Finding inspiration & creativity hard to come by? Start here.

Creativity is a fickle mistress. Inspiration isn’t much better.

There for you in the middle of the night. Whispering sweet temptations, teasing you with wild thoughts.

They flirt with you as you drive on empty roads.

Ideas, dreams, what ifs.

But call on them when needed? They might come. Bounding towards you so readily you have to stop and catch your breath. But other times?

Not so much.

And if you have a deadline they’re guaranteed to miss it.

Creativity is a tease. Inspiration is a flirt. Coquettish in the extreme. They’re responsible for your greatest moments and biggest breakthroughs. But will send you insane with despair when suddenly, without warning, they stop returning your calls.

 

I’m writing this as I sit in a café. It’s almost a parody of the freelance writer. Flat white? Notebook? White noise of the coffee grinder? All present and correct. Creativity and inspiration have chosen to bestow me with their company today. It means I’m working at speed – with dreadful handwriting and writer’s cramp.

Another way of looking at creativity and finding inspiration

I’m going to stop with the sensual, womanly metaphors now. Because in truth, as much as it might be fun to think of creativity as a seductive and wayward lover, creativity is more like a bottle of water. You can’t drink from it infinitely without topping it up. When you get busy, you miss those opportunities to refill and before you know it, you’re sipping at an empty bottle.
It’s little wonder that as time goes on, the creative spark that sets you apart dulls. Your work becomes vanilla. Beige. Limp.

Refuel your creativity

Refill that bottle of creativity – or if you will, tempt back your wayward lover. Take action.

1. Stop. Give yourself a break. Exhaustion stops your brain working and leaves you good for one thing only; a good night’s sleep or even better – a holiday. Listen to your body and give yourself the night off.

2. Take inspiration. Head off and soak up someone else’s creativity. Visit a gallery. Read a book. Go to a gig. Now honestly, Instagram or Pinterest don’t count. You need to physically experience something for it to truly affect you. You need your synapses to fuse together in excitement. That ain’t gonna happen on your Insta feed.

3. Work at scale. Creativity needs space. Big rooms. Large tables. Enormous pieces of paper. Visit a gallery and have your mind blown by the scale of some of the pieces of work there. Sure, there are some gorgeous miniatures too, but creativity works best without constraint – give it some space.

4. Get outside. Maybe this is why so many freelancers have dogs. Fresh air, nature, trees – it doesn’t matter what it is, but the sense of otherness you can get from being anywhere other than your desk or studio might be just what you need to tempt back creativity.

5. Exit distractions. If there’s something nearby that needs my attention, I just can’t get creative. Kids, the washing machine bleeping that its finished its cycle. Oh yeah – my phone… Put me in the corner of a room with people I don’t know and I can produce my finest work…

6.What’s your poison? OK. I know this is contentious, but the relaxing properties of a G&T or glass of red wine can’t be underestimated. Hemmingway famously said that one should “write drunk, edit sober”. I’m not suggesting you habitually get legless at 1.30pm on a Wednesday, but an evening of creative reflection can certainly be improved with a glass of the good stuff.

7. Phone a friend. Sometimes it’s a case of chatting things through. Friends, family, other freelancers. Even the barista at your café, different people have different perspectives, so chat away and replenish your creativity.

But above all, there’s one thing that NEVER helps. Beating yourself up about it. Self-flagellation – the metaphorical or actual – won’t help. Switch off your phone. Close your laptop. Step away from your desk.

And she’ll come. She’ll come running – you’ve just got to give her time.

 

Need some extra help in finding your inspiration? Book a call with me. We’ll have a quick chat and then schedule in some time to brainstorm ideas and thoughts together.

Beyond Awesome. Better Ways to Say “Great Job!”

It’s nice to give praise. To tell people they did a great job or that you really enjoyed the coffee/meal/cake they made you. Positive feedback helps reinforce desired behaviours and sends a message of appreciation. Something that’s much needed in the workplace and home. But have you stopped to consider how you give praise?

“You did a great job Sally, well done”

“That presentation was awesome. Great job!”

“Amazing cake, thank you!”

Do you spot a theme?

Yes, the words are positive. But then if they weren’t, it wouldn’t be praise.

The other thing you may have noticed is that the words are all fairly general. They’re not specific and are easily swapped around with one another. “Awesome” could apply to the cake, presentation or job that Sally did.

So what?

