Not everyone will make it as a copywriter.
Some will fair out okay, and a lucky few will achieve every copywriter’s dream: Money conjured up with seemingly no effort.
These lucky few will have developed a few critical skills in their copy shed.
Yet, most everyone I speak to reassures me they can write decent copy when I tell them I’m looking to hire or coach some copywriters.
No, most marketers can’t write worth a damn.
Worse still, most people can’t write, yet most ads I see feature writers claiming they can write ads and websites.
Just how does a skilled copywriter differentiate themselves in the web space, where pretty much everyone is a “copywriter” or a “digital marketing expert” of some sort?
Here’s 8 skills you’ll have developed as a copywriter that should put these imitators to shame.
1. A skilled copywriter can persuade prospects to take action by applying proven copywriting techniques.
If copywriting is sales in print, then copywriting can’t just be about writing.
In other words, a writer can’t write copy without training. This means loads of businesses make the costly (in terms of both money and time lost) mistake of hiring any writer to write their copy–or worse, they write it themselves. The result?
This isn’t always the case though.
And the problem is, if a business owner’s got poor copy up, it’s probably a waste of time to try to educate them on what good copy looks like.
I tend to try to avoid clients I have to educate on my value. I’m not trying to sell myself here, not in the traditional sense anyway.
What I’m trying to do is discover mutual points that are of potential benefit to both parties.
Make sure your prospect know how an experienced copywriter can help their business. A skilled copywriter,, after all, can lower doubts and barriers to purchase by using persuasion techniques that have been tested as effective time and again.
It’s unfortunate, but despite what all these courses will have you believe, a person can’t just pick up a pen and paper and become a copywriter overnight.
You know it takes years of dedication and experience and training and practice to get this copywriting thing down pat.
One advantage copywriters (and many modern-day analytics-leaning marketers) have the advantage of working based on results.
We know what works. We’ve studied it for years. We’ve seen good copy… and bad copy (most of it bad).
So one easy way your prospects can differentiate their business from competitors is simply with convincing copy that persuades people to take a desired action or move them toward a desired goal.
If your prospects can understand that this is one major advantage you can bring to the table, your offer instantly has that much more appeal.
2. Prospects need SEO-friendly copy.
Not every copywriter is well versed in SEO. But according to Bob Bly (known as the most successful copywriter alive), you don’t need to know it as long as you adhere to good copywriting (and writing) principles.
Think about it this way. Google’s algorithms are always changing. But why?
The changes they make reflect what Google believes reflects good content. (Based on UX behavior, they try to rank links based on what they believe the searcher is seeking.)
In 2018, Google shifted gears and started giving higher priority to RankBrain. This means an essential component of good SEO writing is the consideration of dwell time.
Dwell time is defined as the duration someone stays on your page after clicking through.
As a copywriter, you should have familiarized yourself with the various techniques in your copywriting arsenal you can rely on to get someone to read all your copy.
That’s why a copywriter can also write great content. (Still, it pays to study storytelling techniques as well, especially if you’re aiming to get into brand copywriting. I love fiction. I read and write fiction for myself all the time, and I’m convinced it’s made me a better copywriter.)
In other words, adhere to good copywriting principles (like writing strong headlines and Joseph Sugarman‘s slippery slide principle).
3. Banishing bad grammar and spelling issues.
Here’s an interesting fact: A UK study showed that 59% of Internet users would avoid businesses that make obvious spelling or grammar mistakes (Global Lingo).
Sure, even legendary ad man David Ogilvy once famously remarked that grammar and spelling are inconsequential if they don’t sell. But what if you can tell your prospects are losing potential sales because of poor grammar and spelling?
A quick visit to their site should tell you if this is the case. Any glaring mistakes might put off potential customers.
I’m not saying you need to speak with eloquence and poise.
You need to communicate with your audience in their own language and so forth.
But if you make any mistakes in your copy, they must be intentional. In other words, they must carry intent and purpose.
In contrast, unintentional mistakes can leave people questioning your legitimacy. (Such mistakes can make a business look cheap–or worse, fake.)
As a former science editor, I appreciate good writing. Because what makes for good reading is a basic understanding of the fundamentals.
When you know the rules, you know how and when to break them.
