Copywriter and brand specialist, Sorcha MacKenzie, is our guest for the 118th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. We’ve admired Sorcha for quite awhile now, and have followed along as she’s launched her own brand and website. We asked Sorcha about that process and this stuff too:
• her path from acting to branding to copywriting
• what her business looks like today
• what it’s like to work for big brands like Marvel and Disney
• how research impacts the creative process and brand development
• working with chronic pain so that clients still get what they need
• how Sorcha pads her timelines to give her extra time to get work done
• how she conducts the research for a brand audits and branding work
• the pitfalls of doing group research and focus groups
• how she applies the branding process to her own business
• what she’s done to develop her own brand as a branding expert
• her experience starting her own business
• how she came up with the products she offers for her clients
• her biggest struggles as a freelancer
Want to hear what it’s like to go from working on an Ant Man promotion to the daily grind of freelance life? Then click the play button below. You can also scroll down for a full transcript.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:Sorcha’s website
The Copywriter Accelerator
The Brand Gap
The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding
The Copywriter Club In Real Life
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
Intro: Content (for now)
Rob: This podcast is sponsored by The Copywriter Underground.
Kira: It’s our new membership designed for you, to help you attract more clients and hit $10K a month consistently.
Rob: For more information or to sign up, go to thecopywriterunderground.com.
Kira: What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes and their habits, then steal an idea or two to inspire your own work? That’s what Rob and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.
Rob: You’re invited to join the club for episode 118 as we chat with copywriter and brand specialist Sorcha MacKenzie about working for big clients like Disney and Marvel, understanding brand strategy, the struggles she’s had leaving the agency world for freelance, and why puppies make the best and worst office mates.
Kira: Welcome, Sorcha.
Rob: Hey, Sorcha.
Sorcha: Thank you for having me. I’m thrilled to be here.
Kira: Yeah, we’re excited to have you here. We know you well through both The Accelerator and The Think Tank program that you’re participating in. But I feel like we’re going to get to know you even better today, so let’s start with your story and how you got started in copywriting and branding.
Sorcha: Sure, so I’m an accidental copywriter, probably like a lot of people. I was actually trained as an actress until I was about 20 years old. I was going to be a theater actress, and then I kind of bored of the stage world and went to film school. I got an MA in Film Studies. I wrote my dissertation on Grey’s Anatomy like all good people do.
I ended up interning for Disney afterwards. I did a year’s internship and I just never left. I got a really good grounding there. I got to do the creative stuff and learn lots more about the marketing side and all that. So that’s really how I got into things, just absolutely stumbled into it.
Rob: Okay, so I’ve got to know more about the dissertation on Grey’s Anatomy. What was the topic? What did you do? What did you write?
Sorcha: So, it was the representations of gender and sexuality within the first season of Grey’s Anatomy. So there was lots of like stuff about the gays, the female gays, and all of the kind of representations of different people and all that. It was kind of a groundbreaking show back in the day. I’m going to date myself there. It’s been a while since I was at university.
Rob: Okay, cool. So trained as an actress. Tell us more about that experience and how that has fueled your career since.
Sorcha: A lot like being a screenwriter helps being a copywriter, I think having that acting training is really helpful as well, because you get used to jumping into other people’s skins and really understanding their motivations and their feelings, which is kind of what we have to do for all of our clients, customers.
So I started when I was very, very young. I knew from a really young age that I wanted to act. So I was classically trained. I started doing lessons when I was 5, and I went all the way through until the age of about 20, performed on stage, all of that jazz. But it meant a lot of voice work, a lot of the theory of acting, a lot of … not quite the psychology of people, but really trying to help you understand other people so that you could become them, which is all things that help my copywriting.
Kira: So Sorcha, what does your business look like today? What services do you offer? How have you structured your business?
Sorcha: Yeah, so my business is probably a little bit different from most copywriters, because I do specialize in branding. So I do a lot of rebrands for people and a lot of messaging documents and pieces like that. I do still write copy, but it tends to be copy that is more brand focused. So web copy, social media copy, that kind of stuff. I don’t do as much conversion as other copywriters. It’s mainly kind of the branding side of copy that I’m focused on.
Rob: And you picked up this skillset, we know, working in an agency for some pretty big brands. Tell us about that, you know, working at the agency, but also how you picked up the process that you use today working with other clients.
Sorcha: Yeah, so I was really lucky that from a really young age, so I started in my very early 20s right when I graduated. I was working on these huge brands like say Disney, Marvel, Pixar, ABC, ESPN, all kinds of brands, and a bunch more that people wouldn’t know were even connected to those brands, because small unnamed brands crop up all the time.
