Kingston Barnes Wins Small Business Of The Year

 

I’m so happy to share the news that one of my clients, Bristol based construction recruitment consultancy Kingston Barnes, has been named as Small Business of the Year in the Bristol Post’s 2016 awards.

As Managing Director James Kingston says, “To go from Start-up Business of the Year to Small Business of the Year in a two-year period is a huge achievement.”

It’s been a privilege to work with James on the content marketing for this fast-growing Bristol company and I look forward to winning many more awards together…

Get in touch today to find out how I can help your business to win awards – and customers! I’d love to hear from you.

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Bristol City Council Named In Top 3

I’m absolutely thrilled to share the news that I’ve helped one of my clients attain top 3 status in the UK. I’ve been working with Bristol City Council to improve the accessibility of their online content over the last 14 months and now, content quality specialist VisibleThread has placed us on the podium!

In that time, we’ve launched a new look and feel for the website, implemented new information architecture and embarked upon an ongoing programme of rewrites. I know we still have a long way to go, with many exciting initiatives planned for the future and I look forward to continuing to push the boundaries of what’s possible in the public sector.

If you think I can help your business or organization, get in touch today!

Everything you need to know about content marketing

Business Writing That Sells. Part 16

I’ve been a professional writer since 1998 and as Editor for The Business Show and Business Startup, I have worked with literally thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs to improve their content marketing. As a freelance copywriter specialising in content marketing, I meet and talk with many entrepreneurs, start-up founders and owners of SMEs on a regular basis. I’ve shared some of my secrets and tricks of the trade with you here and in this last instalment, we look back at the topics we’ve covered over the past 15 articles.

 

In this series, we’ve looked at everything from understanding why it’s crucial to understand why you’re writing content, who it’s for and how to engage them to finding ‘your’ voice, inspiration and what types of content you might want to think about.

As well as the bigger picture, we’ve talked about details like attention-grabbing headlines, persuasive body copy and how to review your words to make sure they work. Bookmark this page now for a handy set of links to every article that you can come back to when you need them.

I hope this series has helped you craft compelling content marketing for your business and that you’ve found new and better ways to connect with your customers as a result. All I ask is that when you need further insight and expertise, or you simply can’t cope with the volume of content you know you should be producing to grow your business, drop me a line.

 

A journalist reports facts.

A novelist tells stories.

The best copywriters do both.

 

  1. Introduction
  2. You need words to make money
  3. What does a copywriter do?
  4. Know your audience
  5. The answer to ‘So what?’
  6. How to turn your ideas into words
  7. The power of corporate storytelling
  8. Tone of voice
  9. How to brief your copywriter
  10. Time-saving shortcuts to inspiration
  11. How to write a headline
  12. Why body copy is critical to any campaign
  13. Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings
  14. Your six-step checklist to content perfection
  15. Get to the point!

 

If you found the series – or any of the articles in it – useful, please share them via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog. I’d really appreciate it, thanks. If you need professional copywriting for anything from your new web copy to marketing collateral and press releases, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today to find out how I could help your business.

Get to the point!

Business Writing That Sells. Part 15

I’ve been a professional writer since 1998 and as Editor for The Business Show and Business Startup, I have worked with literally thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs to improve their content marketing. As a freelance copywriter specialising in content marketing, I meet and talk with many entrepreneurs, start-up founders and owners of SMEs on a regular basis. I will share some of my secrets and tricks of the trade with you here. Today, I explain why less really is more.

 

It’s 2015. We have the internet, RSS feeds, forums, broadcast TV, on demand viewing, YouTube and the appropriately named Twitch. Forget everything you thought you knew about constructing copy with cadence and a crescendo; your audience struggles to absorb a 30-second ad.

Consumers in the 21st Century are bombarded from all sides with marketing messages – or more accurately, cries for their attention. These people would rather think about what they want for dinner, how their relationship’s going, or who will win this weekend’s big game. They didn’t ask you to market at them. So how do you get their attention?

Get to the point!

Don’t fuck about. If you have something to say, get it said! It’s a sad truth for a lover of words like me, but long copy is seldom read. If you have game-changing research, or a truly compelling personal story, then go for your life; long copy still has its place. But for most of us, brevity is not only the soul of wit, it’s also where the sharp marketing money goes. This isn’t an essay that needs to reach a word count to keep ‘Teach’ happy. If you can convey the same message in fewer words, do it. It’ll probably be more powerful anyway; four words good, two words better.

