15 Minute Freelancer

56. Dave Harland: how to stand out on LinkedIn

April 28, 2022 Louise Shanahan / Dave Harland Episode 56
15 Minute Freelancer
56. Dave Harland: how to stand out on LinkedIn
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, freelance copywriter and LinkedIn superstar Dave Harland shares his unique approach to making marketing fun. Dave's known for stirring up trouble on LinkedIn, poking fun at self-acclaimed thought leaders and brightening up the feed for the rest of us. Here, he breaks down his strategy and tells us:

  • How he uses humour and parody to stand out on LinkedIn
  • How he creates content and manages his time on social media
  • Selling silliness to serious stakeholders
  • How his marketing has changed over the years
  • What he'd do if he was just starting out
  • Uncle Tony's response to clients that shift the goalposts
Say hi to Dave:

LinkedIn: daveharland
Twitter: @wordmancopy
Website: www.thewordman.co.uk

Say hi to Louise:

Louise Shanahan is a freelance health and medical copywriter and a big fan of finding your freelance niche. She's on a mission to help others build a freelance business that feels easy and works for them – in weekly snack-sized bites.

LinkedIn: Louise Shanahan
Twitter: @LouiseShanahan_
Website: thecopyprescription.com

If you find this episode helpful and you'd like to show your appreciation, consider leaving a tip over at ko-fi.com/15minutefreelancer. All donations help cover the cost of running the podcast and are very much appreciated!


Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack-sized guide to being your own boss and building a business and life you love. I'm your host Louise Shanahan. My LinkedIn bio says I'm a freelance health copywriter. But for the next 15 minutes, I'll be tickling your ears with practical strategies, behind-the-scenes stories, and nuggets of wisdom so you can create a freelance business that works for you. Whether you're just starting out or you've been self-employed for a while, I'll be right here with you to help you navigate the ups and downs of freelancing life. So grab a coffee relax and join me for 15 minutes of freelancing fun. Don't forget to hit subscribe.

Louise: Hello, and welcome to the 15 Minute Freelancer podcast. This is Louise Shanahan speaking and today I'm excited to welcome a very special guest, Dave Harland. Hi, Dave, thank you for joining me.

Dave: Hi, Louise. I'm just as excited to be here, nice one for having me.

L: For those of you who don't know, Dave is a freelance copywriter, you may know him as The Word Man. You may have seen him stirring up trouble on LinkedIn, trolling the likes of Simon Sinek and sharing his Uncle Tony's unique approach to business, and that's really what we're going to be talking about today. Dave, I posted recently that I wanted to chat to freelancers who use interesting or unusual marketing strategies to attract clients. Your name came up several times as someone who seems to have a distinct style when it comes to lead generation, particularly in how you use humour on LinkedIn which is traditionally a bit of a conservative platform. We've got some listener questions about that and we'll get through as many as we can. We might need to skip the 372 questions about barm cakes, which for some reason people are obsessed with. But if you don't mind, we might go a little bit over the 15 minutes on this one. So let's dive in with a very serious question. Please tell us how have you leveraged LinkedIn as a business growth solution?

D: I suppose it's basically by taking the piss out of words like that, and phrases like that, that crop up all the time on LinkedIn. Because I do the complete opposite, I always have done, so my overall marketing strategy is to write stuff that just makes people smile makes people laugh and is the kind of antithesis of all of the kind of stuffy corporate lingo that you see on LinkedIn. By doing that, by making people smile, it's not only something that I enjoy doing, but it also attracts the type of business owners and the brands who want to do that type of fun stuff. So they see me as one of the go to people who can provide that type of fun copy, fun content, or to help them to write the stuff that kind of portrays them in a less stuffy way.

L: Can you tell us a bit about how you're actually doing that? How are you using that kind of humour and parody to differentiate yourself and stand out on LinkedIn?