So what I really got to do was look at how to do branding in the best way possible when budget isn’t an issue and time isn’t an issue. And I think those are two problems that a lot of people really suffer when they’re freelance, because clients are always like, ‘I need this yesterday, and my budget is $5.’ It’s just really difficult to really do anything good with that, mainly because of the research.
The research is really what differentiates big agency branding and big agency copy from the small fry guys. When you have the money to do really in-depth research, it just really helps the creative process.
Kira: Cool, and I definitely want to talk about the research and what that looks like. But I’m curious, you know, I think anyone listening might hear Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel, and wonder why … that’s a dream job, why would you ever leave to jump into this crazy world of freelance and entrepreneurship? So what was the catalyst for that change?
Sorcha: Oh gosh, absolutely. And it was my dream job at the time, and I was so lucky to do that for like 13 years. But the main thing for me is, I deal with a lot of chronic health. I have quite a rare genetic condition that affects my joints and my nerves. I was really struggling with just the concept of going into an office every day and being there from … you know, you say it’s 9:00 ’til 6:00. But agency world, it’s 9:00 ’til 6:00 am sometimes.
So just that way of living really wasn’t jiving for me. I was also down in London. My family are in Scotland, so there was a couple of reasons why I was just like, ‘It’s time to make the move.’ And I think I had learnt everything that I needed to from that experience to really go out on my own and give people a great product.
Rob: So yeah, and my list of questions to ask you is growing with every answer that you give us. But let’s jump into this idea of dealing with chronic disease, because I think there are at least some people who listen to this show who deal with their own chronic disease, or they’re a caregiver for somebody who has something like this. Tell us your strategies for dealing with it, because obviously if you’re on deadline, you’re working with clients, and then suddenly something happens physically, you’re not able to get out of bed or to do the work that you’ve committed to, that’s almost a death blow for a successful freelance career. So how do you deal with that so that you’re not leaving your clients hanging?
Sorcha: Absolutely. I manage expectations. I don’t talk to my clients about my health unless it is an emergency situation. And I don’t feel like they need to know, but I pad my project timelines. So my project timelines are about three times what they need to be, so that if anything crops up, I have tons of time to recoup, get my health back. Unless it’s something really, really serious, which luckily it doesn’t crop up too often, the client never has to know.
And I think that’s a really big thing that people who are new freelancers can learn from, is that you control the project timeline. You’re the expert, and you’re the one who is creating this product, and you need to tell the client how long that’s going to take, rather than accepting that they want it in two days.
Kira: Can you give an example of your padded timeline, because I think a lot of us don’t even know what’s a normal timeline. So we don’t know what a padded timeline is, but it would help to hear about yours.
Sorcha: Absolutely. So if I was writing a website which has four or five pages, I can actually do that research and writing in about a week and a half. But I will give myself four or five weeks to do that.
Kira: Got you.
Rob: Okay, yeah, that makes sense.
Sorcha: And I’m a fast writer, so some people might take a little bit longer, but you kind of get the ratio of how much extra time I put on there.
Kira: Okay, yeah. That makes sense. So, from your agency life, you said that you learned everything you needed from that world, and you were ready to make the step forward into entrepreneurship. So when you say you learned everything, I’m intrigued. Could you just share some of those big takeaways from that experience that you have now integrated or applied to your business today?
Sorcha: Absolutely. So I think one of the biggest things I learned was how to work with other creatives, and how to work with all the other auxiliary people who are involved in a big project, like project managers and assistants. When you understand what other people are doing … so that might be your video producer, or even just the cameraman who’s going to be shooting the piece, the director who’s going to be directing the filmed piece. All those kind of things. When you understand the other aspects that are going on, it becomes a lot easier to do your job, because you understand what’s required of you. And when something changes or something is happening, you understand the knock-on effect that that will have on you, and the knock-on effect you will have on somebody else. So that’s definitely a big one.
I think the second one is what I’ve already spoken about, and that is the importance of research and how all creatives should be insights backed. There should be research, you should have a target audience. All the things that, you know, you guys talk about all the time, just I think a lot of people talk the talk and some people don’t always walk the walk. You need that data even if you’re not the one collecting it. You can have a CRO collect your data, but you need to be looking at that to create the best piece that you can.
Rob: So Sorcha, let’s say that I am your ideal client and I need some branding work. You know, I’ve got a terrible brand, and I want to step out onto the stage and own my brand in a new way. Walk me through the process that you would go through with a client. What kind of information do you get from the client? What does the work involve? What do the results look like at the end?
Sorcha: Absolutely, so the first thing to mention is something that nobody ever wants to hear, but branding is one of those things that to be really good at, it’s almost unteachable. There are just some things that you pick up. It’s a bit like a great artist or a great creative. There are some things that will come from that where you just know what the right thing is to do.
