freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, rainmaking tips

I recently read an article about the famous actor, Forest Whitaker that gave me a great idea about how a freelance copywriter can write more persuasive copy.

Whitaker is known for the great lengths he goes through to prepare for a part in his movies. He uses an approach called “method acting,” which means he so totally immerses himself into a role that he ”becomes” the character he is playing.

For example, when he was preparing to play the role of the notorious dictator, Idi Amin, in his new movie, The Last King of Scotland, he learned to speak Swahili, visited the village of Amin’s birth, traveled all over the country of Uganda, and interviewed the dictator’s brother, sister and surviving members of his cabinet and generals who served under him.

And when they were filming, Whitaker remained in character even when the cameras stopped rolling.

What does all this have to do with the freelance copywriter? Just this: we have all heard how important it is to understand the customer before we write ads, web content or direct mail pieces intended to sell to that customer.

But do any of us put even 1/100th of the work into understanding our target customer as Forest Whitaker puts into understanding his character? And yet we all know that understanding is the key element to persuasion.

The Roman orator, Cicero, gives great advice to any freelance copywriter whose job it is to sell a product or service. “If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings and speak my words.” This is advice that is just as important for us today as it was for him 2000 years ago.

Do we have to learn a new language or travel all over a distant country as Forest Whitaker did for his role of an African dictator? Hardly, but we have to stop giving lip service to understanding the customer.

We have many tools available online that we can use to get inside our target customers’ heads. Here are a few you might try:

  • If there are specific books on the topics your target customers read, go to and read the customer feedback comments people have posted.

  • Do a search on technorati for blogs devoted to these customers. Read both the blogs themselves and the comments people post to the blog’s articles.

  • Search for online forums devoted to your target customers and their topics of interest at You don’t have to participate in the online discussions, just “lurk” and read what other people have to say.

  • If you already have a blog devoted to these customers and their topics of interest (good for you) encourage comments to your posts. Do this by asking for comments and by responding to them once people do comment. Nothing dries up comments on a blog faster than ignoring what people say.

Of course we can still actually talk to people in person. Conduct telephone surveys, focus groups and other means to put yourself in contact with living, breathing human beings.

The point is that if we wish to persuade, we must first stop fooling ourselves that we already know our customers (I know, I have been guilty of this too). We have to make the extra effort to really get inside their heads.

Use Forest Whitaker as your role model – but not Idi Amin.

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, rainmaking tips

I’m reading a really great book on proposal writing called, ”Persuasive Business Proposals” by Tom Sant. It seems that everyone either hates writing proposals or at least finds them a major challenge.

I am a professional writer and while I find it easy to write proposals for someone else, it is a different story when I write them for my own business. Right now I have an unfinished proposal for a potential client sitting on my desk, and I am finding all kinds of creative ways to procrastinate completing it (including writing this article).

One of the really stunning problems Sant addresses early on is how many top-of-their field marketing professionals have developed escape methods of getting out of doing the hard work of writing a quality proposal.

First, he says, is the escape method called cloning. This is the so seductive practice of cutting and pasting sections from a previous proposal that was probably also compiled from someone else’s proposal.

The problem with submitting a boilerplate proposal is that it is all too obvious. These proposals are generic, do not address the client’s problems and goals, and have the appearance of being a mile wide and an inch deep.

Sant relates one consequence that arose from a boilerplate proposal. The president of a large firm called him in because they had submitted a cut and paste proposal to Microsoft that called them “Oracle,” Microsoft’s arch competitor.

The second escape method is the ”data dump,” which consists of piling in every bit of information that can be found to even resemble the topic discussed with the client, and throwing it all together.

The idea seems to be that the heavier the proposal is, the better. Unless the client gets a hernia trying to pick it up, the proposal will not succeed.

Wrong again. Clients don’t want bulk, they don’t want data that doesn’t address the issue. And they don’t want to work to sift through the evidence of your laziness.

Finally, Sant describes what he calls the most dangerous of all avoidance methods, the ”graveyard technique”. Some salespeople will actively avoid the large sale because of the work involved in writing a proposal. These are often the company’s very top salespeople who would rather bring in scads of smaller accounts than go after the big elephant.

Think about the cost to your company this one escape tactic can cause. If your salespeople are avoiding the big opportunities merely because the proposal writing process is too burdensome, your firm needs to implement new procedures.

First, (and this is me speaking here, not Tom Sant) hire out the proposal writing process. I don’t just say this because I am a professional freelance writer, I say this because it is true and important for you to hear. Your salespeople are not writers, and you probably hired them because they processed other skills that serve them well out in the field.

Hire a professional writer who can write proposals that not only inform your potential clients, but also persuade. A proposal must be client centered in order to be effective. It must address its concerns, problems and desired outcomes head on in a way boilerplate products can never achieve.

Think seriously about how much of a price your company is paying by proceeding along with its present practices. A proposal is too important to be left to chance.

And now, if you will excuse me, I have to get my own proposal written.

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, rainmaking tips

Consider for a moment how big a decision it is for a potential client to buy your products or services.

Some things don’t come with a large price tag or commitment, which means the decision-making process for those things isn’t a large burden. But other decisions require a lot of due diligence and study. Literally, the person who has to make this decision may have her job riding on the outcome of her recommendation.

So if what you sell fits in this latter category, you are required to formulate a different sales approach. The approach you use must be to sell your (or your company’s) expertise.

Enter the white paper. In his book, Writing White Papers: How To Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged, Michael Selzner describes a white paper as,

“ persuasive document that usually describes problems and how to solve them. The white paper is a crossbreed of a magazine article and a brochure. It takes the objective and educational approach of an article and weaves in persuasive corporate messages typically found in brochures.

By its very nature, a white paper is both informational and persuasive. As a marketer of a product or service that requires that you sell your expertise to the client, you will probably need to prepare a white paper that makes a case for a particular approach to solving a problem.

Think back to the person whose job depends on making the right decision. Faced with such a decision, this executive naturally welcomes a well-written document that does much of the executive’s homework and due diligence for her. When such a document arrives on her desk, it can be passed on to others on her team and to her superiors.

This is what Michael Selzner calls, “flying under the radar.” No other marketing literature enjoys such access and internal circulation within a prospective client’s firm.

Can you write a white paper internally? That depends on the talent and background you have available in house. Many companies find that their technical talent does not have the writing ability to write an effective white paper. Remember, the white paper must convey specialized information in an understandable manner, much like a magazine. Additionally, it must also be written in a persuasive manner, much like a sales brochure, a talent few people without copywriting experience have.

Generally companies find that seeking an outside writer produces the best results. But here your task is matching the outside writer’s skills with your project. For example, someone with my background as a former lawyer with a Juris Doctor degree works well with law firms or white paper projects requiring an understanding of legal issues.

On the other hand, other white paper projects may require that you go out and find someone with other areas of knowledge, like engineering, software or medicine, who can at the same time write persuasively like a copywriter. Your company may not have such a person in house.

Regardless of whether you plan to write your white paper in house or contract it out, I strongly recommend Michael Selzner’s White Papers: How To Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged. You can read his book’s table of contents and read a sample chapter at

Will a white paper produce results for you? Certainly that depends on how well written it is, how clearly it makes its case and connects the dots between the client’s problem and your solution.

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, rainmaking tips

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, rainmaking tips

There is a famous ad by David Ogilvy, which illustrates the importance of advertising. A stern-faced executive looks out across his desk at the reader, and says:

I don’t know who you are.
I don’t know your company.
I don’t know your company’s product.
I don’t know what your company stands for.
I don’t know your company’s customers.
I don’t know your company’s reputation.
Now—what was it you wanted to sell me?

Better than any other message I know, this ad sums up what faces any business that has not done any marketing BEFORE they come in contact with a would-be customer.

Let’s say you are starting from scratch and have the job of promoting a new company, with no reputation, no established customer relationships and no brand identity. (And by the way, even if you do have all these things going for your company, may I suggest that this is still a worthwhile exercise. The reason is all these things can fade away from a customer’s mind if you don’t keep building them).

Promoting a company and its product or service is first a matter of identifying the people with a problem you can solve. In a recent article called, Freelance Copywriter Secrets: You're Really Just Selling Aspirin, the point was made that people are more strongly motivated to stop or avoid pain than they are to acquire something valuable.

