Recently I was asked to chat on a Podcast with the lovely Robert Gerrish from Flying Solo as part of their Coaching Couch program.
We covered lots of different subjects but the main areas were:
- My marketing strategy (or lack of it)
- My big mouth and whether I’m too vocal and honest on issues
- My 80/20 rule for social media sharing
- How to tap into your own copywriting talent (even if you think you don’t have any)
- The ‘cult of personality’
- My personal branding
- Dealing with detractors
- Reaching out to competitors
So grab yourself a cup of green tea and a Curly Wurly (great for dipping), kick back and listen to my dulcet tones.
Hi, Robert here from Flying Solo. Welcome to another addition of the Coaching Couch podcast. My guest today is writer Kate Toon. Kate is a business copywriter, a creative writer with a couple of children’s books under her belt, an SEO writer and strategist, and a digital trainer.
Now, far from being just another writer, Kate is someone who stands out and knows what she stands for. If you’ve read her work, you’ll know she does not shy away from rattling cages and causing mild disruption around the place and nor does she suffer fools. I really admire Kate and I reckon that you will do as it’s clear she’s passionate about her work and she delivers great work for her clients. But does speaking out help work flow in? Well, happily the answer is a resounding yes, but the path to make this happen will surprise you. So strap yourself in as we welcome Kate Toon from www.KateToonCopywriter.com.au.
Well Kate, it’s lovely to have you here joining us on the Coaching Couch podcast.
Well, thank you for asking me.
That’s great. Now look, one thing, I’m sure a number of people listening to this will be familiar with you, and if not certainly by the end of this they will I’m sure be inspired to go and seek you out and find out more about you. But you’re prolific, I would say, you write a great deal, you pop up on social networks a great deal, articles that you’ve written for us on Flying Solo have had the most astonishing levels of interaction and comment.
So is there a strategy here at play? What’s your approach? You’re clearly not someone who’s frightened to speak up about what you feel strongly about?
Well, I’d like to say that I have some super-intelligent strategy behind everything, but the truth is that I don’t really. I do make a lot of lists and have a lot of intentions to have a structured approach to my marketing and my blogs and my forums, but generally it’s more emotion-driven, I guess, or passion-driven. If I feel very strongly about an issue or if I feel very enthusiastic about a subject matter I dive in.
Right. But being a writer and being someone who’s certainly a natural marketer – whether or not you’ve trained as a marketer I don’t know, but certainly someone who’s very natural at it – it never strikes me that, you know, anything that I’ve seen or read of yours, it always seems to be considered. So you dive in, but I get a sense there’s a bit of pausing going on before you write and press send, is that right?
I think there is to a degree and I’m very lucky to have the use of a great proof-reader and editor, I’ve got a couple of people that I use and also I sometimes get my mum and dad to read my articles before I post them, even though I’m a 40 year-old woman. And often they’re like “Hey, do you really want to say that?” or “Is that a bit extreme?” and sometimes I will then temper it, but other times I will let it go. And I think in forums I’m very much about if I would say that to another person and have no qualms about saying it face-to-face, then I’m happy to say it in a forum and to stand by what I’ve said. So, as long as I’m not mortally offending anybody, I’m fine with what I put out there.
Okay, so then whilst there may not necessarily – well, I guess what you’ve said there is that there is a degree of pausing, but you’re clearly doing that very sensible action which is thinking “Would I say this to somebody in real life?” But when you sit there with a blank sheet of paper or you’re planning perhaps your Facebook posts for the day or for the week, how do you come up with the, kind of, themes? What makes it onto your blank sheet of paper?
Well, I think with Facebook and the social media networks, I try and follow an 80/20 rule in terms of 80% of what I post is not about me, it’s about things related to what I do, so copywriting, search engine optimisation, usability, that kind of thing, and then 20% of the time I can talk about myself, so I can post a testimonial or I can reference one of the services I offer. And I try and post a couple of times a day, once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and those are kind of serious organised intelligent posts. And then throughout the day I might a post a few sort of “I’m doing this” or “Isn’t this funny?” or “Look at this picture of a cat falling off something” kind of posts, just to break it up a little bit. So I have some that are considered and that I write and edit and seek links and try and make it intelligent, and other ones that are a little bit off-the-cuff. And funnily enough, it’s the ones that are off-the-cuff that get the response.
Okay, we’ll come back to that because I know you’ve got more to say there.
