The aim of this article is to help you put pen to paper - or fingers on keys - and get writing so you can grow your brand and enjoy the benefits of some damn fine copy.
Most people think because they did English at school they have all the writing skills they need - but we know they couldn’t be more wrong. That's why you're here isn't it? You’re already two steps ahead of the pack and your business and marketing will be all the better for it.
1. Ditch the jargon.
We’ll start with a fairly obvious point that so many people get wrong. Industry jargon might seem natural to you (why wouldn’t it when you use these terms all the time) but will your customers understand?
A few weeks ago an interior designer asked me what I thought of their Instagram captions and tone of voice. Their images were beautiful but the captions were so wordy (more on that later) and full of industry jargon that it was hard to understand what they were trying to say. Kitchen cabinets were called ‘furniture’ and handles ‘cabinet hardware’ which is confusing and sounds robotic - it’s not something your average Joe would say is it?
It’s time to ditch the jargon and write for Joe
I know what you’re thinking - but I need to use jargon in my industry. My customers expect it. That’s fine. Only you know if that’s the case or not. A good test is to think of your ideal customer and ask how familiar they are with industry jargon.
For example, if the interior designer was talking to a kitchen fitter (who supply and fit kitchens for the general public), they could get away with using jargon because the fitters will be familiar with it. It’s all about making your ideal customer happy and speaking to THEM.
2. Paint a picture.
It’s all about the details. The best way to stand out and inject some personality into your words is to paint a picture for your readers. Vague doesn’t sell, it’s too fluffy and people don’t trust it.
Let’s take a look at what I’m talking about:
A life coach might say ‘Find Your Power’ but what does that even mean? They’ve lost us already.
Are they helping us; find the strength to leave an abusive partner? Learn how to live a life we love? Find our deepest, darkest passion in life? Who knows.
It’d be much better if they told us; “Find your power and break through the glass ceiling. Hello new CEO!” Or “Find your power, connect with your inner voice and start trusting your intuition”.
Now you’re talking!
You can paint a picture by looking back over what you’ve written and asking 'can I add more detail here?' Do this a few times and you'll have something much more appealing. And don't forget to write like you're talking to your BFF (this is where what you learnt at school goes out the window) and add a bit of you-ness. That's when your copy will really come to life.
Here’s what I mean:
“When I wake up I get out of bed and have some breakfast.”
Hmmm it’s not quite doing it for me. Let’s try this:
“When I wake up at 7:00am I put on my fluffy slippers and dressing gown, then I go downstairs and eat a bowl of cereal.”
Better, but let’s make it juicier:
“I like to wake up on the hour, or at exactly quarter past or half past. Call me odd but it doesn’t sit right with me to get up at 7:01 or 6:14 - that extra minute is everything. Once I’m up, I put on my pink fluffy slippers and waffle dressing gown (I like to feel like I’m in a spa), then I trot downstairs and sit on the sofa to eat my bowl of bran flakes, almond milk and blueberries.”
See, it’s the details that bring it to life.
3. Cut it out.
This is where you go over what you’ve written and cut out anything you don’t need. If a word isn’t adding anything to the sentence then be brutal and lose it.
This tends to be words like:
In my opinion
Any words that make your sentence sound less direct need to go.
We tend to fluff up our sentences because most people - especially us ladies - find that softening our words makes us sound less demanding. I’m giving you a free pass to sound as demanding AF.
Being direct is amazing for your copy.
Since I applied it to my emails it takes me half the time. Don’t get me wrong I still slip back into people pleasing fluff mode from time to time. I had to stop myself earlier from writing:
I know times are strange right now, but if you could just let me know if you'd like to go ahead as planned that’d be great :-)”
Oh no no no. I even put the ‘this is an awkward question so please like me smiley’ on the end. I quickly changed it to:
The new website looks great, you must be pleased with it. Now the work’s finished could you let me know if you'd like to ahead as planned with your marketing.”
Good copy gets to the point so people don’t have to search for what you’re trying to say. Take a look at McDonalds, they say “I'm lovin' it” not “I'm really lovin' it” Can you see how it loses its punch immediately?
