Copywriting–what’s it all about?
Copy’ is marketing-speak for ‘words’. Copywriting is one of those catch-all phrases. It simply means writing words for other people–for a fee. Clients are businesses that want to produce things like brochures and promotional material. They get a designer to create the layout and they often ask a freelance copywriter to craft the words.
Some copywriters specialize in advertising, slogans, jingles, taglines and so on. Other writers specialize in writing ‘content’ -the stuff that brochures, press releases, white papers, newsletters and case studies are made of. And some offer copywriting services for websites, including Search Engine Optimization (making sure the site ranks well with search engines like Yahoo and Google, as well as attracting mere humans).
Editing is a service offered by some copywriters. That’s where they take a client’s copy and ‘breathe’ on it. Bring it to life. Perhaps restructure the copy. They will certainly check out punctuation. And if they are any good, they will adapt the ‘tone of voice’ to that of the client’s audience.
How to become a copywriter?
There are already so many books, so many courses about how to write. The truth is that’s the real problem. The fact that you’re you’ve chosen to take this career path means that you’re pretty confident already that you’ve got the ability. There’s room for improvement.
But your genuine concern is not that you want to be a copywriter. But how do you begin? And the difficulty, of course, is that you don’t have a track record, you don’t have a portfolio, you probably don’t have any clients or even prospective clients. And even if you did, you might lack the confidence to talk to them as a professional without knowing the jargon.
Where to start your copywriting career?
If you’re interested in starting a copywriting career, here are a few tips to get started.
1. Be creative – Copywriting is all about creating interesting, compelling content that will capture the reader’s attention. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different techniques and formats to see what works best for your audience.
2. Know your market – Before you can write effective copy, you need to know your target audience. What interests them? What problems do they face? Once you have a good understanding of who your audience is, it’ll be easier to write content that resonates with them.
3. Master the art of storytelling – It’s not enough to just produce great content; you also need to tell stories in a way that hooks the reader and pulls them into your article or website.
You want to begin your copywriting career. And you’re looking for a way to get started. So, what do you do? You’ll eventually be able to answer: how to?
- Write a press release.
- Write a case study.
- Write a white paper.
- And so on.
But the real functional, is to teach you how to become a copywriter, earning a living few months from now. So how does it work?
So, I’d ask you please don’t try to devour the following content in a weekend… you could, it’s physically possible to read it all and absorb it. But, take your time and start writing a little every day. And make sure before moving on to the next topic, you’ve mastered the one you’ve been currently learning.
Why would anyone pay me to write their copy?
There’s a story, possibly true, that a magazine once contacted Picasso asking for the secrets of his success. He wrote back a brief note containing the alphabet with the words: “It’s all in there somewhere.” That illustrates the point. Writing, however much you may enjoy it, takes time. Your clients aren’t really buying just your expertise. They are buying that most valuable commodity, time.
What is it like to be a freelance copywriter?
If you like writing, it’s wonderful. It’s nothing like ‘Creative’ writing –novels, poetry and so on –but each assignment brings its own challenge and you do get published! It’s incredibly varied. You have to be ready to write in any number of different styles. And you will often have challenging deadlines –most clients want copy yesterday. There are times when it is boring, but then another project comes along. Unlike a copywriter employed by an agency, if you don’t like the look of a project, you can always say ‘no’. You’re the boss!
What do you need to write? Fast track -everything you’ll need on day one
There are two types of people –those who want to have their own freelance business and those who want to run their own freelance business. It’s the second type who make money. The first type spend all their energy (and money) worrying about logos, business cards, stationery, equipment, support services such as live telephone handling, office and so on.
So, what is the first topic all about? It’s all about Fast Track, it’s all about getting off the ground. Quickly. We’ll start off by looking at the equipment you’re going to need.
Essentially, all you need is a PC, a telephone line and an internet connection, which you already got. But I’m going to introduce you to some low-cost equipment that will boost your productivity and your confidence. We’re going to look at how to develop, how to build a portfolio of work quickly.
And I don’t mean a spurious portfolio, there is nothing more soul destroying than writing about a product or a service that doesn’t even exist. Maybe not fee paying. But that’s the price you pay to get a quick portfolio and to and to gain that experience.
One thing that I know you will enjoy, because few things are satisfying, is seeing your own name in print for the first time.
Within 15 days from now, you can have your first article published and I can almost guarantee that.
We’re going to look at pricing.
How do you estimate your work?
How do you arrive at a sensible price that’s going to satisfy the client and also be profitable to you?
Build a portfolio -fast
Before commissioning a copywriter, prospective clients want reassurance. They may want to see a portfolio. They want testimonials. They want proof of your ability to deliver. See the dilemma? You can’t build up a portfolio without clients and you can’t win clients without a portfolio.
Step one, do it for free, but not for fun
My suggestion is to invest in a portfolio. All it costs is your time. Offer your services free of charge to local organizations, charities, new local start-ups. No risk for them and the only “cost” they face is an agreement to provide you with a glowing testimonial. The benefits are three-fold. First, you develop your showcase. Secondly, you learn if you really are persistent enough, and thirdly, you will find out if you do have useful wordsmith skills for the real world.
Step two, online articles–another quick route to a published portfolio
There are plenty of online portals where you can publish original articles. In the few coming topics, I show you how you can easily get your first piece published on an article portal within a week. They are free and, not only do they very quickly build a portfolio of published material, they also give valuable links to your website. Yes, you really do need your own copywriter website.
Step three -service auction sites; a fee-earning option for hungry copywriters
There are plenty of websites that auction work–including design and copywriting to freelancers. Freelancers then bid for the work and, inevitably as it’s a reverse auction (lowest bidder usually wins the work), it tends to be poorly paid.
For that reason, experienced copywriters would die first, but auction sites can be a perfect way for beginners to cut their teeth, earn a bit of money and (most importantly) build up a portfolio of real published paid for work. Some of the projects are ongoing. Right now, for example, a number of people are looking for copywriters to work 20 hours a week for six months. And, just like Amazon, the site gives star ratings to companies seeking writers, so you can check them out for prompt payment, etc.
· A PC or Mac–if you use a laptop, invest ($15) on a traditional keyboard (you will type faster and with less fatigue). Also, invest in a separate, large display (you are going to spend a lot of time looking at words).
· Broadband connection.
· A good, clear landline phone.
· A website–I will show you how you can build one yourself for free (with no web experience.
· Voicemail or an answerphone.
· A pdf reader and Microsoft Word–clients will often send you examples of previous brochures, articles etc in pdf format or Microsoft Word, latest version. The overwhelming majority of your clients will use Word and may often send you raw material in the latest version. Word also has all the facilities a copywriter needs–such as word count, character count, change-tracking, readability measurement, spell check for UK, US and other versions of English, plus a reasonable Thesaurus. I will explain how these are used later.
Tip: you can download Adobe pdf reader free from http://www.adobe.com/downloads/
· A hands-free telephone headset. They can be invaluable for doing amendments in real-time should the client phone you with changes. NB make sure the headset is designed for connection to your phone, NOT to your computer. Panasonic does one for less than £15 ($20). Do check that whichever headset you choose; it is compatible with your phone handset (there’s more than one type of connector).
- · An online telephone recording device for interviews.
- · Transcription software (this allows you to type with both hands while listening to your interviews, stopping, slowing, fast forwarding etc, all from the keyboard without having to use the mouse.
Tip: To capture telephone conversations, I use an Olympus TP-8 telephone pickup. Because it doesn’t physically plug into your phone, it works for mobiles (cellphones) as well as landlines. It is sold on Amazon for around $20). It looks very flimsy but I use mine daily and it is great!
The problem with working from home is that it can be difficult to step out of the private into the working mindset. Yes, you can work from your dining room table using a laptop, but it is so easy to get distracted. I am lucky enough to be able to make one of the rooms in my home into a permanent office. It looks and feels like an office, complete with filing cabinet, whiteboard for brainstorming and so on. When I step from the bedroom to my office (yes, that’s how far I have to commute each day), psychologically, it is like going to work. And the converse is true when I step back.
If at all possible, try to do the same. Your office needn’t be much bigger than a large cupboard, it may be your garden shed or conservatory, but do try to find some way of creating a psychological wall between home-life and work-life. Twin displays on your PC–this makes it so much easier to cope when more than one document is open. It makes copying and pasting from one document to another a breeze. An extra screen and the necessary card will cost less than $200.
We look at how to protect your work, you know, copywriting it, and so on. After that, we’re going to see about building your own copywriting website.
And you will not need any previous experience that’s technical.
Perhaps, as important, it’s not even costly. In fact, it’s free, no software to buy, you don’t even have to pay to host the website.
The next topic is very much on how to write white papers. You’ll know what white papers are soon after. But if your background is a technical or required specialist knowledge, maybe you were an accountant and engineer worked in the computer industry, then White Papers are a wonderful entrée into copywriting.
They’re fascinating to write a good meaty project, and then also very profitable, that typically would charge a lot for it.
For one paper, we’re going to look at writing sales copy, which is where probably most of you will begin. And you’ll find that particularly rewarding. When you gain a bit more confidence, you can become an expert. When you’re not an expert, you will come to realize that the client is the expert, you simply do the writing, but I will show you how you can develop a relationship such that your lack of knowledge doesn’t in any way denture credibility.
We’ll look at writing case studies, we’ll look at writing press releases. If your background is in journalism or in any way related, then that’s an obvious entrée for you.
Now we’re going to look at writing for websites. The demand is tremendous. If you think about the speed with which the internet is growing, the demand for writing webpages is enormous. And it is very profitable.
We really start talking about money now. And I must confess, money is fun, too. In these next topics, we go back to basics. We got to start off, in fact, by learning how to keep it simple. That’s a big part of a copywriter’s life.
The client gives you the information that you have to boil down to the essentials.
Make it simple. I’ll give you a technique for overcoming writer’s block this problem of blank page syndrome. Looking at a blank screen and thinking how on earth can I begin, there isn’t a simple technique. We’re going to look at distinct tones of voice or writing styles and how they apply to different market sectors.
Publish your first article ten days from now -guaranteed
Few things can compare with seeing your own work published for the first time. It’s more than just a great feeling, it’s a confidence booster.
Above, I said that one way to build your portfolio is to publish articles using an online portal. That’s what we are going to talk about now.
The very best site is EzineArticles www.ezinearticles.com. The process is simple and you can write about almost anything that’s legal. Last time I looked, recent articles included “Wet or dry dog food?”, “Is it time to replace your kitchen cabinets?”, “Yoga and Pilates build that firm foundation you are seeking–why not start now?”
Start by reading articles already published on their site to get a feel for writing styles and subjects. Do read their editorial guidelines and then sign up–free of charge. Your articles are vetted by real humans (it takes them just a few days) and you will then become a published author! What’s more, your articles will be syndicated around the world for others to publish, provided they acknowledge your authorship, complete with a link to your site. It’s magic. Better still, it’s free magic.
