Is Your Web Copy Any Good?

If a business has a website, it has web copy. And if a business has web copy, it has a problem.

 

What’s the problem? Simply put: how do you tell if your web copy is any good or not?

 

That’s a good question, and I’m going to answer it. But before I answer that, I’ve got a few other little things I’d like to address.

 

First and foremost: you might be scratching your head right about now and saying, “I’m not sure what web copy is, and at this point I’m too afraid to ask.”

 

It’s very important that we define what we’re talking about from the beginning, so here’s a rough definition: web copy is any written (or typed) communication on your website that’s meant to encourage your visitors to take action.

 

That’s not an official definition. That’s my definition. So if you think it’s a stupid definition, you can go ahead and take it up with yours truly.

 

(Don’t worry: I promise I’m going to get around to telling you how to tell if your copy is any good very soon.)

 

Here’s the thing: copywriting is all about action.

 

You’re not writing for your own personal expression. You’re not writing to tell the world all about your dreams, your hopes, or what you have nightmares about. You’re not writing to tell people what you think of the controversy of the week.

 

You’re not editorializing. You’re copywriting. And copywriting is about action.

 

If you fail to inspire action, you’ve failed at copywriting. Everything in copywriting is geared toward action.

 

Don’t forget that.

 

Kinds of bad web copy.

I know I’ve promised you I’ll tell you how to tell if your copy is any good, but that can wait.

 

First things first: how do you tell if your web copy is really bad? How do you tell if it’s so bad it’s not only failing to make sales, but it’s become a liability to you and your business?

 

I’ve come across three types of spectacularly bad web copy in my time. Let’s talk about them:

 

  1. Boring web copy.

 

This covers anything that doesn’t catch and hold the reader’s attention.

 

There’s a widely-cited statistic that says most visitors to a website only stay there for about 15 seconds. Companies that don’t want to put effort into their copy use that as an excuse for lazy writing.

 

Listen: some people don’t like to read online. That’s the way it is.

 

Write the most sparkling-brilliant web copy you can imagine. Write golden words sprinkled with angel dust. No matter what you do, your copy is never going to sell to people who don’t read.

 

But this is no reason to write bad web copy.

 

Good copy may not grab all the non-readers. But bad copy will alienate all the readers.

 

You’ve got to seduce your reader a little. Show you care. Show you see them. Show you know what they want.

 

Put real effort into your copy, and it’ll come back to you.

 

  1. Pushy web copy.

 

We all know web copy is written because it’s supposed to cause some action.

 

Your readers are smart people. They can tell if you’re trying to sell them something. They can tell if you want something from them. They can tell a lot more than you realize.

 

So there’s no reason to beat your readers’ eardrums by shouting, “Buy my thing!” in every other sentence.

 

They can tell you want something from them. Good copy isn’t about constantly reminding them of that fact. It’s about keeping their interest, inviting them to imagine buying from you, and giving them a positive emotional experience so they won’t resent you when you ask them to do something.

 

You’re going to have to invite them to take action sooner or later. But effective copy is written in such a way that your ideal reader has imagined doing the thing you want them to do long before you actually ask them to do it.

 

Even when we know we’re being guided to a conclusion, we like being allowed to feel like it was our idea all along.

 

  1. Completely nonsensical web copy.

 

The worst web copy—and I’ve seen this on more occasions than I like to admit—is the stuff that reads like it was written in a foreign language and run through Google translate.

 

It’s not only poorly written. It’s not only pushy or heavy-handed. It’s not only keyword-stuffed garbage.

 

It’s prose so awful you expect to read “All your base are belong to us” any minute. It doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t drive business.

 

It reads like it was written by an experimental computer program. And it drives away customers without as much as a second glance.

 

So that’s the bad stuff. What about the good stuff?

 

Good web copy works beautifully—but what is it?

I’m going to start out by saying something that probably sounds entirely obvious, but if you learn this one thing you’ll have learned the most important thing in all web copywriting.

 

This is central to everything. This is the alpha and omega of copywriting. Without this, you can’t hope to write the good stuff. With this, even a lousy writer can improve over time.

 

This is the North Star of copywriting.

 

This is the one point you can navigate by. In all the chaos and uncertainty of vague ideas, this is how you find your way. Out in the desert of not knowing how to get results, this is how you get results.

 

What is it? What’s the most important thing to know about copywriting?

 

It’s simple: good web copy improves your site’s conversions.

 

Good copy make customers more likely to buy from you. It makes prospects more likely to contact you. It makes visitors more likely to start a conversation with you.

 

Anything that makes it more likely that someone will buy from your company is good copywriting. That means you have to be intentional and experimental about your copywriting.

 

You don’t want your copy to be too short, because short copy doesn’t give enough time to create an effective emotional experience for the reader.

 

Here’s a tip: good copy is as long as it needs to be.

 

If it takes one word to skyrocket your sales, so be it. If it takes 10,000 words to get the same result, that’s just as good.

 

Our preconceptions cut our legs out from under us all the time. Don’t let your preconception of how long your web copy “ought” to be torpedo its effectiveness.

 

Good copy is about sales. Never forget that.

 

How do you write good web copy?

You know what you’re aiming for.

 

You’re aiming to make the kind of copy that will have clients with fat wallets drooling to buy from you.

 

You’re aiming to make the kind of copy that will send your business to the next level.

 

You’re aiming to make the kind of copy that will let you retire to your nice mansion in Honolulu where you eat gold flakes for breakfast.

 

Good web copy is a magnet for the green stuff. I hate the phrase “a license to print money,” but good web copy is probably the next best thing.

 

So how do you do it? How do you make your readers desperate to buy from you? How do you raise their buying desire to such a fever pitch that they’re ready to beg you to take their money?

 

It’s not hard. It’s complex, but not hard. With time, patience, and a little old-fashioned effort, you can do it for yourself.

 

Start out by getting to know your ideal customer in detail. You have to be ready to write for this person as confidently and as clearly as if she were sitting across the table from you.

 

You want to know this person. You want to know what they do all day. You want to know what they’re afraid of.

 

But most of all, you want to know what they want.

 

What do they want? What drives them? What is this person’s ultimate fantasy?

 

Are you selling sports equipment to an 18-year-old horndog? Show him all the gorgeous women who will be all over him the instant he buys.

 

Are you selling an investment plan to a woman who loves travel? Show her the canals of Venice or the rising peaks of the Himalayas.

 

Are you selling sandwiches to hungry people? Just show them the sandwich.

 

J.P. Morgan once said, “A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason.”

 

When you write convincing, persuasive, seductive copy, it’s your job to know both. You want to entwine the good reason (“I’ll improve my income and be free of what’s holding me back.”) with the real reason (“I love the feeling of having someone go to great lengths to persuade me.”).

 

Good copywriting is all about understanding what motivates people. With a little time and effort, any clever person can learn that.

 

The best way to learn.

I’m not going to hype the best way to learn copywriting. It’s the same as the best way to learn any other kind of writing.

 

The best way to get better at it is to do it. A lot.

 

Start with your website. Then move on to volunteering with some nonprofits. If you do that for a while you’ll build up a nice portfolio with a lot of samples you can show to potential clients.

 

I’ll have plenty of more posts about copywriting in the future—in fact, I’m thinking about writing a whole series of pieces on copywriting methods. But the best teacher for copywriting skills is practice.

