Corissa Nunn is a messaging strategist with a background in copywriting.
Now self-employed, she’s been working in or with startups and SMEs since 2010, helping them turn their expertise into effective customer communication. She’s also the creator of the Email Teardown Club newsletter.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
You know the cliche about hunting high and low for your glasses, only to discover they’re on top of your head?
Messaging strategy is a bit like that.
At a macro scale, I help companies overcome the blind spot that stops them from seeing (and communicating) the value they deliver in the eyes of their happiest customers. Why are they brilliant at what they do, and who are they most brilliant at doing it for?
It’s in the same ballpark as brand strategy, but for people who think words-first, not visuals-first. (Both routes can work, depending on the product or service. It’s often a matter of personal preference. For the strategist as well as for the client!)
It also cascades down to the micro scale, to one-off comms and customer journeys from PPC ads to app flows to “we screwed up” emails. What are your customer’s hopes, dreams and fears at a particular moment in time? What are your own goals? And how do you align the two?
I got into messaging strategy through the backdoor. After failing spectacularly to become a corporate FMCG buyer on a graduate programme in 2012, I went back to scratch as a marketing jack-of-all-trades for a startup. Then I specialised towards fullstack copywriting, and then I got into customer research and business strategy, and now I blend the lot.
I’ve tended to work in or with startups, where there’s no playbook in sight, unlike the other end of the spectrum where you’ve got huge established agencies that work with huge established clients. I had to roll up my sleeves and develop my own processes from scratch. If that sounds like bragging, it’s really not. I’m pretty haggard for a 32-year-old. A lack of work-life balance was the defining feature of my 20s.
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
When you first got in touch about this interview for Balance The Grind, my mind slid off the question. I couldn’t answer it, though I tried and tried. The UK was a few months into lockdown and life felt like being stuck inside a washing machine on a 1200 spin cycle. I’d lost all my clients. I’d found myself playing the role of school teacher for two kiddos. I had no idea which way was up.
And at the same time, it gave me a push to ramp up working *on* the business rather than *in* the business. I’ve finally come to recognise that activities like business development and marketing are work that’s just as important as client work, the only difference being there’s no pile of money at the end. (Well, not directly at least.)
Anyway, long story short, here’s what a typical day looks like in the post-covid era:
7.45am: Rise ‘n’ shine! Or as a minimum, rise ‘n’ grumble. As a self-employed person working from home without an employer’s schedule to hold yourself to, it’s dangerously tempting not to bother to get up at all. If I didn’t have a partner with a job, I’d have to get a dog instead.
7.50-8.50am: We head out and march round the park for an hour, come rain or shine. This is our “commute”. We initiated it after a few weeks of going bonkers stuck in the flat the whole time.
8.50am: COFFEE. Ground fresh. Another ritual that enables us to cling on to sanity.
9.30am: Journaling. I’d be lying if I said I do this religiously every day, but I always feel better the days I *do* do it. I use a website called 750words.com. Sometimes I use it for drafting purposes (I’m using it to write this right now).
Sometimes I use it to offload worries from my brain’s hamster wheel. Sometimes I use it as a gratitude diary. Sometimes it’s just garbage, pure and simple, but hey ho, it gets the juices flowing. I really recommend it, it’s been transformative.
10am-12pm: Focused work. Normally this would be client work, but since May it’s been working on my own stuff, whether that’s the Email Teardown Club (my mailing list), improving my website, doing a favour for a friend, or making Bootstrap Briefs (the step-by-step copy briefing Q&A).
12-1pm: I don’t eat lunch or breakfast. Just one outrageously large meal in the evening. So instead I’ll take a break by cleaning or doing laundry. Funny what counts as a “break” these days isn’t it?
1-2pm: Catching up with a friend or family member, on the phone or in person. Again, a sanity measure. Self-employed life gets horribly lonely, even when you have lovely clients who you really like working with.
2-2.30pm: Yoga. OK OK, I admit it, I’d be lying if I said I do this every day too.
2.30-6pm: More focused work.
6pm: Tools down! Evenings revolve around making dinner. On a good day I find the motivation to do some kind of “activity”, whether that’s making a crap piece of art and/or playing frisbee and/or reading and/or drinking wine. Not necessarily in that order. The wine comes first, obviously.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
Yes. Too much in fact. I wouldn’t say it “fits”, so far. Like many people, I’ve found the covid work-from-home adjustment to be a bit of a horror show. I miss the energy of being around others.
