5 Minutes with John Ashton

John Ashton spent his time writing for national newspapers and authoring books before coming up with an idea for a company in 2012 that put his talents to exceptionally good use.

Write Arm is a flexible writing resource for marketers. They provide companies with writers when they need them to create any type of written content – from exquisitely crafted straplines to blogs, scripts and books.

In 2020 he set up The KitchenTable Community, which is a peer-to-peer support community and marketplace for the owners and would-be owners of small creative agencies.

We spoke to John Ashton to find out more about the company, and to get his top tips on brilliant copywriting.

Hi John, thanks for chatting with Colour Me Social! What inspired you to start Write Arm?

I started the company in 2012 – I was thinking at the time, what’s my next career move? I thought about becoming a freelance writer again and I realised I wanted to build something bigger and flexible and more of the moment.

I hadn’t worked in the marketing world before then, so I knew nothing of it. I just took the plunge, with no idea whether it would float or not, but it did – much to my amazement and delight!

We started with just a small handful of writers; more and more have found us along the way, and we go out and find writers too – we’ve got scores of them now!

How do you work with businesses?

We do everything with the written word – broadly it breaks down into two types: on the one hand you’ve got content marketing such as articles, whitepapers, case studies, e-books; the other side is creative copywriting, things like static web copy, brochures and email sequences – anything that has a more overt marketing function than content marketing.

What type of businesses do you work with?

Anything from a small SME to multinational giants – we’ll work with any sizes of business, but we prefer to work with those with a marketing department. We work in numerous sectors; the ones that have been particularly strong for us have been tech, financial services and HR/recruitment.

What’s the motivation for businesses to come to you?

It’s very often the case that they just don’t have the resources internally. We work on an ad hoc basis, we don’t tend to charge retainers, which works for us because the clients don’t need us all the time. They often have people in-house who do some of the writing, but then they just get swamped.

What would you say are the main challenges you see your clients facing when it comes to content and copywriting?

The chief challenge is finding the right person to do the work. There are millions of freelancers out there but actually sourcing them and managing them is the real challenge. We’ve got where we are today by answering that need, by solving that problem.

How has your business changed in the Covid-era?

Well, we’ve always been remote. That’s the beauty of Write Arm. The staff work remotely, as do I, and all the writers work remotely. So we were geared up for it.

At the start COVID, everything went quiet for a week, but then it got very, very busy, and we’ve never been busier. I think it’s largely a legacy of working in tech – so many tech niches are buoyant at the moment, and we’re a beneficiary of that.

What’s your top tip for brilliant copywriting?

Great copywriting has to spell out the benefits of a product or service. Or if it’s not a product or service, then drive the message in a way that appeals to the heart, the head, and do so in as few words as possible.

Finally, what advice would you offer to small business owners to help them tell their story?

Invest in copy – it can make all the difference.

5 Minutes with Michael Gegg

What was your background prior to South Thames Marketing?

Immediately prior to setting up South Thames Marketing, I was head of global marketing for two of Hay Group’s (a management consulting firm) four business divisions. I left Hay after four wonderful years following its acquisition by Korn Ferry. Prior to that, I was head of international marketing and events for several years at Kenexa (now part of IBM). And back in the early days, I held marketing roles at a couple of psychometric testing and recruitment firms. So, my background has always been within the professional services space.

What inspired you to set up South Thames Marketing?

As with a lot of things in life, it was circumstance! I’d left Korn Ferry and was weighing up my next move. I’d always passionately wanted to launch my own consultancy and it felt this was the right time. Three years on, I wouldn’t look back. What inspired me? Having worked my entire career in professional services, I wanted to give back; supporting firms to just get better at their marketing. Working with clients of all different sizes gives me some great diversity, but actually working with an independent consultant or a big four management consulting firm, they have similar marketing challenges, just on a different scale.

How does South Thames Marketing help professional services businesses?