Content marketing is poetry

Pretentious? Moi? Sure! I’m a published poet you’ll find in the national library, but like poetry, copywriting is about using as few words as possible to say as much as possible. It’s a zen approach to writing that rewards minimum effort with maximum results – less is more! It’s a skill I learned with the early mobile internet’s WAP and one that holds just as true today with Twitter.

Practical advice?

  • Keep it as short as possible
  • Write for skimming
  • Use links

To sum up:

Get in, get out, get sales.

 

If you find the series – or any of the articles in it – useful, please share them via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog. I’d really appreciate it, thanks. If you need professional copywriting for anything from your new web copy to marketing collateral and press releases, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today to find out how I could help your business.

Your six-step checklist to content perfection

Business Writing That Sells. Part 14

I’ve been a professional writer since 1998 and as Editor for The Business Show and Business Startup, I have worked with literally thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs to improve their content marketing. As a freelance copywriter specialising in content marketing, I meet and talk with many entrepreneurs, start-up founders and owners of SMEs on a regular basis. I will share some of my secrets and tricks of the trade with you here. Today, we look at how to make sure your marketing content is ready for its audience. Don’t press ‘Publish’ until you’ve read this…

Congratulations on finishing that press release/blog/article* (*delete as appropriate). You’ve made the word count, squeezed everything in and that’s a good job done. Not so fast. Just when you think you’re done, you aren’t.

You’re probably not even close. If you’ve followed this series of articles then you should at least have a killer headline, a persuasive intro and body copy that walks it like you talk it. But now ask yourself; is it all a bit staged? A bit… formulaic?

When writing is actually reading

There’s nothing worse than content that sounds contrived when you know it’s meant to be conversational. Read back through your words – even better, read it aloud. Pay attention to your breaths and what feels natural. Where you breathe or pause for effect, that’s where a comma should live.

Your prose might be persuasive, but don’t forget that the devil is in the details. And in content marketing, that means making sure that every sentence has a subject, a verb and an object; every word means what you think it does; and every letter ‘i’ has its dot. Of course, it’s OK if you decide to break the rules; just make it obvious you know what you’re doing. Even if your audience can’t tell a split infinitive from a split end, they will know when something doesn’t seem right and that may be enough to put them off a purchase.

Your six-step checklist to content perfection

Luckily, some common sense quality assurance will save you:

1) Spellcheck

The bare minimum you should do before publishing – and I’m continually amazed how many professional businesses don’t even do this simple step… and then wonder why their marketing fails! Assuming you write in Microsoft Word, or similar software, then spellcheck is there – and it’s free. Use it! If you write directly into a Content Management System at the moment, don’t. Just don’t.

2) Sense check

Imagine you have no knowledge of your specific business or the subject matter in general. Would you understand what’s being said? Does it make sense? You don’t stand a chance of securing a sale if the reader can’t even comprehend your copy.

3) Fact check

Get it right. Why would a potential customer part with their cash if you can’t even get the facts right? If you’re not sure, check.

4) Go with the flow

Look at the parts of your content and how they fit together. Your brain as a writer will follow a different path to your customer as a reader. Follow your instinct when you’re writing, but go back over your words as an editor and make sure they lay a trail that your reader can easily follow. Simply swapping paragraphs around can make a big difference to the sense and the experience.

5) Read it aloud

Simply reading your words aloud will soon highlight any problems – even if nobody’s listening! It will help you to externalise the train of thought, phrases, and the voice of your content and experience it anew. You’ll notice awkward structures and clumsy wording that seemed fine before.

6) Get some feedback

Even better than reading your work aloud is reading it aloud to someone else. And if you can’t – or don’t want to – do that, then the next best thing is getting a fresh pair of eyes to look over your words. Content professionals often say that you can’t edit your own work – and they’re right.

Of course you knew what you meant when you wrote it, but would anyone else when they read it? Professional content teams and creative agencies employ sub-editors or proofreaders like me to check this, but if your budget doesn’t stretch to that, then just asking a friend or colleague to read your work is the next best thing. Don’t brief them, don’t explain the piece and don’t set the scene. It’s crucial that your sounding board encounters your words as a consumer would – alone, naked and vulnerable. That’s when your words are at their weakest and that’s when they need your support most.

Next: Why writing isn’t all about… writing!

 If you find the series – or any of the articles in it – useful, please share them via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog. I’d really appreciate it, thanks. If you need professional copywriting for anything from your new web copy to marketing collateral and press releases, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today to find out how I could help your business.

Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings

Business Writing That Sells. Part 13

I’ve been a professional writer since 1998 and as Editor for The Business Show and Business Startup, I have worked with literally thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs to improve their content marketing. As a freelance copywriter specialising in content marketing, I meet and talk with many entrepreneurs, start-up founders and owners of SMEs on a regular basis. I will share some of my secrets and tricks of the trade with you here. Today, we look at why the great words you just wrote may not be so great after all.

Hey, so your new press release/blog/article reads pretty killer, huh? You know you nailed the nouns, got inventive with the verbs and ad-libbed to excess on the adverbs. Interesting copy is playful after all. Well, yes, but you can’t afford to lose sight of the fact that content marketing is all about the message. What you say is more important than how you say it. Does that sound strange coming from a professional copywriter? Hear me out…

Walk the line

There’s a fine line between playful and pretentious. Interesting and self-interested. Creative and cringeworthy. I’m straddling that line now – and I know it. That’s the point.

If anything jars, then it doesn’t fit. Nothing is more important for your content than communicating your core message. Not ‘cool’ – whatever that is – not self-indulgence and definitely not ego. Best check them all in at the door. What counts is meaningful communication with your potential customers on their terms. Of course you want to grab their attention and impress them, but don’t overstep the mark. It’s like the precocious music student at school who wouldn’t swap playing Bach for basketball at break time – nobody likes a show-off!

Content is confusing

But aren’t you supposed to write words that sparkle and effervesce at every opportunity? That’s what you’re supposed to do, right? Wrong. Confused? You’re not alone. Content marketing is all about standing with one foot either side of that line and writing words so sharp they cut – but not too deep. Professional copywriters like me spend their entire lives learning how to strike that balance, so nobody’s going to blame you for not getting it right first time. Apart from your finance department. They think you should have hired me to do the job right in the first place, instead of trying to save a couple of bucks…

Draw a line in the sand

The secret to crafting clean and compelling copy is to take all the rough edges off before you finish. Anything that stands out should be sanded smooth. It all needs to be great, and if some of it isn’t, then that makes even the good stuff look bad. Content marketing is all about being consistent; consistently great. Don’t lose the good stuff, but make sure you bring everything else up to the same standard. But what if you really believe in your heart of hearts that it couldn’t be any better?

Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings

Pay particular attention to the parts that make you proud. Then cut them. If it stands out, there’s a reason why. Authors call this purple prose – beautiful phrases that serve no purpose other than their own beauty – and just about any piece of content is stronger for losing it. Bestselling novelist Elmore Leonard says of his own work that, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings.

 

Next: Your six-step checklist to content perfection

 

If you find the series – or any of the articles in it – useful, please share them via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog. I’d really appreciate it, thanks. If you need professional copywriting for anything from your new web copy to marketing collateral and press releases, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today to find out how I could help your business.

Why body copy is critical to any campaign

Business Writing That Sells. Part 12

I’ve been a professional writer since 1998 and as Editor for The Business Show and Business Startup, I have worked with literally thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs to improve their content marketing. As a freelance copywriter specialising in content marketing, I meet and talk with many entrepreneurs, start-up founders and owners of SMEs on a regular basis. I will share some of my secrets and tricks of the trade with you here. Today, we look at the body copy for your content marketing, why it’s a critical phase of any campaign – and how you can convert it into sales.

 

Don’t let your start-up or SME marketing campaign fall at the last hurdle; how to make sure your body copy delivers a body-blow that’s a KO for conversion! (1)

In the last article, we looked at the old saying among journalists that, “If the headline sells, then the body copy tells.” That time, we were looking at headlines, so it only seems right that this time we focus on the other side of the equation – the body. We’ll look at how you can make sure it tells the story you need it to, but where content marketing differs from journalism is that the body also sells. It sells your product.

This is the moment every single penny of your marketing budget has been building towards. Every ad, every link share, every piece of coverage in the local paper serves one purpose: to get your content in front of your market. Don’t blow it now by letting the office manager write your most valuable marketing asset just because they happen to have an English GCSE. (2)

The advice in this article will help you get it right if you decide to go it alone, or talk to me today to find out about the difference that professional content can make to your business, your conversion rate and your profits. (3)

What is body copy?

