“So, how do you know what to write?” What to give to a copywriter to help them get it right, first time
I was at the dentist yesterday when he asked what I did for a living.
“I’m a copywriter,” I said. “I write words for businesses.”
“Which industry?” he asked.
“Any,” I said. “I’ve written for almost all industries.”
“What about dental?”
“Hmm. You got me there,” I said. “I’ve never written copy for a dentist before.”
He seemed perplexed by my occupation for a few seconds, then he finally asked, “So, how do you know what to write for so many different businesses? Do you do a lot of reading?”
It’s a great question. In fact, it’s probably the most frequently asked question I get when I explain to people what I do.
There is a common misconception that copywriters have an encyclopedic knowledge of all subjects known to man, and therefore, can write technically accurate copy with little assistance. Sometimes, as the copywriter on a project, I’m expected to just know what to write.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. While I wish that my general knowledge was above average, and I was as comfortable writing about drone technology as I am penning prose on wastewater management, I absolutely have to do research. Or, at the very least, work closely with the client to understand the key messages and technical points that need to be communicated to meet specific objectives.
The fact is, we simply aren’t subject matter experts for your business or industry. But it’s very likely that you are, or at least there is someone in the business who is. Our job is to take this expertise and repackage it into words that educate, engage, excite or entertain. And do it using bloody good English too.
When a copywriter is engaged by a client to write copy, they generally need a bit of guidance initially until they have built up enough knowledge about your business and your industry that they can become reasonably self-sufficient.
For me, being a fairly casual operator, this could be in the form of a chat over the phone, or an email with relevant links (or both). And the more information you can provide me with, the better the final outcome will be.
Many copywriters have a copywriting brief of some description that they give to the client to fill out. I don’t, and I’m probably in the minority to be honest. The main reason I don’t use a formal briefing form is because I can generally get all the information that I need from speaking with the client and asking them questions over the phone or email. The other reason I don’t use one is that many of my small business clients are unfamiliar with completing briefs, and find them a bit of a hassle. And I like to try and make things as easy as possible for my clients, without compromising the quality of the work that I do.
There are, however, some key ingredients that can be really helpful when engaging a copywriter for the first time. Here’s a quick list:
If you’ve already come up with some rough bullet points, or even some draft copy, that’s ideal. Not only will it ensure we get on the same page quickly, but it will save me time (and you money) by ensuring we hit the mark quickly.
But, if you are struggling to reach the point of knowing what to write, don’t worry. I’ll work with you to tease out the important parts and ask specific questions to get what I need in order to craft a beautiful piece of copy.
Once I’ve done some work for you, and you’re happy with the outcome, I’m confident that I’ll have enough of a grasp on your business, industry and style to work independently if needed. Whether this means that I start suggesting content that I think will be of value, or you continue to provide a specific brief each time, we’ll work out a process that feels right.
If you still have reservations about engaging or briefing a copywriter, I’d be happy to give you some guidance. Just email me here.
When I was editing an e-book for a client recently, I realised that a lot of what I was doing was reformatting the content to improve its readability. The technical information was impressive, but it wasn’t easy to digest. The content was dense, with long sentences that sometimes had to be read a couple of times in order to understand the key message the client was trying to get across.
That’s where a professional copywriter is in their element. Not only can we see what needs to be done to ensure the information is easily understood by the target audience, we’re objective enough to be able to cut out the unnecessary bits that don’t add any value. Yes, it might hurt a little at first (after all, you’re proud of your work as you should be), but in the long run, it’s more important to end up with content that’s a pleasure to read, than something that is long-winded, confusing or boring.
If you struggle with keeping things concise and well-structured, here are some quick tips to take your content from rambling to readable:
1. Skip the buzzwords
Yes, you want to convey your expertise on a topic, but your content shouldn’t read like a university thesis. Why not? Well, to start with, unless your target readers are university professors, they’re probably not there to spend hours immersed in the detail. They want the right information delivered in the right way: short snackable sentences, a friendly tone, and language and examples they can relate to and understand.
Always consider your audience first and foremost when you’re writing content, and look after them. Take them by the hand and guide them through the information without giving in to the urge to dazzle them with your technical know-how and industry buzzwords. Keep sentences on the shorter side and avoid using words with too many syllables – there’s always a simpler way of saying something.