The second step is to build and promote a brand. Build your brand on your product or service’s most singular benefit (see, Freelance Copywriter Secrets: It's the Brand, Stupid!). M&M candy could have been promoted as a great tasting chocolate candy, but everyone else promoted their candy’s taste. Instead they promoted the hard candy shell with the benefit of, “melts in your mouth, not in your hands.”

Likewise, Dominos Pizza could have promoted the taste of its pizza, but everyone else talked about how great their pizzas tasted. So they promoted their fast delivery, with their 30 minute guarantee.

Persuasion is finding the most direct line between a problem and its solution. The straighter that line, and the more uncluttered your message, the more your brand identity gets through. And you won’t have to worry about that stern-faced executive who has never heard of you or your reputation.

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, rainmaking tips

If you want to write better ads, marketing materials or web content, the best place to start is by studying the successful ads written by others. And I can think of no better place to start than the most famous ad in history.

In the mid 1920s, a recent Naval Academy graduate with a degree in electrical engineering was looking for work. The post-war military was downsizing and John Caples had been offered the option to forego his commission as an ensign in the Navy.

His first job was as an engineer, but he found it completely boring. Looking again, he landed a job as a copywriter with a mail order agency. One of his first assignments was to write an ad for a correspondence course offered by the U.S. School of Music.

John produced four pages of copy that began with the headline, “They Laughed When I Sat Down At The Piano – But When I Started To Play …”. Following this headline came a first person narrative by a man who impressed all his friends (and silenced his scoffers) at a party by his new-found ability to play the piano.

The ad became an instant success. Not only did it pull in record-breaking sales, the headline became part of the culture. Vaudeville comedians spoofed the ad with punchlines like, “…because someone stole my piano stool.” Other copywriters borrowed the formula, and spun it into countless imitations.

And even today, you will see imitations.

But what made 25 year old John Caples’ ad so successful? There are several factors:

  • He used a story to sell his product. Stories are powerful. They help us to understand and believe in a way no other communication device can. When we hear a story, we feel a part of it and adopt the emotions of the character.

  • The main character silences those who laughed at him. Who doesn’t want to put our critics in their place. The party scene in the ad shows this man as the center of attention because of his musical skills. Again, who doesn’t crave that kind of admiration from our friends?

  • The ad offers self improvement. Not only does it show how to acquire the ability to play the piano, but it improves his social life as well. The benefits offered go far beyond mere musical instruction, they offer status.

  • Social proof. Even though everyone realized this character was fictional, the ad still made learning to play the piano seem easy. This is the power of social proof, which demonstrates to us that if someone else can do it (even a fictional person) we can do it as well. You can learn more about how to use social proof to write persuasive copy at Freelance Copywriter Secrets: Social Proof-An Awesome Copywriting Tool.

  • The ad is a two-step ad. This means the reader doesn’t have to make the decision to buy right away, he or she can send in a coupon and request information. 2-step ads lower the bar and require a smaller commitment. Check out a recent article on 2-step ads at Freelance Copywriter Secrets: Why 2-Step Ads Make More Sales.

  • Best of all, the information offered is Free. There is power in that word. In a 2-step ad, the inquirer can be curious and get answers without paying a cent. But the seller benefits because the inquirer has “opted in” to receive follow up information (ie sales letters) to cement the sale at a later date.

No doubt you have either seen, or will see again, one of Caples many imitators. When a formula works this well, other copywriters inevitably make it their own.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

A freelance copywriter should be ready, willing and able to steal ideas at the drop of a hat. Which explains why I got so excited when I read about a top insurance salesman who revealed why he was his company’s top producer.

Here is his idea that is really worth stealing:

“I didn’t go to college and I can’t quote the important clauses from a policy, but I can scare the wits our of those I call on with what happens if they are not insured.

I’ve collected what I call my “terrible tales” – real-life horror stories of those who didn’t have insurance, stories that would curl your hair. I have everything from crying widows to homeless orphans – all because there was no insurance.

I had a 3x5 card file on every sob story or funny tale that I ever read about or heard in reference to not carrying insurance. Some would bring tears, others laughter.

My son-in-law is now in the insurance business. As I told him, “all you need is a story a day to sell.”

(from Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln, by James Humes.)

Stories have astonishing power. They can be used by politicians and preachers to make a point, they can help us remember a class lecture decades after graduation, and they can help us sell.

You can become a better, more persuasive copywriter with a collection of stories. Collect stories about your customers, and collect stories about people who didn’t have your product, but should have. Gather customer feedback, reports from salespeople in the field, testimonials and customer complaints. Go even further and clip newspaper stories, Dear Abby columns and letters to the editor and even jokes.

All of these things will help you write better copy. As your collection of stories grows, so will your ability to weave them into your copy.

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, rainmaking tips

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, rainmaking tips

You are a freelance copywriter and you have just been given the assignment of writing an ad that will run in a certain magazine. But you can’t write good copy in a vacuum. Who are the intended customers for this product? And what hot buttons appeal to them?

Well the fastest and easiest way to research these targeted prospective customers is to look at the magazine itself.

A successful magazine is a well-oiled marketing machine. These editors know their readers, or else they will be out of business in a New York minute. They've done all the research, so why not let the magazine itself show you what you need to know about its readers?

Start with the letter from the editor. What type of person is this letter written to? What are this person’s concerns, interests, problems, ambitions and lifestyle? Based on the editor’s letter, begin writing down a profile of the magazine’s reader as if this is one person.

Don’t think of the reader as a mass audience, just one single individual. Name him or her if you want. Imagine sitting in a coffee shop with this person. Put an empty chair in your room and visualize this person sitting in that chair across from you.

Now go onto the articles. The articles will help you sharpen and deepen your understanding of this reader. Why would this article interest this reader?

Keep writing your profile of this magazine’s reader. What does this person want? What life experiences are unique to this type of person? Why does this person read this particular magazine?

If you can, get back copies of the magazine. Every two or three years, a magazine will repeat and reslant the articles it publishes. Reoccurring themes in the articles are called “evergreen articles.” These are especially helpful in understanding this person.

Read the ads, especially the classifieds in the back of the magazine. If you see the same ad repeated over and over, you know the magazine’s readers are buying that product, or the advertiser would pull the ad. What do the ads tell you about this person sitting in the empty chair across from you?

Once you’ve looked at each and every ad in the magazine, analyze where your product fits in with the other advertised products.

A magazine is a very thorough research tool that can give you mountains of information about the people who read that magazine. The publisher has already done a lot of the work for you. All you have to do is read it with an eye to understand that person.

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, rainmaking tips

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, rainmaking tips

We copywriters sometimes get too caught up in our work and try too hard to make it an intellectual exercise. But we need to remind ourselves we are not writing literature, we are selling on paper.

To keep myself grounded, and to remind myself that I am a freelance copywriter not a poet, I will often tell myself, "you are really just selling aspirin.”

What do I mean? Simply this: every product, every service I write about is really a solution to a problem. And problems cause pain, and a person in pain reaches for what? That’s right, an aspirin.

In short, it is a way to remind myself that I am writing about a solution to a problem my reader has.

So regardless of what I am writing about, I am really writing about aspirin.

But what about those people who have become so used to their pain that they hardly notice it anymore? Can writing about a solution work if the person has come to accept their problem as just a part of life that they have to cope with?

You bet it can. Sometimes I have to bang the drums two inches away from the person with a splitting headache to remind her that she has a headache. I’m doing her a favor, really. Why should someone just learn to live with pain when I can give her a cure?

Take a look at these words taken from an actual life insurance ad:

What is going to happen to the wife and children you claim you love if you fail to provide for them after your death?

Will they remember you fondly as a wonderful father and husband? Or will they remember you as the guy who let them down when they needed you most?

Pretty strong stuff isn’t it? But I bet it sold life insurance.

But usually you won’t have to bang that drum to make them feel their own pain. More often than not, they are all too aware of their problems and pain. All you have to do is offer them the aspirin.

So next time you get all bogged down writing copy, just remember…all you’re really doing is selling aspirin.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, rainmaking tips

It happens to every freelance copywriter now and then. You get an assignment to write copy about a product or a service that just leaves your brain dry.

