Hey, I'm Matt. Thanks for stopping by.
I'm an experienced freelance copywriter based in the UK... and the founder of Splash Copywriters.
I've been a copywriter for a long time.
More than 20 years in fact.
That's two whole decades of writing words and creating content for some of the world's biggest brands...
... and yes, that does make me feel really old.
Now, if there's one thing that I've learned over the years, it's that you can only approach business in one of two ways.
1. You can either focus on everything you think is important about the product or service that you wish to sell.
2. Or you can focus completely on your customers by innovating, delivering and communicating exactly what they want.
Most of us make the mistake of picking the first strategy, no matter whether we're starting a side hustle or running a big company.
I certainly did when I landed my first job as a junior copywriter in 2001. This wasn't a conscious decision, mind. I wasn't even aware of both strategies... I just fell into a really common trap.
The problem is caused by a mixture of valuing our own opinion too much and getting distracted by the wrong things.
We stress over logos, business plans, social followers and domain names. Perhaps bank accounts, office layouts, tech stacks and patents. Or awards, networking events, business cards and loans.
It's devilishly easy to become completely insular and obsess over meaningless details before we've truly understood what we're selling, to whom and why.
We perhaps reach some sort of arbitrary target... only to reach out to a market and invariably fail.
Fact is, even if a company thinks that it offers the best, most perfect thing, conversions and revenue don't necessarily follow.
For those of us who make this error, our future success rests on whether we realise what's going on.
It sure took me a while [more on that shortly].
Many people never find out the truth. Some constantly repeat the same errors. Others get beaten once and disappear for good.
I believe that to succeed, it's best not to follow the masses and that all the glory goes to those who take the second path.
It doesn't matter whether you're a gardener, electrician, accountant, marketing manager, CEO or you sell cupcakes out of your kitchen, your opinion of your product or service is fairly unimportant.
In reality, the market always dictates everything and it's the market that should shape all your decisions.
While focusing on your target audience and ignoring the herd mentality might feel scary, that's actually a good sign.
And trust me, it's the only option if you want to stand out from the crowd and create a profitable business in the modern world.
Not everyone's going to agree with me of course, but I'm okay with that. I'm here to help those that do.
Luckily, having a customer-centric approach is surprisingly straightforward. It just requires a change of mindset, a plan and some detective skills.
I created Splash Copywriters in 2012 and ever since then, I've been teaching people the stuff that really moves the needle.
I'm passionate about helping the underdogs.
You know, the small businesses, hungry entrepreneurs and people armed with nothing but a dream.
Those who have a passion for something or a great idea, but perhaps lack the time, budget or knowledge to make the magic really happen.
And look, I had to shift my focus a few years ago.
Realising that my opinion didn't matter that much was a painful lesson that I learned the hard way. If you'd like to find out a little more about that, read my origin story below.
I think you'll find it fun. It's a tale that includes alcohol, a grumpy English professor who would give Dumbledore the creeps and a mistake that cost $1.6 billion.
Well, if you can forgive the odd expletive, there's not much to dislike. But if you're in a hurry, then I won't be offended. I understand, we're all short of time. For you folks, I'll cut to the chase:
I love transforming businesses with strategic content.
The idea of creating something meaningful by marrying up human psychology with incisive copy is what motivates me.
If you're curious about how I can help you, I'd strongly suggest starting with my free training.
However, if you've got something specific on your mind that you'd like to chat about, please get in touch with me directly.
Either way, thanks for getting this far.
Origin story: Oh sh*t, what have I done?
It was Wednesday 14 March, 2012.
I was halfway through week 3 of being my own boss when the reality of my new situation hit me. I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur, so I should have been happy... but I wasn't.
The phone hadn't rung once.
I had recently walked out of my comfy job at Sky Sports, my dream role where I could spend all day talking and writing about football.
And here I was, assessing a solo writing career that had seemingly stalled before it had even got going.
I started to panic.
Had I made a huge mistake?
It was time to turn the TV off, put down the nachos and work out why I didn't have customers knocking down my door.
The answer was embarrassingly obvious.
Basically, I had no work because, although I could write, I had absolutely no idea how to start and run a business.