Basic membership allows you to submit upto10 articles for publication. If EzineArticles decides that they like your work, you will be offered a platinum membership which permits an unlimited number of articles to be considered. All free of charge. Go for it! www.ezinearticles.com
Pick the most profitable sector to suit your skills
There’s more than one type of copywriting –advertising copy, sales/marketing copy, informative copy, expert copy, PR copy, media copy and website copy. Your skills will not easily match all of them. I never write jingles, advertising copy and hardly ever write sales letters. I know my strengths and play exclusively to things I can do well. The following paragraphs will help you find the areas where you should begin and areas that you may want to grow into later.
The enormous opportunities, easy entry
Sales and marketing copy–this is a big, big opportunity, writing brochures, product flyers, direct mail flyers, trade exhibition material and so on. Although companies should know their own products or services inside out, they rarely have the time or inclination to write their own copy. Ask any printing company –brochure printing is almost always held up waiting, not for the design, but for the copy.
Website copy–along with Sales & Marketing copywriting, this is a massive, massive opportunity. You will need to bone up on Search Engine Optimization, but I will explain the basics later when describing how to optimize your own website.
Mid opportunities, some pre-knowledge required
Informative copy–this also tends to revolve around products and services but rather than trying to persuade, it is much more factual. It can be pretty long-winded but, as you will be charging by the word, that’s good news for you!
Expert copy–it’s pretty obvious what this is all about and it does offer opportunities for anyone with a technical background –engineers, accountants, computer people and so on–to specialize. You don’t have an expertise? Don’t worry, later in this book I will show how non-specialists can become expert writers, even without previous knowledge! After all, I write ‘expert’ copy on everything from computers to financial services, from pharmaceuticals to chemicals and engineering. Expert copy can command fees of thousands of pounds per project. Most other work is just hundreds of pounds.
PR copy-This is includes press releases (you won’t often be asked to write these as most companies use a dedicated PR company that writes and distributes releases), articles and case studies.
The ones to ignore -unless you have already been around the block
Advertising copy–this is the realm of TV’s Mad Men. As a freelancer, you almost certainly won’t get a whiff of this business, for very good reasons. Writing advertising copy is a very rarefied art, and it really does need the writer to be part of a creative team–bouncing ideas around and working closely with the client. Forget it.
Media copy–writing for magazines, corporate video, radio, etc. Unless you have a journalistic background, you should initially avoid this area.
Tip: Don’t try to be all things to all men. write to your strengths, your previous experience. As your skills and expertise develop, you will then be able to extend the scope of your offerings. But do recognize those areas where you are not strong and avoid them, otherwise your clients will be dissatisfied and you will be frustrated. There is plenty of work out there for you to be selective.
Prepare a copywriting brief like a pro
Large clients will have already prepared a brief before contacting you, but most clients have only a vague idea of what they really want. It’s in both your interest, as well as theirs, to write down exactly what they expect –how else could you arrive at a cost? How else will you and they assess that the finished article fits the bill?
The following series of questions really provide clarity (using both the ‘in’ jargon as well as plain English explanations/samples) and demonstrate to the client that you are a professional. Always remember to have viewed their website before embarking on the brief.
Template questions to ask your prospective client
- What is the nature of your business? (This could be anything from management consultancy to house builder, from retailer to electronics manufacturer).
- Who is your target audience? For example…
- Internal staff use (such as a company induction booklet).
- Affluent over 55s, beginning to plan their retirement.
- Female, 16–19-year-olds seeking fashionable, budget clothing advice.
- Local authority service provider, middle management.
- Large company computer manager/IT director who is purchase decision maker.
- Building materials specifiers (eg architects, surveyors, lead building contractors).
- ·What will the finished article be? For example…
- Product brochure.
- Company brochure.
- Press release.
- Mail campaign.
- Corporate video script.
- What is its objective? For example…
- Generating new sales leads.
- Positioning the company as a top-of-the market/midrange supplier.
- Company awareness within the marketplace.
- Detailed product descriptions for product specifiers.
- A trading website that sells directly to the consumer.
- Who are your main competitors? You can then visit their competitors’ websites to get a better feel for what may be expected in their sector.
- Is it a re-write or an original piece? Clients have often already developed what they want, but recognize that it needs to be ‘breathed on’ by a pro. Others expect you to take the lead. Some may expect you to do your own research. All this will dictate the price you propose.
- What ‘tone of voice’ (written style) should you adopt? For example…
- Clear, corporate style for educated senior management.
- Conversational, warm/friendly.
- Snappy straight-to-the-point sales pitch.
- What is the anticipated word count? Sometimes clients will know in advance the number of words required (typically a magazine article or an updating of an existing brochure).
How much should you charge?
How much does a copywriter earn? That’s a bit like asking ‘What’s the cost of a red car?’ Top advertising copywriters working for leading agencies earn huge amounts–but that’s another world. Freelance copywriters, people like you and me, writing from home, work on a basis of between $450 and, with more experience, $750 a day.
Not a get rich or die trying scheme, but It’ll pay the bills.
Most copywriters will quote either a daily rate or an hourly rate. I always quote a fixed rate for the job. The benefits for the client and for you the copywriter are obvious:
- Clients like predictability. If you needed to replace the gearbox in your car, would you really be happy if the garage quoted an hourly rate? No, you want a fixed price you can depend on. Most clients are even willing to pay a little more for the certainty of knowing exactly what the bill will be later on.
- You are selling your expertise, not your time. They should see you as a professional, a valuable asset for them. As you become more experienced, you will get faster and faster at writing. Adopting a ‘time’ basis for charging would simply reduce the amount you earn per project.
- As a beginner you will probably have to sell at low cost. To arrive at your fixed fee, decide the hourly rate you can live with and guestimate the time each project will take. Keep good records of each project –the original brief, your original estimate and the actual number of hours taken. You will quickly learn how productive you are with different types of projects. Over time you will also get faster and will have built a stronger portfolio, so in those early months keep testing your fee structure and keep nudging it upwards until you reach your market value.
As a rough guide, in the UK clients expect to pay around £150 for a press release and £200 -£250 for a case study.
Tip: Calculate the amount you will charge for a project based on the time it will take to complete. I try to estimate the number of words required (often the client will already know that, or you can base it on other examples of the brochures etc).
Your client contract -a winning sales technique
Copywriters almost always have contracts that are a variation on a theme. Typically, they include:
- Project summary.
- What do we both agree to do?
- Payment method and terms.
- Changes in project.
- Copyright ownership.
- The writer’s liability.
- Promotional use.
All this legalese. The client simply wants a few thousand words and they are expected to enter into a legal contract that’s as complex as a pre-nup!
My own ‘contract’
My contract is a real sales winner -I don’t have a contract! I make a big thing of explaining that I don’t have a contract. If any client should be less than delighted, I won’t charge them a penny. And remember, I always offer a fixed price per project, rather than the typical ‘blank cheque’ or so much per hour/day. Clients are reassured -and the risk to me? None. If any client were less than delighted, I wouldn’t want to charge them. I would have failed them. And all this rubbishy ‘after two revisions the charge will be $x’. If it needs more than two revisions, that’s my own fault! Believe me, I have used this approach for years and I have never regretted it. Neither have my clients. Now that’s a real sales winner.
Yes, there are two.
· Start-up businesses are often living on dreams and earning cobwebs so they are high risk (not to mention the fact that they often have unrealistic expectations). Normally I pass start-ups to other copywriters but, as a beginner, you won’t have that luxury. I suggest that with start-ups you ask for one third up-front, one third on completion and one third within 30 days.
· The other exception is large projects. You need to decide what would be a major hit for you and, beyond that price, ask for stage payments. I do this for anything costing more than $4,000.
How to copyright your copywriting
Copyright is the term used to describe the legal protection of the written word (as well as images, music and so on). The concept began as an attempt to prevent the unfair copying of books in the days of Charles II. Since then, the concept has extended from books to just about all forms of copy, whether published as hard copy or electronically. In one form or another, copyright law now exists in just about every country and with a high degree of consistency.
The good news is that as a copywriter, you won’t often be concerned with copyright–everything you write will belong to the client, so they have the copyright. You need to understand the concept, though. Clients, especially start-ups, may occasionally ask you about copyright and you will certainly want to protect your own website. So how does it work?
Contrary to popular belief, there is no public body responsible for enforcing copyright. If anyone does infringe your copyright, it is your responsibility to pursue them through the courts and to prove that the work was originally written by you. Putting a copyright symbol ©, or a statement of copyright ownership against your published work, is nothing more than a marker in the sand. A useful warning to others.
That’s right. All you have to do is add © followed by your name and the date to the bottom of your website, article or whatever–but it’s no more than a challenge to anyone tempted to copy it.
Clearly, unless your work is a novel, or of significant value, it never pays to pursue anyone who contravenes your copyright. In practice, simply using the symbol is sufficient to prevent copying.
Should you really want to record the ownership and date of original publication for use in court, you can lodge your work and details with one of a number of agencies. In the US go to http://www.copyright.gov/and in the UK go to http://www.copyrightservice.co.uk/reg/. Remember, they will not support you in any dispute beyond confirming that fact that you lodged a copy of your work with them on a certain date.
How to cut the admin hassle
The downside of running any business is the admin involved. Fortunately, as a freelance copywriter, you won’t have to keep inventory records, employ staff, or even worry too much about health and safety regulations.
You should take out Professional Indemnity insurance. However confident you are about the quality of your work; you may be vulnerable to a claim of negligence if your services fail to meet a client’s expectations and cause financial loss. A search of the web will help you find specialist brokers who deal with PI insurance in your country.
Currently, in the UK, you don’t have to register for VAT unless your last year’s invoicing came to more than £73,000. When starting out, your turnover will be less than that. This is no bad thing. As a beginner, you will probably deal with small companies who are not themselves registered. Other bodies, too, such as educational establishments, are not registered.
Because they cannot reclaim VAT, you will represent a positive advantage over freelancers like me who have to add an extra 20% vat.
Not being registered means you cannot reclaim VAT on any business purchases you make. No problem; as a freelance copywriter, you don’t have to buy stock or raw materials, nor do you pay for many services, so you are not missing much.
Once you are making more than £73,000, HM Revenue and Customs offer a ‘simplified’ VAT regime (not available to large companies) which is well worth adopting–it eliminates all the hassle. For once, the government has got it right in cutting red tape.
When I set up, I didn’t bother. I still just use Word to create invoices–there is simply not the volume to justify spending money on, and having the hassle of running, software. I use a bookkeeper to do my annual accounts and tax, which is very cost effective. I can earn more money in the time saved than it costs me to pay for the service.
It’s a delightfully simple business to run.
Tip: Once your turnover is more than £73,000 a year, and you have to pay VAT, opt for the ‘simplified VAT regime’.
What have we learned so far?
Hey, we’ve come a long way. By now you should have the basic equipment in place, have decided which types of projects you are currently most suited to, have tried out recording telephone conversations and you are using software to help you transcribe them.
Hopefully, you have started offering your services free to local companies, organizations, charities and that way you are building up a portfolio plus testimonials (if not, why not!). You will have published your first articles on Ezine and are probably earning a little by writing for bidding and revenue sharing websites.
And you have a ready-made template for creating a brief and you know how to work out how much to charge.
You have probably had lots of refusals by now, but keep at it. You have now completed the hard parts. Congratulations.
