Finding a pro in any field isn’t easy. We’ve all been stung by the GP whose bedside manner stinks, the electrician who didn’t turn up when he said he would, the chartered accountant who gave crap advice.
But at least you know where to start with these guys — they have the right letters after their name, or they’re members of the right association.
With copywriters, it’s a bit different.
We don’t have a concrete career path. We don’t all head straight to uni to do a copywriting degree (it’s not really a thing — at least not yet), score an internship with an ad agency, work our way up and then start our own agency. Which makes it hard for you, as business owners, to know how to weed out the good ones from the bad.
Finding a long list of writers to choose from isn’t an issue. We’re everywhere. Seduced by images of copywriters working from a beach in Bali while making 7 figures a year, anyone who ever scored an A for an English essay (and plenty of those you didn’t even come close) thinks they have what it takes.
So how do you sort through your list? How do you know that they can actually deliver? I reckon there are a few clues for you to look out for.
They have the right ‘vibe’.
That sounds awfully ‘woo’, I know, but bear with me.
You are going to be working pretty closely with your copywriter so it’s important that you find someone you think you can get along with. In fact, anyone who thinks they can find the right words for your business without having spoken to you at length is not to be trusted!
To get a proper handle on your business, your brand, your goals and your personality — all of which is vital to producing great copy — you’ll need to spend some time together. So you want to know if this will be a pleasant experience or comparable to a tooth extraction.
The best thing to do is to meet them.
Since we tend to work remote, in-person meetings might not be an option but I’m a big fan of Zoom (not tried Zoom yet? Give it a whirl, I reckon you’ll love it) or Skype chats. If, after talking through the nitty gritty of your project, you don’t get the impression that you’ll enjoy communicating with that particular writer or they’re just not the right personality type to ‘get’ your business, don’t worry. Not every client is the right fit for every writer and, since your working relationship will hopefully last way beyond the initial project, it’s important to find someone you gel with.
Yes, it is time-consuming but once you’ve found a writer you like you can stick with them for life. They’ll be there to help you through every new product launch, every rebrand, every new email campaign and beyond.
They have insight.
Another thing to look for is the copywriter’s insight. While you’re having an initial meeting and talking through the details of your business and your project, it’s likely (desirable, in fact) that the writer does more listening — and note taking — than talking. But listen carefully to the things they do say. If they know what they’re doing, they’ll likely have a few insights for you right away (we can’t stop those cogs whirring, you see!). They might throw out a new perspective on your target market, your USP, or even help you clarify your business goals. Any of which will give you reassurance that they’ll hit the target when it comes to actually writing your stuff!
They’re big readers.
When it comes to sales copy, grammar is important (in my opinion, plenty of others disagree) — I reckon you need to know the rules before you can decide which ones to break and which ones are sacred — but it isn’t everything.
So you’re not necessarily looking for an English-class nerd, full of chat about dangling participles and Oxford commas.
That said, what you do want to know is that they’re voracious readers. Because if you want to learn how to write well, the number one thing you should do is read.
Firstly, a copywriter who thinks they know everything they need to know about copywriting is kidding themselves on. There is always something more to learn in any industry and ours is no exception. But a copywriter’s reading should go beyond the realm of books about copywriting alone. I’ve found useful insights from books on marketing, PR, general writing, entrepreneurship and particularly, psychology.
Secondly, reading non-business related books can teach your copywriter loads too. It’s how we learn to master different tone, cadence, structure and all of the other elements that make any type of writing shine.
Oh, and though it isn’t technically reading, I’m going to include listening to podcasts and such here as well. A good podcast can teach you a lot about storytelling, how to structure content and how to keep a listener’s interest — all vital components of sales copy.
They have relevant experience.
There may not be a clear career path for copywriters but a lot of us do hail from related fields.
You’ll find the marketing guys will have studied copywriting in some form while training, the out-of-work print journalists will write a cracking headline and the former advertising sales executives (hello!) have gone through ridiculous amounts of training on the sales process, including the psychology of why people buy.
All useful stuff if you want to write shit hot sales copy.
Of course, you shouldn’t necessarily dismiss a writer who comes from a completely unrelated industry, as long as there are plenty of other indications to suggest they know what they’re doing.
They come recommended.