Nothing about the product excites you or leaps out at you as a strong selling point. Nothing hits you as unique and nothing shows you an open door to write anything interesting about it.

Well there is a way to get your brain started and get the ideas flowing through your finger tips.

Strategists in every business field use a quick, analytical tool that is called SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

How do you use SWOT analysis to help you write good copy? Here are a few ideas

  1. Strengths. What is this products benefits? What does it do for someone who buys it? What does it do better than the competitors’ products. Why should a person choose this product over any of the other choices available out there?

  2. Weaknesses. Believe it or not, your product’s shortcomings can lead you to its best selling points. I recently wrote about this in an article called Freelance Copywriter Secrets: Honesty Is Good For The Bank Account, in which I borrowed (OK, I stole it) some of Dan Kennedy’s ideas about admitting your product’s flaws up front.

    Not only does an upfront admission build trust, it also allows you to shine the spotlight even brighter on the product’s strong points. And if that were not enough, admitting flaws helps you position the product as different from all the other competing products out there.

  3. Opportunities. Where can your product take your customer? What changes or improvements can it help them realize? Think in terms of what doors your company can open for the customer.

  4. Threats. Very often the easiest way to sell something is when your customer is experiencing a problem or pain. People are more motivated to avoid or escape from pain or a loss than they are to realize a gain. If you can understand what problems your customer faces and show them how your product is the solution, you have written great copy.

See? It really is not that hard to get unstuck. I have found the secret is to keep my pen moving or my fingers typing until the words start to flow and make sense. SWOT analysis are the training wheels for your thoughts to run on until all that starts to happen.

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, rainmaking tips

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, rainmaking tips

Have you ever watched a truly entertaining commercial, laughed hysterically all the way through it … but afterwards had absolutely no idea who the company was or what product the commercial was about?

That is an example of a freelance copywriter not doing his job.

On the other hand, we’ve also seen those obnoxious, loud commercials in which the announcer shouted from start to finish, repeating the product’s brand name over and over (think car dealerships or cheesy lawyers).

Now can you guess which type of ads are more successful in selling their product? Here’s a hint: if they can’t remember your name, people can’t very well do business with you.

If a freelance copywriter does nothing else, he or she must at least communicate the name of the product and further its brand identity.

What is a product’s brand identity? Definitions vary, but I describe a brand as:

  1. what people have come to expect when they hear the name of your product, and
  2. how that expectation differs from what they expect of your competitors.

For example, when people hear the name Apple Computers, they expect “user friendly.” When they think of PCs, they think, “compatible to all kinds of software.”

Let’s take this one step further. When people think of Dell Computers, they think of “custom made to your specifications.” When they think of all other brands, they think in terms of certain models you get out of a box.

These companies have taken a key benefit of their product and consistently communicated a brand based upon that key benefit. Eventually, that key benefit becomes synonymous with the name of the product in the minds of the public.

Here are some other products that built a brand upon a key benefit:

Melts in your mouth, not in your hands…….M&Ms
Have it your way……………………Burger King
The most trusted name in news…………………..CNN
Guaranteed pizza delivery in 30 minutes or less.....Dominos

A brand is not always the message the company communicates to people, it is what the people have come to expect. Notice also that some of these brands linger on in our minds many years after the companies discontinued using these slogans.

A brand is how a product’s target audience perceives the product, which can occur accidentally unless careful, consistent experiences are not controlled by the messenger. This includes advertisements, but it also includes customers’ in-person contacts with the company, its employees and the product.

Of course freelance copywriters seldom have the authority to direct a brand, but we can certainly do it harm if we fail to write copy consistent with what people have come to expect with this product. More importantly, if we fail to even communicate the name of the product, we have cast it adrift in a sea of unrecognizable commercial messages.

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, rainmaking tips

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, rainmaking tips

As a freelance copywriter, I am always doing research. I study other people’s copy (there are some who say I am looking for ideas to steal, and they would be right), I read books on marketing, copywriting, advertising, web design, professional rainmaking, and all sorts of stuff that only a copywriting wonk would be interested in.

But I especially like doing research that involves free food.

There is a mall near my home that has a giant food court. Also known as a trap for the weak-willed dieter.

A favorite marketing ploy for some of the restaurants is to give away free samples of their food. I know this because I walked by one place that served Cajun food about six or seven times the other day, and they kept offering me small samples of food on a toothpick. I never said I was proud.

But after I was full of the free food, I sat down and watched how much business the various places were doing. Sure enough, the restaurants offering free samples were doing well over twice as much business as those that did not.

Why does this work? Well I believe there are two reasons.

The first reason is obvious, a free sample gives the hungry customer a taste of what the rest of the meal will be like and often that small taste is enough to make an undecided shopper choose that restaurant.

But the second reason is in my mind more interesting. In Robert Cialdini’s essential book, Influence: Science and Practice, he explains a powerful persuasion technique he calls The Law of Reciprocity. Reciprocity is the social obligation we feel when someone does something for us. When this happens, we are inclined to do something good back to that person.

Cialdini cites all kinds of research by social scientists and historians as examples of the Law of Reciprocity. In one study, a college professor sent out Christmas cards to a list of total strangers. The response he received was amazing. He received many, many cards back from people who had never met him and did not even ask who he was.

Another example Cialdini cites involves the religious cult, the Hare Krishna Society. For years in the 1970s and 80s they would approach people in public places, particularly airports, begging for donations. At first their results were pretty dismal, but then they changed tactics and started giving the strangers a free gift before asking for a donation.

The free gifts worked. Their donations skyrocketed until people became wise to their methods and started avoided them and airports enacted restrictions against their activities.

Cialdini also points to a study of waiters and waitresses. The study found that when they included a candy or mint with the customer’s bill, their tips were much higher than without the gift.

Another example was President Lyndon Johnson, known for his record of getting a truly awesome amount of legislation passed during his presidency. The reason was simple. In the many years prior to becoming JFK’s Vice President, Johnson had been a master of giving favors to his congressional colleagues.

Then when he became president, he had many lawmakers who were indebted to him and he was able to get favorable votes even from people who were philosophically opposed to his agenda.

OK, you are thinking, this is all very interesting but what does it have to do with copywriting? I’m glad you asked.

Recently I wrote an article called, Freelance Copywriter Secrets: Why 2-Step Ads Make More Sales, in which I explained that 2-step advertising produces much better results than one-shot ads in which the entire sale is attempted at one time.

The simple fact is that people like to receive free information and use it to help them make buying decisions. Just like the restaurants in the mall, the free information they receive from you is a sample of your work and demonstrates your expertise.

But also your free information product creates a connection between you and your potential customer. That connection is the Law of Reciprocity at work. Reciprocity says that, on balance, they are more likely to give their business to you than to someone else who sent them nothing.

In another recent article, Freelance Copywriter Secrets: 7 Copywriting Tips For Giving Free Information, I also showed the many ways you as a marketer can make free information products available. For example, a law firm can’t very well give would-be clients a “free sample” in the form of representing them for a free trial, or a free divorce.

But that same firm can send out a white paper to business owners on how to avoid liability, what to do if you think a dispute might turn into a lawsuit, how to preserve evidence and other matters directly relevant to business clients.

How would this firm market this white paper? Well it could put an ad in a local magazine that did not promote the firm itself as much as the free information. It could also conduct a seminar for business owners. Regardless of the means used, the point of any promotion would be the availability of the free white paper and the benefits of reading it.

Just like giving away free samples at the food court.

Now, if you'll pardon me. I'm going back to the mall, I'm feeling hungry again.

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, rainmaking tips

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, rainmaking tips

As part of my ongoing dedication to keep you, my readers, to keep you up to date on the latest marketing information relevant to the freelance copywriter (no, you don’t have to thank me) I read a lot of books on marketing and copywriting.

The latest book I am reading is, The Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. The premise of the Blue Ocean Strategy is that most businesses spend their time and efforts competing over each others’ clients until there is blood in the water, turning the ocean red.

In contrast, Kim and Mauborgne look at businesses that have been so innovative they have made their competitors irrelevant. These businesses pursue a concept called “value innovation” which creates new markets and even new industries.

The authors begin with the example of Cirque du Soleil, which set out to create a circus that did not compete with the likes of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey or any other circus. Instead, Cirque created a new market by combining the best and most profitable attributes of both the circus and the theater.

