Why Writing is Not Copywriting
A good copywriter is like a baker…
I’ve just moved to Mexico for three months, so I’ve spent the past few weeks gearing up to leave the UK. Warning clients I’ll be on a different time zone, making reassurances that I’m still working, etc.
One of the things I’ve heard a lot is, “Oh, amazing news. Have you got clients out there then?” I normally just explain, “no, I don’t. As long as I have Internet I can work uninterrupted, so I thought I’d see what Mexico’s like…” but the other day it struck me.
I speak good Spanish, but I’d never, not in a million years, try to work as a copywriter out here.
Why? Because of one simple truth: speaking the language doesn’t make you a copywriter. Speaking English, even writing well in English, doesn’t make you a copywriter. Just like… jogging doesn’t make you a sprinter.
Speaking English, even writing well in English, doesn’t make you a copywriter
I speak Spanish; I could probably even translate Spanish, but I certainly can’t copywrite in Spanish.
That distinction gets ignored. It’s pervasive. Just the other day, for instance, I came across an online course claiming to help copywriting hopefuls build their career as a freelance copywriter. “Requirements: a basic grasp of the English language. Must be able to string a half-decent sentence together”, the author gushed.
No, no, and a million times no. Please.
This is exactly why the freelance copywriting industry is a minefield. I know some amazing freelancer copywriters who really know what they’re doing, but for every one of us there are a thousand “copywriters”.
The purpose of copywriting isn’t to write pretty words. The purpose of copywriting is to write words that make you money
They sell pretty words, but the purpose of copywriting isn’t to write pretty words. The purpose of copywriting is to write words that make you money. To write words that drive your audience to take action, whether that’s buying your products, downloading your e-book, subscribing to your blog or whatever.
I can write pretty words in Spanish, but I don’t know the nuances I’d need to write copy that sells. I have the utmost respect for writers of all types. It takes real skill to play with words, in any capacity. But copywriting is a different thing; it’s commercial and it’s results-led.
If you’ve ever worked with a good copywriter, you’ll know that their work can feel counterintuitive for exactly that reason.
I partner with a B2B prospecting software provider to copywrite conversion email sequences, and almost every client pushes back when they see their first sequence. “That’s not how we normally do it”, or “we already use XYZ emails in-house and they’re working fine”. We talk through the strategy behind the approach, and at the least we agree to split test both sequences. The ‘copywritten’ sequence outperforms expectation almost without fail.
It feels counterintuitive because it’s not what you’re expecting. You think you know what good writing looks like, but you might not know what good copywriting looks like.
Ask any copywriter worth their salt and they’ll tell you, copywriting is a science as much as an art.
Copywriting is a science as much as an art
Some things have been proven to work, while others have been proven not to. There are fundamental principles that all effective copywriters should leverage.
I’m not saying you always have to stick to the rules, mind. Copywriting shouldn’t be formulaic. It’s a hugely creative career, which is one of the reasons I love it. But the art is the icing on the cake. If you don’t get the ingredients right, no amount of icing will make the cake taste great. Any good baker knows, get the cake right first and then decorate.
Look for a copywriter who embraces the same principle or you’ll end up with something pretty but inedible. Your words have a job to do; don’t hire someone who doesn’t understand that. And please, god, don’t do it yourself unless you‘re willing to invest the time to learn the craft of effective copywriting.
I’m Ettie, a freelance copywriter. I help businesses like yours distil your message and drive your customers to action. I make your website sparkle and your products leap off the page until your audience beg you for more.
Get in touch for a free consultation about the wordy bits of your business. No strings, I’ll tell you what you could improve and give you some preliminary advice to help you improve it.