Increasing a DJ’s conversion rates with hardworking emails

The client: Midlands Wedding DJ, Birmingham, West Midlands

John Horton owns Midlands Wedding DJ – a professional wedding disco and entertainment service covering Birmingham and the West Midlands. He got in touch when his responses to emails from potential clients weren’t working hard enough to convert leads into customers.

The need

Being well known on the wedding circuit in the West Midlands, John receives lots of emails asking for quotes and availability, which he responds to promptly – but these enquiries weren’t getting him the bookings he needs for his business to be successful.

When John asked me for help with his email responses, he was frustrated with the number of enquiries that simply weren’t converting into business.

His costs are competitive, his reputation is good, and his service is professional. I’d already written his website, and this works hard to generate leads and raise awareness of his business. Something wasn’t working.

The solution

I asked John to send me examples of enquiries he’d received from potential clients, together with his responses. I could immediately see what the problem was. First, the emails contained spelling mistakes that could lead potential clients to think the business was unprofessional. Price wasn’t the issue. For a quality service to generate bookings, there needs to be a perception of quality, and the emails weren’t communicating this.

John’s responses contained none of the personality or warmth that’s so important for service businesses, so I changed the tone to make his replies informal, friendly and approachable, while maintaining a professional tone.

The emails focused on the technical features included in the price. I flipped this to focus on the benefits to the client, and kept the language simple and concise.

I added a question to find out where the enquirer heard about John’s business, as a way of opening up a dialogue and showing he cares – with the added advantage of giving him inside information on where his leads are coming from – a line about the need to book now as dates are limited, to communicate scarcity, and added a clear, compelling and persuasive call to action.

In the client’s words…

“Sarah is a true marketing expert. She’s written two websites for me, so I knew I could ask her to look at my emails. She puts herself in the customer’s shoes, and understood where I was going wrong and how to put things right. She just gets it. 

“In just a couple of hours, she wrote four email templates that I started using straight away and I’ve already seen results. I converted one enquiry within a couple of days, and lots of customers have called me to ask for more details after Sarah told me to make it easy for people to get in touch. Her work has paid for itself already, and I’m feeling really positive about my business again.”

John Horton, Owner, Midlands Wedding DJ



Why you should think twice about going freelance

I love my job. Let’s face it – I wouldn’t have stuck at freelance life for 17 years if I didn’t. But if you’re thinking of making the leap from a regular monthly income to the uncertainty of going solo, there are a few important things to consider.

Not the obvious, like what to charge, how to attract the right clients, or how to market your business. While they’re all vital questions, I’m talking about the dirty, gritty, soul-searching stuff. The “am I really cut out for this?” delving you need to do before you start.

Though I only have experience of life as a freelance copywriter, the same issues apply to any freelance career – freelance graphic designer, freelance illustrator, freelance rocket scientist (is that even a thing?).

The benefits of being your own boss

I’m sure you know all about the benefits of a successful freelance career. Chances are, these are some of the reasons you’re considering working for yourself:

  • The freedom to manage your own time
  • The flexibility to work where you want, how you want, when you want
  • The chance to choose who you work with, and what you work on
  • The potential to earn a good income
  • The ability to choose your own hours

Yet many of those benefits can only be unlocked by years of hard graft, reputation building and solid experience. It’s a fortunate freelancer who gets to pick and choose their pet projects from day one.

Consider this:

Being good at your job doesn’t mean you’ll make a good freelancer

So you’re a great writer/illustrator/photographer* – excellent. But being good at what you do, day in, day out, with the security of a full-time job and the stability of a regular income isn’t enough to guarantee you a successful freelance career.

*insert your chosen discipline here

Yes, it’s a great start – but there’s a lot more to it. Can you hack these hurdles?

All by myself

Freelance life can be hella lonely. I spent the first 15 years of freelance life stuck in my office, home alone, with only my cats for company. By the weekend, I was climbing the walls and chewing the ears off anyone who’d listen.

When I started my freelance career in 1999, email was new, and today’s popular social media platforms were a mere twinkle in the eye of a Harvard drop out. Hell – there was barely an internet. (Ever wish you hadn’t started something? Man I feel old!)