 

There are a million techniques I could mention right here. (If you’re clever, I’m sure you’ve noticed a few in this article.) But there’s no substitute for experience.

 

A natural talent for writing is nothing without diligent practice.

 

So if you’re a beginning copywriter, I’d advise practice. Lots and lots of practice.

 

But not only that: it’s also helpful for you to get in touch with some of the freelance writing communities gathered around the internet. If you’re looking for guidance, that’s the place to go.

 

And you could do worse than to let an experienced copywriter take a look at some of your work and critique it. I know some writers are awfully shy about their work, but (sad to say) writing doesn’t work very well if it never meets a reader.

It can be hard to submit your work to criticism. But if you give it to someone knowledgeable and trustworthy, it can be one of the quickest ways to improve your writing technique.

 

Best of luck to you. Copywriting can be an extremely rewarding profession, both personally and professionally. I love it, myself, and I hope I grow a little better at it every day.

 

Let me know if you have any questions or concerns about freelancing. I’m always trying to tailor this blog to your needs, so I’d appreciate the help.

 

And I know some of you don’t like to post publicly, so feel free to contact me by email at geofreycrow@crowcopywriting.com if you’d rather do it that way.

 

Good luck, and good copywriting!

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The 3 Crucial Rules for Beginning Copywriters

 

So you want to be a copywriter, eh? Join the club.

 

Copywriting means different things to different people. Some people write cheap, useless, badly-written blog posts for their clients and call that copywriting.

 

(Luckily their clients don’t pay them very well for their trouble, because they know what they’re buying.)

 

You don’t want to be that kind of copywriter, do you?

 

Of course not. And there’s no reason you should be! There’s no reason a clever, forward-thinking writer should have to work for peanuts. There’s no reason a clever, forward-thinking writer should have to work on projects that aren’t challenging or interesting. There’s no reason a clever, forward-thinking writer can’t make a very good living from freelance writing.

 

I hope you’re detecting a theme here. It’s clear as day: if you want to make a good living as a copywriter you’ve got to be clever and forward-thinking.

 

And what does that mean? Well, I’m glad you asked.

 

First off, it means becoming a copywriting master. It’s not enough to have run-of-the-mill skills and a run-of-the-mill plan. You need excellent skills and an excellent plan.

 

Would you go into battle without a plan and expect good results? Of course not. Then why would you go into your copywriting without a plan and expect good results?

 

I want you to imagine something: imagine you’re the most brilliant copywriter to ever live. Your words weave a magic spell that makes your reader helpless to resist you. Every line you put down is so perfect that your readers can hardly wait to throw their hard-earned greenbacks at you. You have such brilliant powers of persuasion that you can get anyone to do anything.

 

That’s a nice image, isn’t it?

 

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to write copy that’s that persuasive. You can’t write anything that’s going to convince people to buy something they never wanted in the first place. That would be wrong and unethical, first of all. And second of all it would take more persuasive power than any human being could possibly have.

 

No, friends, I’m not going to claim that good copywriting can spin straw into gold. You won’t be retiring to a beach house in Tahiti next week.

 

It won’t be easy. It won’t be overnight. It won’t even be automatic. But if you follow the principles I’m about to set out for you, you will be able to improve your copywriting.

 

And that’s the first step.

 

The Golden Rule of All Copywriting: Know Your Mark

Imagine you’re on vacation at the beach in Saint Augustine, Florida. You’re looking out at the iron-gray waters of the Atlantic, lying with your head up and a tasty drink at your side. You feel the sunlight on your skin, all shiny and warm in the afternoon.

 

You’re daydreaming about dolphins. You don’t have a care in the world. You wonder if you can find a service to let you ride a dolphin…

 

“Excuse me,” says a salesman who appears out of nowhere, “Would you be interested in buying a full-length winter parka?”

 

What do you say? Would you be interested?

 

Of course not! This guy doesn’t have a clue who you are or where he is. What’s he doing, interrupting a perfectly good day by asking you if you want to wear a winter parka? What an idiot!

 

You don’t sell winter parkas to vacationers on the beach in the middle of the summer.

 

It’s not that it’s a bad parka. It’s not that these people will never need a parka. It’s not even that they’re constitutionally opposed to buying a parka. It’s just that the salesman was clueless about context.

 

If you want your mark to buy from you, you’ve got to make contact with them when and where they’re receptive to your message.

 

People want to buy things. People like to buy things. But they don’t like to be sold to.

 

That’s why it’s your job to know who you’re dealing with, what they want, and how it’s going to help them. But most importantly, it’s your job to know these three things about your mark:

 

  1. What are their pain points? The mark who is on the point of buying from you has one big problem you can solve for them. They want to buy the reassurance that you know their pain and know how to resolve it. So you must understand their pain.

 

  1. What are their dreams? Maybe they want to retire to a nice place on Key West. Maybe they want to write pretty love poems every day. Maybe they want to be rich enough to buy the Earth itself. Whatever it is, you want to know what your mark wants and how buying from you will move them closer to their ultimate desire.

 

  1. What are their fears? Are they afraid of getting kicked out and having to live on the streets? Are they afraid of failing to live up to their potential? Are they afraid of missing out on the biggest chance of their lives? Sometimes people need their fears to encourage them to take action. Know their fears so you can deploy them when the time is right.

 

Action Step: Imagine your ideal client. With that client in mind, answer all three of the questions I just laid out. The more in-depth the better. (You can never have too much knowledge!) Write at least a paragraph in answer to each question. You’ll be surprised what you can already discover!

 

The Second (But Equally Important) Rule of Copywriting: Know Your Product

Let’s go back to your salesman on the beach. Just for the moment, let’s pretend you’re not entirely uninterested in what he has to say.

 

“What’s so great about that parka?” you ask.

 

“Well, uh…” the salesman says. He looks down at the parka in his hands. He scratches his nose. He says, “Well, it’s got really nice pockets!”

 

You’re not having any of this. “So does every parka I’ve ever seen. What’s so great about this one?”

 

Our salesman doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know his product. He only knows he wants this scenario to end with you holding the parka and him holding your cash.

 

A clever, forward-thinking copywriter always knows the product.

 

That means all the “dry, boring details.”

 

That means all the exciting benefits the product has.

 

That even means anticipating all the objections a prospect might have before purchasing.

 

You want to know your product so well that when you close your eyes you see the design specs on the back of your eyelids.

 

Okay, I’ll admit it: you don’t have to know it that well. Don’t tattoo any design specs to the inside of your eyelids. But you get the point.

 

In order to be an effective copywriter, you need to know the product you’re selling in detail. You need to know what it does. You need to know all the problems with it. You need to know.

 

A professional copywriter takes time to get to know the product. If it’s something you can try out for yourself, go ahead and do that. If it’s something (such as a staffing agency) that’s way beyond your needs as a freelance writer, take the time to get to know the process and the people.

 

Maybe you won’t use all this knowledge, directly. But it’s important to know this stuff, because it’s going to color your copy in ways you can’t anticipate.

 

I know that sounds vague, but you’re a writer. You know exactly what I mean. Sometimes when you’re writing, the spirit takes you and you end up producing a phrase you never thought you could have found before. And what’s true of writing a poem or a story is still true of copywriting: it’s when you fondle the details that you get your best results.

 

So get to know the details. Even if you don’t use them directly, the knowledge will come through in the authority of your tone.