If someone you know has recommended a particular copywriter, you’re probably on to a winner. That said, I’ve heard of networking groups where people recommend other members without having seen their work or used them personally.
So, recommendation or not, it’s worth checking your potential writer’s testimonials and portfolio before you make a decision. And while you’re reading through their stuff it’s worth noting how they’ve tackled writing for different industries and different tone of voice demands. If everything they write sounds the same, it’s not a great sign unless perhaps they’re writing for your particular niche.
What about qualifications though?
It’s always reassuring to see that someone has some letters after their name. And there’s a nugget of logic behind that. While my MA and post-grad certificate are not hugely related to copywriting, I gained plenty of transferable skills that help me do my job well: research skills, time management, editing, clear communication to name a few.
But qualifications aren’t everything.
Let me tell you a quick story. You may not know that I am a fully-qualified early education professional (i.e. I taught teeny tiny kids their colours, their shapes and how not to be arses to each other). And to be honest, I just wasn’t that great at the job. I may have had the right piece of paper but I didn’t have the right attitude, the passion or the desire to improve. All of which I have in spades when it comes to writing.
So that’s my final thing to look out for when choosing a copywriter: do they freakin’ love their job? Because if they do, no matter how many years they’ve been doing this, they’ll view every project as a challenge — and an opportunity — to be better than they were yesterday.
And that’s great news for you and your business!
Want to find out if I’m the right copywriter for your business? Then let’s talk. I can write your web copy, your blog posts, your newsletters, sales pages, email campaigns and your social media content. And if you need something I haven’t mentioned then I probably do that too — or know someone who does, so hit me up.
Fast – reliable – honest – cheeky
That, my friends, is not a tagline. Except it is. There’s a company out there that has actually paid for that exercise in banality to be emblazoned across their delivery vehicles.
Fast, reliable, honest. That’s not a tagline, that’s the bare minimum any business should offer their clients! And as for the cheeky part…I’m not really sure what to do with that. I guess it does make them stand out from all of the other fast/reliable/honest businesses out there but I just don’t get it.
Do I want my delivery men to be cheeky? Um, that’s a definitive no. But then maybe “Fast – reliable – honest – shuts the f up and gets on with the job” just isn’t catchy enough…
So cheeky it is.
I almost fell into the fast-reliable-honest trap myself. I was talking branding with my graphic designer/sister/favourite collaborator, Fi, when she was designing my logo and she was getting all up in my grill about what actually makes me so awesome.
And I was doing that butt-clenchingly cringey British thing where we all pretend that actually we’re a bit crap and owe all of our success to blind luck and cute accents.
“I’m great with a deadline,” says I, “I’m really reliable”. Blush, blush, cringe, cringe.
“No, you eejit”, says she. “Any entrepreneur worth their salt and vinegar crisps is punctual and reliable.”
“What makes you different? If you’re not different, we can’t sell you.” God, I hate it when she’s right.
Can you relate? How do you sell yourself? When you’re networking, when you’re writing blog posts, when you’re talking to potential clients? When writing your tagline?
Let me tell you if you haven’t come up with anything better than fast-reliable-honest or some other version based on a 16-year-old’s first attempt at a CV, then you’re snookered.
So how do you find your tagline?
It’s blindingly simple. Ask your people.
“What do your clients say about you?” Fi asked. Bingo, light bulb, Eureka!
Looking back at my testimonials, my clients consistently express their surprise that I manage to sound exactly like them when I’m writing their stuff. That’s what makes me great at my job, and there’s my tagline: “My Words, Your Voice”.
Four words and I’m tapping into what I do well, but I’m also assuaging a common fear clients have before they come to me, namely that their copy won’t sound like them.
So what do your clients say about you?
Have a good look through every bit of feedback you’ve ever received and I guarantee you’ll begin to see a pattern. Your “what makes you different”, and your tagline, are hiding somewhere in there.
And if you’re a newbie? With no clients, and no testimonials? Think about what you’d like future clients to say about you? How are you planning to blow their minds?
Hint: it ain’t with your fast, reliable, honest service. You’re so much more than that. You know it and I know it — it’s time to make sure everyone else knows it too.
And if you want to be cheeky, that’s up to you!
More on that British reluctance to blow your own trumpet. Not as dirty as it sounds, sorry!
Is Impostor Syndrome holding you back?