2. Engage with clever sub-headings
Content that’s easy to read, whether it’s on a website, in a blog article or a sales letter you received in the mail, is generally broken down into bite-sized chunks. That’s because time-poor readers often just want to scan the page to absorb the important bits. They want to get to the information they’re interested in without having to run the whole marathon.
How do you help them do this? With engaging sub-headings that capture what the paragraph is about and encourage your audience to read on. By taking a solid page of information and breaking it down into distinct paragraphs, each with their own stylish little hat on, you’re not only making your content easier to scan and absorb, you’re also enticing the reader to keep going by essentially adding a mini advertisement for what they’re about to read.
3. Light the way with signposts
Signposts are words you use to help readers navigate your content. They help connect thoughts, remind readers of what they’ve just read, and tell them where they’re going next. For example, words such as ‘In addition’, ‘As a result’ and ‘In summary’, or even a question you pose, can connect sentences so that information is easier to understand.
Signposts are important in making your content more readable because sometimes attention spans are short and distractions happen. Your readers’ attention might be starting to fade, so a good signpost at the right time will quickly bring them back to the point you’re making. Think about adding a question at the start of a paragraph such as ‘How does this benefit you?’ That’s enough to quickly grab someone’s attention and help them navigate a complex topic with you.
4. Break it up with call out boxes
A visually attractive way of breaking up content and making it more readable is with call out boxes containing quotes from your content (pull quotes), or additional information such as tips or fun facts. By sprinkling them throughout your content, not only do they effectively break up slabs of words, they also highlight the important information that you really want the readers to take away.
Choose interesting quotes that will entice readers to keep going, and stick to one thought per quote. It’s also best to have a little distance between the quote you choose and where it appears in the actual text, so it doesn’t feel repetitive to read. And, finally, don’t overdo it. You want your call-out boxes to be a welcome feature, not an over-used distraction.
5. Get your (bullet) point across
As a copywriter who creates a lot of online content, I love bullet points. They break down information into short snippets, they’re easy for readers to scan (super important for website and email copy) and they’re a great way to highlight key information. Use bullet points when you want to convey complex information quickly or reinforce key messages in a way that’s easy for the audience to follow and remember.
On the flip side, bullet points are a bit of a pain in the arse to edit because everyone seems to have their own rules when it comes to bullet point formatting. Do you start each bullet point with an upper- or lower-case letter? Do you end it with a full stop, comma or semi-colon? How far in does your indent go? How many levels are acceptable? Yes, bullet points can be a minefield, so it might be helpful to have a think about your preferred bullet point formatting before you start using them so you can be as consistent throughout your content as possible. Or, you can just hire a copywriter to sort it out for you.
Do you have any other tips for improving readability? Let me know in the comments below.
If you’re running a business that uses Instagram as a marketing platform, I bet that it’s something you have a love / hate relationship with it. I know that for my own product business, I struggle to come up with good content on a consistent basis. From curating photos that complement your brand, to thinking of perfectly clever captions, to harnessing all the right hashtags, it can be a huge investment of time for many business owners.
When I mention Instagram to my fellow entrepreneurial friends, I’m always met with a collective sigh and eye roll as they describe the burden of maintaining Instagram followers for what sometimes seems like little return.
To make matters worse, a recent algorithm change to Instagram means that it’s harder than ever to see good organic engagement with your posts, with many businesses noticing a significant drop in post interactions this year. In fact, it’s widely quoted that only 10% of your followers are able to see your posts, as Instagram attempts to only serve content that it thinks you care about.
Despite the effort that it entails, Instagram really is the place to be for many product (and service) businesses, and there are plenty of examples of businesses who have gotten traction solely through this platform. So, if you want to continue to use Instagram to promote your business, but you’re struggling to come up with content, I’m going to share some ideas for ‘types’ of content that differ from the usual product sell.
You can use these ideas to put together a basic content plan which will help you churn out content on a regular basis, and keep it varied and interesting. Having a plan also means you can create your posts ahead of time on days where you are feeling a little more inspired, or at times when your business is quieter, like during school holidays.
