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Five Quick Tips for Aspiring Copywriters

Long before blogs, before desktop publishing, before offset printing, before movable type... we communicated through manuscripts and scrolls. Back then, writing mattered. Authors were philosophers, historians, poets, and scholars. Today, not so much.

Oh, there's no denying progress. Movable type fueled the fires of literacy; offset presses made books affordable; desktop computers gave individuals the power to publish, and the internet gave everyone a voice. But no one anticipated, in all of this progress, what the impact would be on the profession of writing.
For that very reason, young people still rush off to college to become writers, as if there were jobs waiting for them; unemployed marketers reposition themselves as freelance copywriters, only to become unemployed at a lower pay scale; and entrepreneurs-turned-publishers churn out email blasts and newsletters almost as fast as their customers can delete them.

So, as long as copywriters are going to keep popping up like breakfast treats, it seems appropriate for us white-haired communicators to share what we know with those who will carry our torches when we're gone. That said, here are five simple copywriting tips for the aspiring copywriter. My guess is they should work as well today as they did when bell bottoms were popular... the first time.

Put down your keyboard and pick up your pen. Everyone is in such a hurry to express themselves. Particularly the writers. Maybe we've drunk too much of the social Kool-Aid; maybe we've forgotten that writing - good writing - isn't all about us. Certainly copywriting isn't about us. In fact, "writing" may be the least important part of the copywriting process. The most important part would be listening. Close behind is taking notes. If you're considering becoming a professional copywriter, you have to remember you won't be writing for yourself. Chances are you'll seldom even write in your own area of expertise. So you'll need to work hard to get inside your clients' businesses (and their heads). Before you write.

Take the time to understand the markets you're writing for. Your effectiveness as a writer will be determined not by what you say, or by how well you say it, but by how your audience reacts to what you say, and that means you'll have to know how they think and what they value. You can develop a deeper understanding of your audience through research - or just by listening. And once you figure out how they think, you'll be better prepared to write in a voice they're willing to listen to.

Understand the buyer's motives. If you're writing for a business setting - which is where most of the paying work will be - you need to keep in mind that people seldom buy for rational motives alone. "Benefits" are only part of the story. People want to believe in what they do, so an effective copywriter must appeal to the soul of the buyer. If you're writing for entertainment, chances are you're still writing for business. (Pay close attention to your publisher's business model. Someone, somewhere, is paying for this, and that person is called a buyer.)

Don't get too close to your work. That doesn't mean you shouldn't take your writing seriously. Professional writing is always serious, even when it's humorous. But if you're too close to your work, you'll never see the flaws. What's more, you're likely to be damaged in the cross-fire of criticism.

Be honest. Never take an assignment that requires you to write about something you believe has little value. Your lack of faith in the product will show through your writing - worse yet, you will have to live with yourself, knowing that you profited from someone else's loss. In 30 years of marketing, I've never known anyone who regretted taking the high road. Then again, if you're comfortable living a life of deception, you should probably consider a higher paying job - like politics.

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