The problem with using generalist vocabulary is that it lacks true impact and doesn’t really say what you were impressed with. The effect lessens with each usage. The problem with telling everyone that they do a great, awesome or amazing job, is that over time, the effect of that compliment diminishes.

How to give more constructive praise

It all comes down to the words you use. Be more thoughtful in your choice of vocabulary. Perhaps Sally did a “meticulous” job, or maybe she was “right on brief“. Both of these give Sally an idea of what you’re so happy about, helping guide her with future projects. She’ll be just as, if not more pleased than if you’d said “great“.

And that “awesome” presentation may well have been “inspiring“, “thought-provoking“, “highly competent” or even “well-judged and very funny“. So much more helpful than an over-used statement of  “awesome“.

And of course, you’d be absolutely right to describe a delicious cake as “amazing”, but how about getting a bit more creative with your compliments – “so rich and chocolatey”, or “light and delicious”, or even “just the sugar hit I needed right then”. You’ll be so much more likely to be offered an extra slice…

Let’s face it, no-one’s going to get grumpy with you if you happen to tell them they did something awesome. I certainly wouldn’t. But to give them a thoughtful compliment or well-considered piece of praise could well make their day.

And wouldn’t that be awesome?

 

Looking for better ways to express yourself? Sign up to my not-very-regular email updates and you’ll get more ideas and suggestions. (You’ll also get a FREE downloadable checklist to help you write better blogs – feel free to pass it on if you won’t use it!)

Five Things I Learnt from #StoryPower 2018

Image of books in a library with the text "Telling Tales. 5 things I learnt from #storypower"I’m normally restricted to the company of my needy cat and delivery drivers who need me to sign for various parcels, so the thought of heading into London for a conference was exciting. And no ordinary conference – one that promised to help me grow as a copywriter thanks to the “Power of Storytelling” hosted by the behavioural research agency “Watch Me Think”. And with the added happy anticipation of an evening’s romance (the 9-year wedding anniversary for myself & Mr Sands), I headed into town for some professional development.

I learnt lots from #StoryPower. Much more than I can reasonably cram into a blog post. So what follows are my favourite five takeaways. As it turns out, #StoryPower was the highlight of my day – the wedding anniversary romance didn’t quite live up to expectations, but more on that later…

Numbers Are The Lazy Route

Ouch! I’m certainly one of those people who believes in the power of a good fact or statistic, so this point made me sit up and listen. (I weakly defend myself with the excuse of it being a hangover from my time in corporate marketing where dropping a good margin % figure into a presentation gave you rockstar status). But this compelling talk from Anthony Tasgal made the point that “numbers numb us, while stories stir us”. We should take the time to move our audiences, tap into their desire for connection and debate. We can still use the fact of course, but should take the time to build a story around the numbers and make our audiences feel happy, satisfied, vindicated…

Compelling Writing is Child’s Play

Two brilliant minds presented on a similar theme – reawakening the child that still hides deep inside us. Vicki Perrin of BBC Radio2 works with the 500 Words children’s writing competition, whilst Emily Murdock is part of the grandiose-sounding Ministry of Stories who front their children’s writing charity with the intriguing and involving Hoxton Street Monster Supplies. Details of the imaginative products on sale in the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies including Tins of Fear – you can choose between “Escalating Panic”, “Mortal Terror” or (a regular in our household) “A Vague Sense of Unease” – spiked the room with creativity. Vicki’s touching talk brought to life the importance of running with our imaginations, and not hampering our stories with the shackles of grammar, spelling and convention. A lifting alternative to a line regularly attributed to Hemmingway “write drunk, edit sober”, this encourages us to “write like an 8-year old, edit like a 38-year old” (substitute the decade for your age of choice…).

Tom Cruise Can Help You Become a Better Writer

Stuart Chapman from Lego shared an approach to storytelling that I love. He calls it the “Tom Cruise Skill Level Over Time” method.

Stuart pointed out that pretty much all Tom Cruise films follow the same pattern – he starts out as a decent guy doing OK. He then has a crisis of confidence and loses his ability to do what he was doing. He then meets a beautiful woman who helps him rediscover his mojo. He then goes on to become even better than he was before and saves the day. It’s amusingly accurate – think Top Gun, Jerry McGuire, Jack Reacher…

It’s a clever way to build up a story about your services. By creating an element of doubt (the crisis of confidence) in your reader, you can then go on to be the beautiful woman who can help your reader become even better and “save the day” (or something like that).