How to write Sales Copy
As a copywriter, you will be asked to supply two types of copy–descriptive copy and sales copy. In fact, most of what you produce, unless you specialize in technical writing, will have an element of sales to it. Please don’t fall into the trap of believing that selling is about shouting louder than the next man or beating the reader into submission. The aim of sales copy is to persuade. To persuade the reader to buy your client’s products; to buy their services; to buy into a relationship with your client.
Think like a customer
There are three perspectives, three ways to describe any product or service. First, the way your client sees it (and that’s how he will brief you). Secondly, a dispassionate, factual way to see it. Thirdly, the end customer’s perspective (the way you need to write it).
Let’s take an extreme example. Imagine a company that uses sheep fat, caustic soda and chemical dyes to produce part of their product range. There’s no way you would incorporate that perspective into any marketing literature. They make lipstick and a dispassionate perspective might come up with a description that includes “a metallic tube, a perfumed red waxy content that’s first smeared over a woman’s lips, then over her lover’s lips and collar”. Not much mileage there. The only successful sales perspective is that of the customer.
Women don’t buy sheep fat dyed red, in tubes. They don’t even buy lipstick. They buy sex appeal. We don’t buy a drill bit because we lust after drill bits–we buy them because we want to make a hole. People don’t buy products–they buy what the product does for them. They buy benefits.
The nuts and bolts–sorting features from the benefits
Experienced sales people invest a lot of time sorting out the benefits from the features associated with whatever they are selling. We need to do the same. More importantly, like them, we need to really understand the difference between features and benefits.
It sounds obvious, but it’s not. Let’s take an example. Your client asks you to write them a company description. They have told you that:
- They have offices on every continent.
- They have been in business for over twenty years.
- Their key staff are all qualified specialists in their field.
Are they benefits? No way. They are features. Features are the things that describe the product or service. Benefits are what the product delivers. ‘Offices in every continent’ is a feature. A benefit associated with that feature might be ‘local support, working in your own time zone, understanding local trading conditions’. A cooker that has ‘fan assisted heating’ (feature) means ‘faster, more even cooking’–the benefits.
Whether writing about your client, their products or services, you can recognize features because they usually begin with phrases like ‘It does…’, ‘It is….’’ It has….’. Features are factual and relatively easy to list; benefits are much more difficult. Just keep reminding yourself they are what the product/service means to the customer/consumer.
Tip: The ‘quick test’ is to use is the phrase ‘which means…’. “it comes in twelve different colors (feature), which means it will look great whatever your décor (benefit).” “It has optional four-wheel drive (feature), which means goodbye to winter blues (benefit).”
The psychology of needs vs Wants
If you have ever been on sales training courses, or are boning up on sales skills, you’ll know that a lot of time is devoted to… satisfying customer needs. Sales people have become obsessed with needs. The only problem is, if the customer needs something, but doesn’t particularly want it, they will certainly buy – but at the lowest cost to satisfy that need. Fine, if your client is the lowest cost provider, but hopeless if they can be undercut.
Conversely, if people really, really want something, cost becomes a secondary issue. Desire increases from ‘I need it but don’t lust after it’, through ‘I want it but don’t really need it’, right up to ‘I need it and I want it.’ I need to tell the time but I want a Rolex.
Which brings us back to thinking like a customer. Thinking like the people who would normally buy that product or service, and adopting the tone of voice they would use, talking the way they talk. What will the product say about them?
- Rolex, Hermes – I am a high achiever
- BMW, Armani–I am on my way to the top
- Apple, Swatch–I am an individual
- Co-Op Bank, Body Shop–I care for the environment
How to use emotion in your sales copy
An awful lot of the copywriting and marketing work is for businesses selling products and services to other businesses – often large corporations. The briefs are usually very focused. You know the sort of thing “Must have a corporate look-and-feel. Must have a corporate tone-of-voice.”
The problem is, so many people, including marketing professionals, believe that ‘corporate’ people are in some way different from Joe Public. Marketing professionals can forget that even top flight business people are just plain ordinary folk in a different role. “But I sell to businesses, not people”. No, you don’t – you sell to people who happen to work within a business. They have a sense of humor and they do react emotionally. And your copy should reflect that fact. This is particularly relevant when writing sales copy. Buying motives are fueled by emotions.
Rational motives include things like:
- · Improving profit.
- · Reducing costs.
- · Better efficiency.
- · Dependability
- · Easier, more cost-effective maintenance.
- · Utility.
- · Security.
- · Health and Safety.
Emotional motives include:
- · Pride.
- · Fear.
- · Comfort.
- · Not wishing to look foolish.
- · Envy.
- · Laziness,
- · Approval.
- · Being like others.
In making business decisions, prospects will be strongly influenced by emotional factors. Then they rationalize the decision. That’s why we need to address both types of motivators.
Even when you write heavyweight White Papers for clients (how about “Profit Optimization for Shipping Companies”, “Investor Relations Communications”, “Patient Reported Outcomes in Clinical Trials” for heavy?), the readers are still hoping to fulfill very basic, human needs. They suffer FEAR of not being up to date, or making a wrong business decision. They want to SCORE OFF COLLEAGUES by being that one step ahead. They want to SAVE THE HASSLE of doing research for themselves.
So, the message is clear. Ignore the emotions at your peril.
The so-what test
Once you have sorted your benefits from your features, you have identified your audience, addressed their wants, and you have written your masterpiece, there’s just one task left. Ask yourself – so what? If it doesn’t pass that test, time for a re-write.
Structure – time to meet AIDA
Aida is an acronym that stands for
It used to be a structure used by salespeople face-to-face. It really doesn’t work today in that environment–but it DOES work when writing sales copy.
You have only a few seconds to grab attention before people move on, so your opening headline has to stop people in their tracks.
Once they’ve read that opener, you again have just a few seconds to develop initial attention into real interest– “Hum–I must see what this is all about.”
This buys you the time need to arouse a DESIRE for whatever you are offering–enough to encourage ACTION – asking for it!
Shortly, in one of our ‘fireside chats’, you will have an opportunity to see AIDA in action.
An introduction to White Papers
For the jobbing copywriter, White Papers are wonderful ‘meaty’ projects that can yield good returns. If you are lucky enough to bring with you from your previous work an expertise (accountancy, financial services, information technology, pharmaceuticals, logistics, engineering etc.) then you should be able to move into the White Paper arena fairly quickly. If you don’t have such expertise, still read on, as this is something you could eventually grow into. The following paragraphs will explain how to write esoteric copy even without any previous knowledge of the subject!
What are White Papers?
Essentially, they are valuable, authoritative, management briefing documents on topical business issues. Your clients will be in the B2B arena (selling their products or services to other businesses). For a freelance copywriter, B2B clients can be much more profitable and less hassle than B2C clients (companies selling to consumers). White papers first took off commercially in the IT sector, but are now popular right across the B2B sectors.
Why do clients like them?
A recent Forbes magazine survey of top decision makers revealed that:
- · 63% use white papers or case studies to evaluate products and services
- · 78% pass white papers and case studies to colleagues.
- · 93% felt that high-quality vendor white papers positively influence a company’s image.
White papers are also an excellent means of lead generation for your client. The problem with traditional direct mail is that, even when a recipient likes what they read, inertia sets in – I’ll deal with that later. The true reason for not responding is the knowledge they will have to speak to a salesman.
Using an offer of a White Paper / Management Discussion Paper / Management Briefing / Survival Guide (same thing) has the following benefits as a lead generation technique:
- · It is not pushing a product or service – it is offering something of value. Information. Free of charge.
- · Offers of a Business Document stand a much higher chance of getting past the gatekeeper than a product/service sales mailing.
- · It is non-threatening. Instead of having to speak to a nasty salesman, the prospect is simply going to receive a valuable report (clients make it easy to respond, without human contact. Given the option, no-one uses the phone to request the paper–almost always email.
- · It meets emotional as well as rational needs – e.g. Fear (of making a wrong decision), Kudos (displaying their newfound knowledge to colleagues), Laziness (not having to research information for themselves.
- · Once written, it is incredibly low cost and can be used in campaigns over and over again (one client has been using what is essentially the same White Paper – a Survival Guide – for more than 10 years).
Remember, in the B2B environment, the objective is simply to get prospects to identify themselves, not overtly to sell products/services.
Once identified, then your client can call in the sales team. Clients also offer downloads of White Papers from their websites – but prospects have to register first!
What do White Papers look like?
There is no formal structure, no set length. I have written papers that are just four pages long, others that are forty pages long. Sometimes they begin with an ‘abstract’–a paragraph summarizing what the paper will cover. Whether you title it ‘abstract’ or ‘management summary’, this is a good principle.
You will often face a dilemma with clients who are publishing their first paper. They will want you to focus on their product, their solution, their company. This is a mistake–the paper then becomes little more than an extended sales brochure. A white paper should be a more subtle ‘sell’. It should simply describe the issues or problems the product will overcome, together with a strategy for solving those issues–not mentioning the product itself. By appearing to be unbiased, white papers become much more effective than any sales brochure. They add value. Readers of white papers want to be educated, not sold to.
When clients are really determined to feature their own product, I recommend that they do so as an appendix, keeping the main body of the document sales-free. It is your role to try to steer the client in the right direction.
Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs)
Because white papers go much deeper than sales literature, clients will often have to reveal commercially sensitive information. To protect themselves, they may ask you to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement–a legally binding document in which you agree not to disclose any anything you learn, except within the paper itself. This is fairly standard practice.
How to write ‘expert copy’ without being an expert
If, as freelance copywriters, we were to stick only to the things we know about, our opportunities would be sorely restricted–and over time, the challenge and the fun would be lost. Working from home, you will need the adrenaline of new challenges. Don’t worry. Once you have mastered the art of writing within your comfort zone, it really is possible to extend into new areas – often highly complex – in which you have no previous expertise. After all, your expertise is in writing. Your clients provide the content.
Getting VIPs to be interviewed
For journalists in the national press, or editors in the trade press, it’s not too difficult to get through to VIPs, opinion makers, big names, celebrities, authorities. But what about the new, unknown writer?
A true story in on, one of the young students pulled off an amazing coup. She managed to engineer an interview with a very high-profile cabinet minister who was playing a prominent role on the world stage at that time. When fellow students begged the secret of how she had pulled off such a feat, the answer was… “I just phoned him up and asked.” Lesson number one – if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Lowering the barrier
Whether it is a high-profile interview, or a customer case study, remember your subject is busy and could do without the hassle. They also do not want to risk being exposed in print. So, step straight in with the two reassurances they need:
“It will only take 15 minutes of your time – a simple phone call”
“Nothing will be published without your formal approval”
Record your interview
When interviewing face-to-face, experts often ramble and find it difficult getting to the point. Meanwhile, you have problems keeping up, taking notes. You are so busy writing that you could lose control of the conversation. That’s why, earlier I recommended telephone interviews, a low-cost device, plus a transcription software.
Over the phone, people are less likely to digress. And because you are recording rather than note taking, you don’t have to hold up their flow while you get things down. You also have more time (and a clearer mind) to be preparing your next question. Taping an interview makes it so much easier to listen. And if you really have a problem with a particular point, it’s so easy to say “Sorry, this is a bad line – could you possibly expand on that a little more slowly?”
