If you’re a freelance writer who spends any time on LinkedIn or Twitter, you’re likely to have come across John Espirian. John is known as the relentlessly helpful technical copywriter for a reason – he always seems happy to help. A guru on all things LinkedIn and blog-related, John is generous with his advice (you don’t want to miss his top three tips for LinkedIn below), so I was thrilled when he agreed to be interviewed for this Q & A.
Meet John Espirian – freelance technical copywriter and LinkedIn go-to man
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your path to becoming a copywriter?
I started out as a software and hardware tester in-house at a UK internet service provider, and moved on to become a quality assurance manager at the same company.
Some of my work involved explaining how products, services and processes worked to colleagues. I also had to review and simplify reams of boring technical documentation.
I ended up being the ‘how does this thing work?’ guy.
When I left the business in 2009, I decided to work in a field where I could combine my nerdy enjoyment of tech with a chance to explain how stuff works.
And that’s what led me to become a technical writer.
What kind of content do you tend to write and for what kind of clients?
I call myself a technical copywriter, which often makes people think that I write about technology.
And I do do that sometimes, but technical writing is about explaining how things work (products, services, processes, you name it). This means that I’ve written content in lots of different areas, from engineering to HR.
I started out assuming that I’d specialise in IT and the web, but demand from clients has meant that I’ve ended up being much more of a generalist.
[Related post: Why freelance writers don’t need a niche]
You seem to be a LinkedIn guru. Can you tell me why LinkedIn is so important for freelance writers and copywriters?
I think it’s about the best online place to do business, especially for B2B writers like me.
Since Microsoft bought out LinkedIn at the end of 2016, the platform has improved a lot and is now somewhere that useful business-focused discussions take place. You can demonstrate your skills to potential clients and build a big network of people who can refer you for work. The engagement levels are good, and ads don’t get in the way of the user experience.
No doubt we’ll all have a thinner wedge of the pie once people cotton on about how useful LinkedIn could be to their business, but right now (late 2018), there’s still time to establish a good presence on LinkedIn and find clients.
[Related post: How to use LinkedIn to find high-paying clients]
What are the top three tips you have for freelancers to maximise their use of LinkedIn?
1. Your headline and profile summary sections need to be clear about what you do, the problems you solve and the types of client you work with.
Don’t try to be too clever with this: clarity and ease of reading are essential.
Also, make your contact details clear so that even those who don’t connect with you have a clear way to get in touch.
Displaying your email address in your banner image or high up in the profile summary is a good idea.
2. Write posts (status updates) that don’t include external links.
Text- or image-based posts work best.
Producing helpful and business-relevant content that stimulates discussion is the best way to become known in your industry.
3. Like and comment on others’ posts, especially those you plan to connect with and do business with.
Responding with meaty, well-observed comments will mark you out as an authority in your space.
Building this sort of trust takes time, but it’s a good long-term play.
I was interested to see you have put your prices on your website. What’s your thinking behind this decision?
Pricing is the number one question I’m asked about.
Rather than answering this in countless 1-to-1 exchanges, it’s far easier to put the information out there for all to see.
People who are looking for cut-price copywriting won’t waste their time or mine by contacting me, leaving me more space to deal with serious clients.
A lot of people say they can’t display prices because ‘it depends’.
My response to them is to think about what they can say about pricing.
What factors determine their price? If they were to give an example of a particular project or service (with some specific example criteria), could they say how much that would cost?
Your briefing document that you give to new writing clients is really comprehensive. What are the advantages of asking these types of questions?
It’s a relatively quick way of understanding what the customer wants, and these are the questions I’d be asking in a 1-to-1 exchange anyway. Again, I might as well put it out there and save some time.
The questions mean that customers don’t leave out an important bit of detail when they get in touch about a project.
What’s your favourite kind of writing job and why?
I like procedural writing, where the reader has a task to complete and they have to follow a step-by-step process to do so. I like the challenge of making the steps as clear and simple to follow as possible.