For example, Cirque features no animal acts, which are by far the most expensive shows within the traditional circus. Instead they offer creative acts centered around a theme that appeals to a more grown up artistic taste.

Cirque also allowed the other circuses to compete in the red ocean of the children’s and family market. Their reasoning was that not only have these markets have already reached the upper limit of ticket prices, they are also shrinking markets as children have so many competing entertainment options.

The Blue Ocean Strategy’s authors suggest that we have only to look back 100 or even 30 years ago and ask what industries we take for granted now did not even exist then. And yet most business books, strategists and thinkers spend ALL their time focusing on how to compete in existing industries for existing markets. And this goes on regardless of whether those markets are stagnant or even shrinking.

So what does this have to do with the freelance copywriter whose job it is to write the ads, web content and other marketing materials? Seldom are we given the opportunity to guide marketing on a strategic level (perhaps I should say, never). But we are entrusted to craft creative selling appeals.

Recently I wrote an article called, Freelance Copywriter Secrets: 10 Steps to Writing a Powerful USP (Unique Selling Proposition), in which I explained how futile it is to compete with the big fish in the pond when instead you should be trying to create your own pond and become the only fish that occupies that pond. Translated into marketing jargon, that means to create your own category and OWN that category.

This is exactly how Cirque du Soleil went about doing business. They refused to compete against the traditional circuses for the same customer base of children and families. Instead they targeted a different audience of adults who were already accustomed to the comparatively higher ticket prices of theaters, and corporate clients who needed entertainment for a corporate event.

None of this is easy. It requires a tremendous amount of creative thinking to create a whole new category. But here are a few ideas that may help to trigger ideas:

  • What needs or customers are your competitors NOT serving? As in the Cirque du Soleil example, they brought a whole new target audience to the circus by reinventing the concept to appeal to that new audience.

  • What single benefit do you offer that you can build your brand identity upon? M&M Candy became famous for “melting in your mouth not in your hands.” They were not the only candy that could have made that claim, but once they made it no one else could very well have said, “we don’t melt in your hands either.” Likewise, Dominos Pizza was not the first pizza chain to offer fast delivery, but Dominos touted that single benefit over even the taste of their pizza and came to own the fast delivery category.

  • Can you focus the spotlight on what your competitors don’t do? When FedEx first came on the scene their slogan was, “when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” They certainly weren’t the first parcel delivery company, but they created their own blue ocean by focusing on one concept, overnight delivery.

By no means is this list exhaustive, but it may take you a long way in your thinking. And hopefully you will soon be swimming alone in your own blue ocean. And your competitors will be irrelevant.

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, rainmaking tips

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, rainmaking tips

This article is part 3 in a series entitled Unleash the Awesome Power of Testimonials. In part one, we discussed how testimonials can create credibility and trust, they are evidence you use to bolster your claims regarding your product or service. And we also discussed how testimonials make use of the persuasion technique, social proof, which causes us to tend to model our behavior after the actions of others.

In the second article, we discussed how even complimentary customer feedback is seldom in a form that is very useful as a testimonial. Usually the feedback is long and takes much too long to get to the point. For this reason I suggested editing and calling the customer back to ask if you can shorten or abbreviate their words. Then read the edited version of their own words back to them and ask for their approval.

Once you have their approval, you are good to go and can use that testimonial in your ads, on your web site, in your mailings, brochures and any other informational piece you put out.

Now we come to the question of what should a good testimonial look like? In other words, is there a pattern or formula that can be used in the editing process to turn a customer’s complimentary feedback into a strong and powerful testimonial? Yes there is.

Here are the elements of a good testimonial:

  • A Problem. The testimonial is about how you solved a problem for someone. You are the knight in shining armor who came to the rescue of the, er client in distress. But the testimonial must show the distress vividly enough for a reader to be able to relate to the problem your client had before you came to the rescue.

  • A Main Character. A testimonial is written in the first person from either your client or a key player within the client organization. If the “main character” is an organization it is still advisable to involve the perspective of the key player(s) so your reader can relate to them as human beings.

  • A Distressed Emotional State> Not only must your key players have experienced a problem, your client had to feel pain caused by the problem. The emotional words can be, “anxious,” “worried,” “bewildered,” “panic,” etc. But there must be an emotion that is expressed so the reader can relate to your client’s pain.

  • A Desirable Result. The testimonial has presented a problem, the “main character” whether that is a person or an organization, and the pain the key player(s) felt as a result of the problem. Now the reader needs to see a positive outcome that came about because of your actions. Your product or service had to be the catalyst that directly brought about a desirable result.

  • A Positive “After” State. The problem is solved, the pain is gone, now how have things changed? Can you demonstrate the desirable result you listed above with new numbers, new profits, new customers. The key to this step is to make the desirable result quantifiable in some way. It has to do more than give the reader a “happily ever after” conclusion.

This format is your objective when editing a client’s positive feedback, but don’t become a slave to it. In other words, don’t stretch your client’s words to the point they no longer feel the testimonial came from them.

Moreover, always be aware that some of the feedback you get will be just fine as is, without any need to edit on your part. When that happens take it like the blessing it is and run with it.

Testimonials can do more to make your ads and marketing materials come alive for a reader than any other tool. This is why I said in Freelance Copywriter Secrets: Unleash the Awesome Power of Testimonials (Part 1) that if you took away every copywriting technique we had to work with, except testimonials, freelance copywriters could still write strong, persuasive ad copy and marketing materials for my clients.

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, rainmaking tips

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, freelance commercial writer

This article is the second in a series of copywriting tips on how a freelance copywriter can use the power of testimonials to create persuasive ads, web content, direct mail and white papers.

In part one, Freelance Copywriter Secrets: Unleash the Awesome Power of Testimonials (Part 1),I explained that testimonials do four things: they give your copy the credibility that can only come from a third party endorsement, they transfer trust to you and your product, they provide evidence to support your claims and they tap into the persuasive power of social proof.

In this article we will look at how to solicit testimonials from your clients and customers.

  1. Communicate with your clients. Initiate feedback with people who are now, or have done business with you in the past. Do telephone surveys, or just informal “how things doing” follow up calls. Set up a blog and enable comments so people can ask questions and speak their minds. If feasible, make actual in person visits to their place of business. Send self-addressed comment cards, or place them on a counter top if customers come into your place of business.

    The point here is to be in touch with your customers after you have done business with them. There are so many reasons to do this anyway, even without the hope of gathering complimentary testimonials. Customer feedback is like being handed a check.

    Sometimes you will find people are not 100% happy with you. But this is not a negative. If there is a problem and you fix it, many people will find more wonderful things to say about you than if there had been no problem at all.

  2. Take notes. Seldom will raw customer feedback be in a form you can use in an ad or as part of a white paper. But jot down what they are saying. If someone says something positive, just ask if you can write that down. After thanking the person, ask if you can use what he or she said in a brochure you are writing, or on an ad you are putting together. 99% of your customers will happily agree.

  3. Ask permission to edit You probably do not want to do this on the spot, but will find it preferable to call them back later. Do not attempt to reword their comments, just ask if you can shorten it or summarize their comments. Explain that you need a shorter version of the person’s words for your advertisement.

    Marcia Yudkin, in her wonderful book, 6 Easy Steps to Free Publicity points out that such immortal quotes like, “war is hell,” or “nice guys finish last,” were originally spoken in longer and more round about ways. In both these two cases, and in many others, a hearer shortened and edited the original statement to make it pithier and, well, immortal. As long as your edited version of a client’s feedback does not go too far afield and retains the original essence of what was said, it will be OK with most people to rework their words,

  4. Confirm the edited version. Do not use the edited version of a person’s words without their consent. Usually the briefer version will be just fine as long as you followed the rule above to keep it close to what was originally said and retain the original thought behind the comment.

And that is really all there is to it. One wonderful side benefit of doing all this will be an even stronger relationship with that customer.

In part three of this series, we will discuss what an excellent testimonial looks like. When you edit the feedback you get from a client, you will want to follow a certain formula that will make it more forceful and compelling. Good luck!

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, freelance commercial writer

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, freelance commercial writer

Testimonials are a freelance copywriter’s best friend. Talk about a tool that makes our jobs easier AND makes the finished product more persuasive and with measurable results, the testimonial is it.

