Why defining the brief should be your first copywriting milestone

Solid Foundation

Where does a copywriting project start? What comes first? A test page? Tone of voice? Key messages? Brand guidelines? Keywords?

When a client comes to me, particularly if they’re a new client, I usually insist that we build the brief first.

My clients are often in a hurry. Many clients arrive after struggling to produce their own copy. They’re usually close to their deadline and eager to start NOW. And while my accommodating nature inclines me to acquiesce, I’ve been a copywriter for long enough to know that it pays to slow down and build the foundation. Instead of jumping in and writing stuff, I know it’s better to step back and think about the big picture.

By taking a little time to write a brief you can ensure that both client and copywriter have the same vision of the project. Writing a brief can prevent delays, snags and miscommunication. Writing a brief can ensure that the client gets what they want – which means the copywriter gets paid and everyone stays happy.

Briefs often evolve, or they may take the form of a flurry of emails from the client. It can be fruitful to adapt these rough notes and additions into a proper brief, especially if you begin to feel that some of the pointers or direction is conflicting.

So what should go into your copywriting brief? That’s a subject for another blog post. Adieu!

Highlight the benefits (How to be your own copywriter)


When you write about your products or services, tell people how your offerings can change their life, or improve their business.

Remember that when someone buys your fridge they are really buying food and drinks that are cold, fresh and free from bacteria. They are buying convenience. Nobody wants a big white box, but everybody wants food that’s free from mould and safe to eat.

So if you’re telling someone about your new iPhone app, tell them what it does AND why it’s functions are so great. How does the app improve or alter the user’s day-to-day existence?

You can highlight benefits in different ways. You can talk explicitly about the benefits, like this:

Benefits of Dave’s Fridges:

–  Your food stays fresher for longer 

–  Efficient freezer function saves energy and cuts your costs 

–   Easy-clean anti-bacterial coating

Or you can blend benefits into a more general discussion of the product, like this:

Dave’s Fridges offer rapid-cooling and an anti-bacterial coating to keep your food healthy and free from bacteria.

However you do it, make sure you get beyond product features and tell people exactly how they will benefit by buying your product or service. Don’t expect your reader to be able to guess the benefits.


Make sure your copy supports your organisation’s goals (How to be your own copywriter)


Your copy needs to address your audience’s questions, but it also needs to serve your organisation.

Your copy is there to communicate what you do and who you are, so consider how well the copy supports your goals.

Your goals might be:

  • Drive more enquiries online (and get fewer phone calls)
  • Change the perception of your organisation
  • Reach a new type of customer
  • Communicate new services / product ranges
  • Recruit recent graduates

By simply listing your organisation’s goals, you can evaluate your copy against these criteria.

This way, you’re more likely to have copy that does more than simply describe what you do.

Answer your customers’ questions (How to be your own copywriter)




As we mentioned previously, your customers have questions.

Does your copy answer their questions?

This is a great way to evaluate your copy, and it’s a very black-and-white consideration. It’s not like trying to decide if your copy feels friendly enough.

Start by writing a list.

What questions do new customers have about your business?

If you’re not sure what your new customers usually ask, turn to other people in your business. Ask the customer service people. Ask the sales team. Ask the person who receives the enquiries from your website. Ask the person who manages your website. Ask the receptionist. Ask yo mamma.

You should end up with a list of questions like this:

  • How much does it cost?
  • Do you have experience in my industry?
  • How long have you been in business?
  • How can I trust you?
  • Who are you people?
  • How do we commence working together?
  • What are you like to work with?
  • Can I pay with a credit card / bitcoin /cheque / bag of meat?
  • How long will this project / service take?
  • How can I receive my goods?
  • What other projects have you completed?
  • What other clients do you have?
  • How many people buy from you?
  • What do your customers/clients say about you?
  • Where are you based?
  • Who can I talk to?
  • How can I contact you?
  • My thing doesn’t work. Can you fix it?
  • Are you accredited / certified / approved / regulated / registered?

You could design a website or a brochure around the responses to this list. Think about where you should answer these questions in your copy, and then write accordingly. Obviously, you might not want to cover all of these points in your copy. You might not want to discuss prices, for example, in public.

You decide what you reveal, but you should understand that if another business is offering more information and answering more of their audience’s questions, we can assume that they will get a few more enquiries than you.

This is just one way to think about what your copy needs. Next week we’ll look at how your copy can and should tie in to your organisation’s goals.

Stay tuned!

Use keywords (How to be your own copywriter)



If you don’t want people to find your website via search engines, then you can ignore this blog post.

Otherwise, let’s talk about your website and how we can help people find you.

Let’s imagine that you have the most amazing website offering the world’s finest ale. But your fantastic beer alone might not be enough to bring people to your website. After all, if people are searching for ale and you write about beer, then those people will find other websites, not yours.

