Freelance Copywriter: Evoking Emotion
In general, people make decisions for emotional reasons, not rational ones. Your job as a copywriter is to evoke the emotions that will persuade your audience.
To do that, you need to know that audience very well, then know your product well. The “magic” of great copywriting happens when you find ways to connect that product with that audience.
One powerful way to do this is to write in the way that your audience talks. If you’re writing for lawyers who play golf, use complex sentences and golf references. If you’re writing for suburban moms, focus on “me time” and benefits to children. Use emotion in your writing to evoke corresponding emotions in your audience.
Getting Paid to Write for the Web
If you look at job sites for Web content writers, you may find a number of jobs listed that don’t ask for experience or writing samples, or encourage you to write about “anything you want.” Others may not want to see your portfolio, instead asking you to write samples on topics of the employer’s choosing.
All of these should be red flags. A legitimate web content site will pay real money to experienced writers. Low-grade sites instead try to get something for nothing (all those free samples!) or pay you based on a percentage of clicks to the work you create.
If you have something to say that’s worth real money on the web, you can find a legitimate site that will pay you in cash, or start your own site and build an audience that will be worth money to advertisers.
Getting Started in Freelance Copywriting
It’s easier to start your freelance copywriting practice if you have experience at an ad agency or marketing firm. If you don’t have this experience, the way to get jobs is to have a “book” (portfolio of past work) that blows away potential clients.
How do you get this work? Seize any opportunity you can to write persuasive copy. Some ideas:
• Volunteer for a political or public-service campaign.
• Write copy for businesses owned by friends or family.
• Take advertising-related classes and treat every assignment as a chance to build up your book.
How to Write for the Web
Usability guru Jakob Nielsen did a groundbreaking study in 1997 about the way people read websites. He found that people don’t settle down to read a web page the way they might a book or magazine. Instead they scan the page, looking for information of interest. Here are some recommendations for catching a “scanner’s” eye:
• Use bulleted lists (like this one!)
• Use boldface keywords
• Make subheads informative
• State one idea per paragraph
• Keep writing tight
• Use objective language rather than “marketese”
Web content writers need a firm grasp of these techniques to help make their work stand out and attract clicks.
Secrets of Great Copywriting
So you’re ready to delve into the exciting world of copywriting, but you aren’t quite sure where to begin. Here are some hints to get you started on your first copywriting assignment:
• Start by determining the key selling points for your product or service, and the target market you wish to reach.
• Use design devices such as headlines, subheads, photo captions and drop caps to highlight your main points.
• Focus on benefits to the reader — not “this product has a handle” but “easy to carry.”
• Identify with your target audience in your copy, mentioning “fathers” or “concerned citizens” or whatever group you seek to attract.
• Read your junk mail, pick up free brochures, and browse the ads in your newspaper. Notice what works and what doesn’t.
• Use testimonials — they’re a powerful marketing tool.
• Make it easy for a prospect to order once the sale is made. Include contact information or an order form at the end of a letter.
Types of Freelance Copywriting Jobs
Here are some of the more common types of freelance copywriting assignments. If your “book” demonstrates versatility by including several of these, it’s more likely to win you a variety of jobs as a copywriter.
• Sales letters (direct mail)
• Donor solicitations
• TV and radio scripts
• Print ads
• Web site content
• Catalog copy
• Invitations, letters, and postcards
• Billboards and signs
• In-store signage
• White papers and case studies
• Product packaging
Web Content Writing
Web content is a growing sector of the copywriting field. Businesses are finding that it’s not enough to simply have a Web site — their site needs to be clear and engaging, while also attracting search-engine traffic.
Businesses are also putting more products and services online, each needing appealing descriptions and information that encourages customers to buy.
All of these require skilled web content writers who can persuade and inform while also bearing in mind the special requirements of web usability and the techniques of search engine optimization (SEO).