Today’s interview is with a copywriter who’s been making a bit of a name for herself on LinkedIn. With a colourful style that’s earned her a significant following, not to mention the occasional temporary ban, and who I personally have enjoyed following more than anyone else on the platform. That copywriter is the very talented, very funny, and only occasionally offensive Jo Watson. And we’re going to be chatting today about how she’s used LinkedIn to grow her brand and her business, as well as how other professionals can apply the principles she’s found so powerful to their own social media activity.
Jo – thank you so much for joining us.
Jo, it would be great if you could give us a little bit of background. A bit about what you do. Obviously very active on LinkedIn. You appear to have carved out a real kind of niche for yourself. Hugely engaged audience. It would be great to understand how you’ve come to find yourself in that position doing that great stuff on LinkedIn.
Jo: Oh God. I’ve got no idea, Dan, is the short answer to that one. In fact, when you contacted me and said ‘Jo, let’s get you on the podcast,’ I thought, have you made a mistake? Because you interview like some real big names and people who are at their peak, they know what they’re doing, they’re very established. And I kind of think I’m just this girl from Bolton in Greater Manchester who just turns up every now and then and empties whatever’s in her head onto LinkedIn and hopes for the best. So I feel like I’m very much winging everything that I’m doing at the moment. But it’s working for me because as a professional copywriter it’s a great way for me to show what I write and how I write and what I might be like to work with. So it wins me a lot of clients so yeah, I’ve got no idea how it’s working but it is so let’s say no more Dan lest we curse it.
Dan: No, that’s awesome. Well, certainly, there’s not many people I pay attention to on LinkedIn I must admit and you are probably one of about 4. So I’m not at all surprised to hear that it’s been working really well for you. And it’s the reason that I was really keen to do this because I think sometimes you find certain people who are just nailing a particular channel over and over again and making it work exceptionally well for them. And it’s interesting to understand is that because they just really understand their brand and their content and actually the channel is almost irrelevant. Or is it because they have some magic formula for that channel. So, I’m sure that will become evident in due course.
You’re known – as I’m sure you won’t mind me saying – for being something of a sweary bastard on LinkedIn. In fact, you almost make me feel – Heaven forbid – like a proper professional. Is that a sign that we misunderstand what it means to be a professional? Or is this about shaking off that persona and just showing our true selves? Or maybe it’s just about picking a few fights (which I’ve always found to be a pretty effective marketing strategy myself.)
Jo: Well, as well as being an effective marketing strategy, it’s just bloody good fun when you get to pick a fight, isn’t it? It’s nice to combine the personals with the professional. Honestly, though, I don’t even know what that word means anymore. Professional. I don’t know because so many people have a go at me for being, as you say, sweary bastard – which I love by the way! I think a career in copywriting for you beckons, Dan. I love that tagline. Being a sweary bastard. Yeah, I kind of say what I think. I say what I feel. I do swear, but I don’t just throw it in there for a laugh. Everything is chosen. Everything is deliberate. Everything I write, swearing or not, is for effect because I want to show people that I’m good at what I do. But then, a lot of people say, ‘oh it’s unprofessional, it’s unprofessional.’ And I’ll jump in to defend it, but then there are things that I see, where I think, ‘oh my God, that’s unprofessional.’ I just think that word is always gonna be hugely subjective. I don’t think we can define it and I don’t think we should ever stop what we’re doing or change what we’re doing in order to fit someone else’s definition of professional. Because it’s not going to be the same for everyone.
I mean, you think about, we’ve had the Euros recently. Professional footballers, yet I’d sit there and go, okay, they’re getting paid to do what they do. But, you know, it’s essentially, they’re just kicking a ball around. They’re not making any great difference to the world. So I’d say, that’s not a job as such. We can have that argument over what does it mean to be classed as professional. You can be a professional killer! I imagine a lot of people are gonna have a problem with it, but if you’re being paid to do an effective job and that is your job then you’re a professional, aren’t you? Subjective.