 

Action Step: Imagine your ideal client again. Why are your copywriting services absolutely what your ideal client needs? Why might your ideal client object to buying from you? How do you plan on meeting those objections? Answer these questions, and you’ll be on the right track.

 

The Third (and Honestly the Most Important) Rule of Copywriting: Write the Best Words

Much as I’d like to return to our salesman on the beach, that analogy isn’t going to work here. I want to talk to you straight out, writer to writer.

 

Copywriting isn’t a form of expressive writing. You’re not here to express your personality or to develop your own unique style.

 

Copywriting is about writing the words that cause your reader to take action.

 

Every expressive writer’s heart sinks a little at those words. Believe me, I know that pain: when I put on my “copywriting hat” I have to take off my “novelist’s hat.” And I won’t lie to you. It stings a little.

 

It stings because I’m using words as tools instead of as a free play of expression. It’s worth it because it pushes my writing skills to the limits, so I learn things I never would have learned any other way. (Not to mention the fact that it pays the bills!)

 

The reason I’m telling you all this is because I want you to understand that copywriting is a different type of writing from any other. It’s as different from poetry or fiction as poetry or fiction are different from each other.

 

It’s got a different texture. It’s got a different structure. It’s got a different set of conventions and a different method of preparation.

 

You’ve got to learn how to make words cause action. When you put on your “copywriting hat,” you not only have to make your readers feel, but you’ve got to convince them to do something. It’s quite a challenge, and it gets harder every day.

 

You’ll have to seize your reader’s attention.

 

You’ll have to arouse your reader’s desire.

 

You’ll have to make your reader afraid of not acting.

 

And you’ll have to become the best at it. You’ll have to become so good at it that it becomes second nature. You’ll have to become so sure of yourself and your writing that it all comes off as if you’ve never felt a twinge of self-doubt in your life.

 

It’s quite a challenge. But if you can learn how to connect with your reader, you’ll be able to do things you’d never have thought you could.

 

You’ll be able to help people find solutions they’d never have been confident to seize otherwise.

 

You’ll be able to amaze your clients with your clever words.

 

And most importantly, you’ll be able to make that dream of making a good living from writing into a reality.

 

Let me know if you have any questions or concerns about copywriting. I’m always trying to tailor this blog to your needs, so I’d appreciate the help.

 

And I know some of you don’t like to post publicly, so feel free to contact me by email at geofreycrow@crowcopywriting.com if you’d rather do it that way.

 

Good luck, and good copywriting!

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Are These 10 Mistakes Ruining Your Web Copy?

 

You don’t need me to tell you bad copy hurts your business.

 

It doesn’t matter how much effort you put into your site if your copy is bad. Design might get eyeballs, but good words close sales.

 

For your prospects, your website is the first point of contact with your brand.

 

This is where your visitors decide if you’re running a reputable business or if they should move along.

 

Do you think they’ll listen to somebody who sounds like everybody else?

 

Put it this way: do you want to work with somebody who sounds like everybody else?

 

Or would you rather work with somebody who has something to say, gets excited, and says something real?

 

The worst mistake I see businesses make with their copy is that it sounds too much like copy.

 

It’s stuffed with generic phrases that hold your guests at a distance instead of drawing them into a conversation.

 

Bad copy looks something like this:

 

“We are recruiting rockstars, dedicated to being decent human beings, cleaning up after ourselves, and making sure that good things happen to good people. We have a list of company values that are exactly the same as the company values you see everywhere else. We make the same vague guarantees in the same squirrelly language every other company does. And since we look and sound like everybody else, you know for sure that we’re unique and have an insightful approach. That’s what makes us the best!”

 

Okay, maybe it doesn’t look exactly like that. But you know what I’m talking about.

 

It’s bad, it’s generic, and it’s damaging your company.

 

Why do companies produce this kind of disaster time and again?

 

Simple: it feels safe.

 

When you slip into the same tired phrases you’ve seen a million companies use, you don’t have to risk anything.

 

You don’t have to think hard. You don’t have to work hard.

 

When your writing is a stack of boring, annoying, and ineffective clichés, you can get the copy written in no time.

 

When you slap content on your site without planning, you hold your visitors at a distance. You make yourself unapproachable.

 

Bad copy signals to your visitor, “I’m not interested in talking to you or getting to know your problem. I’m smarter than you. I know more than you. You should buy my thing because it’s what I want.”

 

Of course nobody’s thinking any of that consciously. But when you write bad copy, you send a clear message.

 

Copy is meant to start a conversation. So it ought to be conversational.

 

The rules of good copywriting are like the rules of good conversation.

 

So what are those rules?

 

A good conversationalist gives others their turn to talk.

 

A good conversationalist listens to what other people say.

 

A good conversationalist makes others feel good and actively finds ways to connect.

 

That’s what good copy is meant to be like.

 

Is your copy hurting your business? Maybe.

 

To help you find out, I’ve put together this list of ten clear signs of poor copy.

 

If you find yourself identifying with a big portion of this list, you might have a problem.

 

What does bad copy do?

 

  1. Bad Copy is Boring

You know what this is like. It’s happened a million times.

 

You’re looking for a new lawn service, birthday clown, or web promoter. So you go on Google and click the first link that appears.

 

What do you see on the main page?

 

You see a gigantic wall of text in tiny font. It’s written like a textbook, and by the time you’re halfway through the first paragraph you’re falling asleep.

 

That’s bad copy.

 

In the internet age, you have to seduce the reader a little. You have to show you can get the job done, but you also have to show you know how to have fun.

 

Bottom line: if it doesn’t get read, it won’t sell anything.

 

  1. Bad Copy is All About You

Let’s go back to the conversational rules we were talking about earlier.

 

Answer me this: how much do you want to talk to somebody who is only interested in talking about themselves?

 

Someone who keeps jawing about how they had the measles that one time.

 

Someone who keeps mentioning they drive a Ferrari.

 

Someone who keeps telling you about how their business won an industry award.

 

If you met someone who could only go on about themselves, you wouldn’t talk to them for long. What makes you think your customers want to work with you if you only tell them about yourself?

 

Here’s the secret: good copy is all about the customer.

 

  1. Bad Copy Doesn’t Speak to Your Customer’s Pain

Your prospect has a problem, otherwise they wouldn’t be on your website in the first place. People don’t end up reading your copy by accident.

 

Put it this way: if someone visits your site and reads your copy, they’re interested in hearing what you have to say.

 

If your visitors are qualified prospects, they’re at least open to the possibility of buying from you.

 

So if they’re on your site and considering buying from you, the only thing stopping them will be if you mess it up.

 

You have to prove you understand their problem and encourage them to take the next step.

 

If they don’t take the next step, it’s because you did something wrong.

 

  1. Bad Copy Doesn’t Have a Clear Goal

A lot of web copy gets written only to take up space. Many businesses treat web copy like it’s a nasty but necessary chore.

 

It’s no wonder you don’t see any use for it if you don’t have a clear objective in mind!

 

Good copy is always written with a specific goal in mind.

 

Maybe it’s generating sales.

 

Maybe it’s encouraging visitors to subscribe to a mailing list.

 

Maybe it’s enticing visitors to comment on your blog.

 

With good copy, everything is oriented toward one specific goal. Everything is calculated to create one specific effect.

 

Copy without a specific goal only takes up space.

 

  1. Bad Copy isn’t Directed at a Specific Audience

If you don’t know who your audience is, you don’t know what your audience cares about.

 

If you don’t know what your audience cares about, you don’t know what they’re looking for.

