Interview with a… Plain Language Consultant and Content Strategist

frances gordonThis month we welcome Frances Gordon to our job Q&A series with professionals working in digital communications. Together with her business partner, Candice Burt, Frances runs an international content strategy and plain-language business, specialising in financial content including fintech. This is a fast-growing area and one we very much wanted to know more about.

Find out how to break into the field of plain language, what the job involves day to day, and Frances’s tips on how to skill up.

You can also read more job Q&As in our ongoing Interview with a… series.

What is your job title?

I am Director of Simplified, a content and plain-language consultancy and training firm based in the UK, Portugal and South Africa.

What does your job involve?

I manage consultants – and also consult – to financial services and fintech firms that want to simplify their communications. This involves everything from positioning statements and editorial guidelines to more technical aspects of content strategy. I also quality control the Simplified training course and train a few courses a year. It’s the best way of keeping in touch with our customers and more broadly with the financial services and fintech markets.

What background/skills do you need?

I have an academic background in Linguistics (theoretical and applied). I worked for a technology company for a few years, which gave me a good foundation in the more technical aspects of content. And having a lawyer business partner has inspired me to invest in developing my knowledge of laws and legal processes. (I’m often the only non-lawyer to be found at legal and compliance conferences and seminars.)

I also think my first-ever job was important: I developed adult education materials for entrepreneurial programmes running in the poorest parts of South Africa. This included loan schemes and gave me a very good foundation in communicating financial concepts in a user-centred way.

That said, I don’t think any of this background is essential. In my view, there are two essential qualities for this work:

  1. You enjoy getting to grips with complex concepts. You can’t do this job if you’re bored by terms and conditions or legal contracts. You need to have a real passion for understanding what other people might just skim over.
  2. You need to see the importance of clear financial and legal content – to companies, to people and to society as a whole.

What is the most challenging part of being a plain language consultant?

Having enough time to read and do everything I’d like to.

And what’s the best bit?

A belief that clarifying financial content is really important work that makes a difference in the world.

What advice would you give to someone trying to get into your area?

Get as much specialist financial and legal knowledge as you can as subject matter expertise is important in this field. And never be afraid to ask questions.

What is the rate of pay?

It’s hard to generalise. It depends on where you are, what field you’re in, your experience and so on.

Is there job mobility and security?

Yes – there are no signs of running out of financial or legal content that needs to be simplified! In fact, it seems to be increasing at a rapid rate. I think this applies wherever you are. That said, I believe that the innovations in using technology to better communicate financial information are increasingly to be found in emerging markets.

Any advice on training and development options?

There are two worldwide plain-language organisations. Clarity and Plain Language Association International, aka PLAIN. Both have resources listed, which will help you.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I’d like to double the number of Simplified training courses – and I also want to extend my involvement in fintech, especially initiatives promoting financial inclusion.

Do you have a motto/guiding principle when you work?

Question everything!

Frances Gordon’s 20-year career has focused on helping people to find, understand and use the information they need to make informed financial decisions. In 2005, she co-founded Simplified, a training and consultancy firm based in Johannesburg, London and Lisbon. Its services include communication and content strategy, content audits, plain-language rewrites of legal and other documents, and training. Frances has also held tenures at Siegel & Gale as Head of Content Strategy (EMEA) and Barclaycard as VP of Content Strategy. She can be found on Twitter @Simplified_UK and Linked In

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