Rhonda Chapman has done something many of you dream about: she’s given up the day job and is starting out as a copywriter. Here’s her latest post.
It’s been a very interesting transition setting up as a freelance copywriter working full time on my own. There were times when I nearly threw in the towel because things were not moving as fast as I wished with some projects or when my writing style didn’t fit in well with a client’s wishes.
Naturally, the next thing on my list was to see where I was going wrong so I could improve my copywriting skills. I knew I could only do so through research and practice. Below I’ll talk briefly about what I did.
But before I do that, let me encourage you to not let your clients’ negative feedback get to your head.
One thing that is clear is that there are more clients who love my work and who write rosy testimonials, than there are clients who just couldn’t understand the reason I write the way I do and why I might want to follow a ‘proven’ formula when writing for sale.
And like every copywriter knows, there’s no magic keyboard to help you please every client.
Anyway, as promised let’s get on with it. Here’s what I’m doing to help improve my copywriting skills.
Secret #1: If you want strong copywriting skills, study strong case studies
It’s all about understanding why successful copywriters chose to write their copy the way they did. I find it useful to follow their blogs so I can read their case studies. A few also run YouTube or iTunes channels where they place videos to explain what they did.
If I have a question, then it’s as simple as commenting or shooting them an email and asking straight up – “Why did you write it like that?”
My favourites include some case studies from our Aussie copywriters:
- Glenn Murray’s video on structuring your navigation around multiple keywords
- The Ben Settle Show – please only listen at your own risk!
There are also free and paid copywriting courses and seminars.
I signed up to a few including Copyblogger’s free MyCopyBlogger course which gives “16 high-impact ebooks, a 20-part Internet marketing course, and a weekly roundup”.
Secret #2: Put all the advice and feedback to good use
As a copywriter, I have to use feedback to improve my copywriting skills and also to help determine what to include in my copy. I gather feedback mostly from three different groups:
- Other copywriters and editors: I joined groups on Facebook and Google Plus (including the Clever Copywriting group) so I can ask for feedback.
- Clients: If they don’t provide feedback, I ask for it. I recently asked for feedback when I had reached a major milestone in a project. I needed to know that I was on the right track.
- Target audience: I check social media pages, review sites and forums to see how customers describe the same or similar services or products I’m writing about. I figure if people put their opinion out there, then by all means use it against them in my copy to touch their soft spots.
Secret #3: Buy a storage box and start a copywriting collection
Gone are the days when I used to chuck junk mail into the bin without reading it first.
Today I scream, “Wait! Don’t! I need that!” as my other half walks towards the bin with a bunch of unsolicited mail.
I start going through and pull out whatever looks like gold copywriting samples I could someday put to use. I usually go through my box at least once a week to find an idea or two.
I also buy one magazine issue per industry I write for. It’s the fastest way for me to know the kind of articles and advertisements that are published in there.
I now have the equivalent of a two-litre storage container overflowing with brochures, magazines, flyers, restaurant menus and newspaper clippings. Even the ones that look like scam!
Why do I keep all this? I assume there’s a good reason why these big boys paid these copywriters.
I also keep a DropBox folder of samples and ebooks others have shared.
Secret #4: Use the rule of three more effectively
Briefly, the rule of three is what’s been applied when you see something like:
- “Blood, sweat and tears”
- “Eat, pray, love”
- “Location, location, location”
Clusters like these make a reader remember things better because the phrases tend to ‘ring’ or have a rhythm in them. This could be through the use of three words, three bullet points or three different images forming a pattern.
Or a sentence like the one you’ve just read above – it contains three examples in a row.
I’ve always used the rule of three but I never got to use them all the time in my day jobs but back then I wasn’t trying to be as creative or persuasive as now.
Now I’m getting used to popping some word clusters in everything whenever possible so I can add some impact to my copy.
Secret #5: Polish your grandma grammar and spelling
I bought a book – Grammar for Grown-ups by Craig Shrives. It’s my early birthday present and it’s full of rules I had forgotten about or was never taught at school.
Since I’m not a champ at grammar and spelling, I’m studying the book very closely.
Oh, and I’m also now making sure that I factor in a proofreader when I quote for a project.
Secret #6: Learn to write SEO without sounding like you’re writing for SEO
Before life as a copywriter writing for the web, I was only writing to keep readers engaged and to simply make them take action.
Now I have to do more – I have to care about keywords as well.
There are great blogs out there and they help me keep up to date with the changes happening with the way we approach search engine optimisation (SEO). It’s easier this way as it’s getting harder to keep track with Google and all the changes that keep happening.
One of the posts I recommend for new copywriters is Kate Toon’s 66 Super Simple SEO Tips.
There’s also the Manage WP Writing for SEO article which shows how to write for SEO without sounding like you’re writing for SEO.
Secret #7: Know how to ask for the order and craft better calls to action
I’m learning how to use better and more convincing words to persuade people to make a purchase or to take any other action. Some very simple examples include:
- Using urgency, fear and scarcity to strengthen the primary call to action
- Challenging visitors to take action: “5,000 Australians will lose $500 extra per week this year. Are you going to be one of them?”
- Adding a PS at the bottom of emails as secondary calls to action. Great for those who are not ready to buy from you: “PS If you’re on Facebook, please come over and say ‘Hi Ben, I just purchased your new ebook’”
- Nurturing them through emails – usually with a 5-7 autoresponder series including a survey – and knowing when to ask for the order
Always be learning. Even senior copywriters say they’re still learning… and they’ve been in the game for a long, long time.
And please don’t freak out if your client doesn’t like your copy. Learn from their feedback and ask them to clarify their comments.
Over to you
What have you done lately to improve your copywriting skills? Do you have any tips to share? Who do you follow and what makes them so great?