 

If you don’t know what they’re looking for, you don’t know what they need.

 

And if you don’t know what they need, you can’t help them.

 

The people reading your copy aren’t interested in what you’d like to say to the world as a whole.

 

They’re interested in what you can say to them and the problem they’re experiencing now.

 

That’s why you need to make a customer persona.

 

You need to know what your ideal customer cares about and what they’re looking for when they decide to buy from you. Otherwise you’ll write a generic appeal that doesn’t speak to them.

 

  1. Bad Copy Doesn’t Build Authority

If you’re not confident in your writing, people will sense it.

 

If you’re going to get people to listen to you, you have to convey that you know what you’re talking about.

 

There are complicated wrinkles here, but here’s the gist: if you’re not sure about your message, it’ll show up in your writing.

 

Maybe you’ll make unnecessary self-deprecating jokes.

 

Maybe you’ll use technical-sounding language to make yourself sound superficially impressive.

 

Maybe you’ll sneak in little phrases that create the impression you’re not sure of your message.

 

Authority doesn’t mean playing tricks on your reader or telling anyone what to do. It means conveying confidence and certainty in your message.

 

You must convey authority.

 

  1. Bad Copy Depends on Statistics

First off: there’s nothing wrong with using statistics in your copy.

 

It’s important to give your reader a few facts to justify their decision. But facts and statistics are not the main motivator for your customers.

 

We’re human beings.

 

We want more pleasure and less pain.

 

We want social connections.

 

We want people to notice us and see what makes us unique.

 

Most of all, we want emotional experiences. There’s a part of us that’s tired of all the responsibility and self-control we have to practice every day.

 

Good copy can give your visitors a chance to let go so you can take care of their worries for a while.

 

Statistics can help justify a purchase intellectually, but buying is an emotional decision. Never forget that.

 

  1. Bad Copy Doesn’t Engage the Emotions

Let’s hit the same idea from a different angle: as professionals, we have to pretend to be something other than what we really are.

 

I don’t mean that in a negative way. It’s just that when we think of the “ideal businessperson,” we imagine someone who’s kind of like a robot.

 

Always motivated. Always ready. Always enthusiastic.

 

If you’re reading this, you know the ideal I’m talking about.

 

And if you’re like every other human being, you don’t live up to that ideal all the time.

 

There’s a knee-jerk feeling we need to write copy for that “ideal businessperson” who doesn’t really exist.

 

Don’t do that.

 

You’re writing for human beings who have their own stresses, their own tragedies, their own frustrations, and their own private lives.

 

The “ideal businessperson” doesn’t have human emotions and human weaknesses. The human beings you’re reaching out to do.

 

Write for them, not for the ideal.

 

  1. Bad Copy is Full of Buzzwords and Jargon

I talked about this at the beginning of this post. It was true then, and it’s still true now: if your copy is full of buzzwords, you’re holding the reader at a distance.

 

You don’t want to hold the reader at a distance. That’s the opposite of what you want to do.

 

If you’re going to turn your reader into a customer, you have to develop rapport and human contact.

 

It feels like using jargon makes you look well-informed. That’s a mistake.

 

Jargon only alienates your reader.

 

Explain things in terms a non-specialist can understand, and you’ll communicate more effectively.

 

Good copy is about action and communication. It’s not about proving how smart you are.

 

  1. Bad Copy Doesn’t Have a Call to Action

This is a big one. I’ve seen brilliant copy foul things up at the last second this way.

 

Remember what we were talking about earlier, with the importance of specific goals?

 

Well, here’s the thing: good copy is about three things:

 

  • Getting your reader’s attention.
  • Building an emotional connection.
  • Encouraging the reader to take action.

 

The problem is that some people don’t ask the reader to take action.

 

Your readers are not psychics. No matter how strong your connection, if you don’t tell them what you’d like them to do, they won’t do it.

 

You have to take the initiative to close with a strong call to action.

 

Ask the reader to comment on your post.

 

Ask the reader to call the phone number for a sales representative.

 

Ask the reader to shoot you an email.

 

It’s not being pushy. It’s just being willing to follow through with what you started.

 

Let me know if you have any questions or concerns about copywriting. I’m always trying to tailor this blog to your needs, so I’d appreciate the help.

 

And I know some of you don’t like to post publicly, so feel free to contact me by email at geofreycrow@crowcopywriting.com if you’d rather do it that way.

 

Good luck, and good copywriting!

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What are Case Studies? (Part 2 of 3)

 

Yesterday we talked about what case studies are, and I gave you a few ideas on how a great case study can show off what’s special about your business. Today I’m going to give you a step by step guide to producing a case study that grabs your prospect and forces them to read every word.

 

(Just a side note: if you haven’t taken a look at yesterday’s article yet, here’s a quick rundown on what you need to know.

 

A case study is a marketing tool that shows your prospects the value of your offering.

 

Most of the time, a case study will:

 

  • Share a compelling story that shows your how your company solved a customer’s problem.
  • Present the story from your customer’s point of view.
  • Display an angle that shows the unique thing that makes your company shine.
  • Educate your prospects on the value of your offering.

 

Case studies are usually about one to four pages long. The very best of them tells a story that informs, entertains, and inspires.)

 

I’ll be honest with you: it’s not easy to craft a brilliant case study. But with a lot of time, hard work, and dedication, you should be able to get the job done. Of course, a professional copywriter will usually be eager to take that work off your hands if you don’t have the time.

 

So without any further ado, let’s get writing, shall we?

 

  1. Find one of your best, most typical customers, and schedule an interview with a representative.

Now, this is a pretty simple step in and of itself, but I wanted to take some time to talk about it so I could draw your attention to the two key words here. What are the key words?

 

They are: best and most typical (okay, technically that’s three words. Sorry.).

 

You want to have your interview with your best customers for plenty of reasons. First off, if they’re you’re best customers, you’re more likely to be able to get a compelling story when you interview them, right?

 

And I know this is probably pretty obvious, but I might as well say it anyways: just like it’s best to get a review or a testimonial from your best customers, it’s best to get a case study from them, too. They’ve got the most value out of your offering and they’ll have an infectious enthusiasm that will spread to the people who read your case study.

 

It might be a little less obvious why I say you should go with your most typical customers. But that’s just a matter of practicality. I mean, if you’re trying to show your prospects what your offering can do, you’re not going to want them to read about that customer who buys a half-dozen special services and none of your typical offerings, are you?

 

Of course not. You’re going to want to interview the customer who buys your most common offer. After all, you’re telling this customer’s story. Don’t you want it to be one your typical prospect can relate to?

 

Sure you do. So break out that phone or keyboard and schedule that interview!

 

  1. Prepare for and conduct the interview.

When it comes to it, a phone or Skype interview is just fine for this part. It takes some practice to get good at interviewing, but let me just give you a few pointers so you can get the information you need.

 

Here’s the main thing to remember when you’re conducting interviews: never forget what you need to get out the interview.

 

What’s that, then? First off, you want story you can share with your prospects to show them the value of your offer.

 

That means you want to know all the facts and figures of the company. You want to be able to explain what they do and why they do it. Simple enough, right?

 

Second, you want to know about the problem that led this company to approach yours. (Protip: make sure you’ve got a clear description of the problem and the pain points involved.)

 

Third: you want to know how your company solved the problem. (Of course, you already know this, but you want to get the story from your customer’s point of view.) When the time comes to write your story, this will be where your company swoops in to save your customer.