How do you feel when you see those super-confident entrepreneurs at networking events? You know the ones who can just grab hold of the mic and tell the room how awesome they are. No apologies, no hesitation. They’re amazing and they know it — and I’ll bet their sales conversion rate isn’t too bad either.
I’ll bet they find it pretty easy to write their web content too.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks business owners come up against when writing their own web copy, is the inability to sell themselves. There are a few reasons that we might find this aspect of copywriting so difficult (I go into this in more detail here) but for some of you, I’m willing to bet that a sneaky little doze of Impostor syndrome might just be to blame.
Now, if there’s a way to banish that particular demon for good, please, please let me know (we’re rather good friends, Impostor Syndrome and I, although he comes to visit far less often than he used to, I’m happy to say). But, while we’re waiting for the answer, there are a few things you can do to make sure he doesn’t hang around for too long when he does pay a visit.
Make yourself a brag book.
Arrogance isn’t cool but damn, you’ve worked hard for the things you’ve achieved, so you’re allowed a few bragging rights. Think about everything you’ve accomplished in your career, the last year, the last week, whatever, and write it down. Add pictures if you have any. Any qualifications you’ve earned, courses you’ve completed, work you’re particularly proud of, relationships you’ve built, demons you’ve faced — write it all down and give yourself a shiny star sticker (okay, that’s the nursery teacher in me coming out now, but who doesn’t love stickers?).
Any time Impostor Syndrome comes knocking at your door, shove your brag book right in his horrible little face and send him packing.
Talk to your pals.
Or your Mum. But only if they’re the kind of people who’ll tell you the truth. This isn’t the time for those friends who tell you that you look good even when you know you’re looking like a troll. This is the time for the folk who call you out when you’re being a brat. When your tact-free friends tell you that you’re awesome at your job, you know you it’s the truth. Impostor syndrome won’t get a look in.
Keep your skills fresh.
There is only one occasion that you’re allowed to listen to Impostor Syndrome’s whispering. If he tells you that your skills are getting rusty and you’re not keeping up with your industry, and you know he’s right, you need to take action.
I know running a business takes up a ridiculous amount of time (hey, I’m right there with you on that one!), but you HAVE to schedule time to work on your skills. You could set yourself a regular appointment to read key industry publications or dedicate some time to completing at least one new course each year.
By far my favourite way of upskilling, is content marketing. Every time I write a blog, whether for clients or for my own blog, I’m learning. All of the research that goes into every blog post is a fantastic way to consolidate existing knowledge and it’s a great incentive to keep abreast of industry developments. And the best thing is that I’m completing serious marketing goals while I’m keeping my skills fresh. Impostor Syndrome, be gone!
Acknowledge that we ALL suffer IMPOSTOR Syndrome.
Yeah, he pays every single one of us a visit at some time or another. Don’t for one minute think that the fact that he’s banging on your door means that you actually are an impostor. We all have those moments of shaky confidence and the suspicion that everyone in the world is doing life better than we are. They’re not.
Let’s make 2018 the year we get rid of Impostor Syndrome once and for all. Whether you’re drafting a social media post, taking centre stage at a networking event, or tackling the dreaded ‘about me’ page copy, I want you to remember that you rock. You’ve got this!
Content is king? Design is divine?
Design vs Copy; why it’s time to call a truce.
I rewrote my site’s portfolio page last week and seeing my history of working closely with graphic designers laid out in black and white got me thinking about the designer/copywriter relationship.
We’re not traditional allies — each of us is convinced that we are the most important cog in the machine. Just watch a designer’s reaction if you throw the old ‘content is king’ quote at them.
I reckon it’s time to put down the pens and paintbrushes though and shake hands. When it comes to producing a great website or any other form of marketing, a coalition is the order of the day. When a designer and copywriter work together, a project can truly take off!
Why work together?
Like copywriting, design is primarily about communication.
Most designers will tell you that it makes their job infinitely easier if they have some decent copy to work with before they start bashing out ideas. That way they not only know what space they have to work with, but also get a good idea of the overall tone and theme of the website or brochure.
Even more importantly, the designer can clearly see the message the client is trying to convey — and that’s half the battle! If your copywriter and designer can work together, then as a client you know that everyone working for you is singing from the same hymn sheet — that saves you time, money and much confusion.