I had no website, no system for generating leads, no idea how much to charge people, no knowledge about tax, no marketing strategy, no target audience, no plan, no goals, no discipline and no clear focus.
The enormity of having to figure everything out on my own suddenly started to freak me out and I began to feel a bit sick [although that might have been the nachos].
I had no savings, the mortgage would still need paying next month and my wife was pregnant with our second child, so leaving the exciting world of TV behind and waving goodbye to job security was starting to feel like a reckless move.
I believed in my writing ability, but not a lot else. I lacked business know-how, yet it was too late to turn back.
[As an aside, I've been described as stubborn a few times. Once I've made up my mind about something, I'm all in. And that's also why I quit online poker in 2007, but I guess that's a story for another day.]
The situation was clear. I needed a solution… and fast.
What on Earth are you going to do? Come on man, think.
Here’s how I got into this mess…
In life, there are some things that you never forget.
You know, like riding a bike for the first time, passing your driving test, getting married, the birth of your kids... and when you make knee-jerk career decisions that have the potential to screw up everything you've ever worked for.
The date was Monday 23 January, 2012.
It was 7 days before my 34th birthday. I had just made the decision to leave Sky, the place that had been like my second home for 11 years.
I was happy there, but I had reached the point where I needed a new challenge and the catalyst for me moving on was when I got overlooked for a promotion for a head-of-department position.
I remember being called into my boss' office like it was yesterday.
It had been a couple of weeks since I'd sat through a pretty awkward interview for the position with 2 people who had worked with me, lunched with me and partied with me for years.
It hadn't gone well. Deep down, I knew that I wasn't managerial material... and they knew that too. The idea of carrying out annual appraisals and filling out holiday forms filled me with dread.
That wasn't me. I was a copywriter, for f*ck's sake. This felt like the good ol' Peter Principle playing out in real time.
They saw through my spiel. They had quickly worked out that I was only really applying for the job because I felt like I deserved to take another step up the ladder.
And there was also an elephant in the room - I had to apply for this job. It would have looked weird if I hadn't.
You see, working at Sky was so awesome that people hardly ever left. Basically, the only way you could further your career was if someone won the lottery, retired or died.
There was always a mad scramble to apply for any vacant jobs and, although there were other candidates who were far more suited to this role than me, I firmly felt that it was now or never - before applying, I had decided that if I didn't get the gig, I would leave.
I took a seat in my boss' office.
He used the first 2 fingers of his right hand to push some dark, lank hair over his right ear, then eased back into his swivel chair. He locked eyes with me and I was determined to hold his gaze.
"Hey Matt, thanks for taking time out of your schedule, I'm sure you're snowed under right now."
No problem. Like I had a choice, mate.
"I'll get straight to the point," he continued. "You interviewed really well, I know you've been here for a while and I know that you can easily do the job, but unfortunately we've decided to go with someone else."
Although the news didn't come as a surprise, I still feel p*ssed off at the annoyingly casual tone he used. He was an okay guy, but clearly more comfortable shattering someone's dreams than he should be.
It was the complete opposite of how I would have revealed this news. Announcing his verdict was just something on his to-do list and, ironically, I was a little bit envious of his detached manner.
I delivered my pre-planned reply as nonchalantly as I could:
"Okay, well in that case, sadly I'm going to have to call it a day here."
I hoped that my rehearsed reply would throw him off-guard.
I waited for him to beg me to stay.
I hoped he would offer to help me find another role within the company. You know, with me being so great an' all.
So, I handed over my resignation letter, got up and walked out. Amusingly, the whole scene lasted no more than 90 seconds.
Yup, 11 years of hard work and it's game over in less time than it takes to make a coffee. Not ideal.
Now back at my desk, I looked at a photo of my son. My wife was pregnant with our second and I started to think about what had happened. I was at a cross roads in my life and despite having a really risk-averse personality, I had just made a huge decision.
The next month was really surreal.
I'm sure that you've probably resigned from a job at some stage - it's amazing how quickly you start feeling disconnected from your colleagues once you know you're leaving.
My notice period flew by and, before I knew it, I was done.