Once you have transcribed your interview, any jargon can be looked up on the web! What’s more, by listening to a recording, it’s possible to pick up those areas where the expert is getting excited – the real meat – which is impossible when reviewing handwritten notes.
Have they presented it before?
When interviewing industry experts, it can be useful to ask if the subject has a PowerPoint presentation on the topic (usually they do). Once emailed to me, the subject is able to talk me through the topic, over the phone, while we both view on-screen.
How to control an interview?
The secret of telephone interviews is knowing how to ask questions, how to use questioning techniques. There are two types of question – Open and Closed questions.
Open Questions are questions that cannot be answered with a simple Yes or No. They are the most powerful tool in your kitbox.
- · They invite a descriptive, a much more detailed response. For example, using a closed question: “Did you have good weather on holidays?” might get you get you a simple “Yes.” That could mean anything from snow to sun to wind, depending on their choice of holiday. The Open-question ”What sort of weather did you have on holiday?” might have elicited the response ”Fantastic! We had the best snow ever for skiing.” Now you have really learned something.
- · They will reveal opinions and feelings.
- · They get people to evaluate their views/feelings/opinions
- · They encourage conversation (helping us achieve a good listen/talk ratio). Listen to professional TV interviewers and they will make considerable use of Open Questions early on in the interview.
- · They gain time – time to think.
Closed Questions are those that prompt a Yes or No answer. Not much detail there, but they do have their place. They put people on the spot.
- · For testing understanding or seeking agreement (asking yes/no questions) “So, you are happy to be quoted on that?”
- · For getting them into a positive frame of mind (asking successive questions with an obvious Yes answer).
As a matter of courtesy, always conclude with a very real expression of thanks – and follow up with a ‘thank you’ email, together with confirmation that nothing will be published without sign-off. Give an indication of when the first draft will be available.
I usually raise the possibility of a photograph of the subject for use with the interview – and almost always gain agreement.
Tip: The danger for beginners is working to an over-structured list of questions, resulting in a sort of verbal ‘tunnel vision’. A neat way of breaking out is to lead with some very global questions, such as “If you were given a magic wand, what would be the things you would like most to see changed?”, “What is the biggest single strength you see in XYZ? And the biggest single weakness?”
TIP: How, under the pressure of an interview, can you automatically ask Open Questions? Easy – they usually begin with Why? When, and How? “Why did you change your supplier?”, “How did your Widget change your life?”
Mind Mapping for copywriters
I have now given up interviewing experts face-to-face. I love the phone and it gives me the whole world as a marketplace. Some copywriters, however, enjoy getting out and meeting people. They thrive on social interaction. Given that in interviews, most people find a tape recorder intrusive, surely there must be a better way of taking notes?
Very early in my career as a copywriter, I discovered the power of Mind Mapping. I would use the techniques when I needed to take notes during an interview and I used it to develop the structure of complex articles, White Papers, scripts and presentations.
Mind Mapping is a way of transferring ideas from the brain onto paper very quickly and easily, using simple linkage diagrams. It began life as an improved way of taking notes during lectures. Rather than the traditional approach of capturing sentences in the sequence they were spoken, Mind Maps simply capture keywords (sometimes pencil sketched images) with lines drawn to show the logical connections between key points. The technique was developed by Tony Buzan in 1970 as “a system for capturing ideas and insights horizontally on a sheet of paper. It can be used in nearly every activity where thought, planning, recall or creativity are involved” (Buzan, 1989).
Mind mapping lets you brainstorm, generate, and connect ideas. More importantly, you can see new connections between ideas and start to make new connections.
How to write a Case Study
Wikipedia defines a case study as “an intensive analysis of an individual unit (e.g., a person, group, or event) stressing developmental factors in relation to context. The case study is common in social sciences and life sciences”
Enough! For copywriters, a case study means a short piece of writing that describes how a company’s product or service has helped one of their clients. They are simply success stories written as mini articles. And there is a huge demand for them. After all, they add third party credibility; they gain empathy and they address specific audiences. They work so well because they tell a story!
The structure: problem–solution–benefit
With slight variation, the structure is simple:
· A strong headline, usually stating a benefit achieved, such as “Company X drives down costs and captures market share with Zizzo”.
· A brief couple of lines summarizing the whole case study.
· A description of the challenges Company X had been experiencing before they adopted Zizzo. The business reasons they had for change and their criteria for selecting the right product/service to solve their problems.
· The benefits they now enjoy. Possibly a description of the excellent relationship they have with the people at Zizzo.
· Wherever possible throughout the case study, use direct quotes from senior people within Company X.
Now for the ‘how to’….
First, make sure your client has gained approval to spotlight their customer and has explained that you will be conducting a preliminary telephone interview. Make your client aware that they will increase their chances of approval significantly if they stress two things.
First, the case study will take up very little of their customer’ time–just 15 minutes on the phone with you, that’s all.
Secondly, nothing will be published without their customer’s formal sign-off. Hassle and potential exposure are the two greatest concerns the end customer may have. Wherever possible, don’t let your client write a rough draft first. It will take them forever and it will simply end up inhibiting you. Instead, interview your client by phone (recorded, for later transcription) along these lines:
· Give me a brief description of the customer (in fact, you will already have researched this using the internet).
· Are there any underlying issues in the client’s business environment that make this case study topical?
· How did the client cope before Zizzo?
· What were their business reasons for deciding to look for a new product/service?
· What were their decision criteria?
· Did they look at more than one potential supplier? Did they speak to other users of Zizzo? What clinched the decision in Zizzo’s favor?
· What benefits did they expect to achieve from a Zizzo-like product?
· Since adopting Zizzo, how have they achieved their objectives (cutting costs, eliminating hassle, improving quality etc).
· Can we get the customer to put hard metrics to the benefits (e.g. fifteen percent reduction in work in progress, $5,000 reduction in raw material wastage, employee satisfaction improvement of eight percent)?
· Are there any specific messages you would like to come out of this case study? Are there any particular words you would like me to put into your customer’s mouth.
Once you have developed the brief, interviewing the end customer follows exactly the same sort of questioning format. Do, however, listen. Often in interviews, the customer has benefits/comments that had never been anticipated by your client–allow yourself to follow these new lines of enquiry.
Take every opportunity to lead the customer into making strong statements that can be used as direct quotes.
Always ask the customer if they will provide a photograph. Ask in such a way that it is clear that’s what everyone does–it’s no big deal.
Tip: When embarking on a case study, use the web to look up existing case studies published by your client.
Tip: Trade magazines often publish ‘advertorial’, a paid-for article written in an editorial style with the intention of promoting the sponsor company. You will never be contacted directly by a trade magazine, but clients will often use a freelancer to write their advertorial. Suggest a case study to your client as it can be a very powerful sales aid that, after publication, they can load to their website and re-print for use at exhibitions and so on.
How to write a press release
Horses for courses
Earlier, I explained that most large corporations already have strong relationships with professional PR companies who write and, importantly, distribute press releases. They will have relationships with national newspapers and journals and their editorial team. That type of journal is simply not interested in trade case studies. They will never publish “XYZ company implements new system from Zizzo”. It’s not news, it’s not a story, it’s not interesting. They will also expect the release to follow a fairly standard format, which will probably be no more than 500 words long.
Smaller clients though may do their own press release distribution to, say, a well-known group of highly specialized trade journals or local press. Imagine an IT company, for example, that specializes exclusively in software solutions for builder’s merchants. The number of trade magazines addressing the builders merchant sector can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Such clients can be a good source of repeat income for freelancers.
Press releases for most of your clients will simply be press ads delivered as editorial. In fact, many trade mags accept what is known as ‘advertorial’ – articles paid for, and written by, the advertizer masquerading as something written by the journal’s own staff. You will often be called on to write advertorial – by your client, not by the journal direct.
Unlike national newspapers and consumer magazines:
- · Trade journals have very few staffs. Much of the copy is written by the editor – they have few journalists. For them, filling empty pages every week/month can be a real challenge, so they often welcome the opportunity of simply copying/pasting material sent to them. Their readers are interested in case studies. And want to know what their competitors and others in their sector are doing.
- · They tend to be technical because their audience consists of trade practitioners. They don’t shy away from jargon because their readers are comfortable with it. Remember, you don’t need to be an expert–your client gives you all the insight you need.
Use Word. Don’t send a pdf. Magazines, particularly hard-pressed trade magazines, welcome the opportunity to ‘copy and paste’. PDFs slow down the editing process.
Do what the editor will do. Ask yourself, ‘Why would anyone care about this?’ Is it news? Is there a story?
Report in the “third person”. Even though the release will be distributed to journals by Zizzo company, the copy must be written as by someone independent. A journalist. So, “Zizzo’s new range of kitchen units is designed especially with singletons in mind.” Rather than “Our new range of….” Exactly the opposite of what I have been suggesting for most copy.
Length. Most people will tell you that press releases are most effective when they are under 500 words. That’s true for national press and mainstream mags. When preparing releases for pure trade press, it’s worth checking back copies for the amount of space the journal typically assigns to similar ‘news’ items.
Headline. Be creative and keep it to one sentence. Do not use capital letters (except in America, where it’s OK to capitalize the first letter of all words in a headline). Do not use exclamation marks!!! No editor would read any further than an exclamation mark.
Tone of voice. Read back copies of the trade journals you are addressing and write in keeping with their own editorial style. Never suggest partiality on the part of the magazine.
Structure of a press release
Press releases have a very similar structure. They are headed up with ‘Press release’ and a date for release (often simply ‘for immediate release’)
Start with a strong headline that captures the attention of readers. Next, an opening paragraph that reinforces the headline. It should summarize the release such that, if nothing else is read, it tells your entire message.
In the main body of the release, which will be more than one paragraph, includes any supporting statistics plus speech quotes from key staff, customers or experts.
The final paragraph should restate and summarize the key points of your release.
At the end of the release, end with the three characters ###
After the close, give contact details and a link to any further information, including photographs, downloadable from your client’s website. Always identify everyone in photographs by position.
This is often followed by a heading ‘’Information for editors’, with a paragraph describing your client’s company.
How to get press coverage (as opposed to simply writing a release)
The secret is to think like an editor. He/she wants news. They want a story. Or they want informed comment. The last thing they want is sales puff. That’s why many never even bother to read trade press releases – too many are thinly disguised sales copy. All you have to do is be different. Always ask yourself “If I were the editor, would I be thrilled to put this in my publication?”
Look hard enough and you can always find (or manufacture) a story. Then do all the groundwork, making life easier for busy editors.
A couple of years ago, a very small company wanted to tell the world they had moved offices. Not the most promising start but, when we dug deeper we manufactured a story. They specialized in security and it was a new building (possibly the most secure in the city?). They were able to demonstrate a security device that within seconds could fill a room with ‘smoke’ – disabling an intruder (a potential visual element).
A quick phone call to the Police provided all the statistics we needed on increased break-ins (saving the editor or journalist having to do the research). Now we had a story. It gained huge features in the press and a four-minute slot on Central TV (plus all the inevitable spill-over into cable TV).