It’s the main body of your content – hence the name. If you ignore headlines (the head), pull quotes (the hands), boxouts (the legs) or any other editorial furniture, then you’re left with the body of words itself. If your reader sees nothing else, this is what you want them to remember. It’s not only where you set out your stall, but also follow through on whatever promise your headline made. This is when you need to deliver. Don’t finish until you have – but do it as fast as you can.

Politically correct (4)

There aren’t many speakers more memorable than British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. But why did his words strike a chord with people? As he put it,

 

“Begin strongly,

have one theme,

use simple language,

leave a picture in the listener’s mind,

and end dramatically.”

Winston Churchill

 

A strong beginning  carries on from where your headline left off. You could answer a question or expand on an offer, but the important thing is to reward your reader with an instant payoff. Make them believe they were right to follow their instincts – and your link. You don’t have to give it all away on the first date, but don’t tease. Time is short and attention spans are shorter. Give them something straight away; give them more later.

Pyramid selling

One of the most common article structures among news journalists is the inverted pyramid structure. Look at any good newspaper – not one that recycles press releases – and you’ll notice that the most important information is all in the first paragraph. If you stopped reading there, you would know everything you need to be up to date.

Every following paragraph contains supporting information; looks at the issue from various points of view, gives a right to reply and offers a back story, but what you need to know is in the first paragraph.

The hierarchy is always the same:

  • What made the story newsworthy in the first place
  • Important facts
  • Background information

The idea is that the reader can stop reading at any point and you’ve still communicated your message. It works for news, but it also works for business copywriting. As Jim Davies says, “The first sentence is the most important, but the second sentence is the hardest to write.” Why? Because the first sentence can hit the reader between the eyes, but the second has to convince them to read on and offer more

Pay up or shut up

So how should you structure your content? Just remember that inverted pyramid – especially online. Remember that people can click away at any moment. Too many businesses spend their marketing content desperately trying to maintain their readers’ interest throughout an article/blog/press release with the promise of a delayed payoff and withold the punchline for the end. That would work great in a print magazine where the consumer has paid for an artefact where they’ll devour every word to get their money’s worth, but online? Forget it. Pay up or shut up.

Content marketing structure

Many of my clients come to me with the right words in the wrong order. Even if they’ve done a great job of explaining who they are, what they offer and how they can help, the wrong order is almost as big a barrier to entry as just getting it plain wrong.

Just like a story, any content, however short – or long, should have a beginning, a middle and an end. Start with a bang, expand upon your subject and go out on a high.

Here’s how to structure your body content for content marketing:

  1. Get their attention (headline)
  2. Hit them hard (first paragraph)
  3. Get them while they’re hot (first call to action)
  4. Back it up (following paragraphs)
  5. Get out… (strongest call to action)
  6. …Before you’ve outstayed your welcome

Now take a look back through this article. Notice anything familiar about those bracketed numbers you thought were odd the first time around? That’s right – the structure of this article follows the steps we’ve just covered. I’ve put the numbers in so you can see for yourself exactly how the theory works in practice.

I hope you’ll also notice that the body of this article follows its own advice in each section:

  • Begins strongly
  • Early call to action
  • Instant gratification
  • Fulfils the headline’s promise
  • Inverted pyramid structure
  • Focuses on one theme
  • Expands on that theme
  • Uses simple language
  • Closes with a call to action
  • Ends dramatically

Closes with a call to action?

Nope, you didn’t miss it – here it is. I hope you’ve found this article useful in creating your own killer content marketing copy. Good luck! But if you need a professional copywriter because a job is too complex or too crucial to gamble on, or if time is too short to do it yourself, get in touch today. I’d love to hear from you. (5)

 

Next: Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings (6)

 

If you find the series – or any of the articles in it – useful, please share them via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog. I’d really appreciate it, thanks. If you need professional copywriting for anything from your new web copy to marketing collateral and press releases, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today to find out how I could help your business.

How to write a headline

Business Writing That Sells. Part 11

I’ve been a professional writer since 1998 and as Editor for The Business Show and Business Startup, I have worked with literally thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs to improve their content marketing. As a freelance copywriter specialising in content marketing, I meet and talk with many entrepreneurs, start-up founders and owners of SMEs on a regular basis. I will share some of my secrets and tricks of the trade with you here. Today, we look at how to write a headline that grabs your customers’ attention and refuses to let go.

 

What does a headline do?