Creating a content plan doesn’t need to be a scary thing. It can be as basic as a list of ideas on a Word document, or a simple Excel spreadsheet. All you need to do is list out different types of content down the left side of the page (see below for inspiration), and have dates running across the top (or ‘Week 1’, ‘Week 2’ etc.). Then, in the middle of this table, add in the specific topic ideas under the dates you would like to run them, and beside each relevant content type. Simple, right?
How frequently you post is entirely dependent on you. Most social media marketers would recommend posting as frequently as possible – daily, in fact. But from my perspective, this isn’t practical for many small businesses, and you’ll quickly run out of quality content to post if you commit to doing this right off the bat. So, the answer to the frequency question is ‘Post as often as feasible for your business and lifestyle’.
Here are some ideas for different types of Instagram content that you can adopt for your business today:
So, there you have it. Just a few ideas for Instagram content that’s different to simply uploading photos of your products. If you’ve got other ideas, I would love to hear them! Just add them in the comments below.
Although I only started blogging on this website recently, I’ve been writing blog articles for my copywriting clients for a while now. Along with website content, blog articles are one of the main reasons a professional copywriter like me is hired. If you have a business and you don’t currently maintain a blog on your website, there are so many juicy reasons for having one. Or, you might already have one but are feeling a little tired of the blogging game, and need some motivation to keep going. Either way, here are five compelling reasons to get that blog cranking:
Improve your search rankings
Publishing regular fresh content on relevant topics is the best thing you can do for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), so that your organic search rankings improve. Google loves content, particularly in-depth content about topics that are relevant to what people are searching for. Your blog articles can also appear in search results, providing more opportunities for people to find you, increasing your website traffic in the process. And by updating your blog every so often, Google knows that your website is being kept up-to-date and will be more likely to send people your way.
Engage people with your brand
I’ve learnt so much about businesses by reading their blogs – what they stand for, what they’re passionate about, and how their business can help me. A blog is an opportunity for a brand to show their personality and provide engaging content that adds value to the reader. You might be an interior designer who wants to showcase examples of your work, or a personal trainer with lots of client success stories to inspire others. Perhaps you have helpful tips on how to use your products effectively, an ethical or environmental stance you want to highlight, or you want to share stories behind some of your customers or suppliers. Useful, inspiring, interesting or just plain amusing, your blog is the place where you can attract, engage, and hopefully, convert.
Demonstrate your expertise
If you have plenty of great articles on your website, you’re not only keeping visitors there longer but you’re also demonstrating your expertise and authority. Maybe you’re a financial adviser, and you want to show your clients how much you’re across what’s happening in the industry and how it could impact them, for example, new government legislation. I know that I’m more likely to be drawn to a website with high quality, useful, up-to-date content, than something that hasn’t been touched since 2010. And if I think you’ve got more authority on a topic that’s important to me, I’m more likely to engage your services.
Answer customer queries
Although some businesses might like their customers contacting them with questions, answering common queries through website content is a massive time-saver. This is usually done through an FAQ page; however, your blog is a chance to go a little more in-depth and provide useful information about your business, service or products. You could even embed a video into a blog article that visually demonstrates how something is made or used. If you’re a service provider, such as a freelancer or consultant, you can explain how your process works in a friendly and engaging way. If you’ve got a bit more detail to include than what can typically fit into an FAQ, blog it!
Generate content for social and email
Your blog acts as a central repository of content which you can then use on your social media channels and in your customer emails or newsletter. If you’ve got a new article popping up on your blog every now and then, you’ve always got something to share with people. Plus, by amplifying your blog articles through social media and email, you’re drawing people back to your website to continue reading, which can only be a good thing. And if you’ve managed to build an audience with your blog posts, then when it’s time to announce a new product line, special offer or event, you’ve already got the attention of people who are familiar with your content and brand.
So if you’re um-ing and ah-ing about starting a blog, I’ve given you a few good reasons to go out and do it. And if you need some help coming up with ideas and writing great content, just drop me an email.
While I had a full-time job, I started two businesses: This one (Make it clear) and my online gift business Gift Boss.
Two years ago, I had no intention of running my own business, let alone businesses. So I thought it would be worthwhile going back in time and writing down how it all happened. It’s quite a detailed account, so I’ve broken it up into several parts. If you’re still with me, great. Let’s get started!