Writing for the web – the fastest growing market
Apart from scripts for corporate videos or audio, a copywriter’s work used always go to print. The internet changed all that, creating fantastic opportunities for online copy. But beware; digital content is not the same as print copy. People read from the screen very differently. They are impatient. They don’t read word-by-word, they scan.
Because people scan, it’s important to forget traditional printed paragraphs. For the web, cut your copy into much smaller chunks. This will also help on-screen readability – it takes people 25% longer to read off-screen than from print.
Go easy on bold and italics and don’t underline
Again, for readability, restrain yourself when it comes to bold or italicized text within a sentence. Never underline. That’s a cardinal rule even with printed copy (when did you last see underlining in a newspaper?). It’s particularly important with digital copy, because underlining usually denotes a hyperlink. NEVER USE CAPITALS IN COPY – IT’S LIKE SHOUTING.
Use sub heads to improve scanability. Don’t be cute; your subheads aren’t there to entertain. They should act as very clear pointers to content
Forget what I said earlier about numerals
When writing for print, received wisdom suggests (and many clients insist) that numbers up to ten should be spelled out rather than using numerals. The web is different. Because readers scan, you should show numbers as numerals. Digits represent facts which web users love. If numbers in your copy don’t represent facts, then you can spell them out.
Your clients will expect your copy to help them with Google’s search rankings. They will probably provide you with their chosen search terms, which they will expect you to weave into their copy. Basic rules:
Don’t over-use search terms in your copy. Although one of your objectives is to influence Google, never lose sight of the fact that you are also writing for humans. Search terms need to occur naturally within the text.
Do try, wherever possible, to incorporate the search term in your headline (Google likes headlines) and in your sub-heads. Aim for at least 200 words per web page
Clients have a touching faith in the power of search terms within their copy. In fact, there are two other more valuable things they can do to promote each page. When website developers create a web page, they are supposed to give it a title and a description. They don’t appear anywhere within the on-screen page; they are hidden away in the HTML code that developers use. Unfortunately, most web developers are lazy and simply copy/paste the same description and the same title into all pages, doing their client a great disservice.
You can add further value for your client by recommending page titles and page descriptions. I always do.
How we can add value for our clients and why we should add value?
To illustrate the point, we’re going to look at how we go about writing case studies. Remember, we covered case studies above. We’re going to take that one stage further now. So why should we add value? it’s for three obvious reasons?
First of all, it’s a superb way of differentiating yourself from the vast majority of copywriters out there.
Once you’ve differentiated yourself, of course, then you’re in a position to be able to get premium pricing, people are willing to pay that little bit more for somebody that adds value.
And thirdly, it’s an ongoing thing. Clients will come back to a copywriter, where they know that they’re going to get that extra.
Types of clients
We can divide our potential clients into three main areas. There are those that are looking for a cheap and dirty solution. And these are the people that we want to walk away from. Typically, they will be looking for offshore copywriters.
Secondly, there are those people that are buying that most valuable commodity, time. Now, they’re perfectly capable of writing their own copy, but they’ve got other things on their plate. So they’re happy to pay to outsource it. And this is the sort of client that we are looking for.
Thirdly, there’s the type of client who’s looking to buying more than simply time, they want to buy your skills, they want to buy your expertise. And these are the people who are willing to pay more. And they’re the sort of people who will come back for more over time. These if you like around gold prospects.
So, you want to address those, and I’m going to show you how you can add value. To illustrate the point, we’re going to talk about writing case studies.
Do you remember earlier when we talked about the basic structure of a case study, problem, solution and benefit?
We start off with a strong headline, usually stating a benefit that’s been achieved such as some company X drives down costs, and captures market share with Zizzo. We follow with a brief couple of lines, summarizing the whole of the case study.
We go into a description of the challenges that company X has been experiencing before they adopted Zizzo. The business reasons they had for change, and the criteria for selecting the right product or services to solve those problems.
And finally, we sum up with the benefits they’re now enjoying, and possibly a description of the excellent relationship they have with the people at Zizzo.
The tricks editors use to draw their readers into the main text.
let’s look at the sort of things that editors tend to use. Because maybe it would be a good idea to apply them to case studies. One of the tricks is to use something called call outs.
Using call outs to draw readers attention
This is a single sentence or couple of sentences taken from the main text and blown up often with quotation marks to give it even more immediacy.
Nowadays, people don’t start at word number one, and I’d work their way through an article or through an item, they tend to skip read, they skim the page, they skim the screen. So call outs are a wonderful way of capturing their attention and drawing them into the text.
But even if even if it doesn’t succeed in drawing them into the main text, they’ll go away with at least one message simply having read the call out.
Something else of course, that editors use are photographs
Photographs of real life, humans, and sometimes they will combine the two so the photograph will be accompanying a call out and to give you that extra immediacy, the big quotation marks what a marvelous opportunity then for you To add value to your client, if you can see from their website or from their printed literature, they tend to be the very pedestrian text heavy approach.
How well are you getting on in developing a portfolio?
If you’re having problems, and it may be because you don’t have a sales background, you find it difficult, contacting complete strangers, charities, local companies, and so on offering your services for free.
In which case, move on to my other suggestion, which certainly works. And those are the bidding websites where real life companies who are looking for copywriters for specific projects are asking you to bid for the work, go in with a low-cost bid, close the deal, and get on with it. Because really, without the portfolio, you’re not going to be able to progress any further.
How important it is for you to have a website
I can’t stress strongly enough how important it is for you to have a website. I have explained that you don’t need a letterhead; you don’t need business cards; you don’t need a printed brochure, simply because you never meet your clients. It’s all done electronically.
But I promise you, the first time a new prospect hears about you, the first thing they will do is to check you out over the internet. So as a basic minimum, you’re going to need a four, maybe five pages, let’s call it online brochure, a mini website, let’s get to say who you are, what you do, how to contact you, it gives you the credibility.
Later, of course, you’ll want to develop it into a fuller site, one that becomes as I call it a money magnet, where it attracts searches from Google.
Build a copywriting website in just five days from now–for free
When selling just about any product or service today, what’s the first thing prospective customers do? ……Check out your website. At the very least, you will need an online ‘brochure’ (a basic five or six page site) just to give people the reassurance they need. Without it you are dead in the water.
Longer term, you will want more than just an online brochure, you will want a website that ranks highly with Google every time people are searching for your type of service –a money magnet. Later, I will show you how to develop a money magnet, but right now, you have more pressing problems. Despite all the offers ‘We’ll move you into the top searches for Google within weeks’, the truth is that search engine optimization takes time and effort.
Believe me, it will be a year before your site delivers new prospects in any number. Sorry, but I am not trying to sell dreams. I want this to be an honest guide to starting out as a freelance copywriter.
You could, of course, go to one of the many low-cost web companies that will turn around a basic site for a couple of hundred pounds/dollars for your online brochure. That’s not what I would recommend. It is perfectly possible today to develop your own site without any web skills.
Choose the right software and you can then, over time, develop it into a money-magnet. All under your own control. In the meantime, this is your first genuine opportunity to show you can write killer copy–your client is yourself, so what better incentive?
Don’t even bother with any of the well-known web-building software packages. They’re not cheap and very few are easy to use. I can strongly recommend a completely free solution that can have you up and live within days. What’s more, it has all the capabilities built-in to optimize your site later into a top performer.
Tip: The secret is www.weebly.com. They claim you can create a free website in minutes. In truth, it will take you a couple of evenings, but it really is for the layman and it really is free. No wonder more than six million people and businesses are already using Weebly.
If you do wish to use different images, I can recommend an online image library that charges just a few dollars per picture www.bigstockphoto.com or www.istock.com. I use them all the time for my own clients.
How to buy a domain name
You can ‘buy’ your domain name (actually, you rent it) using your credit card from lots of online companies such as www.123-reg.com. You just type in the domain name of your choice and within seconds you will be advised whether it is available, with the option to ‘buy’ there and then.If you intend to use Weebly to create your free website, then I suggest you get your domain through them. It will certainly make life easier dealing with just one company for both domain name and website building/hosting. So, go on –sign up for your free Weebly account right now and start playing with it. After half a day you will be confident enough to have your own domain name and your own copywriting site live within a week. It will all seem strange at first -that’s just the learning curve -but it really is dead easy.
To begin with, your ‘online brochure’ site will have fairly basic content. A Home Page that immediately informs what it is you do and why people should hire you. If you already have a relevant background (say, an ex-accountant writing for that sector), you will want an About Me page. A Services section, describing different types of copy you write–preferably a page for each: sales brochures, sales letters, press releases, case studies, etc. As you get clients on board, start a ‘Testimonials’ page–customers saying how pleased they have been with your work. And, of course, a Contact Me page! To get inspiration, simply visit other copywriters’ sites, but never, ever copy their content.
Finally, add a copyright symbol © at the foot of each page.
TIP: To type a copyright symbol on a PC, simply hold down the Alt key and, using the numeric pad, key in 0169. Try it! If you use a Mac, simply Option + G
How to use Google’s keyword planner.
There have been software tools for a number of years designed to help us find the most powerful keywords. The only problem was, most were expensive. They were very USA centric, which is fine if you happen to sell your services in the States. But not if you sell locally in say, Australia. Worst of all, they were absolutely useless. Then along came Google with something called keyword tool, which is now known as Keyword Planner.
It uses real hard data, real figures for real searches made by real humans in whatever geography you choose. So it could be your local geography. Or if you’re an exporter, you’re overseas territories
How to get started with keyword planning.
To use the keyword planner, you have to have a Google account. But if if you’re already uploading videos to YouTube, or use other Google applications like Gmail, then you already have an account. If not, sign up is free. Inside your account, you’ll have a navigation button called Apps. These are the the Google products that I’ve got. So it includes YouTube, Google Play, and so on. Click on Google Ads. Select Tools and analysis. And you’re presented with a drop down menu. And there is Keyword Planner.
How to use keyword ideas to improve your search engine optimization.
Now remember, nobody uses a single word. So we’re going to put in a key phrase. Suppose we were considering stationery supplier. Notice, by default, it’s going to give us data for all occasions, the average number of times our chosen keyword is used each month worldwide. But I could change the location, for example, the UK. Once you’ve chosen your geographic area, click on Get ideas, and then click on the keyword ideas tab. Let’s press the search button and see what happens. There. You’ll see in the UK alone, there are an average of 70 searches each month for stationery supplier. But keyword planner doesn’t stop there. It also gives me suggestions based around stationery supplier.
Getting the write keyword
This is incredible. What it’s showing me is that by simply adding the letter S, so we’re no longer a stationery supplier, we stationery suppliers, instead of 70 searches a month, there are almost 2000. What a difference a single letter can make. So not only does it give me hard data on my chosen search terms, it also makes suggestions.
As we’ve seen, that can sometimes be a phenomenal improvement. There are, of course, situations where our particular niche is a very limited one. And there are very few search terms. Let’s take a real-life example.