I can sing the praises of testimonials all day long. But how, exactly, do they help a freelance copywriter do his or her job more effectively? Let me count the ways:

  1. Massive Credibility. Let’s face the facts. To the public, all marketers, freelance copywriters, advertisers and sales people are liars until proven otherwise. And even then, there is a strong tendency to believe that we are just slicker liars who haven’t been caught. Yet.

    But testimonials are endorsements from real people that readers can relate to. And when these people tell their own experiences with our product or service, their endorsements are irrefutable.

    This is the power of third party endorsements. Real people, telling about real problems that were solved by our product or service, is awesomely believable.

  2. Transferred Trust. Once a reader accepts the credibility of your satisfied customer, they are then willing to transfer that trust to you and your product.

    Think about what they have just seen. A third party has just told them you are great and your product is great. This third party is just like their next door neighbor telling them over the backyard fence that you can be trusted to do good work, create a good product and you will stand behind your work. If they trust their next door neighbor, that recommendation transfers that trust to you.

  3. Testimonials are Evidence. Years ago, Sears used to run ads that were essentially long testimonials of people who had remarkable experiences with a Sears Craftsman Tool. Sears has always claimed these tools are guaranteed for life, but what does this guarantee mean? These testimonials prove the lifetime guarantee in a way Sears could never do with just claims.

    In the testimonials, people brought their tools back to Sears after decades of hard use. I recall one story about a wrench that had been underwater for years. But when the owner found it and brought it back to Sears, it was replaced with no questions asked.

    The lesson here is that Sears backed its claim with a true first person story, told by a more-than-satisfied customer. Testimonials prove your claims are not just empty words. Everything else is just puffery.

  4. Social Proof. Not to be confusing here, but I am using the word “proof” in a slightly different way than the word “evidence” in the section above. “Social Proof” has to do with persuasion based on what we see others doing.

    When you see ads that say, “over 100,000 customers have bought our product,” or you see an ad for a hospital’s obstetrics department with pictures of many happy mothers and their babies, you are seeing social proof used as a way to persuade others to join the group.

    In a previous article, Freelance Copywriter Secrets: Social Proof-An Awesome Copywriting Tool, I explained that social scientists have observed that people tend to conform their behavior to what they see others doing (I don’t really think you have to be a social scientist to observe that, but let’s move on).

    Social Proof is how we determine what is “correct” behavior in an unfamiliar setting. In his book, Influence: Science and Practice, Robert Cialdini found that social proof is an especially powerful persuader when the subject feels a connection or commonality to the people he or she observes.

    This is why photographs work so well with testimonials. Go back to the ad for a hospital’s obstetrics department. Suppose you are writing this piece. Your target “customer” is a young mother-to-be to whom one hospital seems no better and no worse than the next.

    What makes her choose your hospital over all the others who could probably do just as competent work in delivering her baby? Seeing those pictures of actually women, and reading their adjoining testimonials about how your hospital’s staff was caring and helpful and made them feel safe convinces her that only your hospital can do all those things for her. This is the power of social proof.

If you were to take away every tool or technique most freelance copywriters use to write their copy, except testimonials, we could still write powerful and persuasive ad copy. Remember, a few words from a real person carries more authority than a whole page written by the most eloquent professional writer.

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, freelance commercial writer

COPYRIGHT(C)2006, Charles Brown. All rights reserved.

Dan Kennedy is regarded as a hero by many of us in the freelance copywriting profession. And for good reason. My copy of his book, The Ultimate Sales Letter, is highlighted, bookmarker and contains many, many of my handwritten notes in the margins. It is one of the best books on copywriting I own. Someday maybe I can even have his autograph in it.

One piece of advice Dan gives to freelance copywriters has paid me back many times the cost of his book. Not only is it a highly effective way to increase your credibility in the eyes of your reader, it can also help you hold a reader’s attention and it can position your product or service as the owner of its own niche.

As a credibility tool, this bit of Dan’s wisdom has few equals. When you incorporate this technique in your ad copy, it immediately sets you apart from the crowd of “we’re great,” or “our widget is the best” marketers.

As a tool for grabbing a reader’s attention and holding it through your copy, this technique uses both curiosity and self interest. It heightens the reader’s sense that some very strong benefits are about to be revealed that can’t be missed.

As a positioning tool, it helps you create your own category. No longer must you fight with the big fish in the pond. You can now own your own pond and be the only fish for miles around.

What is this wonderful piece of advice? Dan devotes an entire chapter to the concept of “Create A Damaging Admission and Address Flaws Openly.”

Let’s face it, your widget may really be the best on the planet, but it still has its flaws or weaknesses. Not only that, your competitor’s widget is not all bad, with no positive points worth mentioning.

So what do you do? You meet these weaknesses head on. If your product is priced higher than your competitor’s, admit it right up front. But then marry that drawback with a corresponding positive. Why is your product more expensive? What extras come with that higher price tag? What reasons can you give prospective buyers to ignore the higher price and focus on additional benefits they won’t get with a lower priced competing product?

  1. Build honesty and credibility. On rare occasions, I have actually heard politicians praise their opponents (I did say this was rare) and then point out the issues upon which they disagree. When I hear this sort of political discourse, I have several reactions.

    First, I find myself experiencing warm feelings toward this rare politician who takes the higher ground, even though I know his campaign workers may be, at that very moment, digging up dirt on that opposing politician).

    Second, I find that I give the point of disagreement much more importance than I would otherwise. By admitting a few things he or she liked about the opponent, I am made to care more about those differences.

    For marketers, when you do reveal your positives after admitting your flaws, you are building strong credibility. Your prospective customer is much more likely to believe your positive points after you admit your shortcomings.

  2. Suspense. Nothing holds a reader’s attention and interest like suspense. When you start your ad by admitting a few flaws or by praising some features of your competition, your reader begins thinking, “if these guys are willing to expose these negatives, there must be a positive coming that I don’t want to miss.

    People know you are paying good money for your ad. And they know you are not doing it to promote your competition. So they start expecting to hear something fabulous about your own product. They know it’s coming, they know it will offer strong benefits and it will appeal to their self interest.

  3. Positioning. Sometimes establishing your uniqueness is a matter of refusing to compete on everyone else’s playing field. When Avis’ famous campaign admitted that they were number two, they were refusing to compete with Hertz for dominance in a race Hertz already owned. Instead they chose to play on the field of “trying harder,” which they explained meant giving more customer service and greater attention to the little things.

    Suppose you are writing an ad for a sports car. Sports cars are notoriously impractical and only appeal to a small niche of people who (at least in the eyes of others) are showing off, compensating for something else or just never grew out of their fantasies to be James Bond. How might you promote such a car? Here’s an example:

    The Thunderbolt XYZ does not have room to put a child’s seat in the back. In fact, it doesn’t have a back seat at all.

    Also, if you are expecting to put six bags of groceries in the trunk, forget it. You can put two, or maybe three bags at the most, in the Thunderbolt’s trunk.

    Carpooling a bunch of kids to soccer practice? Not a chance.

    But if you want to race down an open country road with an autumn breeze blowing through your hair, if you want a car that hugs corners like super glue, or if you want to make your old fraternity brothers question their entire lives, the Thunderbolt is your car.

    Such an ad certainly won’t appeal to everybody, but to its very narrow target audience, it might have a very strong appeal indeed. You might want to also check out my article, Freelance Copywriter Secrets: 10 Steps to Writing a Powerful USP if you want to read more about dominating a specific niche.

This technique is so powerful that Dan Kennedy advocates trying really hard to come up with negatives just so you can admit them in your ad. And when you can increase your credibility, hold readers in suspense and take ownership of a specific niche with one single tactic, I can see why.

Before I close however, I must mention one thing. Be sure to marry every negative with an even stronger positive. Your goal is not to bad mouth your own product or send customers to your competition’s door. It is to convince them that, despite a few drawbacks, your product is the one that will solve their problems and meet their needs.

We freelance copywriters are often an analytical bunch. Always trying to tinker with ad copy to see if it can be made better. This includes our own copy as well as the work of others.

For example, David Garfinkel, in his September 4, 2006 blog post at provides an excellent analysis in the article, "An Expensive Ad that Almost Gets It.”

