What Does a Copywriter Do? In 7 Super-Simple Steps

You may have heard that sales copywriting is where the money’s at, for freelance writers. But maybe you’ve only written blog posts or articles, and feel nervous that you wouldn’t know how to pull off sales copywriting. I often get asked, ‘What does a copywriter do?’

Also:

‘Are there any good books I can read, to become a sales copywriter?’

A: No. I have nothing to recommend there. Learning writing out of books is extremely ineffective, especially when your goal is to have freelance clients.

You can’t learn how to interact with and please clients from a book. You can only learn it by working with clients.

Luckily, sales copywriting is something you can easily learn on the job. Grab any struggling small business and offer to help them pro bono.

Then, use the 7 simple principles below to rapidly become a crack copywriter. Note: For purposes of this post, when I say ‘copywriting,’ I mean sales writing, not all the informational content we write for businesses.

1. Lend an ear

Panicked writers often ding me on the Freelance Writers Den forums before a client meeting.

“What questions should I ask?”

Good news: Questions are not the big job, in first client meetings.

When I go to a first client meeting, my attitude is that big main, #1 job here is listening.

Be quiet and listen.

Carefully. Deeply. Quietly. Don’t fidget or draw attention.

Take lots of notes. Smile a lot. Look in their eyes. Make them feel seen and understood.

Gather wood

If you listen hard in that first client meeting, you’ll hear much that will help you write their sales copy. And save you a lot of rewrite time.

You can also pick up on things that will help you make the sale. You’ll hear their urgency, their desperation. Or possibly, that they aren’t that enthused — and you’ll need to really sell the value of what this copy will do for their business.

You’ll hear their worries, their goals for the copy, how they want to be perceived as a company. You’ll gather lots of useful ‘wood’ for building their copy.

Be a mirror

At the end of this listening brain-dump, mirror back what you’ve heard.

“So, can I sum up what you just said? I’m hearing that you have a new product we need to write a sales page and an email sequence for, and there’s a free PDF that promotes it. It needs to attract more [X type of client] by spotlighting [Y thing this product offers].

“Is that right?”

They may add or elaborate further, on hearing what you ‘got’ from their talk. That’s great. Take more notes.

It’s not all listening, though. At some point, you’ll probably realize there are important facts that haven’t been discussed yet.

Then, it’s time for the next step. I try to get here within about 15-20 minutes.

2. Ask key questions

Business owners tend to tell you their life story. Talking the boring details of your assignment? Not so much.

That’s why you should try to bring the conversation around to the esssential things you need to know, to leave this meeting with a firm assignment that has parameters you understand. So you need to gently break in and ask questions such as:

  • When is this due?
  • What’s the wordcount of this assignment?
  • Who will be my point person for interviews and information?
  • What will our process be for looking at drafts, we’re setting up a Slack channel, you use BaseCamp, it’s emailing a Word doc with ‘track changes,’ weekly Zoom meeting, something else?
  • What are your means of payment, and payment terms?

This is where we have a quick ‘how I work’ discussion. If you’re writing for a new company, be sure to ask for a 50% up-front deposit. If they balk at that, it’s a big red flag.

Companies that understand working with contractors know that deposits are standard. So asking for one makes you look like a pro.

Having clarity on your assignment will help you deliver exactly what’s needed, and save a lot of awkward conversations later.

3. Feel their pain

Once you have the fundamental outline of your assignment, you can learn more about why this assignment is the one this client needs to have written now.

There are two big problems on the table, and you need to learn about both:

  1. The pain your client feels — do they need more traffic, leads, sales, to stand out from the competition?
  2. Their end client’s problem, and why this company’s offering is the solution.

Always remember that you’re really serving two masters, with sales copy.

Also, note that your client may have more than one type of client you need to appeal to in your copy. Be sure to find out about all the customer types your copy must appeal to, and why this solution helps them.

Ask for customer avatar info. Understanding where different customers are coming from mentally will make word choices in your copy a lot easier. You’ll understand how they think, and how to appeal to them.

4. Be a spy

This is one of the easiest ways to nail sales copy: Ask your prospective client who their top competitors are, and whether they think their marketing is admirable, or they don’t like it.

They will have an earful for you. Pull samples of these other pieces of copy to quickly learn who your client admires and would aspire to be like, marketing-wise, and who they think is doing a terrible job with marketing. They hate their tone, they’re too pushy.

This stuff is gold. Soak it up. Competitor marketing samples, and your client’s reaction to them, will give you a road map to follow when you sit down to write.

5. Know the puzzle

Here’s one other super-useful way to learn how to write copy your client loves: Ask them where your piece fits into their big marketing puzzle. A new piece of copy has a context it needs to harmonize with, so it seems to fit well with all the rest of your client’s written marketing.

What else are they selling, and how do they like their marketing there? If they like current marketing, you can break down current sales pieces for phrases and ideas they like to use.

If they don’t like it, ask why. Go back to the competitor-example drawing board, and come up with how they want their marketing vibe to change, if this is the first piece in a new direction.

Every piece of copy has a goal. Ask:

‘Why are we here?

‘What is the purpose of this assignment?

‘What would success look like?’

Use these answers as your North Star, as you navigate your way to writing this assignment.

6. Write their flavor

When you sit down to write, remember that tone and style are super-important in copy. Getting this right often means your first draft is accepted and you’re done. Getting it wrong can get you fired.

Use what you’ve learned studying existing client marketing and the competition. If you’re still stumped on their tone, ask them this tone-setting question:

Can you supply 3-5 adjectives that describe how you would most like to be regarded by your customer? You know, approachable, authoritative, creative, fun… what?

Once you get these descriptors, keep them in the forefront of your mind. They’re going to inform your word choices. When you write a draft, review with these in mind, to see if a better word would be more in line with how they want to be peceived.

Good copywriting really is rewriting, of course. So be sure to carefully edit and proofread before you turn in your piece.

7. Don’t be a diva

You’ve written and turned in your draft — congrats! Next, your client may well have some feedback for you. They’d like you to rewrite things.

Here’s where you get this client to love you… because you cheerfully take in their comments. Then, you produce a better draft, one that’s more in keeping with their goals.

You are completely egoless about your copy and your words. Copywriting is done entirely in service of the client’s desires. You keep that ever in mind, as you process feedback and send rewrites.

Think they’re seriously going astray with these changes? Politely and professionally make your case for why your way will be more effective for them. Couch it in terms of their results, and how great we all want them to be. They may listen.

If they don’t, accept your marching orders. Do your rewrites. For a new client and a first project, you want to write until they’re ecstatic — don’t get hung up on that whole ‘two rewrites and then I charge more’ attitude a lot of copywriters have.

Your willingness to put in a bit of extra work to make them happy will have them calling you back.

What does a copywriter do? Your answer, please

It may seem like there are more secrets to know — I know a lot of people who offer $2,000 courses would like to convince you there is so, so much more.

But honestly, these are the basics.

Listen, define, ask, learn. Understand the goal and the need. Find out about tone, write, edit, polish, file. Rewrite to your client’s satisfaction.

And they can take you far.

But maybe you have a different opinion of what the important tasks of a copywriter are. If so, let’s discuss in the comments! Bring on the debate.

What do you think a copywriter does? Let’s discuss in the comments.

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