A friend was previously a scientist. He was made redundant and decided to become a freelance scientific copywriter. And there’s a huge demand for scientific copy. Unfortunately, when he did research on the term scientific copywriter, he found that worldwide there were only 10 searches a month in the whole world, just 10 searches a month. So, he tried again. Now he thought laterally casting the net a bit wider. Instead of scientific copywriter, he tried technical copywriter and that increase the number of searches 11-fold so you can see how poorly he could have done if he’d relied on his intuition. But Keyword Planner, increased his potential by over 1,000% here and look at this by choosing technical writer instead of copywriter, that potential explodes from 10 a month to a staggering 10,000 a month. So, doesn’t this just demonstrate the importance of getting the right keywords before you ever start doing any search engine optimization?
Keep it simple
Unlike a novelist, a copywriter doesn’t have the luxury of slow development. You have to communicate right off the page. It helps to keep four things in mind:
- · Keep it simple.
- · Be brief. In less politically correct times, a British prime minister once said, “a speech should be like a lady’s dress. Long enough to cover the essentials, but short enough to maintain interest.” The same is just as true when writing a copy. And if we extend the clothing metaphor, our copy should attract others in whatever setting, smart enough to create an identity without sending out brash messages.
- · You are not ‘writing’ at all – you are speaking. Your role isn’t to entertain, it’s to communicate.
- · And you are not speaking to an audience – you are speaking to an individual.
Simple means clear. Clarity in writing is a style in itself. The aim is readability. The problem is, most of us are terrified that simple, clear English might make our report/ brochure/ website/ whatever sound a bit like a ‘Janet & John’ kindergarten book. It might lack gravitas.
Don’t write! Imagine you are speaking – speaking to just one other person sharing a secret.
This is the biggest single secret of copywriting. There is a very real difference between spoken and written English which, even though we are not trained, every one of us recognizes. The spoken word is very direct – exactly the tone we need for sales-oriented copy. Unfortunately, the moment most people sit at the keyboard, their brain switches into written mode. Wherever possible, try to imagine you are talking, not writing, to another person, not an audience.
But does it work for more esoteric subjects, such as corporate annual reports? I will let Warren Buffett answer that. In 2004 he won a prestigious award for his writing skills based on the clarity and persuasiveness of his annual reports.
His secret? Short, simple sentences using short, simple words. Buffet explains: “When writing, I pretend that I’m talking to my sister. I just begin with ‘Dear Doris'”.
Is he right? Who are we to argue? He has become the second wealthiest man in the world. Sure, he can communicate.
Writing this way influences the reader’s perception that you are speaking directly to them and not to just anyone out in cyberspace. Plus, if it’s your first impression with a reader, it’s a great way to start forming a relationship for the future.
Use the active rather than the passive
Today few people have really been taught grammar, so I won’t waste your time by talking about verbs, objects or subjects.
I will just give a couple of examples of the active and passive voice.
Passive: “Everybody is helped by Jim”
Active: “Jim helps everybody”
Passive: “The company was acquired by Zizzo
Active: Zizzo acquired the new company
Passive: Many inventions were created by Edison
Active: Edison created many inventions
When the reader doesn’t find out what’s happening until the very end of the sentence, they become confused or bored. When writers use too much passive voice, their readers fall asleep! Active voice is the best way to grab your reader’s attention and hold it.
Tip: The key to using active voice is making sure that the subject of the sentence is doing something, rather than something being done to it.
Passive: Lots of money was made by early investors.
Active: Early investors made lots of money.
Passive: Bright colors were used by the web designer and visitors’ attention was grabbed.
Active: The web designer grabbed visitors’ attention by using bright colors.
Notice how the passive voice uses words like ‘was,’ ‘were,’ ‘been,’ and ‘being.’ Untutored clients often like the passive voice because it is the way a lot of pretentious work is written.
Perhaps that’s why the public sector often writes in the passive voice. It is our role to point out to clients that readers understand the active voice more quickly and easily, because that’s the way we think. It’s the way we all speak.
Writer’s block – stop it in its tracks
Everyone’s heard about ‘writer’s block’. It’s something that creative writers (novelists, screenwriters and so on) suffer.
A sudden collapse of momentum. Where the hell do I take the storyline now?
It’s not something that freelance copywriters suffer. Their material is already mapped out. But beginners do share one problem with all novice writers – blank page syndrome.
Blank page syndrome
It’s that moment that you have been putting off. You’ve made your morning coffee, tidied the desk, and checked your emails and so on – any excuse not to start writing.
You are staring at a blank page (screen nowadays) and it becomes ever more daunting.
Time to gaze out of the window, make another coffee, re-check the emails.
The blank page begins to taunt you, and eventually you write that first sentence.
Only to trash it and start again. Half an hour (and one more coffee) later, the page is still blank and even more threatening. Time to walk the dog?
TIP: The solution is simple. FILL THE BLANK PAGE. It doesn’t matter how embarrassingly poor the copy is, just write it. It’s garbage? No problem, your client will never see it.
Just carry on, because once you are no longer looking at a blank screen, it all becomes so much easier – it’s as though someone has flipped a switch.
Think of top athletes. Before competing, they go through a warm-up procedure that is no way competitive. This is just your warm up. Sure, you will totally reword the garbage, but the threat has gone. From now on it’s dead easy. Honest!
Tone of Voice
In copywriting, style is usually called ‘tone of voice’. This is very appropriate because we try not to use written English. Almost always we use different types of spoken English (the exception being articles or papers for scientific journals).
This page is written in a very relaxed, conversational style because I want you to feel very relaxed. I am using clichés, sometimes slang and I am breaking a number of grammatical and punctuation rules. Any tone will fall into just one of four styles:
Corporate style. This is a fairly typical example:
Accelerating Drug & Chemical Development Worldwide
We are a world-leading information solutions provider for the Life Sciences. We accelerate drug and chemical development by increasing productivity and enhancing processes that lead to safer products.
Our solutions are comprehensive, they are technology-enabled, and they are business-driven. Solutions that encompass the collection, secure storage and dissemination of mission-critical information.
Forget mission statements or corporate visions. We have a simple goal–helping to create a safer society.
A society where people can safely go about their daily business, feel secure in their homes and be confident that their children are protected. It’s no surprise, then, to learn that we have become synonymous with peace of mind.
Straight-to-the-point sales pitch.
Don’t let another day go by in this uncertain economy without creating financial certainty by mastering Marketing, Sales and Online Marketing. Everything you need is here. Your 60% saving expires at 5pm today, so get your DVDs now at this remarkable saving.
Coffee a gender issue?
Most people – or at least cultured, well-informed, sophisticated people like me – know there are just two types of coffee beans. You know: the original Arabica, with its luscious smells, and Robusta with its extra boost of caffeine.
What most people don’t realize, though, is that coffee beans split into two other essential types; all based on sex. There are male beans and there are female beans. Yes, coffee has a sex life! Can you imagine a Lascivious Latte or an Espresso Quickie? You can’t get more basic than that.
Writing in different tones of voice is not as daunting as you might expect. In fact, that’s what makes being a freelancer so much fun. We all adopt different tones of voice when speaking. We do it intuitively. Talking one way with mates playing poker, another way when speaking to a maiden aunt, one way when speaking at a dinner party, another way in a business meeting. Apply the same principle to your writing.
Seven golden tips
Find the sweet spots
Most of your copywriting will be in the business-to-business arena. It is important to establish exactly who will be the audience – CEOs, senior management, middle management, technical people, shop floor people. You need quickly to get to the issues that concern them (their sweet spots), and it really does vary according to the role they play within their company.
For example, I once wrote a white paper for a company that sold computer systems used by pharmaceutical companies in the lab. It cut the time taken developing new drugs (time to market), which meant it extended the profitable life of a drug in an industry where each day’s profit can be measured in millions. As a side benefit, it also reduced the hassle involved in day-to-day work in the lab. Previously, the client had focused exclusively on the system’s incredible return on investment. When we really discussed their audience, it became clear that the decision makers – the people who would buy the system – weren’t CEOs, they were lab managers. Sure, we mentioned ROI (the lab manager would use this to get budget approval), but we shifted our main focus to eliminating hassle. CEOs and lab managers have different perspectives, different sweet spots.
Create a ‘persona’
When we talked about adopting a tone of voice suited to your audience we suggested that it’s easy to stray away. A marvelous trick is to use something that marketing people call a ‘persona’.
Always get your client to describe in detail the audience they want you to address.
Their answer might be something like “Ambitious young career women, with young children. College educated.” or “CEOs of financial institutions. Primarily male, late 50s. Have been in the industry most of their working life. Struggling with the economic turndown.”
To create a ‘persona’, imagine just one young mother, just one CEO. Give them a name. Decide what car they drive, where they live, what newspapers they read. Search the web for a photo of someone (anyone) who looks just as you imagine they could look. Stick their photo next to your screen and, once you’re ready to begin, write to your new friend, not to an audience.
Mind your language
Those who speak English as our first language are incredibly lucky – they have a huge international marketplace, including countries where English is not the native language. There are, of course, different usages of English. In the US and UK, we spell some words differently. We occasionally use them differently (patting a woman on the fanny has incredibly different meaning in the UK and the US!).
Spelling is an easier thing to fix. Microsoft Word comes complete with multiple different versions of English and will apply ‘spell check’ to whichever you choose – US, UK, Australian, South African and so on. In word, you can change the language dictionary if you go into .Review. Over to the left you will find ‘Spell Check’, ‘Thesaurus’, ‘Translate’ and… ‘Set Language’. With older versions of Word, simply ‘select’ the whole document (hold down the Control key and press the letter ‘a’) then go to ‘Spell Check’. A drop down menu will allow you to choose whichever you need. As to different vocabulary or usage of words, your client will quickly spot these for you.
Avoid urinary infection
Too many writers suffer from ‘we, we, we’. Give your writing a more personal, human touch. Instead of “We have an active relationship with employees”, try “You can get involved.”
How to use numbers
Using numbers within text is not as straightforward as you might imagine. Just look at how inelegant this sentence looks: “15 people were quizzed by police today” There are conventions when using numbers within text and you have just guessed the first one. Never start a sentence with numerals. In the example above you could either change the sentence to “Police quizzed 15 people today” or you could spell out the number, “Fifteen people were quizzed by police today.”
Convention (and some clients will insist) dictates:
- · Numbers that begin sentences should be spelled out, except in dates and addresses
- · The numbers zero to ten should be spelled out
- · Do not begin sentences with a year number: “2007 was the year of global meltdown.” This is offensive to the eye and scares readers and editors alike.
Hyphens and dashes (em dash and en dash)
The editor of any self-respecting journal, and most printers would never dream of confusing the em dash (—) and hyphen (–). Hyphens and dashes are two different punctuation marks and, although they may seem to look alike, they are physically different. Corporate clients and magazine editors will expect you to know the distinction and how to use them. The em dash is longer than the hyphen. The hyphen is used to join words together, such as in ‘real-time’. It may also be used to spell out a word, as in s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g. Notice that it touches the characters on either side. Yes, there is an exception to the rule. When denoting a range, such as $100–150, there is a space either side of the hyphen.
The em dash is longer and it is used to denote a pause in thought, or is used instead of brackets. So instead of “A lowering of educational standards (What?) has led to a general sloppiness in written English”, you could write “A lowering of educational standards – What? – has led to a general sloppiness in written English.”