We support firms in several ways. Firstly from a strategy and planning perspective. Getting under the skin of what they are currently doing, assessing what they want to achieve brand and lead-gen wise and developing a strategy accordingly. From there we either hand that over for them to implement, or clients may ask us to support in certain areas (content creation, social media, creative design, campaign development etc) because they haven’t the internal resource themselves, or in some instances outsource their marketing in its entirety to us. We also support several international firms with European expansion or expansion into Asia. But in the first instance, we get to know the client and what they are looking to achieve and build from there.

What are the main marketing challenges professional services companies face?

Great question. There are several. But I think for me the biggest is staying relevant. The web is awash with content: white papers, blogs, videos all addressing a topic – it could be Brexit, it could be productivity, it could be attracting and retaining the best talent. The challenge is getting their voice heard over everyone else who is trying to have a say on that topic. Relevance is so important.

How can professional services professionals/companies stand out from the crowd?

Being human. Too many firms will try and cram every buzzword they know into a piece because they believe it adds credence. But at the end of the day you are writing (or presenting to) another human being –  I guess it could be a robot in the future! – so you need to write accordingly. My biggest tip always is when you’ve written something, read it back to yourself and then ask the question ‘if you’re sitting opposite that person in a business meeting or pitch’ is that how you would speak? If not, then start again. We’re all humans, including your clients!

How would you say professional services companies differ from other industries when it comes to marketing?

I’m probably biased here, but I think if you can succeed in professional services marketing, you can succeed in any industry. Working in professional services you are challenged every day. That could be with the quality of content/materials you have to produce to stay relevant or stakeholders you have to manage in-house, who all have an opinion that is apparently right! Succeed in this market and you’ll succeed in others. Yes, I know every sector will probably say similar, but come and spend a month in professional services and let’s have a conversation after!

What trends can you see happening in professional services marketing?

It’s already happening. More and more firms are adopting the new exciting digital technologies that are out there. The key is integrating your tech stack and maximising the insights you gain from the data.

What’s the best marketing campaign you have been involved in?

One of the last campaigns we rolled out at Hay Group was a campaign that explored the connection between employee and customer engagement. At its core was a report, where we’d undertaken an in-depth survey, but we’d then managed to interview and involve several of our clients from around the world. This was important as it added credence to our voice, but also allowed us to offer some incredibly interesting global insights plus the opportunity to create a number of supporting assets: extended case studies, blogs, videos etc. We rolled out the campaign in a crazy number of countries around the world, working with our local marketing colleagues, who we had to influence that this campaign would work in their particular market. In our planning we fully involved our local marketers, so we adapted versions of the report for different markets – this is so important. We held webinars together with in-person Forums in a number of cities. I attended the London, New York, Madrid and Sao Paulo Forums in person and seeing the report in multiple languages, speakers talking so passionately and importantly just seeing it resonate with every audience member was fantastic. The ROI we achieved was outstanding. Because we had involved clients and worked closely with them in the final report, we also managed to partner with the internal PR departments of some of them, which gave us huge traction when approaching the media. But, I cannot take the full credit, my marketing manager at the time, Louise Shaw, who is now doing fantastic stuff at Deloitte in Australia – I’m really, really proud of her, drove it and the success was 100 per cent down to her. As a leader, there is no better feeling than seeing someone on your team really thrive.

What is the best marketing campaign you’ve seen?

I’m not sure the best, but I love the Adobe marketing cloud ads – if you’ve not seen them definitely check them out!

Do you have any final words of advice for professional services companies wanting to tell their story/better their marketing efforts?

I just refer to what I said earlier, please, please remember your clients and prospective clients are human beings!

Social media should not be ignored by B2B companies: Here’s why

Let’s talk social media. We’ve noticed that our clients who sell to customers ‘get’ social media – the benefits are obvious. Less so with B2B firms – they wonder if the benefits are really worth the effort. Writing blogs, creating videos and images all cost time and money. We believe that when done right, it is worth the effort and the payoffs can be significant. It’s our job after all! Here’s why…

Show the human side of your business

Whilst consumer choices are emotionally driven, business decisions are largely rational. Or are they? We’ve all heard the idea that people buy people, not things. This is especially true in the case of B2B services. Providers often win because of the emotional response to the team they present at a pitch, and the relationships they build up over time.

