Part I: Q&A With Tom Albrighton

This is Part I of a two-part Q&A with Tom Albrighton, founder and principal consultant at ABC Copywriting. After you’ve finished reading, check out Part II for Tom’s tips to succeeding as a freelancer. For more about Tom see below or check out his blog.

Jargon Writer: When/How did you first become a freelancer?

Tom Albrighton: The small publishing company where I worked took a new direction, and my post was made redundant. So I decided to try my hand at freelance copywriting. That was in 2005.

JW: What kind of freelancing do you do and within that field, what do you specialize in?

Tom: I call myself a copywriter, but there are lots of different specializations within copywriting. My own strengths are business-to-business copywriting, website and SEO writing, editing academic papers and long-copy work. I don’t do very much business-to-consumer or direct marketing copywriting.

JW: What is unique about freelancing in this field?

Tom: Well, one interesting thing is that it’s a professional occupation that’s open to anyone. Although there are skills required, anyone can set themselves up as a freelance writer and start serving clients. Most people already have a phone and a computer, which is all the equipment you need.

JW: What about the idea of freelancing drew you?

Tom: When I worked in publishing, I’d commissioned quite a few freelance editors and designers and regarded their lifestyles with some envy. But I never believed I would be able to make a freelance life work for me, until I actually tried it. Now, I’m not sure I could do without the freedom to control my schedule, or the variety in terms of clients and projects.

JW: How long have you been working freelance and either: What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome? or What has your greatest success been thus fair?

Tom: I’ve been freelancing for just over five years now.

It might sound strange, but I think the biggest obstacle I’ve overcome is having the nerve to position myself as a copywriter. When I started out, I thought of my skills in terms of the jobs I’d had – none of which were really anything to do with commercial copywriting. It took me a while to realize that if you say you can do it, and people believe you can do it, than you can do it!

In terms of projects and clients, my success has been slow and steady rather than sudden and spectacular. But an important breakthrough for me was developing the most recent iteration of my website. It’s taken me a while, but I now have an online presence I’m really happy with, that ranks well on search engines (at present anyway).

JW: What changes have taken place in the industry since you first began freelancing?

Tom: Copywriting web copy primarily aimed at search engine optimization (SEO) has become much more important, with the rise of specialist SEO copywriters and also ‘content mills,’ where clients can buy text ‘by the word’ to try and make their sites appeal to search engines. Most copywriters see themselves as providing a service rather than a commodity, so that’s been a bit depressing for some of them. We’ve had to re-emphasize the value offered by a professional copywriter – in truth, it’s much more about the talking and the thinking than the words on the page. Anyone can turn out some words – the trick is finding the right ones!

Tom Albrighton has over fifteen years’ experience in writing, editing and project management, including work for Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, London Business School and Dorling Kindersley.

Tom is founder and principal consultant at ABC Copywriting, which provides writing and editing services to businesses, organizations and academic institutions in the UK and around the world. He writes regularly on copywriting issues for the ABC Copywriting blog, which is read and commented by many leading copywriters.

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