 

Last: you want to know the results. That means you want to know the statistics that prove the value you’ve provided.

 

With a practiced hand, you should be able to fit all this information into a short interview. No pressure, you’ve got this.

 

  1. Write your first draft.

Now that you’ve got it all together, it’s time to get into the writing process. Luckily for you, case studies generally have a pretty standard structure, so you don’t have a lot to worry about on that front.

 

Remember: you’re telling a story here. The same skills go into crafting a good case study that go into telling a good story.

 

So what’s a good story? A good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In the beginning, you introduce your hero—in this case, your customer. In the middle, you introduce your hero’s problem and show them trying to solve it. And in the end, they solve it—with a little help from you and your company, of course!

 

Of course, describing basic story structure is one thing and actually writing an effective story is another thing. Skillful writing is a matter of practice and mastery, just like any other craft. But with time, discipline, and sheer will power, you can learn it.

 

  1. Edit and revise.

This part of the process is pretty obvious, I’ll admit. You tidy up your sentence structure. You check your spelling. You eliminate your passive verbs and you eliminate every word that doesn’t contribute to the meaning of your story.

 

You’ll probably want to give it to a few people you can trust to give you honest feedback on your work. Ask them if everything makes sense and if it all fits together just right.

 

(Trust me on this: I’ve written things I thought made perfect sense, but when I ran it by a couple of readers I found out I’d made some silly mistakes. You never can tell what people might misunderstand.)

 

Now that you’ve edited, pay attention to this part: before you use your case study for anything, you should run it by your customer and have them sign off on it. This is important: you want to get your customer to approve of the final article before you do anything with it.

 

So that’s the process! As always, thanks for reading and best of luck to you and your endeavors. Be sure to take a look at yesterday’s article if you want to know more about case studies. I’ll tell you some more about what you can use them for tomorrow!

 

Feel free to get in touch if you’ve got any questions. You can reach me in my comment section, or if you like you can email me at geofreycrow@crowcopywriting.com.

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How Do You Motivate Yourself?

 

People are always asking me, “Geofrey, how do you keep yourself productive when your motivation’s shot?”

 

It’s a good question. Now, I know, you’re probably expecting me to say something about how it’s just an excuse to say “I don’t have the motivation,” but I’m not going to say that.

 

Motivation is an important problem.

 

Because let’s face it: if you’re not motivated, you’re not going anywhere.

 

It can be tough to keep motivated when you’ve been trying and trying, but nothing seems to work. It can be tough to keep motivated when you keep chipping away at your problems, but you can’t seem to make any progress.

 

I’ll be honest with you: motivation isn’t easy. But I’ve got a simple answer for you.

 

Now listen: I want you to take a pen and write some stuff down.

 

First, I want you to write a little bit about how you’ll feel once you reach your long-term goals. It doesn’t have to be long. Just take ten minutes or so and write a paragraph or two about how things will be once you break through.

 

And second, I want you to write about how bad it will be if you don’t reach that long-term goal. I want you to imagine how terrible you’ll feel if you wake up one morning and realize you’re a complete and utter failure.

 

Be detailed with both of these! Imagine it in detail, and I’ll promise you you’ll feel much more motivated.

 

Let yourself go with this. Get creative. Remember: the more detail you go into, the stronger the effect is going to be.

 

And once you’re done, let me know about your results. What does success look like for you? What does failure look like?

 

And most importantly: are you feeling motivated now?

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What’s A Good Sales Letter?

 

What does a good sales letter look like?

 

Simple. It looks like a letter that actually makes the sale.

 

There’s nothing complicated about it. You’ve got simple goals when you’re making a sales letter.

 

Let me spell it out for you. You’re going to want to:

 

  • Seize your reader’s attention.
  • Demand their interest.
  • Build up their desire to buy.
  • Induce action.

 

It’s as simple as that. If somebody told you it was complicated, somebody lied.

 

Now, realize I said it was simple. I didn’t say it was easy. Hitting a home run is simple. Is hitting a home run easy?

 

No, it’s not.

 

So how do you write a letter that makes the sale?

 

First off: you realize that writing is a complicated process. You realize that just because the kid you’ve got working for you graduated with a 4.0 from Harvard Business School doesn’t mean he knows the first thing about how to write for people.

 

You realize everything counts in writing.

 

The length of your sentences.

 

The order of your words.

 

Heck, your punctuation matters.

 

And I’m not just saying it matters in some hoity-toity stylistic way, either. I’m saying it matters for the bottom line. If the person writing that letter doesn’t know what they’re doing, you’re kissing plenty of orders goodbye.

 

My advice: find somebody who knows how to engage a reader’s imagination. It sounds easy, but it’s what writing’s all about.

 

There’s a reason people spend their lifetimes writing.

 

So: what do you do to draw out a reader’s imagination? Do you use the normal tricks of the trade, or have you come up with something new?

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Copywriters Need to Remember This!

 

Let me ask you a simple question: what makes good copy?

 

It’s got a simple answer: good copy is copy that prompts the reader to take action.

 

Say what you will, and complicate it however you like. When you get to the bottom, it’s as simple as that. Good copy prompts action.

 

That can mean buying a product. It can mean subscribing to a mailing list. It can mean following a social media account. It can mean whatever you like.

 

But you have to keep this in mind: good copy is about purpose.

 

It’s easy for writers to get caught up in thinking good writing is somehow above having a purpose. It’s their art, after all, isn’t it?

 

Let me tell you this, bucko: not here, it ain’t. When you’re writing copy, you’re writing copy.

 

It’s not a novel, and it’s sure as hell not a poem. It’s copy.

 

It can hurt to hear that, especially when you’re first starting out. But that’s just the way it is, kid, and you’re going to have to get used to it.

 

Good copy is about producing action. It’s about channeling desire. It’s about shaking your readers out of their complacency long enough to do something!

 

A lot of people are afraid of taking action. And who can blame them?

 

This world is a dangerous place, and it takes courage to move forward into the unknown instead of sticking with what’s familiar.

 

So remember: when you’re writing copy, everything needs to be directed toward prompting action. Models like AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) are very useful, but you must remember that action is always the goal.

 

If you think you’re being too obvious, that’s a sign you’re on the right track.

 

So tell me: what do you want to know about copywriting? Comment below, or feel free to email me at geofreycrow@gmail.com if you’re shy.

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The Most Important Thing for Writers to Do (and Some Other Important Stuff)

Hi all. It’s a beautiful cloudy day here in Louisville, and I’ve just brewed up my second cup of coffee of the morning. It looks like rain—heck, looking out through the window I’m wondering if maybe it’s already raining.

 

Summer is officially gone. The low temperatures are getting into the forties these days, and the trees across the street are visibly dribbling leaves away, one by one.

 

(Sometimes two leaves at a time, but one by one for the most part.)

 

Between you, me, and the rest of the internet, I’m not too sure where this post is going to end up, but I figure as long as I keep plugging away at it I’ll come up with something that should interest you. The mind’s got a wonderful ability to come up with meaningful patterns as long as you just let it happen and try to avoid getting in your own way.

 

Truth be told, that sounds like a decent enough topic in itself: what’s the most important thing for a writer to do?

 

I mean that seriously. What’s the most important thing? Write it down on a little piece of paper right now, and when you get to the bottom write out a little comment with your answer. I’m always interested to see what you might come up with.

