Writing great copy: A quick how-to guide

This post originally appeared on Saltwater Establishment in April 2018.

You’re a small business owner, and you’ve got a brochure, website or blog post to write copy for. If words aren’t your strong point, the mere thought of having to write words on a page can reduce you to a quivering puddle of quivering puddle-ness on the floor. But never fear: with a few quick tips, you’ll go from puddles to Proust* in no time.

Here are five quick tips to writing great copy:

1. Just write.

Ugh. I can hear you groan. It sounds so obvious, right?

Duhhhhhhhh really? Just write? That sounds kinda obvious.

Duhhhhhhhh really? Just write? That sounds kinda obvious.

But it’s what you have to do. Think of your topic, and set a timer for 15 minutes. And just write. Don’t stop. If you come up against something that you don’t know the word for, or you need to do a little research, just write XXXX (or my favourite word, Gosling, if you prefer). The important thing is not to stop until your rather bossy timer tells you to.

Then, once you’re finished, go back and edit your work (using the below tips to help you).


2. Know your audience – and make your content about them (not you)

Every business exists to solve a problem. The problem could be a really big one, like stopping all the bits of floaty plastic in the sea, or it could be a slightly smaller problem, like my hair goes really frizzy when the weather is humid.

Find out what your customer’s problems are. And in the brochure/web page/blog post, tell them how your business/product can help solve them.

Then, find out where your target audience is (i.e. Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn – or they might be at an event or reading a magazine) and share it with them there. You can read more on how to find your audience here.


3. Have structure

All (good) writing has a beginning, a middle and an end.

Organise your information, and group what you are trying to say under headings or bullet points. People like reading organized information. Take this blog post, for example. There is a beginning, middle, and end, and 5 tips. Easy peasy.

If you’re working with a designer, they can help with the structure required, and tell you what kind of headings and body copy you need. Saltwater Establishment provide you an easy-to-follow content guide to populate your web content.


4. Find your tone of voice – and make it consistent

To find your tone of voice, imagine your business is a person and they are speaking.

Are they serious or playful? Reserved or direct?

Are they bouncing with enthusiasm, or are they super-chilled?

Are they speak formally, or do they use a bit of slang? Do they say hello or g’day?

Keep that voice in mind when you are writing and editing your copy, and try to keep it consistent throughout. Remember, Alf Stewart doesn’t suddenly start talking like Helen Mirren mid-sentence (although it would be funny if he did). Alf is Alf, through and through (and thank the flamin’ crows for that).

There is only one Alf Stewart.

There is only one Alf Stewart.


5. Use secret weapons

There are oodles of tools out there to help you polish your prose. Good old spell check on Microsoft Word. The Oxford Dictionary is online. Synonym.com is handy. Grammerly is also very useful.

A trusted friend or colleague can also be a secret weapon. Ask them to check your work. But don’t ask too many people, or you’ll be paralysed by the feedback.

And the biggest tip for writing great copy? Just breathe. It will all be ok.

Want to learn how to write great copy? Register here for the next workshop.

*Proust = a super-duper thinkery novelist. I haven’t read any of his books, but I heard that if you say Proust, people will think you’re clever.