Friday 23 February soon arrived and I recall the team huddling around the water cooler around 5pm.
After a brief sycophantic speech from the boss [who had only known me for 18 months], I was subsequently handed a card, £100 in Amazon vouchers... and this:
All that hard work, sacrifice and value that I added to one of the world's best media companies and I walk away with some vouchers and a caterpillar cake.
But look, I wasn't bitter. Honest.
It's actually quite funny.
I should be clear - I loved my time at Sky and wouldn't change a thing. It's a brilliant brand with a truly innovative vibe and which treats its staff amazingly well in terms of benefits like health insurance and pension contributions.
Okay, I wanted more personal recognition, but who doesn't? This is just the way things play out when you're just one of 10,000.
Anyway, I started to feel a lump had in my throat as I scanned the messages in my card, so the novelty cake was a timely reminder that leaving Sky at that time was probably the right thing to do.
I'd always loved the idea of starting my own business and this was my opportunity. What's more, I left Sky with a lot more skill than when I arrived. How hard could this be?
I felt weird as I drove down the A4 towards home for the final time.
For the first time in ages, I was free. But although I was relieved that I had finally taken action over my future, my smile wasn't totally convincing. Was I cutting my nose off to spite my face?
Back to that gloomy morning in March
I started to reassure myself.
I had some serious skills.
I'd earned my copywriting stripes by working in a very intensive environment. In terms of marketing, I knew more about what worked and what didn't than most people.
I started making a few strategic connections on LinkedIn to see if I could get on a few radars and pick up some work.
As luck would have it, I landed something the very next day restructuring loads of support content for a start-up.
I then sourced another job the following month where I was tasked with creating the brand guidelines for an insurance company.
The roles kept pouring in, so I created my brand and brought it to life with a website. I then sorted out the boring, systematic stuff and started to believe that this would work out okay.
Then, a funny thing happened.
As time went on and I took on more clients, I noticed something.
A pattern of behaviour.
Businesses of all sizes were making the same sort of mistakes with their copy and marketing, which kept reminding me of an incident that took place on my very first day at Sky.
It was the afternoon of Monday 4 June, 2001 and I was asked to write an EPG for a movie. In case you don't know, EPG is TV-speak for 'electronic programme guide'. It's basically the little synopsis that shows up when you press the 'i' button on your remote control.
We're only talking about 190 characters, but these EPGs are very important, especially as far as movies are concerned. They're often the difference between someone tuning into something or not.
As this was my first effort, I used all the flowery language I could muster. I wanted to make a big impression.
I emailed the copy over to the sub-editor. I peeked over my monitor to try and gauge his reaction. Did he smirk or was that my imagination? I wasn't sure, but he passed the copy nonetheless.
Anyway, a few days passed and it soon transpires that we're able to track viewing figures and measure how effective our EPGs are.
And yup, you guessed it...
... my effort totally tanked.
Luckily, I had only been given a somewhat trashy straight-to-TV thriller to write about [with hindsight, this was surely intentional].
And soon after, I was handed some really important advice from a seasoned and talented EPG veteran who could easily have made a career from writing the scripts for movie trailers.
"Summarising and selling a 2-hour film effectively in 190 characters is really tough, so don't try to be clever. Forget about impressing people. Just always think of the viewer and find the hook," he said.
It was embarrassing start to my copywriting career. I felt completely out of my depth. My early misplaced confidence fell out of me quicker than a dodgy chicken tikka masala.
In seconds, the English degree that I spent so long studying for seemed completely worthless.
I wanted to rewind time, go back to university and choose a different writing course, something that would prepare me better.
Suddenly, my words were accountable for something. With EPGs, they had to deliver a tangible result in roughly 1.5 sentences.
There were other lessons along the way, of course, but this is the moment that I'll always remember.
It forced me to completely change the way I thought about writing and to reflect on what a copywriter is meant to do. I didn't know it at the time, but focusing on my audience would become my mantra for every kind of copywriting job.
Always focus on the audience.
My error of judgement revealed that there's a big difference between academic writing and copywriting. My English degree had distorted my perspective and trained me to adhere to archaic, arbitrary rules that simply aren't effective in everyday life.