Before we look at what David says about this ad, let me set the stage: I firmly believe that elements of direct response can be successfully incorporated with so-called “image ads” that are designed to establish a dignified brand.

For example, brokerage firms like Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley do this all the time. You frequently see their ads offering booklets on their market forecasts and white papers on their analysis of the economy. Despite the heavy restrictions placed upon financial services marketing, these ads manage to do three things simultaneously:

  1. convey dignity and a brand image,

  2. present a strong sales message, and

  3. generate leads for their salespeople.

Direct Response vs. “Advertising Art”

Regular readers of my blog may recall my story of a copywriting job I didn’t get. The client was a high profile interior design firm in Florida that catered to a very affluent clientele.

The ad agency that interviewed me had created a beautiful two-page spread depicting a home most of us can only drool over. It truly was an example of advertising art.

The trouble was the copy. It relied only on a single sentence that frankly said nothing at all. This sentence was presumably intended to arouse so much curiosity that people would flock to the client’s store or tie up the entire South Florida telephone system trying to call in. (no website address was mentioned on the ad).

When asked for my input, I suggested that the client create an information piece such as a booklet full of decorating ideas. My thinking was that such a booklet would not only have high, perceived value to the reader. It could also, in the process of offering numerous how-tips, generate additional sales for the client’s design services as well as specific items of furniture and wall decorations.

I then suggested the beautiful ad could feature the booklet as a free offer to anyone who called or stopped in. (Of course, they would have to provide their names and contact information in order to receive the booklet, thereby creating a list of prospective customers for the client).

Alas, the creative types felt my ideas would detract from the beauty of their layout and would smell too much of “salesmanship.” I didn’t get the assignment, the ad ran exactly as I had seen it, and appeared only one time in a very high-profile magazine.

Trying To Sell The Law Firm

Fast forward to the article in David Garfinkel’s blog. The ad shows a picture of Craig Newmark, the founder of the hugely successful The ad’s headline, PEOPLE WHO MAKE GREAT COMPANY’S WORK, seems to offer insights into how people like Newmark create and grow successful companies.

Presumably, the ad seeks to attract clients to the law firm with an implied promise that the firm will help entrepreneurs become as successful as Craig Newmark.

Disappointingly, the ad offers zero benefits to the reader and breaks the headline’s implied promise. The ad concludes will the thundering dud of a sales message, “Perkins Cole: Legal counsel to great companies like craigslist.”

What if the firm had written a white paper on the legal needs of small, growing companies? What if the white paper fulfilled the promise of the ad’s headline by providing how-to information on how entrepreneurs can grow their companies with help from knowledgeable law firms? And what if this white paper was featured in the ad as available free to any reader who asked for it?

Why White Papers and Image Ads Go Together

White papers convey the dignity such a law firm is trying to project, but they are also valuable sales tools. They promise - and absolutely must deliver - valuable how-to information, or analysis helpful for readers’ decision making. They target certain types of readers who, because of their interest in this topic, identify themselves as potential clients.

Here are a few ideas that should help you create a marketing campaign based on both white papers and image ads:

  • Begin with a clear idea of what decision you want your reader to make. This applies to both the ad and to the white paper. With the ad, you obviously want qualified readers to contact you, provide their address and/or their email address and telephone number. With the white paper, you want them to make a decision to contact you for an appointment. Not having this clear idea will cause major problems later if your work fails to lead the reader to a decision.

  • Don’t forget to talk about benefits. Even with image advertising, benefits are essential. Yet image ads routinely shy away from talking about benefits. Too salesman like, I suppose.

  • Make a promise and fulfill it. The headline of your ad, the ad’s copy, the free offer, the title of the white paper and every single word inside the white paper, should make a promise to either solve a problem for the reader or to help the reader realize a desired change. And after all that is done, deliver on that promise.

  • Generate leads. I have written before on the value of 2-Step advertising, and why it delivers more sales than one-shot ads. Although my article, Freelance Copywriter Secrets: Why 2-Step Ads Make More Sales, is not specifically written about image advertising for professional service providers, you may still find it to be helpful on this subject. One of the primary reasons to use a direct response device is to generate a list of prospective clients, who “opt in” to receive your follow up emails and letters. With a list of such people, your marketing becomes a continual matter of re-contacting interested, qualified prospective clients.

  • Create a series of white papers. Become known as the law firm, design company or professional services organization that has the right stuff. Within a law firm, for example, many lawyers have different specialties, each worthy of a multitude of white papers. Stuck for ideas on what to write about? Just look at what problems clients want to have solved for them. Each problem can result in a new white paper.

Image ads and white papers make the perfect marketing marriage. The more valuable information you give away, the more new business and new profits come back to you.

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, freelance commercial writer

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, freelance commercial writer

  1. Does your site capture a list of opt-in email addresses of people who have an interest in what you sell? Repeat after me, the number one purpose of your website is to compile a list of prospective customers. The easiest way to do this is to offer a free information product such as a white paper, ebook or other material. I call this an eBait product, and you offer it as an inducement for people to give you their email addresses and permit you to send follow up messages. You may want to read a previous article I wrote on Permission Marketing at Freelance Copywriter Secrets: One Simple Idea.

  2. Is your site an information resource for prospective customers who want information on the topic of your expertise? Before people become customers, they usually go through an information-gathering stage. This is how most people use the web, as a place to find information. Then, and only if they are satisfied that their questions have been answered, will they use it to look for providers of products and services.

  3. Does your website attract repeat visitors with constantly new information? Allowing your information to grow old and stale is almost as bad as not providing information in the first place. Remember, your goal is for your site to become a resource for prospective customers or clients. Constantly adding new information keeps your site fresh and attractive to repeat visitors.

  4. Is your contact information easy to find? Is it on every page of your site? Webmasters do this so often it is embarrassing. But all your other efforts are for naught if visitors have to jump through hoops to contact you. Don’t make it difficult and frustrating for people to do business with you. I guarantee they will find someone else.

  5. Does your site give visitors a reason to contact you? Think this one through very carefully. WHY should your visitors contact you? Make it clear that you can relieve their pain, solve an urgent problem or create a change they desperately want and need. How do you do this? Benefits, benefits, benefits. Pack every page and every article with benefit statements that show up on your readers’ “what’s in it for me” radar.

  6. Is your site “keyword rich?” Keywords are the words or phrases people type into a search engine when they are looking for information on your topic. Take a look at this blog and notice how often I insert the keyword, “freelance copywriter.” My goal is to be on the first page when people look up “freelance copywriter” (there, I did it again) on all the major search engines. If your site is not keyword rich, how do you expect people to find you?

  7. Is your site easy on the eye? In other words, do your articles display acres and acres of unbroken text that the reader will have to wade through? Break up your copy with numbered lists, bullet points, sub headings and short paragraphs.

  8. Is your material written in a conversational style? Make your content easy and even fun to read. Forget what your English teacher taught you. Use contractions, ask questions, throw in a few sentence fragments or one-sentence paragraphs. Plan your articles on an index card and write it as if you are sending an email or a short note to a friend.

  9. Do your headlines grab interest and pull readers into your copy? According to the legendary copywriter, John Caples, headlines should either appeal to the reader’s self interest or contain news. And Caples backed up his advice with decades of research and testing that proves how to write effective headlines. Check another of my articles called Freelance Copywriter Secrets: Headlines That Grab The Reader's Attention to find out more on writing powerful headlines.

  10. Is your site planned around what you want readers to do? Every article should be written with that goal in mind. If you don’t know what next step you want to persuade visitors to take before you start to write, you cannot communicate it.

  11. Does your content answer the questions that brought visitors to your site? Go back to your keywords and look into the mind of the person who types those keywords onto a search engine. Why are they searching for this topic? Your keywords may get people to your site, but if you fail to answer their questions they will leave and never come back.

  12. Is your site cluttered with fancy graphics, bells or whistles? My general response to a slow loading media file is to click away from that site. I hate those things. Don’t make me wait when I come to your site, and don’t make your material hard to find just because you wanted to get “creative” with the look of your page.
freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, freelance commercial writer

Free information is the secret weapon of the modern freelance copywriter. The web is first and foremost an information resource that bestows success upon those marketers willing to generously share their knowledge with those who seek it.