Good copywriting requires lots of research into a particular subject; you need to look into the industry as a whole, the client’s specific market and the competition. While there are, of course, certain overlaps, this is not necessarily the same research that a designer would do.
Not all designers are confident in their writing skills.
By nature designers are visual people and while many will have great language skills, copywriting is about more than just stringing a sentence together. Most copywriters will have advertising and marketing experience to bring to the table.
Two heads are better than one.
Two creative heads are better still. Just think of the magic that can happen when you get two creative types, both with different skill sets, different ranges of experience and different ideas, working in harmony on the same project!
And if your designer and copywriter can work together and communicate easily with each other, it will save you, the client, an awful lot of time emailing back and forth, trying to keep everyone’s ego in check.
Now it’s time for the shameless plug.
If you check out my portfolio page, you’ll see that I work closely with my very own graphic design teams. Both are extremely talented and have fantastic portfolios — I wouldn’t trust anyone else!
We’ve worked together on print ads, website design/redisign, corporate identity, promotional leaflets and brochures so if you’re thinking your marketing could use a little oomph, you know where to find us.
There’s a red pen in here somewhere…
Hopefully after last week’s post, you’ve had a look through your writing and taken a big, red pen to any superfluous words.
This time, I’m not highlighting errors as such, but easy ways to simplify the language you use in your marketing copy.
Many of us have a tendency to make everything more long winded than it needs to be – I confess I’ve fallen into that trap myself many times in the past!
We think it makes us sound more intelligent, or our writing more impressive. It doesn’t. If anything, it can make us sound pretentious and it lessens the impact of the message we’re trying to convey. And that’s when our readers (or rather, our customers) switch off.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.
‘Investigators arrived at the conclusion…’ instead of ‘Investigators concluded…’
Option 1 adds to your word count and makes you sound more wordy, more intelligent, right?
Your high school English teacher didn’t fall for that tactic and your customers won’t either.
Here are a few examples of how to keep things simple for greater impact.
‘at the present time’ replace with ‘now’
‘a large percentage of‘ replace with ‘many‘
‘by virtue of the fact that‘ replace with ‘because’
‘in spite of the fact that’ replace with ‘despite’
‘owing to the fact that’ replace with ‘because’
‘in the event that’ replace with ‘if’
‘prior to’ replace with ‘before’
You get the idea.
Always remember, if the word doesn’t add anything to the meaning of your sentence, give it the chop.
And if you don’t have the time to do it yourself, or you just don’t know where to start, give me a shout. I live for this stuff!
I wonder sometimes if my clients are taken aback when they receive their first draft of concise copy. When you’re paying for something, you want as much for your money as you can get, right?
When it comes to copy, less really is more. Regular readers will have sussed that this is my golden rule.
In the interest of keeping things brief, I’d like to share this quick tip.
Checking for superfluous words is almost as important as your spelling and grammar checks.
Many of you probably don’t even notice these redundant and annoying little words creeping their way across articles, web copy and brochures but trust me, they are there. And they need to be dealt with! They add unnecessary bulk to otherwise snappy and elegant prose and I have to admit, they always make me picture the writer as a bored undergrad. Anyone else remember being stuck at your desk, unable to go to the pub until you’d reached the minimum word count on your essay?
Well, we’re not students any more, and the aim of the game is to get your message across in as few words as possible!
So what kind of thing am I talking about?
Here are some offenders I’ve noticed recently.
‘At the moment we are currently trying to tackle the problem‘
I nearly drove into a ditch the other day when I heard someone on the radio utter this. BBC Radio 2 no less!
What’s the problem? ‘Currently’ means ‘at the moment’ – there is simply no need for both of these expressions. To be all technical about it, it just sounds daft.
‘They returned back to the restaurant’.
This was spotted on a kiddie activity book at Pizza Hut. ‘To return’ means ‘to go back’ – the ‘back’ here is redundant. It needs to go!
‘The companies merged together’
This one’s obvious right? ‘To merge’ is to come ‘together’, once again we have a word that adds nothing to the meaning or style of the sentence other than length and as we know, brevity is the Holy Grail here.
So when you’re finalising any piece of marketing driven writing, liberate the pruning shears and get to work. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how smooth your prose can become if you do some swift dead-heading before you hit publish.
Nothing strikes fear in the heart of small business owner quite like the thought of writing a bio page. Well, apart from tax returns. Or networking. Or…Okay, the point is, writing an “about me” page for your business, blog or whatever, is a tricky prospect.
