The small business owner’s guide to copy writing

Many small business owners find it difficult to put copy together and that’s largely because a) you don’t do it very often; and b) you don’t really have the time to think about what you want to say, let alone write it.

This is then compounded by a fear of the writing itself that often results in the dreaded writer’s block, which, believe me, you don’t need to be a copy writer to suffer from.

Now I would argue that this isn’t because you can’t write, but because you’ve probably convinced yourself that you’re no good at it. I’d also argue that by following a few simple rules, you can crack the block and become both a better and more efficient writer. A winning combination if ever I heard one.

Think about it beforehand

Have some idea of what you want to write before you launch into your writing. Take some time to think about who you’re writing for and what they want to know. This will influence both what you say and how you structure it. For example, if you’re writing a blog for the web (like I am now), you’ll want to keep your content relatively brief (not much more than about 500 words). That way you’re more likely to be read in the brief time that people have available.

On the other hand, if you’re writing a brochure you’ll probably need a lot more information and you’ll need to break it down more. Brochures need to be eye-catching if they’re going to be read, so breaking up your content with bullet points and short paragraphs is essential.

Whatever you’re writing, jot down an outline plan with some bullets on what you want to say to get a head start.

The format will also affect your tone. A blog is somewhere to express opinions in a reasonably informal manner, whereas a brochure needs to be a little less frivolous. If you read the broadsheets, it’s the difference between a news article and an opinion piece.*

Don’t always start at the beginning

That opening paragraph is a killer. A murderous, anti-content psychopath. If you always start with the 1st paragraph then you’re probably going to struggle.

What I'm saying is that it’s ok to start somewhere in the middle; to start with the thing that you’re most comfortable with and then get to the intro a bit later on. You can even leave it till last if you like.

Start sounding like you mean it

One thing that’s bound to take the oomph out of your words, is a passive sentence. By passive sentences I mean ones that don’t put you, the writer, in charge of what’s happening. So for example, you’re saying “The project will be delivered” rather than “We will deliver the project.”

When you write passively not only do you make things harder to read, but you also put distance between yourself and your content. On the contrary, if you take the driving seat and start talking about things as if you will be doing them, you’ll find it much easier to engage with your writing and in doing so, engage your reader.

Stop being so goddamn fancy

When we’re trying to write something a bit official there’s an enormous temptation to start chucking in lots of essentially meaningless adjectives and long, befuddled words, in the hope that we’ll sound great. Come on now, we’ve all done it...the good old “We will endeavour to exceed your highest expectations” kind of nonsense.

Again, being a bit too long-winded about things can take all the punch out of what you’re saying and stop your readers from really ‘getting it’.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you need a long, official word, because only that word will do. For example, if I’m writing a medical report I’ll probably want to use the word ‘cadaver’ rather than ‘dead body’. But if I’m writing a thriller only a ‘dead body’ will do.  

Tip: write out a long-ish sentence without thinking about it too much. Then go back and strip out every word that you can without taking the meaning out of the sentence. You’d be surprised at how few words you really need to get your point across.

Break some rules

To really get the juices flowing you need to throw off the shackles and stick up 2 fingers to all the rules you learnt in school.

Start a sentence with ‘and’; use ‘so’ rather than ‘therefore’; and generally just try to have some fun. You can always go back and tidy it up later, but to get the words on the page, you need to lose a few of those nasty little inhibitions.  

Go on, I dare you.

*I say this contentiously, because with the Daily Mail you can't really tell the difference.

The author – Rosie Heptonstall, Marketing Manager for Clever Business Websites
P.s. She isn’t really obsessed with murder, but you’ll never wrestle a Patricia Cornwell out of her hands.