There’s an old saying among journalists that, “If the body copy tells, then the headline sells.” In other words, the headline sells the idea to the reader that the article (or press release, blog or marketing collateral) is worth investing their time. The sole purpose of a great headline is to convince the reader to… read! Traditionally, that was true of newspaper front pages, but it holds true for blogs, social media and web links in the 21st Century.

Approaches to headlines have always differed depending on the outlet, from The Sun’s sensational ‘Gotcha’ to the New York Times’ factual ‘Nixon Resigns’. But in today’s always-online marketplace, there is a very marked divide between ‘traditional’ headlines of any flavour and a desperate drive for the internet’s H1 headings to generate clicks. So let’s start there.

You’re bound to have seen headlines/links like this:

  • This girl opens her front door late at night. You won’t believe what happened next!
  • It looked like any normal box, but what’s inside is incredible!
  • What this man found in the morning post will change the way you open your mail forever!

And – quite possibly against your better judgement – you couldn’t resist clicking that link. The tantalising prospect of titillation, revelation or epiphany proved stronger than your cynicism. So you clicked. And were doubtless presented with a breathless account of a perfectly mundane event. We may well live an age of hyperbole, but how did that make you feel? Misled? Gullible? Stupid? Do you want to make your customers feel that way?

 

Do visits = profit?

Even after all these years of the internet, online marketers are still struggling to establish meaningful metrics for their effectiveness; cold, hard numbers they can present to the board to quantify and validate their work. The numbers they like to lean on are visits or clickthrough – how many users have viewed the marketing collateral as a result of that headline or link passing before users’ eyeballs. The higher the number, the better they look.

But do visits = profit? Only if your business model is as a content provider or it’s based on serving advertising. For everyone else – for any start-up or SME in the real world – the only thing you should care about is customer engagement after click-through. How do those clicks convert into sales? Why are you in business in the first place? To make money. Not to reach out to people. That’s why your metrics should be based on ‘conversion’ not ‘clickthrough’.

You can have all the visits in the world, but if they don’t translate into sales, you might as well shut up shop and go home. Although before you do that, I’d recommend firing your marketing goons and offering your audience a meaningful interaction instead…

 

What does a good headline do?

A good headline grabs the reader’s attention, ensures relevance, offers an overview of what follows and encouragement to read on. A good headline needs to grab the reader’s attention and make it impossible for them not to read your content. It’s a promise that their life will be enriched by reading your words – and that’s a promise you must be able to deliver on. Failing to deliver on that promise is to fail your customer – even before they are your customer – it’s almost a dictionary definition of an ‘own goal’.

But let’s assume that you have a meaningful offering. Whether it entertains or informs, you know you have content that’s worth your audience’s time. But how do you convince them to read it? That’s where your headline comes in.

It’s a busy world out there and you have to stand out to get noticed. But that doesn’t mean that whoever shouts loudest gets heard. The right message delivered to the right audience is worth any amount of shit flung at a wall and hoping some of it sticks.

 

Make your headline stand out without selling out

So you want to make sure that your headline doesn’t promise what your content can’t deliver, but that doesn’t mean your headline has to be boring. There’s nothing wrong with announcing your latest special offer, discount or incentive in plain English – and that’s often the most convincing way to go in business copywriting.

But how do you grab the audience’s attention if you don’t have an irresistible offer? Your communication is one of countless calls to action any consumer will be confronted with on any given day. Imagine your content in the context of all those cries for attention. Does is scream ‘ME!’ or ‘Me too?’ Your headline may be perfectly professional, but is it just a bit too… perfunctory?

 

Man bites dog: look for the unusual

We humans are a curious species and things that are out of the ordinary grab our attention. As journalists like to say, you never read about a plane that didn’t crash. It’s always the exception to the rule that will intrigue your readership. Jesse Lynch Williams famously wrote at the end of the 19th Century, “‘A dog bites a man – that’s a story; A man bites a dog’ – that’s a good story!”

Spend some time looking for the reason your story is unique and play on it. Add some colour with playful language and if your headline contains conflict, offers a solution or appeals to the reader’s greed, then so much the better!

 

Headline examples

Let’s take a look at some headline strategies that have proven effective. I’ll illustrate each of them with the mail scenario we encountered before:

Lists

10 ways to process your mail better

How to

How to process your mail more effectively

Direct and informative

Modern mail handling options explained

Pose a question

What’s stopping you processing your mail faster?