Tip: To type an em dash on a PC, hold down the ALT key and type in the number 0151 from the numeric keypad. Try it!
Phrases to avoid
It used to be that politicians were amongst the worst polluters of the English language. More recently, political correctness, corporatists and a lowering of educational standards has led to a general sloppiness in written English.
Here are some prize examples to avoid:
- · ‘He is a man who’ – replace with ‘he’
- · ‘At this point in time’ – replace with ‘now’
- · ‘Due to the fact that’ – replace with ‘because’
- · ‘At which time’– replace with ‘when’
- · ‘The question as to whether’ – replace with ‘whether’
- · ‘Owing to the fact that’ – replace with ‘since’
- · ‘On the grounds that’. ‘As a direct result of’. ‘Accounted for by the fact that’. ‘By virtue of the fact that’ – replace with ‘because’
- · ‘Be completely au fait with’ – replace with ‘know’
- · ‘Come to a decision as to’. ‘Reach a conclusion as to’ – replace with ’decide’
- · ‘With reference to’. ‘Pertaining to’ – replace with ‘about’
- · ‘Exhibit a tendency to’ – replace with ‘tend’
- · ‘Despite the fact that’ – replace with ’although’
- · ‘In close proximity to’ – replace with ‘near’
- · ‘Was in receipt of’ – replace with ‘got’
- · ‘Initiate’ – replace with ‘begin’
How to use the apostrophe
Although you may not think this is important, some people live their lives acting as quality control inspectors, spotting the incorrect use of the apostrophe in others’ writing.
That may seem a sad endeavor on their part, but the correct use of the ‘A’ is important in both creating clarity for the reader and, more importantly, establishing your own credibility as a copywriter. This is why it matters and here are the rules.
It’s nothing to do with grammar. It has everything to do with punctuation. Punctuation is just a set of marks/squiggles invented by printers to make reading easier. It all began around the time of Shakespeare, and most early ‘punctuation marks’ – comma, colon, semi colon, full stop (period for Americans) – were just a way play-writers could indicate to actors when to take a breath, a longer breath, or a real pause. It made it easier to read a script. Making things easy for your readers is just as important today.
The apostrophe entered the English language in the sixteenth century, and its role was to aid clarity. We shall see how shortly.
What has that got to do with writing in the 21st century?
1. As copywriters, we should always be striving to make it easier for people to read our copy
2. Older readers (who are often our audience – managing directors, for example) believe that anyone who can’t use basic punctuation properly must be ignorant. Incredibly, they have mostly come to terms with the horrors copywriters inflict on punctuation, but one thing they cannot forgive is misuse of the apostrophe.
Disagree if you like, but as a copywriter, your first objective is to display your client’s work in the best possible light. Making the client look ignorant to 30% of the population (a particularly influential part of the client’s audience) is a major disservice.
Not understanding the apostrophe, people feel obliged to scatter them around their copy almost every time they come to the letter ‘S’. There are significantly more misused apostrophes than correctly used ones.
Apostrophe rule 1 – Stop selling banana’s!
The apostrophe is never ever, ever, ever used to indicate more than one item (plural). So:
- · The plural of banana is not banana’s (it should simply be bananas – no apostrophe)
- · When talking computers, more than one PC is not PC’s, it is PCs (no apostrophe)
- · The library does not have lots of book’s – it has lots of books
- · Misusing the apostrophe to make a plural is the biggest single mistake. So, get this simple lesson right and you should avoid 60% of apostrophe errors! Easy.
Apostrophe rule 2 – showing abbreviation
Abbreviation – dropping a few letters from a word, or joining two words together (and losing some letters in the process). It is often used when writing in ‘conversational’ English, rather than formal English. For example:
- · Did Not becomes abbreviated to didn’t
- · Let us becomes abbreviated to let’s
- · I have becomes I’ve
- · That has becomes That’s
Apostrophe rule 3–Ownership–This one is a lot more tricky.
In Old English, if King Ethelbert owned a book, he might write on it: Ethelbert, his book. Over time that would become a much simpler Ethelbert’s book. The apostrophe simply shows it belongs to him. It has become customary (to make it easier to read/interpret the written word) to indicate if there is more than one owner. That is achieved by putting the apostrophe either before or after the ‘S’
- · The boy’s books (one boy)
- · The boys’ books (more than one boy)
- · The nation’s strategy (one nation)
- · The nations’ strategy (more than one nation, sharing a strategy)
Its and it’s
Life isn’t easy. I said that the apostrophe is often used to denote ownership (the boy’s book). Some words already denote ownership – his, her, their etc
There are two very similar looking words – its and it’s
- · Its is an ownership word
- · It’s is an abbreviation of it is
For example, we may say of a nation Its culture is very interesting (the culture is owned by the nation, so no need for an apostrophe there).
Second example: we may say Do not go in there, it’s dangerous (an abbreviation of it is dangerous).
You’re is an abbreviation (eg you are late)
Your is ownership (eg your book is open)
Who’s is an abbreviation (eg who is there?)
Whose is ownership (eg Whose book is this?)
Sorry if that was tedious but it really does have to be mastered. Mature Directors and CEOs will judge you by your grammatical skills. And that’s how clients will evaluate your abilities alongside your creative flair.
Tracking and word counts
You have written your first draft and your client has made some vague suggestions for changes – asking you to expand in one area, tone down another section and so on. When you have written the second draft, your client would like to see exactly how it differs from the original. This is truer of articles, long documents and ‘expert’ copy; much less often needed for short sales copy.
Microsoft Word has a facility called Review (you will find it in the top navigation bar). Once you are in the Review section, simply click the Track Changes button. From now on, every change you make will be highlighted. Try it.
Although incredibly useful for your client, it can, of course, become very confusing for you, the writer. No problem. Slightly to the right of the Track Changes button is a dropdown menu. Simply select Final and, although the tracking continues, it will be transparent to you while writing.
On completion of the re-write, use the drop-down menu again and select Final Showing Mark-up. Reading this on a Kindle may sound complicated, but it’s not. Try it out on your PC.
The Review facility also has a comments option that many clients use to add remarks throughout your copy (again, this tends to be used with longer, ‘expert’ copy).
Many clients, particularly if the project is a magazine article, will specify in advance how many words they require.
Occasionally (sometimes for company or product descriptions on trade exhibition websites) the client will specify right down to the maximum number of characters.
Last thing you want is to spend your day counting words – and you don’t have to. Microsoft Word has a facility Word Count that automatically tells you the number of words and characters in your document, constantly updating while you type. It will also give you a count for any section within the document that you highlight. Magic!
How to boost your copywriting income
Congratulations on getting this far. By now you have a portfolio of work and some of it will be true, paid-for client projects. It’s been hard work, but you have already proved that you can do it.
Now all you need is a steady stream of clients knocking on your door! That’s what this whole section is all about.
How to win early paid-for projects
Your own website
Nothing can beat a steady flow of enquiries from your website. It’s called inbound marketing because, unlike traditional marketing, the prospects come to you. But don’t get too excited. You have to recognize that for some time, your new website will be little more than an online brochure. It will be a good twelve months before your site delivers sales leads in any number, and that assumes you rigorously optimize the site. In the meantime, you need to get out there, actively selling your services. These are the most suitable ‘outbound’ marketing strategies for a copywriter new on the block.
Print and website design agencies are often unable to complete a project simply because their client is taking ages to supply them with the copy. Frustrating for both the designer and their client. Large agencies will often have their own in-house copywriting skills, or will already have strong links with a freelancer or two. You should, though, seriously consider contacting local smaller agencies, and particularly freelance designers. Over time, they can drip feed useful projects. Get into bed with a number of them and it is possible to generate a steady income stream. To find local design agencies, simply search Google with ‘graphic design agency’, ‘design agency’, ‘web designers’ etc, followed by your locale. When contacting small agencies, you need to speak to the MD or proprietor – they will be the decision maker.
Once you are on board, the designer will probably not want you to speak directly to their client. Sometimes, though, they are happy for you to do so provided you appear to be one of their own staff. Do whatever they say and build up a strong relationship. It pays.
Local printing companies
Everything I have said above is just as relevant for local printers. Get into bed with them too! Again, you need to contact the MD as he or she makes the decisions.
Freelance auction sites
We have already covered these above. Most of the work on these sites is very poorly paid, but not all. Some companies using these sites are willing to pay for good work. This is particularly true if English is your native language. Many of the freelancers using these sites do not have a particularly good grasp of the language. As you gain more experience and build a track record, you will be in a position to close more profitable deals.
This will be your biggest source of sales leads until your website starts delivering. Forget old fashioned snail mail; it is so much more cost effective to do it electronically……
Email campaigns to stoke up business
Regulations governing email marketing vary from country to country, but often require an ‘opt in’. That is, recipients need to have indicated that they are willing to receive unsolicited emails from you – a real bind for anyone starting out in business. In the UK ‘opt in’ is not a requirement for B2B direct email marketing (not true for consumer marketing). My understanding is that the CAN-SPAM Act in the USA allows direct marketing email messages to be sent to anyone, without permission, until the recipient explicitly requests that they cease (“opt-out”).
You will need a database and there are companies that specialize in selling and renting B2B mailing databases. Expect to pay between 30 to 50 cents per contact.
- · Make sure that any database you purchase has named individuals. There is no point sending an email to sales@ or info@.
- · You need to select a database by job title. For copywriters, overwhelmingly, the best title is Marketing Manager in medium to large-sized companies.
- · Should you wish to market to small companies, then choose Managing Director.
Once you have bought or rented your database, your next challenge is designing the email and managing the campaign. Again, there are online services that take away all the hassle. They will:
- · Let you design your own email using readymade templates.
- · Automatically create an ‘unsubscribe’ field in the email (a legal requirement in many countries)
- · Report back, by named individual, who opened your email but did nothing with it, who opened it and clicked through to your website, who passed it on to a colleague (and who that colleague was). Everything you need to tune your message next time.
Typically, they charge around $20 a month, irrespective of the number of times you use the service.
Expect a low sales rate. Almost certainly less than 1%. I now get all my leads from my website, but when I had to use direct marketing, I won one client alone who over a five-year period generated more than £50,000 revenue.
Remember – the aim of your e-shot should never be simply to advertise your services. You need to elicit a response.
Pay per click–without paying!
Pay per click (PPC)
Try searching for ‘brochure copywriter’, ‘white paper copywriter’, ‘pharmaceutical copywriter’, or ‘logistics copywriter’, and you will find that what comes up in the top three out of hundreds of thousands of websites. That is because they have optimized the site to do that.
Below, we’ll explain how you can achieve similar results. But optimization can take months. What to do in the meantime? Pay-per-click is a way of paying to get onto page one. Think of it as an advert masquerading as a search result. Google is the most popular search engine. Unlike a magazine advert, where you pay a fixed fee, whether the ad is successful or not, with Ads you pay only when someone clicks through to visit your site, not each time the advert is displayed.