D: In terms of the tactics there's a whole range really, one of the ones you just said then is parody. It's making light of the most typical ways that some of the so-called influencers act on there. They take themselves really seriously, the content they put out there is something that I suppose they think is inspirational and enlightening, but in actual fact are all quite vacuous truisms, there's nothing really ground-breaking in there. I will parody those and just take it to the extreme to show that, you know, I'm taking a kind of a sarcastic approach to that. So that's one way, parody. The whole range, really, storytelling, jokes, just being sarcastic and silly and a little bit humorous as often as I can, I suppose. In terms of the content that I'll do, its jokes, its stories, some which are based on events that have happened, others I'll try and find a kind of thinly veiled marketing message at the end, and maybe make up a little bit in the middle to dramatise it. There's a whole range of stuff that I'll trial.

L: Where does Uncle Tony fit into this?

D: So he was, I suppose it's back to what I was saying about the so called LinkedIn influencers or celebrities on there who were just posting these vacuous truisms. It was a couple of years ago, one of the people on there, Oleg Vishnepolsky, he just puts stuff like leadership quotes and why kindness is the way to go. But it was all, you know, over the course of say, a month, he’d post say 30 times and 25 of those would just be the same post in a slightly different way. So I thought, hang on, this isn't you know, and he was getting like 25,000 likes or something stupid, the engagement was just through the roof. I thought how about I reply in a way that kind of just takes the mickey a little bit. So just started talking about my Uncle Tony and why I disagreed with whatever this kind of vacuous platitude that that was being put out there telling a story about my Uncle Tony, and why based on this tale from his weird and wonderful life, why this could not possibly be true.

L: Do you ever worry about being too controversial? Do you ever feel bad that people might be getting so worked up about Uncle Tony's tall tales?

D: Not really no. I think for those kind of LinkedIn celebrities and the wannabe influencers, you can see straight away they're not replying to the posts themselves. It's clear that they're being outsourced to a content team, or content agency, who think that this is the way to be done. I suppose in fact what I'm doing is not necessarily poking fun at the people themselves. It's more poking fun at the act of outsourcing your stuff to these agencies who don't really get you, and you're in danger of just by giving, or shifting, responsibility to an agency and allowing them to post on your behalf, you might actually end up damaging your reputation. I know certainly the Simon Sinek posts that come out, on their own that they are vacuous platitudes, a lot of them are just meaningless, they’re truisms that are really obviously true what in what he's saying. Stuff like, the best leaders care about their teams. It's like, who's that benefitting? Is that benefiting anybody at all? Is somebody going to read that and go, oh yeah, I'll care about my team and that will make me a better leader. If anything, it’s making him sound like he’s waffling on. When you listen to him in particular, talk on videos and stuff, he’s quite articulate, he talks in quite simple terms. So there's a disparity I think between how he is in person and all of this stuff that's getting churned out on the daily, which I'm presuming is like a content agency. So I never really feel too bad and that I’m being controversial, it's always quite jovial, it's never close to the bone. It's never too critical of them as individuals, it's always done quite indirectly, I think. I like to do that with most of the stuff that I do on there, it's rarely a kind of a direct, harsh criticism at anyone, it's done in a quite indirect way, purely just to have a bit of a laugh and have a bit of fun and make people smile. Rather than trying to really kind of rile people, which you know, there's other people on the platform who do that really well.

L: I guess the fact that you're kind of poking fun at their lack of authenticity in some of the stuff that's being put out in their name. That's kind of the point, isn't it? Because for freelancers in particular, we want to connect with people who see the world in the same way as us, who we're gonna enjoy working with. It's true that people buy from people, isn't it. So for someone like you or like me, or freelancers that are listening to this, it is really important that we are ourselves and that we are authentic in what we're putting out. I mean, authentic is kind of one of these words that you probably would take the piss out of isn't it? I wonder if you could say a little bit about that?