But when you’ve got the off-the-cuff ones that get the response, do you see a measureable spike in enquiries, people that want to work with you? All this activity, how does it translate into opportunities for you?
Well, for a long time I’ve felt that it hasn’t translated and that really I’ve been doing it for my own entertainment. I think when you’re a soloist sitting in an office on your own all day, Facebook, Twitter, all those kind of areas are a way to just reach out to the universe and have a little bit of human contact. So I’ve always done it with that in mind, that I enjoy it, that I enjoy the connection I make with people. But then lately I think maybe it’s reached critical mass, I don’t know, but I have been getting many more enquiries through Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and Flying Solo as well. And I think it’s more that I’m keeping myself top-of-mind so that when someone says to someone “Oh, I need a copywriter” people go “Oh, there’s that girl on Facebook, she does this, she’s quite funny, Kate Toon,” or “I read an article by such-and-such.” So I think it’s definitely a lot of word of mouth. So, I’ve never sat down and done any kind of like chart to measure quantity of posts versus return on investment.
But I have a good workflow and I take the Coca-Cola approach to marketing, that even though Coca-Cola may be the best known brand in the universe they still spend an inordinate amount of money marketing themselves.
Because they just want to keep top-of-mind and they want to keep ahead of their competition, and the minute they kind of stop someone else will rise up and snap at their tails.
Yes and I think that’s a great observation, and clearly as a writer, as an SEO writer, you’re not alone out there.
But what I observe and I guess one of the reasons I was so delighted to get you on this podcast is that you are very much out there. It went for a period I think a couple of weeks ago where I couldn’t seem to bump into anyone who didn’t mention Kate Toon at some point!
Yes, well it is, it’s kind of nice isn’t it?
But it’s lovely to hear also that this is not some sort of orchestrated planned marketing strategy, this is a somewhat accidental success that you’re enjoying, but I’m so pleased that you are enjoying it. So what you are saying is that you’ve reached this sort of tipping point with it. So does that change things for you now? When the light bulb went off that “Oh, hello, I’m onto something here” does it change it for you? Does your plan change?
I don’t think so, no. I think I just keep doing more of the same and, you know, I have to be careful of not over-saturating and doing so much that people think “Will she ever shut up and stop posting stuff?” So, no,, I mean, there are many things I’d like to do, but I’m a mum of a four year-old, I only actually work three-and-a-half days a week, so I can’t actually do more unfortunately. Maybe when he goes to school, I might be able to capitalise on some of this a little better, but for the time being I have to just balance it with actually earning money.
Yes, okay. Yes, of course, so you’ve actually got to sell some hours not just keep giving them away getting involved in things.
Yes. Is part of your role if someone’s coming along or – let me actually rephrase this. For somebody listening who might say “Well look, that’s all very well and good but I’m not Kate Toon. I can’t actually write about things in the style that you do” what would you say? Can somebody outsource another person to do this or is there a way, do you think, that you can help or that we can help somebody tap into some perhaps unhidden talent that they’ve got? What would you say to those people?
Well, although I don’t want to do many copywriters out of work, I really don’t think it is something you should outsource. I really do think it should be something – I mean, unless you really feel you have absolutely zero writing ability, zero marketing ability, then yes. It’s just like if you can’t design a webpage there’s no point spending weeks and weeks trying to do it yourself. But if you feel you can write a little and you have an inkling that you have something to say, I think it’s often just good to spend some time with someone like me, or yourself, or some kind of business adviser, just trying to get them to dig out some gems.
I worked with a bookkeeper recently and she was like “I’m a terrible writer and I have no ideas” and then I talked to her for an hour and within an hour we came up with about 70 ideas for blog posts, just with her talking “Oh, well I did this. Oh, well there’s a blog post.” And I said “You’ve got heaps to say and you have a unique position. You may think yes, there’s 70 other people who are doing bookkeeping in my area, but you’re you and the people who follow you might not be following the other 70 and they want to have an insight into your world and how it works and your stresses and your experiences.” So I think – I’m not sure if that answers your question, but –
Well, look, it does and it sounds like we might have just discovered another service offering for you, not that you’re necessarily looking for it. But it’s interesting and I must say, hearing you saying that, I totally agree with you. I recall a number of conversations I’ve had with people who’ve said “Look, what’s different about me? What’s unique about me?” But in fact, once you get talking it’s very possible to, if you’re a good listener and if you’re listening for headlines which I suspect you are and at times I work like that also, they are there aren’t they?
