The best copy in the world isn’t going to work if it’s sitting in your Drafts folder.
You know this. You also know that sometimes getting copy out of your Drafts folder and into the world is easier said than done.
With that in mind, here are some tips to help you, no matter which stage of the copywriting process you struggle with.
If you struggle getting started writing copy
If it’s the blank page that scares you, start by thinking big picture. Plan out the structure of the article. You might want to keep it very high level. You might want to go into detail, making a note of every point you need to hit. With an outline on the page, you’ve given yourself a structure to work to.
Personally, I always create a structure before I start to write. When it’s a topic I know well, I can keep it very high level because I know a few brief notes will give my brain the prompts it needs. I use the more detailed method when I’m less familiar with a topic.
If you have no idea where to start or don’t know what to say, you aren’t ready to start. Take a step back to do more research, get more clarity on the brief or request more information — anything you need to do to get a clearer picture.
If you struggle to start simply because writing copy is hard work, there are several things you can try.
If you struggle to start because you get ‘stage fright’, I have a couple of tips. Even though your copy might be read by thousands of people, write it as if you’re writing it for a single reader. This brings lots of benefits, quite aside from removing the fear factor.
All the gurus will tell you to ‘eat the frog’ — do the big scary thing (i.e. writing copy) first. Personally, I find it helps to tick off a handful of ‘quick wins’ (reconciling invoices, replying to emails, shredding documents from previous projects, whatever) first. I know it’s procrastination, but once they’re done they can’t take up space in my head and I have no excuses for not focusing.
Sometimes, feeling full of energy is great when you’re writing copy, so wait until you’ve had a good night’s sleep if you can. Having said that, feeling tired can also work, especially when you need to be creative. I often find that when your barriers are down because you’re tired, that’s when the most creative ideas creep in.
Finally, if you struggle to concentrate because you’d rather not be doing the heavy thinking that writing copy requires, use tools to help you focus. I use the Forest app to stop me picking up my phone. Copywriting friends swear by the Pomodoro technique. There are also lots of tools to stop you faffing on your computer too — here’s a useful list.
If you struggle to get sign off on copy
You’ve got a first draft you’re happy with and you send it off to the people who need to approve it. And that’s where the problems start. Everyone’s got an opinion and they aren’t afraid to share it! You end up in an endless feedback loop and are working on your twentieth draft before you know it. I’ve been there.
The brutal truth is that sometimes this is inevitable and you just have to live with it.
There are some things you can do, though.
Before you start, check who matters when it comes to signing off the copy and put a DACI in place:
· D = Driver. The one person responsible for corralling stakeholders, collating all the necessary information and getting a decision made by the agreed date.
· A = Approver. The one person who makes the decision.
· C = Contributors. They have knowledge or expertise that may influence the decision — i.e., they have a voice, but no vote.
· I = Informed. They are informed of the final decision.
This helps you because it reminds you whose opinion you have to listen to and whose you don’t. (Although this doesn’t mean you should ignore useful feedback just because it’s come from someone whose voice doesn’t — technically — matter.)
Not only does this help you, it also helps your stakeholders. For example, your fellow marketing colleague might be the ‘Informed’ on a piece. Knowing this, they know they can just glance at a piece not find time to give detailed feedback. Similarly, your legal person might be a ‘Contributor’. It means they’re being asked to read for legal points not tone of voice or content, so they can read with their expertise in mind and nothing more.
If it’s a high stakes piece or one that’s likely to be controversial, it can save time to pull together an outline for people first. You can then ask people to sign off before you proceed to writing the full document. In other words, you can try to get the arguments out of the way before you start writing in full.
Finally, when you’re sending a piece out for feedback, set it in context for people. At the very least you want to say, for example — ‘This is the letter we’ll send to people with their first order to welcome them to our company.’ You may also need to go into more detail to pre-empt questions and concerns about what you’ve said and why. For example, ‘We know from our research that the majority of people who buy from us value sustainability. It’s why we’ve chosen to highlight some of our sustainability projects they may not have heard of yet.’ By giving people the context, they can offer feedback that’s relevant and useful.
If you struggle to let go of copy
It can be really hard to let go of copy and publish it in the world.
If you’re scared it isn’t good enough, there are a few things you can do.
Firstly, I’m going to assume that you’ve done your best by the copy — you did your research and thought carefully about what you needed it to do for you. I think there’s a difference between ‘I’m nervous about publishing this copy because it’s always scary going public’ and ‘I’m nervous about publishing this copy because I know — objectively — it isn’t good enough.’
Assuming you’re nervous because it’s scary to go public, remember that it definitely isn’t going to get you any sales if it isn’t out there in the world. Copy is better off out there and working for you than waiting to be polished to perfection (whatever perfection is).
If you have a tendency to tinker or aren’t sure which version of a headline is better, leave it to the market to decide. Split testing is the way forward. Most email marketing programmes offer a split testing option. You can use split testing software on your website. (There’s a list of the best ones here.) If you’re using printed literature, use different codes on the order form so you can track which version gets better results. Doing split testing means you can know for sure which version of your headline was better, rather than wondering if the one you didn’t go with was an absolute masterpiece.
Ultimately, writing copy is hard work for all sorts of reasons. There are, however, things you can do to ease the journey. I’ve shared some of my favourites here. If there are others that you use, I’d love to hear them!