But there are definitely things you can do right. So when I first work with a branding client, I have a big intake questionnaire, about 50 questions which I ask them. And it’s a lot of the same questions that people might ask for a copywriting project. It’s about why they’re doing what they’re doing, how they would talk about their product in their own words, who they really want to target, and why those people?
So we go through that. I review it before I even get on a call with them really. And then, there’s a lot of interviews. So I spend quite a long time interviewing really that main stakeholder. So we’ll have a kickoff call. I’ll usually have a separate branding call, and we’ll have review calls throughout the process. I also interview some of their ideal clients and do all the same kind of message mining and research that all the great copywriters do for a copy project.
Then the part that differs is really just extrapolating from that data what creative is going to best hit that target audience. And sometimes that’s things like color psychology, or the competitors are all doing one thing and so you’re going to have to do something slightly different. It’s different every time. It’s really difficult, because there’s no formula. But that’s kind of how we go through the process.
And then it’s iterative, so if we have the chance to do market research once we’ve got the first couple of concepts together, that is invaluable. So we’ll just show people the work as it stands, like we might be partway through the rebrand for like three different options that we’re looking at, get people’s thoughts, feedback.
You want people to not feel like they’re in a research situation, which is really difficult. So you have to try and keep everything very neutral. You don’t want to lead an ideal customer towards one answer or another. You want to have everything be very, very neutral. Then really going back and using that information again to just keep working until you get to the right place.
Kira: Can we talk more about this market research, because I have recently started doing this with … one client in particular, where we had already launched, she had a decent launch, but we knew something still wasn’t right within the message.
So I’ve been conducting my own user-testing calls. I think it’s really fun to hear how people actually react to the copy that you’ve written or a team’s written. But I don’t really know what I’m doing. I mean, it’s just, I’m just figuring it out as I go. So I’m wondering what this market research process looks like for you today, and even what you’ve pulled from working with these big name and at the agency, because I know there’s a lot more I could be doing within the market research realm.
And even the neutral part, like I try to stay as neutral as possible, but I just feel like there could be questions I could be asking or just a thought process I could be moving through to strengthen this part of my process.
Sorcha: Absolutely, so part of it is really just keeping a distance between the brand and the ideal customer. So that could be if you’re … one really good way is to use a survey and to have images that you want feedback on, or pieces of text with just a free text box underneath it. And people can type in what they think.
One thing you want to do is keep the background really simple. You want everything white, clean. You don’t want it to be branded with the current branding of the business. You want it really to be as simple as possible.
Because the moment that people understand what you want them to do or what you want them to say, they’re much more likely to do it or say it. It’s just something that people do in the community. If they understand you want them to say yes, they will most likely say yes, even if they want to say no. So you have to kind of really try and create a separation, which is interesting, because it’s really the opposite of what you want to do with the final product. But you need to do anything you can.
It’s the same way that if you were doing in-person research, you would never throw a big event to have like a research day. I saw somebody say, ‘Oh, couldn’t we have like a big party and they come and they get cake and people just go in one by one and do their research?’ It’s a really bad idea, because as soon as people know they’re being watching, they’re more likely to start to synthesize their ideas towards what you want.
And it’s the same if you do group research. So research groups are great towards the very end of a project. Once you’ve really got the main creative hammered out, they’re good just to reassure you that you’ve got the right place. But if you do them too early in the process, they try and give opinions to start with, and then they’ll start agreeing with each other. Or they’ll hear what other people have said, and if they don’t feel the same way, they don’t feel comfortable being the person who says, ‘Oh no, I didn’t like it.’
So there’s just little things like that that you can really do to make the research a bit better. Things like surveys, you can just randomize the question order. So the first person sees questions one, two, three. The second person sees two, three, one. Things like that can really help with your data.
Rob: So Sorcha, talk to us a little bit about how you’ve applied this process to your own business to find your own brand and get out into the world.
Sorcha: Oh gosh, yes. That’s fun, isn’t it? Full disclosure, I’m going through a rebrand at the moment, because I did my branding very quickly when I started my business, and I am sure a lot of people listening have done the same. So, I’m just at the moment really going through, who are my ideal clients and what is going to work more for them? So, I’m really doing that at the moment and it is a lot of work, and it’s actually a really good reminder to do it for myself to understand what clients feel like when they’re trying to go through it. It is quite emotional and there’s things that you really like. You just think, I just want that color palette to work, I love that color palette, and you just don’t want to give up your babies but if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work and you’ve gotta go with the data. It’s hard but I’m doing it right now.