But the hard thing, I think, is for somebody who really just doesn’t notice them and it’s having that ability to notice. And one way, as you say, might be to book an hour with Kate Toon, if you can do that. But I guess the other thing is perhaps just to buddy up with a friend or a colleague as well and say “Okay, I’m going to talk about what I do, you talk about what you do and let’s both” – it’s almost like playing the role of a journalist isn’t it?
Listening carefully to what’s going on there. Do you think that everybody has this in there somewhere, every business has this ability to rattle a few cages somehow somewhere?
I do and I think I wrote a blog recently about how no business is boring. Again, I worked with another business recently that, on the surface of it, looked very straightforward, one of the members of Flying Solo actually, LogiQA and then when I dug deep into what they actually did, they were forensic scientists. They’d worked with developing herpes treatments and examining flip-flops for contaminants. They’ve done these amazing jobs but they’d never talked about them. And they were really interesting people, but they were hiding it behind this veneer of very corporate seriousness. So I do think, I think it’s having the confidence. I think confidence is a huge factor.
Yes, I think you’re right.
Everyone’s like “I’m not interesting enough, no-one wants to hear about me. I don’t want to put myself out there because what the hell will happen if I do? It could be bad, it could be this…” And so people are too frightened to reveal anything about themselves, but if they don’t then they’re just vanilla and they’re not interesting and they’re just like everybody else. So you have to give a little to get a little I think.
I think that’s very sage advice and I think that’s absolutely right. But as I say, I guess the real challenge for people who perhaps don’t have that confidence is bringing that to the fore and I think this could be an incidence where or a situation where spending a bit of time with you or someone like you –I don’t want to turn this into a sales call – but, you know, is a good thing to do.
No. Or using the Flying Solo forum –
Yes, well, that’s true.
And reaching out to someone there and saying “Hey, look, is anybody here willing to have – what you just said – like a business brainstorm with me and you talk about your business for half an hour, I’ll talk about my business for half an hour and at the end of it we’ll see if we can come up with some ideas?” not just for content but just well, have you thought of this, have you thought of doing that? I think there should be a lot more of that and I think, again, a big part of what I do in terms of being loud and opinionated is I reach out to my competitors a lot and I ask for their opinions, and sometimes they’re good and sometimes they’re bad, but I take it on the chin because I get so much from that. By asking a fellow copywriter “What would you do?” I learn heaps, so it’s worth putting myself out there for that.
Yes, look, I must say, I think the way that you embrace competitors is so fascinating and I’d love to delve into that a little deeper. Because I think I’m right in saying that you run a little discussion group as well, do you not, with other professional writers?
Yes, I’ve got a public one on Google which is called the Australian Copywriters Forum and I also have a smaller one which is just a group of copywriters who I’ve met over the years on digital formats like Twitter, and we share rates, we share issues, client problems. We’re very open with each other and it’s been hugely helpful because there’s this terror as well that everyone else is doing better than you, that no-one else has the same worries that you do but everyone does. Everyone’s sweating the same issues. Even the people who look – I’ve had people coming to me in that group and say “I’ve been following you and you look like you’re so confident in what you’re doing” and when I admit “Well, no, I’m not all the time and I worried about that and that stressed me out” they’re like “Who God, what a relief!”
Yes. So how many people do you have in those groups, how many competitors?
I only started the one the other week. I’ve got about 170 in the Google one because I think a lot of people are quite nervous about Google Plus and they’re quite scared of it, but it’s awesome and you have to get on there. It’s a great place to be. And then my little secret one is just about 20 or so copywriters who are, kind of, buddies.
Right, okay. So let’s maybe look at the smaller one for a moment.
So when you decided to set that up, from what you’ve said, your main rationale for starting it was to give yourself a bit of a support network and just to check in, from your perspective, does everybody feel like me, have they got the same sort of issues? But what was your initial approach? How did you –
Well, I think I was having similar conversations on Twitter with some people already, so that was where I first went to find people. Some people were so open to it straight away and really wanted to join and others, to this day, still haven’t taken the plunge, and now we’ve closed the group so they’ve missed their chance! But I’ve actively openly approached so many copywriters just by typing in “copywriter Sydney” and going “Hi, I’m a copywriter, I’d love to connect with you, blah, blah, blah”. Very many people have been very guarded and terrified, but about 50% of people have been open. So it’s been hit and miss and I just haven’t been upset by anybody who doesn’t want to because that’s their call.