This sort of content usually combines clear writing with well-annotated visuals – that’s nerd heaven for me.
Do you have a writing routine? What does ‘a regular week’ look like for you?
I like writing everything I can think of on a given topic, without any fear or filtering.
Then I let that messy first draft rest for a while and come back to it a day or two later to extract the good stuff and cut the dross. It’s a bit like revealing the statue that’s hiding inside the big jaggedy block of marble: you have to start with something shapeless and chip away at it until the polished final product is ready.
I don’t have many regular weeks. It’s a balance between all the non-writing tasks (marketing, invoicing, follow-ups, etc.) and the pure writing – and the latter often differs because I cover so many different topics.
[Here’s what a week in my freelance life looked like this time last year]
How do you tend to find clients?
Most of them find me via my website and LinkedIn posts. I don’t need to do too much outbound client prospecting (thank goodness – I hate pitching!).
What do you find most challenging about being a freelance writer?
You can never be certain that there will be enough work to fill your time. I’ve been an independent writer and editor since 2009, and I still have peaks and troughs in demand for my work.
More and more people are entering the freelance writer market, so there’s a constant pressure to improve and demonstrate your value.
If you don’t do this, your writing becomes a commodity – and the ensuing effect that has on your prices means you’ll never make a decent living.
Always think about what value you can offer that others can’t, and bring that out in all your marketing.
And the best thing?
I can work on varied projects and am my own boss. If I want to experiment or change my business, I have permission.
Working from home means I’ve been able to be around while my daughter grows up. And I’ve avoided the dreaded commute.
Anything else you want to add, John?
My business started to take off properly in 2017. That coincided with me getting some clarity around my personal brand.
I came up with the idea of being ‘relentlessly helpful’ and now use that in all my marketing – so much so that people have started to repeat the phrase back to me.
If you want to be memorable, you need a hook. That doesn’t have to be a fancy strapline, but it does involve understanding what you want to stand for and then making sure that this is woven into the DNA of all your content.
Lastly, how can people get in touch with you?
The best place is LinkedIn. You can can follow me here: https://linkedin.com/in/johnespirian/
Bonus points if you’re one of the 5 per cent of people who send me a personalised connection request!
I feel like there’s so much gold in this Q &A with John. Anything that particularly resonated with you?
Thanks so much for inviting me on, Lindy. I’ve always been impressed by the content you put out, and especially the fact that you’re so transparent with the way your business runs. It’s a real honour to be included here. Thank you again!
Thank you John, thrilled to feature you and all your wisdom!
What a great interview. I love the briefing document idea and thinking about the value we offer to our customers.
Thanks, John, and thanks Lindy for such a great blog.
Thanks so much for your comment Sara. I love the briefing document too – such a great idea.
Fab, thanks 🙏🏻
You’re welcome, Sara. Feel free to adapt it for your own purposes 👍🏻
I have learned so much from this interview – thank you, John and Lindy, for sharing! That briefing document is next level and has totally inspired me. And "relentlessly helpful" has made me reflect so much on what my distinctive hook might be. THANK YOU!
Thanks Angelica, I’m so glad you’ve found this helpful. I’ve seen so many people refer to John as "relentlessly helpful" so it definitely works having a unique brand/tag line!
Very kind of you, Angelica, thanks! I’m talking more about ‘relentlessly helpful’ tomorrow with my mailing list subscribers. It’s so important to have a memorable hook if you want to market your business. Do give it some thought! 👍🏻
Another clever writer who gets people to come to him so he can avoid pitching, I remember one or two of your previous interviewees saying that too, it must be very satisfying. John is a real expert on LinkedIn, I’m watching and learning – I’m new to the platform and trying to get my head around it at the moment, and how to find the right people to connect to (and how to persuade them to connect!)
Sorry, no idea why my name came up like that. Claire