D: Certainly for freelancers, because like you say, that word, authenticity, I mean it's a bit of a buzzword, but it does carry some meaning. When you're writing stuff, whether it's on your socials or even how you are in person networking. If you are your true self, and you're not using buzzwords to make yourself sound more professional, you're not lying about your job history, you just being genuinely upfront and speaking in your own authentic voice. I think, yeah, it's going to sell yourself better than any kind of falseness or any front that you can quite easily put on social media. For freelancers, it's a massive thing, being authentic and knowing what your voice is. The sad thing is there's quite a few people out there who know what their voice is and they are trying to put on a front. I can imagine Simon Sinek when you meet him is a million miles away from those pointless inspirational posts, I bet he's got quite a lot to say, same with most of them. Yet they think, oh, this is the way to go, this is this is gonna get me traction, this is going to make me appear to be more of a kind of thought leader than I really am. In actual fact it's probably going against them.

L: Now that you're a little bit of a LinkedIn celebrity yourself, isn't it a bit of a full-time job, how do you handle gazillions of comments on your posts?

D: Funny you should say, it's tough to keep up with them and it could easily be a full-time job. I can see why these influencers with 5 million followers, I can see why they outsource because they just couldn't do it on their own. You know, I'm quite modest in comparison to them, I think I've got like 30,000 followers on LinkedIn compared to their million so it's a little bit easier to handle, but it's still a lot. When I'll put a post out and it'll get 100 comments, I try and like and comment to say 20-30%, and I can't do it all otherwise I'd be there all day. I suppose I'll just try and pick the ones who I suppose make me laugh. Or you can see that they've got their own opinion about something I've written. Some people, you know now and again, or quite often disagree with what I've done and do perhaps think that I'm being a little bit harsh in what I'll post and miss the point that I'm just taking the piss really, they're the type of ones that I will comment upon. But I suppose in terms of the split of my week, I'll spend maybe one day a week, I suppose in total on LinkedIn and Twitter posting stuff. That's not just kind of one day, I wouldn't spend the entire Monday just prepping stuff, that's just dipping in and out throughout the week. I do a newsletter, so that's probably half a day of my week, and then the other three and a half days is running the business, admin, writing, all of that type of stuff. It's certainly a decent chunk, but I try and not let it get too much. I'm not one of these who sits on there all day, you know, when I should be doing client work, I'll just jump on post something, later on in the afternoon I'll reply to some comments and do it like that.

L: What is your content creation process like, does it tend to be off the cuff or are you a bit more strategic about it?

D: No, it's more off the cuff. Although saying that I suppose that the approaches and back to the tactics, the different types of jokes, the stories, I've got more strategic in terms of varying the types of stuff that I'll do. But in terms of the topic and the subject of what I'm writing about that's just off the cuff. Most of my initial ideas just go in my phone notes, I could be typing them out or I'll do little voice notes like Alan Partridge, and I've normally got say between 20 and 30 little ideas at any one time. It could be anything from something funny that someone said to me or something bizarre that I’ve overhead on a train or something, all the way to something that someone's posted that I can do a parody of, anything I'm reading, watching, anything really. Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. I always try and think, what's the takeaway there, how can I apply that to copywriting marketing. How can I give that some kind of lesson, because it's made me sit up and notice it, it's pricked my ears up and I'm sure that there'll be a way for me to kind of put that into a different context for people and sprinkle a little bit of silliness in along the way.

L: Have you found, and I'm kind of guessing what the answer is here, but have you found that putting yourself out in that way has attracted the kind of clients that you really enjoy working with?

D: Yeah, absolutely, I mean it didn't all happen at once. I've been freelancing full time now for six years now, at the start I wasn't really saying no to much, I was taking on as much as a I could and most of that was your run of the mill B2B stuff, fairly safe, generic tone of voice, nothing too out there, I suppose focusing more on clarity than personality really. Over the years, as I've kind of become known for that style, certainly on the socials, it's attracting the types of brands that want to do that fun stuff. I'm getting more and more people saying I read your email all the way to the end or didn't stop laughing at that post you put on LinkedIn, we’re really stuffy, or we’re coming across really dry, can you sprinkle some of that into our stuff. It's definitely helped me kind of carve out my own kind of position as the go to person for the funny stuff, you know, six years in, it's kind of nicely coming to fruition.

