The cursor blinks incessantly at you.
Words fail to come.
The blank white page staring you in the face is blinding.
Welcome to writer’s block, my friend!
Truth be told, all copy starts with a blank page.
But when deadlines, not-to-be missed opportunities, customers and clients (yes, we still love you xx) are breathing down your neck for cleverly crafted content, that blank page can be one heck-of-an intimidating beast.
Copywriting is a careful composition of creativity and strategic process that gets your message across in an engaging way.
How to get all those lovely eloquent ideas trapped in your head, onto that blank page in a coherent and appealing way, though?
As someone who has battled the blank page (and happily won more times than not), I offer my proven writing formulas to help get you started, no matter what your topic, audience or writing genre is.
Before for we get stuck in, let’s start at the very beginning, by exploring:
We are constantly smashing our eyeballs with content and asking our overloaded brains to decipher the white noise of text, images, videos and more, at a record rate.
Our tolerance threshold of ‘getting what we want’ when it comes to information or entertainment is shrinking, rapidly.
We are becoming quite the impatient brute…but our time is valuable people!
Having a healthy respect for your audience is key; being mindful of delivering what they want, in the way they want it.
Start with the problem (that is, the problem you and your business solve for other people).
– Do you offer a product or service that is quicker, more cost-effective, easier to use than a competitor?
– What do you give back to your customer (more time, more money, more sanity)?
– What can your customer do with this asset you have given them back (time spent with family and friends, saving for something special, feeling less anxious about their business)?
So a professional copywriter will tell you; Start with the problem THEN offer the solution AND make sure it *speaks* to your audience in a way they know and love.
Not only was Avatar a pretty impressive flick that made equally impressive takings at the box office, but it has also become a common catchphrase for the audience segment (aka avatar) a certain business wishes to target. Otherwise known as your ideal customer.
Who is your ideal customer?
What are their demographics, likes, the problem they need your solution for, and where are they likely to go to find it?
Depending on what business you are in and how niche your market is, you may have one, or three to five different avatars (any more and this becomes a scattergun approach, which is not advisable).
Keep your avatars front of mind when you are brainstorming your copy and tailor your language and message to suit. Maintain a writing style in line with the communication channel you plan to use to reach that avatar.
If you have a product or service aimed at a younger demographic, your language should reflect the way they communicate.
That’s how you achieve engagement.
Similarly, you wouldn’t use this same writing style for an audience from an older demographic.
The connection would be lost.
Knowing where your avatars go to seek out information about solutions for their problems allows you to do some pretty cost-effective desktop research you can apply to your own copywriting.
Hands up who finds it awkward AF talking about themselves?
(Shoots hand up overhead like a schoolgirl busting to reveal the answer).
Narcissists aside, we are generally humble creatures who don’t want to come across as obnoxious braggers or fear revealing our vulnerability (if you find yourself struggling with vulnerability and authenticity I suggest you get your mitts on some Brené Brown).
The alternative? Being the world’s best-kept secret in business!
If you want to get ahead in business, you need to get comfortable with being self-promotional, in a *healthy* palatable way that doesn’t trigger people’s ‘bullsh*t’ radar and has peeps applauding not ignoring.
Remember, if people have a problem causing them grief and you have a legitimate solution to their problem, they will likely appreciate you reaching out with the offer to help.
There is a lovely little quote doing the rounds on the interwebs: Be Yourself. Everyone Else Is Already Taken.
Check it: when you are in business (esp service based business) you are building a community of people who love you and your brand.
They love you for who you are, and how you do what you do and what you stand for.
Remember this when writing for, and communicating with, your audience.
Where appropriate, bring your own personality to your copy that shows your audience this is authentically you.
See what resonates and do more of that.
If something doesn’t hit the mark and achieve the engagement you were expecting, no biggie. Park it, learn from it and try something new.
Not everyone is going to like you or what you have to say (or write) and that is A-OK.
Focus on your audience of supporters and keep communicating with the ones who matter most to your business.
If you are still feeling stuck writing about who you are, what you do and why you’re great at it, talk to a friend, colleague or mentor for their insights.
Sometimes we get so busy ‘doing’ we lose sight of our many talents and loveable quirks we bring to the table.
I still remember having this drilled into me during school, and again when studying advertising copywriting (for good reason!)
