

You want to leave your customer with the warm, happy, fuzzy feeling that they’re really special to you. There’s no need to even make this a hard-sell call to action. Something like ‘We look forward to your custom again’ (which is very formal) or ‘Have a nice day’ (which is very friendly) or ‘We think you’re fantastic and can’t wait to hear from you again’ (which is quirkier but from the heart).

And finally…does it need to be a Thank you email?

Buck the trend and be even more personal. If you’re a start up or a small business, why not send out a note in the post? There’s something special about a well written, nicely handwritten note (just proof read thoroughly before sending).

So, pencil sharpened and at the ready to pen a gracious bon mot or thirty.

Meanwhile, thank you for reading this. I mean it. I do.

Written with thanks by Caroline Gibson, freelance copywriter

Choosing a company name and scratching your head?

What’s the best way to create a catchy new company name?

Creating a new name for your new business, product or brand is one of the most important decisions you’ll take.

The name you choose has to have relevance. It has to make you stand out from the crowd. And it has to summarise your brand and your values in just one or two words, so that your potential customers ‘get it’ in an instance.

Not easy.

How much does it cost to come up with a new business or product name?

Thinking up a name can take minutes, but more likely days. In the early 90s at Wolff Olins, I worked on a brief for a new Hutchinson Telecom brand. Our team spent days, poring over dictionaries and the thesaurus (only Roget’s will do, BTW)….probing books…. ploughing through magazines.

The name? Why, Orange. Seems pretty much par for the course now as we’re so used to it, but Orange was a head turner when it launched.

Yes, there are dedicated naming companies you can use. But at hefty prices.

What if you don’t have a big budget for your naming project?

A good starting point is to trawl through wordy sites like More Words, Word Hippo, The Phrase Finder and good old Roget’s (in hardback, of course).

But do you really have the time and energy to do this? If not, ask a freelance copywriter to help.

It’s rare that a client will decide on a name, plus its url, in the first round of suggestions so you need to allow for plenty of to-ing and fro-ing. Half a day isn’t enough. But two to three days of a copywriter’s time allows for research, mulling, revising and revamping.

The cost may be a little more than you’d anticipated. But the result should be priceless.

Don’t forget – your URL is as important as your new company name

Any naming project these days is a tricky one – mainly because just about every URL worth its salt has been snapped up. It’s been said that 99.9% of the dictionary is registered as a domain name.

With generic top-level domains (gTLDs) are coming up for grabs on a regular basis, the pressure to find a unique domain name has eased. The registry Donuts Inc has plans for over 1,000 new appendages such as .agency, .boutique, .builders, and .cheap. Apple and Ford have already laid claim to registering their names as gTLDs, as protection from naughty cybersquatters.

But for start-ups who can’t afford to pay $185,000 to ICANN when applying – and $25,000 for each year the domain name is used – use a creative copywriter to work out a  great name and corresponding url.

They both need to be unforgettable. Not forgettable.

Ideally, get the suffix for the country you’re in (such as ‘.co.uk’), and grab the ‘.com’ too if you can. You can consider ‘.net’ and ‘.info’ but they don’t have the same weight and reassurance. Try seeing if you can tweak your name to get the suffix you really, really want. For example, by adding ‘The’ or an adjective or a colour or ending in something like ‘Services’.

Just make sure you check out closely sounding domain names as the last thing you want is to have a similar name to a near competitor. Nightmare.

How to choose the right name
Here are five key points to bear in mind/ask yourself.

1. How creative do you want to be?

Have you heard of Rodial beauty products? It’s a remarkable brand, not just because of the turn-back-the-clock anti-wrinkle formulations, but also because the names are truly eye-popping. What copywriter wouldn’t want to pass up the chance of dreaming up Snake Serum, Dragon’s Blood and Bee Venom? Who couldn’t fail to be seduced by the promises of SUPER FIT boob job and SUPER FIT size zero?

Choosing a catchy product or company name increases your chances of standing out and being talked about.

2. How unique do you want to be?

It’s tempting to make up a name completely, like Google. With these types of company names, it’s advisable to check the word in other languages to avoid potential embarrassment.

Try to avoid odd spellings that can’t be pronounced. And be careful of acronyms that rely on explanation. Try to keep your new name short and simple.

3. How personal do you want to be?

Another option is to name your company after yourself. The downside is that you can sound like a one-man band, which is fine as a start-up but may not hold the same allure ten years down the line.

How can you be sure your new company name is the right name?

A client recently asked me to create new names for his luxury events service. He’d already had a naming company work on the project but felt what they’d provided was lacklustre. He’d then come up with a name himself but wasn’t 100% certain. I created variations based on this plus looked at other options that were closely related.

What did he do? He went for the name he’d thought of. Which was absolutely fine. Sometimes, you just need to go around the block and explore other angles.

Like to know more? Check out my page on namings and give me a call.

Written by Caroline Gibson, freelance copywriter

My Mighty Rice client has won a mighty nice award

Mighty Rice wins award in Dieline Package Design Awards !


My Mighty Rice client has just won an award in The Dieline Package Design Awards 2013 –  a worldwide competition devoted exclusively to the art of brand packaging.

Twelve industry experts judged over 1100 entries, based on quality of creativity, marketability and innovation.

A great brief from Mighty Rice in Mauritius led to gorgeous packaging by Mouse Graphics in Athens with packaging copy from freelance copywriter me in London. Now that’s what I call a mighty fine international collaboration.

Hungry for more rice? Check out their website.





Written by Caroline Gibson, freelance copywriter

How can a freelance copywriter stop a brand being bland?

Is your brand tired, dull, flabby and, er, bland?

I was invited recently to a meeting to explain how I could help a company – not a big company but definitely one you’d have heard of – that had lost its way. With a hands-on founder and a marketing director who’d been there for years, they’d realised the need for some fresh perspective.

Being a freelance copywriter is about more than clever words and ideas. It’s about demonstrating strategic thinking. You need to be able to understand how a brand works.

What’s the vision and what are the values? What’s the position in the marketplace – now and five years from now?  What are the USPs? Who’s the target audience? Who’s the competition?

The brand values have to clearly summarise the characteristics of the brand and how it should be perceived by our customers. How will you articulate those values? And how will they be reflected by a distinctive tone of voice that’s delivered consistently across all communications?

As a client, you can do this yourself – but you may not see the wood for the trees. Or you can appoint an agency – and pay big bucks. Or you can work with a freelance copywriter who’s also a good strategic thinker.

Get it right and your brand will not only stand up but also stand out.


Written by Caroline Gibson, freelance copywriter