How do you write great copy?


If you do not have a job which involved copywriting, you may wonder why it takes so long.  After all, surely it is a case of just putting pen to paper.  We have all been writing for years, since we were five years old at school.  So what is the big fuss?

Copywriting is a skill and a process.

It is easier to write more than it is to write less.  And it is very simple to write from your own point of view.  But, that doesn’t get results when selling IT products or services.  You need to write from the eyes of the reader and know why you are writing in the first place.

There are very few good copywriters who put “pen to paper” at the start of the process.

My experiences comes from over 15 years of writing reports, proposals, websites, brochures, newsletters, press releases, posters, emails, adverts, blogs, tweets and the odd letter or two.

Follow my ten basic steps in writing copy to achieve your outcome.

Ten basic steps for copy writing  

1) Understand what action you are looking to achieve from writing

Whilst it is a great relief to finish a piece of copywriting, the real impact only begins once people start reading and more importantly, reacting to your words.  Set out with a clear vision of what you want the reader to do once they have read your work.  Think about your reader, the content they would read and how they would like to read it.  What is your outcome? One of my favourite phrases is – the meaning of your communication is the response you get.

2) Gather understanding of your subject area for your readers’ point of view

There is little point in writing about CRM and all of the benefits unless they are relevant to your audience.  Think from the point of view of say, a managing director.  He or she is unlikely to read the latest CRM journals or understand the latest news in the CRM market.  They are far more likely to be reading articles in Harvard Business Review, Director magazine and on subjects that interest them like winning new work or increasing revenues.  Step into your readers’ shoes and research from their perspective.

3) Pull out the important stuff

Information can be badly written and full of jargon so a quick copy and paste could do more harm than good.  Now is the time to separate the wheat from the chaff.  The chaff is the dry, scaly protective casings of the seeds of cereal grain.  Whilst it is inedible for humans, it is great livestock fodder.  Much of your “chaff” gleaned from research can be used in other areas.  For example, you could create a free white paper for your customers. Average attention span for an adult in 2012 is 8 seconds (source: The Associated Press) so keep it simple.

4) Probe a bit further

Now you have a great understanding, you can probably find better information so do a final check and start to re-read any other company material to prepare yourself before you start. There are things we do not know we don’t know so research thoroughly.

5) Stop reading and start asking and listening

There have been several occasions when I have received mountains of paperwork from a company to review.  When you sit down with the MD and a recorder, he or she can often explain their business in a simple way that you have never seen on paper.  Record it and write it up. Carry a recorder so that you can capture the gems to turn into powerful copy.

6) Get writing

Five steps before any writing begins – this can amaze people who do not write copy.  But now you will be in the shoes of one of your customers.  You will have done the research they may do before they buy.  So you can see, hear and feel what they can.  It’s a great position to write from.  Start to free write and put the structure in afterwards.

7) Simplify and re-arrange the flow

Arrange your copy so it is easy to read.  Think about your headlines and section breaks and consider where to shorten and use bullets or lists.  Remove language the reader will not understand.  Tell stories and give examples to bring your points to life.   Remember to tell the reader what you want them to do once they’ve read.  Do you want them to attend an event?  Get in touch? All of your hard work should be culminating in targeted and actionable words.

8) Sleep on it and edit again

Finish your copywriting with plenty of time to re-edit and at least have one sleep to come back to it with fresh eyes. Reading out loud helps you to hear what the copy will sound like to readers.

9) Get someone else to check it

Obvious, but it is all too often a step that is missed out.  And make sure you have spell checked. Book in the time to edit your work – polish time.

10) Avoid editing by committee

You have gone through this process and it is important to be able to decipher a great comment from a personal and possible uninformed perspective.  All too often, companies get hung up on the pitch that they would usually give in a sales meeting.  Look at the copy overall and negotiate the changes well.  As a copywriter you are only human and someone else may see some powerful additions or changes to your work.  Sometimes these additions may be more effective in a different format such as film. Be prepared to challenge your client or manager, as well as yourself

It wouldn’t be right for me to end this copy writing without a clear and defined action!  Practice what you preach.

So, get in touch with us at the Cowshed if you would like assistance in improving your business and sales through successful copywriting.  We specialise in helping remarkable IT organisations grow their businesses.

Susie

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