 

You see, one important thing to remember—and no, this isn’t the most important thing, yet—is that in most important respects writing is just like talking. Now, I know plenty of writers are going to want to string me up for saying that, but just bear with me and I’m sure we’ll come to some kind of understanding.

 

Writing is a skill, yes. In my entirely objective and unbiased opinion, writing is in fact the most important and crucial skill of all. Civilization could survive without cars. It could survive without plumbers. It could survive without lawyers or generals or politicians. Heck, it could survive without farmers!

 

But writers? Never! Take away the world’s writers and we’d all collapse back into the chthonic muck from whence we came quicker than you could say HP Lovecraft.

 

Writing is a crucial skill. Writing is in fact the crucial skill. I’d even go so far as to say that writing is The First Profession.

 

(Sounds nice, doesn’t it? It’s got that whole scandalous vibe, with just a hint of leather and new-car-smell. Breathe it in. Savor it. Revel in it.)

 

Now, I don’t want to get too far afield because I’m not here to talk about the depth psychology of the written versus the spoken word, or the earth-shattering historical significance of written language. But (to condense six thousand or more years of historical time into one sentence) the fact that I can write something down in 1000 BC and then come back to read it in 2016 AD has had a staggering effect on human life.

 

It lets us get all teary-eyed when we hear the words “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”

 

(For example.)

 

But the point is this: yes, fellow writers, I understand that writing is a specialized skill. I understand that sometimes it really can make all the difference to agonize for hours over the choice of that perfect word. I understand that writing is every bit as technological a development as an iPhone.

 

Now, I’m not here to hand out the old platitudes about how writing is about communication or any kind of feel-good thing about how it’s all about making connections. I’m just here to say that writing is a lot like talking.

 

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking it’s just one of those things where writers just like listening to the sound of their own voices and having one-sided conversations with themselves. Well, it’s all right, we can all admit that because we’re all writers here. We all like going on about ourselves at length to anybody we can get to listen.

 

It’s okay. You do it. I do it. We all do it. It’s a writer thing.

 

Heck, it’s not even a writer thing. It’s a human thing. Everybody likes to be heard. Everybody likes to be heard and valued for who she is and what she has to contribute. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?

 

No, of course there’s nothing wrong with it. So what I’m saying when I’m saying that good writing is a lot like good talking is that the skills and techniques that we apply when we’re writing well are the same ones we’re using when we’re having a good conversation.

 

Think about it. Say you’re in an elevator with a stranger, or a waiting room, or a bus. One of those in-between spaces where you’re going to be spending a bit of time with this person. What do you do?

 

Do you start unloading yourself and all your problems and preoccupations onto the other person? Or do you tactfully and indirectly try to find things you’ve got in common with this other person?

 

Maybe they went to the same school as you. Maybe they listen to the same music. Maybe they’re in the same line of work you’re in. Whatever it is, if you’re a good conversationalist you’ll find some points of similarity, and if the other person is a good conversationalist it will be a fun and easy process getting there.

 

(This is also where I disagree with people who say they don’t like small talk. Small talk is a crucial part of good conversation, especially when you’re in a situation where you have to talk to someone with an entirely different set of interests. Sure, nobody loves small talk, but it’s a valuable skill that’s well worth the effort of learning.)

 

It’s pretty much the process CS Lewis was talking about when he said that friendships are born when people realize, “Oh, you too? I thought I was the only one!”

 

And it’s this kind of process we writers are talking about when we say you need to be aware of your audience. It’s important to really be able to enter into the mental space of the person you’re writing for, because it allows you to really empathize with your audience and understand their needs.

 

Just as an example: if you’re a professor of ancient history and your audience is a group of busy professionals, it might be useful to give them relevant and helpful historical information. People won’t resent you or think you’re a know-it-all as long as you make the effort to be constructive. If your little anecdote about Octavian’s use of maritime tactics during the Battle of Actium actually helps someone’s bottom line or allows them to see their problems from a new angle, you won’t be a nuisance. You’ll be a valued friend.

 

So: audience awareness is a handy little technique to put in your writer’s toolbox. Just thought you might like to know that.

 

And without further ado, I’d like to come back to the most important part of writing. Go ahead and take out that little sheet of paper you wrote your answer down on earlier, because here’s the part where I tell you if you were right or not. I bet the anticipation is killing you!

 

But, you know what? I’m really starting to wonder if there really is any one Most Important part of the writing life. I mean, who am I of all people to go and claim that I know anything important?

 

Really, I couldn’t just go and tell you the most important thing a writer has to do. It would be too presumptuous, now wouldn’t it? I mean, it’s not like I’ve got any authority that’s been handed down to me direct from heaven, or even from an Ivy League University. Honestly, it would be too much for me to go and do something like that.

 

What’s that?

 

What was it? Could you say that again?

 

You’d like to hear what I have to say anyways? And you think I’m clever and charming and oh-so-devilishly handsome? Oh, you’re too kind, but really, I couldn’t impose…

 

You insist? Well, all right then, but only because you asked so nicely.

 

The Most Important Thing for a writer to do is:

 

Writing every day. Every single day of the week. Or at least six days a week, at a minimum. Or five, if you want to make it a sort of nine-to-five kind of thing.

 

But if you’re going to really make your writing skills shine, you’ve got to get into the habit of writing at least five hundred words daily. You can take workshop after workshop and read book after book, but until you’re actually engaged in the process on a day-by-day basis, you’re not in it.

 

As human beings, our habits define what we are. Anybody who tells you any different is full of it and deserves to be strung up by his feet and have the skin flayed from his body. We are our habits, and it’s only by forming good habits that we can live up to our potential. Aristotle put it best when he wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

 

If you want to become an excellent writer, you must establish the habit. Writing well is the result of writing badly for a long time, always with the aim of improvement.

 

But in all honesty, that’s the best writing advice I can give you. Commit yourself to five hundred words a day, five days a week. Make time for it if it matters to you. Keep that up for just a month, and you’ll be discovering things you never imagined.

 

PS: The second most important piece of writing advice is this: don’t masturbate. And if you’re male, don’t ejaculate unless you’re trying to conceive a child.

 

PPS: Yes, I’m serious.

 

Thoughts? Opinions? Guesses? Death threats? Please feel free to leave any and all comments you’d like, and please feel free to share with any writerly friends who could benefit from it.

 

And one last thing: I’ve got a couple of questions for my more regular readers. First of all, I’m thinking of switching from writing one long post on a weekly basis over to writing shorter posts three or maybe five times a week. Does that sound like it could get annoying, or would you be okay with that? And the second question is: do you have any topics you’d particularly like for me to write on sometime? I’d be happy to take requests!

 

Anyways, a very merry October to you all.

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Why Nobody is Reading Your Blog Posts (and What You Can Do About It)

The internet is no place for subtlety. If there’s one point I want you to take away from this post, it’s that the internet appreciates subtlety the way a drowning man appreciates a glass of water.

 

Break. Pause a minute to take that in. In a minute I’m going to tell you a little bit about how to tailor your writing to what the internet wants. But I want you to reflect on that fact for just a moment: writing for the internet is unlike any other kind of writing.

 

Let’s take an example. Call it a universal experience of writers on the internet. We all start our own writing journeys in our own particular ways, but we’ve all got a bit in common. We all start out young. We all start out idealistic. And (most importantly) we all start out stomach-churningly stupid.