Kira: Well because you’re in it can you talk about what didn’t work with your first brand as you launched your business? You threw something up, it was solid, I mean we’ve seen it so when did you get to the point where you’re like, this isn’t working for me, and what specifically wasn’t working?
Sorcha: Yeah totally. The biggest struggle I had coming into the world of owning my own business was losing the million dollar budgets. I was suddenly like, oh what do I do when I have to pay for it? I have to bankroll everything myself now. So I did a lot of DIY on what I had, and because I’ve worked in that multi-disciplinary world like you say it was fine, but what I found was that what I had created was quite generic and it wasn’t really speaking directly to the people that I wanted to be speaking to. And more so, it really wasn’t sharing enough of who I am and my personality, and that draws people in so much, so that’s a big part of why I’m doing the rebrand now.
Rob: And what is the new brand? What’s emerging? What’s different and what are the changes that you’re starting to see?
Sorcha: I’m kind of calling it modern vintage, it’s a little bit of a twist on the classics, which is kind of what I like in life. My color palette is a little bit more fun, it was very white and very monochromatic before, now it’s kind of a blush pink and reds. It’s more warm colors. I think when people speak to me I’m quite bubbly and really that wasn’t coming through. My website almost looked like a kind of tech writer. It really could have been SaaS, it was very clean lines and san serif fonts. Yeah, just doing a bit of changes there, probably the same with photography it’ll be an updated vintage look, so bringing the old into the new, which is kind of what I do with branding so I feel like that works well.
Kira: I like that direction I’m excited to see it. So, I want to take a step backward because you are a new business owner, you’ve been on this adventure for at least a year maybe a little over a year and I think it’s easy to forget that because you’ve had a lot of success in your first year. So, can you talk about what you did or maybe it’s a couple of things in your first year of business that helped you the most, and were most critical, and you would recommend to other copywriters and brand strategists?
Sorcha: Absolutely. I can pinpoint most of my success probably to The Copywriter Club. I will say that it’s because of relationships. So, when I first started I felt really alone like I don’t know a whole lot of people who work from home, and I definitely don’t know a whole lot of people who do what I do from home. So, finding other people was really good for my mental health really to be like, oh other people out here care about copy and branding that is amazing.
I guess it was last October, I jumped into The Accelerator with you guys, and I met a bunch of other people who were interested in investing in themselves, which I think is really important. There’s a difference between finding people and finding people who are really, really motivated to invest in themselves and grow quickly, so that really helped. And as well because I had never imagined I would run my own business, I was not prepared to do it. I kind of took the jump and I was like, oh I need to setup business systems and all of that kind of stuff, so that really helped. And I went straight from that to a Copy Hacker’s course that was their first run of 10x Freelancer, and I actually really did that not because I felt like I had missed anything from The Accelerator but because I knew that Joanna Wiebe and Amy Posner were coaching in that, and I really wanted to get in front of them and building that relationship is great. I actually got a speaking gig from Joanna because of that, so building relationships has been a huge difference for my business. And actually getting on a plane and going to New York and seeing a bunch of people in person it really changes everything for you.
Rob: Okay let’s talk a little bit more about that. I know you’re talking about creating these relationships and it results sometimes in work or speaking ability, but was there any other takeaway from getting in the same room with other copywriters? And it’s something that you’ve done now more than once, you’ve done it in a retreat at The Think Tank, obviously the event that we held in New York that we’ve just announced that we’re holding again in New York this coming March. What were the other takeaways from participating in person with other copywriters and business builders?
Sorcha: Oh it’s fantastic. People feel so much more open when they’re in person, people are a lot more vulnerable, and they’re really willing to share their failures as well as their successes in everything from building systems to this launch that didn’t work, to oh I tried this and the client walked all over me. All those kind of little things that people don’t necessarily want to put out online because it’s not great brand building. You don’t want to be known as the person who completely messed up their first project, or who doesn’t charge up front and always end up being a net 30 for your invoices. But stuff like that, that you can learn from other people is massive, because you don’t get that in courses.
Kira: Hey, we’re just jumping into the show today to tell you a little bit more about The Copywriter Underground. Rob what do you like best about this membership?
Rob: This membership community is fully of copywriters that are investing in their businesses and taking what they do seriously. Everything is focused around three ideas, copywriting and getting better at the craft that we all do. Marketing and getting in front of the right customers so that you can charge more and earn more. And also mindset so that you can get out of our head and focus on the things that will help you be successful at what we do. There’s a private Facebook group for the members of the community and we also send out a monthly newsletter that’s full of advice, again on those three areas copywriting, marketing, and mindset. Things that you can mark up and tear out put them in your files, save them for whatever, and it’s not going to get lost in your email inbox. Kira what do you like about The Copywriter Underground?