The minimum cost is five pence each time someone visits your site, but most of the time you will pay more because other companies also want their advert to show up for the same keywords. The more you are prepared to pay for each click, the higher your advert will appear in the ‘sponsored links’, and the more people will go to your website. That assumes that you have written a compelling advert – but you are a copywriter!
The advantages of pay-per-click
- · You only pay when someone goes to your website. Whether they are the right person depends on how well you choose your keywords and how well you target the copy on your advert.
- · Once you have some statistics you can budget and forecast reasonably accurately.
- · You start getting results within minutes of setting up your campaign.
- · If used properly the statistics can be used effectively to refine and improve your campaign, leading to more sales or enquiries at lower cost.
- · The adverts can be turned on and off instantly, so if you are too busy to take on more projects you can put your ads on hold.
- · You are in full control of the budget, keywords and advert text. You may specify a maximum spend per day, so there’s no danger of costs running away with you.
How to choose your keywords (phrases)
Your Ads campaigns are set up for specific search terms that you choose
- · Be as specific as possible. Don’t use vague or general terms. The more precise and targeted your keywords, the less you will pay per click and the better the quality of visitors you will attract to your website.
- · Never use a single word. Use a short phrase. So, never use ‘copywriter’ as a keyword. Choose something like ‘public sector copywriter’ or ‘freelance copywriter’.
- · Forget what you are trying to sell and think what people are trying to buy. Sellers and buyers use different terms. I sell ‘brochure copywriting’. But my clients buy a ‘brochure copywriter’. People using searches that use the word ‘copywriting’ are those wanting to learn more about writing, jobs as writers, etc. They are not in the market for a freelancer.
- · Check how many people actually used the term last month in the US and worldwide. No point in selecting what looks like a great term if people don’t actually use it – Google Keyword tool will tell you. For example, only 480 people in the whole world last month used the search term ‘best copywriter’, whereas 18,100 used the term ‘freelance copywriter’.
Tip: Do not use the word ‘copywriting’ in your search phrase. You will get (and pay for) lots of people who are not seeking your services. What you will get is people who are simply interested in knowing more about the subject. Use ‘copywriter’.
Display your advert on other websites
It is possible to display your advert on websites other than the search engine itself. Google call their offering ‘AdSense’. Within your PPC control panel you will be able to select whether to show your adverts on third party websites, and you can even select particular websites on which to show your adverts. The owner of the website showing your adverts will get a slice of the money you pay whenever someone clicks on your ad, although Google are notoriously vague on what percentage they receive.
Writing your advert
Google allows you a very few words, so be specific, accurate and to the point. To give you a feel for what your competitors are saying, I just did a quick check and this is a selection of current PPC ads used by copywriters:
- · Ad agency copywriter – Award-winning concepts & copy for press, digital, radio, DM & more.
- · Senior UK copywriter – For words that speak volumes – Experienced, professional writer.
- · Looking For Strong Copy? – Get Copy That Gets Results. Period. Your Sales Page Evaluated – Free.
- · Red Hot Copywriting – No excuses – just sizzling words crafted to excite, persuade & sell.
- · Copywriter – Highly experienced professional. Writes impactful, persuasive copy.
You can do better than that!
TIP: Do it for free. You can sign up for Google ads without any obligation. When you do, Google will almost certainly give you a free trial of about £75 ($100) or more.
Turn your website into a money magnet with SEO
Once you have started copywriting for real, this will be the most important section in this page. Over a nine to twelve month period it will begin to bring prospective clients to you. No more phoning around, no more pay-per-click, no more email shots. Just sit back and the business rolls in.
Search Engine Ranking
When Joe Public makes a search on Google using, say, the term ‘brochure copywriter’, Google responds with a list of pages that it believes are relevant. The aim with SEO is to get as high a ‘ranking’ as possible.
There are search engine optimization companies that charge around $1000 a month. It is perfectly possible to outperform them yourself, with little technical knowledge, by devoting a few hours a week to the task.
The bad news and the good news
The bad news is that, although Search Engine Optimization (SEO) isn’t very difficult, it is incredibly boring.
The good news is that most copywriters are not very good at it. Perhaps they have a low boredom threshold. I can promise that if you follow my instructions, you will get onto page one of Google searches for revenue-generators.
How do Search Engines rank your site?
Search Engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing use a number of techniques to determine the relevance of your website to public searches.
In the 1990s, it was based primarily on something called ‘meta tags’ – key words that describe the content of your site, hidden from humans but placed exactly where the Search Engines could find them. Website designers put them into the site for their clients.
Inevitably, this resulted in web designers stuffing each site with as many meta tags as possible, irrespective of their true relevance. Today, meta tags play a very minor role. I believe they play no role at all. Instead, Search Engines make extensive use of ‘Spiders’- highly sophisticated software routines that scurry all over the web, assessing each site. Google does not publish the algorithms its spider uses, but we can work it our simply by asking ourselves – what is Google’s objective in life? Easy. When someone makes a search, Google wants to display relevant, useful/valuable sites that will satisfy the searcher. The problem is, there are literally millions of websites and thousands more being launched each day.
So, Google has to distinguish between useful, information-rich sites and the vast majority of stagnant websites that have little content and that seldom update.
In assessing sites for relevance, Google’s spider will weigh up (amongst other things):
- · The page title
- · The address of the page (something called a URL – the thing that begins with www.)
- · The frequency with which pages are updated (in other words an ‘active’, lively site)
- · The number of relevant in-bound links to your site from other websites (and they do need to be relevant)
- · The number of links from one page of your site to another. For example, you may have a page ‘Copywriter Services’ that links to two pages, ‘Newsletter Copywriter’ and ‘Annual Report copywriter’
- · The content of your site. Content is king. And content means words (at least 200 words a page)
- · The frequency with which key words are used within the copy
- · Google hates ‘keyword stuffing’ – using a keyword too many times in the copy. Humans hate it too. Google’s spider is also fiendishly clever. It can check the relevance and balance of your copy, so aim for a keyword density of two to three per cent of your copy.
Let’s look in more detail. Much of this will be confusing unless you have already started building your website:
You can choose to give each page in your website a Page Title.
It’s not part of the copy you write. It sits in browser’s own toolbar at the top of the screen. How does it get there? Your website designer inserts it for you. Designers often guess what is suitable. They often use the same title for all pages or have a small selection of titles that they cycle through the site. This is poor optimization. If, as I recommended, you are using Weebly to develop your own site for free, it allows you to enter a title for each page yourself – dead easy and a great way to include search terms.
URL (the unique ‘address’ of each page)
Every web page has a unique address or URL, (it begins with www.). Make sure your URLs contain relevant search terms – in the example above, my search term is ‘US brochure copywriter’.
Again, if you are using Weebly to develop your site for free, just remember that Weebly will use whatever the navigation button is called (say, public sector copywriter) as the URL.
The frequency with which the site is updated
Google’s spider will keep coming back to your site, looking for changes. It starts off visiting once a week. If it doesn’t find any changes after a number of visits, just like a human it gets bored and returns less frequently.
Tip: You can check when Google last visited your site by doing a Google search: cache:www.yourwebsitename.com. It will display your Home Page as it looked last time the spider visited and the date of the visit. Keep doing this check every week Rather than simply making frequent updates to existing pages, it is far better to be adding pages. Google loves words and more pages mean more words. Aim to have one hundred pages within twelve months. It’s not too difficult. The easy way is to have a News section. Every time you close a new deal, make it a news item. Why not have links from your home page to the latest three News items – that means you home page keeps getting updates every time you publish a new news page.
Add a blog to your site. Weebly provides a free, dead easy to use blog service within your website.
The number of internal links (text within your site pointing visitors to another page)
This is where you insert a link from one of your web pages to another. Let’s suppose in your ‘About Me’ page you have a sentence which says something like “Looking for a ‘women’s interest’ copywriter?” The highlighted text (called an anchor link, if you must know), when clicked takes the visitor to a page on your site dedicated to your skills in writing for women. What’s important is to make sure the highlighted text is a search term you have chosen to optimize.
The number of inbound links (links on other people’s websites pointing to yours) Search engines assign a lot of importance to the number of other websites linking into yours. This makes sense. If lots of sites choose to link into you, they must find you interesting.
Inbound links are referred to as ‘off site’ optimization. Unlike the ploys we have looked at so far, they don’t involve you doing things to your own site. They involve you in persuading other people to link their sites to yours. Some experts believe that ‘off site’ optimization represents up to 70% of optimization effectiveness.
The easiest inbound links to achieve are from online directories. Simply register to have a free listing. They will tempt you with a fee-paying ‘premium’ listing. Never pay. It’s not necessary and gains very, very little.
Whichever country you are in, simply doing a search for ‘online directories’ and similar searches should yield a number of suitable sites. As a test, I just searched for “Small business directory” and found lots in the US, UK and Australia. Some directories will accept listings only for organizations located in their country. Wherever possible, try to get listings in other English speaking countries – most of my business comes from overseas.
Directories aside, you should also aim for links from true websites. When I was optimizing my site, I searched for things like translation agencies. Then I emailed them offering a link from my site to theirs, provided they linked to me. Translation agencies are not in competition with copywriters but are however related (Google likes that – relevance), so it wasn’t too difficult to get them to agree.
Finally, you could try social network sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
Unlike all the previous ploys I have described, inbound links take much longer to achieve. That’s because until now, we have been talking of things you can do yourself within your own site. Inbound links involving you in getting other webmasters to add links to your site.
How to choose your keywords
By now, you will have gathered that a lot of search engine optimization is about anticipating the words that prospective customers/visitors to the site might use when they make a search on Google. Once identified, these search phases are woven into the site – into the page titles and the page text.
The first thing is not to choose too many. It is hard work and time consuming, so you can easily end up with all your search terms getting onto page six. Much better to select no more than five terms and get them all on page one.
We have already covered this when we discussed using keywords in pay-per-click adverts. This is what we said:
- · Be as specific as possible. Don’t use vague or general terms.
- · Never use a single word. Use a short phrase. So, never use ‘copywriter’ as a keyword. Choose something like ‘public sector copywriter’ or ‘freelance copywriter’.
- · Forget what you are trying to sell and think what people are trying to buy. Sellers and buyers use different terms. I sell ‘brochure copywriting’. But my clients buy a ‘brochure copywriter’. People searching with the word ‘freelance copywriting’ are probably wanting to learn more about writing, jobs as writers and so on. They are not in the market for a freelance copywriter.
- · Check how many people actually used the term last month in the US and worldwide . No point in selecting what looks like a great term if people don’t actually use it – Google Keyword tool will tell you. For example, only 480 people in the whole world last month used the search term ‘best copywriter’, whereas 18,100 used the term ‘freelance copywriter’.
With pay-per-click, you’re not really interested how many sites are competing for any given search term. You pay and you get to the top. With search engine optimization, you really have to consider the magnitude of competition for any search term. If competing against five million other sites, you can realistically get into top three position within a year. If competing against twenty million sites, it will take a whole lot longer.
To check how many sites, you will be competing against for any term, simply do a Google search on that term. Immediately under the search box and above the list of websites Google responds with, you will see the message “About xxx million results”.
Boy, you have come a long way. Congratulations and very best wishes for the future. It really is a great life.