Likewise, if you sell pyjamas, you need to mention pyjamas. And probably nighties too. You might need to mention if you sell pyjamas for girls, boys, men or women. You might need to mention that you sell Adventure Time pyjamas or Hello Kitty slippers.

So, the advice is, write about whatever it is you’re doing. Using keywords is really is that simple.

Match the words that everyone else is using

You might prefer to think of your artisan fruit preserves in those terms, but if the world wants ‘strawberry jam’ or ‘orange marmalade’, you may need to use those terms too.

If you want people to find you, you may have to accept their terms. Literally.

Use keywords sparingly

Don’t go repeating keywords willy-nilly. You’ll look desperate.

If it makes sense to use a keyword in a heading, then great, go ahead. Otherwise, don’t bother.

Try to use your most important keywords at least once or twice on main pages. But don’t obsess about the ‘density’ of these keywords.

Keywords can feature in your blog too

If you have a blog, write some stuff about your business. Write about what’s happening in your industry. Write about the clever stuff you’re doing. Keywords will naturally occur. Success follows.

Why it’s worth giving keywords a little thought and effort

By using the right keywords in the right places, you can bring the right people to the right website (that being yours).

Let’s think about what that really means. It means that:

– People make their own way to your website (they come to you)

– People are interested in your services or products

– People who are motivated enough to seek out a business like yours are usually intent on buying

– People who visit your website cost you very little (assuming your website is already bought and paid for)

Next week we’ll look at how your copy should be answering your customers’ questions…


Fix mistakes (how to be your own copywriter)


Words are easy to get wrong. Words are tricky buggers and they invite mistakes. So it’s not unusual to have a few mistakes or errors in your copy. Luckily, we can fix it.

In this series of blog posts I’m suggesting ways that you can improve your copy yourself.

But before we think about making your copy brilliant, let’s cover how to make it acceptable. Because few things will deter a potential customer more quickly than an error-ridden website or brochure. Errors suggest you’re inattentive, or lazy, or incompetent. Clearly, these are not the kind of signals you want to send to potential customers.

And this isn’t just about grammar and spelling. Your copy can have several kinds of mistakes:

Factual errors

Your website recommends a service you no longer offer. Your brochure lists an address that you no longer use. Your user manual recommends software that no longer exists. Your team page features staff who no longer work for you.

These kinds of errors usually emerge because of the passage of time. The passing of time is inevitable. You failing to update your copy is not.

When you check your copy, imagine that you are a new customer discovering your organisation for the first time. Can you find accurate, up-to-date answers to your questions?

Technical errors

A link to your services page actually leads people to your products. Your contact form is broken.

There is no point having amazing copy if people can’t navigate to that part of your website. These errors are easy enough to uncover. You just have to click around your website. Follow every link. Make sure you end up where you’re supposed to end up.

Grammatical and spelling errors

You don’t need to be a grammar genie to get this stuff right. You just need to write your copy in Word (or anything that has a capable spell checker) and be aware of tricky words (too/to, your/you’re etc). And if you’re not sure about tricky words, you should call on a friend who is.

Seek help

There’s a good chance you know at least one grammar pedant who will review your copy for you. There’s no shame in asking for help. If you can, get more than one person to review your copy. The more eyes you have on the copy, the less chance there is of errors sneaking through.

Once you’ve eliminated errors from your copy you can begin to think about making it awesome. We’ll cover that in the weeks ahead.

Be your own copywriter – Part 1


You might not need a copywriter. You may prefer to take control of your own content and spruce up your words. And why the hell not?

If you’re interested in improving your own copy, then I hope you will find the following tips useful.

I’m going to elaborate on the following points in the coming weeks, and when I’m done I’ll bundle them all together into a Word document so you can take it away.

You can make your copy better (I’ll explain what ‘better’ means later…) by

  • Fixing mistakes.
  • Using keywords.
  • Making sure that the copy answers customer questions.
  • Making sure that the copy supports your own goals.
  • Highlighting benefits.
  • Bringing everything up-to-date.
  • Using calls-to-action.
  • Cross-linking your content.
  • Thinking about your customers.
  • Telling people what to expect.
  • Revealing yourself.
  • Making contact details and addresses easy to find.
  • Using active sentences rather than passive.
  • Being bold and clear, rather than trying to hide behind jargon.
  • Focusing on the positive rather than the negative.


These are some of the things you can do to fix up your own copy. There’s no magic involved in copywriting – it’s just a case of following the rules. Actually, that’s not entirely right. Following the rules will help you produce effective copy, but your words may not be inspired – or captivating. To create brilliant, engaging copy you need tap in to your creative side. We’ll talk about that in future posts.

So – back to the rules…

I recommend that you review your own copy, taking the time to consider each point, page by page. Does every sentence on every page fulfil these requirements?

Check back next week for part 2, in which I will elaborate on the first point.

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