Archive | Writing Without Waffle

Why you need to find the feather

FeatherYou’ve probably heard of the butterfly effect also known as chaos theory? It posits that a small trigger can have a large impact, such as a butterfly flapping its wings and causing a tornado a few weeks later.

In behavioural science, there’s a theory known as nudge. Rather than forcing people to take the action you want them to take, it suggests that the best way to influence people is to nudge them in the direction you want them to go.

In an advertising book by Max Sutherland from, I think, the 1980s, he describes the secret of effective marketing as being like a feather on a seesaw. It’s another similar idea.

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Packaging. Wackaging. A little rant.

I don’t know about you, but these days, I struggle to open a bottle of milk.

Under the screwtop lid, today’s plastic milk bottles have a plastic/foil seal. You need immense strength in your fingertips to peel it, pinch it, and pull it away. Ideally, without spilling the milk (and crying).

I have no idea how old people manage it.

I’m not *that* old. Well, OK, I’m a *bit* old. After decades of typing, I admit my fingers probably don’t have the power they used to.

Also, I can’t open a yoghurt pot or soup carton without it splashing all over my hands and the kitchen worktop. Can you? If yes, please share the technique, because I simply don’t have it.

What’s more, I need scissors to cut open a bag of peanuts (I can’t tear the corner easily, even when it’s supposedly perforated). I also need scissors to get a new toothbrush or lip salve out of its packaging. And – as we all know – when you buy a new pair of scissors, you need a pair of scissors to cut open the plastic case they are encased in.

In this environmentally conscious age, single-use plastic has become a scourge. I look forward to the day when products are once again wrapped in, say, old newspaper. And when dairy products are served in refillable glass containers.

Oh dear, I sound like an old person.

Anyway, this leads into a topic I was asked to write about recently… what’s become known as ‘wackaging’. That is, wacky packaging.

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Reuse, recycle, repurpose

ideaDo you write blog posts?

If yes, it might be a good time to double-check why, and make them work harder for you.

One of the criteria Google uses to rank websites is freshness, so regular blog posts are a good way to nudge your way up the search engine rankings.

They can also be optimised as landing pages for SEO or AdWords. Once readers are on your site, they might be persuaded to buy from you.

Most importantly, blog posts are great for demonstrating expertise and adding value for site visitors.

But it doesn’t need to stop there.

Every article you write can be used in a multitude of ways. Here are some (mostly) free ways of leveraging your blog posts.

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Death of the Apple fan girl?

AppleI’ve been an Apple user since the moment they were invented – but I’m increasingly concerned that they are no longer fit for purpose.

I currently have a iMac, an iPad and an iPhone. I love the way they seamlessly connect together, and I use at least one of them every day. I also have an old MacBook (the white one – remember those?) I’m currently editing my new book on that, to keep it separate from my day job.

As you probably know, Apple products are the norm within the creative sector. We love the simplicity, and the shiny logo. Mac products are so beautifully designed that we don’t care they cost more than the equivalent functionality of a PC or Android device.

But we do know the rest of the world hasn’t taken to Apple as much as we creatives. So we adapt. We (literally) buy adapters. We use different versions of common software, and don’t complain (much) when things don’t perform quite as they should.

Until recently, I’ve managed to find a workaround for everything I’ve needed to do. But technology is beginning to defeat me. Here are some examples:

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Having a funny five minutes

I was asked to do a five-minute talk recently.

“Great”, I thought. “I can practice my stand-up comedy skills.” (I’ve only done one stand-up performance before).

Then I discovered it was a Petcha Kutcha style talk. Turns out that it’s a Japanese phrase meaning ‘chit chat’ and is pronounced pCha kCha.

It’s a rigid discipline.

It meant using 20 slides (I hadn’t planned to use any) that automatically advance after 15 seconds each (traditional PK is 20 seconds). That means a maximum of 45 words per slide at a normal speaking rate of 3 words per second. That’s about 3 or 4 sentences. Not allowing for breathing, pauses or laughter.

I usually allow about one hour of preparation for each minute of speaking.

For this talk, it was at least double that. I workshopped the content with three or four people to polish it. They all added immeasurable improvements that I would never have achieved on my own. (Thank you Julie, Janice, Mitch and Fripp for your insights).

You might wonder how it went.

It wasn’t perfect. But it was far better than I expected.

I got amazing feedback (people laughed loads, told me it was brilliant, highlight of the night, and more of a performance than a speech).


Watch it below: Why your job ads don’t work


Why copywriting is like decorating

paintLike a painter choosing the right paint, a copywriter has to choose the right words.

But there’s more to it than that.

I put it in a lot of effort upfront to get a good brief, so that I can do a great job. It’s a bit like decorating a property – the secret of a fabulous finished product is all in the preparation.

It’s tricky to give even a ballpark figure until we have an initial discussion.

A quick conversation would therefore be really useful for both of us – for me to understand exactly what you’re looking for, and for you to get an idea about how I work and the value I can bring.

These are some of the issues we’d explore: Continue Reading →


Choosing a business name

NamesDon’t agonise over your business name.

Here’s why.

When I left corporate life, I launched my freelance copywriting business under the brand Comms Plus. “It’s communication,” I thought, “with added positivity and results”. I even registered it as a trade mark.

But, when I went out networking, with ‘Jackie Barrie Comms Plus’ proudly displayed on my name badge, everyone thought I was in telecoms.

I soon realised that clients book me because I’m me, not because of what I call myself.

My official entity for legal and accounting purposes is still ‘Jackie Barrie T/A Comms Plus’. (T/A stands for Trading As.) But
I now market myself under my own name, with a matching professional headshot photo on my business cards, website and social media.

Think of the objective of your business name, and your route to market. As with all experts, it’s most likely that you’ll win business via word of mouth and networking. Once they’ve met you, why should prospects have to remember a business name as well as your own name? Don’t make it difficult for them to track you down.

Search my name and you’ll find me all over Google.

Also, I write in the first person, and share maximum personality online (although I rarely share my personal life online). Because I found this works better than writing in the third person and pretending to be bigger than you are.

Another advantage is that you don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to use your own name as your business name.

If the URLs are already taken, you have a common name, or your name is the same as someone famous, you might have to add ‘writer’, ‘copywriter’ or ‘wordsmith’ to differentiate yourself.

Finally, I win business because of my slogan, ‘Writing Without Waffle’. (In the UK, waffle means ‘lengthy, vague or trivial’.) When I give people my business card, they say: “Ooh, that’s useful, I need some of that!” Or “I know someone who needs some of that!” And that’s what you want your marketing to do.

BTW, prospects can find me all over Google via my slogan too.


Stating the obvious.

Stating the obvious. Just one of the things you learn *not* to do on the Copywriting for Recruiters course I run with Mitch Sullivan.


  • ‘We have a vacancy…’
  • ‘We are recruiting for…’
  • ‘We’re hiring…’

Well, yes. It’s a job ad.

Equally, you don’t need to tell accountants they should be ‘Good with numbers’ or managers that they will be ‘Responsible for a team’.

Other nonsense includes: ‘Working both as an individual and as part of a team’, and ‘Liaising with people at all levels’. You can exclude any requirements that really mean ‘Do your job’.

And you don’t have to say things like ‘Ensure H&S requirements are adhered to’. Instead, delete anything that just means ‘Obey the law’.

Finally, don’t make statements such as ‘Integrity and trust are paramount’. No one would ask for someone *without* integrity or trustworthiness. So you don’t need to say it.

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