 

There’s something so tragically endearing about that dream we all start out with. Maybe it goes something like, “Oh, I’ll just share the darkness in my soul and people will relate so deeply to the pain I’ve felt.” We don’t know anything about SEO. We don’t know anything about selling. We don’t even really have anything more than the vaguest idea of how writing is ever supposed to turn into money.

 

So we spend weeks crafting that first blog post. We spend hours going over each and every paragraph, one by one. We tease out every meaning and double meaning. We wrap ourselves up in the almost charmingly narcissistic, almost endearingly masturbatory wonder of it all.

 

Because we thought it mattered. Because we thought it was important. And because we thought people would care.

 

Of course you know what happened. It happened to all of us. It happens to all of us. We post that first blog and we’re flabbergasted to see that our blog post, our baby, the one thing we cared more about than anything else in the world… got a total of five page views in a month.

 

There was no audience waiting breathlessly to hear our brilliance. And it took us a long time to accept that.

 

Writing is a business, and as a business it’s not significantly different from any other business. If your writing does not fill an existing need or create a new one, it won’t succeed. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few ways you can turn your writing into something the internet will absolutely gobble up.

 

Internet Writing is Different from Print

 

The first major thing you need to understand about writing for the internet is that people don’t consume information online the same way they would offline.

 

Think about it: do you read an online article the same way you would read a printed novel? If you’re like most people, you don’t.

 

Most people skim online content, taking only as much time to read as they feel is necessary to get the gist of what you’re talking about. When people read online, they’re likely to be out in a public place reading on a tiny screen. They’re also likely to be looking for practical solutions for immediate problems.

 

Your readers are potentially distracted and definitely looking for results. The last thing you want is a style that draws attention to itself.

 

Online content is unlikely to get read word by word, which requires you to pick up a whole different set of techniques from print-based writing.

 

Your writing should keep paragraphs short, with gaps between them. The use of space is crucial to good internet writing. Blank space reassures your reader and makes her feel a sense of openness. Any paragraph longer than about four sentences risks turning into the dreaded “wall of text,” which kills a reader’s interest on sight.

 

Your writing should place the “big picture” first, and subordinate points later on. If this sounds a little like standard writing advice, it is, but you’ll want to follow this advice more rigidly online than offline. In many cases, it will pay to write a first paragraph that summarizes your entire article at the beginning.

 

Your writing should make use of bullet points and subsections. Granted, turning your entire article into one big list is a bit of an obnoxious trend in internet writing… but just remember that it became a trend because it works! When used correctly, this technique is another way to comfort and guide your reader through effective use of space.

 

Never forget that while print writing and internet writing may look similar, these are very different media with very different requirements.

 

Engagement is Crucial for Online Writing

 

The writer’s main problem has always been to write something that gets talked about. A novelist wants to write a story that spreads from reader to reader like a virus. A poet wants his verse to be so sweet it becomes an addiction for the lovely lady. A consultant wants his book to spread like a business card that seeks out the people who need his services and brings them back to him.

 

These things have always been true, and will be true as long as there are still writers. Writing is a tool for generating social proof. As a very wise writer once said, “There is only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

 

Back in the pre-internet days, the way to build social proof was by convincing some king or publishing editor to sponsor you or buy your book for publication. This would ensure that somebody at least heard of your book. If you were smart and well-connected, you could do pretty well for yourself that way.

 

These days, things are different. You can publish yourself as much as you want, as often as you want.

 

Online content gives everybody a shot. Of course, the downside of that is that online content gives everybody a shot.

 

If you’re going to stand out on the internet, you’re going to have to stand out on the internet. That means being able to engage with people so that they’ll like your content, comment on it, and interact with it. One of the major objectives of online writing is to build a community of people around your content.

 

These people read your content regularly. These people comment and engage with your content regularly. These people tell their friends about your content, and some of those friends tell their friends, and so on.

 

These people are your friends. You want to be as welcoming and engaging with them as you can possibly be. They’re likely to have a lot of similar interests with you, and they’re likely to be in the same line of work. Exchanging leads and doing each other little favors can slowly build up to fantastic results for everyone involved.

 

So how do you get the ball rolling if you’re not getting as much engagement as you’d like? Here are a few simple tips to get you started:

 

  1. Ask for it. It sounds so obvious when you put it this way, but most writers are reserved people who are hesitant to ask people for anything, let alone a minor favor that would potentially help them a lot with their careers. We can often feel dirty and manipulative for asking for the simplest things. My advice: get over it. If you’re too afraid to overtly ask for help, go ahead and end your posts with a question. Even if it’s as simple as asking people what they think, it will help you a lot.

 

  1. Engage with other people in your niche. If you’re struggling, other people are struggling, and many of them are bound to be using the same methods you’re trying to get things kick-started. Try commenting and getting involved with posts that you’ve found useful. You just might make lifelong friends with a writer who is more than willing to return the favor.

 

  1. Provide useful information. This ties back into what we were talking about earlier, with the different ways that the internet is different from print. Readers on the internet are more concerned with what you know that can help them than they are with what you had for breakfast this morning or how you feel about the darkness in your soul. If you can help your reader’s bottom line, she’ll take notice. And over time, that’s how careers are built.

 

  1. Post regularly. Now this one really is obvious, but so many writers overlook it. So many of us give up after the first failure and decide that writing online content just isn’t for us. If your goal is to build an audience and build community, it’s not going to happen overnight. Do your best to post weekly, or every other week, or (and this is an absolute minimum) once a month.

 

 

  1. And most importantly: Be friendly, positive, and inviting. Do your best to present yourself as the kind of person you would like to work with. This means you are more interested in spreading information than in expressing yourself, more focused on solving problems than on dwelling on them, and much more likely to give genuine encouragement than unwanted criticism. If you’re genuine, friendly, and inviting, people will want to interact with you. And when you get down to it, that’s all we’re really after.

 

Wrapping Up: Writing for the Internet is Different

 

It’s been said a thousand times before, but it’s worth saying again: the internet has unleashed an information revolution that dwarfs the invention of the printing press.

 

Back in Gutenberg’s day, a printed book cost the equivalent of a Ferrari in today’s terms. Sure, knowledge flowed more freely than ever before, but it was still the exclusive possession of a privileged few.

 

Today, a smart kid can learn everything that’s needed to succeed, all with a simple Google search and a few blog posts. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge doesn’t have the kind of authority it used to have.

 

For better or worse, we’re moving into a peer-to-peer economy. It’s a decentralized world that requires us to start making ourselves as useful as possible to the community. Old authorities and hierarchies don’t mean nearly as much as they used to.

 

In the end, this is the best way to write for the internet: imagine the internet is a kind of mystical hive-mind, and you want to articulate what it’s already saying. Just tell it the truth it wants told, and things will start working out for you.

 

Now, please don’t take me literally when I say that. I’m not saying the internet really is a hive mind, I’m just saying it’s useful to think of it that way sometimes.

 

Writing for the internet is an amazing opportunity, and it’s full of new chances to succeed. We’re still in the early stages of this information revolution, but we’ve already radically changed the way we seek out and consume information. The changes keep coming faster and faster, and they don’t show any sign of letting up. It’s going to be a crazy ride.

 

So, what are your experiences with writing online? Have I missed any major differences between print and internet writing? Or is it just the opposite, and you think they’re not so different after all? I’d love to talk to you if you could just let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!