Part 2: Becoming a freelance copywriter
Quitting my secure job and heading out into the world of freelance copywriting was something that happened slowly over the course of 12 months. While I would love to say that I was that person who threw their 9 to 5 job out the window and jumped head first into full-time freelance work, I’m not. I’m a little more risk-averse than that. And I have a Sydney mortgage to pay. So this just wasn’t feasible.
To be honest, going freelance was never about money anyway. I was under no illusion that I would be able to replace my salary, or even come close, for at least the first few years after making the switch. But that didn’t matter to me. The decision to go freelance was about the freedom that came from working for myself and the flexibility that this new life would allow me to have. Go for a walk and listen to a podcast whenever I want? Don’t mind if I do!
So, with that aspiration firmly etched in my mind, I set up my first business – Make it clear – while I was still a full-time employee. Make it clear is my freelance copywriting business which I started because, put simply, I love to write. And what I love to write the most (and what I think I’ve been pretty good at over the years) is clear concise copy that helps people communicate effectively with their audiences.
I came up with a business name that speaks to exactly what I think I can do for others (make things clear), registered an ABN (surprisingly easy), bought the domain on GoDaddy and built a basic website with Weebly. All in one weekend. How pleased was I with myself? Very, until I realised that that was the easy part of starting a business. The tricky part was yet to come.
Hustle hustle hustle
When you’re running your own business or freelance gig, you need to work really hard at putting yourself out there (uncomfortable for me) and building up your online presence on Google or on social media (tough in a crowded market). So I started with the easiest approach: the ‘telling everyone you come into contact with about your new business’ method. The hairdresser, the massage therapist, the osteopath, the property manager, friends, family, neighbours, my parents’ neighbours and even work colleagues, all copped an earful of my new venture. And it paid off. My first client happened to call me about a conversation we had had months ago about property investment. I threw in a casual “Who writes your newsletter content? Because I’ve started freelance copywriting now…”, which led to us brainstorming a content series about investing in Newcastle (which his company was exploring as a new market). The articles I wrote for him resulted directly in client interest in the services his company offered. Boom. Content marketing at its finest.
Following this content series, the client engaged me to write the copy for their new website and client communications, and he also started referring me to people he knew who needed a copywriter. Winning! The timing of our initial conversation really was so fortunate, as was the courage to ask who did their content (what have you got to lose by asking?!). Securing the first client when I did gave me a little boost of confidence that I was doing the right thing, and that good work is rewarded with more work. My first copywriting client took a chance on me, had a mind open to the benefits that clever content can have on their bottom line, and for that I am forever grateful.
You rub my back…
My next clients were two sisters who ran a holistic health business and needed help with their website copy and blog articles. They didn’t have much budget so we worked out a ‘skill swap’ system where my husband and I would get free massage and osteo appointments in exchange for copywriting and copy editing services. I was happy with this arrangement. After all, I was still starting out plus the years spent at a computer had given me chronic neck and shoulder tightness and pain. So this arrangement worked nicely. And my freeloading husband thought it was pretty good too.
I fit my freelance work in on weekends and some evenings after I got home from my day job. Thankfully my 9 to 5 wasn’t exhausting or mentally draining enough to impact my ability to fit this in. If I was stressed out at work, or worked long hours (on top of my pretty significant commute), there’s no way I would have been able to start my side hustle. You really do need a certain amount of energy and mental clarity to be able to write and keep up with the business admin, such as quoting, invoicing, managing expenses and keeping the website up-to-date.
My list of copywriting clients began to grow purely through referrals which I was very thankful for, and I began to write for all sorts of industries: from artificial intelligence, to children’s toys, to financial advice, to event styling to GPS fleet tracking to Iyengar Yoga. I loved it all and I particularly loved working directly with small business owners. It was easy, agile and most of all, satisfying. I could see my work up on their websites or social media straight away, rather than having to go through the multiple rounds of stakeholder review, compliance and legal sign off and meetings that epitomised corporate life. Ah, I don’t miss that at all!
In Part 3, I reflect on what made me start another business. Stay tuned!
This is the section where I tell you a little bit more about me. Not just as a freelance copywriter, but who I am as a person. The things that I like, the things that challenge me, my small business journey, freelance life, my copywriting and marketing tips, personal stuff and more. Because if you have a clear picture of who I am, then I feel you're in a better position to decide if I’m the freelance copywriter for you. Let’s go!