It’s Clever to Look Silly

Richard Shotton shared something that many of us unconsciously already knew – people are more appealing when they admit or exhibit flaws. It’s known as the “Pratt Fall Effect”, and essentially tells us to revel in our disadvantage. Few companies do this – inadequacies are a pretty scary thing to admit to after all. But the Pratt Fall Effect tells us if we pretend perfection, we’re less likely to be considered. Listerine is a great example of a product that wallows in its poor flavour, whilst Hans Brinker is a chain of hotels renowned for self-confessed terrible customer service.

But by admitting to flaws, these brands and companies prove their honesty and add believability to their other claims. People are wily; they will always assume you or your product have a flaw. If you leave the deductions up to them, they may well believe the flaws are something you’re actually quite good at.

It takes courage to go down this route, but I’ll be thinking of using this tool occasionally. Certainly for myself (when I get round to it) and possibly for brave clients who are up for some gentle safe-denigration.

Honesty is The Best Policy

A neat segue from the previous point, Ian Leslie talked about the importance of honesty. Not just from a legal and defamatory perspective, but from the angle of tapping into the hidden truth – Hemmingway (yes, him again) said we should “write hard and clear about what hurts”. And it’s the truth – if what you’re writing about feels uncomfortable in some way, it probably needs to be said. Your emotions carry across the page (“no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader” – as said by Robert Frost). We respond to stories that are fundamentally truthful – and so should use this to our advantage.

 

#StoryPower spoilt us with beautiful stories, witty anecdotes and stirring tales. I was moved to tears on more than one occasion – special mentions to Vicki Perrin, Daniel Meadows and Asif Noorani for that. And a huge thank you to the lovely lady who gave me a tissue when I could barely hold back the snuffles after watching the opening scene in “Up” in Asif’s presentation.

And what about the wedding anniversary romance? A non-event I’m sad to say. I returned home full of romantic anticipation to a husband with extreme man flu. We had fried egg & oven chips for our anniversary dinner and he was in bed by 8.30. Romance may not be dead, but it certainly has the lurgy right now.

Do you enjoy a good story? And what are your favourite ways of using stories to involve your readers and create a connection?

12 Copywriting Tips for Small Business Owners

cup of coffee, pot of pens and paper with the text "12 copywriting tips for small business owners" and the hashtag #IGave12As a small business owner, you need to master a range of skills. Copywriting is one of those that seems simple at first glance but can quickly become overwhelming. As part of #MicroBizMatters day I’m giving 12 tips to help other micro business owners.

Are you ready? Coffee in hand? Let’s go…

  1. Writing doesn’t need to be a drama. You’re just communicating with your audience. If you feel anxious as you approach your keyboard, then try some mind tricks to help you relax into it. One such trick is to pretend you’re talking to just one person – you’ll feel yourself slipping into a much more comfortable frame of mind, ready to write!
  2. Worries about your grammar? Install Grammarly – it’s what all the copywriters are using. It handily checks your grammar & gives you a little nudge if things look incorrect. Beware, the free version has a fondness for Oxford commas & American spellings, so use it with good judgement and align it with your preferences.
  3. Forget yourself. You’re not writing for yourself. You’re writing for your audience. So make sure your writing talks to them about what they’ll get. Not what you can deliver.
  4. Bad writing is better than no writing. After all, you can’t edit a blank page. So no matter how uninspired you feel or how bad your cold, get something down on the page. Chances are it won’t look that bad when you review it. Speaking of which…
  5. Sleep on it. Leave everything you’ve written for a good few hours before you send/upload/share it. Overnight (or even longer if you have the time) is best. You’ll be amazed at how much you want to change on your final reading.
  6. If it’s not your idea, say so. After all, you’ll just get into hot water if you try to pass off an idea or passage as your own. And in any case, it’s an opportunity to link to or mention your contributor, by which you broaden your audience.
  7. Share! What’s the point of writing fine words if they just sit on your laptop or blogging account without ever seeing the light of day? Share, share and share again. And then repurpose it so you can share it even more. The world deserves to see your brilliance wouldn’t you say?
  8. SEO is dead. Or so they keep saying. If you want your online writing to index well with search engines, you need to write naturally. Keep it relevant to your audience and use a broad range of vocabulary that refers to your “keywords” – not that anyone admits to using these anymore.
  9. Keep it simple. Forget the long words and keep to simple language that’s easily understood by anyone and everyone. There are no prizes for the number of readers who don’t understand you.
  10. Leave out unnecessary words. The more words you include, the more your audience needs to process, and the more likely they are to stop reading. Cutting out words such as “to”, “of”, “then” and “that” where they’re not needed will go a long way to making your copy that little bit easier to read.
  11. You don’t need to start at the beginning. It can be easier to get stuck into the meat of what you’re trying to say and then build the copy up around it. Don’t get hung up about finding the perfect opening paragraph – just leave it, write the rest of your document and then come back to it later on.
  12. Get help. No-one is an island. If you’re really struggling, get a copywriter (shameless plug, my apologies!). Otherwise, ask willing (and capable) friends and family to proofread your work and give you feedback. A brainstorming session with your network can go a long way to giving you new ideas for your next few blog posts or emails.