But I think the ones that are in the group are so relieved that they made the choice because it’s so helpful. So, again, being brave and not being frightened of rejection, I think.
Yes. And have you had any competitive issues that have popped up within the discussions or not?
Not in our little group. I have over the years have had copywriters send me hate mail and I’ve recently had another SEO-type person completely copy whole chunks of content off my website which is an interesting issue. So yes, I’ve opened myself up.
These things happen.
These things happen and I think in the early days I was quite affected by it, but now I’m a bit more “Yes, whatever”.
Yes, and I guess the thing is if you’re going to lead with your chin to an extent and if you’re going to speak up about things – if you’re not rattling a cage then you’re not doing it right anyway are you, to a large extent?
You are. But it is hard sometimes. I mean, the recent post you mentioned on the site where I got lots and lots of comments, it did to some degree feel a bit like an attack and there’s a bit of you that goes “Leave me alone”. But then there’s the other half of you that goes “Well, everyone’s entitled to their opinion, I’m just going to answer the queries rationally and move on”. And, as you said, obviously I rattled a few cages and I got a response, and some of it’s good and some of it’s bad.
Yes. And as the managers of our forum, I must say what’s very interesting, and of course little dingdongs happen in there and big dingdongs happen in there –
But so often what happens that we observe is that we hear of or we can see that there’s some flare-up going on and we’ll go into a little Flying Solo huddle and say “Okay, how are we going to handle this? What shall we do What’s the best response? How do we need to ease this and make it more comfortable for everybody?” And whilst we’re sitting here faffing around talking about strategies and plans and what we’re going to do, nine times out of ten the forums, the community has answered it themselves.
Exactly, it resolves itself.
Some wonderful person has come in and said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, what’s going on here?”
“You need to do this, you need to do that” and saying the kind of things that frankly we don’t want to be saying or we can’t say as well as somebody who’s – and I’m sure that must happen with you also. But for people listening then, I guess for business coaches perhaps or graphic designers, would you say just get started on your own little group? I mean, it sounds like you’ve benefitted hugely from it?
Yes, I definitely would, I definitely would try, maybe at first even just one other person who’s in exactly the same role as you, reach out to them and go for a cup of tea and have a chat and then after that widen the circle a little. I think there’s lots of networking groups and they’re great, but often you’re sat there with an accountant and a graphic designer and they don’t really understand the unique issues that your business faces and the only way you’re going to find someone who understands that is by approaching a competitor. So as long as you approach it very openly and there’s no commitment, there’s no financial obligation, I’m just saying “Hey, I’m another designer, you’re a designer. I love your work, I wondered if you’d like to have a chat about stuff?” And the other great thing that comes out of it is always there’s opportunity for more work, because often I get enquiries that I can’t handle and I hand them out to other copywriters, and vice versa.
So if I didn’t do that I would just be like “Sorry client, I’m too busy” but now I’m able to help my client by saying “I’m too busy, but here are five other people that could help you”. So it actually brings in more business, not less. You’re not undermining yourself; you’re actually enhancing your own business.
Yes, you’re increasing the size of the pot, aren’t you?
Yes exactly, exactly. Yes.
Fantastic. Well look, just going back, as we close up, to our initial topic, how speaking out helps work flow in. So certainly what I’ve gathered from our talk today is that, whilst it wasn’t a strategized heavily thought through plan, it’s clearly something that’s worked, you’ve got to a point where regularly talking, not being afraid to speak up, embracing your competitors, is certainly now starting to work quite well for you and that there is work flowing in.
So where might this go next, do you think? You’re very on top of what’s going on with social networks and what’s generally happening online. Do you see a particular path for you? Or do you observe how things are shaping up within the social media world? Do you see anything tantalising and exciting particularly ahead for you?
Well, I think I like to call it “the cult of personality” which is a bit of a wanky phrase for the fact that most businesses now definitely have a clear figurehead, a clear person who they use as their voice. Google has Matt Cutts and every business seems to have a head, a speaking mouth, because obviously on social media you can’t just talk as St George Bank, you need to be Sally from St George Bank. And obviously the banks don’t do it quite as well because it’s blatantly obvious there’s a team of 40 Sallies behind there, but I think –
Who are not called Sally.
