As a long-time freelance writer, I’ve done it all… almost. And as I’ve grown my business beyond the bounds of client work and into digital marketing, both for clients and for my own infoproducts and services, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to write great copy — its many forms, and its many challenges.
One of the groups of people I’ve had the pleasure to get to know along the way is this special breed of self-employed freelance service providers. Whether we’re focused on client work solely, we want to start offering our own courses and products, or we’re doing a mix of both, one thing is for sure: the writing part can be the trickiest part.
It’s also one of the most in-demand things we can offer as service providers. If you can write great copy your clients will love, then you’ll keep them coming back for more.
Writing Copy: Us vs. Them
Writing copy for ourselves can be tricky because we don’t always know what to write. There’s a giant blind spot when it comes to our own businesses, in many cases. That’s why we spend so much time (and money) coming up with a content strategy and figuring out what bits of copy need to go out, when, and where.
One thing we never have to think about is how to use our own voice in all this copy because it’s … well … our own voice. That, by far, is the easiest part.
But what about when it’s time to write some great copy for your clients? Usually, that’s a different story. We’re told the specifics — the what, where, and when — of any given project. Sometimes we even feel confident *in theory* about what we’re writing.
But then it’s time to sit down and do the actual process of the writing itself… and we falter. Maybe the writing comes easily but the client doesn’t respond well to it. Or maybe, if you’re like most of us, writing this client copy feels surprisingly difficult.
Over the years I’ve learned all kinds of tricks and systems for making it as easy as possible to slip into the client’s voice and get a project written. These are things nobody really teaches — or they teach in part, but without the perspective of an entrepreneurial service provider who knows all kinds of marketing “stuff” to go along with the writing.
So with that in mind, I’d like to share these top 3 mistakes I see copywriters make when it comes time to write great copy for their clients, as well as how to avoid them for yourself in the future.
1. Not Doing a Questionnaire
I like to call this “giving your client some homework”. Before you can get started on any project, you need to get some questions answered. In this questionnaire, you’ll ask about things like:
- project details
- client/company details
- places where their market hangs out
- info on the ideal avatar/market research that’s already been done
- any materials that provide useful information (like the client’s website and emails)
- and anything else you think will be helpful
Once you have the questionnaire ready, it will be a lot easier to get started and do that first phone call where you have all the info laid out so you can get clear on exactly what needs to happen.
It’s much more efficient to have the client pull together some links and background information instead of making you go in search of it all, not knowing what you’ll miss.
If and when you transition into ongoing work, you can adapt this questionnaire into more of a “client notes” document or dossier. Then, in the future, you’ll just need to get the info on the new project and any other existing materials that can help you write it.
The phone call (or Zoom or whatever) that I mentioned above is also essential because it will clarify any questions you have and fill in any gaps in the information you need. Use that time to figure out not only what you’re working on, but why the client is excited about it in the first place. It’s also essential because it helps you avoid mistake #2….
2. Not Listening to the Client Speak
If you want to have any hope of “capturing your client’s voice”, you’ll need to hear your client’s voice. Ideally, there will be podcasts, interviews, and other audio tracks you can access (be sure to ask for these on that questionnaire from #1). You’ll also have at least one, if not a few, audio recordings from your own calls with the client. (Pro tip: record everything, including discovery calls, if you’re going to be doing any writing for the client.)
Part of why I want you to get on the horn with your client when it’s time for a new writing project is that you need to hear how the client sounds when speaking about it. What are some of the terms and phrases he/she uses to talk about the project? Listen for any stories, anecdotes, and it’s-kinda-likes. These will be gold when it’s time to put some embellishments and flourishes in your copy that really make it sound like your client.
If your client won’t do calls (or you don’t), something like a Loom recording spelling out the project might be helpful. If there’s any way at all you can hear them talk it all out, you’ll benefit from it when it’s time to write.
3. Not Freeing Up the Formality
A lot of us, especially new writers, tend to revert to 7th grade Language Arts when it’s time to sit down and write. What happens next is writing that feels formal, stilted, and even formulaic. The word “copywriting” itself even feels super-serious.
Copywriting isn’t the same as English class writing, though. It’s much less about “the rules of grammar and syntax” and much more about “the words inside your head.”
Copywriting is supposed to “sound like” your client (a person), talking to the market (a bunch of people). Yes, some clients want to be grammar sticklers and to be completely buttoned up and fully in accordance with the style book. (This is especially true if your client is in the corporate/traditional business space.) Others, however, will want something more natural.
Good copywriting itself typically follows a formula or at least a very loose structure. But any good writer knows that there’s more to it than just a formula. You can “paint outside the lines” a bit and make a really interesting picture… one that has life and vibrancy. Don’t be afraid to break a few grammar rules if it makes the copy more interesting. Assuming that’s consistent with your client’s brand, of course!
Find Your Own Way
With ghostwriting, which is essentially what this is, you’ll find your own best practices for slipping into and out of your client’s voice. It becomes easier over time to “ghost” and then write great copy because this skill — like many skills — is one that can be learned and strengthened like a muscle.
Smart copywriters — the kinds of copywriters that good marketers make — are hard to find. Once you get good at it, your clients will never want to let you go!