An interview with copywriter Monica Shepherd

In the second instalment of my series showcasing creative talent, I caught up with Auckland-based copywriter Monica Shepherd – the face behind Mark My Words. From her journey into a career in copywriting to her top tips on landing new clients, read on to be as inspired as I was by Monica’s insights.

How did you begin your career in copywriting?

I jumped straight into the deep end. Not a lot of people know this, but I had never even worked as a copywriter before I started my business (in fact, I hadn’t long known that such a role existed!). I was 25, in a job I hated and decided I wanted to be able to live life on my own terms. I figured ‘I could write’. So, I quit my job, read every blog and book I could find, and set up my business!

Looking back, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking, but I think I had some weird, ballsy, blind faith that I was doing the right thing and that it was all going to work out OK! I am the most indecisive person, so the fact that I felt in my gut that it was going to work out fine was a big deal for me. I networked hard, focused a lot on my website SEO (well, I had no budget for any other advertising!) and just simply hustled. That was eight years ago, and it has been a journey of ups and downs and twists and turns, I’ve learnt lessons the hard way – that’s for sure – but if I’m honest I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve had amazing opportunities with awesome companies, and I’m proud of getting here on my own two feet. I guess I’m proof that a well-trodden path isn’t the only way.

My motto is story over sales pitch.

Woman with cat

In your mind, what is it that makes excellent, engaging copy?

Copy with a bit of heart and soul. My motto is story over sales pitch. I work with a lot of small businesses and solopreneurs, and I always tell them that their story could be their best-selling point – it could be the thing that sets them apart from their competitors, so don’t be afraid to include it genuinely, bravely, candidly, honestly.

It could also be the thing that sends some people away, but that’s a good thing – because not everyone is the right customer for you. With genuine copy you’re better able to qualify your leads, and you’ll end up working with people that you really enjoy because your story resonates and connects with something in their own story. We know that people do business with people that they know/like/trust – so establishing this connection through a screen will help you win hearts – and customers!

What does a typical day look like for you?

I don’t need an alarm clock because I have two extra-large fluffy ones in the shape of Maine Coon cats who let me know that the day is ready to begin. I don’t mind an early start, as once their meows are silenced with heads in food bowls, I start my day with a walk. I live near the beach, for which I am grateful for on the daily.

Early morning is definitely my favourite time of day and I’ve been trying to listen to podcasts on my walk (got any good recommendations? Send them my way!). Then I’m back to my home office to see what’s ahead for the day. This will usually be a mix of client work, admin, phone calls, and from time to time, meetings. I try to keep meetings to just one or two days a week, as they can be really disruptive to creative work (and generally not billable!). When I had a ‘real job’ I used to find the days would drag; now it just seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day!

Monica Shepherd

Don’t compare yourself to anyone else or anyone else’s style.

What tips would you offer anyone wanting to pursue a career in copywriting?

Be yourself. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else or anyone else’s style. There is room for everyone, and if you define your own style, then the right clients will find you. Copywriting is not just about advertising or agency work, look for opportunities to niche down into areas of interest. That’s where you’ll do your best work.

What projects are you currently working on?

I generally have a variety of projects on the go. This week my clients include a florist, an eco-product store, a software company, a nutritionist, an accountant, a property manager and a construction company. There’s a mixture of website copy, social copy, and blogs, so definitely a wide range! I’ve done everything from brothels to corporate technology companies. As you can imagine, my Google search history is very random, and I’m followed around the internet by an eclectic mix of paid advertising based on my mixed up online behaviour, haha!

How do you go about landing your clients?

The majority of my leads come through my website. I love that a lot of these clients become repeat business for me. Next, I focus on networking. I belong to a women in business networking group and also just look for opportunities in conversations that I have with people I meet. As an introvert, I’m not a natural networker, so my approach with networking is to go with the idea of asking lots of questions, showing interest, and looking for ways that I can help people – not to sell my services, which is the mistake people make when they freak out about ‘networking’.

Being a good person, doing right by people, and being helpful (whether that’s suggesting your own services or someone else’s) is what makes you memorable – much more memorable than a sales pitch! I’ve also been surprised at the success I’ve had through Instagram. I don’t have a huge following but they are engaged, and I’ve connected with many businesses who I’d love to work with – and, lucky me, many of them I now have! Again, I think that comes back to being helpful, genuine and relatable.

Woman in courtyard

What are your goals for the future?

It’s been a really busy few months (not complaining!), but I need to reset and get a bit of focus back on my business. So, building up my own marketing assets – like blogs, high-value resources and VIDEOS! I challenged myself earlier this year to get in front of the camera, so, watch this space (but don’t hold your breath!). I’m in a happy place with the kind of clients I work with and the cadence of work. I don’t have aspirations of a big agency and I’m totally OK with that. My goal has always been a work-from-anywhere business that gives me the freedom (and finances) to fit work in around my life with good balance.

Let’s finish up with a copy challenge. Write your life story in one sentence 🙂

There’s been laughs, there’s been tears, there’s been some scenic routes and there’s been a few roadblocks, but there’s been some damn good stories.

Stay up to date with Mark My Words by following Monica on Instagram and Facebook.