Dan: It certainly is. Certainly is. And I think, you know, you think back to the days when such things as physical encounters existed. And you go to a conventional event or exhibition or networking group or whatever it might be. Really, I guess it’s always been true that it’s when you kind of throw away the bullshit and just have a normal conversation with somebody that good things happen. I guess the tricky thing is that when you’re doing it on social media you’re suddenly speaking to, not a room of 20 or a group of 2 or 3 people, but you’re speaking to everyone and their husband, right? And suddenly striking that balance between being authentic and interesting but not offensive is basically an impossible one and I guess you just need to make a decision which one you’re going to go with.
Jo: Exactly, you do! You make that decision and you stand by it. And you do it for the right reasons. And it is about being, I know it sounds a bit tacky, but it is about being true to yourself and to your brand. Because if you try to be something you’re not, ultimately, the real you is gonna shine through. And that’s gonna cause problems if it’s not what people thought they were signing up for. So, really I’d hate to stop swearing as part of my brand because ultimately, I’m gonna drop the F-bomb in a real-life conversation with someone who’s found me on LinkedIn and wants to work with me, and I’d hate to think that at that point they’d go, ‘oh my God, I cannot work with you, I didn’t know you were like this. I can’t do it.’ It’s gonna ruin it for everybody.
So, no I think it is, it’s just about being easier to find your brand and stick with it. Knowing that, although you are gonna alienate people – as is life, you’re always gonna offend someone – you’re also gonna find people that warm to you. So much. And that’s what I want when I’m writing for people. I want to write for people who found me and think, oh my God I could really work with you. You are just gonna be this dream to work with. That’s what I want. I want the best clients possible. Life’s too short to waste time on people who you think, ‘oh my God, I’ve gotta have a Zoom with this person again.’ I was gonna call them a horrible word then – am I allowed to swear on this? I know we’re talking about swearing, Dan. Can I swear?
Dan: I mean, I’d be a little bit disappointed if you didn’t. I’ve been a bit disappointed so far actually.
Jo: I’ve been so good! And it’s been horrible! You’ve just not seen the real me yet, Dan. This is the thing. I’ve been hiding from you for the past 5 minutes.
Dan: I’ll tell you what, I’ll ask you another question, and we’ll hopefully tee you up.
As I think you know, our audience is principally, or pretty much exclusively, B2B and professional services. Now, within those markets, there is an abundance – I think it’s fair to say – those markets are positively drowning in perfectly professional but immediately forgettable content. So, other than festooning your copy with F-bombs (or perhaps worse,) do you have any other tips for professional services to inject a bit of personality, you know, a bit of colour, into their otherwise lifeless brand?
Jo: That is praise indeed. Isn’t it?
Dan: Well, it’s, yeah.
Jo: You’ve got a lifeless brand. Let me see if I can help! Which I probably have said to clients in the past. It’s a very tough love kind of way of working with people, but it works. Okay so, yeah, I do swear because it’s what I would do in my normal conversations. It’s what happens in our house. It’s what would happen if I was out with friends, or wherever I am. I’m probably going to swear. But I did have someone at one of my training events once who said, ‘brilliant, I’m gonna start swearing in my copy because I want to have an impact.’ And I was like, ‘well, no. Do you swear in real life?’ And I thought, oh for God’s sake, don’t start doing it to try and get an impact because people are gonna see through it. It’s not gonna be you, it’s gonna be cringy.
But obviously, swearing isn’t going to be for everyone. So, other things I’d always suggest would be, be careful what you’re sharing about yourself really. So I share a lot of myself on social media, on LinkedIn in particular, because I want people to relate to me. Where marketing tells us that we should share the successes and the money we’ve brought in and all of that, I’m very unlikely to do that. I don’t like that. I would see that as unprofessional. If someone takes a screenshot of their bank balance that week, I’m sorry, I’d see that as unprofessional. I wouldn’t necessarily like that. I wouldn’t go out of my way to say I was offended or cause a problem but I’d just scroll on by. But there are things some people like and some people don’t.
So I tend to share the massively mundane things that are happening in my life, and you tend to find, they get the best response because people can have a conversation about that. So I’ve spoken about things like when my kid has gotten me in huge amounts of trouble and, God, she said to the people at nursery, when they said, ‘you know, tell us about your daddy.’ And she said, ‘oh, my daddy is my mummy’s brother.’ And that was utterly horrendous.