4. Keep it simple.
If you want to write copy that connects with your audience you need to write like you speak. Yes this means shoving what you learnt in English lessons into a deep, dark crevice of your mind - you won’t be needing it.
Don’t be pretentious with your words; why be discombobulated when you can be confused? Why say “I will respond forthwith” when you can say “I’ll get back to you later.”
There’s no bigger turn-off for a customer than having to work out what you’re trying to say, and they won’t stick around to work it out either - they’ll move on to a business they do understand.
Attention spans are so short now, you need to get to the point quickly. You want your copy to be read and acted on.
If you’re stuck, try reading a sentence out loud. If you stumble and find it hard to say you know you need to simplify it.
I know some people LOVE to be wordy. We all know one of these people, the ones who insist on saying ‘elucidate’ rather than ‘explain’ and we have to let them get on with it. You know that simple sells.
5. Get active.
This section is where I get a bit teacher-y. We’re going to talk about passive voice and active voice. Before you completely switch off, let me say that if you can wrap your head around this your writing will improve dramatically.
The passive voice is a sentence where the subject receives the verb’s action (it’s easier when you see it in practice):
“The cake [object] is eaten [verb] by Mary [subject].”
“Most money [object] is made [verb] by people who take action [subject].”
Compare this to the active voice where the subject acts on its verb:
“Mary [subject] eats [verb] the cake [object].”
“People who take action [subject] make [verb] money [object].”
As you can see, the active voice is a winner for your copy because it’s more direct and easier to read. We tend to write in the passive voice to soften our sentences but this also softens the message.
Sometimes (but very rarely) you might need to use the passive voice. This is usually when you don’t know who the subject of the sentence is or you want the focus of the sentence to be on the object. Let’s say the cat is irrelevant to this story:
“The mouse [object] is chased [verb] by the cat [subject]. It was fed up with the cat.”
Or the cat is missing all together:
“The mouse [object] was being chased [verb]. All it wanted was to get to the cheese.”
You’ll find the passive voice pops up when you use the words listed below alongside a second verb in the past tense - stick with me - here’s what I’m talking about:
“I will be [verb] showing [past tense verb] you how to build the business of your dreams.”
Here’s that sentence in the active voice:
“I’ll show you how to build the business of your dreams.”
One more for the road:
PASSIVE: “If you want to get more clients buy my book about selling.”
ACTIVE: “Buy my book about selling to get more clients.”
Here's one last copywriting tip.
I couldn’t stop at 5 tips so here’s a quick bonus section. Let’s talk about call to actions (also known as C-to-As or CTAs).
This short sentence can make you more money, get email sign ups, increase social media engagement and get Jeff from EE to give you a better deal on your phone contract - cheers Jeff! Another name for it should be:
ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT
You’ve all heard the line ‘if you don’t ask you don’t get’ and in this case it’s true. How do people who are looking at your website, social media, blog, emails etc know what to do unless you tell them? It seems obvious now I’ve said it but I see good copy missing this all the time.
Don’t tell me you feel awkward asking, I know we all like to be British about these things but you need to get used to telling people what you’d like them to do. Tell them how to take the next step and add a link to do it (this often works well as a button but it doesn’t have to be):
“If you enjoyed this email you’ll also like my online baking course [TELL ME MORE]” “Like what you see? [Let’s work together]” “Thanks for reading! Don’t miss out on future posts, sign up for my emails below: [SIGN UP]” “Don’t let three more months pass by and still be stuck where you are now. Grow your business today with my new how to guide [BUY NOW]”
You get the gist. You’ll be amazed how well asking for what you want works.
Going back to the story about Jeff from EE, when my phone contract was up for renewal I said “Jeff” (people LOVE it when you use their name, it lights up a bit of the brain that makes them feel needed and they’re more receptive to what you have to say).
Anyway, I said “Jeff, I’ve been a customer for ages, let's not dance around. Give me the best deal you’ve got.”
I asked for it and he did. Now it's your turn.
That’s it. Go forth and write your copy! The main thing is to get something written down and work from there. Don't overthink it.
Article by Ashley Hoyland
(Founder + Head of Marketing)