Either way, even with good grammar and spelling, you might not produce new customers for your prospects—but they certainly won’t lose any customers because of it.
4. Appropriate formatting sells. Are your prospects adhering to good web copy principles?
Web copy differs a lot from its printed counterpart.
This is mainly because people read differently online than when reading on paper. In fact, it turns out Internet users don’t “read” at all.
Instead, they skim.
Picture yourself sitting in front of your laptop.
It’s just you and your favorite search engine. Now what?
Do you type a random word in, and off you go? Or do you search for something specific?
And once the results pop up, you’re read to start following your “scent trail”.
Maybe you open one tab. You probably open several (maybe even a couple dozen like I do) and leave them open. You go through each one in order.
You keep the ones you like, close the ones you deem irrelevant to your search.
And how do you scan these pages?
You look for keywords.
Now picture yourself reading a book. Do you “read” the same way?
Today’s copywriter must understand how people seek and absorb information online.
This makes formatting for the web a major consideration whenever you sit to write exceptional copy.
5. Are your prospects feeling less than confident about the quality of their current copy? Sell them on reassurance.
Think of charging a high fee for your copy as a premium.
In a way, you’re guaranteeing your clients they can leave the guesswork at home.
No more worries. By hiring you, they know their copy is going to be working overtime.
Unfortunately, the easiest target market for reassurance is small business owners. Why is this bad?
Because they’re also the target market that needs to be educated most on the value of a copywriter.
Moreover, because of their smaller budgets, they tend to see copywriting as an expense, not a long-term investment.
But if you can show a small business owner how an experienced copywriter might help them understand their customers better, they might come around. (Just don’t haggle.)
That’s part of the reason a copywriter isn’t just your average run-of-the-mill writer.
It’s not necessary, but you can definitely set yourself apart by specializing in marketing or something of the sort. (Personal example: As a former marketing director, I have a background in persuasion psychology and conversion rate optimization.)
As a copywriter, you can also help your clients express their ideas as clearly and as simply as possible.
It’s essential for any business to have their customers understand their message.
As a skilled copywriter, you can also provide greater value by helping them improve their own business positioning, and by examining how they’re packaging and presenting their products and/or services.
6. Sell your prospects on an outsider’s (expert copywriting) perspective.
An extra eye never hurts. But this isn’t just any untrained eye.
You’re not your prospect’s best gal pal, who offers up every contradictory opinion in the book based on what she’s read 5 minutes ago on some website.
An experienced copywriter’s opinion matters, because we understand the product and the target audience much better than the business.
Why? Because that falls under the copywriter’s duties and responsibilities.
And a copywriter knows what to look for.
7. Sell yourself as a time saver. (Do this every time.)
Your clients can write the copy themselves–and many do. But if they know better, they also know this:
Effective copy takes years of practice and practical hands-on experience.
I won’t get into what all this entails. Instead, you can focus on emphasizing the time-saving factor.
In fact, you should mention this for every pitch, if you can. That’s because even if a small business owner might not know the value of good copy, they’ll certainly feel the crunch of time pressures.
So show them how you can save them time in the short run by doing things right the first time, and in the long run, by their not having to wonder and tinker with their copy. (This is related to our point about selling reassurance as well.)
8. Your prospects make sizable investments in web design. So why allow their businesses to suffer from suboptimal copy?
Nothing can be more frustrating to a marketer than trying to help a business owner who doesn’t want to be helped. As humans, we’re wired to believing we know more than we actually do. We also tend to think a lot more irrationally than we believe.
You wouldn’t tell your physician he’s wrong about his diagnosis.
Would you be so bold as to give legal advice to your lawyer?
So why do small business owners think they have the skills to write their own copy effectively? That’s the equivalent of a self-diagnosis on WebMD, versus going to see an actual doctor.
(Another reason to target bigger companies for work. They already know the value of good copy.)
It’s often challenging to convince businesses with limited budgets of your value as a copywriter. But some small business owners are sharp, and if they can afford it, they’ll talk with you.
So don’t be afraid to reach out. Target big, target small. (Just don’t haggle. Negotiate.)
Care to share?
What other selling points have worked for you or have you heard about? I’m always editing and looking to add new and helpful stuff to this archive, so drop me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’ve got something.