Dan: Nobody was supposed to find out, right?
Jo: We’d done so well keeping a lid on it for so long! And now it’s all out there. Everyone at that nursey knows. It’s like wildfire. But I mean, it’s nothing to do with business, it’s nothing to do with copywriting, it’s nothing to do with marketing. But it was brilliant because I shared that and people were going, ‘oh my God, do you know what my kid did?’ And people were having a conversation.
Yeah, I had a few people going ‘oh, this belongs on Facebook. What’s this got to do with business? How does this reflect that you’re supposed to be a quality writer?’ I’ve had that. People saying you can’t be a quality writer because you’re writing about this shit, essentially. And I thought – no, I’m writing about shit, and yes it might be mundane, or useless, or completely irrelevant to you, but it’ll resonate to someone. And it’ll resonate with the right people. The people who then start building a relationship with me who think, actually she’s quite normal. I like her. And that’s what I want. I want to have those relationships with people. (It’s not even the worst thing she’s said, by the way, but I think that’s something for another podcast maybe.)
Dan: Amazing. Just on LinkedIn specifically, then. My feeling generally is that – I guess I take a more channel-agnostic view of marketing and I’m a big believer in that if you get your position right and your message right and your content right then, to some degree, the channels care of themselves. I know that’s a massive oversimplification and usually, where an individual or brand does something remarkable, they usually do it remarkable on one channel and then they move onto others. So just focusing on LinkedIn – I guess the first question, a fairly crude one but an important one, does it make money for you? Does it work?
Jo: It does, yeah. It does. Now, I’d love it if it made me money in the most simplistic and literal sense. I’d love it if every like was cash in my bank. I’d love it if every comment and share was a reward from LinkedIn to say well done for using this programme so effectively. Another level unlocked! I’d love that, but of course, it doesn’t. But, it does get eyes my way. It does get conversations started and it does get that impact out there.
So, it means I’m building that following. Not just of people who like my stuff and think, oh, I might like to hear what she says next, I’m quite worried about what she might say next. But it builds those people who think, when I’m ready to work with a copywriter, this is the girl I’ve gotta work with. And likewise, they may never need me, but there might be someone that says to them: I really need a copywriter that’s big on personality and bringing brands to life. Who do we know?
And I love the fact that people don’t just go, ‘Jo Watson,’ and walk away. I love the fact that people go, ‘my God, you’ve got to follow Jo, she’s exceptional.’ Their words, of course. I’m not saying this about myself! I’m not that arrogant. I might tag myself in and say, you must follow me. I’m wonderful! But, no, people do say nice things and they start kind of spreading the word for me. And in marketing, God, word of mouth is so important, isn’t it? So I like to think it is making me money. If not in that instantaneous, wow, pound signs are going into my bank way. Over time, it’s definitely putting the foundations down. That’s why I concentrate on it, Dan.
So, you’re talking about maybe doing things across different platforms. I could put the exact same content on Facebook and it goes nowhere. Not even my mates like it! That’s all Facebook is. It’s your mates and people you once met on a hen do in Marbella and you thought, oh yeah, we’ll be best friends forever! And you never see them again. But, you know, no one on there likes my stuff, comments on my stuff or anything. Whereas, it upsets me because all of my mates must see my stuff on Facebook and go, ‘God, Jo gets absolutely nothing. It doesn’t go anywhere.’ And I’m there like, please get a LinkedIn account, follow me on LinkedIn. I’m a megastar! You’ll love me!
Dan: Just out of interest, are you on Twitter?
Jo: I am on Twitter, and I do remarkably badly on there as well. If I get a like on something, it’s a bloody good day. I sit there resenting it, going, ‘oh my God, I’ve already got 100 likes on LinkedIn. Why does nobody like me over here?’ Which is weird, because copywriters traditionally do brilliantly on Twitter. But not me. No one has a clue who I am. God damn them.
Dan: I’ll throw you a like later, Jo. Don’t worry. Quick retweet after this.