L: We had a question from Heidi, she asked, how has your marketing changed in the past few years, do you feel you're at the point where you have enough of a brand that you no longer need to work so hard at putting yourself out there, or is that an impossible goal? Then related to that Andy asked, you're pretty well known online, do you still need to do cold outreach?

D: I've never done cold outreach, to be honest. I mean, I do posting on LinkedIn and Twitter, and I'll do my own email, but never really approached businesses themselves and asked them if they if they need my services. Just something I've never really had to do, I've been quite lucky since I started off, there's always been another client, you know, knocking on the door, asking me to write for them. I mean it's not to say I'd never consider it, if I posted something next week which alienated me from the entire business community and I had to go back to that kind of knocking on doors and that cold approach, that's the way I'd go. Certainly when junior copywriters approach me and say, how can I attract clients like you do, I can see people asking, posting, and saying can you come and work for us? I'm like, look, it's no quick win here, I've slogged away at this for six years. If there was a silver bullet, you know, everybody would be on to it, but there's not sadly, so I'll say to them, look, your best bet is to do some cold outreach. When a business sends you a crappy email, rip it to shreds, rewrite it, get in touch with them and say look, what you've sent me is rubbish, here’s how I’d do it 10 times better. There’s your little in. I mean, I do that anyway, just as one of my tactics on LinkedIn, which is to rip to shreds something that's been sent to me like a cold email or something. Do that as a way of bringing clients in.

L: Yeah, it's about finding a way to stand out and catch people's attention. Kind of related to that Paige asked, how do you sell your silly style to stuffy stakeholders? But it sounds a bit like you don't really have to do that now, that's kind of what people are coming to you for. Are there ever any situations where you're having to kind of convince a client, or a potential client, of your way of working, your approach?

D: Yeah I used to have to, but they’re fewer and far between now, they’re already kind of bought into it. Well, certainly the people who get in touch with me are bought into it. Now and again, there'll be you know some CEO. Maybe the marketing director will get in touch with me and say, you know, I like your stuff, love your approach, can you do this for us, and I go, yeah, sound. Then midway through the project, the CEO gets his greasy little paws on whatever I've written, and thinks this is completely unprofessional, you know, this is the wrong way to go about it. So occasionally, I'll have to kind of fight the case, and you know, justify why this style works and justify why. If the marketing director got in touch with me there’s obviously something going wrong, and they've identified that a more down to earth approach might be needed. So then I'll have to then speak to the CEO and say, look, here's some evidence of how this has worked in the past. So I'll show him case studies of some of the stuff that I've done, which has increased sales or helped the brand awareness for some of my own clients, and just more kind of generic stuff about why reader led comms are more impactful than writer led comms. So rather than them saying “we're delighted to announce our latest product” it's spinning it more back on the reader. Just giving them some little examples, I'll always have examples to give them which hopefully make the penny drop. But yeah, the kind of persuading that I have to do to those type of people who don't really get it, I don't really have to do much of that anymore. I kind of filter all of them out. They don't connect with me, or if they're already connected with me and they see me taking the piss out of an influencer, and they think I don't want to be consuming that, that's not where we want to go, it saves us both a lot of time.

L: Along similar lines Andre asks, a client shifts the goalposts on a project, what would Uncle Tony do in that situation?

D: Oh Tony, wow, he’d probably find a way to shift the foundations of the building that they're in, because he takes no prisoners does Uncle Tony. I mean, if it happened with me, I'd just say, you know even though most of the stuff I do is silly, I'm still really professional at the end of the day. So I'd say to them, I can do that, sure, but it'll cost a bit more. There's a bit of scope creep there, but I'll still try and do it, in a nice and friendly way. I'm not one of these that will go, you know, “the requirements have therefore changed, and thus…”, it's just like, let's just do it in a nice way, I’ll normally do it over the phone, I won't do it over email, so it's easier to kind of get those conversations going.

L: I like that, I think you want the client to be happy with the end result, don't you and you want the work to be done well. So perhaps there's a good reason why they've decided to shift the goalposts and it's just a case of figuring out how you can make that happen in a way that works for both you, isn’t it?

