Confessions of a Will Writer: The Beginning
By Graham Southorn
22nd Feb '19
I’m sitting in an office in Portishead, writing out a cheque for several thousand pounds and feeling simultaneously nervous and excited. Nervous because I’ve only spent this amount of money three times before: on a car, a house and my wedding! In hindsight, all three were good decisions. I’m rather hoping that the fourth – a franchise business – will be just as successful.
As nervous as I was, I was excited because I’d made a huge decision about my future. I felt a big weight lifting off my shoulders. I’d decided my future career, something I might even be doing when I retire. If I hadn’t taken this opportunity I know it would have led to stagnation. Still, I couldn’t help reflecting on my unlikely path to becoming the newest franchisee of Maplebrook Wills.
In the 15 months before I became a franchise holder, I’d worked as a freelance copywriter and book editor. Both of these were also new ventures. Although, I was able to use the skills and experience I’d gained in my previous career as a journalist and magazine editor. But as any freelancer needs work, I set out to drum up business by attending as many networking groups as possible.
Soon after I started networking in Bristol I met a will writer, Mike Pugh. He was having a new website designed. Mike had been a will writer for years, but the website would promote the company he was setting up: Maplebrook Wills. And since he wanted several blog posts a month, I was happy to oblige.
As a journalist, I was used to researching and writing about topics I didn’t know anything about, but I had two reservations. The subject matter didn’t seem particularly appealing, being fundamentally about death. And second, I was convinced I would run out of material for blog ideas after a couple of months.
To my surprise, every month I found new topics to write about, whether it was changes to legislation or celebrities dying without wills. There was a lot more to it than I’d thought: inheritance tax, probate and legal powers of attorney were just three of the areas. I realised that they were all part of the vast subject of estate planning. I found it more and more absorbing.
As time went on, I got to know Mike a lot better. He was fundamentally easy to work with because he stuck to his word. I greatly appreciated this clarity because I’d met plenty of others who did the exact opposite! I was also impressed with Mike’s vision for Maplebrook Wills and the systems and people he was putting in place. It was a company that was going places.
It struck me that will writing, as a profession, had a solid future. There are always people dying (it’s a sad fact) and 60% of them don’t currently have a will. And because it’s a complex subject and most people don’t like to think about death, a will writer could provide an important, respected service.
A new chapter
Will writing is very different to the kind of writing I’ve done before. There’s certainly no scope for creativity when you’re writing a legal document! But as a trained journalist, I know how to ask questions and listen carefully to the answers, which I believe will be a useful skill in client meetings. I’m aware that there’s a sale process but hopefully it’ll be an easy sell – a will is, after all, a product that people want and need.
Finding clients will be a challenge, but it was just as much of a challenge when I was a freelance copywriter, if not more so. The difference is that the franchise comes with tried-and-tested ways of generating new business, as long as I stick to the methodology. Having said that, as a will writer you don’t get the benefit of repeat customers!
I’m also looking forward to getting out and meeting people again, after months of being mostly alone with my computer. In the past I was a magazine editor – you’d recognise a couple of publications I worked on in WH Smith – and I greatly miss the day-to-day office interaction. I’m looking forward to feeling part of the wider Maplebrook Wills team incorporating the staff at HQ and my fellow franchisees.
When I first learned that Mike was offering franchises for sale, I made a (very) tentative enquiry. When he said that not only would I be welcome to buy a franchise but that he thought I’d be good at it, I was sold. His confidence means a lot because I know that Mike is a man of his word. Now I’m looking forward to proving him right.