My Copywriting Process: A Step-by-Step Guide
You’ve got it! You’ve identified that one quick concept, that brilliant idea that if only prospects knew about, they’d come knocking on your door. You clever business person, you! Now all you have to do is write that puppy down - get that thought out to the masses - and you can sit back and watch the leads roll in, right? Wrong.
Anyone who’s ever stared into the face of a blank, white screen with a cursor blinking knows - writing your own content isn’t always that easy.
If the mere notion of writing a piece of copy - yes for public consumption - has you weak in the knees, this post is for you. A quick how-to for getting your next piece of content formulated, written, edited, and confidently out the door, so those prospects can start knocking on yours.
STEP 1: Gather your background information. This includes everything you’ll need to complete the piece, and usually breaks down into two categories:
1. Information about the piece itself. If you’re writing for someone else, this is usually captured in a creative brief. But even if you’re writing content for your own business, pulling together the information you would include in a creative brief can be a good grounding exercise before you begin. Information I add to briefs for my writers at Wheels Up includes:
A 1-2 sentence description of the content to be written.
A summary of the POV we want to represent.
A clear indication of whose voice it is authoring the piece. It might be your voice (“I am happy to announce…”), the voice of your business (“We are happy to announce…”), or an indiscernible 3rd person (“The business is happy to announce…”).
A description of the tone the piece should be written in. Professional? Journalistic? Empathetic? Playful?
A description of who the audience is, including their level of familiarity with the topic, and instructions about what we want them to know (or think or feel) when they’re done reading.
A description about what we want the reader to do next.
2. Information about the content you’re writing. This is the reference material you’ll use when sourcing specific information that’ll inform your writing or be directly included within it. If you’re writing about a business or a product, it’s likely you’ll be pulling from the company website or internal documentation. But you’ll want to know which elements specifically - be it pieces of a company story or specific product features - are important to include and which ones are outside the scope of your piece.
STEP 2: Get ready to write. Now that you know what you’ll be writing, and you’re confident that you have all of the source material you need to inform that writing, it’s time to plan your approach. I start to ponder things like the angle I want to take in the piece and what supplemental information I might use to weave the story together. I consider whether I might want to incorporate current events, mention of competitors, or perhaps arrange things in some kind of guide. Depending how much creative license you have, the options may be quite open. It’s at this point that I might give the topic Google - see how others have approached the topic before, or perhaps investigate how other writers have used similar angles to the ones I’m considering but on wholly unrelated topics. I’m always intentional to not read too much, so that my take is sure to be a fresh one, but it does help to know what other similar content is out there.
If ideas are flowing, and organizational charts and phrases start appearing in my head, it’s time to open that doc, face the blinking cursor, and get writing. But if they’re not, I find this can be a very helpful stage at which to step away and give all this planning and prep work a bit of breathing room. Perhaps discuss the topic at hand with a friend - less to get their input and more to see what wording and approaches come naturally in your speech. I might sleep on it and see what kind of inspiration comes. It’s shocking how often this pause becomes a helpful one.
STEP 3: Write the piece. Whether inspiration has struck, or the self-granted grace period has simply expired, it’s time to get started. It’s my recommendation that writers focus on the meat of their content to begin with, and to circle back to the bite-sized elements like headlines and calls to action (CTAs) once they have some beefier body content to source from. Writing that main bit of content usually happens in stages.
1. Write your outline. There’s nothing worse than getting halfway into an article and realizing you’re nowhere near making the point you intended, or worse, getting a whole page full of beautiful prose that’s actually not relevant to your primary point of perspective at all. Creating the skeleton of your content from the beginning will keep your organized and on-track from the start,
2. Flesh out each section. If you’re like me, there will be parts of your outline that are screaming for your attention - places where you know just exactly what you want to say. Start there. Not only is it energizing to start where creative juices are flowing, but as you flesh out one portion, it’s often easier to see which other content needs to go where to support it.
3. Use your own voice. One of the main times I see writers get hung up is when they’re thinking about what they’re supposed to say. It’s those pieces that end up overly wordy, indirect, and without much conviction at all. If you find yourself similarly perplexed, it helps immensely to write the piece in your own language, the way you might say it to a friend. If it’s your own content you’re publishing? Great! You’ve got the authority to leave it written that way. Does the piece need to come across a bit differently? No problem - adapting it after the fact to the intended way of “speaking” is easier now that you know precisely what you wanted to say.
4. Include the things you think are basic. Remember, you’re likely writing this piece because you’re some kind of expert. And if you’re like most writers, that’s a fact that feels categorically untrue. So you’ll be tempted to reach for a bunch of information that you think a real expert would include, and forget to even say the things that nobody would’ve thought of here but you.
(That whole bit above about what I include in a creative brief for a writer? Yeah, I’m pretty sure everyone already knows that. But when I stop to think about it - am I sure they really do? And isn’t that exactly the kind of information that someone reading a blog about basic approaches to copywriting might find precisely most helpful indeed?)
5. Circle back to the smaller details. Once you’ve got the main body of content, pulling out the most salient, interesting summarizations for use in headlines, subheaders, section headers, meta data and CTAs becomes a fun little game. You may even have particularly appropriate wording to pull from right there in what you’ve written so far.
STEP 4: Let it breathe. There’s no better action a writer can take at this point, than absolutely no action at all. Save your document. Close your computer. And go do something totally unrelated. If you can, sleep on the work overnight. Come back to look at it again with fresh eyes, read through it, and revise any edges that upon re-reading now feel a bit rough.
STEP 5: Run it by your editor (or family member, or friend). Now that you’ve got a draft you’re at least moderately comfortable with, it’s time to turn the piece over to someone else to review. If you have an editor, this is a great time to engage them. If you don’t, call on a family member, coworker, or friend. Not only is this a good chance to catch and correct any confusing phrasing or typos, it’s an opportunity to get feedback on what worked - and what didn’t - on your initial approach to the piece. Depending on the time you have available, you can do several rounds with your reviewer until you get the content just right,
STEP 6: Publish! High fives, fist pumps, and touchdown dances abound, you just published the piece. Well done, you copywriter, you!
That’s it! That’s the whole copywriting process. For bonus points, set yourself a reminder to circle back in a few days or weeks to see how your content piece did. There’s always something to learn from the audience engagement - be it comments, likes, replies, or actual performance data. You don’t want to miss a chance to integrate learnings when it’s time for your inner copywriter to have their next go.
Looking for help with your content strategy, or copywriting support from the pros? Drop us a line. We’d be happy to see how we can help.