Jo: Joking aside, I don’t care, Dan, because if I was struggling on other platforms, I’d be worried. But I do really well on LinkedIn, so I’ve gotta be grateful for that and I just channel all of my thoughts across there and it works well. It works to my advantage.
Dan: So how do you, because obviously there’s always a risk these things, building your presence on someone else’s land. And that’s fine so long as the machine is working in your favour until one day an algorithm update occurs or organic reach reduces as they try and shift people towards more paid engagement or, I don’t know, you just lose logins for your LinkedIn account! And then suddenly, you know, you’re back to square one. How do you shield yourself from becoming too dependent on LinkedIn?
Jo: I don’t. Sadly, I don’t shield myself at all. I feel very unprotected and I love that phrase you use about building on their land and it’s so true and I think I’d do well to remember that as I do approach it with the air of ‘I’m just putting myself out there, I’ll be fine,’ when I could be very ‘unfine’ at any moment and that’s been proved in the last few weeks.
So when all the race rows kicked off after the Euros, the way those lads were treated was appalling – of course, it was – and so in having a voice and in having a way with words I thought It’s important I use my platform to have my say on what we should be doing, how we approach things, and how we should be standing up and speaking out against racism, so I put something on calling out racists and calling out racist behaviour, and here’s the ridiculous thing – someone who had been going through all of those posts that everyone was sharing about anti-racism – someone who had gone through and having a go at every person, and basically saying racism was okay – he was going through and reporting everyone and everyone he reported got banned, and we got banned under the guise of bullying and harassment, so in calling out a racist, we got banned for bullying that racist, and that was utterly horrendous. I was so upset about that because that was my career platform gone, and it upset me on a much bigger level because of how LinkedIn had dealt with that, but I campaigned and I got such social backing that they reinstated my post. I don’t think they banned the person that was going about spreading race hate – I never got an apology.
But it was that reminder that it can just be taken away from you at any point but here’s the thing – if I start living my life not using my voice I’m going to do myself a massive disservice. This is what I’ve got to do and I will always fight for what’s right. And I tell you what, Dan, if it does happen again – if I get banned, restricted, told off, wrist slapped, post removed, I will fucking fight against all of them, because I will not be beaten when it comes to doing what’s right. And that’s my security, that’s the safeguard – that I will not go down without a fight.”
Dan: That and you need to start building your email list by the sounds of it!
Jo: Everyone always says “Build an email list”, but I built one and it absolutely bombed. I get more unsubscribes than subscribers. I think everyone loves my LinkedIn stuff as it’s just bite-size comments that they can engage with if they want, whereas when I started emailing I felt like I needed loads more to say and I think people were just like “Oh, god”. And we all unsubscribe, don’t we? Do you read all the emails you receive?
Dan: Yeah, I always read every single one. Including the terms underneath. It’s important stuff.
Jo: Sod off. This is the thing, I could be subscribed to the most wonderful, inspirational email list and I don’t read them. No business owner wants more emails in their inbox. I did try with the emailing list and it’s just not the same. The safeguard I’ve got – yes, you’ve got to play the game. I can’t drop the c-bomb every 10 minutes. That’s the one word I don’t use – I really want to though! But I think I keep myself safe by thinking “I will justify my actions, I will fight this and I will come back stronger.” So hopefully that stands me in good stead. Fingers crossed.
Dan: It may just be that it’s your unique style of writing, your charisma, your one in a million brilliance, or are there certain principles to developing a LinkedIn profile in the way you have that generates you frequent business, and as I say, you’re really building a brand for yourself there in a way that I’ve not seen someone else do on LinkedIn for a little while. Are there two or three principles that you would say “If you get anything right, get these things right?”
Jo: I think you’ve got to speak primarily to the people you want to speak to. So it’s an absolute dream, Dan, for someone like your good self to be saying these lovely things – like I love the ‘one in a million brilliance,’ that’s going to be going on my LinkedIn – and I think you can only do that if you keep in mind who you want to speak to. So if I tried to go out there and please everyone and have this vanilla content that spoke to everyone but said absolutely nothing, I’d be doing myself a huge disservice. You want to speak to the kind of people who will come back and say ‘wow, this is amazing’ and hopefully spread the word. So keep in mind who you want to be speaking to and who it is you want to work with; who you want to have in your network. And forget those people who are going to find offence even when there was none given in the first place. Because some people make a career out of finding it.
