The 3 reasons every service-based business owner should turn down work.

reasons to turn down work

Sometimes it’s absolutely, positively, definitely ok to say no.
Photo by Andy T on Unsplash

When you’re running your own service-based business it’s tempting to say ‘yes’ to absolutely everything and everyone. And hey, your accountant would possibly just leave it at that.

But I’m going to put my Mummy hat on now and tell you that, while staying in the black is pretty damned important, it shouldn’t come at the expense of these 3 things.

Your reputation.

Just say “yes” — you can figure the details out later.

Whether you’ve been self-employed for months or decades you’re still going to find yourself in this sort of scenario now and again. A client or prospect has asked you to tackle something you’ve never done before. Shit!

What do you do now? If you’re a newbie you’re probably desperate for the cash, the experience, and the testimonial. You think you can probably figure it out with a little bit of help from dear old Google.

If you’re a veteran you’re probably champing at the bit to try something new, to take on a challenge, to push yourself.

And in the case of the veteran, it’s probably a safe enough bet. You have enough skill and experience behind you to know whether it’s a realistic ask and you’ve built up a network of mentors, associates and subcontractors whose skill sets are slightly different to yours — you know that if the shit hits the fan, you have plenty of people who’ll be able to help you deliver the goods.

But if you truly are winging it — if you’ve never even HEARD of what they’re asking you to do and you’re fairly new to the game — it’s probably not worth it.

When it comes to growing your business, reputation is EVERYTHING and just one fuck-up can cancel out years of hard work. So ignore your accountant and only take on a job if you’re almost certain you can deliver.

Your health.

What’s that quote? Something like you’re better off working 80 hours a week on your own dream than 40 hours a week on someone else’s?

Utter crap. Honestly, aren’t you sick fed up with this hustle culture we have going on? Tell me, did you really start your own business so you could wind up working 80 hours a week?

And if anyone tells you that’s just what you have to do to build a successful business they’re either:

  1. A lying workaholic
  2. Not charging enough for their own services or
  3. A lying workaholic

For most of us, working 80 hours a week is a quick route to burnout, a knackered immune system, and inferior work. So as soon as you start thinking that it’s okay ‘just this once’ to work 7 days without a break or to skip that day you’d booked off to spend time with your partner, STOP.

reasons it's ok to turn down work

Photo by Will Porada on Unsplash

It really is okay to say ‘no’ to preserve your health and to make sure you’re getting the downtime and the rest that you need.

And if your bank balance really is pushing you to say yes to absolutely every job that comes your way, have a think about raising your prices or implementing a waiting list. Decent clients who value your skills will be happy to wait a little longer, pay a little extra, or both.

Your sanity.

‘This one’s going to be trouble, I can just feel it’.

I’ve had this gut reaction a few times when a new client comes a-knocking and do you know, I’m always bloody right.

And it’s not because I’m some sort of clairvoyant — nope, it’s because every single one of them has been waving a little red flag.

You know what I’m talking about. Maybe they’re seriously low-balling you right from the start. Maybe they’re demanding an immediate response to emails. Maybe you’ve only just started and they’re already getting in there with the scope-creep. Maybe they’re just a teensy bit rude…whatever it is, it’s got ‘arsehole’ written all over it.

If you’ve already exchanged contracts with such a creature, you have my sympathies and my sincerest hopes that I’m just being a cynical old git.

But if you’re still on the fence about whether you should listen to your gut and say ‘no’ to a Red Flag client, let me reassure you that it’s okay to walk away.

You’ll free up your time to say ‘yes’ to the genuinely lovely people that are out there just waiting for you to work your magic for them and, more importantly, you’ll preserve your sanity. Because there’s nothing worse than working with someone who doesn’t respect your time, your skill or your work processes. Your work will suffer and you’ll end up so stressed that you blow the entire project fee on gin anyway.

That’s the thing about being self-employed — in the beginning, every potential new project feels like it might be the one that’ll make or break your business. It never is. And every time you reject a project because it isn’t the right fit or it isn’t the right time, you’re leaving yourself open to saying ‘yes’ to something incredible right around the corner.

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7 Benefits of Having a Business Blog


Have you started a business blog yet?

Or have you started, uploaded a couple of posts and then let it fade?

I mean, you have other stuff to do, right? You know, designing, coaching or whatever it is that your clients pay you to do…

I get it. Blogging takes time and it takes effort.

You have to set aside time to research, write and (for the love of the wee man don’t forget this bit), promote your blog posts.

