Tom Albrighton, Freelance Copywriter
I seem to have a thing for U.K. copywriters; today’s Working Writer interview features Tom Albrighton of ABC Copywriting, a seven-year freelancer with a nice copywriting blog and an odd aversion to writing in text editors (spoiler alert!).
Given his preferences and our emails, I believe I’d enjoy having a beer with Tom, though unless he’s in possession of a lot of frequent flier miles and is willing to pay for the beer, it’s not happening anytime soon.
Like most working writers, he’s developed a job-tracking system that helps him stay on top the year’s activity. His ability to get clean audio from a phone call is worth a read (though I hear a lot of people are using Skype for the same thing).
Welcome to our latest edition of Working Writers.
Tell Us Who You Are and What You Do
I worked at a non-fiction publisher and a small design studio before I was made redundant in 2005 and decided to try freelancing. Seven years on, I’m still trying it!
After a couple of years trading under my own name, I incorporated as ABC Copywriting. I write all kinds of copy for firms throughout the UK and around the world – websites, brochures, adverts, taglines and so on. I also work with a number of agencies and help academics (often non-native English speakers) with their papers and articles.
What Hardware & Software Do You Use?
My work machine is a strange beast. The core of it is a Mac Mini with an entry-level Benq monitor (didn’t want to splash out on a Cinema Display). I used to buy iMacs, until I realised I was throwing away a perfectly good display every few years when all I really needed was a faster processor.
Hooked up to that is an extremely old Apple Extended Keyboard that was originally part of a Mac IIci (ask your parents, kids). It’s a proper ‘clicky’ keyboard, with ALP mechanical switches, and an absolute joy to use. The day I discovered it would work (via a UDP/USB adaptor) was one of the happiest of my life.
I do all my writing in Word. It’s like an old friend who’s changed a lot since you first knew them, but you stick with them anyway. It has its faults, but its strong points outweigh them. I don’t have a lot of time for people posturing about using TextEdit or whatever — for longer copy work, Word is the only choice. And its checking and readability tools are invaluable if there’s no-one else looking at your work before it goes out.
I often record phone conversations as a way to grab hold of raw information from the client. For that, I use the THAT-2, a commercial-standard device that radio stations use to get the cleanest possible sound. Cheaper alternatives are available, but I found them useless. The audio goes into the Mac Mini where I record it with Audacity and export it as an MP3.
Transcribing the MP3s is made far easier and quicker with Sizzlin’ Keys, which lets you control iTunes via the keyboard without leaving your current app. I use F13=play/pause, F11=jump back five seconds and F12=jump forward five seconds; it quickly becomes completely intuitive.
I don’t have a smartphone. Instead I have a super-simple Nokia, which is for conversations and nothing else. I do all the smartphone-type messing about on an iPad. However, I rarely write anything on it beyond the occasional email.
I also have a MacBook Pro that I sometimes use for writing when I want to change venue. I transfer files with Dropbox, which must be one of the best free apps ever published.
Any Special Copywriting or Workflow Tricks To Share?
I keep track of all my active projects in an Excel spreadsheet that shows client, project, status and price. That’s as near as I get to a forward schedule or a cash flow forecast, but it works for me.
For day-to-day ‘to dos’ I use BusyCal. It’s the calendar app that iCal wishes it was. I particularly like the way completed to-dos are automatically entered on the calendar, so you can see at a glance what you’ve achieved each day and each week. It also shows the weather, which Brits are of course obsessed with.
I always enter comments in my text – not as proper Word comments, but as interpolations in the actual text, using a different style sheet. I find this useful for explaining what I’ve done (or why), flagging up issues or requesting additional information. It’s a way of managing expectations and talking the client through the text the very first time they read it.
What Pieces of the Puzzle Are You Missing?
I never learned to touch-type, so although I’m reasonably fast I do make a lot of mistakes. If I could wave a magic wand to put that right, I would.
I’m still using the chair I bought when I started freelancing, which is appallingly cheap and (now) worn out. I don’t mind investing in a decent one, but it’s such a high-stakes decision. How can you tell whether you’ll enjoy sitting in a chair for years and years?