The 3 Laws of Copywriting

[Psst–this post is by Terra, the sharp-as-a-tack English Maven intern! Don’t you wish your intern was smart like mine? OK, enough bragging. Read on. — Lianna] 

Fabulous graphic goes here.

When it comes to writing for any genre, there’s a clear list of minimum required skills. You need to know how to read and write, how sentences and paragraphs work, and how to build on them to create meaning. And while anyone can apply that baseline, lowest-common-denominator skillset to just about anything written, not all wordsmiths can write copy.

Let me break that down just in case you, like me, are math-challenged: you need to know how to do much more than write to be a good copywriter. It’s not enough to be able to write a nice metaphor—great copywriters turn phrases that turn into dollars. And you can, too.

In order to harness this power, you must first understand it. The art of copywriting distinctly differs from other forms of writing. Once you learn the rules of copywriting, you can follow them, apply them, customize them, and use them to transform into the copywriter you were meant to be.

Are you ready? Let’s begin.

1. Copy sells something.

Copy is writing that businesses use to advertise a product’s market value. To effectively sell a product, copy must inform, entice, and inspire the audience to become customers. Good copy appeals to its audience, and allows readers to realize the product’s value, connect its benefits to their specific needs, and compel them to buy it by outlining how said product could improve or enhance their lives. If your writing doesn’t sell, the product won’t either. That’s it.

2. Copy targets a specific audience.

Everyone is different, but not that different. Understanding what unifies your target audience is crucial to determining its wants and needs: information you can use to better appeal to them.

Knowing your audience will also shed light on other make-or-break factors, like which publishing platform will drive the most traffic, which advertising channel will return the best results, and which tone and style resonates the most with your audience. Focusing on the customer is a huge part of that equation—by tailoring your copy to a key customer demographic or demand, you can capture their attention more fully and direct business where it matters most.

3. Copy compels its audience to take action.

If your copy doesn’t impact your bottom line, it’s your bottom on the line. Copy’s ultimate goal is to turn readers into customers; if your copy isn’t compelling, the audience won’t respond to it, period. Inciting copy allows readers to visualize the product’s benefits to their lives, which makes becoming a customer more attractive to them.

In order to spur its audience to action, your copy needs to explain why the reader should care, what to do about it, and then exactly how to do that thing. To that end, clients often work with copywriters to determine how the copy should come across to maximize results– inclusive of tone, language style, customer preferences, length, structure, content, and technicalities. Such client specifications are important for producing effective copy, but the process is by no means a one-way street: copywriting is very much a collaborative activity, one in which the customer’s needs and writer’s voice must be heard (and read) to achieve the best possible end result.

There you have it: the three tenets of copywriting that will help you drive profitable business, better communicate with potential customers, and transform your love of language into a tool more powerful than you could ever imagine. By crafting masterful copy, a writer can convey meaning and create opportunity.

But do be wary of your new powers…with great copy comes great response-ability. 

Sharpen Your Focus: 5 Ways to Kickstart Your Freelance Life

Remember this post? It was all about ways to treat yourself for less than $10 on Valentine’s Day, with or without a valentine.

10 Ways to Treat Yourself (For Less Than $10)

It’s not Valentine’s Day today, but I’m always looking for small (read: free) ways to appreciate what I have, and improve my quality of life. Aren’t you?

Today is Friday, though, so I’m thinking it’s an extra-appropriate time to go into the weekend mindfully and kindly–considering how you can get the most from your your body, your home, and your freelance life.

(Spoiler: You can be kind to yourself every day. But somehow, kindness doesn’t seem as accessible on a Monday morning.)

Give these ideas a try this weekend, and let me know how it goes. And don’t forget that sometimes, taking five deep breaths is the best gift you can give yourself.

1. Lay out your clothes every night

Let me tell you how often I don’t do this. But when I do, my day starts much more quickly and smoothly.

Especially when you work from home, it can be easy to sit down in your pajamas with a cup of coffee (or wine, depending on the time of day/level of alcoholism to which you adhere). Before you know it, it’s 11AM, and you feel, well, kind of gross.

Beat that feeling to the punch, and stop stumbling around in the morning, trying to find clean pants through all that crusty eye makeup.

PRICE: Free.