Offer a solution

This simple fix will help you process your mail faster

Start mid-argument

Mail is over for business. Here’s why…

Make an offer

Save 25% on mail handling with these easy steps

Announcement

New software will help you handle your mail faster and save money

Tell a story

Find out how SME.com sped up their mail handling by 25%

Click-bait

OMG! Why your mail could be killing your business!

 

Yeah, probably don’t use that last one…

Although each of these examples seems very different, they share one thing in common; none of them feature the plain-faced statements you find in most press releases. OK, they share two things in common; These strategies have also proven to be effective in both generating readership and sales. Why? Because they not only engage the reader, but they offer something meaningful in exchange for their time.

Remember, your reader doesn’t care about your business, but they do care about what your business can do for them. Whether that’s saving them time, money or simply providing a quality service at a reasonable price, headlines are every bit as much about benefits over features as the content itself.

 

Choose your words carefully

Copywriters don’t choose the wording of their headlines at random – and neither should you! We work in key phrases that we know will not only generate clicks, but also profit, based on our knowledge of the market, audience research, sales results and experience.

Here are some keywords that are proven strong sellers to work into your headlines:

  • Why
  • Fast
  • Easy
  • Free
  • Save
  • Best
  • Bargain
  • Results
  • How to
  • Make money
  • Save money

Why? Because these words are a fast and easy way to offer your audience a free way to save money, bag the best bargains and achieve real results. If you can show your audience how to make or save money, then you’ve won a lifelong customer. Isn’t that what every business wants?

 

If you find the series – or any of the articles in it – useful, please share them via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog. I’d really appreciate it, thanks. If you need professional copywriting for anything from your new web copy to marketing collateral and press releases, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today to find out how I could help your business.

Time-saving shortcuts to inspiration

Business Writing That Sells. Part 10

I’ve been a professional writer since 1998 and as Editor for The Business Show and Business Startup, I have worked with literally thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs to improve their content marketing. As a freelance copywriter specialising in content marketing, I meet and talk with many entrepreneurs, start-up founders and owners of SMEs on a regular basis. I will share some of my secrets and tricks of the trade with you here. Today, we look at time-saving shortcuts to inspiration for your business writing.

 

OK, so you’re busy. You don’t have the time to carry out market research, focus groups and user testing for that new web page, press release or blog. The thought of a thousand drafts to fit the hero of 1,000 faces fills you with dread. You want words that catch lightning in a bottle without having to blow the glass yourself. You want words that will catch your customers’ attention. And you want them today – preferably, yesterday.

So what’s a time poor, asset poor start-up or SME to do? Well, of course you should retain a professional copywriter – and may I suggest moi? – but what if you’re determined to go it alone? I could ramble on about drawing inspiration from your core values and how every communication should embody your corporate mission statement to engage your customers one-on-one, but let’s be realistic here – you need to be a marketing magpie. Whatever words you find that are shiny and attractive, no matter the source: steal it.

 

No business is an island

You should create a marketing toolkit. It’s a list of the main messages that you want to tell the world, expressed in the right tone of voice and agreed by all the stakeholders in your business. But, y’know – that takes time. So where do you turn when you need words NOW?

No man – or in this case, business – is an island. Look at what has proven effective for your competition and decide how you can make that work for you. Then do it. Do NOT steal phrases, taglines or mission statements – that will just make you look like a douche. DO take inspiration from direction, benefits and ‘colour’. It’s what journalists call the ‘angle’. It’s your hook; your way in; the basis of the ‘story’.

You must have heard the phrase, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” It’s been around in one form or another since 1708 and it’s been repeated regularly ever since with good reason. What does that mean today? Any copywriter, designer, or other marketing creative will go to great lengths to stress the originality of their thinking and the unique way they join the dots together for your account. And that’s all true – that’s why we’re worth our weight in gold.

But what we as a breed are less likely to admit is that we all take inspiration from somewhere. True, we can draw together strands from unlikely sources to create an unprecedented whole, but those ideas usually came from somewhere.

 

Take it and make it better

Every creative has what we call a swipe file. It could be a physical scrapbook, a shoebox, a mood board, a Word document, or a Pinterest album, but smart people collect inspirational, effective and proven examples of their craft to refer to. The important thing is to make sure you don’t restrict yourself to one medium, mission or market. If something speaks to you, capture it. It doesn’t matter if it’s an award-winning billboard ad or a photograph from a magazine; an inspirational quote or a piece of music. The important thing is to file it away for future reference.