Kira: I love the monthly hot seat calls where our members have a chance to sit in the hot seat and ask a big question, or get ideas, or talk through a challenge in their business because we all learn from those situations. And then I also feel like the templates we include in the membership are valuable because who wants to reinvent the wheel? And Rob and I end up sharing a lot of the templates and resources we use in our own businesses, so I would definitely want to grab those.
Rob: So if you are interested in joining a community of copywriters that are investing in their business and in themselves, and trying to do more, get more clients, earn more money consistently go to the copywriterunderground.com to learn more. Now, back to the program.
Kira: So, Sorcha I know you ended up basically making up the salary that you walked away from, I’m pretty sure that happened. Can you just talk about how you actually did that? So it sounds like relationships were important, but how did you book clients and get to the point where you’re bringing in enough money that you could move and have these other big changes that we’ll talk about as well?
Sorcha: Yes, so I didn’t start working until last December. Yeah, I’ve already surpassed my in-house salary, so I’ve got a couple of months to see how far I can get past it. But really it was, I hate the word hustle because as we’ve talked about my health issues I try not to hustle, I try and really step back and find the most efficient way to do things. But a lot of it is putting yourself out there, and letting people know what you’re good at, and really owning that expertise, and that’s hard people don’t like to own their expertise, but if you don’t feel comfortable putting yourself forward as an expert no one will feel comfortable hiring you. So, I think that, that has made a big difference. And it really looks like in person events and going on LinkedIn and talking about what you can do for people, or just replying to people who are looking for somebody who does what you do. Networking when you don’t need the work, replying to people in Facebook groups and helping them, and they might refer work to you. All those kinds of things build up.
Rob: While we’re talking about some of the things that you do in your business you’ve done a really great job about defining packages of your services to offer to your clients. Will you talk a little bit about how you decided to offer the different products that you offer, how you decided to price them, and your ideal client and who it would be perfect for that to package?
Sorcha: Yeah, so it was a little time coming and I learned in The Accelerator you have to have a package. The thing that really made the most sense was the big branding packages that I do. The very lowest one of those that I do starts at $5,000 and they go up from there, and that’s really taking somebody’s brand and breaking them down completely. And it’s a great place to start and it was a great signature service. As an add-on I obviously do the copy and the messaging guides, but I’m just about to launch a new service for people who are solopreneurs or smaller businesses, which is a brand audit. So it’s really taking the idea of a copy audit and applying it to brand, and letting people who don’t have the $5k plus budget get somebody who’s working on branding at my level to give them those ideas and action points that they need to really implement their brand at the highest level, hopefully.
Kira: Sorcha I know a lot of copywriters in our group have mentioned that they’re really drawn to brand messaging and voice, and they don’t necessarily have the same background that you have but they feel that pull and I think there’s a lot of mindset issues around it, like who am I to do that and to move away from copy? But also, there are somethings we can learn to get better and to move in that direction. We’ve seen other people, other copywriters do that. So, what advice would you give to copywriters who are really interested in moving into a similar space as you, what could they do to really hone their skills? Granted it sounds like some of it is intuitive like you said earlier, but what else can they do?
Sorcha: So, for brand messaging I think that’s an easier gap to bridge because it is so focused on the copy. There’s definitely an easier bridge to that and from there you can then go onto other aspects of branding. And I think the best thing to do is really to remember that it’s not just about fun words and snappy phrases you still need to be clear over clever, and you really need to use that research. So, if you have all that research at your fingertips you need to go through it to inform the brand messaging and that can be as much as our target audience is Gen Z, the generation after millennials, how are they talking? Are they using memes to speak? Do they want gifs in what they’re talking about? What kind of color palette are they attracted to? It’s a total cliché but everyone knows about millennial pink, which is like Pepto Bismol pink because it cropped up everywhere for my generation. So there’s little things like that, that you can look at and you just take it a step further out of copy, and then you really just want to make sure that you’re not attaching yourself to those clichés and that you’re being informed by what’s going on out in their world, and in their competitor’s world.
Rob: So what about books or courses for somebody who wants to learn more about branding? Are there a couple of go-to resources that you’ve relied on more than others?
Sorcha: Yes. Well, not really that I have relied on, but I do have a couple of recommendations that I feel are good, and one of those is The Brand Gap, it’s Marty Neumeier, but I’m not entirely sure, so I’m sure you guys can link it for me. But it is a great book because it looks at branding in a different way than a lot of the old school books do. And there is another book called The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding by Al and Lisa or Laura Ries.
Rob: Yeah, Laura.