Only recently did I discover the support that’s available through social media, networking and events… and the joys of working in a decent coffee shop.

The café-bar at my gym has become my second office (thanks, Virgin Active!). Good coffee, free wifi, free heating, and the buzz of other people without the constant interruptions of working in an office. Yet it’s not unusual to meet freelancers who need complete silence to work. You’ll need to experiment to discover the working environment that ticks your boxes.

The thriving community of freelance writers on Twitter (search #copywritersunite) has kept me going on many a tough day. It’s great to have trusted colleagues-come-competitors to bounce ideas off – and for the necessary office banter. And nothing beats networking events for that “I’m a freelancer – get me out of here!” lifeline. It takes time to discover the type of event that works for you. Personally I loathe the “let’s all stand up and talk about our business for two minutes!” approach, though most involve a necessary element of shameless self-promotion.

Distraction, distraction, distraction

I know freelancers who can’t work without the buzz of daytime television in the background. Are you freakin’ kidding me? I can’t even listen to a song with lyrics without getting distracted. I suggest you keep the TV firmly switched off, but only you know what works for you (and who am I to criticise – Judge Rinder?).

If you need to focus – and believe me, you need to focus – create a work playlist. Mine consists of electronic trance, but who knows? Classical may be more your thing.

As for loading the dishwasher, hanging the washing, polishing the cat** you can look at these in two ways: as distracting household chores that remain untouched until you’ve clocked off for the day, or as valuable thinking/stretching/stepping-away-from-the-laptop time.

Above all, stay off social media, switch off pop-up notifications (annoying, distracting little mosquitoes that they are) and discipline yourself to check your email three times a day rather than once every five minutes (you know you do it).

Finally, be prepared for insecurity, rejection and self-doubt in spades. If you’re a sensitive soul who can’t take criticism or knock backs, do yourself a favour and cultivate that full-time, steady income role.

Freelance life is not for the faint-hearted. But if you’re organised, tenacious, thick-skinned, self-motivated, ambitious, driven and disciplined, it might just work for you.

The last word

There are numerous books about freelance life; I haven’t read any of them. I’m no expert on running a business, but having built up a successful freelance career over the past 17 years I do know what’s worked for me… and what hasn’t.

If my advice helps you to do the same, I’ll be happy.

As someone once told me: “There are two types of freelancers: those who freelance because they want to, and those who freelance because they can’t get a job.”

Make sure you’re taking the plunge for all the right reasons.

**not a typo


Why the fear of failure never really goes away… even after 17 years of self employment

Everyone in business has at least one task they KNOW they should be doing but they just get stuck, right? For me, it was launching my own newsletter.

C’mon – a copywriter who can’t write a newsletter? You’re kidding, right?

Don’t get me wrong – of course I can write a newsletter. I’ve been writing them for over 25 years, yet somehow writing my own was too big, too scary a prospect, too much of a commitment… so many excuses, so little time.

I came up with the idea of the Clever Copy Club at the start of 2016. I knew I wanted to share helpful tips that anyone could use to improve their writing, rather than hammering home the benefits of working with a copywriter (that’s a whole other blog post).

Mail what now?!

Hell, I’d even designed and written the first issue as long ago as April. I didn’t have the first clue how MailChimp worked so I had to sweet talk my way to some training (thanks, and start pulling together a database of contacts I’d built up over 17 years as a freelance copywriter. That in itself was a gargantuan task.

Yet even having got that far, there was never the right time… I’m just too busy – I can’t deal with all the work a newsletter is going to bring in. I’m away for a week… and then two. And what if… yadda yadda.

You get it, don’t you? I was frozen in perfectionist agony. Nothing more, nothing less than good old paralyzing fear. A copywriter with perfectionist tendencies: great from the point of view of my clients. From my perspective, not so much.

Issue one: done

Long story short – and an unfeasible amount of procrastination later – I finally hit the SEND button this week. Out went issue one, winging its electronic way to over 650 people. I can’t even begin to describe the fear… what if everyone HATES it? What if I become known as the copywriter with the rubbish newsletter? What if they all unsubscribe?! How will I live with myself?!?

Within an hour of hitting send, my heart was racing, my chest was tight… and I was on a mission to buy Rescue Remedy. I kid you not.