Do you have 12 things to share? Then why not get involved with #IGave12 yourself? You can do anything that involves the number 12 – write a blog post giving 12 hints or tips, pledge to buy 12 items from micro businesses in the next 6 months, spend 12 minutes promoting or supporting another micro business, follow 12 new micro businesses on social media – the list is endless as long as you use the number 12 and tell people what you’ve done by sharing with the #MicroBizMatters Day team using #IGave12 or posting to the MicroBizMatters facebook page!

 

Want Results? Brief Your Copywriter Like This.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a good brief gets good work. The time and effort you put into creating a brief are directly correlated to the satisfaction you’ll receive from the finished piece.Vintage typewriter on a desk. Text reads "Want results? Brief your copywriter like this"

But how to do you create a “good” brief? What does good look like? Let’s take a look at something seemingly unrelated… a trip to the hairdresser.

Client: I want it a bit shorter, with texture, but no layers. A bit of oomph, but sleek at the same time”.

Hairdresser:  So how about an inch and a half off the ends, and a body wave to give you some texture.

Client:  No, no chemical treatments, and although it needs to be shorter, I don’t want to lose the length

You leave the salon an hour later with something that looks very similar to what you went in with, just with a better blow dry. You grumble that the hairdresser didn’t do what you wanted, and say you’re never going back.

But if you’d been clearer, the results would have been different. You could have taken in a photo of a similar hairstyle. Researched what it was you wanted and given the hairdresser a more concrete idea of your definition of the words “oomph” and “sleek”.

Briefing in a copywriting or design project is not that different. Good creatives will seek to clarify for you, make sure they understand what you actually want. Client satisfaction is after all the key to success. But to get the work you want, you need to brief well. You need to brief like a boss.

How Should I Brief My Copywriter?

There is no agreed and official way to brief. Some agencies and freelancers may have a briefing form for you to work with, but these can be restrictive and prevent clients sharing the information they need to share. It’s better to work through your brief thoroughly and well in advance. Here are some helpful pointers:

Project Scope: What do you want? Copy for a new website or just one or two pages? An entirely new blog post or something repurposed from existing content. Let your copywriter know how much you want them to write. Either in terms of wordcount or number of pages.

Objectives: What do you want this work to do for you and your business? Why are you investing time and money in this activity?

Audience: Who do you want to read this piece of work? Same people as now or a new audience?

Messages: What do you want people to do because of this piece of work? Think hard about this before deciding what you want to tell your audience. Any copywriter worth his or her printer ink will make sure your finished article is client-focused, but they may need your help in getting there. What do you want to tell your audience and what do they want to know?

Tone: Are you an approachable confidante? Or a professional authority with a formal tone? Give your copywriter as much as you can here. If you have examples you like, then share them – you’ll be more likely to strike gold first time round. If you’re not certain take a look around and let your copywriter have a few examples of a tone you’d like to replicate.

Essentials: what are the things you absolutely want to see in the finished article? And what do you definitely not want to see? List set phrases or spellings, keywords and legal requirements. Your copywriter will only know what you want or don’t want if you tell them.

Deadlines: give a realistic deadline and let your copywriter know the stages of approval. Are you the only person to please, or are there 3 other people who will want to take a look? And for the purposes of your budget try to give as much time as possible. Short or antisocial deadlines tend to command a premium rate.

Background information: how much do you have? Give it all to your copywriter. Send them background links, presentations and samples to experience. Writing about something you have little knowledge about can be tough; you’ll get client brownie points if you flood your copywriter with information. There is genuinely no such thing as too much background information.

Briefing Your Copywriter Gets Easier With Practice

After working with a copywriter for a while, you’ll develop a relationship where the briefing process becomes much easier and faster. But it will always be worth working through the above points to make sure you don’t miss anything out. It may take time, but time spent writing a solid brief is time well spent. You owe it to yourself and your business.