Sorcha: Laura? Yep, so that one is a great book as well, it really just takes you through some of the more detail branding faux pas or problems that you might come across like brand dilution and line extension, which I think is the difference between somebody who is doing branding self-taught and somebody who’s worked in an agency. There’s little things like that, that you pick up on and they’re really invaluable.
Rob: Okay so another question that maybe changes the subject just a little bit. I know there are a lot of people in our group who are interested in getting a job at an agency and that’s something that you’ve done. Some people really struggle, they don’t know to approach it, they don’t know what their portfolio should look like, or what kind of approach that they need to take to get noticed. What advice would give them to connect them with the right people at an agency?
Sorcha: Absolutely. I do believe that unless you’re a rock start there’s a certain amount of paying your dues at an agency. I began as an intern and I just learned everything, and the pay wasn’t the best but the places that it got me to it was worth it. When you’re working the agency world there’s a certain amount of that. Is it worth taking the job in account management and then getting into the room with the people that you want to see your creative, and really kind of hijacking them from the inside? Do a Trojan horse be like, oh by the way I’m a great writer here you go, here’s my portfolio. I know a lot of people have had that success of just getting in with an agency. Otherwise, I think you really need to look at how professionally you are portraying not so much yourself but your work. A simple Google Doc is maybe not cutting it. Maybe just get it designed nicely and get a nice PDF that you can print out. Little things like that make a big difference in the agency world, they’re all about flash.
Kira: Sorcha, what opportunities have you seen within the agency world and then through the business world that we’re in now for copywriters? What are you seeing that maybe some of us are missing?
Sorcha: I think there’s probably a lot of people who really could do some of the great web work, like websites, social media, could really mix that conversion copy with brand messaging and brand voice, who aren’t. I see a lot of people who are writing blogs, or articles, content who really could be going into that more high priced piece of work, because so many people are like, oh I’m either a conversion copy writer or I’m a brand copy writer. There’s very little overlap there. I think Kira you probably do it really well out of anyone I can think of. But not many people are owning that and I think a lot of people could do it if they tried?
Rob: So how would you recommend that they do that?
Sorcha: I would say that most of them probably are more intuitively understand the brand voice side and they can replicate those voices, so really take a conversion copy course. Copy Hackers have some great courses. And if you can just learn a couple of those conversion tricks you can really implement them on any kind of copy.
Kira: Yeah, it’s almost like we’re intimated to even call ourselves conversion copywriters because it feels like, well in order to call myself that I need to go through this intense program and really understand optimization in and out. And I think that’s true to a certain degree, you shouldn’t call yourself something if you haven’t spent any time in that space, but I think maybe you’re speaking to something where people could just jump into that space a little bit more and try to understand more about conversion without feeling like they have to completely jump into conversion optimization in order to write content and copy with personality. So maybe there is some space in between to just kind of test the waters and create some opportunities for clients who are seeking that. I think it’s a really good point.
Sorcha: Absolutely. And on the other side, I think there are some conversion copywriters who want to be taken really seriously, because what they do is such a high-sought-after skill that they’re a little bit scared to lean into the more kind of fun voice side of things. And actually they mix really well.
Kira: Yeah, I know, I love that. So I was just thinking about how you priced yourself. Because again we have conversations in The Think Tank and we know a little bit more about your business and what’s under the hood. You priced yourself pretty well from the beginning. Again, as a new business owner you came in with higher price points than most new copywriters. So can you just talk a little bit about how you approached pricing over the last year, your mindset around pricing, and even some advice for other copywriters who really struggle with pricing?
Sorcha: Yeah, I have the opposite problem where most people can’t afford my prices rather than I’m doing too much work. And you guys know I’ve spoken about only working a couple hours a week sometimes. Because I can with my prices. But I think anybody can do it as long as you have a product that people want. I think they way that I really approached pricing was 1) I knew what agency pricing was so knowing from the inside the mark-ups that people put on pricing is really important. Because I think a lot of people that work with agencies, they obviously go in with lower rates. And sometimes those agencies are marking you up three times what you’re charging them.
So know that really helped because there was no middle man so I could just charge the full amount. But I also spoke to other people, other copywriters … people are … I mean I think some newbies feel like it’s a secret society where people don’t want to speak about their prices, but if you talk to people one-on-one they’re often really willing to talk about what they’re offering and what their process is for certain prices. I think that’s really important, that my prices are high but it’s a really in-depth process.
I’m not just taking a title from somebody and whipping up a piece of writing. We’re really digging in deep into the research and into those interviews. So I think when you really understand what you’re offering is valuable it’s much easier to price higher.
And also there’s some reverse engineering there. So I know how much I want to make so how do I do that in a way that’s possible with what I offer?
