Money Matters – an interview with John Beavis (1st of June 2006)

Introduction

As usual, I was surfing the net and came across an article which caught my interest – Choosing The Right Writer!. I hopped over to John’s website and I liked the layout of his site and decided to ask him if he would agree to an interview. Agree, he did and I have certainly learned that much more about copywriting from this interview. Without further ado, I have great pleasure in introducing to you, John Beavis …


Aneeta: I must admit I’m a little intimidated by your very good website – no mistakes, no spelling errors and all to the point. Precisely because of this, I would like to thank you for agreeing to this interview.

John: The website was created to be clean, clear and precise, leaving readers in no doubt what I’m about and what I can offer them. It doesn’t make false promises, it doesn’t promise results and it is written to get you to the end feeling that you know something about me and leaving you closer to being confident that I can deliver what you want to see. And that’s great copy that gets the job done well.

Aneeta: Now, let’s start with some information about you. Where do you live, your family and any other details you’d like to share with us.

John: I live in Reading, about 40 miles west of London, here in the United Kingdom. I’ve been married (to the same woman!) for almost 30 years and have a couple of young adults – one is a Direct Response TV editor & producer, the other is a Medical Student.

Aneeta: How did you get into the business of copywriting?

John: I’m actually a qualified PE Teacher by trade! I made the great leap into copywriting 25 years ago, simply because at that time I couldn’t feed and clothe my two young children. That and the fact that I wanted a life! A ‘real’ life! And you don’t get that on a few shekels and dirham. Sorry, but you don’t. Money isn’t everything is possibly true, but it is the bridge to all things and you can do little without it. If you’re about to start out in any career do not kid yourself that money doesn’t matter. Trust me – it most definitely does!

Aneeta: Specifically, when did you start writing for the web?

I’ve been writing for the web since 1995. I’ve designed, built, written and hosted many, many websites and all kinds of web-based marketing materials such as technical white papers, e-books, promotional eDMs (electronic direct mail) and strategic customer and enterprise-oriented activities (announcements, adverts, invitations & seminar programmes).

I’ve written miles and miles of copy for just about every client you can think of, from A-Z. I’ve always been a massive fan of Direct Mail or Direct Response since my Ogilvy & Mather days. I like the idea of “responsible” marketing. You know what your copy and great idea did because the results tell you. You also know when you fail too! And everybody does, at some time or another. It’s what you do about it that counts, how you recover and how you restore the balance when you don’t hit the mark. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen that often, not these days and with the experience I’ve got.

Aneeta: Your website is entitled, John Beavis Copy. Please explain in detail what services/products you offer.

John: I’ve been running my own UK marketing services consultancy for the past 18 years. It’s called Communique. It’s a full service consultancy in that it does everything that a “big” agency can do, at a slice of the price. But it is very hard to do “everything” on an international basis. International web-oriented clients want copy and/or design. The backup marketing activity (printing, stuffing, list management, mail out) they can handle themselves, locally. If I am to compete, clients have to know how to find me and although Communique is just me, it is also seen as a ‘collective’ (me, myself and I!) and doesn’t lead them to find me when they tap it into web search engines.

Hence, JohnBeavisCopy. It leads searchers directly to my website which tells them exactly what they’ll be getting – quality words at sensible prices, with web design services, if and as required. I offer design consultancy, marketing advice and bags of experience that can help guide clients to make the very best use of budgets. I actually operate on the TED principle: Thoughtful, Effective & Different!

Aneeta: Over the course of your career, you’ve gathered quite a number of clients. Please, tell me, who were the three most interesting ones to work with and why?

John: Wow! Hard question indeed. Microsoft are fun, but hard taskmasters. IT clients tend to work to a different clock from everyone else in that everything is always a rush and nearly always JIT (Just In Time). Peugeot & Ford were great because they were ambitious, innovative and exciting! But American Express was the worst! Unbelievably egocentric, crawlingly pedantic, they spent the entire time talking to themselves – the God of the Card. It was as it they’d never heard of the customer – they very person they should have been talking to!

Aneeta: As you know, my site caters for storytellers. I would like to know, do you think that storytelling is important in copywriting. If so, why?

John: Stories bring home the personal. They make copy real and believable, provided it has at least some grains of, if not the whole truth! I tend to stick to the truth and my anecdotes are real! They have happened to people I know or know of at some time or another. When I write, I want to bring people into my life. I want them to share the experience with me, as I write it, so I want them to “see it” as I see it. Stories (anecdotes) bring the copy to life in real ways that help make what you are saying meaningful to the audience. Remember, you’re aiming much of what you write at your friends and family!

Aneeta: Now, you’ve got quite a few comments that go against all the ‘normal’ advice given to people who write copy for websites. For instance, under the heading entitled ‘Layout’ you say this:

Look out, there’s a good layout about! Trouble is, you’ve got to trawl through some awful rubbish to find it! So many layouts that I see are so confusing! Offers here, offers there, bonus here, bonus there, affiliate offers, early bird offers, totally unconnected adverts – it’s a visual explosion of bewildering befuddlement!

The thing is, as you may know, many of my readers have businesses in Asia and Africa (and some are storytellers who run storytelling businesses). There is no doubt in my mind that most of them would like to attract customers from the West. Now, when you, a Westerner says this, I think it is safe to say that it is we who are befuddled. It goes exactly against what we’ve been advised to do in the first place! What advice would you give them – and me (she says, in a small voice) – so as to enable us to succeed as online entrepreneurs?

John: Keep it plain, uncluttered and fairly simple. Don’t assault the eyes, or batter the senses! In web design and layout, as in life itself, simplicity is the key to success. Pop ups are an irritant – a real non-no. Use hyperlinks instead to guide the reader to another page or area. Leave out the endless adverts – they’re a real eyesore and no more than onscreen graffiti! Just choose 3, maybe 4, small margin adverts for affiliate companies or companies whose products you’d like to recommend, or wholly endorse.

Make a bold statement in your headline, or a thumping offer in your opening copy. And test, test, test! Test everything.

Test layouts, headlines, colours, length, pix, till you’ve exhausted every possible parameter and you can say with confidence that you “know” what works best.

Don’t follow the trends – set them! Be different, stand out and get noticed!

But monitor trends and move with the times so you’re instep or one step ahead of the game. Whoever said it was a good idea to use Courier as your typeface. Noah? Madness and yet people are still doing it!

You want me to read your story? Charm, captivate and tempt me with a thumping good catch line. Make it not more than 12 words long and it has to be a good hook.

“Everything she knew had crumbled. The night lights winked, the gun waited…”

Even I want to know what happened next!

“How did he turn $75 into $4.5 billion working from home?”

Tell me more! You get the drift? Tempt, charm, persuade …but always deliver!

Great copy has good pace and bounce. A good story is an express train that rushes you smoothly to its final destination, but, boy – what a ride it should be!

Aneeta: All good advice. I think that is all time I have for. Is there anything else you’d like to add, John?

John: Yes, always write to the power of one. Isolate the person you are writing to in your mind’s eye. Concentrate fully and focus hard on that person. Become that person. That way, you know the power of what you write. If it sounds nonsense to that “other person”, then it probably is! So change it and rewrite it so that it flows smoothly and convincingly, full of conviction and evident belief.

Above all – enjoy every word you ever write. If you do, there’s every chance they will too!

Aneeta: Thank you, John.

John: All the best Aneeta and good luck to all your readers. Skill is essential to success but belief is a very big part of the equation. Believe in yourself and delight in your dreams – this is the fuel of your success and the foundation of all your achievements.


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