I might kick myself for telling you this…
But until all the enquiries on my website dry up because no-one needs to hire me anymore I’m going to leave this here.
If you are a small business owner or entrepreneur that needs to know how to write quality copy and can’t afford my services then this post is a good place to start.
It’s not meant to be an exhaustive ‘how-to’ on how to become a stellar copywriter, it’s just some of my thoughts on how almost anyone can improve their copywriting skills and increase their sales by following a few simple steps.
If you need to push out something right now and have no idea where to start then go right ahead and jump to the formula section of this article.
If you have a little time then use this guide to teach yourself how to be a better writer.
At the end, if you would still like to hire a professional to implement all of this and more I’d be happy to talk?
Part One: Getting Started
Read the best copywriting books
Stephen King said, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the tools to write”.
Doing some research about this essential business skill is vital. The average person reads only one book in their industry a year.
By reading just a few of these fundamental books and practising what you learn you can propel your copywriting skills in only a few short weeks.
My top 5 books on copywriting in no particular order are:
- Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets Of A Marketing Rebel – John Carlton
- Scientific Advertising – Claude Hopkins
- Tested Advertising Methods – John Caples
- How To Write A Good Advertisement – Victor Schwab
- Ogilvy On Advertising – David Ogilvy
Don’t be put off by how old some of these books are. They are classics for a reason.
While some of the products or examples may change with the times, salesmanship and the principles talked about in these books remain the same.
They are a great place to start and just reading these will put you a better position to advertise your own products and services than most of your competitors.
Find a great mentor
One of the best things you can do not just for copywriting, but life in general, is finding a good mentor.
This goes for any skill that you want to learn too.
I still remember the feeling when I thought I’d written a pretty good landing page, and my boss told me to start over from the beginning.
I was gutted. But I knew it was making me a better writer in the long run.
Find someone that really knows what they are doing and has achieved what you want, who’s business is a raging success, who’s ads pull in big bucks, and do everything you can to suck up to them.
Do them favours, buy them lunch, make their life easier, whatever you can do in return for them teaching you what they know about copywriting.
It may seem awkward asking for help but getting advice directly from a seasoned veteran is often enough to cut years off your progress by trying to learn it all yourself.
There’s a great quote I can’t remember who from along the lines of “The poor should buy the rich lunch, just for a chance to learn what they know”.
Swallow your pride, and ask for help from someone doing better than you. You won’t regret it.
Invest in copywriting courses
At some point, you may want to invest in courses to take your skills to the next level.
If you start to see income coming in from your improved copywriting, it makes sense to invest some of that back into yourself and increase your skills even more.
In the first few years out of university, I spent over $10,000 on courses, just because I didn’t want the learning to end.
There are a lot of courses available, but not every one of them is super valuable. You want to be sure to avoid people who are only good at training other people.
The last thing you want to do is take a course by someone who has no idea what they are teaching. You’ll be out of pocket and your skills won’t have improved because of it.
Look for people who’s names you know in the industry, and who can show demonstrable success in their careers.
If you don’t even know where to look here are a few superstars to get you started: John Carlton, Dan Kennedy, and Frank Kern just to name a few.
Part Two: While Writing
Understand your target market
This is where many business owners, unfortunately, go wrong.
There are countless businesses in which the owner thinks they are their own target market. But there’s a good chance you’ve spent years in your business, and you’re all too familiar with your products and services.
Someone walking by on the street might never have seen or heard about your product before. That doesn’t mean they don’t need it or want it. You just need to communicate it in a different way to them than you do to yourself.
Before you even put pen to paper you should be intimately close to your target market. To the point where you can create an ‘avatar’ of your best customer. Give them a name, an occupation, hopes, dreams, fears, frustrations.
You should be able to sit down and have a conversation with this person like you would a real family member. That’s when conversational copy will flow out of you and resonate with your target market just like you were talking to an old friend.
Follow a proven formula
There’s a lot of formulas out there for copywriting that can be very helpful.