D:  Yeah, sure, and you know, when they do shift the goalposts, if it's adding like half a day on to me work, I'll address it, but if it's like an extra hour or two, you just suck it up, you just absorb it and you'll find the money will come back to you in other ways. Try and not kind of get too bogged down in it, because I think there's, certainly when you start, thinking ah that’s taking me you know an extra half a day, or when you go into the nitty gritty of what's involved in a project, you can end up backing yourself into a corner. And they're saying, hang on a sec, how much is that, what's your hourly rate, how much to do that? And then you're like, oh shit, I shouldn't have said anything. So yeah, if it's only a little bit of scope creep just absorb it, that's what I try and do.

L: I think the key there is that if you're charging enough to begin with, then you can absorb these little extra bits without too much of a headache. I think if you've kind of gone under the rate that you would prefer to be charging, then that's when you start to feel a bit disheartened when you've got extra work coming in, you don't want to absorb it.

D: Exactly. There's nothing worse than resenting the job that you're working on because you've undercharged it or are undervaluing yourself. Don't feel scared of just, I made a joke on Twitter, but now and again I'll do it for certain clients, just add a zero to one in every 20 quotes that you give out, just to see if the client goes for it. Now if it's a big, massive PLC, just add a zero to it. 19 times out of 20 they'll come back and go, cheeky bastard not paying that, but there'll be one that will just say, yeah, go on, we'll go for that. And if you can back it up, you’re skilled, you’ve got the expertise, and you can put your money where your mouth, is all credit to you.

L: I love it. I love the experimentation and being bold. Thanks, Dave. That feels like a good place to wrap up, and thank you to everybody who sent in questions, and I'm sorry that we didn't get to all the barm cake questions, but maybe Dave will answer them if he gets a chance on his LinkedIn. One thing that we haven't mentioned is your newsletter, well you mentioned it briefly, and I would definitely recommend that people sign up for your newsletter, which is just as hilarious as we might expect. But one thing that I really like about it is it's also jam packed with ideas and suggestions for how people can make their own copy a bit less stuffy, and sound so more like themselves, that word again, authentic, and use storytelling and humour to connect with their customers. I really like that you break down a lot of your LinkedIn posts so people can actually see what your thought process is when you're creating them and see those copywriting tricks in action. So all that to say, let's give it a plug, where can people sign up for it?

D: Yeah, so you can get my newsletter on my website, which is www.thewordman.co.uk. If you go there, there's a big subscribe button. Then you'll hear from me every Friday probably, will put a probably in there because Good Friday snuck up on me last week, and I was like, ah, had to do stuff with the baby, and there was like no way I'm getting a newsletter out today, sorry. So, 99% of Fridays, you'll get one.

L: Brilliant, we'll put a link to that in the show notes and of course people can come and find you on LinkedIn and enjoy the antics for themselves.

D: Yeah, definitely. LinkedIn and Twitter, Twitter as well. I suppose I go one step further on Twitter, because Twitter's mainly my creative mates, other designers and copywriters and stuff. Where I'm explaining stuff and keeping things relatively PG on LinkedIn so that business owners kind of understand the benefits of copy. You know, everyone's in on the joke on Twitter, so get me on there if not already, so I'm @wordmancopy on Twitter.

L: Brilliant, well thank you so much, Dave, this has been a really fun conversation. And thank you to everyone who's listening to this. If you've enjoyed it, please do leave a review and subscribe. And if you leave a tip on the Kofi page, that's ko-fi.com/15minutefreelancer, I will be sure to make sure that Dave gets his cut too. Although I'm not quite sure how I'll do that. Maybe I can post you a teabag or something. 

D: Sounds good.

L: All right. Until next time, happy freelancing.


You've been listening to 15 Minute Freelancer with me Louise Shanahan, freelance health copywriter and content marketer at thecopyprescription.com. If you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe, leave a review or share it with a freelance friend. And if you've got a freelancing question you want to be answered on the podcast, find me and say hi on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram. Thanks, and until next time, happy freelancing.