But you know what? I survived. In fact, I think I can even say I feel good. I wasn’t expecting miracles – the miracle was just getting it done.

Two days on, I have:

  • a 48.6 per cent open rate
  • a 8.2 per cent click rate
  • six meetings booked
  • two confirmed pieces of work
  • no less than 24 “well done – love it!” emails and tweets

After baring my soul – and my insecurities – to the world, I guess the moral of the story is this: just do it*. Whatever you’re stuck on, remember – it doesn’t have to be perfect, or life-changing, or revolutionary. Sometimes good enough really is good enough.

*thanks, Nike.

You knew I’d sign off with a plug, right?! How could I not. For monthly tips and language love direct to your inbox, sign up for the Clever Copy Club. “Once a month: no more, no less” the strapline says. God knows *someone* needs to hold me accountable to that 🙂

Creating effective CRM communications for college

The client: Gloucestershire College, Cheltenham/Gloucester

Based in Cheltenham, Gloucester, Tewkesbury and the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire College is a leading local provider of further and higher education. The college provides a wide range of courses, from GCSEs and A Levels to foundation degrees and diplomas.

The need

Gloucestershire College was implementing a major new CRM system to unify and bring structure to the way it communicates with students. They wanted a suite of clear, hardworking CRM communications that would form part of the new system.

The college had been using a range of letters and emails written by different people within the organisation. Some of the letters were wordy and confusing, and there was no consistent tone of voice to enhance and build on the Gloucestershire College brand.

The solution

Using a handful of existing letters and emails – and with a good understanding of the client’s need for clear, compelling and consistent communication suitable for a student audience – I wrote a total of over 60 letters, emails and SMS messages.

I also suggested simplifying the materials required where there was duplication, and creating new ones when I identified gaps in the communication process.

The new materials benefit from an approachable yet professional tone of voice, a coherent message, and a clear call to action.

In the client’s words…

“We worked with Sarah to fully review our complex application and enrolment communications. Sarah took the time to research and understand the process, enabling her to write clear communications with multiple audiences firmly in mind. We are delighted with the results – thank you.”

Michelle Cant, Head Of Communications, Gloucestershire College


Thirteen years of copywriting support for a global entertainment network

The client: RTL Group, Luxembourg

RTL Group is the leading European entertainment network. With interests in 60 television channels and 31 radio stations around the world, this global business employs almost 12,500 people around the world.

Its content production arm, FremantleMedia, is one of the largest international creators, producers and distributors of TV content outside the US – think The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and I’m a Celebrity

With 26 billion monthly video views, RTL Group is also the leading European media company in online video.

The need

The corporate communications team at RTL Group aren’t native English speakers but it’s vital that the language they use has a natural flow, and is grammatically – and factually – correct. The team produce a huge range of publications and marketing collateral, all of which needs to be accurate and well written, and to support the professionalism of RTL Group’s global brand.

The solution

I started providing marketing support for RTL Group in 2006, when I was hired to proofread their annual report, and I’m now in my 13th year.

During this time I have written, edited, rewritten and proofread a huge range of publications, including newsletters, exhibition materials, and even CEO speeches. I work closely with their team to produce work that reflects the company’s professional image.

In 2017 I decided to pay a visit to Luxembourg, to meet RTL Group’s communications and marketing team in person, in their new corporate headquarters. I can safely say, 475 miles is the farthest I’ve travelled to meet a client!

In the client’s words…

“I have the pleasure of working with Sarah on the RTL Group Annual Report. She is very passionate about her work and the English language, and always does a fantastic job of reviewing and editing the content.

“Sarah gives us the safety that very important text and articles are reviewed in the utmost professional manner. She finds even the tiniest mistakes and typos within lengthy and complex text, and is very quick and precise in the work she delivers. She is extremely friendly and working with her is a great experience!”

Isabell Ostermann, Senior Communications & Marketing Manager, RTL Group

“Accuracy, reliability, flexibility, always on time – these are the reasons why RTL Group has worked with copywriter and proofreader and Sarah Townsend since 2006, on many annual reports, brochures and projects.”

Oliver Fahlbusch, Executive Vice President Corporate Communications & Marketing, RTL Group