When you're trying to influence a certain demographic to take an action of some sort, you're not the centre of the universe. And in terms of the words themselves, there are no rules.
You can't start a sentence with 'and' or 'but'?
You must avoid contractions?
You can't use slang or sentence fragments, use double negatives or split infinitives, or end a point with a proposition?
Huh, try telling that to Apple.
Although technically accurate, academic writing is essentially really difficult to absorb. Take my dissertation at university for instance.
I looked at Baz Luhmann's awesome interpretation of Romeo & Juliet and tasked myself with having to decide whether Shakespeare's masterpiece had been dumbed down for the MTV generation.
[In case you're interested, the tl;dr answer is no, the film is actually extremely authentic and contains much of the original language.]
I remember walking into my English professor's office one cold autumn morning in 1999 and proposing the idea to him [your dissertation title had to be agreed before you started working on it].
I still had alcohol seeping out of my pores from the previous night's Illegal Eagles gig, so I was already on the back foot when he just grunted and nodded.
"Just make sure you can write at least 10,000 words on it," he snarled.
10,000 words and nothing less.
In saying this at least 3 times he had made his point, but I did as I was told. And you know what? You pay a big price for being that loquacious. I've never so much as glanced at my dissertation in the 20 years since I finished it, but if I could be bothered to read it again, I imagine it would be a painful grind.
I probably should have said something at the time, but he was a notoriously mean, grey-haired intellectual with a gravelly voice, a beard that looked like it had existed for longer than I had been alive, plus what I can only describe as the fiercest nostrils I'd ever seen.
I'll be honest: I was scared stiff.
Nowadays, I've become more confident at expressing my opinion over the years and, in terms of copywriting, the idea of forcing myself to write a certain amount of words is absolutely absurd.
In business, you should actually do the complete opposite. You should make your point as effectively and as quickly as possible.
We live in a time where we're all overloaded with messages and have the ability to choose what we see. People's attention spans are shorter than ever. Consumers are constantly distracted and, to make things worse, competition is rife.
So if you take nothing else away from my origin story, remember to put your opinions to one side and always focus on the audience.
The difference between success and failure
So there I was, 6 months into life as a freelance copywriter and I had spotted an alarming trend among the clients I was working with:
Most people didn't understand how to communicate the value of what they're selling to their audience.
They didn't know how to better understand their ideal consumer, nor why it was so important to do so. And neither did they realise why certain psychological copywriting tactics are so powerful.
Remember the Hewlett Packard's Touchpad from 2011? This was the gadget that was supposed to rival Apple's iPad.
It had powerful video capability and fast processing speeds, but the Touchpad was a complete failure.
Despite a heavy PR budget and sustained press coverage, Hewlett Packard was unable to connect with its target audience and communicate the value of their product.
Whilst Apple continued to do their thing, HP discontinued the Touchpad almost immediately after launch, forcing them to write off $885 million in assets. They even incurred an additional $775 million in costs when faced with winding down its webOS operations.
How different would things have been if they had done a deep dive into the market and created emotionally-driven ad campaigns that struck a real chord with their ideal customer.
Failure, it seems, happens to the best of us.
I've done a variety of copywriting jobs over the years, from creating website content to filling out a landing page, from writing PPC ads to coming up with social media messages, from email newsletters to brand stories.
But as soon as I realised that basic communication was such a major problem for all these companies, I made this my thing.
I started to turn down the ad hoc requests and zoom in this killer issue. Rather than be a generalist for hire, I began to concentrate on solving a single, real issue - how to connect a business to its true audience so that it can realise its potential.
And people seemed to love the results I got for them.
Here's your chance to make a different choice
I've worked for enough successful brands to know what they do and why. I've also taken enough courses and read enough books to understand the tricks of the trade.
You don't need to be a writer or a marketing genius to sell whatever it is you're offering. You just need some insight and a quick, simple guide to follow. And so the question is simple:
Are you going to be like Apple or Hewlett Packard?
Unless you've got a spare $1.6 billion lying around that you can afford to lose, I suggest that you check out my free training.
Are you ready?