One thing that no one ever tells you as they’re patting you on the back for going freelance (before quickly checking their bank balance online and returning home to roll around on a bed of lovely, comforting payslips) is that free lunches are no longer a regular part of your life.
You have to start paying for them yourself and everything tastes of ashes.
Now, the proverbial They would have you believe that there is no such thing as a free lunch, but as always, They are wrong; free lunches do exist and I used to enjoy them regularly when I was an employee.
Ah, delicious free food, how I luxuriated in it, giving a silent prayer of thanks to the company credit card before picking up my knife and fork.
Sometimes, these lunches were billed as ‘working lunches’; clients were invited along and the focus was less ‘Yay! Chips!’ and more ‘I have serious business questions that need answering and I will ask them all whilst chewing in an obnoxious manner.’ Luckily, at this early stage in my career, I had carefully cultivated a reputation as a mute, so no one expected any words to come out of my mouth, let alone any answers.
Not only did this give me chance to put more food into my mouth than anyone else at the table, but it also meant that I could eavesdrop on the conversations that were happening around me.
One such conversation was between a professional copywriter and a lady who ran a carpet cleaning business (a passion for which seemingly managed to sustain her, as she ate nothing but the tail-end of a piece of fish for the entire three course lunch). She had Serious Business Questions, one of which was how she could write interesting emails and blog posts about carpet cleaning.
The professional copywriter told in her in no uncertain terms that no, that was just not possible. I believe his exact words were “There are some things, some businesses, that you just can’t write about,” before turning his attention back to his risotto.
If I had been the Alice that I became, and still am, a year after that lunch; ballsy Alice, Alice who believes that she is good at something and knows about things, then I would have said “Erm, actually, Professional Copywriter, you are incredibly wrong and let me tell you for why…”, but I was mute then and just thought it loudly in my head.
Of course, there are things that are difficult to write about because in order to do so you have to admit how you really feel about something, or blow the dust off of feelings that you’d boxed away.
And, naturally, there are things that you, in particular, shouldn’t write about; just as it is probably inadvisable for me to turn next week’s Tewsletter into… well, literally anything to do with sport, but there is nothing, no business or topic, that can’t be written about in an interesting or entertaining way and the day that I stop believing that is the day I kiss my dreams goodbye and set fire to everything that I have worked for – using my 57 quarter-full notebooks as kindling.
However, my notebooks can sleep easy for a while because two years ago I discovered the secret to being able to write an interesting email about anything.
That secret is The Pivot, and it goes like this;
You begin your email talking about something interesting; something that, crucially, isn’t anything to do with your business. It could be a short anecdote about something that happened to you in the week, or something that happened to ‘a friend of a friend’ if it’s that type of interesting, or it could be a news story; the weirder, the better. You are then funny and charming and engaging about that story. Then BAM. The Pivot happens; you hit them with ‘And it’s like that in [insert ‘boring’ business here]’ and then in you go to talk a little bit about your business, or your message.
Sometimes, especially if you’re writing B2C, you can just do a tiny little pivot and pick out a lesson or interesting thinking point from the pre-pivot part of the copy and encourage your readers to think on it.
Let’s have a run through.
One of my favourite headlines of recent weeks, and quite possibly of all time, is ‘Wife gatecrashes her OWN funeral to confront the husband who had hired hitmen who he thought had murdered her’. I loved this because 1) you’d have to have the personality of a Ryvita not to be able to get an entertaining email out of it and 2) turning up at my own funeral looking unbearably hot in a black dress, red lipstick and a wide-brimmed hat to deliver a withering put-down to my scumbag ex husband is a lifelong ambition of mine.
Maybe it’s yours too, put that in your email if you like; whatever, just be entertaining for a paragraph or two.
Then, you drop ‘And it’s like that in carpet cleaning – you’ve got a stain and you really, really want it gone. You’ve even been out and bought something especially to shift it. For a while, you think it’s gone, but then you put the big light on and it’s back, brighter than ever, to haunt you.’
Obviously, that message needs a bit of fluffing, and you could then continue to talk a little bit about carpet cleaning if you so wish, but you get the idea.
You don’t have to deliver a philosophical punchline that will send your reader spinning into an existential crisis. At least, not every week. All it takes is finding something interesting and performing The Pivot to link it, even in the most superficial of ways, to your business or industry.
The more interesting and entertaining that email is, particularly those first few paragraphs, the more chance your next email has of getting opened, and the one after that, and so on, because entertainment gets opened; stuff that makes finally leaving that Amazon packaging feedback seem like a more interesting alternative, doesn’t.
So, now you know The Secret.
Please send all book and movie deals to my agent, thank you.