Given the whole ‘time and effort’ objection to blogging, you might wonder why I made such a big deal of it in my previous post ‘How to market your business when you’re broke’. Sure, it’s free but is it really worth the hassle?

In a word, yes!

Now, if you’re happy to take my word for it, then you can go and get started right now.

If you still need a bit of convincing, I’ve listed below the most basic benefits you’ll get from starting your own business blog.

1. Improved SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)

Now, many copywriters are SEO experts—I am not. I’m not super- techy and they keep moving the damn goalposts on this one. Google changes its algorithms more often than I change my mind about my favourite Game of Thrones character.

 One thing that remains constant though, is that search engines love fresh content.

There is absolutely no point getting yourself an all-singing, all-dancing website and then letting it stagnate.

And that’s what’ll happen if you don’t keep updating your content. All of the well cared for websites, with new and exciting content will float to the top of the search pile, leaving yours to sink lower and lower into the depths.

It’s heartbreaking. Especially if you paid a fortune setting up your site in the first place!

The easiest way to introduce fresh content to your website: a blog.

2.Long-tail keywords

While we’re talking search engines, it’s worth knowing about long-tail keywords. This is something that probably deserves a post of its very own but I’m going to stick with just a simple explanation for now.

What are long-tail keywords and how are they going to help your business?

Let’s take my own business as an example. A relevant long-tail keyword might be ‘how to write a great landing page’. In search engine terms, this is going to have far less competition than the more generic ‘copywriter’ or ‘marketing copy’.

The more long-tail keywords your website contains, the more people will be able to find it —providing you are not jamming keywords in just for the sake of it. (Don’t do this! Google will recognise that you’re trying to cheat the system and will penalise you for it. Always remember you’re writing for people, not search engines).

Blog posts are a brilliant way of naturally incorporating long-tail keywords into your website.

3. Building relationships

Blogging is NOT about making sales. Increased sales will happen further down the line, but when you’re writing it’s worth remembering that the main purpose of your blog is to help your customers.

Before you even start blogging, it’s a good idea to spend some time putting together a strategy.

Consider who your customers are, what they want to know and how you can help them. What kind of topics could you cover that will improve their lives or their businesses?

Assuming you’re providing useful content and showing a bit of personality, your customers will come to know, like and trust you. When they get to the point that they’re ready to buy, they’re far more likely to come to you, the person they know, like and trust.

4. Establishing credibility

In a similar vein, by posting useful information about your industry you’re proving to your audience that you know your stuff.

Diplomas and qualifications are great but producing relevant content highlights that you are constantly honing your skills and keeping your knowledge fresh.

This shows your professionalism and your expertise —and instils confidence in your customers.

5. Getting to know your customers

When you’re blogging, invite your readers to comment on your posts. The conversations that can ensue here are a goldmine.

Are customers frequently asking the same questions? Great, there’s a topic for a new blog post or even a new page on your website.

Is there a recurring problem with one of your products? Great, now you know about it, you can fix it and tell everyone about the improvements you’ve made.

Maybe some of the comments are highlighting a particular problem that your clients are experiencing — here’s an opportunity for you develop or repackage one of your products or services.

6.Improve your industry knowledge

Not every blog post you write will require research. You are writing about your own industry after all. Some will though and when you’re researching these topics, I guarantee that you’ll improve your professional knowledge along the way. This will ultimately improve the service you’re offering your clients and help you grow your business.

7.Increased visibility

I’ve mentioned it before but it’s worth saying again:

Promote your posts!

There is no point in writing a post that no one will ever read. As soon as you’ve hit publish, promote your post on every social media account you have, including your personal ones.

It is also worth adding any new posts to your newsletter or automatically emailing any new content to your email subscribers.

This is a great way to increase your visibility and stay at the forefront of your customer’s minds.


I’d love to know…

If you were on the fence about starting a blog, has any of the info here changed your mind one way or the other?

Have I missed anything out?

If you’ve been blogging for a while and spotted an obvious benefit that I haven’t mentioned here, let me know!

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Designers vs Copywriters – a showdown?


Content is king? Design is divine?

Design vs Copy; why it’s time to call a truce.

I rewrote my site’s portfolio page last week and seeing my history of working closely with graphic designers laid out in black and white got me thinking about the designer/copywriter relationship.

We’re not traditional allies — each of us is convinced that we are the most important cog in the machine. Just watch a designer’s reaction if you throw the old ‘content is king’ quote at them.