Who are not called Sally. But I think if you’re a small business or a soloist, it’s about maybe picking the person in your small business or picking the side of you that’s most sociable and most out there and making that the mouthpiece for your business and really sharing a little bit of that personal side of you as well. And I’m not talking about “Oh, I just went to the toilet” or “I just went to Coles supermarket and bought some cheese” that kind of level, but I do think it’s about “‘I had this experience, it made me feel like this” sharing a bit more of that personal stuff. And I think it comes a lot easier to women than men. You find a lot of blogs for women that are spouting forth all kinds of personal bits and bobs, and sometimes maybe taking it a bit too far. And I think for men, they feel they’ve got to keep this professional veneer up and by revealing any kind of failure or a mistake which could humanise them could actually damage their business.
So I think on social media and all the networks, that human side is essential. We want to feel that we’re communicating with a real human, rather than a perfect marketing guru that has all the answers and has a perfectly worked out content strategy. Especially in our area, with soloists, we don’t have teams of 30 people managing our social media, it’s us. It’s us for 20 minutes while the husband’s making the tea, or while your wife’s got the kids in the front room you’ve got five minutes to write a Facebook update. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with admitting that and admitting your imperfections as well. The odd typo is not the end of the world and I think people worry that what they’re going to write isn’t perfect enough for them to put it out there, but it doesn’t have to be perfect.
That’s such a good point and to hear that from you as a writer and a very fine writer is very reassuring, I must say. I was just thinking of – oh I can’t remember, I read a lovely story – now who was the lovely chef who was married to Charles Saatchi, what’s her name?
Oh, Nigella Lawson.
Yes, Nigella. I remember reading a lovely article that she was involved in where they were at a very big photo shoot of some of her cooking for a big cookbook that she was doing and teams of photographs and assistants and everybody there. And under the cameras this gorgeous pie that she’d made just wilted and collapsed in front of all the heat lamps and everything. And everybody went into a complete flurry and drama, catastrophe-type situation, apart from Nigella who just simply moved forward, stuck a piece of paper under it, slapped some butter on top of it and bodged it up.
And the journalist who was sitting there with her interviewing her for this piece said “It’s fantastic how you handled that” and she said “Well look, frankly, if you can’t handle a bit of fallen pastry you’re not going to get very far in life.”
Yes, exactly, exactly.
And I just thought that’s so good to hear somebody like that saying it, and you’ve said a similar thing, it’s okay to make the odd mistake here and there as long as your bigger purpose is pretty clear. And I love this thought that, as you’ve said there, this cult of personality.
My final question to you is – and thank you very much for all the time you’re giving us – I notice that across your site you use some very circa 1950s photography style for your persona, how you show yourself. So you’ve clearly put some thought into that. If I see you down at Coles, are you going to be wearing big glasses and a big ‘50s hairdo or how does that work?
How funny, I just literally yesterday wrote a post about that and the fact that that 1950s image has become somewhat of a cross to bear.
I had a funny experience with a client the other day who called me and I said to him “Can I just ask why you chose to work with me?” and he said – there were two clients on the call – “Oh, you ranked really well on Google” and I was like “Oh, great.” And his friend said to him “That’s a lie, mate, you chose her because you thought she looked hot in the picture” and he was like “Oh, thanks a lot.” And it was really, really mortifyingly embarrassing, especially given we were on Skype and I’d pretended my video camera didn’t work because I had no makeup on, I was just wearing a T-shirt and jeans. I don’t sit with red lipstick on with a pencil poking provocatively into my mouth all the hours of the day. So, no, I mean, I guess I like that style, but the real me is a lot more prosaic.
But the reality is, these days I don’t meet a lot of my clients. I look okay from the neck up, I just put a bit of eye mascara on and do a Skype call and we’re all good. So, no, but again, there wasn’t a rationale behind that image. I did a job for the lady who did the shots, a lady called Sasha who runs Sherbet Birdie, and she did me a contra for some pictures, which I just took because I loved her pictures. And then I’ve used them and they’ve really become standout because so many copywriters have these corporate shots which is them with their chin on their hand –
Yes, looking very thoughtful.
In a nice cardigan, looking like a writer.
So they do make me standout. Love it or hate it, they do make me standout.
And it’s been lovely hearing of the almost accidental success of Kate Toon today.
So, long may it continue. Kate, thanks so much for joining us –
And we look forward to seeing you again soon on Flying Solo. Thanks.
END OF INTERVIEW.
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