I think the other things I would suggest – please tell people what you do in your headline. My god. I’ve seen so many headlines where people are like ‘I will revolutionise your business,’ and it turns out they’re an accountant, and I’m like ‘well would you just tell me you’re an accountant’ then, because then I know if I’m looking for an accountant, you’re there. There are people who go with that tagline of “saving you time and money and freeing you up from stress. Just tell me what it is you do – are you an HR professional, a graphic designer, a marketing person – because if you’re telling me you can give me more time, save me money and take away all my stress, I’m gonna go ahead and guess that you’re gonna take my daughter off my hands, because that is ultimately how you would solve that problem for me. If it does ultimately turn out that you’re an accountant, you’ve wasted my time. You’ve wasted yours. I think on LinkedIn we get so caught up in trying to sound clever. For fuck’s sake, just tell people what you do. The first word on my headline is “Writer”. That way, nobody can be under any illusions of what I do or don’t do.
The next thing I would say is if you’ve got nothing to post, don’t post it. I’m sick of this whole guidance of you’ve got to post 4 times a day, you’ve got to show up every day. I’m fucking sick of that phrase. Show up, be visible? Why? If you’re not at your best, why would you show up? I would hate to think people saw 20 posts of mine a day and thought “it’s her again. Jesus. Doesn’t she have any work going on?” Rather than showing up for showing up’s sake or because the latest guru of the hour has told you to, just show up when you’ve got something to say. And if you think “I haven’t posted in a few days”, why post at all if you can just go in and have a conversation with someone else. Show it’s not all about you, because it’s not. It’s about the people you build relationships with. So go, build relationships with them.
Dan: Final question, Jo, particularly within professional services and B2B we have a tendency to be endlessly lovely and professional – it’s frankly disgusting – so I like to ask people to share a more negative thought or two. Something that winds them up about the industry. Perhaps a mistake being made over and over again, or some other habit in the world of sales and marketing that gets under their skin. What might that be for you?
Jo: Yeah, I believe that we’re living in a marketing age that still doesn’t value copy anywhere near as highly as it should, and that’s seen when people will spend thousands on a website and thousands on branding, imagery, etc, yet when it comes to their actual written message that’s going to go out to thousands of people, and it’s going to be read by the people they want to speak to and they just couldn’t give a shit about it. I am sick of the fact that every 10 minutes there’ll be a brand manager or a CEO or an executive of something saying “Need a copywriter straight away for a big project that must be completed by the weekend. Minimal budget available. Or just be willing to work for exposure.”
Because exposure apparently pays the bills now. I’m going to be calling Natwest and saying “I won’t be transferring the money for my mortgage this month because the exposure I’ve got is fucking brilliant, so bank that one and keep this roof over my head.” I’m sick of it because it’s so often. They’re saying we need a copywriter straight away, and I’m thinking that’s because you’ve not thought about them at all. You’ve obviously got your website in place, your branding, your visuals, but you haven’t written any of the copy – the one thing that links what you’ve got to the people who are going to give you money for it and you’ve not put any thought into it whatsoever and that’s why you need them last minute. Or you’ve disked around your previous copywriter so much that you’ve now been left short.
And what irritates me even more is that so many copywriters that are fresh to the profession are so desperate for the work – and I understand it because I’ve been there – when you’re building your own business and you’re going freelance, and they’re all throwing themselves -“Yeah, I can do it, I can be there for three months, 24/7, I’ll give up my life.” And it winds me up because you’re making it worse because for every person that says yes, they’re going to keep doing it and it’s a vicious cycle. It massively winds me up, and if some poor sod tags me in it wanting me to do me a favour by recommending my services, I end up having a shit fit on the post saying “Well thanks for recommending me but there are a few reasons why I will no fucking way be taking this on…”
Dan: I wonder when we stopped attaching as much significance to copy, because if you think back to the really high profile marketers of the 20th century – the David Ogilvy’s – they were copywriters – and now we instead evangelise channel experts and I feel like it’s this shift towards digital; people like you becoming famous for one channel basically. I wonder when this change happened. I buy into exactly what you’re saying absolutely. It always strikes me as utterly remarkable. Marketing is about communications. Communication is about words. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a video script, a tweet, an email, a blog post, a piece of written literature. It’s fucking words. And you either have an ability, a grasp of those things or you don’t. And if you get those things right then to some degree the channels take care of themselves and I’m not sure when we forgot that. I’m not sure if you’ve seen a shift in your career at all?
