I was at the dentist yesterday when he asked what I did for a living.
“I’m a copywriter,” I said. “I write words for businesses.”
“Which industry?” he asked.
“Any,” I said. “I’ve written for almost all industries.”
“What about dental?”
“Hmm. You got me there,” I said. “I’ve never written copy for a dentist before.”
He seemed perplexed by my occupation for a few seconds, then he finally asked, “So, how do you know what to write for so many different businesses? Do you do a lot of reading?”
It’s a great question. In fact, it’s probably the most frequently asked question I get when I explain to people what I do.
There is a common misconception that copywriters have an encyclopedic knowledge of all subjects known to man, and therefore, can write technically accurate copy with little assistance. Sometimes, as the copywriter on a project, I’m expected to just know what to write.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. While I wish that my general knowledge was above average, and I was as comfortable writing about drone technology as I am penning prose on wastewater management, I absolutely have to do research. Or, at the very least, work closely with the client to understand the key messages and technical points that need to be communicated to meet specific objectives.
The fact is, we simply aren’t subject matter experts for your business or industry. But it’s very likely that you are, or at least there is someone in the business who is. Our job is to take this expertise and repackage it into words that educate, engage, excite or entertain. And do it using bloody good English too.
When a copywriter is engaged by a client to write copy, they generally need a bit of guidance initially until they have built up enough knowledge about your business and your industry that they can become reasonably self-sufficient.
For me, being fairly laid back in my approach, this could be in the form of a chat over the phone or Zoom, or an email with relevant links (or both). And the more information you can provide me with, the better the final outcome will be.
Many copywriters have a copywriting brief of some description that they give to the client to fill out. I don’t, and I’m probably in the minority, to be honest. The main reason I don’t use a formal briefing form is because I can generally get all the information that I need from speaking with the client and asking them questions over the phone or email. With this method, I can ask any burning questions on the spot, and also brainstorm ideas with the client for immediate feedback.
The other reason I don’t use a briefing form is that many of my small business clients are unfamiliar with completing briefs, and find them a bit of a hassle. And I like to try and make things as easy as possible for my clients, without compromising the quality of the work that I do.
There are, however, some key ingredients that can be really helpful when engaging a copywriter for the first time. Here’s a quick list:
- Link to existing website, social media and other relevant online resources
- PDFs of any offline collateral such as brochures or case studies
- Information about your business, product or service that’s not available on your website. What makes you unique?
- Key points about your audience – who they are (demographics, preferences etc) and why they would use your product or service
- Competitor websites you admire (both inside and outside your industry)
- Any pain points you are experiencing in relation to your current copy or website
- Any strategic work you’ve already had done such as a brand or marketing strategy
- If you have one, your SEO strategy and/or keyword list that will inform your website/blog copy
- For larger businesses, a ‘style guide’ (brand personality, tone of voice, style preferences, naming conventions etc).
Along with the above list, it’s also important we discuss exactly what you want to communicate. Us copywriters, although we’re good, won’t always know the answer to this straight away if we’re not yet familiar with your business. So, it’s important to have an idea of the key messages you’d like to communicate, and, ideally, some direction on where to go to obtain any necessary facts, figures or quotes to back them up.
If you’ve already come up with some rough bullet points, or even some draft copy, that’s ideal. Not only will it ensure we get on the same page quickly, but it will save me time (and you money) by ensuring we hit the mark quickly.
But, if you are struggling to reach the point of knowing what to write, don’t worry. I’ll work with you to tease out the important parts and ask specific questions to get what I need in order to craft a beautiful piece of copy.
Once I’ve done some work for you, and you’re happy with the outcome, I’m confident that I’ll have enough of a grasp on your business, industry and style to work independently if needed. Whether this means that I start suggesting content that I think will be of value, or you continue to provide a specific brief each time, we’ll work out a process that feels right.