We ask these questions daily in life, and as a copywriter, this is my go-to formula for brainstorming what I want to write.
Let us journey back to the (copywriting) school room, and rethink how we can apply these simple yet vital questions to conquering our writers block and getting our message heard.
These questions will take on different answers depending on what you are writing about, so not all will be appropriate for every context – there is no cookie-cutter approach to copywriting.
They will, however, help you hone some key messages for your business offering, and depending on what you need to say and to who, you may use one, a couple or all of these (as long as they are relevant for what you are trying to say).
Who are you? What is your elevator pitch? Who are your avatars, and which one are you speaking to for the purposes of this piece of writing?
What to you do, make, sell, offer? What are you wanting to tell people about? Is it a new product launch, an event, a product upgrade? Relevance is key – how is what you are communicating relevant to your audience?
When creates a sense of urgency with your audience. Do they need to do something now (book, buy, act in some way)? Is there a future event they need to save the date for? Is there a cut-off date for actioning?
Where are you located? Where do you service? Where can people find you online (social media channels)? Where is your product stocked? Where is your event taking place? Locality is an important driver; people want to know what is happening in their hood and want to support local businesses more than ever.
Why do you do, what you do? Why should people choose you? Why do you offer what you do?
How do people do what you are asking them to do, or how do they find out more information? How do you do what you do (i.e. do you have a program, widget, process, or technology you created)?
For me, the final element to these questions and answers is what I call the ‘Gee Whiz’ factor.
This could be something (where contextually appropriate) that is punny, funny, or really makes you sit up and take notice, like an eye-watering statistic (yes, stats are a bit drab, but again it’s all about the delivery), an out-there statement or clever proposition (that isn’t going to erode your credibility) that gets the brain cells firing in your audience.
Get your key messages and ‘gee whiz’ elements in the first few paragraphs so you know they are going to be read.
This is another hack from my years as a copywriter for magazines. We would literally receive tens if not hundreds of media releases and pitches from people wanting their story (product, service, event, gossip, whatever) told.
We would scan the first two paragraphs of a one-page document and decide if it was newsworthy or destined for recycling.
The same goes for your audience – you want those messages to pop right out and punch them in the eyeballs!
Maybe not literally, but you can’t risk a reader not sticking with you and reading your entire document to the very end to find the information they expected at the intro.
Prioritise your most important information you want your reader to takeaway and end with a the less vital details.
Please, please, please – if you are giving your audience a call to action, make it as easy as possible for your audience to do.
Ensure all links work, contact details are easy to see and they know where to go for more info or support.
Get your piece of paper (we’re going old school here, but feel free to use an online alternative if you’re more techy) and flip it so it is landscape.
This makes the paper look less like a bill, report or other boring document and inspires more creative thinking.
Sharpen your HP pencil and start capturing all those ideas and ‘must-have’ messages.
1. Ask yourself why?
What is the purpose or objective of the document you are writing?
2. Who is this writing for?
Who do you want to read it? Be specific. Remember that scattergun approach we talked about? Don’t spray words out there hoping they will magically hit the mark. Your language and messaging must match that of your audience so jot down some terms or phrases you think will resonate.
3. Where will this piece of writing go?
In what format or platform will your audience receive and read it? This should inform the style and format. Use social media as an example; content on LinkedIn is quite different to Facebook posts.
4. Prioritise your key messages in order of importance.
Don’t leave the good stuff to last. Our attention spans are waning and while good copywriting keeps the reader engaged to the very end, you can’t risk them missing the point by hiding it right at the end like an after-dinner mint (are they even a thing anymore?).
Get out of jail card…
We too are a small, yet growing business, and understand when you are starting out or scaling up, you tend to wear all the hats in your business.
Here’s the thing. You don’t have to be *great* at everything.
If at the end of the day, copywriting just isn’t your jam, THAT IS OK.
Yes, you can delve into professional development and do some copywriting workshops, but sometimes it is more time and cost-effective to outsource your copywriting.
While it may seem counterintuitive to pay someone else to write about you and your business, in reality, professional copywriters can craft compelling copy in half the time it will take you, freeing up time to focus on your business and what you do best.
Owner and Head Copywriter, Bohemia Copy + Content Studio
15+ years experience in content marketing and copywriting.
Word Lover. Mama. Wifey. Eternal Optimist.