Rob: Yeah, that’s a really good point. It sounds like you’ve been really successful as you’ve launched your business and things have gone swimmingly the entire time, but I have a feeling that there have been some struggles along the way too. What have been the biggest things that you’ve struggled with or the failures that you’ve had since starting on your own?
Sorcha: Oh gosh, yeah. It really … It has definitely not been swimmingly the whole time. I think the biggest problem was self-motivation and I have spoken to both of you about this before. I think … everybody thinks if you’re charging great prices and you’re doing good work then you must feel like you’re a rock star. And there’s lots of times when I’m just like, ‘Oh, who am I to be doing this?’ Everybody gets that imposter syndrome. And when you get that it can be really hard to motivate yourself to go out there and look for work and to talk yourself up. So you really just have to do it even when you don’t want to.
But I moved at the start of summer … I moved from London to Glasgow in Scotland, and it was kind of a crazy move. And yeah, it was definitely hard to run the business at the same time as I was trying to switch my internet and I stopped off at my parents for a couple of months because I couldn’t find an apartment. It was an insane ride.
Kira: Yeah well tell us more about that. I want to hear the nitty-gritty details about that move because a lot of us are dealing with … whether or not it’s a move, it might be travel or visiting family or other life changes. So what did that really look like and how did you deal with it and stay afloat? And then readjust once things did settle?
Sorcha: Yeah so part of that is really this pricing yourself so that you do not have to work 30 or 40 hours to make what you need to live off of. So if I can make what I need to live off of five hours, or ten hours, then I’m in a much better place to have that bandwidth to make a move. And that’s really what I did. I was lucky that I booked work in advance; I knew I had to get it done so I booked high-paying projects for that period. And I am not a great example because I really let my prospecting fall to the wayside and I should have done better. I was lucky that I pulled through and I have savings. I would say that to any freelancer: Please have three months of savings aside so that you’re not having to take on horrible content mill jobs.
Even if you have to do some extra work for a couple months to get it aside, do that. Because that safety blanket to just say, ‘This week I can’t work. I just have to pack boxes and get the movers here’ … That bandwidth is invaluable.
Kira: Can you share your pricing, Sorcha? Because you’ve mentioned it a couple of times that you’ve priced yourself well. Some of us don’t even know what that means, what that actual price tag is … If you’re comfortable sharing any of your package prices.
Sorcha: Yeah, absolutely. So I mean when people work with me they work with me for anything. It breaks down to $200 to $500 an hour for what I’m doing for them. And that just depends on different clients and different projects. Sometimes I go to the lower end if it’s a fun thing that I want to do.
Like I said, for a branding package, if I’m doing just somebody’s brand strategy that starts at $5,000. These are all U.S. prices; I charge U.S. because most of my clients are there and I want to make it easy for them to pay.
But my highest brand packages are up at $12 to 15k. And that’s maybe eight weeks of work. So last and not usually, obviously that’s eight weeks of work with my buffer added in. Always have to remember the buffer. But yeah, that’s kind of what it costs to work with me. Whereas brand messaging might be a lot less so that might be two grand. And I don’t really take projects on that are less than that, just because I think that the admin you have to do to have lots of low-paying clients is really a lot of work. And it’s better to have a few high-paying clients if you can swing it.
Rob: And it looks like you’ve also recently added a day rate, which seems to be a pretty popular thing among copywriters these days.
Sorcha: Yeah, so we’re going to try that. Because I don’t do a huge amount … I mean I still write a lot of copy but it’s not really what people want from me, it’s a really good add-on to a lot of my packages. And I think that’s one thing that everyone should be thinking about with your packages. What’s the upsell? What’s the add-on after you’ve done it?
So if I do someone’s brand messaging and I can say, ‘Hey, for $2,000 you can have me for a day and you can get whatever copy I manage to write in six hours.’ I think that’s a really good way for them to just say, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s like standard price; I know what I’m going pay. I’ll get what I get.’ It’s an easier add-on than saying, ‘Let’s do a $5,000 website package after we’ve just done $5,000 of branding.’
Kira: So a copywriter listening might think, ‘Well, cool, you’re charging great rates. I want to do that too but how do I get in front of the type of clients who can even afford to pay that?’ So what have you done … You’ve mentioned referrals and networking and relationships already, but what else has worked for you? And then what are you working on so that you can continue to fill your pipeline with those types of clients?
Sorcha: So this is a gimme but your branding is a big deal. So if you have a free WordPress website that has no theme and you’re just like, ‘Hi, I’m a copywriter. I write copy,’ nobody’s going to pay a premium for you. And it sucks that that’s the case because you could be the best copywriter on the block. But if you’re not really shouting about that and proving that you can do something special and that you’re different, and that you offer something just for that ideal client, then they’re not going to be interested.