2. Walk around the block every morning

This is the natural next step after getting dressed in your laid-out clothes every morning. I read somewhere that somebody famous did it. You want to be famous, don’t you?

PRICE: Free.

3. Drink a glass of water before you eat

Are you hungry? Are you sure? How bout you drink some water first?

God, I love food. I try to remember to hydrate before I dig in, though. It’s a great tool to keep from overeating.

PRICE: Free, unless you live in California or sub-Saharan Africa, in which case: Damn, sorry.

4. Change your pillowcases

Studies show you’ll sleep better when the fabric next to your head doesn’t smell like morning breath and face dirt.

Okay, no one’s done a study on that, but you’ll have fewer breakouts if you change your pillowcases at least once a week. Plus, it’s my personal opinion that the smell of laundry detergent helps you fall asleep.

PRICE: Depends on how often you do your laundry. Basically, free.

5. Write down what you’re grateful for

Do this either at night before you go to sleep, or take a few minutes before you start work every day. By noticing the little things, you’ll start to build a naturally grateful outlook–which benefits you, your work, and everyone you know.

PRICE: Priceless.

 

Anything to add? Leave it in the comments!

5 Ways Giving Up Netflix Will Make You a Better Freelancer (and a Better Person)

5 Ways Giving Up NetflixWill Make You a (1)

(Note: You probably won’t understand the introduction to this post if you don’t watch “House“. That’s okay. Just skip to the list for how giving up Netflix made me a better freelancer—at least for a week).

 

It’s 11:29 pm. You’re sitting slackjawed on your couch, watching your third episode of “House” Season 2 because Netflix is on autoplay, and the cat is curled up next to you.

You did not do your laundry. You did not blog. You definitely didn’t do any other work.

You did not cook dinner; instead, you foraged for stray carrots and dipped them into two-week-old hummus while watching House chew out other doctors for thinking it was lupus.

It’s NEVER LUPUS.

 

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I caught myself trapped in the scene above. I was tired, but hadn’t spent my time on anything worthwhile. I was annoyed at myself.

And I had noticed myself opening Netflix by default, almost without thinking. I don’t like being a thoughtless robot.

So I decided to see if I could abstain from watching Netflix—and all other shows and online video diversions—for a week.

Here’s what happened.

5 Ways Giving Up Netflix Will Make You a Better Freelancer (and a Better Person)

  1. I was more creative. I made my own creative escapes instead of diving into “House” reruns.
  2. I was more mindful. I realized how much time I was spending zoning out. Now I can choose when to zone out. Hopefully it won’t be as much.
  3. I read more. Like, a lot more. Like a book a week more. And they were such good books!
  4. I went to bed earlier and slept better. Early to bed, early to rise, and all that crap. Seriously, though. That last 40-minute episode before bed makes a difference in your sleep quality, not just quantity. Though I have f.lux, I suspect watching a screen before bed still fucks with your brain, blue light or not.
  5. I had to be with myself. God, it was uncomfortable. And necessary.

If giving up Netflix for a week seems impossible for you—that means it’s all the more important to do it.

Try it. Let me know what happens. And if it gives you a boost, share this post.

Take Back Your Weekend

How to Maximize Downtime Whenever You Get It

Dear copywriting,

You’re a slavedriver, and I love you. But wait–this isn’t that letter.

This letter is about you, my friend, and the last time you enjoyed a stress-free, work-free weekend. Raise your hand if you don’t remember when that was, and then put your hand down because everyone in the coffee shop is staring at you.

Freelancers know the myth of the “weekend” all too well. Clients want work delivered, and they want it now–whether it’s after 5 pm on a weekday or 10 am on a Sunday morning.

Even if you’re not a freelancer, chances are you’ve seen countless weekends disappear, spent in a haze of errand-running, chores, and catch-up work. You wake up Monday morning already depleted, because you never had a chance to relax.

Weekend Definition
Thanks, Google.

Weekends are supposed to be filled with picnics. Bed-lounging. Reading things printed on actual paper.

Mine usually look just like my weekdays–but I have no problem with this, because I’ve set up a three-pronged system for carefully managing my downtime.

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(It also sometimes features cute pictures of my cat, because he’s more popular than I am.)