By establishing a social media presence, you allow potential clients to see the human side of the business. This lets people see who works for you, which is important, but it also showcases your values as an organisation. You can show people that you’re the type of person they want to work with, which can leave a meaningful impression.

Promote your thinking

Most experts in a field have something interesting to say, a perspective on current affairs and events in their industry – and social media is a great way to promote your angle, story and take on things. You might choose to focus on future trends in your industry or reflect on past events, talk about products and services or the values and theories that underpin what you do. Whatever you choose to write about, getting it out there is key in making it worthwhile.

According to The State of Digital Marketing in 2017 report, blog posts and articles are considered the best way to generate and engage an interested following, and ultimately convert some of these into leads.

Gain trust

Perhaps the default method of checking out a new firm is to Google them. Of course, it’s our immediate response, followed by checking whether any of our trusted contacts have any experience with them. Social media is good for both these things – it offers a window into the community you’ve endeavored to build around your firm, through your social media marketing efforts. It also offers prospectives a quick route to testimonials, recommendations, and Q&As, which all leads to bolstering credibility.

Harness your video content

People are increasingly getting used to having complex concepts explained to them in video format. Cisco reckons 75% of all mobile traffic will be video by 2021. So what’s this got to do with social media? It offers the ideal platform for hosting and distributing video, allowing people to engage with it, and if it’s really good, share it and extend its impact. It’s also one of the most cost-effective forms of social media marketing with a high return on advertising spend (ROAS).

So whatever your position on social media, and take on specific platforms, we think there’s something out there that could be of benefit. As with anything, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution – and you may well be right that you can’t see your services doing well on Facebook, for example. But, given the time and thought, the benefits we’ve discussed are available to all B2B firms, and they should be considered as part of any digital marketing strategy. You might just find that they start to open some new doors for you.

5 reasons to use the power of Instagram for your business

Small businesses, particularly in the B2B sector, often overlook Instagram. A visual platform, you might find it hard to see why it’s relevant to your business, particularly if your model is service-based or ‘unglamorous’.

Increasingly, businesses are turning to Instagram to enhance their brand and grow their online presence and sales. Let’s look at 5 reasons why Instagram can be great for your business.

Not just the next generation

Traditional social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have become increasingly populated by an older user-base. The newer platforms of Instagram and Snapchat carry a reputation of belonging to younger generations.

Yet increasingly, Instagram is establishing itself as a major platform with significant traffic. 65% of the top 100 brands globally now have a presence on Instagram, while the platform possesses a growing user-base to match. Instagram operates at a useful nexus between emerging and more established social media platforms. It provides a  growing user-base in a market not saturated with smaller business activity such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Be seen

The stripped back nature of the platform and easy direct messaging keeps businesses in close contact with their consumers. For smaller businesses this direct link with your customers can be invaluable. A human insight into your business is well complemented by the ease with which customers can communicate with you directly. With images shown in chronological order, you will also stay seen and not forgotten. This is unlike rival platforms where algorithms prioritise the content of more established players in the market.

A visual edge to your product

The visual nature of Instagram allows you to promote your business, products and services in unique ways.

Customers sometimes struggle to see what it is that you do. Show them. From artisanal clothing design to app building or environmental modelling, there are stunningly visually elements to all aspects of your work. Create a buzz about your product by letting clients and customers see what you do in its intricate glory.

A behind the scenes view

Instagram allows you to open your business to the world. Give your followers an insight into your team training days, your new office space, or your charity fundraiser. All of this gives your business the human side you know it has, but others don’t see.

People invest in stories, people, and the reasons they do what they do. A visual insight into your team and the workings of your business can make you stand out. It allows your customers – current and future – to invest in what you’re doing on a much deeper level.

Improve your content elsewhere

So, you’ve created stunning visual content both for and through Instagram using it’s built-in camera and unique filters. What’s next? Share it across other social media platforms. Don’t be afraid to share your Insta-snaps on Facebook or Twitter. It can in turn help grow your profile and freshen up your social presence across other platforms too.

The visual capacity of Instagram allows businesses to formulate different relationships with their customers. It can help you to uncover fascinating aspects of your business which your customers would want to see, which you would otherwise overlook. Don’t miss out – be part of the visual revolution transforming the world of small business customer relationships.