I reckon it’s time to put down the pens and paintbrushes though and shake hands. When it comes to producing a great website or any other form of marketing, a coalition is the order of the day. When a designer and copywriter work together, a project can truly take off!

Why work together?

Like copywriting, design is primarily about communication.

Most designers will tell you that it makes their job infinitely easier if they have some decent copy to work with before they start bashing out ideas. That way they not only know what space they have to work with, but also get a good idea of the overall tone and theme of the website or brochure.

Even more importantly, the designer can clearly see the message the client is trying to convey — and that’s half the battle! If your copywriter and designer can work together, then as a client you know that everyone working for you is singing from the same hymn sheet — that saves you time, money and much confusion.

Good copywriting requires lots of research into a particular subject; you need to look into the industry as a whole, the client’s specific market and the competition. While there are, of course, certain overlaps, this is not necessarily the same research that a designer would do.

Not all designers are confident in their writing skills.

By nature designers are visual people and while many will have great language skills, copywriting is about more than just stringing a sentence together. Most copywriters will have advertising and marketing experience to bring to the table.

Two heads are better than one.

Two creative heads are better still. Just think of the magic that can happen when you get two creative types, both with different skill sets, different ranges of experience and different ideas, working in harmony on the same project!

And if your designer and copywriter can work together and communicate easily with each other, it will save you, the client, an awful lot of time emailing back and forth, trying to keep everyone’s ego in check.

Now it’s time for the shameless plug.

If you check out my portfolio page, you’ll see that I work closely with my very own graphic design teams. Both are extremely talented and have fantastic portfolios — I wouldn’t trust anyone else!

We’ve worked together on print ads, website design/redisign, corporate identity, promotional leaflets and brochures so if you’re thinking your marketing could use a little oomph, you know where to find us.

Want to know how to write an article that people want to share?


What makes a great article?

It’s not just an article that people want to read; it’s an article that people want their friends to read; a post that they’ll share on Facebook, Twitter and all the rest.

Anyone (well, almost anyone!) can string a few sentences together but to actually engage your audience is a little more complicated. The following tips will help you get started, whether you are submitting test pieces to magazines you’d love to write for, have a journalistic deadline looming or simply want to get your new blog off to a great start.

1.Choose your subject wisely – get chatting.

It should be a given but many writers seem to ignore this vital piece of the puzzle. If you have free reign over the subject matter you’re lucky. Write about what interests you – your enthusiasm will shine through and you’ll find yourself happily typing away rather than looking for any distraction to drag you away from your desk.

If you are writing for a particular publication, you may be somewhat restricted on what you can write about. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a little creative though.

My top tip here is to visit a few online chat rooms or forums relating to your topic.

I know, I know, I should be telling you to avoid chatting online; just get your bum in gear and start writing! However, chat rooms can provide a wealth of ideas. What are people currently talking about in your chosen sphere of interest? What are the hot topics? Are there any new controversies or is there a particular line of questioning that keeps cropping up?

For example, when I was blogging about birds, I discovered that people were frequently talking about how to avoid birds flying into their windows. It became clear that advice on how to prevent this was something that would interest a lot of folks. When I was writing about veganism, one subject that kept appearing in groups and chat rooms was the question of vegan role models so I did a bit of digging around and dedicated an article to that topic. Because I had tapped into a current trend, my article was shared widely and prompted many more discussions.

That said, if people are talking about it, it’s likely that you’re not the only writer lurking who has grabbed onto the same subject matter. It’s important to put your own spin on things. No one will read your article if there are already 20 identical pieces floating about. Find an angle that hasn’t been covered and make it personal to you.

2.What’s in a name? Choose your title wisely.

You have probably about 5 seconds (if that!) to convince someone to click on your link. So give your article a damn good title. Questions are always good; you’ve got your reader formulating their own answer to the question before they’ve even read your piece. And they want to know if your answer matches theirs!

A controversial title can work in your favour too but only if it’s actually relevant to the body of the text.

3.Be flexible.

As you delve further into your subject matter, be prepared for your opinion to change. Before you even put pen to paper you probably had a good idea where you were headed with your article. You may even have had a conclusion formulated in your mind. If that’s where you end up, then fine. But sometimes the best articles are the ones where your readers join you on your journey and you end up somewhere completely unexpected by the time you finish typing. As long as the journey is cohesive and easy enough for your reader to follow, this is not a problem. And be sure to write down any unexpected thoughts that pop into your mind as you work your way to your conclusion – these could well be fodder for related articles further down the line.