A creative swipe file is a touchstone you can return to at any time; things that spark a reaction in you – and therefore, your customers. It might seem totally random when you’re compiling it, but when you need inspiration months later, you might just spot a common thread that not only makes sense, but forms the hook from which you can hang your marketing campaign.

Whether you lift wholesale, or use it as a touchpaper for your own imagination is up to you, but steal from things that speak directly to your soul. Just make sure you take it and make it better. As Jean-Luc Goddard said, “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”

 

Commerce, not art

If that all sounds a bit derivative, lazy or just plain cheating, remember this is a real world guide to time-saving shortcuts to inspiration for your start-up or SME. As respected copywriter Roger Horberry says, “Originality in copywriting isn’t as important as you might think. This is commerce, not art.”

If you have neither the time nor the budget, these tips will help you find inspiration when you’re staring at a blank screen and the words just won’t come. But if you want marketing copy that flies off the page or out of the screen, then there really is no substitute for the research, craft and creativity of a professional copywriter. Talk to me.

 

If you find the series – or any of the articles in it – useful, please share them via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog. I’d really appreciate it, thanks. If you need professional copywriting for anything from your new web copy to marketing collateral and press releases, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today to find out how I could help your business.

How to brief your copywriter

Business Writing That Sells. Part 9

I’ve been a professional writer since 1998 and as Editor for The Business Show and Business Startup, I have worked with literally thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs to improve their content marketing. As a freelance copywriter specialising in content marketing, I meet and talk with many entrepreneurs, start-up founders and owners of SMEs on a regular basis. I will share some of my secrets and tricks of the trade with you here. Today, we look at how to brief your copywriter effectively – and how to use that brief to benefit your business.

 

What is a brief?

In its simplest form, a brief just explains to your writer what you want to say to whom and why. To put that in marketing speak, it sets out your core message, target market and objectives. You can’t just expect them to ‘know’ how you want a press release or article to read. We’re a pretty intuitive bunch, but even copywriters aren’t mind readers!

Even if you’ll be writing your own copy, then taking the time to set out a clear, concise brief will help focus your mind. This article explains how I work and what I look for as a professional copywriter; I hope this insight helps you to understand the process and deliver more professional results yourself. And if you ever need to bring in a professional, maybe you’ll remember how I helped.

If you’ve worked together previously and your writer ‘gets’ you and your business, then a brief might just be a three-line email. On the other hand, if they’re new to you, then it could be a six-page brand bible and marketing strategy template, complete with style guide. I’ve received plenty of both in my time as a copywriter…

It’s up to you how much or how little detail to include, but there’s a happy medium somewhere in the middle. Not enough information could leave your copywriter trying to read between the lines and scratching about for information, so don’t be surprised if their aim is wide of the mark. On the other hand, too much detail could swamp their thinking and obscure what the writing’s really about. To start with, send them an overview of the highly relevant information and be ready to offer more insight if they ask for it. Copywriters are curious and we like to follow our noses to the core of a ‘story’.

 

What is a good brief?

There are probably as many answers to this question as there are copywriters, but I can tell you the things that I value when starting a commission.

  • What your brand stands for
  • Who your reader is
  • The one message or idea you want to leave with the reader
  • What you want them to do, think or believe differently after they have read ‘your’ words
  • What results do you want to this communication to achieve
  • Where it will be published – both the medium (online or print), as well as the actual site or publication if possible

 

Less is more

I will then reduce everything you have told me to one sentence. You’re not getting short shrift and I’m not dismissing the nuances of your communication. What I’m doing is distilling it into its purest form. This is single malt whiskey, not some alcopop. And if you can serve it up to me that way from the beginning, I know that I will love looking after your account.

I won’t waste your time with the meandering version that runs to hundreds of words, but here’s a good example:

“As a retailer of automotive modifications, I want our male customers aged 17-24 to believe that our products make their cars unique, so they’ll buy parts from us after reading an online article on ‘hotcarforexampledotcom’”

Although clunky in structure, the sentiment of the sentence is simple and serves as my rudder when I’m navigating the countless decisions that I will make when crafting your content. It brings me back to the heart of the proposition every time. Reducing everything to one sentence might sound restrictive, but it’s actually liberating.

And that explains the copywriter’s old joke:

Briefs? The tighter they are, the better they fit.

 

If you find the series – or any of the articles in it – useful, please share them via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog. I’d really appreciate it, thanks. If you need professional copywriting for anything from your new web copy to marketing collateral and press releases, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today to find out how I could help your business.