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How Freelance Newbies Can Get the Best Clients on the Whole Damn Internet

So: you’ve decided you’re willing to do whatever it takes to make it in this freelancing world. You’ve burned bridges till you ran out of matches. You’ve signed away your soul to that little part of yourself that wanted to puke every time you used the phrase “my boss.” You’ve stocked yourself up with a year’s supply of Ramen noodles because you know you’re in it for the long haul.

You’re committed. Without any connections to speak of, without any experience to speak of, and pretty much without anything except dogged determination and a burning need to be the best in the world at what you do, you’ve decided you’re going to break into this business.

It’s as simple as that. You’re going to do it, and you’re going to be the best in the world. Because you decided to. It’s simple: you’ll either be the best freelancer in the world, or you’ll die trying.

(And let’s be honest, you’re not about to die trying. So you’ve only got one option, really.)

Now, of course, there is that pesky little problem of actually finding clients who are actually going to hire you and actually pay you what you’re actually worth. Speaking in the long term, it’s a pretty minor problem—with your almost creepy level of certainty that this is what you’re going to do with your life, you’re bound to find the very best of the best clients eventually. But in the short term it’s a pretty enormous problem you spend about 90 % of your waking time trying to solve.

(Because let’s face it, you can only eat so much Ramen and you’ve started to fantasize about splurging on a couple of items from the McDonald’s dollar menu.)

But never fear, my young padawan! Where there is an unbending, quasi-fanatical Will, there is a way, and I’m here to show you that way. Just follow the steps I’ve outlined here, and I can personally promise you that you’ll find something very soon. Either that or you’ll have to start getting creative and use ever-more-indirect ways to break into the market. Just keep at it long enough, and you’ll figure it out.

So, to start out:

  • Determine Your Niche

It can be an industry, or it can be a certain kind of work. You can be the go-to guy in the novelty sex toy industry. You can be the woman who writes the best white papers this side of the Mississippi.

That part is up to you. But the trick is to find something you can know better than anyone else in the world, and to know it so well you start developing a reputation for knowing something about it.

If you don’t have a niche, get one. That’s the way you make it in this world.

  • Use Online Directories to Find Companies

So: you’ve decided to become the world’s foremost expert on selling rubber duckies via long-form direct mail. That’s excellent.

The next step is to dig through any one of a good half-dozen or so business directories. Personally I’m a fan of Angel.co and Crunchbase.com, but this is a deeply personal matter for all of us.

You’ll want to search for “rubber duckies” or what-have-you, to get a list of all the relevant firms and startups. Your ideal candidates will have an annual revenue of about $1-5 million, which is enough that they’ll have a marketing budget, but probably don’t have too many writers on staff.

  • Know Who to Email

After you’ve identified a company you’re going to reach out to, you’ll take a quick trip to their website. You’ll get a solid grasp of what the company needs and what their general status is, and (most importantly) you’ll identify who you need to contact.

You’ll want to know all about this person, within reason. Creep on her Facebook page. Take a look at his LI profile. Know the exact number of hairs in the left side of their family cat’s whiskers.

More or less, you want to know who you’re dealing with, what they like, what they care about, and what you believe you can do for them.

  • Don’t be Subservient

Now’s the time to send your email. The most important thing to do in this email is to position yourself as someone who is knowledgeable in the field and who has valuable expertise to offer. You probably don’t even want to mention the fact that you’re looking for work.

(Saying that you’re looking for work makes it sound like you can’t find work, and if you can’t find work they’re definitely not going to hire you. But if you act like you’re just reaching out just for giggles, you’ll look like you’re very gracious and valuable, and they’re apt to send work your way eventually. In other words: people are really weird animals.)

The real trick here is to make sure they feel like you’re doing them a favor by reaching out to them, and not that they’re doing you a favor by getting back to you. And if you can master that, you’ve got it made in this world.

  • Make them Know Why they Need You

So: you’ve pulled it off. You’re no longer Joe Schmoe, Ramen enthusiast and devotee of rubber ducklings. You are now Joseph Schmoseph, Ramen connoisseur and premier duck whisperer of the world.

Your expertise is not only extensive. Your insights are not only valuable. Your smile is not only charming and oh-so-debonair.

No indeed.

You veritably ooze desirability. You are not only the service you offer. It’s not even that you are only the feeling that people get when you walk into the room. No, beyond that: you are the quiet and deeply-felt certainty that everything is not only going to be all right. You are the swelling knowledge that everything is just as all right, just as warm and content as if we were all back floating peacefully in the womb again.

They don’t need you because you can write. They need you because you let them know everything is, and will always be, all right.

  • Know What You’re Worth

Let’s just get it out of the way: there are writers in this world who are willing to work for much less than they’re worth. They’re the ones who flood sites like Upwork with sub-par writing that’s probably worth the pennies a word they get for it.

You’re better than that. If you’re determined to write for a content mill or a freelancing site, be smart about it and know exactly how you’re planning on getting out. There aren’t many fates worse than wasting your writing ability churning out SEO-optimized trash that no one will ever read, all for pennies on the word.

  • Send Follow-up Emails

So you shot out your first email and got nothing to show for it. Don’t worry about it. It happens.

When you’re first starting out, it happens a lot. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, it’s not even the end of that prospect! As the days and weeks go by, you’re going to want to compile a list of companies you’ve reached out to, and you’ll want to periodically touch base with anybody who hasn’t given you a hard no.

Notice I say periodically. It’s easy to overdo this kind of thing if you ever get fixated on any one prospect, so it’s good to have a number of balls in the air at once.

  • Don’t be Afraid of the Telephone

Now, I know what you’re thinking. I said this was going to be all about how you’re supposed to find prospects online. True enough, true enough. Technically, this isn’t an online strategy.

That being said, nothing works better for zeroing in on potentially interested parties than getting on the horn and asking if they’d like for you to shoot them an email. Cold calling makes for a far more efficient process of prospect identification, allowing you to rapidly get your sights on only those companies that have expressed at least some interest.

  • Broadcast Yourself on Social Media

This one should be obvious by now, because there’s no better way to build a network than to use a social network. You’re going to want to reach as many people as possible, because you never know who might be the first one who realizes what a great thing you’ve got going on.

This might not be so important in the short term, but in the long run you’re going to want an extensive network and you’re going to want to be able to interact with it well. Pretty much every client you could ever dream of landing is already out there on social media. It’s just a matter of drawing them in and making sure they know about you.

  • Be Better, Smarter, and More Determined than the Other Guy

Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for the Other Guy. The Other Guy is a good guy. The Other Guy works hard. The Other Guy does the best he can and makes sure he gets his share.

But the thing about the Other Guy is that the Other Guy isn’t out to be the best in the world. The Other Guy’s satisfied that he was able to make it as far as he has and earn what he’s earned.

That’s admirable. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But if you want to be the best in the world, you have to make sure that you never do what the Other Guy would do. You always have to pitch harder, write better, sell more, and keep yourself going better than the Other Guy. It’s a tough world and it’s a tough industry.

You’ve got to push yourself so hard you’re afraid you’ll break.

You’ve got to compete like your life depends on it.

You’ve got to keep yourself calm and working hard even when you’re afraid you’ll never be able to make it.

Because you can make it. You can find more clients and better clients than you ever thought possible. You just have to decide you’re going to do it. You just have to stick with that decision as long as it takes to make it become a reality. You just have to remember that you decided to be the best in the world at what you do.

So go and be the best.

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