And I guarantee you’ve been thinking about it all wrong.
The reason it’s so gosh darn tricky is that it feels completely unnatural to shout about your achievements. To sing your own praises. To blow your own trumpet. We’re British. That’s just not how we roll.
Well, I’ve got some good news for you. Are you paying attention to this bit? If you ignore the rest of this post or get distracted by a cup of lukewarm tea, or the dog throwing up on the carpet, make sure you at least take a note of this.
It’s not about you!
Phew, now you can relax.
As contradictory as it sounds, your “about me” page, just like the rest of your copy, is not about you.
As ever, it’s all about your customer.
So often, you’ll find websites, brochures and other marketing materials ruined by poor “about me” pages that basically just list a bunch of meaningless (to the reader, at least) qualifications or over-used adjectives (I’m a self-motivating, dynamic, creative individual. Sound familiar?).
Don’t fall into this trap.
So you have letters after your name? Great! How will that allow you to solve your client’s problem?
You have ten years experience working in your chosen field? Wonderful! Now tell me how that will affect your customer.
Paint a picture of how your specific skill set will benefit your target audience and you’ll be on the right track.
Okay, it is a little bit about you…
Because nothing in the world of copywriting is black and white, there is, of course, a caveat here.
As long as you’ve paid proper attention to the skills and attributes that your customers are looking for and shown how these will benefit their business or improve their lives, it’s absolutely okay to share the odd bit of random information about you. It’s great to give people an idea of who you are and why you’ll be suited to working with them. This is especially true for anyone who has identified their own personality as part of their USP. So don’t be afraid to let a little bit of “you” shine through too.
Stay tuned for my next post which will give you a few more tips for tackling your “about me” page, including what to include and what you should definitely avoid.
Still not sure how to go about constructing the perfect “about me” page or bio? Give me a shout: firstname.lastname@example.org
‘I don’t know the rules of grammar…If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think.’
I absolutely love this quote because it really made me stop and evaluate the very nature of the copywriting business.
In trying to determine whether I agreed with this Ogilvy statement, I was brought back to the very essence of good copywriting: knowing your audience.
I can be a bit of a grammar geek. Someone uttering ‘I seen’ gives me shivers – not in a good way. And I’m sure you’ve all heard me wax lyrical about the misuse of the word ‘literally’.
So here’s the bit where you’ll be surprised. Good grammar isn’t always essential to good copywriting. In fact, sometimes it’s downright damaging! Sometimes you gotta break the rules.
Yup, I’ve said it and I’ll stand by it. And here’s why.
It’s about the audience! I can’t stress this enough.
Dear Mr Ogilvy is right: you MUST consider who you’re writing for, who you’re selling to. Then write for them. How do they think? How do they speak? What kind of language will they relate to?
For some audiences perfect grammar and beautifully structured syntax will be a huge turn off. Constructions that are technically correct but that aren’t widely used today, will come across as patronising and fussy – and you’ve lost the game.
You mustn’t be pedantic; copy is no place for that. Unless you’re selling an English course or tweed jackets with leather elbow patches.
Back to Ogilvy now: you’ll note from the above quote that this advertising giant wasn’t exactly uneducated. He was clearly very well spoken and while he may not have officially learnt the rules of grammar, his writing suggests he had absorbed most of them somewhere along the line.
Does this invalidate his point? Do copywriters even need a good grasp of grammar?
You’re damned right we do!
As I’ve already said, the key to this, is knowing your audience and their expectations. There will be times when grammatically correct prose is exactly what is required. Imagine you’re looking for a lawyer – will you choose the guy whose website is badly written, full of slang and dodgy syntax or will you go for the one whose marketing comes across as intelligent, capable and even erring on the right side of pedantic? You’ll choose the latter every time because those are the qualities you’re looking for in a lawyer.
What’s the bottom line here?
It’s all about communication. Will your audience understand your message and more importantly will they agree with it? Will it persuade them to take action? Will it sell? The language you use will determine this.
So make sure you’re getting the balancing act right when you’re planning your marketing copy. Always keep your target audience at the forefront of your mind and write directly to them. But do brush up on your grammar when you have a spare minute. After all, it’s easier to break the rules if you actually know what they are in the first place!