Milo McLaughlin - Copywriter & Web Editor

Milo McLaughlin is a freelance writer based in Edinburgh, who has worked for The Scotsman and The Scottish Government, among others. He also runs a blog called The Clear-Minded Creative, which provides inspiration and support for creative people who are changing careers.

Give us some background first of all on yourself and your career.

Milo: Well, for ten years I worked for the Scottish Government in a number of roles including media monitor and web content editor. To begin with though I was mainly an admin dogsbody, and so to save my brain and creativity stagnating I did a bunch of things on the side – playing music, writing a blog, writing for local publications like The Skinny Magazine and The List, and doing an internet radio show.

None of this made me rich (in most cases I wasn’t paid at all) but it was all great experience. In 2010 and 2011 I started getting additional paid work as a web editor and copywriter and cut down my hours to four days a week.

When the chance came to take voluntary redundancy from the civil service in February this year I went for it. I got a lump sum to help make the transition to freelancing over the first 12 months, which was a good job because it’s been a bit of a financial and emotional rollercoaster ever since!

You've worked across a range of different roles in journalism, social media, copywriting etc. Do you see this cross-discipline approach as unusual or do you think it is something which is quickly becoming the norm? Should a media student, for example, be looking to specialise in one particular discipline or take a more general, open approach?

Milo: A great question. I consider myself multi-passionate – I’m interested in a lot of different areas and ideas which can often be seen as a flaw when it comes to finding work. Sometimes I do get exasperated by my own lack of focus, but at the same time my dilettante approach has ended up preparing me (unintentionally) for the current media climate in which multimedia web content is one of the best ways to communicate with people and build a reputation as a writer.

My core skill is as a writer and editor, but my keen interest in tech and online media has given me an edge in terms of getting work and attracting a modest audience for my own projects.

For people who may have an interest in working within social media and/or copywriting roles, do you think there are any specific academic qualifications, or work/life experiences which would be particularly beneficial to them?

Milo: I’m a Communications graduate (many years ago now) but at the time I had no clue what I wanted to do. The best thing I did during my four-year degree was write and edit the film section of my college magazine, which lead to some reviewing work for the Edinburgh Evening News immediately after college.

It depends on what you want to do, of course, but with copywriting I think qualifications such as a journalism degree or masters are nice to have but not necessarily essential. The most important thing is developing professional working habits and being a good writer (surprise, surprise!).

For writers, the secret at the beginning is simply to get your work out there however you can. To begin with, this may not involve much financial compensation and that can be extremely tough. But if you do good work, eventually it does get better. The problem is, it can take years not months and it’s easy to lose faith.

You run your own online blog, The Clear-Minded Creative. How important do you feel side-projects such as The Clear-Minded Creative actually are in terms of furthering yourself professionally, creatively and so on?

Milo: The importance of having your own online platform can’t really be overstated. If you’re only writing for someone else then you’re only helping to build their platform, not your own. Your own platform gives you control, flexibility and adaptability and enables you to reach people directly.

My current blog doesn’t draw massive traffic, mainly because I’ve not been particularly consistent at posting. But as a way of building friendships and contacts online it’s been invaluable, as has being an active presence on Twitter.

I would say though that getting yourself out and about and meeting new people in the real world is where the magic really happens. Your online presence should be a reflection of what you’re up to in real life, not the full story. That’s not always easy if you’re an introvert like I am, but worth remembering.

In what ways do you think media students, graduates and jobseekers can perhaps utilise online platforms in order to make themselves more appealing to potential employers?

Milo: Be professional. I spend a lot of time formatting and proofreading my posts, even though the writing style is informal. I try not to swear too often on Twitter and I keep Facebook private so that the photos of me dancing drunkenly in a fountain wearing women’s underwear don’t make it onto the Daily Mail’s website. Seriously though, everything you put online is public and even the dodgy private Facebook photos could find a way of surfacing and being discovered by employers. There’s no doubt that having a strong personality can help you stand out online, but I think it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid oversharing!

Thinking back to when you first started out, is there anything you'd do differently, or anything you know now which you wish you had known back then?

Milo: Yes. I wish I’d had more faith in my own instincts and abilities. I wish I’d spent less time getting drunk and moaning about how much I hated my job and more time learning new skills and creating things. Ultimately though, there’s no point wondering what might have been, because you’re wasting time when you could be making things better for yourself RIGHT NOW.

My advice would be: don’t waste too much time fannying about. Because here’s what you never want to believe when you’re in your twenties – you will get older, fatter and balder (or maybe that’s just me) and you will most likely have less energy and more responsibilities as the years go by, so use the energy and freedom for something positive whilst you’ve got plenty of it to spare. - Advice and inspiration blog for creative types.