How Content Helps You Build an Engaged Audience

Navigating the web to find relevant content to share is hard, especially if you are a small business with limited time and money. For this reason, many small businesses neglect this fundamental aspect of social media for 3 reasons. 1 – it’s simply too time consuming. 2 – they don’t know where to look. 3 – they don’t see the value of content curation.

If your social media strategy doesn’t include content curation, you might want to rethink. Just to clarify, content curation is when you find 3rd party content online that is relevant to your business. You add a personal touch or original comment…then share it to your audience.

So what’s all the rage behind curating 3rd party content?

Content curation helps you build an audience

Many people make the mistake of just talking about their business on their social media streams. In order to grow your audience it’s necessary to pull and share relevant 3rd party content. Doing so will help you build trust among your audience and enhance your value as a reputable business.

Jeff Bullas, author of Blogging the Smart Way commented in this interview that, “Consistent content creation and optimising can lead to an explosion in brand awareness. The holy grail of content marketing.”

Jessica Davis from Search Engine People says here that consistently posting on your social media accounts keeps you in your audience’s feeds and consequently, in their minds.

Get Crate goes on to argue that consistency builds familiarity…and familiarity builds a relationship. So don’t miss the opportunity to curate content because you don’t have the time, that’s what we are here for!

Content curation helps you stay on top of the latest news and popular internet trends

By curating content consistently (woo now that’s a tongue twister), you jump one step ahead of your competitors because you are posting fresh content as soon as it emerges. This means that the content you post is up to date and relevant (and not two weeks old or a few months old).

Robin Burton from SEO Site Check Up comments here that fresh content = frequent indexing which leads to better rankings, a lower bounce rate and a higher search traffic than stale content. He goes on to list numerous other benefits from posting fresh content. Check our blog post on how to use social media to improve your SEO for more tips.

Content curation helps you stand out and differentiate yourself

If you’ve simply been sharing other people’s content without making a comment of your own, (Ross Hudgens from the Content Marketing Institute puts forward the case here) that isn’t going to help you build an established brand in your space. He suggests that you “rewrite any default text provided by the share buttons to share in your own brand voice.”

In a sea of generic information, make your content stand out- even if it is from a 3rd party! Instead of blindly curating the headline content of the day, take this opportunity to create a posting unique to your business. Tailored content is more likely to grow your audience than content that is generic and recycled. Why? Because people are more likely to remember a post when it is paired with your unique voice rather than simply a shared post with no comment.

Heidi Cohen shows here how branding should be an integral part of your content curation to ensure that you broaden your reach.

To sum up, content curation is the art of repurposing content to find the right ingredients for a perfect content marketing mix. It is another very useful tool in your social media toolbox and when done right, it can add tremendous value to your business.

Wanna talk content? Click here.

The best content from last week

With so much content to read, we have made things simple and chosen our favourite 3 posts from last week.

5 Ways to Use Social Media for Increased Business Success

If you’re about to grow your social media campaigns, you should be aware of the many different ways you can use it  to grow your business. Social media can be leveraged in a variety of ways. Some are obvious, and some that are a little more obscure. The secret to getting the most out of your social media marketing efforts? You may want to coordinate multiple aspects of the campaign at once.

4 Ways To Boost Your Social Media Presence

You’ve taken the time to set up social-media accounts for your business on all the major sites. You’re posting regularly, taking the time to interact with your customers and using your social-media platforms as an opportunity to share information about your products or services. Social media marketing, however, isn’t just about regular posts; it’s also about providing your customers with opportunities to interact with your business. Through that interaction, you’ll be able to build relationships with your customers and increase their opinion of your business substantially.

5 simple tips to help ignite ideas and create fresh content

It’s integral to any business to build a recognisable brand and to curate content that sticks to that brand message. However, this can lead to a cycle of similar content – the same text-filled tweets, indistinguishable links and the churning out of identical hashtags for differing posts. If this sounds reminiscent of your own marketing strategy, have no fear. I’ve compiled some top tips to ease you out of the cycle of repetition and turn your marketing into a whirlwind of creativity.