In addition to the obvious benefit of positioning the marketer as an expert, free information also creates a connection (possibly even a bond) between the giver and the recipient of this knowledge. In other words, when the time comes for this seeker of information to transact business, who do you think is best positioned to receive that business?

There are many ways a freelance copywriter can use the giving of free information to further a client’s marketing goals. For example:

  1. White Papers. For higher level services like law, consulting or engineering firms; white papers examine a topic in great depth and demonstrate superior expertise in that area.

  2. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). These lists of questions and answers can be posted as a resource page on your web site or can be compiled in the form of a printed brochure.

  3. Article Banks. These very popular sites are also called “article submission sites,” and are exchanges between web masters and newsletter publishers who need content, and authors who want to build recognition and achieve expert status. You, as the author, submit your articles with links that point back to your website. Publishers can then reprint your articles on their sites as long as they reprint them in their entirety. Over time, a single well-written article can “go viral” and generate dozens or hundreds of links back to your site.

  4. Booklets. Booklets are generally between 8 to 25 pages that can be given to prospective customers or even sold for a profit. Noted author Robert Bly, recommends that you print a price on the cover of your booklet even if you intend to give them away. The price increases the perceived value of the booklet and also gives you the opportunity to sell them for a profit if someone who is not a potential client asks for copies.

    Paulette Ensign credits a single booklet for launched her business, gaining her free publicity and bringing in clients from all over the world. The link to read a very informative interview with Ms. Ensign is:

  5. Blogging. Don’t miss out on all the benefits publishing a blog can offer you. A blog is merely a web site that is updated with new posts on a frequent basis and allows readers to post comments or link back to your posts. Not only do blogs offer a steady stream of new information to your readers, the commenting feature creates a community around you and your site.

  6. Web Content. People will visit your site if they come to regard it as a resource. Make your site as information-rich as you possibly can by writing as many articles as you can on your topic, and then keep adding new articles to keep your site fresh. People visit, bookmark and return to sites that provide them with the information they seek.

  7. eBait. this is the term I use for a free information product like an ebook, that is used to induce people to opt onto your email list. An eBait information product is the heart of the concept called ”Permission Marketing”, a term coined by Seth Godin in his book by that same name. In Godin’s words, Permission Marketing is a way to get people to “raise their hands” and volunteer to receive your marketing messages.

    Once you have captured a sizeable list of email subscribers who have opted onto your list, you have created a very powerful lead generation tool that enables you to send these subscribers repeated follow up messages.

    eBait information pieces can also be used as an inducement for people to request additional information from one of your print ads. This is the initial phase of what is called "2-step" or "multi-step" advertising. Check out my article called Freelance Copywriter Secrets: Why 2-Step Ads Make More Sales, to see why studies overwhelmingly find that this type of advertising out pulls single exposure ads.

Needless to say, these seven ideas are only the tip of the iceberg for the creative freelance copywriter. Moreover, you may also be able to recycle much of your information in several of these forms. The same articles you post to article banks can also be posted to your blog. Or the booklet that you physically hand out to prospects face to face might be the same eBait product you offer free to people who opt onto your email list.

Find and use as many ways to give away free information and your business will prosper.

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, freelance commercial writer

Let me get the word out to all freelance copywriters: put a link to Brian Clark's on your web site (see the top of my list of links on the right). This guy is all about marketing by educating your potential customers. In other words, give away free information left, right, up, down, forward and backward.

The term Brian uses is “tutorial marketing.” He challenges the marketer to put a blog at the center of a marketing system to feed good, meaty information. (Ahem, why do you think I spend all this time writing Dynamic Copywriting as a blog rather than a cushy, set it up and let it roll website?)

Check out this link to a very excellent Copyblogger article you must read at:’t-sell…-teach/.

You heard it here first.

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, freelance commercial writer

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, freelance commercial writer

A freelance copywriter is always looking for an edge when it comes to finding new ways to persuade in writing. Read the following facts and see if you can guess what persuasive technique they all have in common:

  • The “canned laughter” that has been an ever-present feature of situation comedies for over 50 years is based upon solid research. Despite the fact that canned laughter fools no one, sounds mechanical, and insults our intelligence; studies have shown people laugh longer, more often and afterwards rate the show as funnier with a laugh track than when presented with the same exact show without the canned laughter.

  • The same studies also show that laugh tracks are most effective when used with poor jokes. In other words, we don’t notice a joke is lame and laugh right along with the canned laughter.

  • Bartenders and church ushers have learned that “salting” their tip jars and collection plates with a few dollar bills stimulates more giving.

  • Nightclubs have been successfully creating the appearance of popularity and exclusivity by roping off long lines outside their doors, even when the club inside is not really crowded. They have found that the line outside actually draws more people, despite the obvious inconvenience.

  • Psychologists have found that children who are extremely afraid of dogs can be “cured” by showing them films of a variety of other children their own ages playing, laughing and interacting with dogs.

  • And lastly, can anyone resist looking upward on a downtown street corner when a group of other people are also looking up?

These are all examples of what psychologists call, “social proof,” a very powerful shaper of human behavior. And, in the hands of a freelance copywriter, social proof can become a tremendous tool.

In very simple terms, social proof dictates how people determine what is correct behavior. For example, have you ever attended a formal party and found yourself observing what others are doing so you would know how to act yourself?

Robert Cialdinin, in his exhaustively written book, Influence: Science and Practice, has found that social proof is especially strong in situations in which we are uncertain what to do (like the formal party). In those circumstances, we are naturally prone to observe what others do and model our behavior after them.

As a copywriting tool, social proof has few equals. For example, suppose a freelance copywriter is given an assignment to write the script for a short film to urge moviegoers to through their trash away after the movie.

I would write this script like this: One neatly dressed, likable person after another leaves the theater. Each pauses at the convenient trashcans and properly disposes of their rubbish.

Then, along comes a slovenly-looking character who has “loser” written all over him. He leaves the theater empty-handed and walks right on by the trashcan. Then the camera flashes back to where he was sitting and we see a mountain of debris, empty popcorn containers, soda cups, and candy wrappers.

The message of course is to prompt people to want to be like the many likeable people who threw their trash away rather than like that one slob who did not.

Other ways social proof is valuable to the freelance copywriter is when you mention that you have 100,000 satisfied customers, more people buy your product than its “Brand X” competitor, or show testimonials by pleasant looking people your audience can identify with.

Social proof tugs at all of us to model our behavior after the many. I recently saw a full page ad that had very little traditional “copy,” but instead it had a lot of snippets of testimonials from satisfied customers, each praising the company for the quality of its work. I found that ad to be extremely powerful.

Look for ways to use social proof to bolster acceptance of your claims. You will find many opportunities to use this technique, and will become a better freelance copywriter in the process.

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, freelance commercial writer

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, freelance commercial writer

Every once in a while a freelance copywriter is handed an assignment with the encouraging words, “you won’t have to do much, this product sells itself.”

Oh how I wish that were true, just once. Then my job would merely consist of jotting down a few explanatory notes and collecting big fat checks...............

…..Oh! Excuse me! I was just drifting off in fantasy land for a moment there….

The truth is even “really, really, really great products must have someone to help it find its market. And this, alas, involves actual hard work.

The point here is that the old saying, “build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door,” is flat out wrong. Sorry Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The work begins in one of two ways. The most common way is to build a “portrait” of the person most likely to want and need what this product will do for her. In other words, what problems does she have that must be solved?

Sometimes, however, I approach this question from the opposite direction. Reworded, the question might be, “what kind of problem is this product a solution for?”

Let me explain. Several years ago, I did some volunteer work for a group of unemployed executives and middle managers. These people were professionals who had been downsized and were facing a very tight job market.

One of the exercises I had my students work on was to identify 3 to 5 problems they were very, very good at solving.

I wanted them to think of themselves as solutions to certain business problems. Then I made them understand that somewhere out there was a hiring manager suffering from one of those very problems and was desperate for a solution.

When these very depressed and worried professionals grasped the idea that someone out there was looking for THEM (or at least the solutions they were very good at delivering), their entire outlooks changed.

Of course the job wasn’t done there. All I had shown them was that they were the “better mousetraps.” The problem now was that those hiring managers had no idea where the paths to these students’ doors were located. We had to draw them a map.