4.You’re boring me now.

Don’t go on for too long or you’ve completely lost your audience. Keep it to the point and no longer than strictly necessary.


On that note…




Grammar and copywriting: why it’s okay to break the rules.

‘I don’t know the rules of grammar…If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think.’

David Ogilvy.


I absolutely love this quote because it really made me stop and evaluate the very nature of the copywriting business.

In trying to determine whether I agreed with this Ogilvy statement, I was brought back to the very essence of good copywriting: knowing your audience.

I can be a bit of a grammar geek. Someone uttering  ‘I seen’ gives me shivers – not in a good way. And I’m sure you’ve all heard me wax lyrical about the misuse of the word ‘literally’.

So here’s the bit where you’ll be surprised. Good grammar isn’t always essential to good copywriting. In fact, sometimes it’s downright damaging! Sometimes you gotta break the rules.

Say what??!!

Yup, I’ve said it and I’ll stand by it. And here’s why.

It’s about the audience! I can’t stress this enough.

Dear Mr Ogilvy is right: you MUST consider who you’re writing for, who you’re selling to. Then write for them. How do they think? How do they speak? What kind of language will they relate to?

For some audiences perfect grammar and beautifully structured syntax will be a huge turn off. Constructions that are technically correct but that aren’t widely used today, will come across as patronising and fussy – and you’ve lost the game.

You mustn’t be pedantic;  copy is no place for that. Unless you’re selling an English course or tweed jackets with leather elbow patches.

Back to Ogilvy now: you’ll note from the above quote that this advertising giant wasn’t exactly uneducated.  He was clearly very well spoken and while he may not have officially learnt the rules of grammar, his writing suggests he had absorbed most of them somewhere along the line.

Does this invalidate his point? Do copywriters even need a good grasp of grammar?

You’re damned right we do!

As I’ve already said, the key to this, is knowing your audience and their expectations. There will be times when grammatically correct prose is exactly what is required. Imagine you’re looking for a lawyer – will you choose the guy whose website is badly written, full of slang and dodgy syntax or will you go for the one whose marketing comes across as intelligent, capable and even erring on the right side of pedantic? You’ll choose the latter every time because those are the qualities you’re looking for in a lawyer.

What’s the bottom line here?

It’s all about communication. Will your audience understand your message and more importantly will they agree with it? Will it persuade them to take action? Will it sell? The language you use will determine this.

So make sure you’re getting the balancing act right when you’re planning your marketing copy. Always keep your target audience at the forefront of your mind and write directly to them. But do brush up on your grammar when you have a spare minute. After all, it’s easier to break the rules if you actually know what they are in the first place!


Why great writing does not equal great copy.


I got my knickers in a right old twist there.

I was having a look through a completed project a couple of weeks ago and discovered the client had made a couple of changes. Gasp!

One of the sentences had become just a little bit longer. An extra couple of clauses had appeared as if from nowhere. A word or two had been deleted and exchanged for synonyms with a few more syllables. Nothing major but…

It annoyed me and I’ll tell you why.

Yes, I can write the sentence of a hundred clauses and make it sound elegant. Yes, I know big fancy words. But I don’t often use them. For a good reason:

great writing doesn’t always make great copy.

Let me show you what I mean.

Using complex words.

Unless you’re selling a specialist product or you have a very niche market, keep your vocabulary simple. You want to be as inclusive as possible and by using obscure, complicated or ‘academic’ words and phrases, you’re automatically alienating some of your potential audience.

That’s bad copywriting.


Ditto complex sentence structure.

The more complicated the sentence, the greater the chance you’ll screw it up. We’ve all done it. However, even if you’re a linguistic genius and every sentence is word perfect, longer STILL isn’t better. Your long, convoluted sentence has just bored your reader and they’ve clicked on to something else.

That’s bad copywriting.


Never-ending paragraphs.

All audiences are not created equal. Your magazine reader, who’s just settled down on the train for the daily commute could be considered a captive audience (although, don’t forget your ad is competing with every other ad, article and picture in the magazine) and may be happy to read loads of text. Your internet user is not. She is pushed for time, bombarded with information and just looking for a reason to click ‘close’. Your beautifully written but long paragraphs and text heavy pages have just given her that reason.

That’s bad copywriting.


So when you’re writing your own copy, try not to fall into these traps. Remember that it takes more than great grammar and syntax to sell a product. Great writing does not always equal great copy.

Although it is a good place to start…