Jo: I think you’re right. I think when we go back to the golden age we didn’t have all the bells and whistles so people did see it as the important thing, but yeah we’ve lost it because our gaze has been distracted. We want the shiny things, we want the high-performance website, strategy, the digital, the social, and yeh they’re all missing the point that without a written message, even if that written message is going to be spoken, it’s still a written message, it’s still fucking words, as you say. But it saddens me. The whole thing has become cheapened and I think that’s why I will always fight the good fight to say “no” to the projects that want you straight away or will pay you so badly I will always fight against that, because as long as copywriters say it’s okay it’s not going to change is it. We’re going to have to be the ones that change it. And I do hope we get back to those glory days where the words are absolutely idolised. I wish people appreciated them. And people kind of say about my posts “That was brilliant”. And I’m like, yeh, because I’ve taken time to think about it, I’ve structured it. Yeh, to some extent the idea may have fallen out of my head, but I’ve worked on it. I’ve thought “What is going to make this land?” There is work behind it.
Dan: So just running with that for a moment, let’s imagine I’m a busy professional – a lawyer or an accountant – and I’m looking to carve out a bit of a niche for myself. It happens to be on LinkedIn but as we’ve said, could be elsewhere. I guess, more from a copy perspective, if you were to give one piece of advice from a copy perspective. what might that piece of advice be because what you do for 10 hours a day could be fairly peripheral to the average professional’s role. But as you say, if they don’t get it right, they’re on a hiding to nothing before they’ve even begun.
Jo: So true. Don’t be afraid to write in your own voice. I do sessions with clients and the first problem they’ll raise is “I know what I want to say and I can happily say it to you now, but the minute I’ve got to write it on paper, it all goes.” My response is – if you can say it to me here, just write those words down. We seem to have this idea that if we’re speaking to someone it can be colloquial, it can be informal, but if we’re writing it then it must be the Queen’s English and well structured – most people don’t have a grasp of those things anyway so why worry about them? If you can say it, don’t be afraid of using those exact words. It’s a wonderful place to start.
And then you can always go back in edit it. You can tweak it. If you can say it, you can write it. Go with that, because if someone doesn’t like it they’re not going to enjoy engaging with you so why would you want to work with them anyway. So yeh, write in your own voice. It’s a great voice.
Dan: What always sticks with me is the guy who introduced me to copy – the concept of sales and marketing copy – was heavily dyslexic. He could barely construct a sentence. But he was such a fantastic communicator, and we conflate these two things – being a good technical writer versus being a good communicator, a copywriter. They’re such different things. Anyone can be the latter, as long as they’re true to themselves and, bit of an overused expression, but write like they’re chatting down the pub. If you do that, you can’t go too far wrong.
Jo: Well you can’t. If you can command that audience down the pub, so give it a shot.
Dan: Get a few beers in and get typing.
Jo: Always! There was something fun about that. I used to do a lot of technical writing because I was a teacher before doing this and then I was working in educational management and one of my jobs was writing funding applications. I hated it because it was so functional, so technical. I hated it I faced this massive writer’s block. So I used to have a couple of glasses of wine and those were the bits that were always the most successful. Probably not the best advice!
Dan: No, I think it’s excellent advice! It’s just knowing your window. I find between drinks 3 and 5 my copy hits its peak. But it’s a tight rope. You’ve got to be careful.
Jo: It is. Drink 6 and it’s tits up. Step away.
Dan: Jo, thank you so much. This has been so much fun and I look forward to watching you cause your next shitstorm on LinkedIn. Thanks ever so much for your time. Really enjoyed it.