The big part with big clients is tailoring your offers and your presence really to exactly what they want so when they find you … and that can be … Big clients often are on LinkedIn if they don’t come through referrals. LinkedIn is a great place to find the bigger clients because a lot of corporates are out there, just in the … not even in the jobs section, just in the content section … just posting, ‘Hi, I need a copywriter for five weeks.’ And it’s a great way to get in to a big company.
But you have to look like you’re worth the money. So you have to dress to impress a little bit. Dress for the copy you want, not the copy you have.
Rob: I like that. So another change of direction … You have a new office mate, if I’m not mistaken. You got yourself a puppy recently. And I think in some ways that’s been awesome for you and other ways it has been a struggle, or a challenge. Tell us a little bit about the idea of adding a puppy to your office.
Sorcha: Yes, I am single; I live in a city where I don’t have family and I got a puppy. Which was great when he was tiny and he slept all the time, but right now I’m actually sitting in the guest room in my parents’ house two hours from where I live, and from my home office, because the puppy has started barking on my client calls. So I can’t have a puppy barking on this podcast so my parents are actually looking after him for me.
So even something as small as that, trying to explain to a high-paying client why you have a barking puppy in the background who is not listening to his training … Yeah, it can be challenging. They’re a lot more work than you think. And I’m sure people with kids are like, ‘You don’t even know the half of it.’
Rob: Yeah, that’s for sure.
Sorcha: And it’s emotionally draining when you have this tiny creature … Again, probably people with toddlers it’s like, ‘Why won’t they listen to me? Why don’t they understand that I’m making the money that pays for our nice house?’ It has been really hard, a really challenging change to make, especially with some of my health problems as well. I think it’s another great reason to be charging enough that you don’t have to work full-time to make your full-time salary.
Because things like that in life are great. And he is … Finbar is the most adorable little puppy ever, but yeah, he takes up a lot of time. And I’m glad to have the bandwidth to deal with him and to have fun and play and take breaks. But you can only do … I couldn’t do that if I was churning out $50 articles all day.
Kira: Yeah we’ve seen pictures. He’s a cute dog. So let us know what you’re working on next. How are you building your business at this point? Where do you want it to be a year from now?
Sorcha: Yeah so like I said I’m making a bit of a change that I’ve previously only ever worked with those really big clients. And to contradict myself and saying, ‘You shouldn’t have a ton of smaller-paying clients,’ I’m kind of making that change, but in a manageable way.
So offering this really small service that I’m going to be trialing where I can help small businesses and single-person businesses with their branding. Because it’s such an untapped market … People need that help and there’s not a lot of help out there for them. There are some website articles and things like that, but there’s not a lot of help.
And I don’t want to do a course. I think we’re all done with courses; I think people want individualized feedback. So I’m going to try and help them with that, with the brand audits. And keep doing my bigger projects on the side and see if I can balance them. So that’s kind of my change.
Rob: So, Sorcha, if you had to do it all over again … leave the agency, start your own business … I’m assuming that you would. But what advice would you give yourself as you kick off that process, looking back?
Sorcha: Trust that you can do it. There were many nights that I was terrified that I would never make a penny. I had savings saved up for a year worth of money because I thought, ‘I’m not going to make a dime until next August. It will be fine.’ And if you find the right people and get the right help, and invest in yourself, I think that’s the biggest part. That’s what I would really say to any freelancer. I know it sucks when people are telling you spend money that you feel you don’t have but investments, rather than expenses, are really worth it because you can grow much bigger than you ever would on your own.
Kira: Awesome and we’ll see you, Sorcha, in New York City in March, is that right?
Sorcha: Yes, I will be there. And I will be waving the flag for TCC. I can’t wait to see everybody again.
Kira: Awesome so if anyone wants to find you in the meantime where can they find you online?
Sorcha: So pretty much Sorcha MacKenzie everywhere … so sorchamackenzie.com on Twitter, sorcha.mackenzie on Instagram. I’m trying to get better at the social; I’m not amazing but yeah I’m trying to get better. And of course in The Copywriter Club and The Copywriter Underground Facebook groups; I’m in both.
Rob: Awesome. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and experiences with us, Sorcha. And we can’t wait to see you in person.
Sorcha: Thanks for having me. It’s been so fun to chat. Bye, guys.
Kira: Thank you, Sorcha.
You’ve been listening to The Copywriter Club Podcast of Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Music for the show is a clip from Gravity, by Whitest Boy Alive, available on iTunes. If you like what you’ve heard you can help us spread the word by subscribing at iTunes and by leaving a review.
For show notes and full transcript, and links to our free Facebook community, visit thecopywriterclub.com. We’ll see you next episode.