The first one I learned to use was years ago before I even knew I wanted to get into copywriting. The liquor supermarket I used to work at had staff members write our ‘staff pick’ recommendations on little cards no bigger than a Post-It Note, so getting a clear message across was vital.
The formula they had us use was A.I.D.A. and it still works perfectly well enough for you to use today. A.I.D.A. stands for:
Here is a rundown of what each element in the A.I.D.A. formula entails.
The first thing you need to do with your copy is grab the readers attention.
Start with a headline that is relevant to your target market. Call out a fear or pain they are having and communicate it in the language they would use. As Robert Collier says, you want to “enter the conversation already taking place inside their heads”.
Now just because you’ve got the reader’s attention doesn’t mean they are going to stick around.
Your next job is to hold onto them by elaborating on your understanding of their unique problem or sharing engaging content with them that they will want to stick around to read.
Building desire happens throughout your copy. Your message should resonate with your target audience by describing the specific benefits to them buying and using your product or service, not just listing the features.
Build them up to the point where they think “I want that!”
Lastly, spell out what kind of action you want the reader to take. It’s amazing how many people don’t do this last step. Use a call to action and let the reader know how to purchase your product, where to call you, how to sign up for your list, or any other desirable action.
Just by putting everything you write through the A.I.D.A. formula you’ll already be well on your way to crafting a better sales message than if you just wrote down the first thing that came to mind.
Use the ‘So What?’ test
Continually review what you are writing and relentlessly ask yourself ’So what?’ If at any point you start diverging from the sales message and can’t answer that question you have just lost the readers attention, and most likely, their business.
The job of your copy isn’t just to fill a word count with rambling or enlighten the reader to what you think they ‘should know’. The job of your copy is to is to keep the attention of the reader long enough to stir up a burning desire for your product or service and then show them how they can order.
Part Three: After Writing
Speak your copy aloud
Don’t skip this step. Use a dictaphone (or even your smartphone these days) to record yourself speaking the copy out-aloud. If at any point it doesn’t sound like a normal conversation then you need to go back and re-write it.
A lot of people have the tendency of trying to ‘sound smart’ in their writing. University is appalling for this.
After three years learning to write academically I proactively went through a phase of unlearning how to write in such a sterile manner.
Your copy should read like you are having a one-on-one conversation with a real person. Because even though your website content or sales letter will be there for everyone to see there will still be a real person on the other side of a computer monitor or piece of paper reading your message.
Have someone else proofread your work
I have a dirty little secret. Even after writing for years I am still prone to making some completely avoidable spelling mistakes.
A lot of this can be fixed with tools like spell check, auto correct, or more sophisticated options like Grammarly, but the possibility is always there to make a faux pas.
The best option is to have a trusted advisor, whoever that may be, to scrutinise your copy before you go live with it. Someone who hasn’t just spent the last few hours writing your sales message to the point where you’re completing sentences in your own head and totally skimming over mistakes.
This is critical for not breaking your reader’s attention by a simple grammatical error.
Do yourself a favour and get an external set of eyes over your work and highlight any areas that need improvement before it’s too late.
Always test, measure, and optimise everything
Even if you’ve followed all of the previous steps it’s not good enough to just write an ad or piece of content and forget about it.
You need to measure the success of your copy so you can see what is working and what isn’t.
In this digital age, it’s never been easier to track the efficacy of your campaigns with things like open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates.
Split test your images, headlines, offers, and anything else you can to find winning combinations. Don’t change a whole landing page or ad if you can just tweak the headline.
Eliminate underperforming elements and you’ll start to learn the most effective way to communicate with your target market at increasingly lower costs.
Some markets will respond better to aspiration appeals, while others will respond better to fear.
Once you start to gain these insights you’ll be doing better off than the majority of people who are just winging it.
Now, get out there and write!
If you want it bad enough you can teach yourself how to write your own great copy. But if you don’t have the time or inclination to implement the advice in this guide then it might be time to hire a freelancer.