The job of a marketer, and by extension a freelance copywriter, consists of helping people who need a better mousetrap, find the path to that door. Here are the steps:

  • identifying and locating the people who have problems your product can solve,
  • sometimes educating these people that their problem exists, what the consequences of that problem might be and how much not solving it now may cost in the long run,
  • showing the value of the solution,
  • showing how to distinguish this solution from among all the other competing solutions,
  • showing how to find this solution,
  • creating a reason to purchase this solution, and
  • creating a compelling reason to purchase this solution NOW.

It helps me sometimes to think of my job as laying a trail of bread crumbs from the door of the person with a problem to the door of my client, whose product holds the solution. Only after this trail of bread crumbs has been lain, will they beat a path to my client’s door.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

Every freelance copywriter spends grueling hour upon hour trying to convince readers that a certain product, service or company is the “best.” After all, why should your customer buy your product if the competing “Brand X” product is superior?

Well there are two problems with the whole issue of which product, service or company is the best. First, how do you determine what “best” really is?

And second, how do you communicate “best” in a way that is convincing to a well-justified public’s skepticism that “best” isn’t just puffery or downright lies?

Years ago, just after I graduated from college, I went to work for a giant financial services company in their telephone call center. My job was to answer a wide variety of questions people had about the mutual funds this company offered.

A frequent question people asked was, which was the “best” mutual fund?

There really is no way to answer that question. All the funds were managed to do different things and meet the needs of different investors. The way I learned to respond to the “best” question has direct application to a freelance copywriter trying to communicate “best” in the copy he writes.

“Best” depends on the circumstances, the customer, what the customer wants, what problem the customer wants solved and an endless list of other situation-specific factors.

So I learned to ask callers questions about whether they were now retired or planning for retirement? If they were planning for retirement, how many years away was it and what were they setting aside to save for the day they would be given their gold watch?

I asked questions to determine what their objectives were, how much risk and market volatility they could comfortably stomach, and what other investments they had in their portfolio.

The goal of all these questions was to help them put together a balanced portfolio to meet their own individual needs and objectives.

So what does this have to do with helping freelance copywriters write compelling copy? The “best” widget varies depending on the customer’s needs and circumstances. If you know your target customer, you can carve out a niche to be the “best” for that type of person, or company. The more you learn to speak that target customer’s language and communicate understanding for the problems she faces, the more credibility you will convey that your widget is the “best” for her.

It’s all about not trying to be the “best” for the entire human race. I’ve spoken before about creating a new category and dominating that category to the point that you own that category. Why be a little fish in a big pond when you can be the big fish in your own pond? I recommend you read my article on how to create your own unique selling proposition (USP) called, 10 Steps to Writing a Powerful USP for more on this subject.

The answer to the “best” question is, “that depends.” That answer sounds evasive but it is not. It has to do with finding out more about who your customer is and how to surgically solve that customer’s problems. Once you do that, you can truthfully and credibly claim to be the very best.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

As a freelance copywriter, I am keenly aware that my work will often be the first impression many people have of my client and my client’s product or service.

As in all areas of life, preparation divides the winners from the rest of the pack. But how can a freelance copywriter lay the groundwork to write great, compelling copy that produces new customers, new sales and new profits?

It comes down to two things: (1) Know your customer; and (2) Know your product.

Knowing Your Customer.

  • Why would a customer buy this product? What need does it appeal to? What reason motivates a customer to buy something like your product? If you cannot find the need you are appealing to, all the rest of your work will fall flat. I have explored this whole topic in another article called Freelance Copywriter Secrets: How to Tap Into Your Readers' Deepest Needs, which you might want to check out.
  • What problem does your customer need to solve? What changes do your customers want to bring about? These solutions and changes are the benefits they are looking for that you can highlight.
  • What motivates your customers to buy NOW? What cretes urgency? What events can trigger a decision to seek out this type of product or service?
  • When considering a product like yours, what is a your buyer’s main concern? Is it price, selection, performance, reliability, how long the product will last, customer or technical support after the sale, the warranty and guarantee, the seller’s reputation or how quickly it can be delivered? All these are common factors that go into a buyer’s decision, but you must know what they are before you begin to write.
  • What demographic type of person is a buyer for your product and how can this demographic type be targeted and reached? In other words, how will you choose the media to advertise in or the list to buy for direct mail?

Knowing Your Product.

  • Know the differences between the product’s features and benefits. Familiarity with a product can sometimes be a handicap because features can come to be “buzzwords” for what the product will do for a customer. For example, for insiders in the auto industry, ABS braking systems are synonymous with safety and skid protection on slippery roads. But don’t assume your reader makes the same mental connection.
  • What problems does the product solve? This is one of my main techniques to help me distinguish features from benefits. Solutions are benefits. The things that aid in bringing about the solution are the features.
  • Find out what tasks or work the product or service makes easier and faster.
  • What does your product do better than anyone else’s product? What is its edge over the competition? If your product does not stand for something unique, it will get lost in the marketplace. If this is difficult for you to distinguish, try reading my article called, Freelance Copywriter Secrets: 10 Steps to Writing a Powerful USP. Just click on this link to find out more.
  • Describe the quality control methods used in developing, producing and supporting the product.
  • Why does your product cost more that its competitors (if applicable)? You MUST have an answer to this question if you sell a premium product.
  • If the product is part of an entire product line, what makes this model different from the models you make that are ranked above and below it?
  • How is this product positioned in the marketplace? Again this has to do with the product’s unique selling proposition (USP) mentioned above. Your goal is for your product to be the big fish in its own pond, rather than having to compete for dominance in someone else’s pond. To have a strong USP, you must OWN your category.
  • What are the economics of using this product? Does long term savings justify a premium price?
  • Is the product guaranteed? If yes, describe how your company stands behind the product.
  • What support is available after the sale?
  • How does the product work?
  • How reliable is it? How long will it last? Is headache-free ownership one of your selling points?

As you can see, laying a thorough groundwork is difficult and very intensive. But in the end, it not only makes a freelance copywriter’s job easier, it will also help produce compelling copy.

And can you think of any area in life where you can ever be too prepared?

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown

It’s every freelance copywriter’s nightmare: A reader is scanning through a magazine, comes upon the page containing your advertisement, and keeps right on going without noticing your carefully-crafted words.

The average American is bombarded with approximately 10,000 ads, sales letters and other marketing messages every day. So, if for no other reason than to be able to function in life, our minds “filter out” over 99% of those messages that appear to offer no personal benefit.

The freelance copywriter’s main tool to cut through this filtering is the simple headline. A powerful headline must appeal to a person’s self interest just long enough to cause that scanning reader to say, “maybe there is something here that could benefit me.”

Here are some of the things a headline must do to be effective:

  1. Grab the reader’s interest and attention. Readers have their “what’s in it for me?” radar turned on at all times. Don’t fly below this radar with cute, clever wordplays or headlines that are intended to make the reader “think.” Get right to the point and announce that you are here to solve a problem or help them bring about a needed change.

  2. Target a Specific Audience. Despite that legendary salesman who makes his living selling freezers to Eskimos, you are far better off targeting a specific, identifiable group of people who want, need and can afford what you are offering. When you design your message for a specific target audience, they know they belong to that group and will identify with your offering. As for others not inside that group, well unless you ARE that legendary salesman, you weren’t going to get their business anyway.

  3. Pull Readers Into Your Copy there are three ways to get readers to continue reading your ad: Appeal to their needs, appeal to their needs and appeal to their needs. Find out why people buy your product or service. Do they need a financially secure retirement? Do they want to improve their love life? Do they want career advancement? The appeal you use is the REASON you give them to buy. To find out more about how to appeal to readers’ interests, check out my article How to Tap Into Your Readers' Deepest Needs. Just click this link to check it out.

  4. Make A Promise. your headline MUST promise something. The promise must be to either solve a problem or bring about a change. People want to improve their lives, their careers, their marriages or even their status among the neighbors (those pesky Joneses are soooo hard to keep up with). You might want to check out another article I’ve written called, 10 Steps to Writing a Powerful USP, to help you craft this message.

One of the greatest copywriters of all time was John Caples. On the subject of headlines he said, “If you can come up with a good headline, you are almost sure to have a good ad. But even the greatest writer can’t save an ad with a poor headline.”

That’s good advice from the man who wrote the book on the subject.

COPYRIGHT © 2006, Charles Brown

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