I miss the change of scenery. I miss meeting clients and potential clients, face to face, in their environment. Video calls are OK but you lose the fidelity of how a company really ticks, their vibe, their ways of working.
All of those things matter a lot in the realm of messaging strategy. Not to mention my back and neck are in tatters because there isn’t space at home for a proper desk and chair.
I’m optimistic that we’re heading to a future with a better balance of in-person work and remote work. The current “solution” of just moving everything online wholesale isn’t working. Even if it works for the company (offices are expensive!), a lot of individuals are suffering.
That said, the pre-covid “solution”, where the default was to always be in the office, was overdue a shakeup. So in that sense it’s progress.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
Work-life balance? What’s that? Ha. I’m only half kidding. I’ve been trying to release myself from the academic-achiever-workaholic path for the past few years. I know it’s not the path to happiness, but if not that, then what? And how to break the habit of a lifetime?
Perversely, covid has delivered a silver lining on this front. I had no work for several months and I had to accept that this was just the way it was going to be for a while.
One other thing that’s made an impact is the concept of the “inner mill owner”: a voice inside our heads that tells us to churn things out and KEEP CHURNING DAMMIT, for 8, 9, 10 hours a day.
Back in the Industrial Age there was a direct and linear relationship between time and output and value, but the world has changed since then. Some types of work aren’t anything like a factory assembly line, yet we still inherit the ethos of the Industrial Age through the education system.
It’s important to challenge that ethos, to question whether it helps you or harms you in the specific type of work that you do. And be wary of productivity porn.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
This is a tough question to answer because literally everything has changed in the past 12 months due to coronavirus. Can I pass? 😛
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
Argh, so many! I’ll try and keep it short.
A book. If you’re in the mood for self-investigation: The Courage To Be Disliked, by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga. It gets into the philosophy of Alfred Adler, whose schtick is that “all problems are interpersonal relationship problems”. Sounds ridiculous at first but it makes a lot of sense.
A podcast. If you’re interested in how our brains *really* work: You Are Not So Smart It delivers jaw-dropping revelation after jaw-dropping revelation, and the host, David McRaney, manages to make it non-wanky, which is sort of a miracle in its own right.
A newsletter. If you’re self-employed: check out Art of Gig by Venkatesh Rao. He’s a solo management consultant and a terrifying genius. His emails are always a headache to get through but 100% worth the pain.
And can I recommend my own newsletter? Is that cheeky? But if messaging interests you or you work in comms or marketing, you might enjoy it.
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
750words.com, the journalling website I mentioned before.
My Kindle. For reading before bedtime and on weekend mornings without being hounded by a phone.
A really basic to-do list app. I’ve got one called Tasks. I use it to capture things that occur to me on the fly, and once every couple of days I transfer any work-related items into the backlog section of my day-by-day notes in a plain old Google doc. In the past I’ve tried to use Trello for project management, but I found that it exposes you to two risks.
Firstly the risk of overwhelm from the volume of work in progress. Secondly the risk of forgetting about tasks that end up hidden behind layers, compounded by the false sense of security that comes from having “done some organising”. (Grr, why is that feeling so tantalising! Curse ye, inner mill owner!)
The benefit of using a simple doc format is that when you’ve got too much on the boil at once, it’s right there in your face, and you have no choice but to rethink and reprioritise.
To be honest, that’s it. Those three things. I use a bunch of products, gadgets and apps for communicating with people, planning work, capturing notes and so on, but that setup changes daily, weekly, monthly. I’ve learned the hard way that managing your time well is something you do with your attitude, not a piece of hardware or software.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
Someone who has a ginormous amount of responsibility resting on their shoulders, seeing as that’s work-life balance on hard mode.
Maybe not the current president of the USA, but if we could go back in time and interview Obama. Seriously, how does anyone manage to switch off and play frisbee with their family when the fate of the country is in their hands? Now that’s impressive.
Or even more impressive: a female head of state who has kids. (Sad to say I’m struggling to think of someone who fits that blueprint!)
Scaling that back to a person who’s more, erm, interviewable, I suppose an equivalent might be someone who runs a fire brigade. Or an accident and emergency department at a hospital. Somewhere it’s life or death, like, 24/7/365.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
I’d love to be able to say something original here but I’ve still got a way to go before I’ve cracked this stuff myself. So instead I’ll share a mantra that I heard in a meditation recording once upon a time (turns out they pinched it from Einstein):
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
I always start off the day’s journaling by writing that down. It’s got me out of some dark patches over the past few months. And it’s a hardcore creative exercise too. I mean, how else are you supposed to make yourself enjoy doing laundry?
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