Sales Copywriting 101: How to Start

Learning to be your own sales copywriter is one of the most valuable investments you can make for your business. Whether it’s product or service descriptions, investor pitches, website copy, blogs, presentations, or emails, sales copywriting is one of those things that you’ll be doing a lot as a business owner. Doing it compellingly with clarity and conviction will greatly impact your bottom line.

Why Be Your Own Copywriter?

You can always outsource your copy work if writing is not one of your strengths or you lack the time to do it. However, in the early stages of your business, I encourage you to write your own copy–or at least take a stab at it. 

DIY-ing your own copy is a good idea because you are your own best salesperson. As the founder and CEO of your brand, you know your business best, have the most passion for it, and can speak about it intelligently. These are your superpowers. Don’t underestimate them.

And here’s the best part. You don’t have to be a New York Times bestselling author or Pulitzer Prize winner to write great, persuasive content. Even if you aren’t an experienced writer, you can be a fantastic copywriter. 

One of the first directives I give my students when they’re working on their copy is to simply sit down and write whatever comes to mind. We don’t worry about sentence structure, punctuation, or even spelling. It’s a brain dump based on the overall objective of the exercise. If we’re working on brand messaging, I’ll have them write freely about their story, how they started their business, and why. Writing like this produces some of the best copy I’ve ever read from my students and myself, especially when we can enter into a flow state and just start writing.

The Difference Between Copywriting and Content Writing

You may see these two terms used interchangeably in the digital marketing space, but there is a major distinction between them that is integral to being a successful copywriter.

First, content writing is meant to inform readers. Some examples would be essays or reports, newspaper articles, blog posts, newsletter emails, and even some social media posts. Content writing is writing with the intention of sharing news, stories, or ideas and, in general, is not meant for selling a product or service.

Copywriting, on the other hand, is writing with the explicit intention of persuading or selling the reader. Yes, it can include information, stories, and ideas, just like content writing, but copywriting will always have a call to action. A few clear examples include advertisements, website sales pages, sales emails, and promotional marketing text messages. 

But here’s where the confusion lies: great sales copywriting will also use *typical* content writing to persuade or sell its readers a product or service. It’s the grey area between the two, and it’s the sweet spot for creating compelling copy.  

Start writing no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on. –Louis L’Amour

How to Be a Good Copywriter 

First, the most important thing to know is that you will learn by doing. Like a professional athlete or a top chef, practice makes progress and even perfection. Don’t let a blinking cursor or a blank page keep you stuck. Just start. 

To start writing, you’ll need to have a solid grasp of who you’re serving and what your unique selling proposition is. I teach this in my Email Marketing Camp. You cannot effectively write emails unless you know exactly who you’re serving and how. The same goes for any type of copywriting.

A simple formula to get started with copywriting

The classic copywriting formula is: Problem, Agitation, Solution (PAS). In this framework, your copy first presents a problem the reader is experiencing. It then agitates the problem by pointing out what would happen if the problem persisted or got worse. And finally, it presents a solution for the original problem–ideally, your product or service. 

I find that starting with a personal story or idea to present the problem can make the copywriting even better. Right out of the gate, you’re saying you relate to the reader by sharing a story that might be similar to theirs and that illustrates a problem you also had before experiencing your solution. It says I’ve been where you are so I can help you.

During the agitation stage of the framework, rather than pepper the reader with questions like: Doesn’t this make you feel terrible? Do you feel overworked or overwhelmed? Are you stuck? I use a softer approach by saying how the story’s problem made me feel. This simple shift from placing the negative feeling on the reader to yourself again further deepens your understanding of the reader to the reader. 

The key in sales copywriting is to grab the reader’s attention and be persuasive without coming on too strong. As a reader, the last thing you want is to *be sold to.* This is the pinpoint between good and great copywriting: writing copy that subconsciously sells to the reader.

At the solution phase, I will offer my solution but follow it up with a testimonial. This way, the reader can see that my solution has solved this problem for someone else, so most likely, it will solve their problem too. Buyers love social proof, so if you can, definitely include it. If you’re in the early stages of your business and don’t have testimonials yet, use yourself for reference. How did your solution solve your problem and thus, make you feel?

Anyone can learn to be a great sales copywriter. It just takes a little determination and some practice.

A few guardrails to good copywriting

  1. Be aware of and sensitive to current events or trends so that you don’t inadvertently write something offensive or out of touch. 
  2. On the flip side, use non-controversial trends that resonate with your audience (just be sure your audience will know what you’re referring to).
  3. As a general rule of thumb, avoid being “controversial” or “edgy” on purpose unless that speaks directly to your readers’ preferences. Being controversial for controversy’s sake is never a good idea and can backfire. 
  4. Write as if you were speaking casually with your potential customer. Be clear and simple. Be upfront and honest. You’re not writing a thesis; you’re writing to convert sales–so be direct and to the point: think shorter sentences and paragraphs, and easy-to-understand words.
  5. Use “you” more than “I/we,” emphasizing what the customer needs or wants more than how awesome you are. Write in the first person but always confirm the message is about the reader. It’s about them, not you.
  6. Don’t ignore the power of a CTA.
  7. Proofread your copy by reading it to yourself out loud. You can also opt to have someone else read it and report back with any suggestions or thoughts.

What to Add to Your Copywriter’s Toolbox:

Now that you’ve learned some of the best sales copywriting practices, here are some tools to help you out. Most have both free and premium versions.

  • Grammarly: When I don’t have a second set of eyes to look at my copy, I use Grammarly. It recognizes and corrects mistakes missed by the usual MS Word spellchecker. It knows the difference between “their” and “there,” and corrects cringeworthy errors in an instant. It also makes suggestions for removing passive voice which can help make copy more compelling and, well, actionable.
  • Yoast: Winning Google, aka SEO, is a long game so don’t ignore it when you’re writing blogs, website pages, basically anything that can be found online. Yoast helps to keep your content as SEO-friendly as possible by suggesting keywords and phrases, and giving your content a score based on readability.
  • One Look Thesaurus: I use this every single day. It goes beyond the usual online thesaurus by allowing you to find synonyms starting with a specific letter or sequence of letters. It’s incredible for alliteration and rhyming. It’s seriously spectacular. 🙂  

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get the hang of things right away, or if you feel your writing isn’t convincing or zippy enough. Writing, especially sales copywriting, is a skill to learn like any other and will improve with practice.

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